Joe Walsh: Back To Life

I’m not saying that I’m something special
But you might know my name to some degree
Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m still standing
And it feels pretty good to be me

You may have thought that Joe Walsh has led a very exciting life. Rock stars have all the fun, right? But living the rock star life finally takes it’s toll and one day you wake up and realize that life hasn’t been so good after all. Sure, there were gold records and parties and playing guitar for thousands of people. But when booze and drugs take over and guide your life, is it really a life to be envied?

Joe Walsh is now eighteen years sober and loving his life, as he sings in the above song “Lucky That Way,” a track from his recent solo album Analog Man. Speaking with Walsh a few months ago, his happiness is apparent as he spoke about his new music, working with Jeff Lynne, his days engrossed in the bottle and how a strong wife and Buddhism finally kicked his butt into living healthily and happily for today.

Walsh first gained attention as the fiery young guitar player for the James Gang, an influential power rock trio which produced such tunes as “Funk 49” and “Walk Away,” Leaving after a few years, he formed Barnstorm, who scored a massive hit with “Rocky Mountain Way,” although it is credited to Walsh as a solo artist. He joined the Eagles in late 1975, playing on the band’s most popular albums, Hotel California and The Long Run, as well as having success with solo hits such as “Life’s Been Good” and adding his unique guitar sound on recordings by such artists as Steve Winwood, Dan Fogelberg, The Who’s John Entwistle and his current brother-in-law, Ringo Starr.

I hear that you are a very, very happy man nowadays.

Yes I am. I got married a little over three years ago and have a great wife. She is the part of me that was missing and so I feel really complete now and I feel confident. I’ve been sober for eighteen years. I’m happy with the new album. I’m healthy. I’m playing good. I really don’t have a lot to complain about. Sometimes I try to complain, but I can’t get anybody to listen (laughs)

Would you consider Analog Man to be sort of your autobiography for this phase of your life?

Yeah, it’s based on life experiences that I’ve had. I kind of write about the world around me and the world as I see it and that is why this album is called Analog Man, because there is a whole new world now that is digital. So I really looked at that and wrote a song about that. But a lot of it is autobiographical. There is a song called “Family” that is about my experience in getting married. You know, along with my wife came this big extended family that is very close. And that is a dynamic I’ve never really been around. To be a part of a family, learning to be a part of it, is an ongoing thing for me. But it has really changed the way I look at things. Being a part of a big family is a real experience after being a loner for a long time. There is another song called “One Day At A Time” that’s about getting sober and what it was like for me then and what it’s like now. So yeah, these are all life experiences that I’ve written about.

What was it like working with Jeff Lynne, who produced this album with you? Was this the first time that you’ve really collaborated with him?

Yeah, we’ve been aware of each other through the years and stuff and said hello once or twice but we’ve never really sat down and compared notes or worked together. So this was great. He’s a friend of my wife’s and she hooked us up. You can show him what you got, you can show him even if it’s bits and pieces, and he sees where you’re going with it. He sees what it’s going to be when it’s finished and he helps you get there. So he was invaluable with me finishing the album. And also, you can give him anything and he’ll make it sound like it should be on the radio. He’s just brilliant at that. So he’s a fairly new friend and it was an honor and a privilege to work with him and I hope to work with him again in the near future.

How refreshing was it to do something like “India,” which is very modern but still sounds like Joe Walsh except that it’s been run through Star Trek or something?

(laughs) Yeah, well, there’s another one. I was in India with my wife because the Eagles tour ended in Australia and so we were halfway there so we just went on ahead rather than come home. In India, I went in this little club in Mumbai and there was a band there of twenty year-old kids and they weren’t playing instruments. They were playing laptops. And it was all electronica. Seeing it with the subwoofers up loud and the lights and everything, it just floored me to really experience it. I mean, I’ve heard it on the radio and it goes on and on and it’s kind of boring.  But being in a club turning it up really loud and interacting with the audience really affected me. It’s really powerful stuff. So I decided, well, I really want to do that. I don’t know how but I want to do that. So I came home and I turned on my computer and started messing with sounds and making loops and stuff. So that’s my first shot at electronica and I thought it was pretty good to start the album with a song called “Analog Man” and end it with a song that’s done entirely on computer. I thought that that was pretty cool. So that’s why it’s named “India.”

Why did you want to go and mess with “Funk 49” and do “Funk 50?

Well, actually, ESPN, the sports TV network, has a show on Sunday morning called NFL Sunday Morning Countdown and one of the guys that everybody knows is on it, Chris Berman, and it’s one of the ones where they have a panel and they analyze games before the games start and they predict who’s going to win. They called me up and said, “We want a theme song for our show. We need about a minute of music and we are James Gang fans. We absolutely love ‘Funk 49’ so we want something like ‘Funk 49’ but we don’t want ‘Funk 49’.” So I wrote them a minute of music and they really liked it so they used it all last year. But it was just an instrumental and it was for the ins and outs of the show. So there was never more than about twenty seconds of it at one time that you heard. Anyway, I thought, well, this came out better than I thought. I’ll throw some words on it and make it longer than a minute and put it on the record.

You follow Tibetan Buddhism. How has that changed your life?

It has very much changed my life. Buddhism in general is not a religion. It’s a thought system. It’s a way of thinking and a way to stay in the moment, a way to stay right here right now; not go in the past and daydream and not go in the future and predict what’s going to happen tomorrow and get scared about it. Buddhism is a way of thinking, not a religion. It’s a way to be at peace with yourself and it’s given me the ability to focus, the ability to not let emotions own me. In other words, not get mad about something and stay mad all day; so that somebody who has nothing to do with what you’re mad about asks you something and you say, “Shut up.” If your emotions own you, you become them, you become anger, you turn into an angry thing. You’re not you anymore. And Buddhism, especially the Tibetan teachings, are based on thousands of years of focus and learning and it’s helped me tremendously complete tasks and stay right here right now. Because right here right now, everything is ok. And if you stay where everything is ok, you get a lot more done and you have a lot better time. So there you go. That’s why I’m a Buddhist and the Tibetan teachings of Buddhism makes the most sense to me.

Everybody always asks you about your bandmates in the Eagles but I want to ask you about John Entwistle, who was such a wonderful musician.

Oh God, I miss him and you just said it. He didn’t talk about a lot but between all of us musicians, the thing about John was he was such a good musician, just besides being a genius on the bass. He could read music and write music and he could compose music and he could sing really well. And his musicianship never really got recognized. He was, I think, the best bass player ever. I would have to say that in rock & roll, Keith Moon and John together, nobody could come near them on a good night. And of course John was real quiet and real shy and he didn’t say much but when he did say something, it was profound. He would kind of like look at everybody and watch everything and maybe once a day he would say something. But it would sum up everything. He would just sum up everything that was going on in a couple of words. And then I would always go, ‘whoa, man, is he tuned in.’ He’s the loudest player I ever heard. The loudest thing I ever heard was standing near his amp on stage (laughs). It sounded somewhere between a freight train and an atomic bomb and music (laughs). He was a great guy and he was one of a kind, nobody else like him. He collected stuff and he had interests nobody else had but he was real genuine, you couldn’t ask for a better friend.

All musicians want to keep growing and learning. What is something very specific that you want to learn or improve as a musician?

I really want to continue writing. With this album, I really finally focused on finishing and putting out and supporting a solo album. And I haven’t done that in a really long time. I know how to write sober now. When I was in pretty bad shape, when you go alcoholic and you are doing drugs too, it just kind of convinces you that you can’t do anything without it. Then you work for it, it doesn’t work for you anymore. I thought, I’m never going to be able to write again if I stop drinking. I’m never going to be able to play in front of anybody again. I’m not going to be funny ever again. I had all this stuff made up in my mind because I couldn’t imagine doing any of it without a buzz. So I had to learn how to do everything sober and it was hard.

Was it scary?

Yeah, it was really scary but I had to go in front of people and be really scared and do it until I had a good night. Then I said, ‘wow, I can do this.’ And I had to do that with everything across the board. I had to be scared to make a joke until I just decided, I’ve got something funny to say about that and people laughed. And I thought, ‘wow, I can do that.’ So I learned to do everything across the board and learn that I could do it without substance dependency. And you could measure that in terms of years how long that took, to really get comfortable to where I could write music without my mind saying, ‘well, you know your best stuff was when you were drinking.’ That’s what my mind would say. And that’s not an option.

So I finally wrote some good stuff sober and I thought, ‘wow, I can do this.’ So now I’m free of all of that stuff, where I couldn’t do anything without it now I can. Now I want to write some more, I want to write songs and I want a movie soundtrack. I’d like to write some music for a Broadway musical and I want to do an electronica album. Those twenty year old kids with their laptops were having a blast up there. I blindly mimicked them and “India” came out of that and I just said to myself, ‘wow, I can do it.’ So I want to do an electronica album and I don’t care if it’s on the charts or anything. Those guys don’t either. They’re just working at their craft. It’s not mainstream stuff, you got to go looking for it. They don’t care. They’re cranking out music on computers and they’re brilliant. And I love that work ethic. I don’t want to worry about how can I top “Rock Mountain Way”. What if I write something that’s not as good as “Life’s Been Good.” Now that’s Buddhism. See what I’m doing? It’s all negative energy and Buddhism is none of that. You don’t go there. I just have great hopes for the future.

You’re a new person almost

I am. Here’s what I am: I finally found a life partner, somebody who gets me, somebody who’s got my back and is a part of me that was missing. And she’s a closer. I have these great ideas all over the place half-done. And that’s as far as I get cause I have a new idea. And she’s a closer. She said, “You need to finish your solo album and here’s Jeff Lynne’s number.”

So we need to thank her for kicking your butt?

Oh yeah (laughs). She gets on my case but that’s a part of me that was missing, the second half of everything. And she’s that. So I’m happily married and I’m complete now with her. I’m eighteen years sober. I made an album that I really like. I’m playing good in front of people. I’m healthy, much to my amazement. I’m very grateful. My brother-in-law is Ringo. Analog Man is “Hey I’m back,” and it will not be twenty years until you hear from me again. And that’s where I’m at now and I hope that Analog Man is saying that. Somebody my age has got to go out there and kick ass (laughs) and I guess it’s me.  I’m so grateful I’m not an athlete because I wouldn’t have any knees and I wouldn’t be able to do it. Luckily you don’t need knees to play rock & roll (laughs)

That’s right. Johnny Winter sits on a stool and plays better than a lot of the young guys.

And BB king too. He’s what? Eighty-six? He’s brilliant. He’s showing me how to do it. I played with him in Atlantic City, he opened for me. I should have opened for him but he opened for me. And I got a couple of minutes of quality time with him and I said, “BB, what’s your advice? What’s it all about? What do I need to know to keep going?” And he said, “Money.” (laughs) “Get the money.” Cause he never got paid for anything for years and years, until he was rediscovered. I mean, he did, but in those days the old blues guys gave everything to the record company. And they were on like salary and stuff. And a lot of them never got paid. And that’s why he said that. When he got rediscovered he finally had a life.  And he’s brilliant. And here’s the deal: all of us learned everything we know from guys like that. We copied all those guys, applied it and developed our own style. He made all that stuff up. He’s the real thing. We’re second, third, fourth generation. He’s the grandfather of us all.

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