Walsh, Joe (Contemporary Musicians)
Guitarist, singer, songwriter
Joe Walsh's reputation as one of rock's premiere guitar craftsmen is highly understandable when one looks at the volume of studio work he has done over the past twenty years. From B.B. King to Dan Fogelberg, from Rod Stewart to Graham Nash, countless artists have called upon Walsh's melodic playing to enhance their records. But Walsh's fame has not come primarily through the work of others. His three-year stint with the James Gang marked the beginning of a fruitful career that has seen nine solo LPs as well as three more with the Eagles in their final and most successful phase.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1947, Walsh grew up in Ohio where he eventually learned to play bass guitar, performing in high school bands like the Nomads. He enrolled as a full-time student at Kent State University for three quarters before switching to part-time studies. Walsh began to work seriously on his guitar playing while at college and complemented this with courses in electronics, enabling him to perform Dr. Frankenstein-like experiments on his equipment.
Walsh joined the James Gang in 1969 (replacing Glen Schwartz), the same year the group (with Walsh handling vocals and guitar chores, Jimmy Fox on drums and Dale Peters on bass) released Yer' Album and established themselves as "the most significant post-Cream power-trio strategy," according to John Swenson in The Rolling Stone Record Guide.
The James Gang followed up their successful debut the next year with Rides Again, a Top 10 LP that included "Tend My Garden" and "Fun #49," a Walsh tour de force. In support of the record, the trio toured Europe in 1970 with the Who, a band whose members had a profound impact on the young guitarist. "Peter's [Townshend] my guru. He taught me how to play lead-rhythm, and Keith Moon taught me how to break things," Walsh told Guitar World. The influence of Pete Townshend's style on Walsh's is quite evident in the thick power chords of tunes like "Walk Away" from the James Gang's third LP, Thirds. Keith Moon's insanity would take slightly longer to show in Walsh's character, but it would become an equally identifiable trademark of the guitarist in the near future.
In 1971 the James Gang released Live in Concert, compiled from their foreign dates with the Who. Walsh capitalized on Townshend's style but found himself painted into a corner creatively. "I saw myself being stereotyped almost into a heavy metal guitarist about 10 years before heavy metal came out, and I didn't like that," Walsh told Matt Resnicoff in Guitar World. "I got extremely frustrated being the only melodic instrument."
His dissatisfaction, coupled with his distaste for the tactics involved in the record business, led to his departure from the James Gang and a move to Colorado. There he hooked up with bassist Kenny Passarelli and drummer Joe Vitale for 1972's Barnstorm and The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get in 1973. The latter produced a Walsh classic, "Rocky Mountain Way," a stomping good-time rocker that featured an odd musical device called the "talk box," which transforms the human voice into a synthesized-sounding musical instrument. Rocke Grace and Joe Lala were added on keyboards and percussion for the album.
Walsh's heavy sustain and nasty slide work may have seemed groundbreaking, but were actually just a natural progression. "I'm a third-generation blues studier, and that's why I sound like I do," Walsh told Guitar World. "I studied the blues through white English guys!" However, unlike his mentors Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor, Walsh was not restricted to just the guitar. "I hear a lot of tones and textures and such," he told Jas Obrecht in Guitar Player. "I know I'm known mostly for my guitar work, but in terms of being a musician, there are other vehicles that I am quite capable of playing, and sometimes that ain't guitar. The song tells me what to play."
Soon Walsh's talented ear and tasteful playing were popping up on other musicians' work, making him one of the most in-demand non-studio players. In later years his searing guitar would be heard on Steve Winwood's "Split Decision" and Richard Marx's "Don't Mean Nothin'," both top hits thanks to Walsh's creative slide. "I like to accept the energy involved in that first pass," Walsh said in Guitar World of his recording technique, "that's really where the magic is."
With a successful solo career well at hand, and enough choice studio dates to keep any musician rich and happy, Walsh was recruited by the Eagles to replace guitarist Bernie Leadon in 1976. "I got asked to join the Eagles as a specialist, because they wanted some humor," he told Guitar World. "They were taking everything too seriously.... My job was to keep everybody laughing, or at least keep the band from breaking up." Walsh accomplished more than that at first for the Eagles. His initial flight with the band, the Grammy-winning album Hotel California, soared up the charts in 1976 to the Number 1 spot. The title track featured an incredible guitar jam, while "Life in the Fast Lane" and "New Kid in Town" were hot-selling singles.
Walsh continued his solo recordings with the live You Can't Argue With a Sick Mind in 1976 and But Seriously Folks in 1978, which included "Life's Been Good," a Number 12 single that struck right to the heart of the rock and roll lifestyle. "I think it might have been a little too close to the truth," Walsh confessed in Guitar World, "and I didn't want to overextend my sense of humor to the public." The zany guitarist even took a shot at running for president after the song became so popular.
In 1979 Walsh was back in the studio with the Eagles working on The Long Run, an impressive LP that featured a fine title track and the funky "Those Shoes." The inner turmoil of the group and the usual music corporation hassles eventually led to the breakup of the Eagles following the release of a live album a short while later. Even if Walsh couldn't keep the band from folding, he inspired them to record some of their finest, and certainly their most successful, music. "We were a damn good band for a while," Walsh stated in Guitar Player. "I'm proud of having been a part of that and Hotel California. Besides the royalties and everything, just the fact that was a special album for a lot of people on the planet. I feel that I was part of a true band, and that we made a very valid musical statement for the generation that we represent."
Walsh went back to a three-piece format with Joe Vitale on an LP by John Entwistle, bassist for the Who. In 1985 he released Confessor, "the apologia of a strictly raised mid-western episcopalian after living in rock and roll sin for 'Fifteen Years' on the road," wrote Bruce Malamut in Guitar World. "The balance... is a sober retrospective from rock's own Harpo Marx."
With the James Gang
Yer' Album, ABC, 1969.
James Gang Rides Again, MCA, 1970.
Thirds, ABC, 1971.
Live In Concert, ABC, 1971.
16 Greatest Hits, ABC, 1974.
Best of the James Gang Featuring Joe Walsh, MCA, 1981.
Barnstorm, ABC/Dunhill, 1972.
The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, MCA, 1973.
So What, ABC/Dunhill, 1974.
You Can't Argue With A Sick Mind, MCA, 1976.
But Seriously Folks, Asylum, 1978.
There Goes the Neighborhood, Asylum, 1981.
The Best of Joe Walsh, MCA, 1981.
You Bought It, You Name It, Full Moon, 1983.
The Confessor, Full Moon, 1985.
Got Any Gum?, Warner Bros., 1987.
With the Eagles
Hotel California, Asylum, 1976.
The Long Run, Asylum, 1979.
Eagles Live, Asylum, 1980.
Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 2, Asylum, 1982.
Has appeared as a featured guest performer on numerous albums by other artists, including B.B. King's Indianola MississippiSeeds, LAMidnight, and TheBest of B.B. King; Jay Ferguson's All Alone in the End Zone, Thunder Island, Real Life Ain't This Way, Term & Conditions, and White Noise; Dan Fogelberg's Souvenirs and Netherlands; John Entwistle's Too Late The Hero; Rick Derringer's All American Boy; Keith Moon's Two Sides Of The Moon; Graham Nash's Earth and Sky; Rod Stewart's A Night On The Town; Bill Wyman's Stone Alone; Randy Newman's Little Criminals; Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Works; Warren Zevon's Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School; Steve Winwood's Back in the High Life; Jimmy Davis & Junction's Kick The Wall; Richard Marx's Richard Marx; and Albert Collins & Etta James's Jump The Blues Away.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, compiled by Nick Loban and Bob Woffinden, Harmony, 1977.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh with John Swenson, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1979.
Guitar Player, February 1988; April 1988.
Guitar World, November 1985; January 1988.
Calen D. Stone