Memories of Joe Shepley, ‘a one of a kind guy’

Volume 116, No. 9September, 2016

Keith O'Quinn
Joe Shepley later in life (left) and in his heyday (right). Joe died on March 26 at 85.

Joe Shepley later in life (left) and in his heyday (right). Joe died on March 26 at 85.

The New York city music scene lost another familiar face recently. Joe Shepley, 85, a trumpeter and a member of Local 802 since 1955, died on March 26. Allegro printed Joe’s obituary in the June issue, but I’d like to fill in his story with some reminiscences here.

Joe was one of the most sought-after New York studio trumpet players from the 1960s all the way to the 90s. His love for the trumpet was unequalled. Most of his waking hours were spent playing, talking or thinking about the trumpet.

I first met Joe on a jingle date for Harold Wheeler around 1977. We quickly became friends and I always enjoyed seeing Joe on gigs. He was always very supportive and his enthusiasm for music was infectious. Nobody loved his job more than Joe. In the heyday of studio work, you could always hear his distinctive voice and laugh when he entered the room. I met his youngest daughter, Pam, in 1979 and we were married a year later in August of 1980. He became not just my friend, but also my father-in-law. Many mornings, if we were booked on the same dates, I would meet him at his house and we would ride into town together in Joe’s car. It was always a fun trip. He’d tell me stories about his days in the Army, his old teachers, hangs at Jim and Andy’s, or how the mouthpiece he worked on the night before had come out perfectly (“this piece feels silly, man!”). He had that little boy excitement about everything he was doing.

In the 80s, Joe got into sailing and bought a boat, which he kept at a club near my house on the Hudson River. It was a nice boat and Joe was very proud of it. In the summers we spent lots of time sailing on the Hudson. There were times that things went wrong. The mast would fall down, the engine would die, a sail would rip, we’d drift into rocks or go aground in low tide. Joe would always jump into high gear and somehow we would manage to make it back to the dock, safe and sound, but slightly roughed up. Regardless it was always a good time and an adventure. I’ll always have great memories of those days.

Joe was born in Yonkers on Aug. 7, 1930 and spent his entire life there. He began playing the trumpet at 9 or 10 years old and soon realized his calling. By the time he was 12, he was already playing gigs. In 1952 he was drafted into the Army and sent to Korea, where he served from 1952 to 1954. After he returned, he married his wife Helen Dedyo in 1955 and enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music to earn a master’s degree. Joe and Helen had three daughters – Maryellen, Susan and Pamela – and a son, Joe.

After teaching music in the Hastings school system, Joe began to work in the studios in New York. He and trumpeter Burt Collins met in the trumpet section of the Duke Pearson big band and they first recorded together with the band in 1967. Joe was featured on Duke’s arrangement of “Time After Time” on that record. He and Burt teamed up to form the Collins/Shepley Galaxy around 1969 and recorded “Time, Space, and the Blues” on MTA Records with arrangements by Mike Abene (who also played piano on the record). They followed that with “Lennon/McCartney Live” with virtually the same band but with Herbie Hancock on piano. Through the years the two of them worked together on many projects.

Over the next several decades, Joe recorded and performed with hundreds of different artists and played on countless jingles and movie dates. He also created his own line of mouthpieces and received a patent on his design.

Joe was a one-of-a-kind guy, always the life of the party. I will miss his humor and big heart, and his enthusiasm for playing and making music. He leaves behind many loving friends and family members and countless Shepley stories.

Rest in peace, Joe! We’ll miss you!