The Ballad of Joe Zippo

by Bill Brenner on August 20, 2010

Back at Salem State College there was a friend I would smoke cigarettes with outside the commuter cafeteria. We’d talk about everything from politics to Nirvana, his favorite band at the time. This was back when Kurt Cobain was still alive.

He eventually picked up a guitar and teamed up with my friend and fellow journalist Greg Walsh, forming the band Zippo Raid.

Mood music:

I lost touch with him after college, but I’m thinking of him lately. Joe Kelly, affectionately known as Joe Zippo, died in his sleep earlier this month.

I feel awful for his friends and family. One of my close friends, Mike Trans, told me he was planning to go hunting with him soon.

As I read up on what Joe was doing in all the years since Salem State, it’s clear that he lived his life full throttle and touched many, many people.

I’m breaking from my usual tales of mental illness and addiction to honor his memory and shine a spotlight on some folks who are doing the same.

Another Salem State classmate, Stu Ginsburg, is planning some benefit shows along with other folks. Here’s the Facebook page for one such event.

When life gets me down, I think of folks like Joe, who plow through life’s challenges and show others how to live. That’s one way I find the strength to forge ahead.

The full obituary is below. Thanks, Joe, for being my friend in college, and for spreading rays of sunshine across a lot of other lives.

Joseph S. Kelley, Jr. (he was known around Boston as Joe Zippo / played in bands like Black Barbie; Zippo Raid; The Jonee Earthquake Band; Joe Zippo & the Raiders; etc)

January 10, 1970 – August 8, 2010

STEWARTSTOWN, NH – Mr. Joseph S. Kelley, Jr., 40, of Stewartstown, NH, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, August 8, 2010, at his home.

Born on January 10, 1970, in Malden, Mass., Joe was the son of Joseph Kelley, Sr. and Marie (Valley) Kelley. Joe was a graduate of Malden High School, and he attended college at Salem State in Massachusetts. He was a sponge for knowledge and loved being in school.

Joe was a person who loved to help people and that drove him into the field of healthcare. For many years, he served as an EMT in Salem, Mass., and he was in the process of becoming licensed as an EMT in New Hampshire. For a time he also worked as a dialysis technician for the Fresenius company in Mass.

He also loved nature and to be outdoors, and he enjoyed hunting and just walking in the woods whenever he could. He also adored his two nieces who will miss him dearly. Joe also was a man of deep faith, and loved his church.

Joe is survived by his parents, Joseph, Sr. and Marie Kelly of Stewartstown, NH; his sister, Jennifer Doucet and husband David of Barton, Vt.; his godfather and uncle, William Kelley of Woburn, Mass.; his godmother, Patricia Piazza of Florida; his two special nieces, Rebecca and Annabelle Doucet; as well as numerous aunts and uncles and cousins, all of whom he loved.

There are no calling hours. A memorial Mass will be held on Friday, August 13, 2010, at 11 a.m. at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church in Colebrook with The Rev. Craig Cheney as celebrant.

Expressions of sympathy in Joe’s memory may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105.

Condolences may be offered to the family on-line by going to

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Christian August 20, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Nice write up Bill. I didn’t know you also knew Joe.
I played in Black Barbie, and worked with Joe at WMWM. The other members of Black Barbie and I are actually in the works to play at that Salem event for Joe.

stu September 26, 2010 at 3:56 am

october 16th is the memorial show where all teh profit goes to getting Joe a headstone and plot great bands and beer to be served allages come on out spread the word

Joe and Marie Kelley September 29, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Bill, This morning when we read your article, we were moved to tears. Thank you for writing about him. We are thankful to Stu and everyone that is working to make this Memorial show a success. Joe’s friends and former band members are an exceptional group of people. God bless them and God bless our Joe.
Joe and Marie

the vamp March 18, 2012 at 11:06 am

I had no idea…years later. shows how long i’ve been away from boston and its music scene.

Nick mele December 30, 2012 at 2:52 am

I played with zippo raid and black barbie back in the day. This is a tragedy. What a cool guy

Nick mele December 30, 2012 at 2:54 am

I played with zippo raid and black barbie back in the day. This is a tragedy. What a cool guy . I was In a band named beezwax.

Greg December 31, 2012 at 10:51 am

Hey Nick, we remember playing with Beezwax at the Elvis Room and I want to say Artspace. You guys were great.

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