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He's No Ordinary Joe

By Gary Wien

There's a classic song from the 80s where the artist laments about being "big in Japan." It's normally a bit of a joke among artists to say that you're bigger in Europe, but in some cases it's true. Take Joe D'Urso, for example, he's hardly a household name in the tri-state area, but he's got a major following in places like Italy and the UK.

Last year, Joe played about 120 shows and 90 were in Europe. This year the New York based artist is making an effort to play more shows at home. In the local area, he can be found playing the Saint (Asbury Park) on July 10th with Maybe Pete and the Commons; on August 20th at the Wonder Bar (also in Asbury Park) and August 30th at Martell's Tiki Bar (Point Pleasant) supporting Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. In between, he's got a two week tour of England, Scotland and Italy. And if you're interested in spending the 4th of July in Wisconsin Joe's career got a big boost a few years ago when his band was named the official house band of the Harley Davidson's 100-year anniversary tour. They played all across the world, sharing bills with some of the biggest names in the business. And they were the only unsigned band on the stage. Joe originally worked in the technical side of the music business handling contracts for big stars. Since leaving that job, he began performing and proving that an artist can develop a following around the world without the aid of corporate radio stations or major record labels.

His music reflects the influences of his favorite artists, guys like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and U2. Ironically, one of his favorite groups of all time was the Grateful Dead. Taking the lead from the Dead, Joe tries to make each show different and actually puts out several live records called the Bootleg series each year. And his fans can't get enough of them.

"People pick up five or six titles at a time," said D'Urso. "Especially with the Bootleg Series. We've put out two volumes of six Cds. There's people who just order all six. Occasionally, somebody will invite us over to dinner over there and I'll walk in and see 18 of my records in their collection!"

He says he doesn't ever worry about fans taking it a bit too far. "I don't ever worry abut any weirdness," said D'Urso. "I'm not big enough to worry about weirdness. I've got 18 Dylan records in my collection, so I'm not that different than that guy except the guy I have is Bob Dylan. That's somebody I rank very high and for somebody to have that much affection for your own music is very flattering and thankful and kind of mind blowing at the same time."

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Joe's currently on tour to promote a double-cd called, "Both Sides of Life" which tries to blend the two sides (acoustic and electric) of D'Urso. He does many solo shows throughout the year, in addition to his band shows, and this record does a good job of representing the two sides of his music. The CD was released in 2003 and plans are under way to release a new full band record sometime around January or February 2005. In addition, Joe recently released "An Audience of One", a record inspired by playing songs for his kids.

"When I came back from being in Europe for two months, I started writing a whole bunch of these quiet songs," explained D'Urso. "And I was spending a lot of time with my son at that point. He was only about 16 months old and I was trying to make up for a little lost time being gone for so long. Every night when I'd put him to bed, I would sit there and play him guitar. Slowly, new songs and melodies kept coming out. I knew they weren't band songs and I knew the next proper release should be a full band electric record. Basically, the record was these quieter songs that I knew I needed to get out and off my plate before I could really get the next band stuff ready."

He wound up putting out a limited edition release of "An Audience Of One" with the first 400 copies personally autographed. Although Joe was initially unsure of what the reception would be, the record was very well received and the limited release sold out in just two weeks. They've since done several more pressings and D'Urso says he plans on keeping the record in his catalog from now on.

Joe says that having a family has influenced his writing style a bit, but he treats it as a just another step in his development. "There's nothing bad to it anytime any outside force, in this case being children, passes and touches your emotional and your central nervous system. As an artist and as a writer, that's never a bad thing. It made me a little more concerned with my outside world and the day to day and how it affects them as they get older. There seems to be a natural progression of order that when you bring something into the world you're not so worried about yourself anymore. You've got something a little bit heavier to worry about."

One thing that has helped spread Joe's name has been his involvement with the Jersey Shore scene. He's done shows around the world in support of artists like Southside Johnny & the Jukes, Nils Lofgren, and Joe Gruschecky and his music begs comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. It's a comparison that has helped and hurt D'Urso, but one that has its own advantages.

"Being influenced and coming from the Jersey Shore and the whole Asbury thing... there is that type of fan and type of audience that comes to a show like that," said D'Urso. "Whether they're checking you out because they read about you either online or in Backstreets or on different discussion boards. So, there's some curiousity going on which is fine. Your job at that point is to hopefully win them over and deliver the best show that you can. It's always been a double-edged sword coming from the Asbury scene where you're identified by that and yet it opens some doors and introduces you to some music fans you wouldn't normally meet."

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.

originally published: 07/01/2004

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