Whenever I interview an artist, I always wonder what was going through their heads when they decided to pursue music. Now, I don’t mean the first time they were inspired by Springsteen or the White Album, thinking to themselves, “I can do that!” I mean the day that they literally dropped everything and jumped full on into the wild waters of the music business. An industry with such an unknown future, that plays no favorites, the odds of being a successful musician are highly stacked against you. Then again… some times it works.
One person in particular is Joe Firstman, who traveled from his hometown of North Carolina to Los Angeles on a Greyhound bus (that’s a story in itself), with nothing more than some cash, a guitar and a boatload of optimism. I know what you’re thinking, “I’ve heard this story before…” Young singer leaves their home – heads out for the ‘big city’ – becomes penniless – goes back home – repeat. But before you shut the book on this story, always know there are some that make it and Joe Firstman is one of those lucky ones.
Firstman made a faster-than-usual name for himself in LA shortly after he arrived. Before he knew it he was signed by Atlantic Records and was sharing stages with artists such as with Sheryl Crow, Jewel, and Willie Nelson. Firstman even landed a four-year gig as bandleader for Last Call with Carson Daly. Not bad, right? Needless to say, it gave the doubters - who called him crazy when he boarded that bus – a little bit to think about. And Firstman will tell you everyone is enjoying his success, especially when he gets to head back to North Carolina to play. “As the years have passed the shows have become less like a reunion and more like a performance. I really like that. But no doubt, friends and family make up much of the audience when I’m in Charlotte.”
With those years under his belt, Firstman proudly released “El Porto” last year and this journalist for one has had it on repeat for quite a some time. Firstman says, “I got to work on only it for about four months without anything else to do. It taught me a lot about HOW to work and I will take those skills with me.”
“El Porto” has also allowed Firstman to look back at his career and remember all he’s learned along the way – whether on the road or in front of millions on TV with Last Call. The proof is all over the album. “I have no other choice but to start writing better songs. It’s the only game. Nothing works in my proverbial plan unless the songs continue to get better,” Firstman told me when I asked about the creative process behind the album. He continues by saying, “And I feel at the very least that has happened with ‘El Porto.’ I think there were moments and glimpses over the past, over all my records, including Atlantic. I lump them all in together; it was one fluid flow of mania. But now, I think it all got better.”
So, back to that trip across country. Back to when Firstman stared out the window, crossing over the United States by one of the most uncomfortable ways to travel, to one of the most unstable professions, in one of the most unforgiving cities - What was he thinking? Who knows?… But I do know he was right.