joe dickey



                  Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  (Cambridge, MA, 2008)  Ginko Tree           RENAISSANCE MANnoun
that was already big in 1952, when               A person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas
   the Dickey family lived there.                 
                                                                                      If the Merriam-Webster definition of Renaissance Man 
                                                                                      is a good one, then Joe Dickey can rightfully claim to be
                                                                                      a bona fide Renaissance Man.  He most definitely has
                                                                                      "wide interests" and he most definitely is "expert in
                                                                                      several areas". He is a:  
                  Composer               Lyricist                           Producer
   Past Retreat President                          Actor                  Father of three
            Gardener       Bonus Dad to four                           Husband of one
        Speechwriter            Inventor                 Novelist           Poet
                       Grandfather to twelve      Speechmaker                      Chef
             Licensed Minister             Highly Regarded Heathen

(In no particular order of importance . . . )

                        He has played nine musical instruments (six of them pretty badly).

                        He has flown airplanes.

                        He has parasailed.

                        He has owned motorcycles.

                        He has climbed Mt. Whitney.

                        He has met three United States Presidents.

                        He used to share a sandwich once a week with an “aluminum recycler”.

                        He has owned both dogs and cats, also a mouse and many fish.  (OK, his kids have 

owned the mouse and the fish.)

                        He has been a lighting director for acts in main rooms in Las Vegas, Reno, Tahoe, 

and Atlantic City.

                        He has been a cue caller in all of those same venues.

                        He once moved a house 32 miles and rebuilt it (with the help of an 80-year-old mentor).

                        He has constructed furniture.

                        He has lived at 41 different addresses and never been evicted.

                        He has consulted for non-profit organizations.

                        He lettered in three sports in high school (basketball, baseball, and golf).

                        He won a club golf tournament when he was sixteen years old.

He won the United States Air Force World-Wide Talent Contest.

He sang in Carnegie Hall.

He shot a hole-in-one.

                        He does most of the cooking at home (getting average to good reviews from his children 

and occasional rave reviews from his wife).

He claims to be The Second Most Interesting Man In the World.

So . . . he says he’s basically exactly like everyone else in Southern California.  “Everyone in L.A. does everything.  It’s amazing and quite daunting.”  To continue the comparison with all other Southern California residents, he owns more cars than there are drivers in the family, he was a busboy for three weeks and worked as an inventory clerk for a weekend back in the 70’s.  What separates him from that same group of Southern Californians is that for the rest of his adult life Joe Dickey has been a singer. Not just a person who sang. A real singer.  He made an actual living as a singer.  He loves to sing, and consequently, he says, “I’ve had a great life!”

Though he made a record when he was two years old, he actually began singing in public after his fifth grade teacher discovered he could carry a tune and he could recognize songs as she tapped their rhythms on her desk with a pencil.  From then on, he was part of the smaller ensembles in grade school, junior high, and high school.  He entered a few state singing contests as a high school student and won “Superior” honors, also garnering the same “Superior” ratings for baritone horn solos.  While in high school (adding to his Renaissance Man credibility) he was elected the President of the Kentucky State Student Council.  (“Luckily, I was able to pass along the actual duties to a boy a year behind me in school.  HE had to do all the work.”)  Joe’s father was the President of the University of Kentucky at that time, and Joe says he realizes that he had a privileged life during his formative years.  (Being a person who easily forgets any hardships or sad times, he also freely expounds on how beautiful the REST of his life has been, as well.)

Joe graduated second in a very small senior class, went to Emory University, and though he participated in every musical event he could during college, music was not his main academic focus. While winning the Emory Talent Contest two years in a row, and while becoming an original member of Opera Atlanta, which later evolved into the Atlanta Opera Company, and while soloing with the world-renowned Emory University Glee Club on numerous tours, he earned a degree in Business Administration with a double major in Management and Marketing.  He sang lead roles in a number of operas including “Cossi Fan Tutti” by Mozart, and “Julius Caesar” by Handel.  He also was the featured soloist in many oratorios, and had important roles in several operettas.  “I loved the opera.  I hated the opera singers. Though I’m sure there must be a few exceptions, it appears to be a near impossibility to be a real opera singer and not become insufferable.”

Upon graduation, in the spring of 1967, he was one of many who had to serve in the military.  He chose the U. S. Air Force, went to Basic Training for four weeks while waiting for Officer Training School to start, and began four VERY long years of service during a war that he was very much at odds with.  He graduated from Officer Training School with “Distinction” (in the top 10% of his class) and went on to become an Avionics Officer, advancing to the rank of Captain.  His first daughter, Jennifer, was born in 1968.  While serving at George Air Force Base, in Victorville, California, he learned of the Air Force Talent Contest.  “I found out that if you won at the base level, you got to go to another base and compete again, and if you won there you got to go some place else.  I was able to stay away from my job for almost a month!”  He eventually won First Place in the Air Force World-Wide Talent Contest, as a “popular singer”.  It was a catalyst for him to believe that he might actually be able to make a living in the “real world” as a singer.

After being discharged from the Air Force, he moved to Los Angeles, with dreams of being the next Jack Jones.  He accepted a management job with Blue Cross of Southern California to pay the bills, but started going to auditions to test the waters.  A very intense 13-week theatre workshop put him on a new path in life and he and his wife divorced.  After a “non-singing” audition he was selected to be on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden, and kept winning for six days.  “I got to play with Greg Morris and Peter Lawford, who were having a personal battle to see who was ‘the best Password player of all times’.  Only a short time before, the game show scandals has been exposed, the prize money on game shows practically dropped to nothing, and for my numerous victories in those six days, I won a grand total of $1,100.”

In addition to being a winner for six days on "Password", a television game show, he also took an afternoon off to audition for the Los Angeles Dodgers, to sing the National Anthem. 

“I had wanted to sing at a major league game for a number of years. I’m a BIG baseball fan, I’d collected thousands of cards when I was a kid, and I thought it would be really cool to sing for a game.  I called the Dodgers, and was amused when they told me to send them a photo and resumé.  (How Hollywood!) A few weeks later I got a call asking if I could come over on a Wednesday afternoon at 2pm to sing for the man who selected the Anthem singers.  I asked for and got the afternoon off from Blue Cross.  I drove over to Elysian Park and was met at a gate by an electrician.  He took me out to center field, placed a microphone on a stand in front of me, and said, ‘Wait here.  Mr. Patterson will be ready to listen in a few minutes.’  There I was, standing in center field, in one of the most famous stadiums in the world.  OHMYGOD!  What a thrill! Then I heard a raspy voice from somewhere in the left field stands holler,  ‘OK, Kid!  Let’s hear it!’  I sang a cappella, with a pretty long delay, but I got through it and that same voice yelled, ‘That’s great, Kid.  Come up to my office.’  The electrician took me up to the executive suites and into the office of the Vice President, Red Patterson.  His window looked out on the playing field, and I decided right then and there that if I didn’t make it as a singer I wanted to work for the Dodgers. It was the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen.  He asked me how many times I wanted to sing that year and I was totally flabbergasted.  (It was many years before the Dodgers began to use the National Anthem as a marketing tool, and I got to sing the anthem three or four times that season.)  The next year he let me sing for an Old-Timers game, and to be in the dugout before the game.  I was there with all of my baseball cards!  Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Dale Long (eight home runs in eight consecutive games).  I tell people now that I’ve met three Presidents of the United States, but I’ve never had a thrill that equaled the moment when Satchel Paige walked past me and his sleeve touched my sleeve. I actually had to sit down for a minute in the dugout. It was truly an amazing day!”

Joe went on to sing the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium at least once a season for 32 consecutive years.  He thought it to be, perhaps, a Guiness Book of Records type record, but it seems that no one keeps track of those kinds of appearances except the singers themselves.

Joe’s first professional job in Los Angeles was with The Ray Charles Singers, one of the most highly regarded groups of the day. Ray Charles (not the black, blind R & B singer Ray Charles) but The Other Ray Charles (arranger, composer, lyricist, musical director) was putting together a new group to work with Perry Como and he hired Joe to be one of the twelve.  Ray recalled that the first day of rehearsal at CBS was special, realizing that this was not only an exceptionally fine singing group but that he had chosen twelve very, very nice people.  Joe remembers that when they took a break for lunch no one wanted to stop singing, they were having so much fun, and that he thought it a miracle to be doing something so incredibly wonderful and getting paid to do it!  The group only stayed together for a short while, working with Como in Las Vegas, South Tahoe, and on television.

He recalls a time when he was living in an apartment in Hollywood, no income, all of his Unemployment payments going to alimony and child support, ineligible for Food Stamps. His car broke down and he was walking three or four miles to an acting class, owing his acting teacher $55, and there was a moment when he thought, “This is so great.  I feel so good about my life,” and had no idea that others might view his existence and think just the opposite.

The Doodletown Pipers came next for Joe, performing at major concert venues and state fairs, and on his first cruise.  He quit that group when he signed a contract to appear in “Hallelujah Hollywood”, which would be the biggest production show in the world at the biggest hotel in the world, the MGM Grand, in Las Vegas.  Though only intending to go for a month of rehearsals and six months of work, he stayed in the show for over seven years, as a lead singer performing for millions, finally calling it quits to move to Nashville with a new dream of becoming a country songwriter. (In his entire career, counting nightclubs, theaters, churches, studios, and stadiums, he estimates that he has performed live for almost seven million people.)

He was well-received by the country entertainment community and encouraged by Buddy Killen, one of the most successful record producers and publishers in Nashville, but Joe discovered that he was not a great songwriter and that his passion still was singing.  He also discovered that he could write, commercially.  During his two years in Tennessee, he wrote over 1500 radio spots and composed a number of effective jingles.  It wasn’t enough, however, to keep him in the South and he moved back to Las Vegas and began a short stint as a lounge singer.  He and his wife, Robin, put together an act reminiscent of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme but joked, “we’re younger, prettier, and a lot less expensive.”  It didn’t take very many lounge jobs to convince him that they should move to Los Angeles and try their hand at television.

It proved to be a good move.  He began to extend his talents as a writer and to find himself involved in more creative parts of the entertainment industry.  As a writer, part of his work was for major PBS stations, writing thousands of pledge scripts.  He also penned speeches and special material for live shows and telethons, composed more songs, wrote hundreds of lyrics, and created and produced highly acclaimed motivational cassette programs.  In addition he created special comedy materials for numerous acts, completed scripts for industrial films, and even, for a year, became a successful consultant for non-profit organizations, receiving 86% of the requested funds in his grant proposals.  

Among all of the other things Joe did in the entertainment industry, he also produced, directed, and coordinated talent for benefit concerts; worked as a road manager, lighting designer, and cue caller for main room acts in major hotels in Las Vegas, Reno, Tahoe, and Atlantic City; and was the on-camera host for numerous industrial films and video productions.

In 1999, his wife of twenty years died (at the age of 40) leaving him with an eight-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son.  He cut way back on his singing work to be at home with his kids.  For eight years he was a Mister Mom, juggling a performing career with chauffeuring, shopping, cooking, washing and ironing, and the multitude of other things that single parents must do.  Not only did they all survive, they thrived. In October 2004, he was honored as the Single Parent of the Year by the Universal Love Foundation, at the Four Seasons Hotel, in Beverly Hills, CA.  “I thought it would give me some status within my little three-member family, but my kids proved me to be incorrect.  They were totally blasé about the entire thing.  To them, I was still just the same ol’ dad. And, ya know, they were right.”

He got a call from a friend in 1999 to come join an old-time rock ‘n’ roll group, The Crew Cuts (Earth Angel and Sh-Boom, Sh-Boom  And in 2007, he became a member of the revived Four Preps (26 Miles Across the Sea). ). "Four old guys who go around the country singing for people who’re older than we are.”  He now stays busy singing for conferences, conventions, and seminars all across he country.  A number of years ago he recorded the songs for two new CDs, “FULL OUT!” and “UNEQUIVOCAL”. They include many of his favorites, standards with positive lyrics that he has sung over the years.  He has not sung a negative lyric since 1982.  He is still a member of Actors’ Equity, AFTRA, and SAG.

His multiple talents and interests continue to spur him on to other endeavors.  He wrote a novel and is working on the screenplay, "The Funeral Singer".  His favorite book is the second that he wrote called, "Stories I've Told More Than Once".  He is in the midst of creating a production show for Las Vegas; and he is looking for a game agent to represent him on two board games that he invented, and has a few other inventions “in the drawer”.  He was a soloist for over 14 years at the same two Southern California churches and served as Music Director at churches in La Crescenta and Simi Valley. He also finds time to read, having finished a number of books this year with bookmarks in several more.  He subscribes to “Family Handyman”, “Golf",  "Golf Digest", “Wine Spectator”, "Wine Enthusiast", "Sunset", "Los Angeles", "Time", "Sports Illustrated",  "Food and Wine", "Bon Appetit", “Smithsonian”, and “Vegetarian Times” (though not a vegetarian).  He is a member of KCET (the Los Angeles public television station),  he belonged to both his son’s and daughter’s PTAs; he was the President of the Big Sky Retreat for 19 years.  He’s no longer a member of AARP.  “I joined for a while but quit.  It made me feel old.”  His hobbies include organic gardening, furniture construction, poetry writing (mostly haiku for the past few years), culinary arts, and a misplaced passion for golf.  “I got down to an 8 handicap in my second year -- when I was 16.  I’ve never been as good since.  Now I talk 70, dress 80, and shoot 90."

He tries to keep his personal life personal.  A few other facts that haven’t been included in the above paragraphs but he feels "OK to tell" -- his eldest daughter is married and is a successful architect in Seattle.  His middle daughter, Sarah Blaine, is a pop singer/songwriter.  His son, Bridges, works in New York City in wealth management.  Joe remarried in 2007, and his wife, Mary, is a world-renowned author, motivational speaker and personal development expert.  Together, they have seven adult children and twelve grandchildren.  They live in Coto de Caza, California, and travel more than half of each year.