By: Dennis Cook
Joe Walsh is one of rock’s most enduring characters, a lifer’s lifer in a game that eats its young who’s survived miles of rough road to emerge in 2012 with his first new solo album in almost two decades. Analog Man (released June 5 on Fantasy) oozes warmth, a classic sound that’s still contemporary and firm confirmation that Walsh has been doing what he was meant to do in this life since he first strapped on a guitar with the James Gang in 1969. The 10-track album was produced by Jeff Lynne and Walsh with Tommy Lee James co-writing some of the tracks. Like much of Walsh’s work, there is humor and simply delightful six-string curves, but there’s also a deeper well of feeling to many cuts than we’ve encountered in the past, the product of some major life changes for Walsh in the past decade. Altogether, it shows that things are rolling along just fine with this veteran, and it makes one excited to see him take his solo band out on the road for the first time in many years.
|Joe Walsh by Andrew Macpherson|
We sat down with Walsh to discuss this latest chapter, the Eagles, and the winding road to modern times his good life has taken him.
JamBase: A lot of times when folks haven’t made a record for a while it can come off a little forced but this new album is dead solid stuff right in line with your past solo work.
Joe Walsh: It has been a good long while. I had a break there so, to me, this album doesn’t sound like the last one I made [Songs for a Dying Planet (1992)], which is a bad habit some people get into. I really do have a lot to say this time around, a new set of ideas, so it’s a great feeling to have something new. My catalog is nice but it’s great to have new stuff, which as it turns out, translates really well live. So, I’m good to go for the summer.
JamBase: Listening to the album I got the sense this material was gonna be fun in concert and really integrate well with the familiar bits in your catalog. The title cut expresses a certain point of pride in not embracing all the new technology out there.
Joe Walsh: Well, there’s a bunch of us that used to record on recording tape and we had knobs not a mouse, and we like that better. Digital is okay, but we’ve really had to make some adjustments. I think everybody has. And these are just observations not criticisms, reflections of my experiences. It’s been amazing to watch the digital world open up. There’s a new world now that doesn’t really exist. It’s an illusion that a computer generates, and we all spend a LOT of time in there while our bodies are sitting in chairs waiting for us to come back out. For example, people who are driving and texting smash into the guy in front of them. You can’t be in both worlds.
That’s a rough reentry back into your body.
Yes it is! People play these virtual games online, and they aren’t really games because they are in there. It’s real to them. They’ll come out of their computer two days later and they have a beard and don’t know what happened [laughs]. I don’t know if it’s working for us or we’re working for it, but it is the digital age. We have to learn this stuff. Kids got it down. If my computer breaks the first thing I’ll do is find some kid to fix it because I don’t know have a clue. It’s a whole new thing and whole new way to record.
How much of this album was made digitally and how much captured on old fashioned tape?
It was written analog [laughs]. Part of the process of making this album involved learning Pro-Tools and stuff. I did a lot of it at home and at Jeff Lynne’s house, and Jeff has a good cross-section of analog stuff, which is how he gets his sound. To finish it up and mix it, we used a lot of digital.
It’s an extremely useful thing to be able to carry your songs around, take them home with you, etc. which you could never do in the time of 24-track big studio recording.
That’s the fun part of it. You can go over to somebody’s house and work on music. You used to have to book studio time before. And the other thing is – and this is a curse and a blessing – you can fix ANYTHING now! That’s great because it’s really fun, but if we’d have had digital recording when we were doing Hotel California we’d still be working on it! At some point you have to be done. This technology is like bait that gets thrown out in front of you, and you end up fixing things that don’t really need fixing. They’re not wrong, they’re just different than what you planned.
|Joe Walsh by Ross Brubeck|
Happy accidents are a big part of what makes rock ‘n’ roll great.
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! I listen to old 45s on the 50s channel on satellite television and they’re not that good! But we were all so into them and loved them. I even have mistakes now that I realize are parts of the songs, and it would annoy me if they weren’t there.
Fans tend to gravitate towards that kind of thing. Our ears attach to the off, weird, broken moments.
You had to record four of them, pick the best take, and that was it. There’s a magic in that that’s missing from today’s music. The temptation with digital recording is to lay down a drum track and then layer stuff on piece by piece. You can tell it was made that way, and what’s missing is what happens when you put everybody in a room and press record.
The eye contact, the unspoken communication, the way one player will drive another on to a better performance…
…and just the magic of people playing together is a dynamic sadly missing from so much modern music.
Modern music is very well made as a product, but it’s missing that ephemeral quality that occurs when musicians are vibing off each other in a room.
What motivated you to make a new album after so many years away from solo work? What were these things you wanted to say?
Two things happened in 1994. One was Hell Freezes Over, where the Eagles decided to get back together. So, I didn’t really disappear completely, but it kinda sidetracked solo work, where it became hard to get any momentum going. The other thing that happened was it was time for me to get sober. I had to reinvent myself. I had to throw out the way I did everything and learn to do it sober, and that took time. Playing in front of people was terrifying, as was learning how to write and create sober. I had to reprogram myself. When I got some sobriety, the real world opened up to me. I’d been in isolation and not interested in doing anything but drink, so there was this whole new world available to me because I was healthy. And I wanted to go out and explore it and live it, which was a real journey. I saw a lot of things with new eyes, and had a lot of really great experiences.
|Eagles on the Hell Freezes Over Tour|
Three and a half years ago, I met somebody, the other part of me that was missing, a wonderful woman, and we got married. Along with that came her family, which is a very close, extended family and they have each other’s backs. That was a dynamic I was never around. I had some relationships that didn’t work, and I totally isolated myself in my dark days. To be part of this family is something I’ve had to learn, and it’s tremendous. It’s opened me up and brought me out. So, I’m healthy and open and confident.
It comes through in the music. There’s a sensitivity to some of the songs on Analog Man that’s somewhat new for you. You had a dark side and a funny side, but the lover inside you seems to have awoken on this new record.
I started caring again in general. That was a big thing, and I think that’s what you’re hearing in the music. I’m playing well and I got a lot to say and I’m not done living!
When you take this record on the road will you be primarily focusing on this new material? There’s so much to choose from in your catalog – James Gang, Eagles, solo cuts.
|How We Used To Roll…|
On a side note, we’re making cassettes of [Analog Man], so you’ll be able to drive around in your old car and listen to it. So, I think it’s a good idea to play your catalog live. People who know your music want to hear that. I’m gonna play the obvious stuff [from my catalog] and start with 3-4 songs [from the new album], but gradually working in more new songs. I think it’s risky to go out and play all new stuff.
There’s a logic to giving the people what they want. I saw the value in this the last time I saw the Eagles play [see review here], where it was clear some fans would lose their minds if they didn’t get “Hotel California” or “Take It Easy.”
I know, I know [laughs]. Some people just sit there and yell for a song until you play it. So, you have to shut them up!
How do you come at a song you’ve played hundreds and hundreds of times like say “Life’s Been Good” and still make it fun for yourself each night? Is it just the crowd energy that carries it?
It’s up to the musicians you’re playing with to make it fun. And the other thing is the younger people coming to see this music, especially the Eagles for sure, for the first time. I guess they’re there because they grew up with their parents playing this music, so they want to come and see it. Having that in the audience is wonderful. It’s good energy and it’s good to see some young faces instead of playing for a hall of grandparents [laughs]. I try to remember that there are some people who will be hearing this music for the first time live. And if you can make sure your band is having a really good time combined with that new energy it’s good. If somebody is sick of playing a song you can tell that.
|Eagles by Tracy Nunnery|
It’s always wrong to take people’s money and not put your heart into it. Even though the Eagles have been back together for almost 18 years, it still seems vaguely surreal that this band has this whole other chapter to their story after the 70s/80s.
Yeah, it’s even a little unlikely to me [laughs]. One song I always love to play is “Hotel California” because you really have to pay attention to play it right. Some of the songs are automatic pilot but I really have to focus for “Hotel California”. That’s always still a challenge.
If the twin guitar lines don’t come off just right everybody in the arena is going to give you the stink eye.
It’s true [laughs]!
I’m impressed with the general musicianship the Eagles still exhibit as well as the sense that you all have a really good time playing together.
We can’t deny it. We’ve all done solo work and played with great players, but when the four of us get together it’s bigger than any of one of us. If we don’t do it we really miss it.
It’s a band well loved by a huge range of fans, not just rock listeners. I remember thinking how right it was that the Eagles headlined one night at Stagecoach a few years back given the group’s massive influence on modern country music.
It’s kind of a trip.
Who will you be playing with on your new solo tour?
I met this guy named Ray Wylie Hubbard and he’s great. He invited me to Austin, so my wife and I went. Austin is great. I knew South By Southwest but besides that there’s a wonderful community of players and lots of clubs. On any night of the week you can go hear some good live music. So, I hung out there and ended up getting some guys from Austin, a rhythm section, that are so Levon Helm with everything. They also have the four-to-the-floor ZZ Top edge, too, and having those kind of players for my music is turning out great.
|Joe Walsh by Andrew Macpherson|
You’re a shredder. That guitar hero thing has never gone away with you. There’s something very visceral about your playing, something one can feel as much as hear.
It’s really fun, and I’m to the point now where I don’t have to worry about playing - it just comes as second nature. With my songs especially there’s a lot of room for improvisation. With the Eagles you kinda have to stick the arrangements; everybody has their assignment.
That’s the nature of big productions, where you have tons of lighting, video and stage set cues to hit.
If you throw people off you’ll be standing in the dark up there [laughs]. With my stuff, I’ve always left the middle of the song for whatever and paid attention to the verses. It’s important to rotate songs out when the fun in them wears out. I think that’s a way to stay healthy.
Did you have a sense when you started playing rock professionally in the late 60s that you’d still be doing it more than 40 years later?
Back then I did, but I had no idea I’d live this long [laughs]. I don’t know exactly what to do now. I’m still this kid in this body, which has slowed down, but I don’t feel old at all. And we never ever thought there’d be a day when all our groupies would be grandmothers. That’s pretty scary [laughs]. There’s guys like B.B. King leading the way, showing us how to do it, and we’re following their lead. I still have my knees and there’s no reason to stop. It’s what I do.
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