Rafael’s lifetime odyssey as a performing songwriter began in showcases and small clubs around Los Angeles, San Diego and the Inland Empire in California. He formed a duo with San Diego-based Rosie Flores in 1978, enjoying standing-room-only crowds during their nine-month collaboration. Soon after, local promoters began to hire him as an opener for national touring acts from Rick Danko to Emmy Lou Harris, including John Lee Hooker, John Stewart, Laura Nyro, and Taj Majal. In 1981, Rafael toured the southwest with Jesse Colin Young, and released a debut album, Dharma Bums.
The emergence of the seminal Joel Rafael Band in 1994, coinciding with a period of FM radio programming freedom, resulted in national airplay, a tour with Joan Baez, and regular co-bookings with John Trudell. Rafael was twice a finalist for Kerrville Folk Festival’s “New Folk Emerging Songwriter Award,” and a winner in 1995. A featured performer at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival every year since its inception in 1998, Rafael was honored as a “10-year-artist” in 2007.
On five original albums, Rafael chronicles his life with refined poetic candor. 2008’s Thirteen Stories High, features the anthemic protest song “This Is My Country,” with friends David Crosby and Graham Nash contributing background vocals.
On two other albums, Woodeye and Woodyboye, Rafael honors the songs of Woody Guthrie. Featuring five previously unpublished Guthrie lyrics for which Rafael composed music, they were reissued in 2009 as the two-CD set, The Songs of Woody Guthrie, Volumes 1 and 2, on Inside Recordings.
Joel currently serves on the Board of Directors of Folk Alliance International.