Joel Thetford

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Joel Thetford’s voice catches you right away. From the start, you know this guy was born to sing a country song.-(RED LINE ROOTS)

No Bull: Former rodeo rider gets back to country roots

AUTHOR:Tim Gillis(Portland Phoenix)

Joel Thetford used to hang on for dear life on the champion bull riding circuit in Texas, his home state. This Saturday night, he’ll try to rope in the Portland music crowd with his debut album release at Portland House of Music & Events.

Carleigh Nesbit opens the show, followed by Chris Ross & The North, a breakout band from Bangor. Then Thetford, who moved to Maine from Fort Worth, Texas, 10 years ago, takes the stage.

Here I Go is the name of the fresh press, with five strong songs that give a hint of what’s to come. The album was produced by friend and roommate, Will Mallett of The Mallett Brothers Band.

“It’s what I’m doing with the project,” said Thetford, of the album name and lead song. The bovine boss has been playing music since he was 13 years old when he got his first guitar and wrote his first song three years later. He played in a band at Boswell High School in Fort Worth, and was on the football team. He started riding in the rodeo when he graduated.

“A buddy of mine said I should try it out,” he said. “It was at the Kowbell in Mansfield, Texas. They just tore it down a few years back to build a school.” Thetford decided to go professional not long after riding amateur. He moved to Stephenville and met up with some of the country’s greatest rodeo riders, including Ty Murray, Jim Sharpe and Tuff Hedeman, and joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

“I hung out with the clowns,” he said. “Not a lot of people realize how many injuries they spare and the lives they save. They’re there to do a job, which is to protect the riders. They’re great athletes; they got to be fast. It was the most competitive thing I’ve ever done.”

Thetford was working at a bottling plant, pulling the Laverne-and-Shirley shift during the week and riding bulls on the weekend. He moved to New England to follow his heart, and worked for Dean Foods (an affiliate of Garelick Farms), and then surveyed land for five years in “the beautiful woods of Maine.”

He has reined in some musicians and shown them his rodeo roots.

“I took Jay Basiner (lead singer for North of Nashville) to his first rodeo,” Thetford said. “I took a road trip all through Texas — Waco, San Antone. North of Nashville hired a publicist and we met up in Austin. I took Jay to Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth. It’s considered the best honky-tonk bar in Texas. All the greats have been through there, still play there.”

On the new album, he gets help from his friends again. Andrew Martelle, who plays fiddle and mandolin for North of Nashville, plays on three tunes. Mallett Brothers Band members Nick Lane (bass) and Brian Higgins (drums) play on two songs. Matt Robbins (of King Memphis and Mercy Largo) plays lead guitar on two tunes; Basiner plays drums on one.

He recorded it at Wally’s studio. The one-name wonder plays dobro and guitar for The Mallet Brothers. John Wyman did the mixing

“I met Will Mallett a couple years back at the Asylum, at a Steve Earle concert,” Thetford said. “We became real good friends with them when hanging out with North of Nashville for a couple years on the road. I drove the tour bus, got us in trouble, drank whiskey, and sold the merch.”




Illustrating further the wonderfully eclectic nature of Portland’s music scene was Joel Thetford, a Texas-bred singer/songwriter, who showed up with an undeniable sense of charm and humbleness. He’s been doling out authentic sonic snippets of the Southern countryside in Portland for five years now, playing his alternative country songs in places like Salvage BBQ, Blue, the Thirsty Pig and the Portland House of Music and Events. Often playing shows completely alone, with just his guitar, harmonica and deep voice, Joel Thetford was in his element around the tiny desk, and would surely sway the opinion of even the most staunchest of country music haters.

That’s because Thetford’s original country songs aren’t like annoying country ballads we might hear on the radio, that drone on about women in tight torn denim, and drinking cheap beers by the riverbank. Thetford’s music, specifically “Broken Things” and “The Fall,” hearken back to more traditional country music: where songs were tied with real life experiences or personal hurdles. Because of this, his debut EP, Here I Go, is a country music package with substance and some real emotional meat.

Heavily influenced by the classic country music of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and George Strait, it’s safe to say that Thetford knows the ins and outs of a good country tune. He’s even got rodeo experience as a bull rider in Fort Worth, Texas, so he doesn’t just talk the talk. Thetford is a prime example that real experiences can often result in the most authentic pieces of musical storytelling.

Thetford said that he doesn’t care if he wins the NPR contest, he just want to explore New England and distribute his slowly simmered, Southern drawl to members of what he called “a progressive music community.”

Jeff Beam