Flying solo again, the Eagles guitarist opens up on family, sobriety and magic guitars
By Melinda Newman
Special to MSN Music
Joe Walsh is like a kid in a candy store: He's in the Gibson Guitar Showroom in Beverly Hills, lovingly handling various instruments. While it's tempting to let the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist keep eyeing the wares, it becomes clear that he won't pull away from the objects of desire unless gently reminded that he has an interview, and only then does he reluctantly part with a bass he's been holding.
However, once he's nestled his rangy frame onto a sofa in the showroom's back lounge, the 64-year-old Walsh is more than happy to chat about his first solo album in more than 20 years, "Analog Man," his hard-fought sobriety, his Beatle brother-in-law, a little band called the Eagles and the remarkable debt Pete Townshend owes him.
MSN Music: What's striking on "Analog Man," aside from the great guitar work, is your vulnerability on songs like "Family," on which you express finally feeling like you belong and your gratitude. It's such a different side of you.
Joe Walsh: I'll explain that. I got married 3 1/2 years ago and I finally found my partner. I didn't think I was gonna this time around, but she's like the other part of me that was missing. Along with her, I got this extended family and they're very close and they all have each other's backs, and this is a dynamic I had never been around. ... [Relationships] just don't work when you're touring most of the year, and, in my darker days, in my alcoholism, I was totally isolated and didn't go anywhere and didn't do anything, so being part of this is something I'm learning, but it has totally opened me up.
Was it hard for you to be that open?
There's always a risk when you open yourself up and tell everybody who you really are. You are always vulnerable. But the important thing is that I'm doing it because I hid behind my humor for years and years, and so this album has really come from the heart. I've been sober 18 years and I found my partner and I have a great family and I have a great life and I'm confident now.
It's been more than 20 years since the last solo album. Have you known you wanted to do another one for some time?
I thought about it: "Someday." See in 1994, the Eagles decided to get back to work, so we've toured every year for the last 10 or 12 years, and that's pretty much a full-time job, so I never really got momentum going to focus on this and make this a priority. The other thing was [when] I got sober and I really had to reinvent from the bottom up. I had to learn how to do things, so playing in front of people was terrifying without a buzz ... I was shaking at first and everything was really scary sober.
The title track is funny because you sound a bit like a grumpy old man, but it's how anyone over 20 feels now. We need a 10-year-old to fix our computer. Were you worried you'd sound like an old fogey?
No, I thought it was important to talk about. I'm not alone, you know. Between the last album that I did and now, I've had to make some adjustments. I used to have recording tape and knobs and now we've got a mouse. Where's all the knobs? I have always written about the world as I see it, and there's this new world now. It's virtual and it doesn't really exist except in a computer and all of us are spending a lot of time in there while our bodies sit in chairs and wait for our minds to come back. I don't know if it's working for us or if we're working for it, but it's mutating.
We're sitting in a guitar showroom. John Fogerty once told me that a guitar tells him when it has a song for him. Do your guitars talk to you?
Absolutely. I'm superstitious right along with John on that. There's a guitar called -- I'm in a Gibson house, but it's called a Gretsch 6120, and if I pick up an old 6120, I'll play something that I would never play except on that guitar. That's happened a couple of times and they've turned into songs. I gave mine to Peter Townshend and the next thing he did was [write] "Who's Next." Serious.
Wow! Maybe you should have kept that one!
Yeah. He was playing a certain guitar and a certain amp from "Tommy" because it worked for "Tommy" and he just couldn't write anymore with that combination. In the studio, it just wasn't helping. Like an idiot -- and like a good friend -- I said, "Try this." I said to Pete, "This guitar has songs in it." And he wrote and recorded "Who's Next" with that guitar.
Has anyone ever given you a guitar that had the same effect?
A guy named Glenn Schwartz, who was the first guitarist in the James Gang, the guy I replaced ... [he] gave me a Martin 12-string acoustic, and I wrote "Meadows" on "Rocky Mountain Way." ... You know you can get in the moment, it can happen onstage. That's what we do. One show out of 10, you'll really have everything firing for you right and you nail it, and the other nine gigs, you're chasing it ... that's why you do it.
Speaking of playing live, how do you stay fresh with the Eagles?
With the Eagles, there's a whole new generation coming to hear the Eagles for the first time because their parents played it while they were growing up. They're in the audience and we can feel it and that's our saving grace. ... For the first time they're hearing it, so we're really playing it for them.
Your high school band, the Nomads, played Beatles covers and now Ringo Starr is your brother-in-law after you married his wife's sister. What are Thanksgiving and Christmas like in the Walsh/Starr/Bach homes? Do you spend them together?
Yeah. And I have all these new nephews and nieces and kids running everywhere. We jam. After Christmas dinner. All their stuff is set up and whoever wants to, goes up and plays and there's guests and stuff. There's a bunch of bands. Zak [Starkey], Ringo's son, is the drummer of the Who.
So you give Pete Townshend a guitar, now their drummer is your nephew. You played the Beatles years ago and now Ringo is your brother-in-law.
You know when you live your life, it doesn't make any sense, it's terrifying. It's random events smashing into each other. Everything's mutating. Whatever you thought, ain't it, you know, and you can't figure it out. And then when you look back on your life, it's like somebody wrote a finely crafted novel.
Melinda Newman is the former West Coast bureau chief for Billboard magazine. She has covered music and entertainment for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, MSN, AOL Music, Hitfix.com, Variety, People Country and other outlets. Recent interviews include Taylor Swift, Susan Sarandon, Pink, Jeff Bridges, Brad Paisley, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry and Carly Simon.
I'm with Joe who is one of (if not my greatest) guitar heroes.
Ironically, I began writing a song titled "i'm An Analog Man Living In A Digital World" in 1994 !
All I ever got through was the title and first verse (incomplete) although I never gave up on the notion.
Kudos to Joe and thanks to him for expressing my thoughts.