Joey Hebdo is a musician, songwriter and entertainer who was born and bred in the 614. (www.joeyhebdo.com) Like so many, Joey felt the need to leave home in search of greater things. A common story where one leaves the comforts of familiarity to search out what the rest of the world has to offer, try to make it big, or just to escape for a while. Hebdo is now a returning member of the family of people that have left C-Bus but just had to come back. The experience of breaking “free from the chain gang” (Cash) allowed Hebdo to find himself. It was in leaving that turned Hebdo into a deeper, more serious artist which than led him home. And that is where our story begins.
On a sunny afternoon Hebdo and I met at the Global Gallery in Clintonville. I got to hear the story of how a young soulful boy born into a Lebanese family has turned into the finely tuned, eclectically diverse man sitting in front of me sharing a walnut and pear pizza.
Hebdo: “I’ve been singing my whole life. My dad and grandfather were singers. Being from a Lebanese culture there were a lot of drum circles, singing and dancing when I was growing up at family get together’s. They all played hand drums and no one ever played instruments. Then I picked up the guitar and my dad was real excited, he and my grandfather both had phenomenal voices. The guitar became an outlet for me. I wasn’t really into sports so it was a way to express myself.”
After high school at Ohio University he majored in anthropology and that is where his music career and passion really took off. Living alone for a good part of his college career allowed him the time and space he needed for growth.
After a few months of practice Hebdo, with the aid of a more experienced guitar player, began making the rounds showing off his talents at local coffeehouses, school functions and talent shows. Gahanna Lincoln High School, where Hebdo attended, appreciated the arts by supporting and providing an early platform for their students to grow and showcase their work. This still was no easy task for Joey.
Hebdo: “It was nerve wracking playing in front of peers in high school. It was all new and uncharted and we were doing something no one else was doing. But real shows with other bands didn’t really happen till after high school and I held on to the guys I had started playing with.”
Hebdo: “When I went to OU, I really started playing a lot. A friend of mine convinced me to go and do an open mic. I had been writing all original music and luckily that’s what they want down there, they don’t really care about covers. So it really let me focus on writing my own material and then it just took off. There were hours and hours of sitting in my dorm room practicing. I had my own little room because I was kind of a loner. So that’s all just really where I started writing. Once I got done with school I moved back to Columbus for a few years.”
The Gypsy Caravan band he had helped form made their way to Columbus. After years of growth and a name change Black Coin enjoyed enough success in the local music scene. So the boys took their chances, threw caution to the wind, and headed for the west coast. They played a lot of good spots in Los Angeles before they went their separate ways.
Hebdo: “California was amazing, a whole other world. I had always wanted to go and play for people out there, have an adventure. People have a different pace and mentality, they care about different stuff. The other guys are still there but after a year I was like I’m down.”
The first time I met Hebdo he saved me from a tight situation so I instantly liked him. Being in his presence brings a certain calm and ease to a situation. So it’s no surprise that after sometime he realized the LA scene perhaps wasn’t particularly for him. The kind of laid back, chill aura he reverberates is more NoCal so he headed for the San Francisco Bay area. In Northern California he happily spent the a good part of his time writing and playing music while catching inspiration from his housemate/friend Steward a local talented graffiti artist. After soaking up all that the Bay area had to offer Hebdo headed straight up the coast to land in Portland Oregon.
Oregon was both good to and good for Hebdo. That is where he wrote the songs for his first solo and one of my local favorites, “Prosciutto” in a trippy royal blue basement. After being immersed in the music scene for a while that sense of familiarity about Oregon began to take over.
Hebdo: “When I was in Portland I had a bit of an epiphany. Portland was a lot like the Midwest. It’s not really built around this huge epicenter, like other big cities are. Mentality seems to be affected by that overall as a culture. Portland is actually smaller than Columbus and alike as far as weather, people, and scenery so I found it very easy to get around. It had a significant large group of hip, progressive people who were doing cool things and they had it figured out. They were on a good path and even with all the street cred they didn’t need it to blow up and get too crazy. Which is kind of like what Columbus wants. I was like well this place is revered as really cool and it is really cool but it doesn’t have anything that Columbus doesn’t have. So I started saying to myself, I need to get back there and do some work in my town.”
In 2007 he left Portland and headed straight for Athens where he recorded “Prosciutto” and picked up his lady. He then moved to Columbus for good and was happily welcomed home. He quickly fell back in to what had become an even more happening music scene than what he had left.
Hebdo: “So when I got back, sure enough everyone was really excited about the town. There was a period of time when the people I was surrounded with weren’t that excited about Columbus, maybe it was just my age group. But now everyone is just really excited and it’s a good place to be. A lot of us knew that there was always a lot of great music here so it’s great.”
Since returning Hebdo turned a childhood passion for the outdoors into a job working as a zipline leader in Hocking Hills where it would seem he gets all the practice he needs on a regular basis in perfecting the art of pleasing a crowd. Very important for a man who frequently takes to the stage solo and a talent which he performs very well.
Hebdo: “I give tours to people which means no matter what your mood is, you’ve got to entertain these people and I put on a show down there. But I am definitely more outgoing now than when I first began. Their really good to me with flexibility with my shows, I love it.”
Next up is a cd release that he put together with four guys last winter after they locked themselves in a cabin around Hocking Hills for three days. The collaborative songwriters played 16-17 hours per day jam sessions where all instrumentals were completely performed by only the four individuals involved. A lot of talented professionals are currently mastering it out and we should see it come to light by the spring. But you can catch him tonight at Rumba Café for Cowtown Round with Jason Quicksall show starts at 8:30.
In 2012 we can also look forward to another solo Hebdo album. For those of us that haven taken such pleasure in “Prosciutto,” the next album will carry a deeper, more soulful vibe.
Hebdo: “I grew up on Motown and singing was just what the guys in my family did, so I just did what they did. I hope to pass that on to make music and singing so normal that it’s not weird, it’s just every day. It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever had. I never stopped and questioned why I sing, it’s just like breathing to me.”
The “We are Columbus” crew which Hebdo helped orchestrate made a strong showing at last year’s South by Southwest event in Austin, Texas. The group which includes a variety of local artist will be headed back to Austin in March to further showcase our bevy of Ohio talent. In the upcoming years we will no doubt see more and more of Hebdo as he steadily furthers his music career along with actively promoting and supporting the Columbus music scene. The fact that he is a well-rounded individual will no doubt be a testament to his staying power.
There is something about a person like Joey Hebdo that sticks. Whether it’s his tranquil energy or the fact that he is seemingly so comfortable in his own skin his presence is peaceful. Hebdo routinely comes across as that trustworthy boy next door always whiling to help a friend and wanting everyone to succeed. Hebdo is the kind of player a team needs and we are lucky he found his way back to Columbus to play for our team.
Photo credits from top to bottom: Jacqueline Charak, Kerry Henderson, Carson Crosley, Bree Frick, Meghan Kelly