Maybe it was the adenoidal voice and goofy de-meanor of one Joe Walsh that helped brand the James Gang as the group with no groupies. No matter, because Walsh’s playing with the Ohio-based power trio was often brilliantly transcendent. But after three studio albums, Walsh went solo in 1972, eventually landing with the smoothed-out country/rock stylings of the Eagles in 1976, single-handedly kicking Henley and company into a higher gear. Dividing his time between the former, and his solo career through to the mid-’90s, Walsh also found time to make a failed bid for the United States Presidency on the platform of “free gas for everyone.” Life’s been good, indeed.
James Gang, Y’er Album, 1969
Drummer Jim Fox (the “James” in James Gang), bassist Tom Kriss, and Walsh made their bid as America’s power trio with this ambitious debut. Wildly eclectic with lengthy covers of Stephen Stills’ “Bluebird,” Jerry Ragovoy’s “Stop,” and the Yardbirds’ “Lost Woman,” the platter still satisfies via Walsh’s gorgeous tone, lip-smacking phrasing, and emerging songwriting talents.
James Gang, Live in Concert, 1971
Fox and new James Gang bassist Dale Peters breathlessly try to keep pace with newly-minted guitar hero Walsh, as he creates a huge sound on his ax and swirling Hammond B-3 organ. His authentic blues stylings on B.B. King’s “You’re Gonna Need Me” also preceded his guest spot on King’s 1972 record, L.A. Midnight. The power-chorded hit “Walk Away” from the Gang’s Thirds shows Pete Townsend’s influence, while the 17-minute “Lost Woman” is deliriously
The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, 1973
Like his first post-James Gang album, 1972’s Barnstorm, and its dramatic centerpiece track, “Turn to Stone,” The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, contains a masterful mix of wistful, melancholy numbers, as well as what would become his signature tune, “Rocky Mountain Way.” Tracks such as “Wolf” and jazzy vamps such as “Midnight Moodies,” show that Walsh was becoming increasingly interested in using electric and acoustic guitars to paint sound portraits of many hues and colors.
You Can’t Argue With A Sick Mind, 1976
Like any fret-rattler worth his G-string, Walsh always struts his stuff in concert. (Seeing him play slide and the talk box on “Rocky Mountain Way” on Midnight Special in 1973 was a revelation). Walsh’s second great live album in five years featured cameos from future bandmates Don Felder, Glen Frey, and Don Henley on the acoustic “Help Me Through the Night.” The obligatory “Walk Away,” “Rocky Mountain Way,” and “Turn to Stone” are gratifyingly orgasmic guitar exhibitions.
James Gang, Rides Again, 1970
Guitar nirvana for the freaks, anchored by the butt-bumping “Funk # 49.” Walsh sequenced and segued side one (this was vinyl, remember) into an electric symphony with scrumptious, crunchy, layered guitars while indulging his penchant for acoustic, introspective ballads like “Ashes, the Rain and I” on side two. Note the nod to “Beck’s Bolero” on “The Bomber.”
Eagles, Hotel California, 1976
The Eagles were already a platinum institution with satin harmonies and a countrypolitan bent by the time Joe Walsh replaced Bernie Leadon in 1976. Though they were amply stocked with guitarists, courtesy of Glen Frey and Don Felder, Walsh brought his blues smirk to the Eagles’ terminally laid-back posture with sensational results. The title track and “Life in the Fast Lane” show the rock muscle he added to make the album a landmark.
You Bought It: You Name It, 1983
Not awful, with occasional sharp songwriting like “Space Age Whizz Kids” and some lubricious fingerboard action, but critic Robert Christgau referred to it as Walsh’s “comedy album.” Director David Lynch used “Love Letters” on the soundtrack of Blue Velvet, but the uh, “highlight” of this album is, for better or worse, the track “I.L.B.T.” or, “I Like Big Tits.”
Ordinary Average Guy, 1991
Say it ain’t so, Joe! The Clown Prince of Rock finally lays down for his wimpy side and releases a flood of sentimental ballads interspersed with uninspired up-tempo numbers dragged down by limp guitar work. Perhaps it reflected his true mental state just a few years before he finally gave in to sobriety following his self-described “30-year party.”
Eagles, Hell Freezes Over, 1994
Did it really freeze over, or did the Eagles just need another big payday? The combination of a handful of new tunes combined with live tracks seems like a half-baked idea, although Walsh is aces on the acoustic version of “Hotel California” and the refried “Life in the Fast Lane.”