Interview: Joe Walsh Discusses His Career, Gear and New Album, 'Analog Man'
Joe Walsh discusses his gear, his career and his new album, Analog Man, which is out today.
He’s a full-fledged member of the Eagles, he just played at the Grammys with Paul McCartney, and he owns an enviable collection of vintage guitars. As Joe Walsh drops his new solo album, Analog Man, and hits the road for the Eagles’ 40th anniversary tour, he’s the first to say he can’t complain.
“Hmmm, let’s see now ... the ’57 Gretsch or the ’58 Goldtop?” Joe Walsh contemplates a bevy of highly collectible vintage guitars strewn in open cases across the floor of a Hollywood photo studio. Broad shouldered and looking fit, he towers over the instruments, meditatively stroking his chin.
A Guitar World cover shoot is serious business, and Walsh brings to it consummate professionalism that has guided him through over four and a half decades as a classic-rock guitar legend.
After some deliberation, Walsh selects the “Goldtop” Les Paul for the next round of shots. His wife, Marjorie, a trim blond possessed of mature beauty and a warm, welcoming manner, suggests a garment to go with the instrument, a form-fitting blazer outfitted with rock-star silver lamé trim at the cuffs. Mr. Walsh is ready for his close-up.
In many ways, Walsh seems the living embodiment of his 1978 hit, “Life’s Been Good.” He’s been a central and influential figure in rock music ever since the late Sixties, first as leader of the James Gang, then as a solo artist and as a member of the Eagles. In the latter capacity, Walsh was the man who put rock foremost in the Eagles’ highly successful country-rock sound. His incisive lead guitar work turbocharged hits like “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Hotel California,” the latter being a track that regularly ranks high on lists of the greatest guitar solos ever.
All of Walsh’s many musical virtues are beautifully encapsulated on his new album, Analog Man. It’s rife with the concise, catchy songcraft, understated humor and “regularguy” honesty we’ve come to expect from Walsh, not to mention reams of his sterling guitar work.
Walsh is a quintessential rock guitarist as well as one of the genre’s most distinctive stylists. The choppy, syncopated eloquence of his rhythm playing is as unique as a fingerprint.
As a lead player, he knows how to make a guitar solo ignite instantly and burn hot all the way through. His slide playing is as gracefully idiosyncratic and instantly recognizable as his plaintive, high-pitched vocal style. Hear just a few notes and you immediately know it’s him.
Given the register of his singing voice, it’s somewhat surprising that Walsh speaks in a low, gravely growl. The words come out slowly. He chooses them carefully, pausing between phrases to let their impact sink in.
“It’s been 20 years since my last solo album, so I feel like the time is right,” he says of Analog Man. “I’m really happy with it, really proud of it. Jeff Lynne [ELO, Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty] produced it, which took it in a direction I never would have gone in. And I believe the music is much better for it. It’s an honor and privilege to work with Jeff.”
[[ Joe Walsh appeared on the cover of the May 2012 issue of Guitar World, which contains more new photos by Ross Halfin, plus photos from throughout Walsh's career. It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store ]].
While life has generally been good to Joe Walsh, his road hasn’t always been an easy one. Now 64, he’s suffered the early death of his first-born child, alcohol and drug addiction, and serial divorces. These trials have etched deep lines on a face framed by chin-length hair.
But Walsh seems to have come out on the other end of all his difficulties reasonably intact. He’s been sober since the Nineties, a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner of some years’ standing, and very happily married since 2008 to Marjorie Bach, sister of actress Barbara Bach, who is Ringo Starr’s wife. Ringo is one of several celebrity guest musicians on Analog Man.
The Beatles connection also led to Walsh accompanying Paul McCartney on lead guitar at the 2012 Grammy show.
“When I married Marjorie, along with her I got this very large family and a bunch of family friends,” Walsh says, laughing. “It’s a dynamic I’ve never been around. I’ve always been kind of a loner, and my attempts at domestic life failed miserably. So the family dynamic is a great thing.”
These sentiments are expressed by Walsh in one of Analog Man’s most heartfelt and direct compositions, a ballad simply entitled “Family.”
Vocal harmonies by David Crosby and Graham Nash enhance the mood of easy domesticity. “That’s a favor I called in,” Walsh says of the duo’s participation. “A long time ago, I played on a record they made, and we always talked about how we would some day work on a song together. So I kinda said, ‘I got this song, and remember when I played on your album?’ They made the song really special.”
Walsh’s affable, easygoing manner has won him many friends among rock’s royalty. He’s famous for having bestowed on Jimmy Page the “Number One” 1959 Les Paul Standard that has been integral to Page’s work from Led Zeppelin II onward. It was also Walsh who laid on Pete Townshend the 1959 Gretsch 6120 and 1959 Fender Bandmaster amp that Pete used to create the unforgettable guitar sound on Who’s Next.
“I like to give people equipment and stuff,” Walsh says. “For me, it’s a kind of payback. Anyone who is an influence or hero for me, I’m always concerned with how I can balance the karma.”
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