Veteran country DJ Bruce In The Morning of KKJQ in Garden City, KS, is used to having stars such as Kellie Pickler and Kristen Cavallari call into his radio program, but one of his favorite all-time performers is the traditional country singer and songwriter Big Joe Matthews.
In a telephone conversation in early May, Bruce said that when he is in a club to host or see an artist, “I don’t watch the band, I just watch the crowd. That’s what I do, it’s more about them then anything else.
“At Big Joe’s show,” the radio veteran continued, “people were havin’ a party. Joe plays more of a classic country set than a lot of artists, and when he plays he throws a party.”
Big Joe’s a blue-collar guy who grew up and still works days in the oilfields of his native Sooner State of Oklahoma. Nights and weekends, he and his fine band are constantly playing shows all over Oklahoma and neighboring states such as Kansas and Missouri.
He’s done shows in major markets such as Oklahoma City as well as dozens of honky-tonks in smaller towns such as Roughnecks Saloon in Kingfisher, OK, sharing his own personal vision of country music that is much more Haggard and Jones than Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts.
A huge part of country radio’s audience prefers the more traditional songs and stylings that Big Joe loves best as well. Even his powerhouse originals, such as “Redneck Diva,” “No Fun Haters,” and “Welcome To The Oil Patch,” are done in a traditional style but with contemporary flavoring.
Like Hank Jr. and Charlie Daniels, Big Joe is a larger-than-life personality who is a born showman. As he describes it, he studied at “Honky Tonk U.” Big Joe interacts with fans, country radio, and listeners with a smile and honesty that many Music Row superstars would be wise to use as a pattern.
Fans know they’re seeing and hearing both a friend and one of their own when Big Joe takes the stage, and that’s when the party is just gettin’ started.
It didn’t take long for Joe and Bruce in the Morning to become good buds.
“We kind of hit it off,” Bruce tells us. “Joe’s a lot of fun.”
So is country radio, especially the kind of listener-friendly programming that Bruce in the Morning has given listeners both at KKJQ in Kansas and for more than six years before that at KXKX in Sedalia, MO.
He’s worked in a variety of radio formats since 1994.
Like much of country radio, one of Bruce in the Morning’s passions is the annual support and 2-day fundraisers his stations do to raise money for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
Since beginning their partnership with St. Jude in 1989 with the guidance of Randy Owen of country supergroup Alabama, country radio has raised a whopping $316 Million for St. Jude, a figure that is constantly increasing.
“I’m in Memphis for the weekend,” Bruce in the Morning tells us as we begin to talk about Big Joe Matthews. “I’ve been there several times for St. Jude’s. We’ve done St. Jude radiothons eight times at some point at the various stations I’ve worked at.”
Bruce explains how Randy Owen and Danny Thomas, the late TV star who founded St. Jude, ran into one another once and got the concept of a hospital partnership with country radio going.
At the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville a few months ago, the 25th Anniversary of that amazing relationship was celebrated.
“Country radio embraces it and runs with it,” Bruce says. “It’s two days per station once a year. We become partners in hope.”
That same kind of country loyalty and compassion are hallmarks of Joe and his lovely bride Alisha Matthews. Joe has also had a lifelong passion for country music, country fans, honky tonks, and country radio.
Those are just a few of the countless things Big Joe and Bruce in the Morning have in common.
By Phil Sweetland