Remembering Joseph ‘Val’ Valiante (June 25, 1926 – June 11, 1985) a mandolinist and bluegrass music pioneer from Everett, Massachusetts. While making a living as a typewriter repairman, he played with several bands including the Radio Rangers and the Berkshire Mountain Boys. Joe helped blaze the trail for Boston’s folk and bluegrass scene with the Lilly Brothers in the early ’60s, and later surrounded himself with that city’s top musicians including Joan Baez, The Charles River Valley Boys, banjo legends Don Stover and Bill Keith. It was Bill Monroe’s fiddler Tex Logan who coined the name “Joe Val.”
For over 25 years, Joe Val was, in the words of Peter Rowan, “The voice of bluegrass in New England.”
In 1970, Joe Val formed his own band, the New England Bluegrass Boys, bringing in Herb Applin (guitar/vocals), Bob French (banjo), and Bob Tidwell (bass). The band recorded their first album One Morning In May in 1972, a tied first bluegrass release for Rounder Records. Joe was the first bluegrass artist signed by Rounder Records, and recorded with them exclusively, releasing albums from 1973 to 1984. Among those that played in the band were guitarists/lead vocalists Dave Dillon and Dave Haney, banjo players Paul Silvius, Karl Lauber and Joe Deetz, bass player Eric Levenson, fiddler Sonny Miller and dobro player Roger Williams.
In 1984, Joe was diagnosed with lymphoma, and his last important performance was at the 1984 Georgia Bluegrass Festival. The Joe Val Benefit, a fundraising event, was organised on the 9th June 1985 to help cover the cost for treatment, but unfortunately he died 2 days later. Joe was laid to rest in Mount Feake Cemetery. His headstone has an engraving of his 1923 Gibson ‘Lloyd Loar’ Mandolin, designed by Joe’s devoted friend and bass player, Eric Levenson.
The International Bluegrass Music Association posthumously presented Joe Val with an “IBMA Award Of Merit” for his dedication and lifetime contributions to bluegrass music during their 1995 IBMA World of Bluegrass annual bluegrass trade show & convention. That presentation was made by John Rossbach, accompanied by Joe’s mandolin. Joe Val received a standing ovation from a knowledgeable IBMA audience, including many of Joe’s peers.
The first memorial Joe Val Day was organized in 1986, and the event has since grown into the three-day Joe Val Bluegrass Festival featuring many different musicians entertaining thousands of fans. The festival won the coveted “Event of the Year” award in 2006 from the International Bluegrass Music Association.