GREENVILLE, Maine — Most everyone in Greenville, when asked if they know Joe Bolf, will say something like, “Oh sure, he’s the woodcarver around here.” And they’re right. Bolf owns a woodcarver’s shop and has been a resident of the town for many years.
That, however, is only one facet of this tall, 73-year-old, silver-haired man. With a lifelong passion for music and a deep Christian faith, Bolf recently completed an eight-year project recording books of the Bible sung and played with bluesy rock melody lines. “The Bible Sung to Rock Music” is truly biblical in scope. Consisting of most of the New Testament and selected books from the Old Testament, listening to the work in its entirety takes 32 hours.
“Years ago I came across an album by Rick Wakeman entitled ‘The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table’, and that album told the story all in song,” Bolf said when asked what inspired him to start down this long musical road. “I really liked this idea and for a long time I pondered what would be that for me. Eight years ago I decided the Bible was the story I wanted to tell. I thought singing the Bible would be a perfect way to reach out to a different audience — one that perhaps hasn’t read it much but wants to learn.”
In 2011, he and local bassist and vocalist Lisa Cantara began recording the Bible in his studio — using text from the holy book and rock melodies written by Bolf. The project took on a life of its own and is now complete.
“As far as I can tell, this is the first audio Bible sung to rock music,” Bolf said. “I have been taking whole books of the Bible, editing them to avoid any copyright violation, making them work in a song format and recording them sung to my original rock themes.”
Bolf’s relationship with music began early. He grew up in Pennsylvania and was 13 when his cousin gave him a saxophone. Less than a year later Bolf formed his own band. The group practiced diligently for a few months and won a local talent show. They became THE band to book during Bolf’s high school years, playing for teen dances every weekend, he said.
The group dissolved after high school graduation, and Bolf went on to study music at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. He met other musicians during that time and they formed a band called Thee Saints and the Prince of Darkness. Five of the band members wore white and one wore black, in keeping with their name. They recorded two 45 RPM records in Nashville, which garnered them some success. But eventually, like many rock bands, they broke up, and Bolf ended up working for the next five years as a crane operator.
The crane job paid well, but Bolf felt frustrated and unfulfilled. He and his wife decided to travel around on their motorcycle to search for a better life. “I found it in Florida,” Bolf said.
They had just about run out of money when they pulled into a campground in the Sunshine State and the manager, understanding their plight, offered them jobs picking up litter. Near them a woodcarver had set up his tent and small workshop. The man had been hired by the campground to carve totem poles and Bolf became fascinated with the craft. Bolf and his wife camped out for the next two years while he learned and honed his wood carving abilities.
In 1974, Bolf was ready to strike out on his own. He and his wife moved to Greenville and opened a wood carving shop. Bolf carved a life-size statue of their 9-year-old daughter that made the cover of an international woodcarving magazine, and his works as a sign carver were hung all over town. He also created headboards for beds at the Lodge at Moosehead Lake, located on Blair Hill in Greenville.
He learned the art of applying gold leaf and began experimenting with chainsaw carving as well, creating everything from large bears to tall totem poles. Bolf also started a nonprofit, The National Institute for Hospital Art, Music and Sculpture, with the premise that these three expressions of beauty have a healing effect. Bolf even carved a band of moose all playing different instruments.
Bolf built a recording studio in his workshop to record tracks for his Moose Band. He would play his sax along with the pre-recorded tracks of his original music at various venues throughout Maine. He discovered he really enjoyed the recording process of layering different instruments to the music he had written.
Then came the Bible project.
The recording has officially been released and includes 30 albums, 296 songs and 32 hours of music, all available on a USB flash drive. Bolf also illustrated chapters of the Bible with brightly painted bas-relief wood carvings.
If you are interested in hearing a sample of this recording, visit Bolf’s website: thebiblerocks.com. He also has a Facebook page under the same name and a second page under the Joe Bolf Band. The recording is available for $49.95 at mooseheadmarketplace.com and The Corner Shop in downtown Greenville.
This story was originally published in the Piscataquis Observer.