Bethancourt was born in El Paso, Texas. He began learning banjo at age 9, after he heard his maternal grandfather, C. H. Burnett, playing fiddle. His first banjo was given him by his grandfather, and was "an old S.S. Stewart." This banjo is now in the able hands of his nephew, Tom Purtill.
When his family moved to Phoenix for the final time, in 1961, Joe began learning guitar, hanging around coffeehouses, mariachi bands, bluegrass groups, and a place called "J.D.'s," where he would sneak in to listen to a local guy called Waylon Jennings. With the "folk boom" of the '60's just hitting its stride, he found that all that music he had learned as a child stood in good stead.
His first "real pro" gig came at age 18. The Phoenix acoustic scene was active and thriving and Joe hung out with people (then unknowns) like John Denver, the Irish Rovers and Jim Connor ("Grandma's Feather Bed"), and with some of the best in Dixieland, Ragtime and traditional Mexican musicians.
He spent a stint with a local bluegrass band, "Ma Tucker's String Band," playing with Jeff Gylkinson ("The Dillards") and Doug Haywood (keyboard player/songwriter for Jackson Browne). He also worked with noted entertainer Dan "Igor" Glenn in several bands. Joe credits "Igor" with teaching him much about the entertainer's art.
In 1968–1969, Joe worked in L.A. as a studio musician, where he made his first record, "The Joe Bethancourt String Concert Album." It was very favorable reviewed by Billboard (magazine) and given a four star rating.
Joe returned to Phoenix, where he became influential in the original KDKB underground radio "scene," hosting his own radio show on KDKB, "Folk Music Occasional," with (the late and much lamented) Bill Compton. He was also a regular on the Emmy award-winning "Wallace and Ladmo Show" on KPHO-TV (Ch.5) in the 1980s, and worked with children in the Arizona Commission for the Arts' "Artists in Education" program for about 6 years. He still does occasional Artist Residencies at local elementary schools.
For almost 17 years, he was the "house band" at a little restaurant at 19th Ave. and Bethany Home Rd, in Phoenix, called "Funny Fellows," playing instruments from his enormous collection of traditional (and not so traditional) instruments. During this time, he was instrumental in founding the Arizona chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism. He is no longer active in the organization, however, though he retains his membership in the Dark Horde. His Filk music within the SCA, under his Society name of Master Ioseph of Locksley, is legendary. Some call him a seminal influence on the acoustic music scene in Phoenix, crediting him for much of their style and technique.
He plays no less than 65 different instruments; from his beloved banjos (yes. plural! He has one of the finest collections of antique banjos in the Southwestern United States, and uses them on stage!) to 12-string guitar, all the way to more exotic things like 6-course Cittern, Celtic harp, Lute, and Ozark Mouthbow!
He was nominated for the (Arizona) Governor's Arts Award, and his recordings are now on file at the University of East Tennessee's Appalachian Archives Folklore collection. He's also on the advisory board of the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame. Popular Country Music singer Lynn Anderson called him "a genius" in the Summer 2007 issue of "Western Way" magazine.
He operates his own production company, White Tree Productions, and has recorded solo, with another noted songwriter, Leslie Fish, and with the neo-Celtic band The Bringers, all for Random Factors of Los Angeles. He teaches acoustic instruments of all kinds out of Boogie Music in Phoenix, Arizona, and is active in an historical reenactment group, the 9th Memorial Cavalry.
On 30 March 2013 Joe was inducted into the ARIZONA MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT HALL OF FAME.
- That Great Big Way Out There (Random Factors)
- Who Fears The Devil? (Random Factors) (inspired by the 'Silver John' stories of Manly Wade Wellman).
- Celtic Circle Dance (Random Factors)
- Naked Banjos (Random Factors)
- Ride Back in Time (Random Factors)
- It's About Time (The Bringers) (Random Factors)
- Our Fathers of Old (with Leslie Fish) (Random Factors)
- Serious Steel (with Leslie Fish) (Random Factors)
- Smoked Fish And Friends (RF-1004) (Random Factors)
- Arizona Road Song (White Tree Productions)
- Old Red Cat (White Tree Productions)
- The Black Book of Locksley (White Tree Productions)
- The Filk Was Great: The Best of ConterPoint 3; Gonglomeration Inc
- 357 Miles East of L.A. (Zia)
- CactusCon Choruses: NASFIC 1987 (WailSongs)
- This Train Is Bound For Glory (Carsten) LC 75-751068
- Arizona Sounds KDKB Vol. 1 (Dwight Karma)
- String Concert (Public) PS 5001
- Billboard magazine, 28 February 1970