Joe Walsh Biography
Joseph Fidler Walsh was born on November 20, 1947 in Wichita, Kansas, but in his youth he lived in Columbus, Ohio and then later New York City and Montclair, New Jersey. He attended college at Ohio's Kent State University, where he first joined the group the James Gang in 1968. At that time, the James Gang consisted of Walsh on guitar and vocals, Jim Fox on drums, and Tom Kriss on bass in a “power trio” form. They released their first album, Yer’ Album, in 1969. Afterwards, Kriss left the band and was replaced by Dale Peters, creating the most successful incarnation of the James Gang. Walsh’s dynamic and creative playing featuring his famously catchy guitar riffs made the band memorable. Their next two albums, James Gang Rides Again (1970) and Thirds (1971), produced such classics as “Funk #49” and “Walk Away.” While the “power trio” format worked well for the James Gang, Walsh was beginning to become dissatisfied with its limitations. After the release of James Gang Live in Concert in 1971, Walsh left the band to pursue a solo career.
Not quite ready to leave the band format entirely, however, he called himself and his two core backing band members Kenny Passarelli and Joe Vitale “Barnstorm” and released an album of the same name. Passerelli and Vitale would also be the core backing band members for The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get (1973). While the albums were solo efforts, the three men functioned as a unit, and even played together on Friends and Legends by Michael Stanley. Even after Barnstorm broke up, Vitale continued to be a collaborator and friend of Walsh. Their most famous collaboration is the magnificent “Pretty Maids All in a Row” which appeared on the Eagles’ Hotel California (1976).
Walsh made a name for himself as a solo artist with the hit “Rocky Mountain Way” off of The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get (1973). The song was inspired by Walsh’s move to Colorado with his wife Stephanie and small child Emma Kristen. Tragically, Emma was killed in a car accident in 1974 while on her way to nursery school, an event which haunts Walsh to this day. He had a small drinking fountain built in her memory in her favorite park in Boulder, denoted by a simple plaque. His next album, So What (1975), contained a tribute to her entitled “Song for Emma.” He has said that even the album name was a result of Emma’s death – that nothing else seemed meaningful or important in the months that followed. The strain would eventually contribute to Walsh’s divorce from his second wife Stephanie (Walsh had already been briefly married in the sixties to a lady named Margie).
Unable to enjoy Colorado anymore, he moved back to L.A. He released a live album called You Can’t Argue with a Sick Mind in 1976, but by that time he was tired of working alone and was looking for a band to join. He found it in the Eagles, who had just lost their main guitarist Bernie Leadon to creative differences. Once on board, he helped the Eagles craft their most famous album Hotel California which was released later that year. Adding a more rock-oriented edge to the Eagles in the place of Leadon’s more country-flavored style, his contributions to the guitarwork of the title track and the famous riffs of “Life in the Fast Lane” are especially notable.
Walsh’s tenure with the Eagles did not preclude him from releasing more work as a solo artist at the same time. The Eagles’ slow pace making The Long Run (1979) was convenient in this aspect. He had time to release But Seriously Folks (1978) which produced his famous satire on rock stars, “Life’s Been Good.” He also wrote “In the City” for the Warriors soundtrack, a song which would later appear on The Long Run.
All was not well within the ranks of the Eagles, however. Walsh’s dissatisfaction with the heavy-handedness of Glenn Frey and Don Henley when it came to creative decisions led him to go so far as to discuss forming another band with bassist Randy Meisner and co-lead guitarist Don Felder (his seriousness here is debatable – when Meisner left and tried to pursue the idea, Walsh definitely wanted to stay with the Eagles). Regardless, the discord in the band led to tensions and hostility so pronounced that Henley was to call Walsh an “insidious troublemaker.” The amount of alcohol and drugs circulating didn’t help much either; Walsh had developed a drinking problem that he wouldn’t be able to shake until the nineties, and the amount of money that some of the band members were snorting up their noses would have been enough to buy a small country.
It reached the breaking point when Felder and Frey got into a confrontation at a benefit show in 1980. Frey called it quits and the band broke up. Interestingly enough, Walsh seemed to think they were only on hiatus – he told an interviewer in 1981 that they weren’t broken up but were just taking a break for solo careers. He stated that the band would no doubt get together again in a bit to record once more. While his hopes were dashed by the official announcement of the Eagles’ breakup in 1982, ironically, he turned out to be right in the long run!
In the eighties, Walsh released the solo albums There Goes the Neighborhood (1981), You Bought It – You Name It (1983), The Confessor (1985), and Got Any Gum (1987), none of which met with much success. He also got married a third time and fathered a daughter, Lucy, who has entered the music business herself as a singer/pianist/songwriter. After that marriage failed, he was involved with Stevie Nicks for a brief period; Stevie wrote "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You" for Joe.
In 1989, he went on tour as a member of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, a collection of former solo musicians that toured together, each one playing a couple songs. These “all-starrs” included musicians like Nils Lofgren and Billy Preston. (He was to tour with the band again in 1992, this time joined by former and future Eagles bandmate Timothy B. Schmit). He also recorded an MTV Unplugged in 1989. Despite these positives, a brief attempt to reunite the Eagles in 1990 failed largely due to Frey’s disapproval of the lifestyles of Walsh as well as Henley, and Walsh became discouraged. By 1991, he was even telling interviewers that he didn’t care about his albums anymore when “promoting” Ordinary Average Guy (1991). His alcoholism was just as bad as ever, if not worse, and it had gotten to the point where he couldn’t even remember the words to his songs half the time in his 1991 concerts opening for the Doobie Brothers. His 1992 album Songs for a Dying Planet quickly slid into obscurity.
In 1993, though, things started looking up. Walsh and Frey mended fences and toured together briefly as the “Party of Two.” To this day, the “Party of Two” occasionally resurfaces for corporate gigs. Then, the Travis Tritt video for “Take It Easy” that same year sparked the famous “Hell Freezes Over” reunion in 1994. The reunion had a condition that Walsh couldn’t ignore: Frey demanded that everyone be sober. Finally, Walsh was able to kick the habit that had plagued him for so many years. (In 2005, Walsh’s struggle was the inspiration for “One Day at a Time,” and he has appeared at functions to inspire recovering alchoholics many times. Walsh has speculated that his addiction may have been triggered by "self-medicating" for his ADD). The MTV special, album, and tour were wildly successful, thrusting Walsh into the spotlight once again as he proved to audiences that he had not “lost it” – that he was in fact better than ever.
The upswing continued when a few years later, Walsh married a fourth time to a lady named Denise. While the marriage is now over, she gave him two sons. Additionally, in 1998, he joined the rest of the Eagles as an inductee into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2001 he received an honorary doctorate from Kent State University.
The Eagles have toured off and on since 1999, releasing a couple greatest hits packages and a live DVD called Farewell 1 (2005). In 2007, they released their long-awaited studio album, Long Road Out of Eden. This album included the Walsh/JD Souther song "Last Good Time in Town," as well as Walsh's cover of the Frankie Miller song "Guilty of the Crime."
Outside of the Eagles, Walsh has appeared at major festivals and benefits such as Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2004. In 2006, his old band the James Gang reunited for a short tour. Walsh also conducted a brief solo tour in the summer of 2007, and he has stated he has plans for another solo album once the Eagles are done touring for Long Road Out of Eden. On a personal note, he has married for the fifth time; his current wife is Marjorie Bach, sister-in-law to Ringo Starr. Obviously he’s by no means ready to retire – lucky for us!
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