Louisiana Captain’s Songs Making Waves on Music Row

Captain Joe Kent

Captain Joe Kent has one of the most unique jobs you can imagine for a country songwriter: He pilots giant 90-foot ships that often push two or three barges at a time across inland waterways from his home base near New Orleans to ports as far east as Florida, as far west as Texas, and as far north as Minnesota.

It’s a job not all that different from what Mark Twain was doing over 150 years ago, when Twain worked on and wrote about steamboats in the Mississippi River. But in large part thanks to some very modern technology that Mark Twain could only have dreamed of – Facebook videos of Joe’s songs – Joe Kent’s music is at long last starting to get heard along Music Row.

“I don’t do this for a living, I do it for fun,” Captain Joe says of his day job in a phone conversation as he prepares for another river voyage. “I get to drive a frigging boat. I’d do it for free.”

Happily he does get paid for this difficult and vital work, and early on Kent believed that the unusual work schedule of shipping, with 28 days and nights on board followed by a week or two off at home, would give him an ideal chance to pitch songs on Music Row between voyages.

But like countless aspiring tunesmiths for decades, most of what he encountered here for years was rejection.

“I was sending out 100 letters to Nashville each time I got home,” he said. “I would go broke running tape copies, giving tapes away and sending out demos.”

At first his wife was as excited as Joe was, but as the rejections kept piling in and chipping away at her husband’s pride, she got to the point she never wanted to hear anything else about music or Nashville.

“At one time I almost did quit songwriting,” he says. “But I don’t quit, because I just can’t.  I wrote my first songs at 7 years old. For many years, I wanted to be a songwriter but didn’t have nothing to write about. When I went thru my divorce, songwriting kept me sane. I went thru some wild times after I got divorced, and I went from having written a handful of songs to from 300-400.”

His greatest influences are Hank Williams Jr. and singers from the Outlaw Movement, such as Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson. Captain Joe considers himself far more a songwriter than a singer, though his gritty vocals on autobiographical tunes like “Son Of The Highway” and “Dark Cloud Blues” are also strong and unique.

Hank Jr. is often known as Bocephus, so it’s not surprising that Joe sometimes bills himself as “Captain Jocephus.” Another of Joe’s heroes is the late, great Merle Kilgore, a prolific music publisher and songwriter (he co-wrote “Ring Of Fire”), who worked for years as Hank Jr.’s manager.

Kilgore had been a role model for Kent for years from afar, so naturally Joe mailed a package of his songs to Merle’s office. As usual, he didn’t hear anything back. But one Saturday afternoon when Captain Joe was ashore, he mustered up the nerve to phone Kilgore’s office.

“When the phone call went thru and Merle Kilgore answered it himself, man, it was cold chills went all over me,” Captain Joe recalls. “I introduced myself, and we had a great, awesome conversation. He gave me permission to submit 4 or 5 songs. Of course, the songs got turned down, but he called me personally afterwards and he was very supportive.”

Kilgore told Joe, “son, just keep on writin’ them songs. You never know, you just might write a No. 1 song.”

After years and years of rejection, that series of calls from Kilgore was enough to inspire Captain Joe Kent to keep writing and keep pitching forever. “Here’s a guy in that position that called me personally,” Joe still recalls, with a smile.

Kilgore, a fellow Louisianan who also charted 8 Billboard country singles as an artist including 1960’s Top 10 “Love Has Made You Beautiful,” died in 2005 at age 70.

Hurricane Katrina was a traumatic period on the Gulf Coast, and Joe’s next video “My New Orleans” was originally penned for the victims of Katrina. When the hurricane struck and devastated New Orleans, Captain Joe was on a boat doing government contract work on the inland waterways between Houston and Panama City, Florida. For several days, he couldn’t find out what had happened to wife or his home near New Orleans.

“I had a friend of mine pick me up off the boat at a bridge,” Joe says. “Despite sheriff’s orders that nobody go into that area, I went and found my wife and told her I was okay.”

His home and yard had suffered some damage, including the destruction of a chicken coop that left dozens of chickens squawking around the yard. For weeks, friends and neighbors had to use Joe’s swimming pool for bathing.

“My wife went 31 days without electricity. She lived off the eggs from the chickens,” Joe says. “I’d stop and get groceries on the way home, and would bring her bags of ice since we had no power for the refrigerators.”

Captain Joe Kent has lived a life that is in many ways like a country song. Now at last his own songs are being heard and his videos are being watched.

By Phil Sweetland



  1. Congrats Joe!! I am really happy for you, and it could not have happened to a more deserving person. All your songs come from a special place in your life and touch many other people’s lives. Please keep them coming as we all love to listen to them. We will all be standing in line waiting for the first copy, as well as ordering them from any site you send us to. Thank you for sharing this journey you have traveled to the top to make one of your dreams come true. You are a true inspiriation to everyone out here.

  2. Great article! I just recently had the pleasure of listening to Mr. Kent’s music…and already I am a fan…You can hear and feel his heart and soul in every word he sings and in the lyrics he writes. There is no doubt for me that Mr. Kent brings back to the country music table.. the true passion, grit and soul of country music that has somehow gotten lost in this day and age. I would’nt hesitate to rank Mr. Kent right next to the legendary Hank Williams Jr. and the great Waylon Jennings. It has been an honor writing this review, and I look forward to following the succesful career of “CAPTAIN JOCEPHUS” Joe Kent

  3. Hey, my brother. You already know how I feel about you and Neci and your wonderful music. I’m looking for and praying for a great career for you in songwriting. I couldn’t be prouder of you. I’ve been there from the start and I’ll be there always for you. Don’t hesitate one second if you need me.

  4. Mr. Kent

    I have enjoyed getting to know you and your music through our mutual friend Curtis Lyn Cook, who also happens to be a relative of mine. Your story was very down to earth and made you seem even more real. I wish you great sucess on the country charts. May God bless you and your family as you continue your journey.

  5. Captain Joe,
    Loved the video and the article.Hope this is just the start of great things for you.
    Learned alot from my time with you,and had fun doing it.
    See you on the one capt.

    • To my favorite Yankee-I learned from you as well my brother-I now know what a fiddley (spelling??) is. Big E and I were just telling a “green” deckhand about you and your fiddley the other night!! I still have the monkey’s fist in the wheelhouse that you made and I reckon you’ll always remember that if you have a port hole on the starboard side that it’s a starboard port hole and not a starboard hole!!!….wait say that again…Lol!! You have been a great supporter and have a genuine sense of humor although I don’t think you always know what to make of mine!! Nevertheless it just goes to show you that even a Yankee can appreciate good ‘ole southern music-Lol!! I will always have very fond memories of the days we rode together and will be eternally grateful for the hard work that you put into this vessel in the weeks before the Christening!! And we now keep all our Yankees in the fiddley-hahahaha!! Keep it in the ditch Captain and I’ll see you on the one!! Btw-Everybody please notice that I now have an official website-I think it is awesome and it has some really cool stuff on there!! Please check it out and let me know how y’all like it!! Anyone that would like your NMG autographed, contact me on fb and we’ll make arrangements!! Don’t forget to like the Sound Advice Studio page and become an official fan on Reverbnation so that I can keep you updated!! See you at the top of the charts!!! Captain Jocephus!!!

  6. What an honor to have Mr. Gilchrist stop by and comment. I have several of his CDs and I love his songs especially Jim Beam Me Up Scotty, I’m in Love With The Girl on the Cover of Victoria’s Secret and of course You Sure Do Look Good Naked!! Mr. Gilchrist is extremely imaginative, multi-talented and has a great personality and sense of humor. He is an exceptional cartoonist, author and singer/song writer. Everything I receive from this man has the added touch of a personal autograph!! Where he finds the time to do what he does is beyond me!! I also like his hat and asked where I could get one. Well it was a custom made gift from Charlie Daniels-and I would help run the devil out of Georgia to have one like it!! In addition to all his creative energy, Mr. Gilchrist has also started a radio program with singer/songwriter contests that are providing exposure for artist in Nashville that they otherwise would not have. Mr. Gilchrist you are a very giving person with a very caring disposition and I am so proud to call you my friend!! It means so much for someone of your talent and calibre to take the time to comment on this article!! Pens up my brother and I’ll see you at the top of the charts and of course the funny papers too!! Joe Kent

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