Joe, Joe, why have the noders neglected you so?
Joseph Fidley Walsh (seriously) was born on November 20th, 1947 in Wichita, Kansas. His mother was an accomplished pianist, and it was due largely to her influence that he got involved with music. He took to the clarinet at a young age, later graduating to the more challenging oboe. He played around with a few brass instruments as well, and played trombone in his high school band. But let's face it, if you wanted to be cool and pick up girls in the sixties, you didn't impress them with your mastery of double-reed woodwinds. You had to Rock and Roll.
Towards the end of high school, Joe picked up the bass guitar and played out in a couple of local New Jersey bands, the Nomads and the G-Clefs. After high school was over, Joe got the hell out of Jersey and moved to Cleveland where he went to Kent State University. While taking classes at Kent, Joe also played out with local band The Measles. It was at this point that he started playing guitar seriously. Joe would often secrete himself away in some acoustically conspicuous location where he could be heard but not seen and practice his guitar. This odd behavior eventually earned him the nickname "The Phantom of Kent State".
In 1969, Joe got his first big break when drummer Jim Fox asked him to join his band The James Gang. They were a power trio, and their hard-edged, gritty sound, driven by Joe's intense and funky guitar work, earned them the attention of Bill Szymczyk, a producer at ABC records. He signed The James Gang to their Bluesway subsidiary, and they debuted later that year with "Yer Album". Much of the material on "Yer Album" was made up of long jams and improvisation, making it unfit for mainstream radio airplay, but it was a very popular underground album, and eventually reached #83 on the Billboard charts.
Their follow-up, "The James Gang Rides Again", reached heights of #20 on the charts, and included the hit Funk #49. Joe really started to come into his own as a songwriter at this point, and Rides Again went gold. The band struck again while the iron was hot, releasing "Thirds" later that year, scoring big with "Walk Away" and "Midnight Man" and earning themselves another gold album. Just a few short months later, in 1971, they released a live LP, "Live in Concert", which topped out in the mid-20s on the Billboard charts. The live jams on this record showcased Joe's talent well, but also revealed that he was beginning to outgrow the power trio format. Later that year, Joe left The James Gang and moved to Colorado.
In Colorado, Joe met up with another Joe, a drummer and keyboard player named Joe Vitale, who he would work with on and off for much of his later career. With a couple other folks, they formed the band Barnstorm and released one self-titled album in 1972. Interestingly, when this LP was re-released on CD, the name of the album remained Barnstorm, but it was under the name Joe Walsh. The biggest hit for them here was "Turn to Stone". Nothing much happened with Barnstorm, and in 1973 Joe went out on a limb and released his first solo album. That's when things really started happening.
"The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get" climbed to #6 on the charts, and Joe scored big with Rocky Mountain Way, which remains a radio and fan favorite to this day. His next release a year later was "So What", which included a reprise of Turn to Stone, and featured new friends Don Henley and Glenn Frey helping out on vocals. Don and Glenn were members of The Eagles, a country-flavored rock band, and when their guitarist Bernie Leadon left in 1976, Joe accepted their invitation to replace him.
The Eagles' first release with Joe in the line-up was their landmark album Hotel California. It reportedly took 8 months to record, but paid off by spending some time at #1 on the charts. Joe also released a live solo album during this time, "You Can't Argue With A Sick Mind", which has all the boys from The Eagles contributing on various tracks. The 11+ minute version of Rocky Mountain Way is not to be missed. The Eagles' next album, The Long Run, took a veritable eternity of three years to come out, and caused a lot of frustration for Joe, who released another solo LP during the intervening time.
This LP, "But Seriously, Folks" was Joe's biggest solo success to date, and features the absolute classic Life's Been Good. It also put him back together with Joe Vitale, and when The Eagles broke up in 1980 after releasing "The Eagles Live", Joe was able to go back to full-time solo work. "There Goes The Neighborhood" came out in 1981, and continued in the irreverent, self-expressive vein of his earlier work. It also marks the expansion of his sense of humor into the instrumental arena, rather than just the lyrical. The calypso horns in A Life Of Illusion and the hoedown fiddle solo of Down On The Farm are two prime examples of this.
This was followed by "You Bought It, You Name It", with tracks like I Can Play That Rock & Roll, The Worry Song and the infamous "I.L.B.T.s". Unfortunately, this terrific recording is well out of print and was never released on CD in the US, although I was able to obtain it as a German import CD. Between its release in 1983 and the release of "The Confessor" in 1985, Joe got divorced. He rarely talks about this, but I did hear a radio interview a few years ago in which he cited this as the reason that much of "The Confessor" was unusually melancholy. While it still does have its light-hearted tracks, like I Broke My Leg and Bubbles, the emotional strain nevertheless showed through on the other songs, including Dear John and the title track.
His greatest successes behind him, Joe followed in 1987 with the lackluster "Got Any Gum?" Some time off was warranted, and Joe took it. Four years later, he came back with "Ordinary Average Guy", following it the next year with "Songs For A Dying Planet". While both of these releases met with critical and popular disdain, they were well-received by his fans as a return to the era of an off-beat Joe Walsh that never took himself too seriously. His unique sense of humor permeates both discs, and the latter album's track entitled, "Vote For Me" coincided with his much-publicized campaign for Vice President of the United States of America.
"I'd play golf all day with heads of state.
If they brought beer, wouldn't that be great?
I can't wait!"
During these leaner years, Joe was invariably asked if he had ever considered reuniting with The Eagles, to which he always responded, "Sure! Who's gonna pay for it?" Well, somebody finally paid for it, and in 1995, following a trend of sixties and seventies band reunions, The Eagles got back together, releasing the "Hell Freezes Over" album and touring well into 1996. When asked about the reunion, Joe gleefully informed the media that he was just doing it for the money. "Look ma, I sold out!"
I've seen Joe Walsh in concert a number of times, and he always offers a unique performance, blending his great music with his bizarre sense of humor. I've seen him play a trombone solo in the middle of Ordinary Average Guy, or do a cover of The Heat Is On where he stomped around the stage pounding on a massive marching band-style bass drum. You never know quite what you'll be in for. He also realized that electric music played acoustically was cool long before MTV Unplugged, and his live acoustic versions of The Confessor and Indian Summer, among others, are not to be missed.
You can check out Joe's website at, naturally, http://www.joewalsh.com/, where you'll find the latest tour dates and other info. You can also read about my chance childhood encounter with Joe as a part of the Celebrity Encounters node series.