Playing in the band The Road Crew, Joe Loesch is an ambassador for the Mother Road, spreading its legend through music. But that’s not Joe’s only involvement with Route 66, and his memories of this famous highway go all the way back to early childhood.
Loesch, born in 1947, started life in Maplewood, Missouri, just a couple of blocks from Manchester Road, one of the Route 66 alignments through the St. Louis area. His family moved to Afton nearby when he was three, and they would travel the Mother Road often going to see family in California.
Joe says his dad was the type to get started by 4am and try to get 500 miles down the road every day. He wouldn’t stop in Missouri at any attractions, like Meramec Caverns, because that was too close to home and could be done another time. Luckily however, his Dad would listen to family requests once they were out of the state. In fact, Joe remembers traveling Route 66 from St. Louis to California for the Grand Opening of Disneyland in 1955.
Loesch says that the attractions of 66 were every bit as exciting as their destination. Like the Buffalo Ranch in Afton Oklahoma, the Jack Rabbit Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona, and the Painted Desert, which as a kid he expected to be actually painted. He also remembers his Dad not being one for hotels. That meant nights at road side parks, where the family would sleep in the car while Dad slept in the Park. Obviously travel was a lot different then, as there were no worries.
In 1959 the Loesch family decided to move to California, so they sold their home and bought a 36×8 foot trailer, pulling it down Route 66 with their 1954 Ford four door sedan. The trip came with challenges, as Joe remembers his dad struggling to get over a hill, having to back down all the way, then get a running start at it to make it over.
Moving to California wasn’t the end of their travels along Route 66 though, as now they were heading back to St. Louis to see family. However by this time the Interstate system was taking shape, and Joe’s dad took advantage of the new express way to travel. It would be years later, when Joe bought the book “Route 66: The Mother Road” by Michael Wallis as a gift, that his dad and he would look back on the sad decline of the towns along the Mother Road after the Interstates took over.
Before he was even a teen he was traveling around Missouri entertaining as a Ventriloquist. However, after moving to California, Joe says “I realized in high school that if I had a guitar I would have more girlfriends”, so he started playing folk music in The New California Trio. “They would put us on top of the entrance there at the Hollywood Bowl as people would tour through, and we would just sing all afternoon”. During this time he was also taking acting classes at Pasadena Playhouse, with Agnes Moorehead, best known for her role as Endora on the television series Bewitched, as his acting coach.
Plans would change after high school. Despite his attendance to Citrus College, he didn’t have enough credits to avoid the draft and soon found himself in the Vietnam War in 1968. He picked law enforcement as a way to stay out of the bush, and became a qualified expert with the M-60 machinegun. Joe says he thought that was pretty neat at the time, but it landed him on top of the lead jeep for convoys and in harms way.
As luck would have it, one Christmas he put on a show for the guys at Landing Zone (LZ) Baldy. A company commander saw his performance and recommended him for a Command Military Touring Show audition in Saigon. He got the gig and wound up with a couple of other guys, Mike Garlington and John Akers, tasked with going to places too dangerous for USO shows, traveling all over South Vietnam entertaining troops.
After the tour he was sent back to his unit, but Joe would luck out again when Woody Bomar, one of his cohorts from the military show headquarters, pulled some strings and got Loesch re-assigned to Saigon as director for the shows. “I traded in my M-60 for a guitar and it quite possibly saved my life.” Joe says. “I was able to place a couple of my high school buddies into shows, getting them out of harms way for a couple of months, so that was great!” Joe and Woody worked together in the Saigon military office by day, and performed at a civilian Vietnamese night club by night. That partnership continues to this day.
After getting out of the Army, Joe’s plans of going back to school were sidetracked. During his high school trio years he had a manager that handled all the bookings for his Folk band. She immediately made contact with Joe about creating a band built around him, and wanted to send them all across America. The band she and Joe created was Solid Gold. Joe says it was a rocky start for him. “Our first gig was 8 weeks in Fairbanks Alaska, and that almost ruined it for me. It was cold, about 48 degrees below zero”. But the band took off, playing on the Rising Stage at Disneyland, the Gold Nugget in Las Vegas, playing with Paul Anka for the Jerry Lewis Telethon, opening for Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson while there, and continued to travel across the U.S. and Canada for about six years
During that time Solid Gold recorded for Artco Records out of Oklahoma City, and those masters were leased to K-Tel Records, which was behind “Solid Gold 50’s” and “Solid Gold 60’s”. Loesch and his band had a short lived hit called My Shared Sidewalk, written by Michael Nesmith of the Monkey’s, which Joe says was popular due to radio personality Don Imus in New York, who was a fan, promoting and pushing the song to the top 30.
While playing with Solid Gold, Joe married bandmate Kathy Savio and in April of 1976 they quit the band and moved to Denver. Their only son, Jamie, would be born the next year. While in Denver he teamed up with a partner Bob Lincoln to build “American Recording Studios”. Here Joe would engineer albums for bands such as Firefall, the Dirt Band (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) and Air Supply, while at the same time doing jingles, creating music and writing copy for local advertisers.
One day he was working on music for a Mountain Climbing film and the producers buddy came into narrate it. That buddy just happened to be famous actor Robert Redford. Joe was so impressed with what he did he said “You know, I’d like to do that.” And thus Loesch’s career track changed again in the direction of Voice Acting, which has led to a successful career of audio books, radio and television commercials, and about 20 characters for the Cartoon Network and Disney Channel over the years.
In 1981, following a divorce from Kathy, he moved to Nashville after talking to his old friend and Vietnam band mate Woody Bomar, who lined up an interview for Joe with Loretta Lynn. His work with the Country Music Legend would last a few years, including her last solo release “I Lied”, in which Joe would help her with the melodies of new songs on the album, as well as working for her publishing company, writing and plugging songs to producers and artists for Lynn’s “Coal Miners Music” publishing company. Joe says after a few of his songs got repeatedly bumped off album sessions he decided he would rather make money than write songs, so he joined a syndicated automotive advertising company in the mid 1980’s, leading to his involvement in some national Ad’s for Toyota and Folgers among others.
During this time he married Lori Smith in 1988 and continued his interest in Voice Acting, as well as being in and out of several bands with his friend Woody Bomar. Then in 1995 Loesch started an audio book company relating to American history. Joe says when the opportunity to tackle the topic of Route 66 came up, he jumped at the chance and produced three CD Audio Books on the Mother Road, which are available as a compilation to this day at “NewWayToRead.com.” He is also the author of over twenty children’s books with accompanying audio CDs.
He took his friend Woody on the famous highway, and Bomar quickly caught “the bug” for Route 66, so they started exploring it together. Woody, a successful songwriter in Nashville, wrote the song “That Ol’ 66”, which turned into an entire album about the Mother Road based on their experiences. Joe and Woody then reached out to their friend Don King, former Epic Records recording artist and recording studio owner, to join the project. Another friend, drummer Jason Harmon, joined up, and The Road Crew was born. Performing music and traveling to festivals, car shows and tourist sites, the band continues to promote and educate America about Route 66, in hopes of keeping the spirit of the Mother Road alive.
According to Joe, as a kid he didn’t have an appreciation for the people along Route 66 at the Mom and Pop businesses, and today loves the fact that people are refurbishing and keeping these historic businesses alive. Joe teaches voice overs around the country, creates demos for new and seasoned voice actors and continues to narrate and/or produce audiobooks for many top publishers and distributors.
Loesch says “The thing I love most about Route 66 is it’s family away from family, home away from home.”
© Dave Alexander. Source – June 2013 interview with Joe Loesch.
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