Growing up in Northern NJ with walls covered by KISS posters, compelled by fire, make-up, and the ways of rock, Joe Russo began playing drums at the age of 8. Cutting his chops in the shadows of Bonham, his early tendencies leaned strongly to hard rock. At the age of 13, through the guidance of his teacher Frank Marino (Long Island Drum Center of Nyack) Joe began to discover a whole new world of drumming.
In the summer of 1996, Russo decided against his original plan of attending Boston's Berklee School Of Music and instead drove West for the sunny mountains of Boulder, Colorado. Just days into his life in the Rockies he found himself jamming with what would soon be his first true touring band. Fat Mama (1996-2000) was an eight piece collective primarily comprised of University Of Colorado Jazz students quickly known around the early Jam Band scene as one of the most forward thinking and furiously adventurous groups around. Their moniker taken from Herbie Hancock's "Fat Mama Rotunda" was a direct homage to their sound. Borrowing heavily from the early 70's music of Miles, Hancock, and Mahavishnu, Fat Mama focused heavily on improvisation and would soon delve deeper into the Avant-Garde and New York's exploratory Downtown Jazz scene.
Russo once again found himself back East on the isle of Manhattan playing pickup gigs and hunting for his next band. One fateful night at the Lansky Lounge, Russo's course again would be shifted as a long haired version of a Middle School classmate walked through the door to use the restroom. Marco Benevento gleefully approached the band mostly comprised of his Berklee Alum pals and sat in for a few tunes. This would be the first time Marco Benevento and Joe Russo had played music together in ten years. After catching up for a bit the newly re-connected "duo" passed off phone numbers and set up plans to play again.
If not for Madonna, The Duo might never have been. After being asked to play a Madonna birthday tribute party at Wetlands Preserve by good friend and promoter Jake Szufranowski, Russo went through his cache of NYC musicians and called Marco for the gig. Originally intending to book an organ trio, timing and money slimmed it down to a drum and organ duo. Soon after, Russo once again had an offer from Jake to do a residency at New York's famed Knitting Factory. The weekly gig was originally booked for one month at $100 a night. Through sheer fiscal will this too would become a "duo" residency. Making $50 each a week and all the Heineken they could drink, Joe and Marco found a connection unlike any other each had known. Almost telepathically challenging each other with wild sonic twin speak they began crafting a remarkable sound of their own. The one month residency turned into a ten month run and became THE place to be on Thursday nights in NYC. Soon The Duo would jump into Marco's little red Subaru Station Wagon with Hammond and drums in tow and begin their first tour. At this time Russo was also tapped to play with funk organ master Robert Walter of the Greyboy All-Stars. Not wanting to leave his new Duo behind, Russo negotiated having the Duo open every show. After a two year run with Walter, Russo decided it was time to focus solely on the Duo. By this time Marco and Joe had gone from a scaled down, improv based jazz band to a stage filling, genre defying juggernaut.
Over the years the Duo would often become a Trio with the help of their good friend Mike Gordon. After meeting Gordon in 2004, Russo invited Mike to join the Duo on stage for an improvised "Trio" performance. They hit it off famously, and The Benevento/Russo Duo Featuring Mike Gordon soon hit the road for a handful of dates playing a collection of Duo material, Phish opuses, and obscure covers. The trio would continue to tour from time to time, ringing in both the new years of 2005 and 2006 and released a live record from their 2005 performance at Bonnaroo. In the midst of a post-Phish world, the Duo was asked to join their friend Mike and his friend Trey for a recording to be used as part of Anastasio's forthcoming solo album Bar 17. What began as a recording of two tracks soon became a full blown quartet collaboration and national tour splitting the stage with The Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh (& Friends). The newly formed G.R.A.B. announced the tour with Lesh on stage at Bonarroo 2006 playing the Grateful Dead's classics "Going Down The Road Feeling Bad" and "Casey Jones". This would be the first Russo/Lesh collaboration.
Joe now has the honor of sharing the stage and the music of The Grateful Dead with legends, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh in Furthur. Over three years of touring the country with Furthur, Russo has performed in Madison Square Garden, Red Rocks, Shoreline Amphitheater, Radio City Music Hall, Hampton Coliseum among others.
Russo has shared the stage with artists such as, Levon Helm, Elvis Costello, Nels Cline, John Scofield, Cass McCombs, Jonathan Wilson, Chris Robinson and many more.