Waco musicians and family members of longtime Waco rhythm-and-blues guitarist Joe Silva recalled him as a dedicated musician and warm-hearted friend whose trademark smile reflected a generous spirit.
Silva died Monday morning in a Nashville hospital. He was 65.
“You couldn’t help but love the guy,” said Jonathan Kutz, a McLennan Community College percussion instructor who played drums for Silva during the past 10 years whenever Silva would drop in from Nashville for a visit to Waco and Fort Worth.
For several years, Silva suffered from lymphoid leukemia, which had returned after a short period of remission. A lung infection sent him to the hospital Friday, only days after returning from a Texas visit and performance swing, and his condition rapidly worsened.
Silva was born and grew up in Waco. His love of music and guitar-playing led him to sit in with several local bands while a teenager, and eventually he gravitated to MCC, where he was one of the first students in its commercial music program in the early 1980s.
Short in stature, Silva played his audiences almost as well as his trademark electric guitar, strolling into the crowd or jumping on a chair for effect.
“He had a way of holding a band back until he gave the signal and unleashed a can of whoop-ass,” Kutz said. “It was the element of surprise and he was good at that.”
Also working in his favor was a gentle, low-key personality that often charmed club owners into agreeing to book him and his band.
His Joe Silva Blues Band, a rhythm-and-blues group he led as guitarist, was a frequent sight at Waco-area venues in the 1980s. For a time, the band boasted Ruthie Foster, a fellow MCC student and now a nationally known Austin-based blues- gospel-folk singer, as its lead singer.
In 1990, he moved to Fort Worth, where he became a regular R&B player in several venues. From Fort Worth, Silva moved on to Nashville in 1997, building a career in smaller club and restaurant venues and finding a who’s who in the music industry showing up in those audiences.
Friends and fellow musicians shared condolences and memories of Silva on social media Monday, remembering him as a committed Christian, good musician and a generous, caring friend.
Lisa James, his only child, said those qualities were present in his family relationships, too.
“Everybody knew my father as Uncle Joe,” she said. “Dad’s been the rock for the cousins, especially when their dads died. . . . He was the sensitive part of the family.”
Silva is survived by his daughter, her husband, Josh, and their children, Baylen Jr., Stori, Holden and Kensley; a sister, Mary Jane Silva; and a brother, Ambrosio Silva Jr.
Funeral services at Sacred Heart Catholic Church are pending, James said.