“He opened for Martin and Lewis, appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, recorded a slew of acclaimed albums, and taught damn near everyone in the local jazz scene from his basement."
That is only a sampling of Joe's career, which included playing background at Parkway Cameo Records, and working with musicians Artie Singer and Bernie Lowe, and for artists like Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp and other popular entertainers of the '50s.
Besides playing with the orchestra under Ormandy and various guest conductors, he also performed with the old Paul Whiteman Orchestra, the Victor Hugo Band and with comedians Jackie Gleason and Jan Murray.
In fact, he played pool with Gleason, and Ed McMahon called him "the greatest guitarist in the world."
Back in the 1920s, when Joe's career was getting started, he wrote that he was "greatly inspired by the artistry of pianist Art Tatum."
"After hearing him, I realized that I couldn't play on the guitar the same complex and intricate arpeggios and scale passages that he played on the piano," he wrote. "Upon examination, I discovered the problem was in the use of the pick. This led me to develop a completely new approach to using the pick. ... This new approach gave me greater efficiency, flexibility, and a smoother-flowing sound."
In simple language, the method is a three-octave system that combines alternate picking, which is the straight up and down stroke, with directional picking, in which the pick flows in the direction of movement toward the next string. It allows the player to produce a smooth and even sound while playing complex patterns.
Joe began his musical life at age 4, playing the organ. He went on to play the mandolin, banjo, violin and guitar. In 1939, he joined Victor Hugo's band as a guitarist. That was the beginning of a long, productive career.
He was given an honorary music degree by Temple University.
Joe was a member of Jehovah's Witnesses and in later years conducted and played first violin and was concert master for the Watchtower Symphony Orchestra. He taught the Bible in the years before his death.
He is survived by a brother, Angelo Sgro, and two sisters, Angelina DeGregorio and Carmella Hemouth.
Services: Memorial service begins at noon Saturday at Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, 1237 Federal St.
Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or firstname.lastname@example.org.