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Joe Rut

Joe Rut Biography

On his 6th album release, Stolen Tools & Stereos, Oakland songwriter Joe Rut’s quirky sense of humor underpins a heartfelt, richly lyrical and subtly hallucinatory Americana/Alt-country tapestry. Special guests including mandolin great David Grisman (Jerry Garcia, Old and In The Way), pedal steel master Bobby Black (Commander Cody, Asleep at the Wheel), and Scott Amendola (Charlie Hunter, Nels Cline) augment Joe’s band as he drunk dials his friends at 3 AM Tuesday morning, sings an abandoned black-velvet Elvis painting back home to Tupelo, pictures all his earthly belongings for sale at a flea market after his death, and ponders the tragic mating rituals of porcupines.

It is a deeply American music, although the border guards seem to have been bribed with psychedelics to look the other way. Much of the album was written in a year-long road trip, during which Joe travelled the main streets and backroads of California with his dog Potato in a converted Ford Econoline Van, writing songs daily in The Pretty Good Book, a 3-inch thick antique accounting ledger given to him by friends for the trip.

“They told me to fill it up. I filled 200 pages. It needed a name. I thought it was better than pretty good,” says Joe, “but ‘*The Good Book*’ was already taken, so…”

The lion’s share of yet another (soon to be released) album was recorded with portable equipment in the van itself and in other venues while on the road. “I did figure out that the best van recordings were made in donut shop parking lots,” insists Joe. “Don’t ask me why. Those tracks just sound better.” Joe plans to debut and record more songs from The Pretty Good Book at the shows to celebrate the release of Stolen Tools & Stereos in November.

While Stolen Tools & Stereos finds Joe leaning more heavily on his country/folk roots, his fans have compared him to influences as disparate as Todd Snider, Jason Isbell, and Josh Ritter (on the folky end of the spectrum), and They Might Be Giants, Frank Zappa, and the Meat Puppets (on the other end). His live shows have earned him a cult status, among those in-the-know, as a crafty guitarist, and a songwriter who disarms the listener with humor while striking to the heart of the matter, often accompanied by Chatbot 1984, a drug-addled 1980’s talking toy robot with a WD–40 addiction.

Joe has headlined at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall and in his various bands, he has played at England’s Glastonbury Music Festival, San Francisco’s famed Fillmore (opening for Richard Thompson), the second stages at Shoreline and Sleep Train Amphitheatres (opening for Alabama), Nevada’s Burning Man Festival and Santa Cruz’s Y2K5 Live Looping Festival.

Joe’s Song “Dosey Doe” was voted #1 song on SomaFM’s Bootliquor Radio by listeners in September 2010, and his music (“Control Freak”) has been featured on NPR’s Undercurrents. His song “Jelly Donut” inspired a feature about food-based songs in the SF Chronicle’s Datebook, and he has appeared in Guitar Player Magazine. Joe’s Dante-esque epic tragi-comedy “And The Horse I Rode In On” won “Best Song” in West Coast Songwriters Open Mic. He was recently honored in Berkeley by a Joe Rut Cover Night, in which local artists took turns playing his songs.

Joe pays homage to American roots music (he was a founding member of twang-harmony band, Loretta Lynch), but he reaches for the tips of new branches too, with an experimentalism that has landed him, for instance, in a headlining slot at the Boise Experimental Music Festival (in his guitar-centric improvisational duo Lumper/Splitter).

Joe hopes to catch up to his prolific writing binge with a prolific recording binge. Look for more psalms from the Pretty Good Book coming soon!


  • Joe Rut: Stolen Tools & Stereos (2016)
  • Joe Rut: Joe Rut Live (2012)
  • Joe Rut: Injured While Faking own Death (2010)
  • Joe Rut: The Challenge of 4-Track (2008)
  • Joe Rut: Stop-Gap Measure (2008)
  • Joe Rut: All Music is Folk Music...Some Folks is Just Fucked Up (2003)
  • Joe Rut: Genuine Wood Grained Finished (1999)

With Others:

  • Lumper/Splitter: Lumper/Splitter (2005) guitar, manipulated objects
  • Loretta Lynch: Concrete and Ether (2007) guest lap steel
  • Loretta Lynch: Loratta Lynch (2003) guitars, vocals
  • 86 (the band): Thanks You (2005) guitar
  • 86 (The Band): Hooray for Music (2003) guitar, lap steel ,vocals
  • 86 (The Band): True Life Songs and Pictures (2001) engineer
  • Joel Murach: Lucky One Way (2009) engineer, guest bass, organ
  • Joel Murach: Greetings Fron The Middle of Nowhere (2003) engineer, backup vocals, guest guitar
  • Val Esway and El Mirage: Pretend to Believe (2007) slide guitar
  • Val Esway and El Mirage: Lovers, Losers, Liars (2005) guitar, lap steel
  • Okie: Okie (2002) bass, guitar, engineer

Random Bits:

  • "Remember What You Are" featured in soundtrack to indie film Nice Guys (2005)
  • In the Wake of the Industrial Revolution: Lumper/Splitter soundtrack to 16mm film loop installation by Thad Povey at San Francisco’s Exploratorium (2004)
  • Birth of the Guitar Baby: Lumper/Splitter music/art performance at San Francisco’s Exploratorium (2007)