Happy 70th Birthday to Joe Walsh
by Colonel Steve Akley
We'll take a break from the normally scheduled program of "bourbon talk," to celebrate one of the greatest rock and rollers of all-time, Mr. Joe Walsh who turns 70 today.
One of the greatest of all-time?
I don't think Joe gets that kind of praise very often, but, he deserves it. Despite an unbelievable catalog, strong song writing abilities, astute guitar play and a singing style uniquely his own, Joe Walsh hasn't ascended to the levels of his contemporaries. A tour is often in someone else's band (Like Ringo and his All-Star band) or opening up for a "bigger name."
For me, there isn't a bigger name than Joe Walsh. I love his music, his perseverance, his ability to overcome his addiction problems and his attitude in-general. I've seen Joe too many times to count: on his own, headlining shows in small clubs, with Ringo in his All-Star Band, paired with Glenn Fry for their "Party for Two" tour and opening for Tom Petty this past year (R.I.P. Tom Petty... another amazing talent and hard to fathom he's gone).
I've seen Joe at his very best, and I've seen him at one of his lowest moments as well. I happened to be there the night one of his roadies died in St. Louis before a concert here in an accident in trying to install a light fixture. I've seen so many amazing bands over the years... The Who, The Stones, Robert Plant, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, but I don't know if any moment was more powerful than watching Joe Walsh on the stage by himself, crying and playing an instrumental version of Amazing Grace on his guitar to memorialize someone who passed away while working for him.
I often get the feeling that Joe's time career with the Eagles really hampered his ability to become a big name on his own. I mean when Henley or Frey would go out on their own, they were headline acts. Walsh never has been a stadium solo act. The funny thing is, the crazy truth is Joe Walsh made the Eagles in my mind. Those guitar riffs he put together on Life in the Fast Lane and Hotel California ARE those songs. The two Eagles songs he sings... In the City and All Night Long are two of the best as well. I guess that because he came in late to the band people just assume he was kind of like Sammy Hagar in Van Halen... a guy who had success on his own and was brought in to replace a founding member just to help keep the ship afloat.
It couldn't be further from the truth, though. Joe's "aw shucks" attitude makes it feel like the Eagles were a Henley, Frey and even Felder show and, in reality, they wouldn't have the longevity they did without what Joe Walsh brought to them.
Of course, despite the incredible catalog Joe has, if you had to narrow it down to one song that represents him, it all comes down to the autobiographical Life's Been Good. I've watched every version of that song on YouTube dozens, and dozens (and dozens) of times.
Why would I do that?
Well, I don't know exactly, but, I have to say there is something so fascinating about watching the same person perform the same song over the course of 40 years. It literally becomes a bit like The Truman Show because you aren't watching a song, you are watching a guy's life. There are early versions where he's young and vibrant. There are others where he's older. One with him in parachute pants. (Hello, 80s!) There are performances where it's unbelievable... they draw you in. There are others where Joe seems like he's going through the motions. Of course ,he has battled addiction, so who knows where he was at in his personal journey when you watch these. I like the fact he changes the words, too. It's fun to see if he rides "in the back of the limo in case he's attacked" or "rides in the trunk, in case he gets drunk."
There are some of these changes that also make you wonder if he was battling personal demons at them moment he's performing because I notice he will sometimes leave out the word "great" in the line about "fans writing him letters/emails telling him he's great." He will sometimes just leave a gap in the song on that word... or other times, play the guitar over it.
What does that mean?
Even the construction of the song itself is an amazing story. The song starts out with this unbelievable extended guitar riff, then it transitions to another key to this melodic guitar riff punctuated by drum beats, and finally, there is this reggae type of strumming that goes on while he sings the words that really sets the cadence of the song. None of these three should go together, and Joe admits he had been working on them for three different songs but he put them together for this song which extends it to this beautiful piece of work that ends up playing like a symphony.
Of course, the words are so irreverent and fun. I've heard Joe talk about them and while it may not be word-for-word taken from his life, all of it is based on his life in rock and roll. He actually wrote them as a joke and was starting to work on some "rock and roll" lyrics to go with the music and a bandmate encouraged him to keep what he put together. Greatest call on that one ever!
Here's to Joe Walsh. Happy 70 years! I hope he has many more rocking and rolling with a lot more shows ahead for me to watch in person and on YouTube.
Life's definitely been good to him so far!