Joe DeVita was 1,800 miles from home when a five-car collision almost left him paralyzed in Durango, Col. In hindsight, he called it “one of the best things that ever happened to [him].”
DeVita, now a 36-year-old musician and guitar teacher in Birmingham, Ala., had been hitchhiking westward from New York, performing solo at venues all over the country. Moving from place to place, not every show was planned too far in advance.
“One time I was in a Wendy’s somewhere in Ohio, and a bunch of seniors were having their weekly meeting there,” DeVita said. “They asked me to play, so I did a weird half-hour gig in the middle of a Wendy’s. It was pretty hilarious.”
The accident stopped him in his tracks, and DeVita had two months in a Durango hospital to think about what had brought him there. Now he’s ready to add another album to his body of work, “Liquid Slumber”, including some of his most accessible and carefully-crafted music to date.
“The first couple of days I was laying in the hospital bed, they had these weird heated socks on my legs,” DeVita said. “They were constantly checking my circulation to see if I would walk again. . . Once you realize it could’ve been that much worse, it’s kind of a good kick in the butt.”
Recovering in the confines of a brace, he spent three or four hours a day practicing guitar in a park along Colorado’s Animas River. For the first time in a while, he let life come to him, and some of the people he met were just as exciting as life on the road.
“I ran into one of Steve Miller’s songwriting partners [Steve McCarty] there, who was walking his dog,” DeVita said. “He said ‘hey man are you a songwriter! Let me play you a song!’ And he sat down and played ‘Wild Mountain Honey,’ which he had written. His wife showed up and they started harmonizing.”
Before leaving New York to travel with his music, DeVita had felt he was in a rut. He was looking for something to reignite the love for music he had as a teenager.
“I had set up a groove with the local music scene and I was kind of getting burnt out,” DeVita said. “I had gotten to a point where music was paying the rent and putting food on the table, and it had started to feel more like a job. Which there’s nothing wrong with, but that youthful energy and enthusiasm wasn’t there as much. The whole hitchhiking thing, playing more or less anonymously . . . just got me back to what I love doing.”
DeVita said he realized the value of living out his dreams. It slowly became clear that his heart was in adventures, not repeating the same thing every Saturday night. When his legs were back in working order, he biked to Wyoming. From there, he hitchhiked to California where he took on music students and kept performing around the state.
“It made me realize humanity isn’t such a bad place,” DeVita said. “You meet wonderful people on the road.”
His love for teaching arose barely a year after he picked up the guitar at age 16, helping other beginners around his high school cafeteria table.
“Once I started, I would take my guitar with me to high school and I was always practicing on my lunch break,” DeVita said. “Over time people started coming over to me and asking me to show them things on the guitar.”
The music scene on Long Island was not particularly dynamic, especially for a teenager, but he latched on to whatever he could in terms of like-minded performers. Coffeehouse singers in the neighborhood were usually “very vanilla,” and DeVita couldn’t get into age-restricted venues that better suited his taste.
“At that time, as far as teenagers were concerned, there was only one club that catered to a teenage audience,” DeVita said. “That got shut down pretty quickly. People started to get scared with all those kids congregating.”
He was craving the feeling of performing, not for attention but for the satisfaction of sharing his music. He had seen his uncle perform when he was younger, and was awestruck by the connection he made with the audience.
“The way he delivered things really amazed me, and I felt a genuine emotion in the song,” DeVita said. “He brings out these feelings that you’re not quite able to articulate.”
After almost ten years of performing, he made his first album using only a Casio keyboard. His roommate had left the instrument in his apartment, and it was easier to record than his guitar.
“I found out that I could arrange all the parts, the strings were halfway decent, I could play the drum set on the actual keyboard,” DeVita. “It was the first opportunity I had to build all the parts from the ground out.”
Since then he’s incorporated everything from jazz to the avant garde into this music, always keeping the seed of his rock upbringing. On The Antihero, he dabbles in humor and comic book drama.
“I’m always curious about something,” DeVita said. “I’m always finding myself interested in things. I guess when you’ve been playing music for 20 years, you want to keep it fresh and challenge yourself as well. It’s really a goal to keep myself out of my comfort zone and see what I do.”
Now on “Liquid Slumber”, he incorporates an instrument that he’s used for years without mastering: his voice. He says it’s an equalizing tool, a sound that anyone can identify with, and he’s put a lot of effort into hitting the right pitches on the new songs.
“For a while there I could have called myself completely tone-deaf,” DeVita said. “I really had to work my butt off to get to this point, and I have to work even harder to get where I want to be.”
DeVita flexes his 2-3 hour daily vocal practice on the promo track “Ocean Song,” an arena rocker compressed into something intimate and inviting. “Alex McKinley” is a Beatles-style ballad, weaving a tale of a mysterious disappearance in a mournful, eulogizing melody.
“I try to make it so anyone can listen and pick something out that they like,” DeVita said. “I try to put a lot of ear candy on there.”
A self-labeled perfectionist, DeVita cut himself off from tweaking and editing and called it finished, knowing he would polish it forever if he could. He’s anxiously waiting to hear what other people think of it.
“I haven’t listened to it at all,” DeVita said. “I left the room when I played it for my fiancée. I trust her to tell me if I need to throw it out and start over.”
In the meantime, DeVita still finds joy in teaching, with pupils from five years old to their fifties, and with origins from Pakistan and Brazil to native Alabamians. Whatever direction his music goes next, he knows the factors that will be constant.
“Life is going to happen to you regardless,” DeVita said. “It really depends how you react to it.”
“Liquid Slumber” is available March 15, and song previews and pre-orders are up now at

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