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.