By Forest Riggs
Years ago, Judy Garland sang the song, “ Happiness is a Thing Named Joe” and never were truer words spoken or sung. He is not a “ thing,” but Galveston’ s favorite friend and DJ, Joe Rios, is nothing but happiness!
It seems like happiness is just a thing called Joe,
He’s got a smile that makes the lilacs want to grow,
He’s got a way that makes the angels heave a sigh
When they know little Joe’s passing by.
Chances are if you’ ve been out dancing in a popular Galveston club, to a wedding—or better, attended a fabulous quinceanera—and not just in Galveston, you probably shook, rattled and rolled to the hot spins of DJ Joe Rios, the man with the smile and the music!
A bonafide BOI (born on the island), Rios is the seventh of eight children born to his loving parents who raised five boys and three girls. Early-on, little Joe learned great things about life from his parents, things that would lead and guide him as he grew into a man and discovered his own mission and passions. From his mother he learned about faith, family and tradition. From his father he learned the importance of helping others and doing so with joy and love.
“ I saw it early on, watching my father help anyone and everyone he could,” Rios says. “ As a boy, I saw love and devotion in my mother, the way she cared for us. Now I see it when I pass her room and through the partially opened door and see her kneeling beside her bed and praying—it is beautiful.”
Joe is proud to say that his parents and siblings gave him a strong foundation and one that shaped him and taught him about having a purpose and a meaning in life.
When other BOIs wanted to leave and explore life outside the Galveston community, Rios stayed; it was home.
“ I really never wanted to live anywhere else,” he says. “ I mean, I was curious and I did move to Houston for a few years, but Galveston was home and I came home.”
Shortly after 1977, Rios saw a movie that would forever change his life and set him on his path of music and the adventures that come with it. Saturday Night Fever was shaking the world in the late ’ 70s. It was not just hot John Travolta grinding and gyrating but the music that lit a fire in Rios.
“ It was amazing—the first movie with dancing and constant music. It set me on fire!” he says.
From that point on, Rios began collected LPs, then cassettes and later CDs. His collection grew so much, as did his love of seeing other people enjoy his pics and plays, that eventually his brother Johnny convinced him to start DJing. Together they bought sound equipment and started booking events and clubs. Rios had already earned a name for himself at Galveston’ s infamous Kon Tiki bar where he kept the dance floor packed and supplied the latest hits to the eager GLBT crowds. To this day, Rios continues to pack the clubs and keep the crowds happy.
“ Over the past 30 years, I’ ve learned that music changes but people stay the same, just wanting to have fun,” he says. “ I try to read the crowd and shift my selections to make sure everyone is finding a little something they like and to which they can relate. I mean a great bar will have all ages, so it’ s important to have a little something for everyone.”
Rios’ interest in music led him to a friendship that although cut short by murder, would stick with him and shape him for the rest of his life. Not much into Tejano music, Rios heard a song by rising star Selena Quintanilla and it completely overtook him and changed him forever.
Through music contacts and perseverance, Joe and Selena became friends. The friendship grew and lasted until her untimely death on March 31, 1995. Upon hearing of the shooting, Rios says, his world stopped.
“ It was horrible. I became numb,” he says. “ I could not believe it. My friend, the beautiful singer to the world, was gone. It hurt and still does.”
Rios’ has filled two rooms in his home with beautiful items reflecting the friendship with Selena and the Qunitanilla family. There are tons of notes, autographed items, dolls, letters they exchanged and photographs of the two friends, singing and laughing together. A beautiful, ornate, purple cabinet is filled with very special Selena items. A purple rug adorns one room while in another, a wall is covered in mirrored letters spelling SELENA. It is a beautiful tribute and honor to the star and to their enduring friendship.
“ She was so down to earth, easy to be with,” Rios says. “ There was no ‘ star attitude’ with Selena. I could share ideas about her music and she would listen. There will never be another like her.”
Rios told Selena once that she was “ up there with Donna Summer and Diana Ross,” to which she smiled and said, “ Wow…you think Joe? Thank you so much.” She was!
Rios works full-time for Galveston’ s Access Care of Coastal Texas (ACCT) and has been with them off and on for 20 years. For the past three years his role has been that of housing coordinator for those needing the services. He loves to give back and help those in need.
Losing his own brother Johnny in 1995, Rios is very familiar with losses due to HIV and the needs of people dealing with the virus.
“ I love my job and I love ACCT,” he says. “ We are so strong and committed to our mission there. It’ s a magical place in way. I feel very fortunate.”
Once, a co-worker and another Galveston favorite, Gordon (aka Galveston) Jones, called Rios and was, as usual, relentless in his effort for Rios to meet a young girl named Amanda Solis. “ Joe, you have to come see her. She is the image of Selena, and she sings!” insisted Gordon.
Rios went and, sure enough, felt the same. Over time, Rios has coached and worked with Solis as she develops her Selena act and show, honoring late cross-over Tejano singer.
Aside from the DJ world and helping those with HIV, Rios took on another role over a year ago, one that he feels is his true destiny and purpose. After a couple of strong “ signs” and messages from God, and a twist of fate in a phone call involving another person named Amanda, Joe became a foster parent. Fostering was something he had wanted to do for a long time and prayed about over the years as he felt blessed in life and really wanted to make a difference in someone else’ s life.
Sean, a tall, good-looking boy of 17, came into Joe’ s life and things have never been the same—in a good way.
“ Becoming a foster parent was no doubt the best decision I ever made,” Rios says. “ Sean is an amazing young man. And he made our transition of becoming a family an easy one.”
Indeed, meeting Sean as he climbed onto his bicycle and headed to work, he is indeed a charming and loving young man.
Rios says he use to look at people on Facebook, “ all so happy, traveling and fulfilled, or so they make it seem. I wanted that and I made it happen, we are so blessed.”
Parenting skills and family life come easy for Rios, as he had an excellent example growing up. The future is bright and Sean jokingly warns Rios what life will be like someday with grandkids. Oh my!
Rios DJs at Rumors Beach Bar on Friday and Saturday evenings. On Sundays, he heats up the bar with the resurgence of the old fashioned Tea Dance after Drag Queen Bingo. Check him out.
A resident of Galveston where he can be found wasting bait and searching for the meaning of life, Forest Riggs recently completed a collection of short stories about his beloved island and is working on a novel.