May 24 – Lefty Made All The Right Friends

We’ve frequently talked about the “Wrecking Crew” here before, an elite informal group of L.A.-based session musicians like Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine who were incredibly talented and incredibly in demand in the ’60s. A list of their credits might make one think they played on half of all the American hits of that decade. They weren’t as much utilized in the ’70s, but there still were some great, popular studio musicians in the City of Angels that formed a sort of second generation Wrecking Crew who made many of the hits of the ’70s and ’80s happen. Guys like guitarist Danny Kortchmar, drummer Russ Kunkel and today’s birthday boy – Waddy Wachtel. We wish the talented guitarist/producer a happy 76th today.

Waddell Wachtel was born in New York City and learned guitar by age nine. Impressive, especially considering he’s left-handed but learned to play the conventional, right-handed way. By his high school years he was beginning to write songs and started his first band, which eventually became popular as a bar band in the city and Connecticut in the mid-’60s. But his big break came when he moved to the West Coast in 1968, soon finding some work doing a bit of session playing for The Cowsills. From there he met the incredibly talented and successful burgeoning crowd of L.A. soft rock stars in the making. “I have been very lucky,” he told the L.A. Times recently. “It’s been an incredible ride. Los Angeles was such an open, creative place then. It was an amazing time to be here. I was playing with Linda Ronstadt, then James Taylor. I met Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham…”

And playing on their records. Indeed, his idea of playing guitar as “a counter-point – providing something to catch your ear within the song when the singing leaves off,” won him big fans among his friends. He played on the Buckingham Nicks album that led to them getting recruited by Fleetwood Mac, then added a few licks to that band’s 1975 breakthrough. No doubt through them he met their one-time roommate, Warren Zevon, and helped him write his smash hit “Werewolves of London” and playing on his Excitable Boy album. Around the same time he began working with Jackson Browne periodically and Linda Ronstadt regularly, being her guitarist of choice on albums like Hasten Down the Wind, Simple Dreams and Living in the USA. His heavy workload continued into the ’80s, playing on Stevie Nicks first couple of solo records, including songs like “Leather and Lace” and “Stand Back”, playing on Steve Perry’s solo hit “Oh Sherrie” and joining a side-project band of Keith Richards, The X-pensive Winos. And when Australian new wavers The Church came to town, Waddy got the call to co-produce Starfish, the album that made them a hit on this side of the Pacific. In the past decade when Taylor Swift played the Grammys and Stevie Nicks got inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it was Waddy behind them with that old Gibson. Add in credits on guitar and writing with artists as varied as Dolly Parton, Don Henley, Feargal Sharkey and Colin James and you begin to get the idea – Waddy’s one of rock’s most important “invisible men.” Or as his hometown newspaper dubs him, “a sideman without peer.”

These days Wachtel still does some session work (for instance he was the main guitarist on Susanna Hoffs’ new album, The Deep End which we reviewed recently) and from time to time appears in a rather impromptu club band called The Immediate Family, usually with fellow session stars Kunkel and Kortchmar. Likely playing an old guitar. He once said a 1964 Fender Stratocaster was the newest instrument he owned! But if you want to try to duplicate

his sound, Gibson would be happy to help you. They offer a Waddy Wachtel model based on an old one Steven Stills once gave him.


May 22 – Elvin Song Went Up Charts Like… A Starship?

We’re used to bands being named for the singer, so many people are surprised to find that J.Geils didn’t sing for the J.Geils Band, and Grover Washington Jr.’s fame came from a song with his name on it that Bill Withers sang. Same goes for the 1976 hit “Fooled Around And Fell In Love” by Elvin Bishop. That yacht rock classic peaked at #3 in the U.S. this day 45 years back, easily the biggest hit of Bishop’s long career.

Bishop is a very talented guitarist, equally at home on his Gibson guitar he calls “Big Red ” or playing slide guitar. The Chicago-born artist joined the influential Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band in the mid-’60s, eventually being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with them. That institution says of them “they changed rock & roll in mid-’60s America as surely as any band…with a street-smart swagger (and) an endless well of feeling.” Bishop formed his own blues band and signed to Fillmore Records (owned by Bill Graham, owner of the famous Fillmore clubs) in 1969. He began issuing well-regarded blues rock albums, of which he’s made over 20 and counting. But few had any widespread recognition… except for Strutting My Stuff, the one thrown onto the charts by this single.

The listenable soft rock song features Bishop’s great guitar work and the almost humorous take on an unlikely risk of the playboy lifestyle… actually falling in love with a one-night stand. What it didn’t have at first in the studio though was good vocals. Bishop says “my voice is very plain. I tried singing it, but I said ‘that’s not buttering my biscuit! Why don’t we give Mickey a shot at this?’” Mickey was Mickey Thomas, who you hear on the song, and would soon hear all over radio as the voice of Starship. He and the drummer on the record, Donny Baldwin, joined Jefferson Starship a few years down the road and Thomas became their dominant voice through their ’80s catalog.

Bishop’s gamble worked. For the first time he got hit radio airplay and eventually the song got to #3 in the States and New Zealand, and hit the top 30 in Canada. It earned him his only gold single and, one might imagine, enough money to play whatever kind of music he wants for the rest of his life. Not only is it still widely played on “oldies” radio, but it’s also been used in 15 or more movies including Boogie Nights, The Family Stone and Guardians of the Gallaxy.

If you’re wondering if there was a big autobiographical story behind the hit, Bishop will disappoint you. “The better the song is, the less story there is to it,” he told one interviewer. “That song damn near wrote itself.” No fooling, apparently!

April 22 – Swamper Guitar Carr An Unknown Star

The South had two great “rhythm sections”. Unsung heroes in the music world, session musicians and music producers who worked in the background to make other musicians work shine. While the most famous such outfit anywhere was likely L.A.’s Wrecking Crew (with the likes of Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine), in Georgia there was the fine Atlanta Rhythm Section, musical aces from a studio in Doraville who eventually put out their own hit records. Less widely known but equally talented, across the border in Alabama was Muscle Shoals. A studio used by R&B, rock and country stars through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Nicknamed “the Swampers”, they got a nice shout out in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s anthem “Sweet Home Alabama.” Today we remember one of the finest Swampers, Pete Carr. Pete was born on this day in 1950.

Carr was perhaps the guitarist in the Muscle Shoals set. Born in Florida, like so many others of his generation, he decided on a career in music after seeing and hearing the Stones and the Beatles. He began playing guitar at 13; at 15 he met the Allman Brothers at a concert. He and Duane became friends and in 1968 the two of them (as well as Gregg Allman) were in the short-lived band Hourglass together. Duane was a particularly big influence on Pete’s playing, but he admired a range of other guitarists from Clapton to Chet Atkins.

After Hourglass, he moved to Alabama to take a job at Muscle Shoals as a session musician. There was no shortage of work for him! Soon after getting there, he was playing on and producing Sailcat’s hit “Motorcycle Mama.” It was nowhere but up for him through the decade, with him playing on almost every recording done at Muscle Shoals in the ’70s (he did at least 500) including Skynyrd, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, Paul Anka, and Mary McGregor’s one big hit, “Torn Between Two Lovers”. He played the guitar on Rod Stewart’s sexy smash “Tonight’s the Night,” but was especially close to a couple of other superstars – Bob Seger and Paul Simon. He worked on some seven Seger albums, including the standout guitar work on his hit “Main Street.” But Simon was his fave.

I always thought Paul Simon was fantastic – in the same league as the Beatles. So when he walked in the studio, it was an awe-inspiring moment for me.” He played on several Simon records including the hit “Kodachrome” and apparently made an impact on Paul. When Simon & Garfunkel reunited in 1981 for the massive Central Park concert, they brought Carr in to play behind them.

Unlike Atlanta’s Rhythm Section, Muscle Shoals didn’t do much recording of their own, but Pete was a brief exception. He paired up with Lenny LeBlanc in 1978 for the album Midnight Light, which gave them the top 20 soft rock hit “Falling”, a song which has remained popular enough to win a BMI Award for radio airplay in 2005.

Carr’s work slowed down in the 21st Century and sadly he passed away last year at age 70 after an undisclosed but lengthy illness. Curiously, Carr wasn’t even the most famous guitarist named “Pete” born on April 22, 1950. Because, we wish a happy 73rd birthday today to Peter Frampton!

March 31 – Wray Record Rumble-d Its Way Into Rock History

No need to argue – today we’re looking at one of the most influential of any songs from the early days of Rock & Roll, let alone instrumental ones. “Rumble” by Link Wray and his Ray Men came out this day in 1958. And thanks to that, we have The Who and Iggy Pop!

Wray was a Shawnee Indian from North Carolina, who’d grown up poor, barefoot, living in a “hut” without running water. He served in the military and along the way, learned to play guitar. He had a 1953 Gibson Les Paul. He was fairly popular as a live performer in the mid-’50s and signed to Cadence Records. That was hardly a fit for a guy who was going to reshape rock, as it was largely known at the time for having Andy Williams on its roster and putting out some comedy records! But they had him and put out this, his first single.

Rumble” came about rather spontaneously, when he and the band were working on a soundcheck, trying to get some “stroll” music into their set. The Virginia crowd heard it and went wild, and they ended up cheering for it as the band played it four times that night, each time getting the sound tighter and tighter. At the time Wray called it “Oddball.”

Cadence heard it but didn’t like it, but since the president’s daughter in law thought it was cool, he agreed to release it. By then it had been renamed, under the advice of Phil Everly who heard it and thought it sounded like a streetfight… or “rumble.”

To get the sound he wanted, Rolling Stone would later note that “by stabbing his amplifier speaker cone with a pencil, Wray created the distorted, over-driven sound that would reverberate through metal, punk and grunge.” They mentioned that in the story which ranked him as the 45th greatest guitarist ever.

Rumble” was ahead of its time, no question about that. It did reach #!6 in the U.S., his biggest hit by far. It was banned from radio in cities including New York and Boston because authorities feared it might incite fights and violence! As such it is the only instrumental that’s been banned in the States.

Among the people who did hear it were Bob Dylan, who has called it “the best instrumental ever”, Jimmy Page who cited it as an influence on his playing, Iggy Pop who said hearing it made him want to play music for a career and Pete Townshend. The Who’s guitar wiz said “if it hadn’t been for Link Wray’s “Rumble”, I would never have picked up a guitar.” That was one pretty fortunate sound check!

Wray had moved to Denmark before he passed away in 2005, but his song has since been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and been used for a documentary title : Rumble – the Indians who Rocked the World.

March 30 – Rock’s Forever Man

Happy birthday number 78 to rock’s “Forever Man”, Eric Clapton! by now he does indeed seem like he’s been around in music forever, given that he began as a teenager. Given his well-publicized addiction to heroin in the ’70s and alcohol in the ’80s, it’s perhaps surprising “Slowhand” is still with us and rocking, but by all indications he’s as healthy and happy as ever and recently has become a Grandfather.

Of course, he’s been the Grandfather of Guitar Rock for some time… he got his first guitar when 13 and was obsessed with Blues music. As he put it, “in England we were bombarded with pop music…I was obsessed with Black blues guitar players.” Robert Johnson was his biggest influence and young Eric studied his technique diligently. By 16 he was busking and playing in clubs in London, by 18 he was in the Yardbirds, where he’d have his first taste of success (“For Your Love”). Stints with Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominoes, plus session work with a little band called  The Beatles made him a household name, and guitar “god” by the early-’70s, when he launched his solo career. To date he’s snagged 15 Grammy Awards since ’91 (including, strangely enough Best Rock Song for “Layla”, the early-’70s hit, in 1993), had 14 platinum albums at home and 18 in the U.S. and is the only artist thrice inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (for his solo material, the Yardbirds and Cream.) Gibson Guitars rank him as the fourth greatest guitarist ever, Rolling Stone in 2011 had him second-best ever. In that publication, Eddie Van Halen said Eric was “the only guitar player who ever influenced me, even though I don’t sound like him.” Even Time magazine gets in on it, ranking him as the fifth greatest guitarist ever, saying he’s “fluent in every blues style (and) among the most melodic of guitarists.” Of course, there are a few dissenters.

Phoenix’s New Times consider him among the ten most over-rated guitarists around (although sharing the list are Jack White, Jimmy Page and The Edge) disliking how much he borrowed from the old Blues artists (“‘Strange Brew’ recreates Albert King’s solo for ‘Oh Pretty Woman’ note for note”) and digging up some allegedly racist comments he made in the ’70s… which seem unlikely for someone who’s such an unabashed fan of Black American music, and wouldn’t really determine his guitar skills even if he did once say them! Clapton hasn’t let all that praise go to his head too much; he said The Band put things right in his own career by making “the priority the song,” as he’d “gotten so tired of long, boring guitar solos” and when asked what it was like to be the best guitarist in the world, he once replied “I don’t know- ask Prince.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic has only increased his controversialness.   He canceled a 2020 tour due to the Covid restrictions, which he found prohibitive and was among the first stars to return to the road in 2021. In the meantime he came out against the Covid vaccines (which he says gave him bad reactions) and had to cancel some shows when he himself got the illness. He’s scheduled to be back on tour this fall, with Jimmie Vaughan as a guest.

February 24 – Hubbard’s Cupboard Stocked With Gold Records

The Beatles called on Billy Preston to play keyboards, and add a new set of ears to their final works. If the “Fab Four” could sometimes get some outside help to complete their music, its little wonder most other, lesser bands do the same. Enter the studio or session musician – the specialists who are great with an instrument or two who make their livelihood laying down a few licks for any artist who’ll ask for help and pay them. Today we tip the cap to one of Britain’s foremost studio musicians, guitarist Neil Hubbard. He turns 75 today.

Like so many good studio musicians, Neil’s name may well be unfamiliar to you unless you read the album liner notes very carefully, but the music he helped create is probably not.

We don’t know a great deal about Hubbard, like many other musicians of his type, pages haven’t been written about him in music mags and TV hosts seldom clamber to get them onto their programs. We know Neil grew up around Peterborough in England and went straight from school to work making music. “I never had a ‘proper’ job,” he told one interviewer in 2008, “I never, ever thought I’d be able to make a living off it (playing guitar), I just did it ’cause it was fun.” But make a living from it he did. He’s kept busy in the studio, and sometimes the stage, helping more famous musicians since the mid-’60s, when he hooked up with Bluesology, a (as the name might suggest) blues rock band that had one Reggie Dwight in it. By 1968, Bluesology was wrapping up and Dwight went on to be the star we now know as Elton John.

Early on in his career, Neil played guitar on the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack (which spurred on Yvonne Elleman’s career among others.) Soon he worked with Joe Cocker on an album, then with Marianne Faithful, B.B. King, Robert Palmer and Paul Young. Hubbard’s most regular, and perhaps well-known “employer” though has been Bryan Ferry. Hubbard has been a regular sidekick to the suave Brit singer as far back as 1976, when he did some work on the Let’s Stick Together album. Since then, he added guitars to seven more Ferry albums, including the 1984 hit Boys & Girls (Hubbard playing the solo on the single “Slave to Love” for example), shared the stage with David Gilmour of Pink Floyd backing Ferry at Live Aid, and also was a touring member of Roxy Music in the ’80s. He added his guitarwork to the band’s regular six-stringer, Phil Manzanera, on their last couple of albums, Flesh + Blood and Avalon.

Although the work with the likes of Roxy Music and Paul young have doubtless paid the bills for him, for fun he seems to most enjoy a jazz/blues combo called Kokomo which he leads. They haven’t had hit records but have been a going concern on and off since the ’90s.

So, we say hats off to the unsung heroes of the great records we enjoy – the studio musicians – and happy birthday Anonymous Neil!

February 1 – Petty, Fleetwood Got Lucky With Mike

You Got Lucky” Tom Petty sang. But let’s remember, movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn also said, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” So happy birthday to one of the luckiest, and hardest-working men in rock, Mike Campbell. The Floridian is 73 today and carrying on successfully after the unfortunate death of his long-time bandmate Tom Petty.

Campbell met Petty in northern Florida in the early-’70s and joined the latter’s band Mudcrunch as its guitarist. What was arguably remarkable about that is that Campbell was a relative novice to the craft. He got his first guitar ever at age 16 (an “unplayable” acoustic) and had probably only three years experience on electric guitar at the time.

Mudcrunch didn’t amount to much, but the pair moved off to L.A. in ’76 and formed a band that did – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. While we often tend to think of that as just Petty, the backing band was important and no one was as essential or wore as many hats (literally and figuratively) in the Heartbreakers as Campbell. He was the only one of the band to co-write a number of songs with Petty, including the hits “Refugee”, “Here Comes My Girl” and yes, “You Got Lucky.” Even when Petty put out his first “solo” album, Full Moon Fever, he brought Mike along to play guitar and co-write the singles “Love is a Long Road” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” as well as help in the production!

When not working on a Petty record, Campbell kept busy in the ’80s and ’90s with some of his SoCal musical friends, like Stevie Nicks (playing guitar on her first solo album and co-writing the hit “Stop Dragging My Heart Around”, which of course Petty sang with Nicks), Don Henley (co-writing his signature tune, “Boys of Summer”, composing the tune while Henley wrote the lyrics) and the Wallflowers. The latter fitting enough as they are Jakob Dylan’s band. Jakob’s dad, Bob is one of the two main influences on Campbell’s early career, the other being the Byrds. And yes, Mike got to play on a couple of Bob Dylan albums as well!

Through the years, Campbell’s guitar mastery grew, and was notable for its lack of pomp. As Petty said, “Michael is not one to show off.” Or as Rolling Stone put it, ranking him just ahead of Buddy Holly in their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all-time, he was unusual because of his “ingenious use of negative space.”

He told Waco radio station KBGO that the last thing he and Tom said to each other was “I love you” and Petty was at “peace with the way they (the band) left things.” Thankfully for Campbell, his work, talent and rolodex meant he wasn’t out of work long after Petty’s death. Even though he was friends with Stevie Nicks, he told the radio station it was Mick Fleetwood who rang him up. “I’ve been listening to your music a lot. Would you be interested in joining the band?” Of course he was, and he was added to a revised Fleetwood Mac lineup (along with Neil Finn) to replace disgruntled Lindsey Buckingham. He says it was Nicks however, who talked him into letting them do “Free Fallin’” on their most recent tour and getting him to sing lead on the old Fleetwood Mac song “Oh Well.” However, with the death of Christine McVie and ongoing infighting with Lindsey Buckingham and other members of Mac, their status remains highly uncertain. So, he’s been keeping himself busy with a side project of his, the Dirty Knobs which he describes as “rougher-edged” than the Heartbreakers, with “lots of ’60s influences – The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, the Animals.”

When and if Mike finds himself with downtime, he’s probably at home in California with his wife of 49 years and their three kids.

January 31 – Manzanera ‘The Man’ For Stylish Guitars

Happy 72nd birthday to one of Britain’s most accomplished and adventurous guitarists – Phil Manzanera. Phil was born to an English dad, but Colombian mother, who played a little guitar. As a kid, he spent time living in South America and Cuba, which goes a ways towards showing why so much of his guitar work seems Latin-tinged. And perhaps why he’s Phil “Manzanera” even. He was born Philip Targett-Adams, but when young idolized Mexican guitarist Armando Manzanero, whom seemingly inspired not only some of his picking but the picking of his professional name.

He’d moved back to the UK by the time he was ready for college, and along the way made friends with another guitar great in the making – David Gilmour. While Phil was in several bands during his college years, the big break was joining Roxy Music just as they were ready to begin recording their first record. Curiously, he was their second choice after Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno auditioned several guitarists, but their first pick quit a week or two after the band formed. Manzanera answered the call, and never looked back, being one of the three constants in the oft-changing Roxy lineup, along with singer Ferry and sax-man Andy MacKay.

Manzanera’s often-flamenco tinged guitars were a big part of the Roxy sound, and from time to time he wrote with Ferry, co-writing songs including “Out of the Blue,” “Trash” and “Take A Chance With Me.” The latter was on their last, but biggest-selling, studio album, Avalon, which they recorded in Phil’s own studio. Among the other clients there were noted Roxy Music fans Duran Duran. He recalls running into them while both bands were playing in Germany around 1983 and “they ended up coming to my studio to record a single…”Is There Something I Should Know?” And then they went on to be more famous. A bit of fairy dust was sprinkled over them from the Roxy studio,” he jokes, noting they’re “very sweet guys.”

Never one to let grass grow under his feet, he’d already begun a solo recording career in downtime with Roxy in the ’70s, and to date has put out nine studio albums of his own, plus some more with his on-again, off-again project 801, which at times has included MacKay and Eno. Phil worked on a pair of Eno’s solo efforts too; the two seemed close and Eno ran much of Manzanera’s guitar recordings through his own synthesizers to manipulate the sound for the first two Roxy records.

And then there’s his old buddy David Gilmour. Phil co-wrote the hit “One Slip” with Gilmour for the first post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd album, and since toured with him and produced a pair of Gilmour albums, On An Island and Rattle This Lock.

Of late, Phil’s been busy with writing and producing a 14 hour radio series on “The A-Z of Great Guitarists” and in 2020 had a new release out with old bandmate Andy MacKay. Roxymphony was a live record where the Roxy Music guys got together a 20-piece orchestra and a full choir and performed Roxy songs like “Love is the Drug” and “Sentimental fool” in a big orchestral manner. “It was a revelation to us how well-suited the songs were to being orchestrated” he says. They were able to discover that more last year when Roxy Music toured again. He says that came about when Bryan Ferry, who lives near him, dropped by for a tea and said “do you fancy doing some gigs?” Realizing their ages and that it would mark the 50th anniversary of their first record, he responded “well, if there’s ever a time to do it, it’d be now. So yeah!”

Coming from a background that includes chameleonic Roxy Music, with ties to Pink Floyd, Eno and a host of Latin American artists, I think none of us should be surprised at how limitless his six-string sounds can be.

December 18 – EE’s Guitar Drove The Cars To Success

A Rock & Roll Hall of Fame career…that still perhaps didn’t quite amount to what it should have. Happy birthday to a guitarist allmusic call “gifted and totally under-rated.” Elliot Easton turns 69 years old today.

Easton is of course generally known as the lead guitarist of The Cars, which indeed was his shining moment, but he’s done more than just that. Keeping busy seems to be “just what (Easton) needed.”

Elliot was born as Elliot Shapiro, in New York City. Happily for all involved, he went to Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music, where he not only honed his talents but met the lads who’d form The Cars. His stage presence was unusual because he’s a lefty, playing it “backwards” compared to most guitarists, and his sound made The Cars stand out from a lot of other American new wave acts that were coming up around the late-’70s who focused more on keyboards and subdued guitar riffs if any at all. Although he didn’t take part in the writing of their material, there’s no doubt he helped shape their hits like “Touch and Go”, “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” and “Moving in Stereo.” Allmusic note “his talents were not utilized to the fullest” by the band…although his talents indeed lay mostly in the six-string, as people found out in 1985.

With The Cars on hiatus basically, he put out a solo album, Change No Change. It barely scraped onto the American top 100, and perhaps with good reason. Allmusic scored it just 1.5-stars, saying it “disappoints on many levels” and adding “Easton is a terrible vocalist!” He went from there to helping fellow-Car Benjamin Orr on his own solo record, then joined Creedence Clearwater Revisited, CCR less John Fogerty essentially. He joined his old bandmates when they reformed, with Todd Rundgren replacing Rik Ocasek, as the New Cars, which didn’t really excite the public as much as expected. More recently he joined a band called Empty Hearts, with drummer Clem Burke and former Faces keyboardist Ian MacLagen, but they too failed to make it big.

However, there’s no denying his guitar prowess. Slash calls him one of his personal main influences and perhaps there’s good reason. Easton knows his stuff.

Not only did he go to the school for music, he is a student of the art. He calls Meet the Beatles the top album in importance for him. “Combined with the Ed Sullivan appearance on 2-9-64,” he told Goldmine, “this was the moment in the Wizard of Oz where the world went from black and white to technicolor!” He listed the Beatles Revolver and the Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo as other faves. On the latter he notes “I loved country music already- my dad played Marty Robbins all the time.” But when asked about important recordings for guitarists, he references Jimi Hendrix (“he didn’t ‘invent’ what he was playing but he turned it upside down”) and obscure artists like Eddie Lang, who put out a jazz record in 1929; “it showed what the guitar could do as a lead instrument.”

And today guitarists can do that using an Elliot Easton model Gibson guitar. They put out a signature Firebird guitar made to his specs.

November 20 – 75 Years In, Life’s Been Good To Joe

One of rock’s best guitarists – and most original characters – was born 75 years ago . Happy birthday Joe Walsh!

Walsh was born in Wichita, grew up in Ohio and New Jersey and in the ’60s was of mixed mind. Part of him wanted to be a rock star, as with so many of that generation, after seeing the Beatles on TV, but part of him (surprisingly given his reputation as being a bit of a goof-off and burnout) a serious scholar. He went to Kent State, but was present at the famous 1970 massacre (which inspired the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song “Ohio”) which effected him greatly…and made him think maybe a degree was over-rated! He ended up getting an honorary degree from that school in 2001 as it turned out anyway. He first appeared on record doing some guitar work for Ohio Express back in 1967, but came to prominence with the James Gang at the end of that decade and soon launched into a solo career which has delivered 11 studio albums since 1973, two of which – ’73’s The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get and 1978’s But Seriously Folks made the U.S. top 10. The latter delivered his signature tune, the wacky, 8-minute (or 4:35 if you just hear the single) “Life’s Been Good.” That one, satirizing the life of a spoiled rock star, got to #12 at home, #11 in Canada and was called “the most important statement on rock stardom anyone has made” by Rolling Stone at the time. It was quickly implemented into the concert fare of The Eagles when he joined that band, almost simultaneously.

He was a latecomer to them, joining at the start of the Hotel California sessions, but has been with them on all their records and tours since. His great freestyling guitar work was influenced heavily by The Beatles, Pete Townshend (who in turn says of Joe, “a fluid and intelligent player. There’re not many like that around.”) and Ritchie Blackmore as well as fellow birthday boy Duane Allman, who would’ve turned 76 today. Allman taught Walsh the slide guitar. His 6-string – and 12-string- prowess earned him Rolling Stone’s pick as the 54th best guitarist of all-time and has kept him in demand. He’s also worked on a wide range of other artists records, including Eagles band-mates Don Henley (doing the guitar licks on “Dirty Laundry”) and Timothy B. Schmit, as well as REO Speedwagon, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Steve Winwood, Dan Fogelberg, the Foo Fighters and even Andy Gibb. Not to mention Stevie Nicks, who’s called him the love of her life and who wrote the song “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You?” for him. Unfortunately, as Walsh put it to a friend in the ’80s “I’m leaving Stevie because I’m afraid one of us is going to die…our cocaine habit has beome so over the top…the only way to save us both is for me to leave.”

Widely known for his sense of humor, which has included a mock run for president in 1980, he has a serious side and said in 2012 he might actually “run (for Congress). The root of the problem is that Congress is so dysfunctional, we’re dead in the water until Congress gets to work and passes some new legislation.” Eric Clapton says he’s “one of the best guitarists to surface in some time. I don’t listen to many records, but I listen to his.” Pretty high praise for an ordinary, average guy! Oh, and by the way, if you were wondering if “Life’s Been Good” is all made up…he actually did have a Maserati at the time he wrote the song. But it topped out at 170 – not the 185 boasted about in the song. What an imagination he must have!

Those wanting to have another chance to check Joe out will be able to do so tomorrow in New Orleans with a concert there, followed by ones in Kansas City and Fort Worth later this month. Next year he resumes touring with The Eagles.