Football Legend Mike Reid Brings His Musical Talents to Two River Theater

May 30, 2017

Mike Reid talks about his musical The Ballad of Little Jo, his country music career, his hall of fame college football days and issues facing the NFL today
Credit Cassie Galisetti for WBGO

Singer-Songwriter and legendary football star Mike Reid is always looking to what's next in his life.  One of the musicals he's written is running at Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ from June 3rd through June 25th. 

Reid wrote the music for The Ballad of Little Jo in 1997, but he thinks this performance of the show will be the best yet.  The book by Reid, Sarah Schlesinger and John Dias was based on the film The Ballad of Little Joe by Maggie Greenwald. 

"I've worked in the world of opera, chamber music and country and pop songs, there's nothing more difficult, I can't think there's anything that comes close to the difficulty of getting a musical right.  It's the most collaborative form I've experienced.  You can not do this on your own."

Reid says this musical about the American West is inspired by the real-life-story of Josephine Monaghan. Monaghan was a young woman from Boston who, in the late 19th century, made a new life in an Idaho mining town disguised as a man called “Jo.”

"There's a lot of areas to wander in there and figure out why would a person do that?  And that's what we try to tell."

Mike Reid was a hall of fame defensive lineman at Penn State
Credit Getty Images

Mike Reid is a man of many talents.  He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame after a brilliant career at Penn State under head coach Joe Paterno.  The defensive lineman was part of two undefeated seasons there and won the Outland and Maxwell trophies in his senior year at PSU.

"The power of Joe, for me, look, I was even in those days a 230-pound kid and it was physical, I could have reached up and filled my hands with his neck and that would have been the end (for Paterno laughter) but I lived in fear of that man.  And the fear was, I lived in fear of disappointing him.  I just could not bear the thought of disappointing that man, so when you have a man that inspires that, was he all warm and cuddly and touchy feely, no absolutely not, he was a fiery Italian and when he got upset, he let you know about it. But he would never belittle you."

Finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1969,  Reid was truly one of the best college football playes of all-time.  But he physically paid the price for such success.

"There are chunks of my body still at Beaver Stadium and in that field.  I just had two knees relaced three years ago and I have arthritis in my neck and back."

Reid was a first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1970.  The Altoona, PA native made All-Pro two seasons on the defensive line, creating havoc for opposing quarterbacks.  Playing in the head-slap era, Reid was ferocious pass rusher for the Bengals.  He finished his career in Cincinnati with a total of 49 sacks.

Mike Reid was a first round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals
Credit Mike Reid for WBGO

"There are certain rules, you can't punch people, but there's no rule against how hard you can hit someone.  I wanted to play the game on as high and intense level as I possibly could."

What came first?  Sports or music?

"I think when I was young, what I wanted to do was sports, but I remember when I was young what I wanted to be was a writer and even if it meant being a bad writer."  

Reid says he remembers playing the piano ever before he went out with the neighborhood kids to play football.

"I was three three years old, we grew up next to my grandmother who had an old hand carved piano on the sun porch.  And I would, when I was three or four, I remember banging on those keys."

In 1980, Reid moved to Nashville, and quickly became known as an in-demand songwriter.  Four years later, Reid won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song with Stranger in My House, which was recorded by Ronnie Milsap. He was also featured as a guest vocalist on Milsap's Old Folks.

One of Reid's 12 #1 hits is Bonnie Raitt's standard I Can't Make You Love Me, a song he co-wrote with Allen Shamblin.  That song has also been recorded by many artists including Prince, George Michael and Adele and on a 2013 cd by jazz vibraphonist Joe Locke.

Walk On Faith was one of the popular tunes from this album
Credit Mike Reid for WBGO

Reid's recorded his own #1 hit Walk On Faith in 1991.  He admits he still sings that song in the shower.

Click above to hear the entire SportsJam with Doug Doyle interview with Mike Reid.