RI Music Hall of Fame Inductee Joe Doyle

You may not know his name, but you’ve probably heard his music – songs like “She Said Yes” and the #1 Country hit “In Pictures.” Joe Doyle’s songs have been recorded by some of country music’s leading artists including Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Rhett Akins, and Alabama.

The East Providence native was one of four acts scheduled for induction into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame last month. Like everything else these days, the concert induction ceremony has been postponed.

Meanwhile, I spoke to Doyle last week, where he’s been holed up at his home in Nashville. He shared some thoughts on songwriting and growing up in Rhode Island.

Doyle recently co-authored a new song, “When This is Over,” a tune that has garnered some attention on YouTube where fans are covering it. I wondered how the song, co-written and sung by Doyle’s friend, Goran Kralj, came together during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Goran is a buddy of mine, we’ve written a bunch of songs together. He was the lead singer of a band called The Guffs from Milwaukee – they were signed to EMI records back in the 90’s and Matchbox 20 was actually once their opening act. He’s now a dentist, he got his degree, and then put it on hold for a few years while he went on tour with the band. I’ve written with everybody in my 32 years here in town (Nashville), and he’s just as talented as any of the full-time writers that I’ve ever worked with.”

Doyle continued, “When we got quarantined, he had this idea for ‘When This is Over’ and we sat via Zoom and wrote this song; he was in Chicago and I was here in Nashville. We felt it was pretty good and then he posted his live version of it on Facebook and it got over 130,000 views. Then people started recording their own versions and posting it to social media.”

“We tried to not pinpoint the song lyrically where it had to do with this current crisis. It could be about anything, it could be cancer, whatever the circumstance that you find yourself in that you’re waiting to be over. By not being specific about what the dilemma was, I thought it could be more universal. I just want a positive message to be out there. What we need now is hope, these are dark times.”

Doyle described how growing up in Rhode Island contributed to his career success.

It starts with (Providence native) George M. Cohen. My mother used to sing a lot in the house, and she’d always sing ‘I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.’ Then the band Rizzz … my brother, has been married to Dave Tanury’s (Rizzz, Brass Attack) cousin since the mid-1970s. I went to go see them at Rhode Island College when I was twelve and had just started playing drums and I got to meet Ricky Couto and I thought they were rock stars. And the Schemers of course, Mark Cutler came to a workshop I did in Little Compton when I was getting my Master’s Degree.”

“I was also in a High School band – my first gig was at India Point Park – we opened  for a band called The Detectives, they were so cool. We used to play at Big Mama’s on the Brown campus.”

“There was a drum teacher I had named Tom Nimmo. He was teaching me drums when I was a kid and he turned me on to bands like Steely Dan and Atlanta Rhythm Section. He also introduced me to Berklee College in Boston. That’s where I ended up going and it was because of him talking about it.”

“WBRU introduced me to so much great music, that was where I first heard REM. I later got to meet Mike Mills, the bass player, right before REM was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve met some of those artists that I first heard on WBRU. I’ve written with the keyboard player from Journey, and the lead singer of Mr Mister, Richard Page. A lot of the heroes that I have, I got introduced on local radio in Rhode Island.”

His musical influences also included songwriters like James Taylor, “being partly from New England,” Doyle noted. “When I first moved to Nashville, you didn’t need a connection to get on a record. I didn’t know Reba McIntyre when I got on her record, I was a 26 year old kid, we just pitched the song, she recorded it. I’ve never met Jason Aldean, I’ve never met Tim McGraw, I’ve never met Kenny Rogers, I’ve never met many of the folks who have recorded my songs.”

Although there was some interest from record labels in the 1990’s, songwriter Doyle never seriously entertained a career as a full time performer. “I didn’t really feel like that was my calling… I like performing for people but I’m not necessarily a performer,” he explained. 

“It’s a new generation for these kids coming up, I had my time, this is their time, If I can sneak a song in here and there, perfect, and if I can write song with one of the younger kids and add a little bit of lyrical finesse, melodic or harmonic finesse … I’ve dedicated my adult life to teaching and writing.”

We also chatted about songwriters featured in the recent Ken Burns documentary “Country Music.” “Kristofferson comes to mind, a fantastic songwriter, not the best singer you ever heard, but there was believability. Another one of course was John Prine who we just lost. Man, what a talent and what a way he had with words!”

Doyle is thrilled to be inducted into the Music Hall of Fame, and looks forward to coming to Rhode Island to perform. 

“It fills me with pride, it fills me with humility, with respect for the fellow members. I wish my parents were still with us, I only lost them in 2015 and 2016. Without them, none of it would have been possible. It’s a true honor, I love my home state, it’s my heart.”

No word yet on when the ceremony will be rescheduled – we’ll let you know as soon as we hear.

Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music, the arts and more for What'sUpNewp. He is also a contributor to Providence Monthly, SO RI, Hey Rhody and The Bay magazines. Ken DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse,"...