Inductee Biography for JOE BETHANCOURT
Joe Bethencourt, a self-taught musician was born in El Paso, Texas 1946. His mother and maternal grandfather were both born in Arizona but with his father in the military the family moved around quite frequently. Spending every Christmas in Arizona though he was exposed to his mother’s ragtime piano along with his grandfathers mariachi style fiddle playing. But it was while his family was living in North Carolina he became acquainted with Appalachian/Ozark mountain music where everyone played music, passing down songs over time without even knowing who wrote them.
When Joe was about nine, he was sitting in with his grandfather who was playing the fiddle. He asked him if he could play fiddle also. His grandfather then dug an old banjo out of the closet, handing it to Joe, while saying “Here, play this. We need more banjo players”.
When the family returned to Arizona in 1961, as he attended North High School, Joe soon realized three things. The popularity of the banjo had exploded with the hit song “Tom Dooley” by the Kingston trio so there was money to be made, 2. He was one of only three banjo players in Arizona and 3. Musicians attracted girls.
It wasn’t long before Joe was sitting in with mariachi, bluegrass, country, and folk music bands. Sneaking into nightclubs such as “JD’s” and “The Lumber Mill” brought him face to face with local acts such as “Waylon Jennings”. It was at the Lumber Mill as Joe was getting ready to play his set that “the powers that be” reamed him in front of everyone “Telling him that he would never make it in music with his speech problem, to give it up”. The act that was following Joe then pulled Joe aside to tell him ” You have a great ability to play, you are a hell of a picker, let your music speak for itself”. This advice that came from “John Denver” are words Joe has never forgotten.
In the years 1968 thru 1969 Joe lived in a tiny apartment behind Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California working as a studio musician for Capitol Records. It was here that his first Billboard magazine 4 star album “The Joe Bethancourt String Concert Album” was released.
Returning to Arizona to stay Joe quickly moved into the Phoenix Music scene, hosting his radio show “Folk Music Occasional” on KDKB with “Bill Compton”. He appeared as a regular on the “Wallace and Ladmo Show” playing every instrument he could get his hands on including a bit where he played the paper bag. Joe performed as the house band at the infamous restaurant “Funny Fellows” for 17 years.
With Joe’s list of accomplishments including, nominations for the Arizona Governor’s Art’s Award, Recordings on file at the University of East Tennessee’s Appalachian Folklore collection, his work educating children on music, writing and producing records, entertaining, and storytelling it was an easy choice to induct this 3rd generation Arizonian Joe Bethancourt to the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame.
by Linda Jane Brown, Beve Cole