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Remember Joey K

Local Music Makers

I’ve had a busy summer. I’m grateful to my husband and I’m thankful for my full calendar of performances. I’m uplifted by my family and friends and I’m inspired by my students. My day in and day out routine up until recently, has been the usual mix of joys and challenges.

I didn’t expect, however, to have to face the sudden death of one of my dearest pals; a truly one-of-a-kind human. I often referred to him as my champion.

joey K Blues Drummer passes away

He was the regular drummer in my Blues band for six years and even when we stopped playing together every week, he filled in when he could for many years after. He produced, mixed and mastered and played drums on my only live recorded CD release, “Peggy Ratusz Sings the Blues.” He even designed the cover.

The late night talks on the phone, even though they became fewer and farther between over recent years, were calls I never ignored and they ran the gamut of deep to silly, raunchy to revitalizing. He called me “P-Marie.” I called him “my Joey.”

The shock of losing him in the way that we did, just shy of his 49th birthday, causes me crying jags that are triggered by random as well as significant things. Like, I desperately went looking for and found in the very back of my closet, something he gave me. It belonged to his late mother.

I shouted out his name and fell on the bed when I found it. His name was Joey. And among a million other things, he was most notably a son, Kathy’s love, a brother to his band mates, a mentor, a friend. A multi-instrumentalist (mainly drums and guitar), he was a prolific songwriter with a penetrative voice.

I don’t think I’m very much unlike his even closer friends and family, when I catch myself fixating and obsessing over the reasons why he chose to leave us. As a result, I spent time studying the lyrics to more than 20 of his songs looking for insight.

Joey was a professional musician since the age of 16. ‘Sad Clown’ was his first solo album in 2008. Before moving to Asheville he had his own band, Big Pill and remarkably, he was the out-front lead singer/drummer. They played nonstop in the Los Angeles area for eight years.

In 2011 Joey wrote and released ‘Fifteen Year Overnight Success’ here in Asheville. Then in 2019, he recorded ‘Ten Years a Broken Stage.’ These two albums abound in rhymes and reasons, questions and answers. Poignant and heartfelt, irked, raw and angry, hopeless, searching, romantic, funny and reflective, Joey did not shy away from irreverence either.

“15 Years” is a bombastic rock fusion instrumental that starts with a sampling of randomly layered voices from a collection of voice mail messages, where we hear a myriad of moods and inflections in the voices of his tribe.

What follows, sounds like a muffled heartbeat. Then it’s free-style Joey slapping and whacking the skins with intense fervor. We’re bombarded with the take-no-prisoners heavy rock fusion beat with steelpan and distorted guitar after that.

“Friendly Reminder” reveals some of Joey’s best advice when he sings, “The past ain’t your fault. Take all your secrets and lock em’ up in the vault. Ask me what you want, you know I’ve done it all but the bigger the pride, the harder the fall. Do what I sing and not what I do. Listen up close if you know what’s good for you.”

“All I Got” is one of the first songs I ever heard him do live. It’s got an earworm of a hook line. “Peace of mind is all I want but I don’t place bets cause all I got left is coffee and cigarettes. Twelve leaps of faith and one day at a time to rid me of the faults I held so dear. Sober I’ll stay but I don’t place bets and all I got left is coffee and cigarettes.”

“Small” is a deep and deliberate slower paced rock ballad that asks: “Can’t you hear me calling? Don’t you know I’m falling in my sleep? Can’t you hear me crying? Don’t you know I’m dying in my dreams? Look at all that we have here. Places, people live in fear. Selfish me, how could I be so small? Oh my body’s aching. Oh my back is breaking. No one knows. Don’t you know I’m famished? Can’t you see I’ve vanished from my clothes?”

“Full Time Loser” has an elastic happy funky beat and with his signature poppy clear timber, he saunters through the verses like a crooner, but his ballsy 3-word hook line doubles as the chorus and hits you like a brick.

“All the Time”– a ballad that moved me to tears when I sat down just now to really be present with it: “I had my way. I can’t live this way. Gonna clean out my top drawer and I won’t do that stuff no more.

"Gonna grow up to have the thrill of paying all my bills all the time. Like a vaudeville act the plates would spin. The nightlife and good times, suckers us in. I’m on this stage and I sing my song loud. Now I’ve seen I’ve been a bit too proud. Now that I’ve turned X-X-X years old, I find now I have less of a hold on that light that shines deep within.”

His 2019 release, ‘Ten Years a Broken Stage’ explores Latin beats and instruments, as well as more of the heavy hitting Rock-Jazz fusion elements that ‘Fifteen Years’ delivers. There are apologies and love songs, questions and observations. He took the power of his full voice to higher places on a couple tracks on this 8 song release.

“Yes I Am” is in 12/8 time and it’s a potent and lush apology ballad.

“Everything” is a sweet Latin love song with repetitive lines: “I owe you everything; your love is everything…”

Joey, your whole life was everything. I hope your soul is bigger and brighter and more at ease; because you took a piece of all ours with you when you left.

“I cry for you, and the sky cries for you. And when you went I became a hopeless drifter. But this life was not for you, though I learned from you, that beauty need only be a whisper.” Katie Melua

I encourage you to view this video of Joey in rare form. It’s his NPR tiny desk contest submission from six months ago that includes all his bloopers. It’s a song about his perfect woman called “Fat Side of Skinny.”

*Dial 988 for Suicide and Crisis Hotline.

photo of peggy ratusz

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach,

song interpreter, and songwriter.

For vocal coaching email her at


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