By Buck Quigley

On February 26, the Buffalo music community lost a great and talented friend when Joe Head succumbed to a brief battle with cancer at the age of 71. This month’s column is a selection of just a handful of remembrances shared on Facebook about the well-loved musician, educator, husband, father and friend. They are shared here with the permission of the various authors.

Katie Oberg (Joe’s daughter):  I am heartbroken to have to share the news today that my absolutely one of a kind father, Joe Head, passed away this morning after a private, brief and immensely brave fight against cancer. The world is so much less bright and beautiful without both of my parents in it. I am so grateful to have had such wonderful parents, even though I know we all wish we could have had them a little longer. Thank you to everyone for your kindness and support these past few months.

Geno McManus (Noted local musician): I’m gutted to learn about the passing of Joe Head.

I wouldn’t have had the career I have if it weren’t for him. He gifted me some of my first gigs in Buffalo.

He was a mentor, a cheerleader and a dear friend.

A very young Joe Head

He taught and advised me on literally everything about music and booking when I was just starting out. He would allow and encourage me to sing and play a few songs with the Thirds when I was 19.

He used to call me his son.

He and the Thirds played our wedding 30 years ago.

Thank you Joe Head.

Even though you are no longer physically among us, you will never be far away.

Rest in Peace.

Maria Sebastian (Noted local musician): A music community without Joe Head seems unreal. He was ALWAYS out there when I first started playing at Nietzsche’s, CPG, Merlin’s. What an angel. I’ll never forget hearing him sing “Ave Maria” at Michael Meldrum’s funeral. I wish I would have thanked Joe for so many years of beautiful music, and I wish I had seen him more live with The Thirds – some of the best music I ever heard.   Group hug to all you grieving Buffalo players and music lovers. PS: I love this picture that’s going around. I didn’t know him when he was this young, but I’m happy I got a chance to sit in with him a couple times over the years.

The Thirds

Kenneth M Biringer (Booking Agent for Sportsmen’s Tavern): Joe is more than special in every way. I’ve known Joe for 50 years. For a five-year window in the ’80s I did the booking for The Thirds and had them working at least five nights a week. In my opinion, The Thirds are the best band I’ve ever heard.

Steve Cichon (radio personality who is now teaching at Timon, where Joe had a different kind of effect as a music teacher): As far as I could tell, there were no strangers in Joe Head’s life. After we worked a gig together many years ago, it was like we were old friends.

He retired as Timon’s music teacher the year before I started there, but we had great conversations about how even though he kinda stumbled into the gig as a teacher, he loved teaching, especially teaching Timon boys. He taught not only music at Timon, but love of music. He will be incredibly missed.

There will be many who remember Joe for his great, Hall of Fame musical talent – but those who knew him best will remember him for his kind, warm heart and his unrelenting passion.

In a social media post, Joe’s daughter says he died this morning after “a private, brief and immensely brave fight against cancer.” Joe’s wife died only a few weeks ago. As his family grieves, may we all reflect back the great light Joe put into our lives with prayer and love.

John McCann (who has gone on to become a Pittsburgh music institution): My old friend, Joe Head, has passed on. I’m still trying to absorb this brutal news. I’m shocked, and crushed! He was truly “One Of The Good One’s” in every way!  It does please me to read all the wonderful words, from all the people who loved him, and felt it important to share how much he had enriched their lives.

I started playing the guitar at 19, It was only a hobby, I never took lessons, so everything I learned was by ear, or from a precious tip from someone I knew (rare) who played.

Joe lived less than a mile from my home, but we went to different schools, and I did not meet him till I was probably 20.  

“Live Music” was everywhere back then. I saw Joe play Downtown Buffalo, and all the American Indian-named towns that surround it. Joe was a GREAT Singer, Guitar Player and Entertainer.  We became friends, and he was very encouraging . He didn’t give me formal lessons, but taught me so much! When I look back now, I’ll bet I was often a pain in the butt, mooching songs, and chords from the master. Sorry in retrospect Joe!

Joe Head, left, in the ’70s heyday of Buffalo’s folk-rock scene.

He gave me his Mickey Baker Jazz guitar book (The reason I’m not a total guitar hack) and showed me where to start. He also told me I was ready to try some of the “Open Mikes” around town. Stanky’s (South Buffalo) and The Tralfamadore (Joe often hosted) were the places I would try playing at back then.    

I got paid for the first time at Stanky’s!  I did not show one particular week, and Ronnie (owner) called me on the phone and said “There are a lot of people here to see you, Where are you?” Then he offered me money and drinks to show up! Wow!

I owe so much to Joe Head! He was always so inspirational, so fun, so incredibly nice. His playing, and singing were always far beyond my reach, but he pointed me in the right direction. We played many of the same rooms solo, and we both had trios (Joe–The Third’s / Myself–Midnight Sun). Joe’s future wife, Colleen, was Mike Kustreba’s cousin! Mike was in Midnight Sun with me, and the Sutherland (Colleen) sisters would often support us and loved live music.

When Joe sang to Colleen at their wedding, it was flat out the most beautiful, impressive & romantic thing I had ever witnessed in my life! It made me so proud he was my friend!

Joe Head with fellow Buffalo Music Hall of Famer Willie Schoellkopf

I have been playing gigs (solo and in bands) regularly since then. It’s what I do. I was shocked  when Colleen passed six weeks ago! Then Joe following her so soon (he was quiet about his condition) was devastating. It’s going to take a while for me to accept it.

So Long for now, old friend! I will see you down the road. Your light will shine on within all the people you have graced along the way. You are, and always have been, a Hero to me! Thanks forever for your friendship!

Buck Quigley: I recently came across an old copy of the Prodigal Sun, which was a student paper at UB. The issue is from April 1984. Most of it is dedicated to covering the UB Folk Fest of that year. The headliner was The Band (minus Robbie Robertson). 

Among the events you could attend were various workshops for aspiring musicians. I was an undergrad taking classes in Media Study and English, but aspiring to be a musician.

I have not forgotten a couple of pieces of advice dispensed by Joe Head at one such clinic that weekend in 1984.

Someone asked what to do if you completely botch the beginning of a song. Like you begin in the wrong key, for example. Joe’s advice was to just stop and explain your goof to the audience. If you can do it with good humor, the mistake can serve as an opportunity to connect with your crowd. Sharing a laugh is a universal way to forge a bond.

Joe Head with his wife, Colleen (Sutherland) Head.

Another hopeful singer asked what can be done if there are people in the audience who are talking loudly or otherwise distracting the room away from your performance. Turning up the volume doesn’t help, the novice noted.

Joe advised that a better strategy is to play more quietly. Perhaps even singing an a cappella number. This can have a way of making the loudmouth tone it down when he realizes that everyone around him is straining to hear something other than his inconsiderate rambling.

These are two tips that I have found to be very effective and valuable for the past 39 years.

Over the years we crossed paths many times. I’m so sad to learn about Joe’s passing. He was gifted with a miraculous voice that he graciously shared with the world in sanctified churches and corner gin mills alike. It’s hard to let go of such a friendly, caring and encouraging soul.


These are a small handful of the remembrances that have been shared about Joe. Though he’s rightfully recognized as a “local musician” and a member of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, he’s also a glowing example of one whose talents were truly worthy of global recognition. We were all fortunate and blessed to have had him in our midst. 

You can read more tributes, or share one of your own at

A celebration of his life is being planned for a later date.


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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Mary Missert says:

    Very sorry to hear this ! Condolences to his family ,as well ! Mark just told me his quote “ Joe Head gives good music 🎶! “. We’re very lucky that he was around to make us all happy by his music !

  • Dona Vasey says:

    While writing this memoir tonight, I marveled at the music of the last St. Louis Church Midnight Mass 2007 I played.

    I was the organist and Choir director for 35 years. This means Joe Head and I expanded our friendship, families, and talents over those years, since he nor I ever missed a celebration at St. Louis Church for those 35 years as soloist. Singing to the organ “Away in a Manger”, “O Holy Night “(with back up choir singers), “What Child is This.” Joe would then bring Colleen and Katie. After several years I didn’t have to invite him. It was a tradition.

    He was like family. Our families ran parallel to each other, participating in the music.
    It started for me listening at La Bella’s Romanesque, the Prime Rib, and many more venues.
    He was godfather to my first born, Monika. While we were in Buffalo a few years ago, he and Colleen had us over to his house, which ended up a revival of song among our families.

    I will never forget: playing tennis, the wedding to Colleen, my wedding to John which he played, having Katie over to play with Terri, my second daughter. Terri took car vacations with the Heads. Then there was Katie’s wedding and Monika’s wedding, which he played of course, and Katie singing with him. And most recently their visit to Myrtle Beach, where my husband and I moved ’08.

    Just days before Joe passed, he blessed me with a phone call to explain it all, including Colleen and Elaine’s bouts with cancer. Then the unthinkable future.

    What an enormous favor to my life Joe Head has been. I miss him. I will cherish all the moments. I truly have been blessed to know him.

  • The Editor says:

    Thank you so much for your memories, Dona.

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