Obituary: Michael James Joseph (1967-2016)

New Orleans musician Michael James Joseph passed away Monday, July 11, at the age of 48. Joseph was known as the bass guitarist for legendary New Orleans rock ’n’ roll bands Black Problem, Lump and Norco Lapalco, and as a longtime horn player for Egg Yolk Jubilee.

“Mike could pick up any instrument from any country in the world and in 30 seconds he’d be making real music with it,” attests guitarist Lou Thevenot, who started Black Problem with Joseph in 1987. “He had a sense of humor and warmth, and very importantly a lack of ego and pretention, that made him easy to be in a band with. He was fun to make music with because of those things.” obit

Joseph worked at Southern Candymakers in the French Quarter and as a waiter and manager at Morning Call in Metairie. Joseph graduated from Archbishop Rummell High School, alma mater of most members of Egg Yolk Jubilee.

“I considered Mike and [Black Problem/Lump drummer] AP Gonzalez one of the best rhythm sections in rock, ever,” says Egg Yolk guitarist, Geoff Douville. “They were an authoritative machine, and played some of the best shows I have ever seen in my life, still to this day.”

“When Mike switched from bass to euphonium and trombone for us in Egg Yolk in ’96,” adds Douville, “he brought a really kooky phraseology to his horn playing that was indicative of his overall idiosyncratic approach. The way he spoke and the way he played were linked—the way he communicated verbally was the way he expressed himself on his instrument. He had a really quick sense of humor, and he was also very verbose and talked so much that it was sometimes easy to miss clever things that he would say. All of that I could say about his playing as well.”

Egg Yolk trumpet player Eric Belletto was best friends with Joseph since his high school garage band, Virul Nihils.

“We’re two halves of the same brain when we’re playing together,” says Belletto. “We’re so used to listening to each other, we could do improv duet. We both joined Egg Yolk together, and entered the Ninth Ward Marching Band together—we were always kind of a set.”

As the Egg Yolk horn section, Joseph and Belletto backed everyone from legends like Ernie K-Doe, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson and Howard Tate, to the Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra, and Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers.

In 2012, Joseph left Egg Yolk Jubilee. “Mike needed time to handle health issues he was having and we needed to give him that time,” says Douville. “The last we heard, he was supposedly on the mend, and we were in talks. [His death] really surprised us.”

Joseph is survived by his life partner of the last 14 years Kathy Connolly, his father James Joseph, his mother Pat Joseph, his two brothers John and Stephen, and five sisters: Bridget Joseph, Erin Joseph, Jennifer Brewer, Maria Joseph and Heidi Schexnayder.

— Michael Patrick Welch

  • bobcleary

    I cannot begin to describe the loss to the Joseph family, which I can only claim to be part of by their love and inclusion of myself and so many others in Michael’s world of friends. I am proud and happy to cal him brother, and now heartbroken for his passing, and for the grief of his parents and family. A great musician and composer, seeker of understanding, knowledge and wisdom, mikey joe will be remembered as the kindest, gentlest man amongst us, and exemplified the meaning of “brother” to all who knew him.

  • John Swallow

    For us, he’ll always be just around the next corner – with a sly grin, his bowler hat and his horn, ready to play on. Fair winds, following seas & full tankards, Mate!