Ever since he was a young boy, Joey Ortega knew all he wanted to do was be in a band. Now, years later, he’s still living that dream with the Joey O Band.
Ortega started playing in a working band during his ninth grade year of high school and by his senior year of high school, he was playing in bars five or six nights every week.
“Even at the age of 14, I could tell who was serious and who wasn’t,” Ortega said. “That is so important in this business.”
Taking his ambitions further, Ortega spent a good amount of his life recording out in Los Angeles as the last person Sound City legend Joe Gottfried managed. When Gottfried died in 1992, Ortega moved back to his home state of Michigan and did a lot of soul searching.
He was then offered to play guitar for Doyle Bramhall in Texas, but after Ortega worked with him for a while, Bramhall got sick. When he returned to Michigan once again, toward the end of 1995, Ortega decided to form the Joey O Band.
“It’s a lot harder than anyone thinks to put together a band, but it’s easy when you get the right people,” Ortega said.
Ortega definitely found the right people; the Joey O Band is led by none other than Joey O on guitar, with Janet Goodyear on vocals, Steve Sahagun on bass, and Kent Klee on drums. In Ortega’s words, they are a “classic rock band with a blues lead guitar player.” The band enjoys covering music styles from the ’60s, the ’80s, and in Ortega’s opinion, “the glory days of the ’70s.”
In 1996, the Joey O Band played a show in Angola, Ind., where Ortega met his wife. He announced to the band that he was moving to Indiana for her, and they eventually followed.
The Joey O Band has been very successful, touring places such as Germany three times during the years 2002, 2003, and 2005. They’d go over for about three weeks and play every night in a different place.
“We played together for many years and had a great run, but then an opportunity for me to do bigger shows all the time came up,” Ortega said.
Start Me Up is a Rolling Stones Tribute Band that Ortega formed and headlined shows with all over the world. While he played with Start Me Up, Ortega would still get together with the Joey O Band every two or three years, but it was no longer his main focus.
“Thanks to Start Me Up, I got my name all around, which led to the Joey O Band getting great offers before we even started to seriously play again,” Ortega said.
People constantly nudged and strongly encouraged Ortega to put the Joey O Band back in full force, and as a result, he now has a renewed commitment to that band.
“I’d been traveling so much for the past 11 years,” Ortega said. “It was fun, but I’m also 11 years older now.”
Ortega feels that at this point in his life, he is done with the extensive travel and the bar scenes. The Joey O Band allows him to play in nearby venues and not always be so far away from home. Right now, the band plans to perform seasonally, holding out for big shows of their choosing.
“We will seriously entertain any offers spring through fall,” Ortega said. “The bulk of the work will be in June, July, and August. In the winter, I plan to be couch bound.”
Catch some local shows
The Joey O Band’s latest CD release in 2017, Auburn Sunset, is available on all streaming sites. Ortega has material written for another guitar instrumental album, which he hopes to release later this year.
To avoid oversaturation in certain markets, the band will not be performing many local shows in the future, so be sure to catch them when you can. Upcoming shows for the Joey O Band include a performance at the DeKalb Outdoor Theater in Auburn on July 26 at 7:30 p.m., and Rock the Plaza in Fort Wayne on August 10 at 8:30 p.m. Both shows are free and for all ages.
“My favorite part of being in the Joey O Band is playing music I love with people I love,” Ortega said. “If I can’t look around the room and say that, I know I’m not working with the right people.”
Ortega has had a wildly successful career from working with the managers he did to opening for icons such as Van Halen and Billy Idol to traveling across the world to Nicaragua and Honduras. Later in his career, he was contacted by Dave Grohl of Nirvana as they were creating a movie on Sound City. This movie reconnected Ortega with many of his friends from his past, and was an extraordinary moment for him.
Living in Indiana has been great for Ortega and his wife, and has not held him back from any opportunities.
“I live in Auburn, and look at all the cool things I’ve been able to do since I’ve lived here,” Ortega said. “So, I don’t buy it for a second when someone says you have to move somewhere else.”
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