"This next song is one we're extemely proud of, it was nominated for absolutely nothing..."
…and with that, Joe Walsh and his James Gang launched into a knock you down version of “Collage” from their 1969 debut ‘Yer Album’. I sort of had the notion in the back of my head that a James Gang reunion tour was something that Joe Walsh did to throw drummer Jimmy Fox and bassist Dale Peters a bone after so much time. Then I began to collect all the data I had stored in my head related to Joe Walsh and immediately dismissed that notion as something that he’d never do. The show I saw last night with my wife and friends proved that out.
Many quickly toss Walsh into the category of unsung guitar hero, or great side man, etc… and that is a fair enough assessment on the surface I guess. Some will say he sold out to corporate rock by continuing to join the Eagles on the their endless round of “farewell” tours, but mostly what gets missed are two things that are solid facts about Joe Walsh: He is the most unpretentious person ever to play rock and roll, and he is a most accomplished and brilliant song writer. Yes, he is a phenomenal guitar wiz. His slide work is immediately recognizable. You could pick out a Joe Walsh solo in two notes his sound is so distinct. But how ‘bout the riffs? not just Funk #49 or Walk Away, but Bomber, Take a Look Around, his Eagles or solo stuff (The Confessor, Life in the Fast Lane, Victim of Love)? Just awesome riffage.
Joe Walsh claims that he was road schooled by the notorious Keith Moon. No doubt there are enough stories detailing bad drunken behavior, hotel carnage, and tour bus shenanigan’s to fill a few volumes, but if you’re a fan of Joe’s, you know his absurd humor and quick wit are NOT sole products of alcoholic excesses (he’s been sober for 12 years now). It's simple, Joe is just a truly humble man. The lyrics of his 1978 hit “Life’s Been Good” aren't just clever lyrics that happen to rhyme, they're personal testiment to what he sincerely feels about himself, his career, his music, and the crazy business of rock and roll. I think the reason he and Keith Moon got along so well has more to do with the fact that they both had enormous senses of humor and loved to laugh. This is still very much the case with Joe as evident last night. This is not to say that Joe and his Gang don’t take what they’re doing seriously, quite the contrary. Just listen to the "Ride’s Again” album and you’ll quickly dismiss that thought. He’s not a Frank Zappa nihilistic curmudgeon type comedy act either. I guess the only way to describe him is genuine, not just his personality, but his music as well.
Joe Walsh is the kind of guy who more than likely just finds all his gorgeous songs by noodling around on his guitar in front of the TV watching Wheel of Fortune or something. After the final puzzle is solved, I imagine he just gets up and matter of factly, wanders into his home studio, and puts the whole thing together top to bottom before even he knows what happened.
When I told my little sister who is too young and too disinterested to know who The James Gang is that I was going to see them tonight she predictably responded, “Who’s that?” I went about with the pat answer, “It’s Joe Walsh’s first band, the guitar player for the Eagles, and…” at which point she stopped me and interjected, “Oh! Wait a minute, You mean Howard Stern’s friend…”. I don’t listen to Stern regularly unfortunately, but did instantly recall back in the late eighties Howard’s phone calls to Joe out in California at 3:00 AM PST in which Howard would ask a heavily sedated and sleep weary Joe to do a bong hit and then play a request or two. Joe always replied, “Sure Howard, let me get my guitar..”. Joe is simply the kinda guy that would walk 10 miles to keep from letting anybody down.
Yes sis, that’s the Joe Walsh I’m talking about. The most down to earth, mad rippin’ guitar player, song writer, AND most famously, loyal friend of Howard Stern.