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Moods: Type: Acoustic Folk: Traditional Folk Folk: Modern Folk Folk: Folk Blues Moods: Solo Male Artist

By Location
United States - Michigan

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Joel Mabus

“Joel Mabus is a free-ranging fretboard genius and funny, deep songwriter whose warm voice, sly humor, and musicianship sweep audiences along for the ride. “
—Cornell Folk Song Society 2014

Joel Mabus was born in 1953 to a musical family. His great-grandfather Louis Charles Lee was an Illinois farmhouse fiddler of the 19th century. Joel's parents played “Hillbilly music” professionally in the 1930s for WLS Barndance road shows This pedigree was not lost on Joel. He grew up playing guitar, banjo & mandolin and singing the old-time repertoire of his family, along with a fierce interest in country blues.

Where is he from? He was born and raised in a modest Southern Illinois town, about 105 miles southeast of Mark Twain, 190 miles northwest of Bill Monroe, 110 miles southwest of Burl Ives and just over the river and up the hill from Scott Joplin. But now he makes his home in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

While he is known to many as a songwriter, having penned several songs familiar to the folk crowd (“Touch a Name On the Wall,” “The Druggist,” and “The Duct Tape Blues” are three that have been covered by many and published in the pages of Singout Magazine), he is also a fixture on the traditional scene as a guitarist, old-time banjoist, singer and fiddler.

Joel has toured extensively. He has played the main stage at the biggest & best folk festivals: Kerrville, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Boston, Winfield, etc.. He has been a guest several times on A Prairie Home Companion, and provides the banjo theme music for public radio’s syndicated Folk Sampler program. On the club circuit, Joel has played Passim in Boston, Freight & Salvage in Berkeley and all points between. He has taught songwriting, banjo and guitar at Augusta Heritage, Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, and fiddled at countless dance camps. (His original fiddle tune, “The Blue Jig” has become a modern contradance standard on three continents and has been recorded numerous times by contradance bands.)

Subsequent to his instrumental guitar release in 2005, “Parlor Guitar,” Joel was asked by Hal Leonard Publishing to write transcriptions from that CD for publication. The book, Parlor Guitar, is now available worldwide for guitarists to learn Joel’s arrangements of these early 20th century classics.

Joel was also among the first wave to join the North American Folk Music & Dance Alliance (now called “Folk Alliance International”) in 1990, and showcased officially at the 1991 international conference in Chicago, where his short set was given two standing ovations. Top agent David Tamulevich wrote, "It was one of the most memorable and remarkable sets I have ever had the pleasure of seeing." Mabus has made more than 20 solo albums in his recording career – most of them still available. Standouts include “The Banjo Monologues” in 2007, a unique blend of old-time banjo and storytelling, and “Retold” in 2008, new versions of 12 of his vintage original songs.

Among his most recent albums are a holiday instrumental album in 2012, "A Parlor Guitar Christmas," which was met with rave reviews, and an award winning banjo album for 2013, "Pepper's Ghost & other banjo visitations." New for 2015 is Joel's take on the blues -- "A Bird In This World" -- ten new original songs that explore various aspects of the blues. An on-going project is to digitize his earlier recordings so that nearly all of Joel's recorded work will be available for download very soon.

Joel is in the Detroit Music Awards Hall of Fame, and was given the inaugural “Lantern Bearer” award for career achievement by FARM, the Folk Alliance Region Midwest.