“HOW YA DOIN’? WE’RE THE JAMES GANG FROM LAST CENTURY,” drawled rock and roll extraordinaire Joe Walsh in characteristic nasal twang as he kicked off a string of 15 dates during the summer of 2006. The historic tour marked the much anticipated reunion of one of the greatest rock bands in American history. Just ask Pete Townshend—the British guitar god was so enamored of Walsh, bassist Dale Peters, and drummer Jim Fox, he had them open for the Who in the early ’70s. Walsh’s face-frying guitar style, snarly tones, clever songwriting, engagingly snarky vocals, and legendary sense of humor put the Cleveland-based power trio on the rock and roll map with four excellent albums, all of which are required Rock 101 listening: Yer Album (1969), Rides Again (1970), Thirds, and Live In Concert (1971). Laden with FM classics such as “Funk #49,” “Walk Away,” and “Tend My Garden,” these powerful sides blended funky electric and atmospheric acoustic guitars with country-punk and proto-metal elements to cook up a tasty sonic stew that in many ways made the band America’s strongest answer to Britain’s mightiest rock export, Led Zeppelin.
Walsh left the James Gang to forge an even more successful solo career that produced a string of acclaimed albums, including Barnstorm (1972), The Smoker You Drink the Player You Get (1973), and So What (1974) before joining the Eagles in 1976. He remained with the group until 1980, recording the benchmark Hotel California, The Long Run, and their then-swan-song disc Eagles Live in the process. Walsh continued to release solo albums—But Seriously Folks (1978), There Goes the Neighborhood (1981), Got Any Gum? (1987), Ordinary Average Guy (1991), and Songs For a Dying Planet (1992) among them—during and after his first tenure with the winged ones, and in 1994 returned to the nest for a highly successful Eagles reunion tour and resultant live album, Hell Freezes Over. The band has toured regularly since then and promises a new studio release, The Long Road to Eden, in 2007.
Along the road, Walsh has also collaborated with musicians as diverse as B.B. King, Dan Fogelberg, Steve Winwood, Ringo Starr, and late, great jazz guitar guru and GP columnist Howard Roberts. Walsh even ran for President of the United States back in 1980, and recently alluded that he might be ready to try again. To pass time until the primaries, here are ten things you can do to cop the Joe Walsh vibe: First, you’ve gotta ...
1: GET STOKED
Initially a high-school bassist, Walsh switched to guitar and soaked up the sounds of the ’60s during his college years at Kent State while tempering his music theory studies with electronics and welding classes. (“I listened to the radio four hours a day.”) The James Gang’s melting pot of influences included recordings by the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Who, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, Cream, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin. Walsh also cites Joe Maphis, the Ventures, Freddie King, Jimmy Reed, Les Paul, B.B. King, and Albert King as personal heroes. Early on, the Gang paid tribute to their heroes with rousing covers of the Yardbirds “Lost Woman” (which became an extended in-concert jam) and Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird” on their debut, Yer Album
. On Rides Again
, they added an unlikely but astonishing combination of “Beck’s Bolero,” Ravel’s “Bolero” (yep, you’ve gotta learn this classical theme), and Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” on the classic “The Bomber: Closet Queen/Cast Your Fate to the Wind” medley.
2: GATHER SOME BEAUTIES
Walsh once told GP that his all-time favorite setup was a ’58, ’59, or ’60 Gibson Les Paul, a wah pedal, a tube-model Echoplex, and a pair of Fender Super Reverbs, and that he prefers a Les Paul with raised action for slide work. Nonetheless, the Wichita native has amassed and used a wide assortment of instruments and amps over the years, including a Gibson Flying V; various vintage Fender Telecasters and Stratocasters; a Gretsch Country Gentleman with a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece; Fender Vibrolux, Champ, and Twin Reverb amps; Vox AC30s; and various Marshalls and Hiwatts. Walsh also played PRS guitars in the ’90s and currently endorses Carvin’s CT6T California Carved Top
3: GIVE 'EM AWAY
You or I might think twice before gifting a valuable axe, but consider how philanthropist-to-the-stars Walsh may have significantly altered rock history by giving his pal Jimmy Page a ’59 Gibson Les Paul sunburst—yes that
sunburst; the one that became the Zepmeister’s number one go-to guitar. “At the time, [Page] didn’t have that kind of money, so I gave him mine,” says Walsh with typical modesty. And that’s not even the whole story: After receiving an ARP 2600 synthesizer from Pete Townshend in the ’70s, Walsh reciprocated with what he called the Neil Young setup—a ’59 orange Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins model hollowbody paired with a ’59 3x10 Fender Bandmaster and an Edwards pedal steel volume pedal (the rig that would provide Townshend’s signature tone for most of his post-“Tommy” recordings up until 1993). One can only imagine the good karma points Walsh earned by such generosity!
4: KEEP A FEW TRICKS UP YOUR SLEEVE
While acoustic guitar, pedal steel and keyboards are also key to Walsh’s ouevre
, our focus here is on the guitarslinger’s electric side. An avowed amateur radio buff and electronics tinkerer, Walsh has always incorporated out-of-the-ordinary effects into his sound, both onstage and in the studio. He was an early advocator of the Maestro Echoplex tape-delay unit and used to end James Gang shows by laying his axe flat on the stage and exiting as the device continued to regenerate his final notes—a mind-boggling effect in its day. And though Walsh’s guitar hooks on “Rocky Mountain Way” and other songs made the talk box famous, the guitarist once pointed out that “Peter Frampton asked me how to use [the talk box
], and he went and got rich with it and never even thanked me.” Additionally, Leslie rotating speaker cabinets, experimental recording techniques (such as extreme compression and pre-echo), and extensive guitar and amp modifications all play big roles in Walsh’s guitar sound. Walsh performs his own mods, tricking out guitars and beefing up amps with countless tweaks that range from simply screwing down a stop tailpiece for increased sustain to switching capacitors in a Fender Twin to boost gain and treble response.
5: KICK SOME BOOTY
With 1970’s Rides Again
album and its surrounding tours, the James Gang pummeled listeners with molten power-chord riffs arguably as hot as anything in the Zep or Who catalogs. Example 1a
shows Walsh’s incendiary intro riff to “Closet Queen.” To recreate the ensuing verse figure, simply replace G5 with D5, then displace the half-note E chord to the third beat by including the same notes from the first pass on beat two of the repeat. Play this figure four times before segueing to the sheer chordal bliss of Ex. 1b
, possibly the most clever useage of open E, D, and A chords to date. (Note the slight increase in tempo—no click tracks here!) “Tend My Garden,” an epic Walsh power ballad, features an equally infectious progression that surely cut a template for future power-chord mongers from Boston to Nirvana. For this instrumental interlude [Ex. 1c
], which appears several times throughout the song, the guitar remains confined to the lowest two or three notes of each chord, while the organ adds the upper voices. During the song’s outro, Walsh and company effectively condense the repetitious riff into a single measure of 6/4 by deleting the second half of bar 2.
6: PARTY WITH A DENTIST
Joe Walsh’s sense of humor may be unparalleled in mainstream rock. A renowned raconteur, Walsh recounted a collision of audio and dental technologies from the distant past during last year’s James Gang tour: “A long time ago we had a party after a gig and this dentist brought a tank of nitrous oxide from his office, and I got a really good case of the boing-boings.” Apparently, Walsh zoned out “for a week that night,” plugged in his Echoplex, and came up with “Asshton Park,” an etude for timed delay antics similar to those in Ex. 2
, which eventually ended up on Rides Again. Set your delay to repeat about seven gradually diminishing quarter notes for each one played; start up the percussive, muted-string groove in Ex. 2a
; then gradually introduce your own rhythmic variations. (Tip: Try a crunchy open G5 chord.) Once the rhythm is established, add the chicken-picked, country-style licks in Ex. 2b
. Finally, drop into the third-position G blues box and shift to a minor tonality for what sounds like a clip from Clapton’s “Stepping Out” played with an exaggerated, Midwestern drawl [Ex. 2c
7: LET YOUR FINGERS DO THE TALKING
A sublime soloist who can wail with the best of them, Walsh is primarily a melodicist who rarely tips his whole hand. And he certainly doesn’t need no stinkin’ talkbox to make his axe speak volumes. Ex. 3a
and Ex. 3a.2
capture the uneffected power and beauty inherent in Walsh’s playing (alright, there’s some ambient delay on there) with a live version of his “Tend My Garden” solo. Shifting triads played over a pedal F bass lay the foundation as Walsh soars up to the thirteenth position and beyond, outlining the chord changes with broad, sweeping melodies. Highlights include half-released/ pre-bent A’s that nail the 3 of the tonic F (bar 2), Gilmour-esque descending staccato triplets (bar 3), and climactic one-and-a-half-step bends (bar 4). The “To F” indicator actually signals a transition back to the song’s original key of C via a quick F-Em-Dm-C progression. In a more up-tempo vein, you’ll find Beck-ish unison bends and chicken-picked reverse bends [Ex. 3b
] sprinkled throughout Walsh’s solos.
8: LEARN FROM A MASTER
“Duane Allman was really responsible for me learning to play slide,” Walsh told GP in 1988. “He’s the best there’ll ever be—the tone, his right-hand touch. He was ridiculously amazing.” Coincidentally, both guitarists were born on the same day: November 20, 1947. Adopting Allman’s preference for open-E tuning and glass slides (“I wear it on the ‘f**k you’ finger. I can’t use Coricidin bottles because I can’t get my finger in them.”), it wasn’t long before Walsh was soaring like Skydog on cuts such as 1973’s smash hit “Rocky Mountain Way.” Examples 4a
demonstrate the type of open-E slide licks Walsh plays over various sections of the song’s slow, loping shuffle groove. Dig that long, descending glissando à la Page in the first example. (In concert, Walsh sometimes plays a searing, open-E slide version of “Amazing Grace” as a prelude to “Rocky Mountain Way.”)
9: FLY LIKE AN EAGLE
Walsh’s membership in the Eagles emphasizes his value as a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and all-around team player, and playing well with others is a prerequisite for nailing the B-minor-based “Hotel California”-style harmonized arpeggios in Ex. 5a
(though you’ll have to significantly alter their rhythm to match what Walsh and Don Felder play on this classic Eagles recording). Gtr. 1, the pseudo-Walsh part, is rife with pull-offs, while Gtr. 2 uses none until the middle of beat three. “I’m very proud of the guitar work in ‘Hotel California.’ I pretty much had to deal with the planning and organization of that, [though] I can’t say I had anything to do with [composing it],” says Walsh. And in what could pass for a IV-I blues progression in D (or the next chord sequence in “H.C.”), Ex. 5b
shows how Walsh squeezes out tasty pedal-steel-flavored bends with both intensity and restraint.
10: FUNK IT UP!
If there’s one Joe Walsh riff you’ve gotta learn, it’s “Funk #49,” so crank up your Fender Tele and Champ. Essentially, Walsh took a standard jazz/blues vamp that had been played a million times before and transformed it into an immortal Top 40 hook that has remained a classic-rock staple for over 35 years.
compacts all of the song’s essential parts into seven measures: Walsh’s funky, clangorous intro (bars 1 and 2), the verse riff (bars 3 and 4), and the unison A5 and B5 figures that culminate with an accented E7#9 topped with an open first string. Follow the D.S. back to one pass of the verse riff and you’re ready for round two—just cut the verse riff by one repeat. Warning: Use these riffs with caution, as playing this song at high volume may induce serious side effects, including fist-pumping, head-bobbing, booty-shaking, ear-ringing, and running for President.