On my way back from interviewing the Eagles in LA, I stopped off at Des Moines, Iowa, to see Joe Walsh who later that year would become an Eagle himself, though he didn't know it at the time. Joe was an affable guy and it's to be hoped that some of his good nature rubbed off on his future bandmates.
Omnibus is about to publish a biography of Stevie Nicks, Visions, Dreams & Rumours by Zoe Howe, which I edited during May and June. Walsh features heavily in the book, of course, as he and Nicks were an item until he ran away, scared by domesticity. Joe was a big pal of John Entwistle too, and one of Joe’s exes, Lisa Pritchard Johnson, lived with John at Stowe for the last eight years of his life. I remember her well, but that’s another story.
DES MOINES: It has to be a coincidence. Affixed to a light switch close to the door of Joe Walsh’s dressing room at the Veterans Auditorium in this sleepy mid-west town is a sticker that reads: “James Gang... Bang.” There are no other stickers, posters or rock paraphernalia in the room.
“Mmmm, that’s a weird one,” agrees Joe, who lopes around the room pulling on a coke and ice, and treating a spinning blackboard with more than a little contempt. “Fancy THAT sticker being on this wall,” he murmurs darkly before ambling away into another, smaller room to attend to the tuning of two Gibson Les Pauls.
Slightly over one hour later Joe is back in the dressing room, disappointed that the show didn’t gell as he had hoped. “Awww...shit,” he repeats and blames his misfortunes on the monitor system. “The crowd was up, real up to it, but we couldn’t hear a thing. I just wanna get outa here.”
The new Joe Walsh band is a mellower group than Barnstorm, a group obviously more dedicated to intricacies of electric sound, melodies and subleties. There are two keyboard players, not counting Joe himself, who sits at a grand piano for at least one number on stage.
Ricky Fataar, the drummer, is a solid player. His spell with The Beach Boys taught him discipline, if not adventure. Bryan Garofalo is an utterly proficient bassist of the studio variety, who effortlessly pumps out line after line without thought or hesitation. The two keyboard players, David Mason and Paul Harris, are somewhat anonymous, hiding behind banks of organ and keyboard cabinets at stage right.
It’s Walsh who’s the star, a slowhand cowboy of the fretboard, whose style can be reckoned to be a cross between Townshend and Clapton. There’s none of Pete’s violence, but plenty of chunky chord work, and his solo lines seem to flow in Clapton’s oozing fashion. He also plays with disarming ease: he doesn’t belong to the school of players who believe in screwing up their faces to attract attention.
The new band – the first to go out as simply Joe Walsh – was born around six months ago. Garofalo has replaced Passarelli in the latter stages of Barnstorm – Walsh’s old band – so he was a natural choice, while Fataar had often discussed with Walsh the possibility of a link-up at some time in the future. David Mason was a friend of the Eagles (who share the same management company as Joe) and he readily agreed to accept the job.
“It was a strain getting a whole new group together, as Brian was the only one remotely familiar with playing my material live. It seemed like the millionth time I’d taught ‘Funk 49’ to somebody, so trying to put new energy into it and keep it fresh was a struggle. With new players seeing it differently it often does put new energy into a song so I didn’t mind the struggle that much.”
Last to join was Paul Harris, an old friend of Joe’s from James Gang days and a former session colleague. “The four-piece worked well except that I felt I needed a little more melodic content. Four hands on the keyboard seemed to really fill it out nicely.”
The So What album was mainly Joe’s work, though two tracks were put down by the old Barnstorm, and Garofalo took care of the bass work. During the recordings, the new band had yet to be recruited.
“It was the first time I’ve ever been alone in the studio and although it was good, I probably won’t want to do it again. I guess I wanted to get the quote – solo – unquote, album out of my system. It’s about one third a group and two-thirds solo.
“In the studio I’ll give everybody a chance to create and add whatever is in their heads. I try and be be fair to everybody otherwise the band gets weak. If you don’t give a band more involvement then they don’t add more involvement.
“Unless other musicians can relate and add to what’s going down then it can’t be a group. I don’t think I’ve ever hit the chemistry yet. Barnstorm was real close though.”
The new group, says Joe, has the potential to be his best yet though this stage hasn’t been reached.
They are playing material from all the stages of Joe’s career right back from the James Gang.
“It’s a kind of cross-section of me up to date. The tunes change a bit and that’s interesting as we get together different players to play the same songs.
“I don’t think the audience would let me phase out the older material, though I would love to not play ‘Funk 49’ anymore. I feel they’ve paid to come and hear the record and I owe it to them to play that.
“One of the strengths of the concert is that we do have a catalogue of songs that people recognise and want to hear. Going out and playing all new songs is risky. Eventually I may phase out some of the old stuff but so far everybody is hollering for it and I don’t want to let them down.”
Joe acknowledges with some bemusement that he is becoming a guitar hero, but lays the blame on his days in the James Gang, which was a guitar-fronted trio.
“I just had to be inventive when there was just one guitar. When you stop playing lead there was no more lead, and when you stop playing rhythm there was no more rhythm.
“You learn a technique to compensate for that and that stage was when I really sat down and studied rock technique on the guitar. Now it’s nice to apply all that with a much fuller group.”
Joe’s most recent activity has been a move into production, and a successful one at that. He produced Dan Fogelberg’s Souvenirs album which reached the US Top Twenty.
“I’ve always wanted to produce but I never thought I could,” says Joe. “I didn’t think I was ready and I was having enough trouble getting my own things on tape without worrying about anybody else’s. But at some point I figured it was time to try, and I was interested in Dan because I really related to his music.
“It’s hard to say what a producer does because so many producers do different things. I just tried to be an extension of Fogelberg in whatever way he needed it. I think I proved to myself and some others that I can produce, but it was just good to try it once and I don’t want to go and make a career out of producing. Not yet, anyway. I think I’ve got some more of my own career left in me.
“Another couple of years yet, I think.”