The Local Music Scene

Meet Joe Doyle: From shy kid to Hall of Fame songwriter

By Michael Khouri
Posted 4/2/24

One Saturday morning in 1983, when Riverside native, songwriter, singer, musician Joe Doyle was in his freshman year at Rhode Island College studying music, his dad, Ed Doyle (former mayor of …

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The Local Music Scene

Meet Joe Doyle: From shy kid to Hall of Fame songwriter


One Saturday morning in 1983, when Riverside native, songwriter, singer, musician Joe Doyle was in his freshman year at Rhode Island College studying music, his dad, Ed Doyle (former mayor of East Providence), picked him up from school to bring him home for the weekend. During the ride, Doyle told his dad that he was thinking of switching majors from music to business. Doyle said he started to think that music might not be a solid career choice and that he may not even be cut out for it.

His Dad disagreed. He told his son that he had talent and an obvious passion for music and should pursue his first choice and the path that he truly loved. By the time that they got home, Doyle’s dad had talked him out of the switch.

The music industry and fans all over the world can thank Ed Doyle’s wisdom, foresight and caring for that pivotal father-son chat. Since then, and in the years that have followed, Doyle, based in Nashville from 1988 to present day, has gone on to build a tunesmith’s empire, becoming a #1 hit songwriter, writing songs that have been penned for, and recorded by, the likes of Reba McEntire, Dan Seals, Martina McBride, Rhett Akins, Alabama, Kenny Rogers, Jason Aldean and Tim McGraw, to name but a few. 

In 2020, Joe Doyle was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame. Due to the Covid outbreak and scheduling conflicts, a proper award ceremony was put on hold until this year. On April 7, 2024, Doyle will be back in Rhode Island at the Blackstone River Theatre to accept the Hall of Fame plaque that bears his name.

It’s an award that recognizes and enshrines his position alongside a distinguished class that includes some of the greatest songwriters, singers and musicians in the history of modern music. Doyle will then be joined on stage to play a live show, backed up by original Rizzz alumni and fellow hall of fame inductees Dave Tanury on guitar, Rick Couto on drums and Kenn Reynolds on bass.

I had the opportunity to speak with Doyle, via telephone interview, just before his pilgrimage back home to the state that is prepared to gratefully and reverently honor him for his life’s work. I found him to be an intelligent, interesting, humble gentleman. Lighthearted yet with a direct seriousness, Doyle regaled me with plentiful stories regarding some of the greatest people, places and events in country music. We can only hope that he will one day author a book chronicling his life and times as an inside member of a golden country music era. 

“I grew up in Riverside right off of Willet Avenue. I was the youngest of seven in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, so things were a little tight,” chuckled Doyle. “I was very shy and introverted as a kid. I still am in many respects. In some ways I think being a musician gave me an identity and a way to express myself.”

I wondered if he was from a musical family and if that perhaps sparked his interest in music.

“Other than my older sister, who started to play autoharp for a while, no one else in the family was musical. I mean my dad was a singer in his younger days in a barbershop quartet, but that’s as far as it went,” said Doyle. 

“My brother had a drum, a Ludwig snare drum lying around. I don’t know why I took a shine to it, but for some reason I did,” said Doyle. “I went to an assembly at Riverside Junior High one day. A few of my friends and classmates got up and performed, playing music in a little combo they had put together. I said to myself, that looks like a lot of fun, so I asked my mom when I got home that day if I could take drum lessons. Being very shy she called the music store for me — Gasperini’s Music in Pawtucket. That’s where I started playing drums at 12 years old. At that moment I wanted to be a rock star. I wanted to be Keith Moon.”

Doyle’s older brother, Eddie, was married to a cousin of Dave Tanury, guitarist and founding member of the hit Rhode Island band Rizzz. Eddie, along with his wife, mindful of Joe’s love of music and drumming, brought his 12-year-old kid brother to a concert at RIC to see Rizzz perform live.

“My brother brought me to the concert at RIC. It was a thrill for me. I got to meet the drummer Rick Couto,” said Doyle. “Rick let me come on stage and stand behind him and watch him play. I was in awe. All the members of the band went to school with my older siblings and were great guys. After that, in high school, I started my own band with some friends. I played drums with Gary France on guitar and Mark Miller on bass. We named the band ‘Crazy Fingers.’ ”

Where did music take you after high school, I asked.

“I went to RIC in my freshman year to study music. I chose RIC because my band was still active and I didn’t want to go away and break it up,” said Doyle. “Crazy fingers played a good number of shows. We played the Living Room a couple times and some outdoor shows at Brown University.”

“But during that first year the band broke up. As my studies continued, I felt less and less connected to the music curriculum there,” said Doyle. “The RIC music program was very classical based and it wasn’t my style. My drum teacher there was very encouraging and helpful. I went in and told him that I didn’t think the classical program was right for me, and he said there’s nothing wrong with chasing Pop music.”

When Doyle was in high school, his then drum teacher, Tom Nimmo, exposed him to popular bands like Steely Dan and the Pouset Dart Band. Nimmo told Doyle about a school for music in Boston. It was the first time Doyle had ever heard of Berklee School of Music, and he kept it in the back of his mind.

A turn toward Berklee

“While at RIC I decided that I wanted to apply to Berklee,” said Doyle.  “I asked my dad if there was any chance that I could go there. My dad was very encouraging. It wasn’t very expensive back then, maybe $2,600 a semester. Now it’s $50,000 a year. Not long after I asked him, he agreed to it.

“My roommate was writing songs, and I thought I’d like to try it. I messed around with writing lyrics when I was in a band in high school. In Berklee I learned music theory of course, because that was part of the curriculum. I taught myself to play piano and guitar. I wasn’t necessarily trying to be a great player, I just wanted to play so I could use it as a tool to write songs.” 

I asked why he was motivated to write songs.

“I grew up listening to all the great singer/songwriters. The James Taylors, the Jackson Brownes, the Neil Youngs. I guess I had something to say. As I said, I was pretty shy as a kid, and it was a way to express myself,” said Doyle. “I started co-writing songs with a friend and we won a couple of those songwriting contests that they would have at school. We would perform the songs in the performance center at the end of the semester.

“At one of the performances there happened to be a guy there from SESAC, which is one of the artists performance rights organizations. He came up to Berklee as a guest of the department and I got to talking to him. I remembered him and chased him down when I eventually got to Nashville,” said Doyle. “The way I saw it, I had three choices to pursue writing songs. It was either New York, Los Angeles or Nashville. Nashville seemed to me to be a writer friendly town, where Los Angeles and New York seemed more insider. I would read the Billboard charts when I was working as a bartender at the Harvard Club, and I noticed that in Nashville the artists didn’t write the songs they performed. They were written by staff writers at the big companies, so I thought maybe that’s where I should go to be a writer”

Down to Nashville

Doyle said that if he remained in New England his only choice was to be a music teacher — a drum teacher perhaps. But he had a dream and he wanted to chase it. After Berklee, with only $500 to his name, a Pinto station wagon, some personal belongings and his dad’s old briefcase filled with demo recordings of his songs, Doyle embarked on the long, lonely, uncharted journey to Music City, Tennessee. 

“I distinctly remember that I had a five-year plan. I had a music production and sound engineering degree from Berklee,” said Doyle. ”I wasn’t the greatest engineer, but I could set things up and be an assistant somewhere, maybe work as a tape operator. My true goal was to get a publishing deal, somehow, somewhere as a staff songwriter within five years. I achieved that goal in three months, signing a deal with BMG.”

Doyle’s publishing deal at BMG in April 1988 guaranteed him $150 a week, which was enough, in those days, to get him by in Nashville, which then was an inexpensive place to live.

“Nashville in those days resembled New York’s Tin Pan Alley. Just like Carole King and Gerry Goffin did in their early days, I would go to work and write songs all day. I’d go home and come back the next day and do it all over again. Up and down 15th and 17th Avenue, there were publishing companies after publishing companies after record companies. It was a special time,” said Doyle.

“We writers would take a break, sitting on the front porch at BMG, and here comes Bob Montgomery taking a walk by us. Bob started out playing with Buddy Holly and later became president of CBS records. And then there would be Bob Beckham walking by, who signed Kris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton. Or there’s Harlan Howard, who wrote ‘I Fall to Pieces’ for Patsy Cline and ‘Tiger by the Tail’ for Buck Owens. I was surrounded by legends. It was like Disneyland.”

A decade writing songs

“When I started working at BMG, I met Rick Peoples, who was older than me and an established hand. We wrote probably once a week together. He was a very good lyricist, and he was very quick. I would write the music to the songs, and then he and I would write the lyrics together,” said Doyle. ”It was a wonderful collaboration. I am thankful to have worked with the older guys because they showed me a lot about the business, and they gave me credibility as well.”

Doyle spent 10 years at BMG. Afterwards, he worked for Acuff-Rose, Murrah Music and Warner Chappell as a staff writer. In his nearly four decades in Nashville, Doyle has registered an astounding 17 million in sales combined on numerous gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums. His song “In Pictures” was a #1 Country single for the hit band Alabama, and his “Buying Her Roses” appeared on Reba McEntire’s 5X Platinum album, “For My Broken Heart.”

These days Nashville has changed, and so has Doyle’s view of the business.

“I’m not writing right now. I don’t have a publishing deal anymore, so I don’t have the urge to write. I’ve written literally a thousand songs,” said Doyle. ”I just got a call from a friend of mine the other day who’s in the sync licensing business. He’ll get TV commercials, things in movies, and he asked me if I wanted to do some writing, so I may dabble in that.”

Today Doyle teaches a songwriting class at Tennessee State University as well as a course concerning the business of songwriting at Delta State University.

“Mechanical royalties from record sales are what used to be everyone’s bread and butter. Today these sales are almost nonexistent. Nobody buys CDs or records much. They are all played on streaming services and they pay next to nothing,” said Doyle. “I had a Jason Aldean record called ‘Back in this Cigarette.’ It had 1.2 million streams on Pandora, and I only made $28 in royalties.”

Advice for a new generation

Finally, I asked what advice Doyle could give to folks who are interested in getting into music and songwriting?

“First, get a decent instrument. Spend some time with it. Fall in love with it. Listen as much as you can,” said Doyle. “I listened as a youngster before I ever played an instrument. I wore records out. When you listen to good music and good musicians, it subconsciously finds its way into your psyche. It gets fixed into your brain. Then it will find its way out as your personal musical expression.”

Michael Khouri is a Barrington resident writing occasionally about the Rhode Island music scene. Reach him at

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