Saturday, October 29, 2011

Joe Walsh - Long May He Run

My buddy Joe Kroger calls me about a week ago. Asks me what I'm up to next Thursday evening. I tell him I have no plans - and he tells me not to make any, he has something lined up and I'll like it. I have this thing about first names. I always trust guys named Joe. Kind of like the way guys named Charlie are generally good eggs. So, when I get the word from Joe, I know I'm good.

Turns out he had grabbed a couple of tickets to see the sold out Joe Walsh concert at the Taft Theater in Cincinnati. Like I said, You can trust a cat named Joe.

The first time I had seen Joe Walsh in concert, he hadn't even yet joined the Eagles. He was still blowing folks away with his cadre of Colorado killers, Barnstorm. That was probably around 1975.

The years were good to Joe, often times better than Joe was to himself.

The next time I saw Joe, well, it was kind of funny. I worked as guitar salesman at the Guitar Center store on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. A glamorous gig, indeed, but not without its tribulations. At least a couple of times a day, some poor unfortunate derelict would find his way into the store and become a nuisance. Working on the guitar floor, we were the sentries, assigned to remove these vagrants, and to keep the scene safe and secure for our shoppers.

I'm working the floor one day, and my boss comes up and nudges my shoulder - "Hey Tony, you've got a cleanup by the vintage wall." We called them cleanups, short for supermarket talk, as in, you've got a cleanup on aisle four.

It was one of those days when I wasn't in the best of moods, and probably hadn't made a sale that day, so I may have been a bit surly.

This guy was reeling - wobbling from side to side, doing the back and forth shuffle at two in the afternoon, and smelling like a distillery. I strolled up, grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around, preparing to say, "Hey man, you can't be in here."

I spin the greasy haired blond guy around, and sure as shit - it's Joe Walsh.

Joe says (slurs), "Hey man, how you doin'?"

Well, I'm just a bit shocked, and just a bit starstruck. We dealt with pros every day at GC, but this was a rare sighting. Walsh was a connoisseur's connoisseur when it came to vintage guitars. He had given Jimmy Page a '59 Gibson Les Paul Standard, and gifted Pete Townshend with the Gretsch Pete played on Who's Next. Joe himself was rarely seen playing anything except very nice old Strats and Les Pauls.

He looked up at the guitar wall and pointed to our current centerpiece, a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard - this is back in the days when you could buy one for what we thought was an astronomical price, but seems like spare change in retrospect.

I grabbed a ladder and fetched the prized relic. It wasn't the greatest example you'd ever see - it wasn't highly flamed and it had been well played over the years, but it weighed next to nothing, and the PAFs were as sweet as could be.

Joe said, "I'll take it!" Mind you, he hadn't even played it, he had simply held it, and smiled widely.

I told him that with tax, it would be just under $14,000. Walsh said, "That's cool. Somebody from the office will call you later, OK?"

I said that would be fine, and wondered if I'd hear back from anyone at all, as Joe was well into the wind at that point - about three sheets, as they say. But, sure enough, a little later that afternoon, I get a call and was given directions for payment and shipping.

I learned something that day about judging books from covers, or some such....

The next time I saw Joe Walsh, he was even more intoxicated than he had been that day at the shop. This was perhaps 1990, and Walsh and The Who's John Entwistle were literally laying on the floor at the Yamaha Guitars booth at the NAMM show in Anaheim. They were drunkenly jamming in their nearly supine positions, and in no condition to speak, but they were still playing quite well. It was great for a giggle, but also a trifle sad to see them legless at eleven in the morning.

I saw the guitarist once more, this time in 1998 at Konocti Harbor Resort in Clear Lake, California. Talk about big changes, Walsh was now a practicing Buddhist, and completely sober. He played a blinder of a set, as always.

Fast forward to 2011 - Walsh is on his first solo tour in some time, and playing with a new set of musicians for the first time in many years.

Fast forward to 2011, and a night out with a couple of Joes in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The cheers went up with the dimming of the lights, Welcome To The Club started the set, and that is exactly how it felt. The club was open, and the audience was dialed up and tuned in for the Joe Walsh experience - blazing guitars, catchy classic tunes, the customary dose of humor, and if you noticed some good production values.

Walsh's band was tight, and each member shined when they had their moments in the spotlight. The lineup featured two drummers, and their interlocking rhythms sounded fantastic. Joe even gave his co-guitarist several solos, and they were elegant and tasty. Three backups singers supported Walsh's vocals beautifully, and they received a huge ovation for carrying a splendid cover of Dylan's, I Shall Be Released.

The hits were flowing like a river as Walsh stepped through his career with tunes from The James Gang, to his long solo career, and straight on through to his Eagles days. He even played a new song, Wrecking Ball, off of his soon to be released album Analog Man. The record was produced by Jeff Lynne, and this song sounds like another Walsh classic, and it bodes well for the new record. You can hear the Lynne influence in the thick rhythms and lush backing vocals, but the tune itself is right from the canon of Joe.

Nobody goes to see Joe Walsh without expecting some great guitar playing, and the six stringer gave the crowd exactly what they came for. He's playing as well, if not better than ever. Once again he has rearranged the intro to Turn To Stone, but the audience was keyed in from the first chord as Walsh strummed some lovely passing chords, along with a select few incredibly melodic single note lines before squaring off with his duo of drummers to bring on the classic chords that signal the song's body - throughout the entire tune Walsh's frequent solo forays kept raising the bar higher and higher as he showed once again that he had digested completely the English lexicon of rock and roll guitar as prescribed by Drs. Page, Beck, and Clapton before he ever left Kent to ride with The James Gang. His stock as a guitarist has suffered over the years due to his job with the Eagles, and his comedic bent, but make no mistake, Joe Walsh is, was, and shall always be a guitar hero, first and foremost.

The crowd went completely bonkers when Walsh's tech made his way to the mic to attach the famed Talk Box, and we were treated to a lovely and lengthy rendition of Rocky Mountain Way. He revisited James Gang hits Funk #49, and Walk Away, and his voice and guitar sounded as vital as they had all those years ago. Several Eagle's smashes showed up in the set, with the classic guitar riffage of Life In The Fast Lane being exceptionally incendiary. Walsh then gave another nod to his Northern Ohio roots with a pretty rendition of the Michael Stanley penned, Rosewood Bitters. A few nuggets, a whole slew of huge hits, and an always ample dose of great Walsh guitar work left the sold out audience ecstatic.

Like I said, you can always count on a guy named Joe, and my friend Kroger, and Mr. Walsh proved the point splendidly.

Is it too early to nominate Walsh for another run at the Presidency? I mentioned production values earlier - all through the night, Walsh played before some extremely cool films being played on huge backdrops above and behind the stage. From huge processions of Buddhist monks, to many scenes depicting in stark reality what is happening in this country, Walsh made some great points without ever saying a word. He creates jobs, he pleases his constituency, he does what he promises to do, and he doesn't overstay his welcome. Yeah, both Joes have my vote for 2012, they'd make for a hell of a ticket.

Joe Walsh's new album, Analog Man, will be out in February, 2012.

2 comments:

RevWells said...
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JoeKroger said...
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