He’s Coming Home

Appears in the June 2023 issue.

Aurora native Joey J. Saye returns to his hometown for Blues on the Fox this month

Joey J. Saye performing on stage

When blues singer-songwriter Joey J. Saye celebrates his 30th birthday June 1, he’ll blow out his candles knowing he’s blown away a major career goal. “I wanted to hit the road and do a tour at least once before 30,” says Saye, who grew up in Aurora and now lives in Chicago. “I was very, very, very lucky and blessed to be able to go on three international tours and a couple domestic tours.” This spring he had just returned from performing in Europe, with the jet lag to prove it. On June 17, he’ll take the stage at RiverEdge Park in Aurora for the Blues on the Fox festival.

After graduating from Waubonsie Valley High School, Saye attended College of DuPage and then DePaul University. “By the time I got to COD, I was already really obsessed with music,” he says. He credits his father for nudging him in that direction. “We would travel together a lot, me and my pops. He was a truck driver for some time,” Saye says. “I remember being on the road in the early 2000s … and he had this big black wallet that would carry CDs. I just remember watching my dad flip through those CDs like he was searching for gold. He would pick something out and put something in and hum, and to see how much peace it would bring him, that’s where my love for music came from.”

Saye taught himself to play guitar, and blues eventually became his chosen genre. “I never had formal lessons, but Comcast on-demand—that was a really hot commodity at the time. I remember doing guitar lessons on there,” he says. “When I heard blues, it really made me focus … When I was 16, COD had a radio show with a blues program every Saturday night called ‘Blues Before Sunrise.’ I remember hearing B.B. King’s ‘You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now’ in the middle of the night.”

Joey J. Saye

Saye had stopped playing guitar to focus on earning his economics degree at DePaul, but he started sharing his music online again in 2019 after graduating. His big break, so to speak, came from social media chatter during the pandemic. “There was a big article with [Chicago blues singer] Tail Dragger [Jones], and it was bemoaning the lack of Black youth playing blues, or something like that,” Saye says. “A musician had posted this article and said, ‘Does anybody know any young Black men in Chicago playing traditional blues music?’ My name had popped up somehow, and all of a sudden 30 people checking me out online turned to literally thousands and then hundreds of thousands. That brought a lot of opportunities that led to tours and trips to the Carolinas and Texas and Reno.”

Saye is set to perform on the same bill at Blues on the Fox as blues legend Jimmie Vaughan. The two first met when Vaughan last performed at the fest nearly a decade ago in 2014. Saye attended as a fan and remembers Vaughan’s performance vividly. “He was mean-mugging me—looking straight at me, going right underneath my skin, because he could see how much I loved it,” Saye says. A friend of Saye’s knew Vaughan, and they ended up backstage after the show. “Jimmie sits by us, and it was like an hour or two of him telling us stories about him growing up and how he used to do things, like using karaoke microphones,” Saye says. “At that age, with my love for blues and my little bit of knowledge at the time, I felt like talking to Jimmie, he was the only person I made sense to. I remember talking to him about some detailed blues stuff and he was like, ‘That’s exactly right. Maybe I’ll come to your show sometime.’”

Find out where else Saye is performing at jjsayemusic.com.


Photos: Peter M. Hurley and Joey J. Saye