“Joe Walsh is a fluid and intelligent player. There’re not many like that around.” – Pete Townshend
Note that my six-packs are not necessarily the six best of a given artist, just six I dig. You won’t find “Life’s Been Good” or “In the City” because frankly, despite their being hits, I don’t much like either one. But there’s some stuff of his I really dig.
Joe Walsh, of course, had a career long before he joined the Eagles. Frankly, given how much of rocker he is, I have often thought his joining that essentially soft-rock country-oriented band was more of a way to seal his financial future than anything else. (And for the record, I like the Eagles. But no one will ever mistake them for a balls-out rock band.)
Brief history from Wikipedia: Joseph Walsh was born on November 20, 1947, in Wichita, Kansas. Walsh’s mother was a classically trained pianist and Walsh was adopted by his stepfather at the age of five after his biological father was killed in a plane crash.
Walsh got his first guitar at the age of 10, and upon learning The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run,” decided that he wanted to pursue a career as a guitarist. Inspired by the success of the Beatles, he replaced Bruce Hoffman as the bass player in the locally popular group the Nomads in Madison, New Jersey, beginning his career as a rock musician.”
After high school, Walsh attended Kent State University, where he spent time in various bands playing around the Cleveland area. He was present during the Kent State massacre in 1970. Walsh commented in 2012: “Being at the shootings really affected me profoundly. I decided that maybe I don’t need a degree that bad.” After one term, he dropped out of university to pursue his musical career.
Joe replaced his friend Glenn Schwartz in the James Gang. (Schwartz went on to form Pacific Gas & Electric.) From his site: “One night in May 1968, on the way to Detroit for a show at the Grande Ballroom opening for Cream, half the band quit. Needing the money to pay for gas to get home, the James Gang took the stage as a trio, and Joe was forced to learn on the fly how to carry rhythm and lead duties while now singing lead simultaneously.”
They dug the sound and started to develop a following in the Midwest. The aforementioned Pete Townshend heard the band’s album, liked them, and invited them to open for The Who. Joe later gave Pete a 1958 Gretsch Chet Atkins guitar that was so loud that Pete “used that guitar on every track of Who’s Next.”
Let’s listen to some James Gang, shall we? From their 1971 album Thirds, here’s “Walk Away:”
I’ll come back to the James gang later. For now, let’s jump ahead to 1981. Joe had been living in California and palling around with some of the Eagles (with whom he shared a manager.) In fact, on his album There Goes the Neighborhood, Don Felder played guitar and pedal steel and Timothy B. Schmit sang backing vocals.
I’ve always dug the sinuous lick on this tune, “A Life of Illusion.”
Here’s one you may not know and that will probably come to you right out of left field. Joe plays a nice blues guitar but you don’t get to hear that too often. This tune, “The Devil Must Be Laughing,” is from a 2017 John Mayall album called Talk About That. Nice:
Let’s jump back to the James Gang and here what Pete Townshend heard from this hot player. You know it, you love it, you can’t live without it, “Funk #49.
Here’s a tidbit you may not know. After the James Gang broke up in 1971, Joe was invited to move to England and join Humble Pie by Steve Marriott, since Peter Frampton had left the band, but declined his offer. (Ouch)
Instead, he moved to Colorado and formed a band called Barnstorm, with drummer and multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale, and bassist Kenny Passarelli, although both of their albums credited Walsh as a solo artist.
Inspired by his surroundings, Joe came up with “Rocky Mountain Way,” credited to the whole band:
Joe did a tune called “All Night Long” for, believe it or not, the movie Urban Cowboy which hopefully by now you’ve recovered from. I’d play the Eagles version but since the band is so douchey about using their tunes, let’s just go with Joe on YouTube, Eagles on Spotify:
Joe Walsh is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is #54 on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 guitarists and is, of course, Ringo Starr’s brother-in-law. Life’s been (mostly) good to him so far.