Monday, November 24, 2014

In Defense Of: Joe Walsh

This In Defense Of was contributed by Michael Guggino, a Brooklyn-based psych rocker who’s takin’ his time, choosin’ his lines, tryin’ to decide how to get you out of his dreams and into Joe Walsh’s Maserati.

Joe Walsh is the world’s greatest American. Maybe you’ve never said it out loud, but you have definitely felt it if you’ve ever heard “Funk #49” or “Walk Away” by the James Gang. His sound is a Midwestern boogie twang mixed with Detroit-style hard R&B, and if it had a smell, it would be beer and whiskey. The reason I must “defend” the World’s Greatest American is because most people know him as Joe Walsh from the Eagles, and that is an injustice I intend to right in the following paragraphs.

The Eagles were already an established soft rock band when Joe Walsh joined in 1975. Conversely, Joe Walsh was famous in his own right for laying down thick boogie riffs with the James Gang as well as in his successful solo career. He opened for the Eagles on a few of their tours and was asked to join after their lead guitar player left the band.  Frankly, the Eagles needed a little hard rock cred, and — frankly — no one can give you that like Joe Walsh can. I refer back to “Funk #49” as the gold standard for all guitar riffs.

Unfortunately, each member of the Eagles is so talented that they effectively cancel out each other’s strongest characteristics, watering down their music to a point where it’s just ok. It’s simple math. I can’t think of too many Eagles songs that make me say Hell Yeah when they come on the jukebox.  You need proof that the Eagles are good (when they are not the Eagles)? Listen to Linda Ronstadt’s self-titled album from 1971, where her back up band is Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner. It’s solid 70’s country rock.

Given: Joe Walsh, like the Eagles, has his fair share of crap. I will present the song “I.L.B.T.s” from 1983’s You Bought It—You Name It as a low point for Walsh (and maybe music?). But hey — the 80s had that effect on many amazing artists from the 70s: look at Rod Stewart. However, even when you have to dig through all the over-produced, coked-out drums, overdubbed vocals, and chorused-to-shit guitars, there is always a song or two that reminds you who Joe Walsh is. He knows what you want, and he’s not ashamed to keep on giving you a sweet riff and a few inspirational everyman lyrics with a catchy chorus.

Check out, for example, “I Told You So” on the very same album as “I.L.B.T.s.” It has classic Joe Walsh-isms like the lyric “I hate to say I told so, but I told you so.” To me, this is why he so American: he captures a certain judgmental humility that is very familiar to places like Ohio and the rest of the Midwest.  Think about the classic line from “Funk #49” “Out all night, sleep all day/I know what you're doin’.” Walsh knows what you’re doing, because he is doing the same thing. That is why we love him.

If you give him a chance, Walsh will always deliver. Take the song “Time Out” on 1974’s So What. This is a page out of the step-by-step playbook of what Joe does best. First, you have a riff that — if you could see it — would look like the slow ooze of sweet maple syrup over a buttery stack of flapjacks. Dig in: each bite is just as delicious as the previous bite. Then, he gives you a little stutter strum to the major fourth from the root chord (think of the opening riff of “Funk #49” or “Walk Away”), something so Joe Walsh that I am convinced it’s the first thing he does whenever he sits down to write a song.  Then, wait for it: slide solo complete with descending half steps. I know, you’re saying that’s just the blues, but it’s also so very, very Joe Walsh. Just listen to “Rocky Mountain Way.”

He was also in the movies. The entire James Gang stars in an electric, psychedelic, hippy western called Zachariah. It’s the Old West, but rock bands are playing all over the place. Country Joe and the Fish are playing at the lynching in the center of town, and, of course, the James Gang is the house band at the bad gunfighters bar owned by Elvin Jones. He even gets up to jam with them. Treat yourself, and watch this movie.

If you are still on the fence, or on the wrong side of history as I would see it, I have one more song that is sure to convince you that Joe Walsh is the World’s greatest American. “In the City”, originally released for the soundtrack to The Warriors, is perfect, despite it being later recorded by and attributed to the Eagles. It’s filled with those great everyman lyrics with which Walsh are synonymous: “I was born here in the city/With my back against the wall/Nothing grows, and life ain't very pretty/No one's there to catch you when you fall.” I can relate: I live in the City. It’s tough. My apartment isn’t that big, so my back is — literally — up against a wall as I write this. But Joe knows how to make it better. Right after he tells you how tough the city is, he soothes your worried mind with a sweet slide solo. You expected it, he knew you wanted it, and so he gave it to you.

Honestly, I don’t even know why I’m going through all this trouble to defend Joe Walsh at this point. I just hope that if you had some sort of bias or prejudice toward him because of some shitty 80s song — or even just because he was in the Eagles — that you’ll listen to the songs and reconsider. You owe it to yourself to at least get on Spotify and work your way through the James Gang catalog. Joe Walsh is American Rock and Roll at its finest, and when people say they don’t like him, all I hear is that they don’t like Rock and Roll, and they don’t like America.

Personally, I love both. So listen up, and let Joe Walsh’s sweet Les Paul hug your eardrums with warm, fuzzy riffs. Let his down home country twang sing you through the hard times. Above all, listen to Joe Walsh, because he’s out there still rocking hard, and he’s doing it for you.

— Michael Guggino


  1. I never realized that Walsh really had a career before The Eagles (and actually put out some decent stuff). However, does it really make up for the "My Maserati" song?

    1. It's a tough call, but — upon further review — I'm unwilling to throw out "Walk Away" just because homeboy laid such a turd on "Life's Been Good."

      If you haven't, go up and click that link to the live-ish version of "Walk Away." It's dynamite. Let's put it this way: if I went to a show tonight, and one of my buddies said "Hey, this is our new one" and cranked out something that solid, I'd be proud of him.