Joanie Marshall - Performer
BMHOF Class of 2016
Joanie Marshall may be best known as an essential part of Ramblin’ Lou’s Family Band – after all, she was married to Lou Schriver and played lead guitar – but that’s understating her place in Western New York music.
She actually received her first invitation to go on the road before she even met Lou. Her father had already taken her to Nashville and Wheeling, W.Va., where she had appeared on the Jamboree stage as a teen. She was offered a spot with Abbie Neal & the Ranch Girls, a western music group that made weekly appearances on the WWVA Jamboree and toured theaters and rodeo circuits.
“Of course, that never would have worked, my father never would have allowed it,” said Marshall. It would have meant quitting school.
She had already been playing professionally since about age 8, with the ability to master anything that had strings. She was concert mistress and violin player as a senior at Maryvale High School, and she studied guitar with Vince Blasio (a 2015 inductee into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame). Early on he took her to see Andres Segovia at Kleinhan’s Music Hall.
“He tried to make a jazz player out of me, but yet he would come and see me when I played at these country jamborees,” Marshall said of Blasio. “I played classical guitar, too, with Vince. … He also made sure I could count. My ear was so good that I could pick things up. I wasn’t always reading the correct time signatures, so Vince made sure that everything was right on.”
Those sight-reading skills came in handy later, when Eddy Arnold, the “countrypolitan” crooner, came to town. He brought a conductor with him, and members of the Buffalo Philharmonic were hired to play the string parts from his hit records. Marshall was hired to play electric guitar.
“He was in shock that a girl was going to come in and sit down with an electric guitar,” Marshall said. “I can remember overhearing, ‘I hope she can read.’
“Well, not only could I read, but I knew all his songs without even reading them. After the first song, he was in shock, his conductor was in shock. I got to play things that weren’t even on the music, and they loved it. After that, they wanted to take me to Nashville.”
It wasn’t the last time. When she and Lou played at a country DJs convention in Nashville, Chet Atkins heard her play and gave her his private phone number to call when she got home. She never did.
“I had a lot of chances,” she said. “I had a chance to go to Nashville quite a few times, but when you fall in love …”
Joanie and Lou were partners in music and in family for over 50 years.
“With the Schriver family and my husband, it was all about family,” she said. “My dad played in the band, and my mother would be the baby-sitter. In the early days, we played every weekend. My mother and father were always there to watch the kids, so nobody was left home with a babysitter. It was a family deal right from the beginning.”
Eventually that meant their children joining the show, and now their grandchildren perform with the Family Band.
“The music has kept my family together, and I like to see the people out there having a good time with what we’re doing,” she said. “You feed off the crowd.”
Some of the highlights of Marshall’s career have included:
- Playing the Erie County Fair every year for 52 years – and counting.
- Performing with a trio on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour in New York City when she was a high school senior – even though it meant missing her senior prom. She later heard from people who had seen it around the world – even if her group didn’t win.
- Trading licks with the likes of country legends Billy Grammer, Leon Rhodes and steel guitar great Jimmy Day.
- When Lou proposed to her before they opened the show for Ray Price in Niagara Falls – a story country legend Price never forgot.
- Performing on a live weekly television show – one of the first in color in Western New York – on Channel 2.
- Performing multiple times on the Grand Old Opry, Earnest Tubb’s “Midnight Jamboree” and Grammy Award winner Walter Ostanek’s “Polka Time.”
- Playing with or opening for the likes of Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens, Bill Anderson, Charlie Pride, Roy Clark, Kitty Wells, Grandpa Jones, Connie Smith, Mac Wiseman and Boxcar Willie.
Then there is the legendary double-neck guitar and banjo. Marshall and her father had it custom-made for her by Gibson guitars in the late 1950s, and it took 1½ years to complete. It’s become a legend among guitar collectors, a one-of-a-kind item that has taken on a life of its own.
“I always liked the banjo, and I had seen a double-neck played by the Collins kids out in California, only that one had a 12-string guitar on top,” she said “The guitar neck specifications were the same as a Gretsch Chet Atkins guitar. And then when they built the banjo, they had to hand-wire special pickups. And I always liked the Gibson sunburst.”
It has her name embossed in ivory, but these days she doesn’t play it much. It’s a heavy instrument, not kind to torn rotator cuffs.
Lou died early in 2016, but you’ll still find Joanie playing with her children and grandkids in the Family Band, firing off the hot licks on “Guitar Boogie,” making like Scotty Moore on “Blue Moon of Kentucky” or doing Chuck Berry riffs on “Johnny B. Goode.”
It will remind you that there was a little bit of truth in one of Lou’s jokes. He always said that he had to marry Joanie to keep her in the band. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to pay her. “And I’m still paying,” he would quip.
But he knew he got a bargain.