Born and raised in Ashland, MS, guitarist Joe Beard grew up with the Murphy brothers, one of whom later found an international following as Matt "Guitar" Murphy. Guitarist Nathan Beauregard lived with Beard's cousin, so he was surrounded by aspiring and veteran blues musicians while growing up, and he began singing at an early age. Beard became interested in playing guitar via the Murphy brothers, who sat in with a young B.B. King when he played at the Roosevelt Lake Club. Beard began to learn guitar at age 17 from Ernest Scruggs, a neighbor, before heading to Chicago.
Beard moved to Rochester, NY, and from time to time would visit one of his brothers in Chicago. He quickly became enamored of the blues being played in clubs there by people like Jimmy Reed and Sonny Boy Williamson. Beard sat in with John Lee Hooker one night and received encouraging words from Hooker, and also later sat in with his idol, Muddy Waters.
While in Rochester, he formed the Soul Brothers Six, playing bass and singing, but he didn't perform in public on guitar until 1965. Beard befriended classic blues guitarist Son House, who was a neighbor in Rochester, and played a concert for students at the University of Rochester in 1968. Beard worked as an electrician by day and would occasionally play out at night and on weekends for most of the '60s on through to the '80s. He has a reputation as one of the best local players around, and though he may not be a household name in other parts of the U.S., he toured Europe in 1983 and did studio and stage work with Buster Benton, Lafayette Leake, and Memphis Slim. At the famed BK Lounge, Beard and his backing bands opened for Bobby Bland, Albert King, and others. More recently, Beard performed at President George H.W. Bush's inaugural gala. In 1990, he recorded an album for Kingsnake Records, No More Cherry Rose, which was well received by the blues radio community.
Blues UnionBeard recorded an album with Ronnie Earl's band for the California-based AudioQuest label, Blues Union (1996). Accompanying him are Hammond B-3 organist Bruce Katz and tenor saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman. The album was a critical success, winning Offbeat Magazine's Blues Album of the Year award. He followed it up with 1998's For Real and 2000's Dealin', both records featuring Duke Robillard.
Photo credit: Aaron Winters