By Dawne Belloise
“This isn’t the first time I’ve been profiled,” Joey Reed jests. The first thing you might notice about Joey is his untamed kinks of hair that seem to explode in every direction from his head, but undoubtedly, what remains with you is his voice—a deep timber of crackly song that leaves you with the impression of a handsome frog prince waiting to be kissed.
His energy and wit are infectious and his gift is that he can most likely convince you into believing anything he tells you with his raw, oftentimes sarcastic, but good-natured honesty—but he could also be spoofing you, too.
Joey sports an Oklahoma Sooners sweatshirt and with a smidge of pride tells that he’s a Choctaw kid relocated, by heart and choice, into this small ski town at the end of the road. Born into a military family in San Antonio, he recalls, “It was shocking moving from the military base to Choctaw. I was the only multi-racial kid. Mom is Irish-German, Dad is black, so I was too white for the black kids and too black for the white kids.” He adds, “I was never raised to care about what people thought about what I looked like, having parents from different races who were basically cast out of their families until I popped up being all cute.” He pulls up a photo of his baby-self cuteness alongside a smiling fair-skinned, red-headed mom. “It was a slow process for sure,” Joey says of how his grandparents finally accepted the interracial bonding of his parents.
“When I was younger, I remember thinking that when I got older, race wouldn’t be as bad as it was back then,” he says. “It’s easily worse now. I consider myself racially aware. I think it’s funny that if someone has a problem with somebody else because of their genetics, I’m going to make light of it. I’m calling people out. We shouldn’t feel this way.”
He’s constantly cracking racial jokes. “Some don’t like it, some are fine with it. I see it as one of those things we have to get over as a species.”
Joey’s parents were very musically inclined and forced him to take classical piano lessons, beginning in second grade. “I tried to quit several times but the Irish side of Mom would not let that happen. I’m absolutely glad now,” he confesses, although he spent many long years studying and doing recitals, which, he explains, is the competitive side of piano.
“It’s a once a year event where you memorize a certain amount of pieces and play them in front of judges. You sight read, transpose and there’s a theory test. It’s called The Guild,” he says, which is a long-time established organization that promotes musicianship for students through education and testing. In junior high school he memorized ten musical pieces and scored exceptionally high marks.
“I’m glad my parents made me stick with it because I attribute music to many things in my life, both academically and emotionally. I gained a lot of my charisma from it because when music flows through you like that, it awakens more self-awareness than most kids that age have. That’s probably where my sarcasm developed, now that I’m thinking about it,” he laughs. “I wouldn’t have done as well in school, or life, if it weren’t for piano and music in general.”
Joey admits he was a nerd during his school years. He was placed in all AP classes throughout junior high and high school, being particularly good at math and excelling in the sciences. In seventh grade, he joined the school concert band as a percussionist, “because I could read music and I couldn’t make noise on any other instrument,” he grins.
He made the All-State orchestra, on timpani and percussion. Essentially, he was a concert percussionist and classical pianist through high school. At the age of 15, he was playing center snare drum with a tight-knit group of drummers. “Band nerds,” he laughs and explains that he evolved into banging on a full drum set with his band-o-nerds but there was a “lack of people showing up for practice, so we turned into a punk rock band and that was the beginning of my live musical career.”
Joey graduated in 2003 and enrolled at the University of Oklahoma in Norman for piano performance but quickly changed majors when he realized he could potentially lose his passion for playing because of the intensity of the program. “I didn’t want it to feel like a job. You have to put in eight hours a day.”
He switched his major to zoology bio-medical science. “I was going to go into med school to be an ER surgeon, then I thought about pediatrics, but all in all music consumed me. You can’t get away from it once you’ve got it.” After he eventually figured out that he wasn’t going to med school, he was in the drum line of the marching band at OU, “and that was an awesome time. We partied a lot.”
He started hanging out in the music scene in Norman, Oklahoma, when he started working at The Deli, a well-known venue for nightly music and that, he felt, changed his life. He started out as a doorman and musician. “I was mentored by the local musicians and these guys know what’s up. I can definitely attribute my prowess to them in knowing how to operate a venue, how to play to other places, how to deal with band relationships, everything that goes into being a working musician. It’s a family. I got to tour with a couple bands. I was in a few bands, some more successful than others—either way, they were all different genres and that’s where you really get to develop as a musician.” Joey also did retail for five years, where he made good money. He was done with school and still in Norman.
Joey had initially discovered Crested Butte with a friend and returned several times. He had heard about The Eldo from touring musician friends who he knew from The Deli. After seeing the valley, he was instantly enamored and moved here in 2010.
“People aren’t afraid to talk to one another,” he noted of Crested Butte. “There’s more trust, and you get to make fun of your friend for locking their car doors. I love how genuine people are here. It was similar to growing up in Choctaw. Everyone here has each other’s backs. It’s also similar to that little music family I became part of when I was 21. As big as music is, I run into the guys I knew from back home, the ones who taught me to be a functioning musician.”
Joey started as a soundman while running the sound for one of the Norman bands he played in. “I wasn’t very serious about it but kicked it up a notch when I started working at The Last Chance in Gunnison. I’ve always had an ear and I’m a quick learner.”
He started as a bartender at The Eldo but because of his music background and sound engineering, even though it was minimal, he became the sound engineer at The Eldo as well. He was good enough that he’d be asked to go on tour with bands. You can find him still at The Eldo as bartender, as night events manager and running sound for the many bands that come through.
Working at the Eldo, Joey feels, “Facilitates me living in a place where I have great friends and see musicians who are doing what I did ten years ago. It’s more than just a job for me—music is something I’ve always been passionate about and I’m blessed that it started when I was playing classical piano in second grade and wasn’t allowed to quit. We need music here and I will be a part of it as much as I can. I’ve already done the tour thing so if I can be a part of keeping live music in Crested Butte then I will do that until I get kicked out of town.”
New musicians arriving in town are quickly nabbed by bands and other working musicians, and such was the case for Joey when he first arrived. Word spread quickly that there was a new hot drummer in town and he joined several bands. Now, his main gig is with the effervescent funk band, MILLK.
“I played in every genre of band but my favorite was a funk band,” says the man with “Bringin’ the Funk” tattooed on his calf. The concept of rotating band members is an expansive idea for MIILK, allowing an evolving sound by adding whoever is available; however, the core remains the same: Joey, Kevin Doherty, Brandon Dautrich, Frank Mangum, and Erin Geye. “There are times we’ve had three female vocalists onstage and an entire female horn section. We have a lot of originals now. We just want to keep the valley dancing.”
Joey was weaned on funk. “Saturday mornings, my little ginger mom put on funk records and danced around cleaning the house. I attribute a lot of my musical taste appreciation to that. My mom gets down.”
Joey says he has embraced what this place is. “I’ve made a lot of friends and I’ve played a lot of music. You have to be willing to see what life could be and you have to be willing to have everyone up in your business because it’s like adult high school here. You have to also be willing to let people in and not take things too personal because we are breathing down each other’s necks—you see the same people every day. When it comes down to it, all those people do love you and you know you love them. We’re like the Island of Misfit Toys,” he grins.
“I’m more than proud be to be a part of this community full of personalities and a couple of weirdoes. It’s unique to be in a place where nobody’s trying to fit in but we all fit.”