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Meet guitarist Joe Walsh, just an 'Ordinary Average Guy"

Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh talks about odds of a James Gang reunion, having Ringo as a relative and why he's to blame for Led Zeppelin

By Jeb Wright

Joe Walsh has been up to a lot over the last 20 years, what with touring and recording with the Eagles, getting clean and sober, getting remarried and hanging with his brother-in-law, Ringo Starr.

But now he’s back with “Analog Man,” his first solo outing in two decades, and the album is 100 percent pure Joe Walsh. From the funny “Analog Man” to the bouncy “Wrecking Ball” to the happy-go-lucky “Lucky That Way,” Walsh still has it. His vocals still have their distinctive whine, and his guitar playing remains original. He, once again, shares his unique perspective of life — and makes us all feel better-off for looking at this spinning ball of dirt and water we call home through his eyes.

Joe Walsh Analog Man

In this interview, Joe discusses the new album in detail, opens up about how getting sober — and married — has changed his life, and touches upon the possibilities of a James Gang reunion, the talk box and why he joined the Eagles in the first place.

Goldmine: Now, I know the Eagles do not release albums that often, but you have taken this to a whole new level. “Analog Man” is your first new release in 20 years. What took so long?
Joe Walsh: Two things happened, the first of which was that in 1994, the Eagles decided to get back to work and release “Hell Freezes Over.” We went around the world a couple of times with that. I just never got any momentum aimed at finishing these songs or starting a solo record. In 1994, I also decided that it was time to get sober. I had to reinvent and start from scratch and learn to do everything sober. That took a lot of time. It opened up a whole life and a way of looking at things. I was able to get healthy again, and I wanted to go check that out and see what it was all about.

Eagles acoustic

Joe Walsh's involvement with The Eagles (shown in 2005, above, from left: Timothy B. Schmit, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh) marked a turning point twice in his life. He set his solo career aside to join the band for 1976's landmark "Hotel California" album. Two decades later, the group was planning its Hell Freezes Over reunion tour, but members had to meet one specific requirement: Everybody had to be sober. Walsh has been sober since 1994. Publicity photo

GM: It is so different to play sober, let alone live sober. When you don’t have that crutch to fall back on, you feel almost naked out there.
JW: Yeah, it’s scary. I used to think, “Oh, God, everybody knows I’m scared, and everybody is looking at me.” I can’t comprehend how I used to play like that. Being sober and doing it now takes all the concentration I’ve got.

GM: When did you write the lyrics to “Analog Man?”
JW: That is relatively new. The last album I made was on recording tape, and there were knobs. Now there is a mouse. Those of us who were analog guys had to make some adjustments with this new technology. There is a whole new world now that is digital. I’ve always written about the world around me, so I have a whole new world to write about. They are observations, not judgments.

To me, this virtual world doesn’t exist; it is computer generated. We are all spending a lot of time there. Our bodies are left sitting in chairs waiting for our minds to come back. You can get lost in that world. These guys that play these virtual games ... to them, they are not games; they are into it. They come back out of the game two days later and they have beards and they don’t know what day it is. Holy smokes, that is scary to get lost in a place that doesn’t exist! There are people who are texting and they smash into the car in front of them because they didn’t look up. There are people who are trying to do things in both worlds, and it doesn’t work too well. I don’t know if it is working for us, or if we are working for it.

GM: “Analog Man” is the first single but if you do a second one, make it “Lucky That Way.”
JW: It was not at all intentional, but it is sort of the sequel to “Life’s Been Good.” I wrote that with a guy named Tommy Lee James. He’s part of a think tank in Nashville. Barbara Orbison, Roy’s wife, recommended him to me. Tommy brought out the chorus. I was coming out to write with him, so I had to bring something, so I wrote the verses. There is a Nashville thread in there, but the song came out really great.

Joe Walsh photo by Ross Brubeck

Joe Walsh, aka The Clown Prince of Rock, made a joke run for the presidency in 1980 on the platform "Free Gas For Everyone" and the promise to change the national anthem to "Life's Been Good." In 1992, he set his sights on the vice presidency with the platform "Free Toilet Paper for Everyone." Publicity photo/Ross Brubeck.

GM: How much did your wife, Marjorie, have to do with this album?
JW: I’ve been married to Marjorie for three and a half years, and she is the one who really kicked me in the pants and said, “I believe in you, whether you do or not, and I think you should finish this.” I looked at her, and she said, “Oh, by the way, here’s Jeff Lynne’s number.” This is really Marjorie’s fault. I got this really big extended family when I married her, and they are really close. It is a dynamic that I’ve never been around, as I was always just on the road by myself, and past relationships just never really worked. I isolated myself back in the dark days. I have grown to be a part of this family, and I’ve really opened up a lot. And I think you can hear that in the music.

GM: Ringo Starr, your brother-in-law, plays on your album.
JW: Yes, Ringo is my brother-in-law. He played on this one, but, of course, I had to play on his album, so it was for free. Ringo plays on the song, “The Band Plays On.”

GM: You’ve been friends for years, and now you’re in-laws. Do you still ever go, “I’m playing with Ringo and he’s my brother-in-law!”
JW: Sometimes, I just go in the other room and just yell that really loud. Any musician that is in that position goes, “Holy sh*t, I don’t believe it.” Thanksgiving and Christmas are really cool. Over time, he has become a great friend, and he’s become like a big brother to me. His insight and his wisdom have helped me in both my life and in my music. When I married my wife, I got him, too.

GM: You’ve have had your ups and downs, so I have to ask: With Marjorie, why is it working this time?
JW: I am 18 years old, sobriety-wise. I am really confident now. I have a whole bunch of experience, and I’ve been a musician for a long time, and I’ve written a lot of songs. I am now able to use all of my tools. I’m also healthy and happy. I have a lot to say, as it has been a long time since I’ve made an album. I will tell you that nothing on this album sounds like the album before. I don’t know: I just feel really confident and focused and like I finally know what I’m doing.

GM: You have a tip of the hat to “Funk 49” on the album called “Funk 50.” I have a complaint about that song.
JW: What’s that?

GM: It’s too damn short.
JW: Yeah, I know. ESPN asked me for some music for their “Sunday NFL Countdown,” where they analyze the upcoming games on Sunday. Chris Berman and the guys told me that they all liked The James Gang. They said that they loved “Funk 49,” but that they didn’t want “Funk 49.” I put something together that was about a minute long for the ins and outs of the show. They used all of that music, but nobody’s up at 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning, so no one ever heard it. I thought it was a shame to just leave that under a minute long, so I decided to write some words for it and put it on the record. I guess, what you’re saying is that I didn’t write enough words. If I had written a couple of more verses, then I think that would have been about right, don’t you think?

GM: I think so. I have heard there is a deluxe version being released of “Analog Man” with The James Gang on it.
JW: The deluxe version has more content on it. There are two more songs. I was going through a box of old tapes that I found, and I came across a jam that The James Gang did with Little Richard. We played a group of about six shows with Little Richard and Chuck Berry. We had a day off, and we didn’t have anything to do, so we just went into the studio and rolled tape. This is the only track that survived. It is Little Richard at his best with the James Gang trying to keep up with him. It was about 15 minutes long, because he just wouldn’t stop. I got it down to about six or seven minutes, which was the essence of the jam. When I found it I said, “I’ve totally forgotten about this. I can’t just sit on it.” He is one of the founding fathers of rock and roll, and he was at his best. I knew that people should hear this.

GM: Did you tell him that you had to edit it down?
JW: I did. I told him that I only kept all of the brilliant parts. I asked his permission, of course, and he said, “Joseph, it makes me want to go out in the yard and yell, ‘Lordy, lordy.’”

GM: I have to ask you about the closing track on the album, titled “India.” It is unlike anything you’ve ever done.
JW: I love house music, trance music and deejay remixes. I have a channel of it on the satellite radio. I don’t know who these guys are, but they are just having fun making this music. They are underground and not really mainstream, but every time I hear that kind of music, I just want to get up and dance. These are the samples guys and the loop guys I’m talking about. I commend and respect what they’re doing.
The Eagles ended up on a tour in Australia, and since we were half way there, we ended up going to India. It profoundly changed the way that I look at the big picture. The poverty and the opulence are beyond your wildest dreams, at how radical it is in both directions.
I was in Mumbai, and I went to a club, and I heard one of these techno groups perform. They didn’t play instruments; they played laptops. They all had MacBooks, and that’s what they played. They had great lights, and it was turned up all of the way, and it knocked my socks off to hear it live. I came back home and I said, “I don’t know how, but I’m going to do one of those. I’m going to take a stab at making a track like that.” I got into my computer and got a bunch of samples and stuff and made that song. If I hadn’t gone to India and seen it live, then I don’t think I would have wanted to do it; I would have just kept listening to it.

Joe Walsh publicity photo

Along with Bob Heil, Joe Walsh pioneered the use of the talk box. The gadget was used in Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way" and The Eagles' "Those Shoes." Publicity photo.

GM: There are rumors that there is going to be a new James Gang album and tour.
JW: I went to Cleveland and we went into the studio and messed around. I would definitely say that is on my bucket list. I think instead of going out with them and playing big halls, we may go out and play some clubs, as that is when we really kick ass, and that is when it is really an event. We are going to look at House of Blues and Hard Rocks and stuff, and, as soon as I get a break with all of the silliness that I’ve been doing, I think I’ll grab those guys and go out and play some clubs and keep it low key. Instead of making a big announcement about everything, I just want to go out and play, as that is when we are at our best.

GM: I would love a triple bill: The James Gang-Joe Walsh-The Eagles.
JW: Oh, boy. I don’t know if I would make it through that evening.

GM: Historically, Bob Heil and you invented the talk box. Would you agree?
JW: I would say we reinvented it. I didn’t come up with the concept but I bumped into the guy who did. Do you remember Dottie West, the country singer? Her husband, Bill West, was a pedal steel player, and when The James Gang would play Nashville, we’d always go over to their house after the show. He went out in the garage and he dug around and he gave me the original one that he built in 1954, I think. He said, “I’m not even going to tell you what this does. Just put this end in your mouth and play. You need this.” I had to figure out how it worked, and then I started going to the hardware store and buying stuff and making them. I showed it to Bob Heil, and he can manufacture stuff, and he took it from there and started making new ones. That is the story of that; I reinvented it. I brought it out of retirement from the ’50s and, of course, the first time I used it was on “Rocky Mountain Way.”

Eagles Asylum publicity photo

When it comes to the "good old days," Joe Walsh is the first to admit there are some pretty sizeable holes in his memory. "There's a couple of years there that are just a mystery to me. I was talking to Ozzy about two weeks ago, and you know, James Gang and his band, we played a whole bunch of gigs. And neither of us remember anything. We know we played together, 'cause we have the posters," he said in an interview with The Bob & Tom Show. Publicity photo/Asylum.

GM: Why did you leave your career and join the Eagles? Once you joined them, what did you discover that was good and that was bad?
JW: I left The James Gang to pursue a solo career. I had three albums that did pretty good. When you are achieving any amount of success in the music business, there is a lot of nonmusical stuff that comes along with it. I had “Rocky Mountain Way” and later I had “Life’s Been Good,” but I ended up the leader with all of the decisions that had to be made. I was doing all of the hiring and firing, and I had more and more pressure to write something that would top what I had just written. I got a little bit stagnant in my writing, because there was nobody to really write with. It all got going a little too fast, and I always had to write something as I was up against a deadline. I wanted to become part of a band again.

I loved The Eagles, and we all knew each other. I really loved the way they sang. I thought, “To have their voices and to be able to play rock and roll guitar along with that is what I would really like to do, rather than having to do it all myself.” As it happened, they wanted to rock and roll more than they had been. They didn’t want to corner themselves as a country rock band. Their guitar player, Bernie Leadon, was a real acoustic, flat-picking purist. He wanted to play Martins on the front porch on the rocking chair, and he was not going to turn it up. He was not interested in rocking out, so he left. In the meantime, I really wanted to join a band. It really all just happened at the same time.

The good part about it is that “Hotel California” came out of it, and there were not too many bad parts, except that I got arrested a lot.

GM: Last one: Did you sell Jimmy Page the Les Paul that he wrote all of the classic songs with?
JW: I pretty much gave it to him. When Led Zeppelin came to play in the United States for the first time, their album had just come out. Jimmy was most known for playing with the Yardbirds. Led Zeppelin was the new band that he was coming back with, and everyone was really excited. The James Gang opened for them for about four or five shows on that first tour, and I got to know Jimmy a lot better than I already had.
Jimmy was really looking for a Les Paul guitar. He had been playing Fenders, with a single coil, and it just wasn’t rocking enough for him. He needed a Les Paul for that band. They were not expensive, back then, but they were hard to find. I happened to have two, and I gave him one. I sold it for, like, $1,500 or something. I had to fly to New York to give it to him, so I had some expenses. That is the guitar that most of the Led Zeppelin stuff was done on. I just thought that he ought to have one, and that I had two and only needed one.

GM: So, Led Zeppelin is all your fault.
JW: Yeah, pretty much.