Joe Ritterbecks

For those who stumble across this page... here's a little background, here's the lyrics and sleeves, all the extras that are part of the creative process, that the online stores won't carry.

Songwriting and recording has been with me since the early 90s, surviving from vinyls and compact cassettes to
mp3s and streaming services. The approach is pretty much old-school. Acoustic guitars are miked, electric guitars are
played through an amp and miked. Vocals and other instruments should be - guess what - miked, where possible. It's fine to record
multiple tracks one after another, but as far as I'm concerned, a track should be a single take in the way that it's recorded from
beginning to end and not glued together in silico.

That's how I hope the song's come through - to whoever finds them. Felt... lived through... not engineered to meet a
specification, lomographs of moments meaningful enough to be captured, but not photoshopped to look better than they are.


Latest Release

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"rag top down"

It seems right to use this picture of my refreshinglywacky Citroen for the cover. Not only because it's a convertible. It had a part in the things that rag top down is all about. Somewhere south of Senj, Croatia.

This has been long in the making. 15 months, judging by the creation dates of the first track wav files.

I thought about the order of the tracks, but without trying to put much of a meaning into it. Listening to the final masters just before clicking "release now", I realized that the first  words I sing are "As far as love goes, who knows, where it might have gone" and that the last words are "and even though it all went wrong, I stand before the Lord of song, with nothing on my tongue but 'Hallelujah'.

The two covers, bracketing a big, hard lesson, but there's nothing to regret, nobody to accuse.

"Rag Top Down" is what a friend called "Verdauungslied", a "Processing song". Wishful thinking, at least partly, at the time it was written. Telling myself that life ain't over. "Just because it burns, doesn't mean you're gonna die", as Pink phrases it.
I'd been asking around for saxophone players for a year, because that's  what I heard in my head all the time. I found Jonas, who dropped by, listened, and played the shiny sax. I added the ferry horn bits later that night, and that's when I knew, there'd be a record.

Thank you,  Paul and Jonas, for your time.


Front cover 2400x2400


"As far as love goes"

      A Tina Dico cover. Played a little bit faster than the original. "You're still a mystery to me" is the key line. It's been on my playlist for a long while, helping to shape an understanding about how things fall apart and what happens in the aftermath.
Thank you, Pippa, for the knowing, understanding questions in those years. I could not imagine anybody else to sing this song with.



"How could"

      The volvo full of guitars and recording equipment. Pippa's place on the Dutch coast. A recording retreat. This song was written and recorded there and, because the feeling of this weekend spent all alone is still so present, my favourite one.
Before packing up and heading home, I sent a raw mix to Paul, who sent back a stereo drum track that perfectly caught the dynamic of the song, before I'd reached Brussels. That very session is what you hear.



"Good for the heart"

      "Good for the heart" follows up on "Rag top down", musically and story-wise. The former was partly wishful thinking, at the time of writing. When recording the background vocals, Pippa said that "I watch your taillights disppear" might be misinterpreted as mourning a lover leaving. It's not. It's about springtime. It's about discovering that there's something inside me, that I feared might be dead.  



"Lo vamos a necesitar"

      A three-day song. Three days from conception to mixing. A flashback. The final goodbye. Every word is true, and there's no scorn in this song. "We're going to need it", and  the "We" only comes in when "Lo vas a necesitar" changes to "Lo vamos..." in the last chorus. You're not alone in love, and not in breaking up. On the road ahead from there, make sure you don't ditch it.  




      I remember listening to that song in a garden, a summer night, in Aachen, maybe 15 or twenty years ago. I was down that evening, although I don't quite remember why, and the song kinda comforted me.
It's the weakest song on this EP, underarranged, underproduced, qualifying only by that it was all recorded it a pandemic christmas night, and by Leonard Cohen's wonderfully wise words. "....and even, though it all went wrong I stand before the Lord of song, with nothing on my tongue but Halleluja". Understanding, the intricacy of love.




"The birds,
when they
see you"


The European stonechat, Saxicola rubicola.

This one found me in Brittany, when I was on a long, long walk, alone. Sitting on a fence, it's back to the wind, near Point St. Mathieu. Like the European robin, and I swear I have no idea if they're relatives, he keeps company with the lonely traveller, I always found solace in the presence of these little birds. They seem to try their best to cheer you up.


The original working title for "The birds, when they see you" was "Why" . It goes back to the time I wrote "Black", and there's almost 5 years in between recording the first tracks and adding drums and bass to finish it..

I think it's my best. It was conceived, written, and the guitar and vocals you hear recorded in less than 48 hours, played twice to friends, live once to an audience, got discarded, another version recorded from scratch with additional lyrics, because it didn't seem true any more. Finally, although the beat staggers and sways, I decided for the original version. Can't change the past and can't make it more authentic than this version.

Addendum... months after the release... sitting at my desk, again asking myself what the truth was.., or is, for that matter... a line from Tina Dico's "As far as love goes" spinning in my head...."you say I'm an unforgiving man".  Hell, yeah,  it seems I am caught between anger and righteousness. But I've read Coelho, so in an attempt to grow into understanding, I'll to try to not unrelease this version.

Far from me

From the same trip, as the bird. John Prine's song was already with me. Hiking the Sentier des Doaniers in the seaside village of Plouarzel, looking for a bar or a at least a supermarket, there it was, in the gutter. I had been thinking hard all day if things could be mended, but here was the sign I had been asking for... "Ain't it funny, how an old broken bottle, looks just like a diamond ring".

This song has so many lines that get me... I don't know which one got me hooked. The first version I heard was Justin Townes Earle's cover. When I looked it up, I was surprised that it was written by John Prine, 1971, the year I was born.

It's perfect, in the way it subtly builts up the tension, the sadness and the resignation when a relationship ends but nobody is ready to admit that.

Suddenly, Bonnie-Bee

no extra cover

Another one about breaking up... the whole story in a nutshell. The dreams, the bubbles, the inability to make it work and to understand why not.

"Suddenly" was originally written and first Demos recorded in my Stromberg exile in 2018, but it never got far from sounding like "Stranger things have happened" until more than a year later, when I bought myself a Telecaster.

"Find Joe"

Imagine an early morning in July in Pocahontas County, WV.. A warm,drizzling rain is taking all sound out of the smoky mountains. Take a swim in the lake, eye to eye with the Canada geese that flocked on the meadow during the night.
Reluctant to leave this serene place and at the same time eager to get on the road you drift through the farm's wet, high grass towards the main house to let Linda know you're leaving. You come across this tractor and wonder if the man that last drove it knew where the next day's road would lead him.
Imagine a few days later in Marshall, NC. It's a long drive back to the DC area, but you just can't seem to tear yourself away. Somewhere in these hills was Joe, and you found him, because you went looking.


"Find Joe" is another trip. Geographically it's not that far from Big Pink, you could drive it in a day. Spiritually, it's deeper into my own heartland.

Browsing the net for a place to stay in the lower Appalachian range on what I already called my „Cherokee getaway“, I came upon a yurt for rent in Marshall. A few days before I actually left, I checked up on the area - how to get there and what to do. On the Wikipedia page of Marshall, I noticed from the corner of my eyes a small-print list at the end. „Unincorporated communities in Madison county“. The names „Joe“, „Trust“ and „Luck“ caught my eye. Straight out of nothing the trip and I had a purpose... a mission. I would go and find „Trust, Luck and Joe“. I didn‘t know then how big it would be, but I did find those three in a rainbow rush of miles and gentle people at the side of the road. And almost magically, the getaway became an arrival as well. Inside and out.

Special thanks and credits to Paul Gaspar for drums, and thanks to Dimitrios, Johann, Daniel and Jörg for the background vocals.

Oh My Sweet Carolina

The arena of Bill and Olivia's valley.... seen from the place where the sun first hits the meadow. If you ever wonder, why there's so many songs about North Carolina, this is the place to find out.


Could've been one of the song's that a guy named Eddy played outside of "Hope" on Newbury street. I don't know where I acutally got it from, but Tom's and Benjamin's eyes light up when they hear it, and that's reason enough to play it.


"Black, where I come from "


Putting what I felt into words brought the picture along in no time. The location is Newport, RI, and the boat is leaving the shelter of Goat Island to sail through Narragansett Bay to the ocean.

The picture itself was taken in the port of L'Herbaudière, Noirmoutier, France. The cover was initally designed in a place called "Cadillac bar" in L'Epine.

"Black where I come from" was written and (most of it) recorded in 2014. It's dark in a way only, because where there's darkness, there must be light somewhere. As long as you're in control your course, it should turn out to be the right one in the long run. Which is less likely, if you're just tagging along.

Old man Murphy is as real as the Newport bridge. I met him in the 70ies, and again every time I happened to be on the east coast. The scene in the song is pure fiction, but the picture is so real that I can feel Murphy's shadow on my back as he hollers down at me from the pier.

This song could have been on Texaco Roadmap, but 2016 was all whitewater, rapids and rocks... not the time to sit down with headphones.

I'm your man

I had that picture before I had the song.


Speaking of B-sides... is it presumptuous to cover a song like that? Or any song? Maybe not. Better musicians have failed to come close to the original... and Leonard, whereever you are, there's "The book of longing" on my shelf. Thanks for this song, Mr. Cohen.


"Ich will Anne Will"


Google found the original picture for me. An actual "Tagesthemen" frame. It was perfect. All I did was at the title and a little noise.

The TV is the actual tube I had then, photoshopped with the above. For the inside cover I actually took it apart and took a picture of what I found inside.


This is a happy song. A nonsense song, if you wish. Written orginally for the unbelievable Ritterbecks who never adopted it. The first lyrics I ever wrote in my mother language, Funny enough. Before releasing this, I asked her for permission. As a matter of politeness & respect for the only real anchorman. It's completely out of frame... the language, the punkesque arrangement... but it was a genuine feeling and so what...


Jersey girl


no extra cover


Jersey Girl... goddam, there's a Tom Waits' version of this song that is frightning. And I still dig B-sides.


"At the
end of the valley"



The cover does show the original Volkswagen Hippie Bus and the original Mr. Jones.

Credits to Holgi for the picture.


I wrote this song while walking down from Mürren, Switzerland, to the Alpenhof in Stechelberg, 2011. When it comes to feeling welcome, friendly and a little Hippie, the Alpenhof is the closest to Alice's restaurant that you can get to this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

It's about how it is and how important it seems to confer to my little boys that there will be more important things in life than getting an education, finding a good job and accumulating security until you eventually die. This is a happy song.

Tupelo Honey
  no extra cover   Having grown up in a time where a single would have a B-side, there was no way of releasing "End of the valley" without one. "Tupelo Honey", which is originally by Van Morrison was my first attempt to get rid of drum computers.
This song is one of my alltime favourites when it comes to putting a lot into few words. It comes to life only if you put your everything into the singing. Well.... at least I tried.
"Texaco Roadmap", 2014

The cover... Springsteens "Open all night"... He meets Wanda in Bob's Big Boy Fried Chicken.... I could always see the lights of the place shine over the parking lot, a couple sitting in a car... "we're wiping our fingers on a Texaco Roadmap".

A couple of years ago I searched "Texaco Roadmap" on ebay... didn't take long to find one. New Jersey, and yes, from the seventies. A sincere thank you to the guy who kept it for me and put it on auction. Paid two-and-a-half and I'm wouldn't sell for a grand.


At the end of a turbulent year in many aspects, I was thinking about my life in a general way. Looking from the outside, it was probably pretty much straightforward and successful. "Joe's got everything", somebody said. It felt different from the inside. Was I in control of my life, going where I wanted to? Or was I going down the river like driftwood, just lucky not to get stuck in the dead water on the far side of a bend?

Somehow it felt right to start sharing the songs I had in the drawer, so I released "Big Pink" and "Good Girls" under their working title "Texaco Roadmap", just before Christmas, 2014. As a present to myself, and a promise. It's an EP, because Big Pink is as much an A-side as Good Girls is.

Big Pink

The original cover was much closer to the picture I have in my mind from that day - a warm summer's day, lots of green leaves. I never used it because somehow the other version seemed cooler. Maybe from a graphic artist's point of view it is.

The bark of the tree, which is not in upstate NY, by the way, also carries some of the feeling of the place. Old. Natural. Knowing.

2003. NYC had worn us down, so we headed north up the Hudson valley to rest our souls. The afternoon sun found us stalled on a dirt road somewhere on the slope of Overlook Mountain in West Saugerties, NY, all the information we had was the back cover of the legendary Album by The Band. We were about to call it quits.
Two Hippie girls coming back from a swim somewhere in the woods offered help. We showed them the cover. Yes, they knew the house. They cheered our sincereness and gave us directions.
The place was more enchanted than the old photograph could show. Driving up to and seeing it, I killed the engine. It was as real as the hum of the bees and the murmur of the creek.
There was no red sqare in our Rand McNally, no sign to tell the pilgrim where to turn off the road to Bearsville. Not a place where you’d have to stand in line for a ticket. Good.

It took a while to write and record this song. It was finished in 2006.


Good Girls

The girl on the front cover is Ali MacGraw, who shares her birthday with me. People magazine put her on list of the 50 most beautiful people in the world in 1991. I knew that when I was a boy in the late seventies. But I was a kid.... and she was with Steve McQueen.

When I thought about the cover, she came to my mind in no time. Not her beauty in the first place. It was the the depth in her eyes.

Picture credits? No idea, I found it on the net. Apologies to whoever took it, and to Mrs. MacGraw of course.


I met the original good girl stepping out of a train in Cologne - I never actually talked to her. Her picture has long faded away, but I remember that she looked incredibly pretty in the way she stood up against the big city’s tidal waves of concupiscence, slightly bruised by the past but self-consciously facing the future and knowing as much as hoping that better days would come.
It took me 5 years and at least 3 more good girls to finally come up with the first verse of this song, but all the time I knew I would write it. It was recorded 2004/2005.




2022-01-01 - - - cont@ct Joe