Joseph Blea Sings the Blues at BART For Commuters

Richard Duboc / The Pioneer

Richard Duboc

One of Hayward’s most recognized characters, Joseph Blea, plays the blues for evening commuters at the Hayward BART station.

Singing rings throughout the Hayward BART station at the end of the commuter rush.

As people pass through the turnstiles, many take a second—if not a moment—to listen to the man responsible for bringing them sounds beyond the usual electronic ringing and fluttering of nearby pigeons. Some know him by name, others just by his music.

Joseph Blea recognizes that he serves as one of Hayward’s most notable local characters, but this does not diminish his genuine talent and musical ability.

Growing up in Southern California, Joe—as he is known—like many of his generation was drawn to rock and roll by The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Joe began to hone his skills as a singer and lead guitarist in 1962 as a teenager in high school playing in local bands. Starting out with dances and quinceañeras, he was eventually playing shows in some of Los Angeles’s most famous venues, such as the Whiskey A Go Go, the Playboy Club, the Shrine Auditorium, and the Hollywood Palladium.

In fact, Joe claims to have played almost every single club from San Luis Obispo down to San Diego between 1965 and 1972, touring with his bands, the Knight Bridge Peddlers and Melbourne.

Joe split his time working as a studio musician, recording with such notable acts as The Outlaws and Molly Hatchet. He also did not spare his education, receiving a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at CSU Long Beach and a master’s in classical guitar at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles.

Moving to Newark in 1972, Joe says he has been trying to get back to L.A. ever since. Although he continued to play at clubs around the Bay Area, including Palo Alto’s Big Beat, Joe used his education to work as a substitute teacher throughout Alameda County. He taught physical education, among many other subjects, at the county’s numerous alternative schools.

However, Joe could not stay away from the music that he loved, teaching others guitar at Fremont’s Allegro Music for thirteen years.

Today, Blea is working on a new album to follow his JBJ Band’s 2005 release “Death of a Hippie,” and can be found playing his music at the Castro Valley and Oakland’s 12th Street BART station, as well as in downtown Hayward.

“I do it for the people,” said Joe of why he chooses to perform in public instead of sitting at home watching satellite television. “And of course the girls, I love to flirt,” he added with a grin on his face, noting that he was currently single and available.

“I don’t ask for money,” saidBlea, “just tips.” Gratuity is of course appreciated, as it always is. “When they come through BART and they got the blues, they give you a tip.”

Like most people, Joe has many reasons to be singing the blues. “I got two ex-worthless wives, three ungrateful kids, and a million worthless friends,” he said.

But it’s the music that keeps him going and keeps him coming back the BART station to play for the evening commuters.

“When people hear my music, I want them to have meaning,” said Joe. “That’s why I practice scales for hours on end.”

As the night draws to a close and Joe nears the end of his shift, he runs through his repertoire of songs one last time, which include Neil Young’s “Old Man,” Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled

Again,” and his original crowd pleaser, “All I Want to Do is Play the Country Blues.”

In parting, Blea’s message is simple.

“Keep the faith and keep on keeping on. Let there be no doubt—we love fast cars, fast music and fast women.”