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Joe & Vicki Price: The blues leads to decades of love

You don't know sheer joy until you've seen Joe Price play guitar. Look at his face as the blues guitarist's fingers move over the neck and body. He seems amazed at the sounds he's producing and like he's enjoying it more than you've ever enjoyed anything in your life.

You can see that look Friday when Joe and Vicki Price play a CD release show at Lefty's.

"Once he starts playing, there's no one else in the room for him. It's just him and the music," Vicki Price said during a phone interview. "He's not self-conscious at all about what his body is doing or what he's singing. He's just into playing that instrument. It's really fun to work with someone who is that free about his music."

But Joe isn't so certain he's as free as he looks.

" Sometimes I wonder if it's just going through the motions. It's hard to analyze it and I usually don't," Joe said. "With the blues I'm usually concentrating on playing right; it's a lot harder to play than it sounds. Concentrating is a big part of it, especially if people are dancing. We don't have a drummer, so I've got to make sure the tempo is the same, if they're dancing."

Joe has been performing since 1971, first as a solo act, then with the influential Mother Blues Band for nearly a decade. He and Vicki have opened for Buddy Guy, Al Green, John Lee Hooker and numerous other notable acts. He's a member of the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame and Iowa music icon Greg Brown refers to Joe as "the Buddha."

Brown and Joe were once label mates on the now defunct label Trailer Records. Also on the label was Brother Trucker. Singer/guitarist Andy Fleming recalls a Trailer Records showcase at the Val Air Ballroom where Brown was scheduled to headline. A back injury forced him out, so Joe stepped up.

"I remember this feeling of trepidation without the headliners," Fleming said. "But Joe stepped up and proceeded to blow everyone away. No one missed anyone; Joe was the star of that night."

"Joe's authenticity gives credibility from note one," Fleming said. "You know you're hearing the true sound when you hear Joe.

Joe and Vicki Price have been playing together for more than 30 years. Their first performance was July 31, 1982 at Dar's in northeast Iowa. Joe was playing solo, when someone suggested he let the bartender join him for a song. The song turned into a show and they stayed up making music together into the night.

Joe and Vicki quickly started touring together, but they didn't get married until 1987.

"I think for musicians that it's hard to make a marriage work," Vicki said. "You're on the road so much and usually someone is not a musician. We both were wanting to be sure of things. It seemed like we wanted to make sure the relationship was solid before we sealed the deal."

Friday's show is for the first album truly credited as a "Joe and Vicki Price" release. In the past, albums have been either under Joe's name, or in the case of Vicki's 2008 album "A Brand New Place," under her name with "(featuring Joe Price)."

The last Joe Price album, "Rain or Shine," came out in 2009. "Night Owls" was in the works for quite a while, including starting over from square one when the Nashville studio where they were recording caught fire, taking the Prices' tapes with it.

"How long did it take? That's terrible, this record should have come out a couple years ago, no doubt about it," Price said of the delay. "But in the end, we were probably more familiar with the songs and I think we got some better cuts than we had the first time through."

Joe and Vicki Price call Decorah home, but they're out on the road more than 200 days a year. After Friday's release show, Joe and Vicki are heading to Montana for a series of shows, then continuing west for three weeks' worth of shows in California.

After 33 years or performing together, Joe and Vicki never lose interest in that night's show.

"Every night is different, we're always looking to improve on things," Vickie said. "If we get bored, we just change the key on a song. Joe's 64 and he's probably more excited about playing guitar today than at 16."

Joe and Vicki Price CD release show

When: 9:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Lefty's Live Music, 2307 University Ave.

Cost: $10