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Joe Stampley - Man Of Many Hats

Joe Stampley is a different kind of "hat act." He doesn't sport a topper onstage, but offstage he sports a variety of figurative headwear. "Why should I be pinned down to just one thing?" asks Joe with a grin.

Sporting his "artist" hat, Joe performs 80 shows a year and recently released his 45th album, Somewhere Under The Rainbow, featuring four songs he co-wrote.

Donning his "record-executive" hat, he started Critter Records last year and signed new artist Billy Hoffman. Then came another hat when he produced Billy's album, All I Wanted Was You, released earlier this year.

"For years I was controlled by record labels," admits Joe. "But now I'm doing what I want to do. That's the key to enjoying life."

The Louisiana native has been recording and performing what he calls "country soul" as a solo artist since 1971. He scored 35 hits in the '70s and '80s, including three No. 1s, "Roll On Big Mama," "All These Things" and "Soul Song."

In 1979 he teamed up with Moe Bandy to sing what Joe heralds as "fun, beer-drinking" music as the duo of Moe & Joe. They had seven hits, including "Holding The Bag", "Hey Joe (Hey Moe)" and the chart-topping "Just Good Ol' Boys."

Moe & Joe still team up occasionally, as they did during a Tim McGraw show in Nashville this summer. Tim brought Kenny Chesney out to sing "Just Good Ol' Boys" with him during their encore - and then he brought Moe & Joe onstage.

"Tim McGraw, the biggest name in country music, bows down to me and says, 'We're not worthy,' " Joe declares with a laugh. "It was great!" Joe loves performing, whether it's "good-old-boy music" with Moe or classic country with his longtime band, the Fat Cats. And every so often, Joe lets the rocker inside him out by performing with The Uniques, the very rock band he fronted in the '60s.

"When we do 'Brown Eyed Girl' or 'Whiter Shade Of Pale' during our '60s show," explains Joe, "people have a good time because they're thinking, 'Where was I during that time?' "

Rocking with The Uniques is just one more way Joe cuts his own path through the music business. His inspiration for being an American original? None other than Hank Williams.

When Joe was a little boy he met the country legend at a radio station in Baytown, Texas. Joe recalls, "He told me, 'Don't try to sing like me. Be yourself.' " And Joe has spent a lifetime doing just that.

- M.B. Roberts