TURN IT UP! Joe Walsh with The James Gang, “Walk Away”, 1971
The James Gang was one of those bands that hit so much harder live than on their studio records that it’s almost impossible to believe that they’re the same guys. Their two 1971 albums offer the perfect contrast, Thirds (a solid but tame record from whence comes this glorious single), and James Gang In Concert, recorded in May 1971 at Carnegie Hall and released later that year.
I’m surprised the hall was still standing when they were done. It’s the loudest slab of vinyl I’ve ever put on a turntable – even with the volume turned all the way down, the racket coming straight out of the needle scraping through the grooves unamplified was flat out unbelievable. Very much in keeping with the ethos proclaimed in the liner notes of the previous year’s James Gang Rides Again, “Made Loud To Be Played Loud.”
This performance from Germany’s Beat Club, first aired July 24, 1971, somewhat splits the difference between the civilized, if still loud, studio band, and the utter savages (in a good way!) of James Gang on stage. Surely you’ve already pressed play, and heard Joe Walsh absolutely ROAR into this thing. If all you know of him is what you’ve heard on the radio or with the Eagles, you’re in for an eye-opening, and ear-opening delight.
I had once thought of this song as a pleasant bit of science fiction. The MAN in the song is the one who wants to talk about his feelings and where the relationship is going, while “you just turn your pretty head and walk away.” Riiiight. Because that’s how men are. Just won’t shut up about relationships. ‾\_(ツ)_/‾
Well, maybe Joe really IS that way, because the song sounds pretty damn persuasive, and other than being a little condescending, it’s not especially mean, which automatically sets him above most men of the day.
(1971 was the first great year for a wide swath women artists in classic rock, but women as a lot were alas still not faring well at the hands of male writers. Still aren’t, either, which is a story for another day.)
I actually started rethinking this song when I read what Stevie Nicks had to say about Joe Walsh, whom she describes as “the great, great love of my life.”
She said of their breakup: “It nearly killed me. We had to break up or we thought we’d die. We were just too excessive.
We were busy superstars and we were doing way too much drugs. We were really, seriously drug addicts. We were a couple on the way to hell.
But there was no closure. It took me years to get over it — if I ever did. It’s very sad but at least we survived.
He was the one I would have married, and that I would probably have changed my life around for a little bit, anyway. Not a lot.
[my note: the fact that she concedes that she’d have changed only a little bit, and only “probably”, suggests that she’s maybe not exaggerating the rest.]
There was no other man for me. I look back at all the men in my life, and there was only one that I can honestly say I could truly have lived with every day for the rest of my life, because there was respect and we loved to do the same things. I was very content with him all the time. That’s only happened once in my life.
This man, if he’d asked me to marry him, I would have. There was nothing more important than Joe Walsh — not my music, not my songs, not anything. He was the great, great love of my life.” (more here)
So on top of being better at relationships and rocking harder than you might have thought, he’s also a terrific technical guitarist, and a hilarious storyteller. I heard him tell a story on the radio in 1988 or so, involving him and George Harrison, that I’ve never seen documented, but I dropped everything I was doing to listen.
I even remember exactly where I was – in the back room of the bookstore I managed in Washington, DC, way past time to go home, but I didn’t want to miss the end of the story during the long walk to my car.
This is paraphrased, but it’s pretty damn close. I started telling this story to everyone within earshot right away, and you’ll get why.
(btw, I don’t have a picture of Joe and George together, although they shared a stage a time or two. There are quite a few pictures of Joe and Ringo, though – not only did Joe play in some editions of Ringo’s All-Star Band, they’re married to sisters! Marjorie and Barbara Bach, so yeah, they’re brothers in law.)
Anyway, Joe said that the one piece of advice he gives every guitarist trying to learn the instrument, “Learn to play every song The Beatles ever did, and sound exactly like they did. Doesn’t matter if you hate The Beatles or don’t want to sound anything like them when you’re done, because once you can play everything they played, exactly the way they sounded, you can do anything that it’s possible to do on a guitar.”
Well, there was one song that was vexing him, the very last one that he still couldn’t figure out – “And Your Bird Can Sing” from Revolver. When he finally got it, he was beside himself. He called up George Harrison to make sure he was home (both fellas were living in Los Angeles at the time), said, “Stay there, I got something you gotta hear!”
He packed up his amps and his guitar, drove over to George’s house, and started setting up. “What is it?” asked George. “Just wait,” replied Joe, and kept setting up.
When Joe finally unleashed a note-perfect “And Your Bird Can Sing”, George fell out of his chair laughing. “How the hell did you do that?” “Well, it took me long enough to figure out,” Joe said, “so I was going to ask YOU how YOU did it.”
George said, “The way *I* did it was John and me playing in unison, and then double-tracked! I can’t figure out how you did it by yourself, even though I just saw you do it!”
Well, Joe was left feeling pretty good about himself, managing to sound like the equivalent of four Beatles guitarists all by himself, if a little exasperated to have spent so much time figuring out something that he should have known better than to try – but he did it anyway. THAT’s Joe Walsh for ya.
I hope you’ve already hit play AGAIN on that blistering take on 1971′s “Walk Away” up top, because Joe really was killing it that year. There’s more to him than you probably think, too, so if you’re into the heavy guitar thing, you should definitely do some exploring.
Led Zeppelin fans in particular, I’m looking at you. Joe and Jimmy were friends from Jimmy’s days in The Yardbirds, and it was Joe who said, man, you’ve gotta quit monkeying around with that Telecaster. When you’re ready to rock, switch to a Les Paul – and indeed, Jimmy bought his first Les Paul (known as “#1″) from Joe in 1969, for $1200, which Joe says he flew out to hand-deliver to Jimmy. Says Jimmy, “Joe brought it for me when we played the Fillmore. He insisted I buy it, and he was right.”
(btw, nifty pic from Joe’s Twitter feed of him and Jimmy hanging out after LZ’s February 12 show at The Garden in 1975!)
I wouldn’t want to say that Led Zeppelin’s approach to live jamming was necessarily influenced by James Gang, but I’m saying that they were similar and Joe got there first. LOL And seriously, if you dig live Zeppelin, you NEED to know more about live James Gang and early solo Joe.
To give you a head start for exploring more James Gang and early solo Joe, I’ll add one more video, from 1972, “Turn To Stone” featuring Fanny’s Jean Millington on bass absolutely slaying dragons on this monster. As Joe told Rolling Stone,
“Turn to Stone” was written about the Nixon administration and the Vietnam War and the protesting that was going on and all of that. It’s a song about frustration. Also, I attended Kent State. I was at the shootings. That fueled it, too. In those days it felt like the government’s priority was not the population. They had an agenda that was about something other than doing what was necessarily good for the country.
A few years later [in 1980], I decided to run for president myself. [Ed. Note: Walsh pledged to make “Life’s Been Good” the new national anthem.] I thought it’d be a great idea and I had fun with it. And the reason I did it is because there was, and there continues to be, a very apathetic attitude toward voting. There’s a total separation between the federal government and the people. So running for president was an attempt on my part to get people to care enough to go vote. But people just don’t bother. And that’s why it’s not working.
TURN IT UP!
Oh what the heck, and one more from July 20 1971, from the French TV show Pop2, “The Bomber” (from 1970′s Rides Again) which includes a quick little nod to “Beck’s Bolero” along the way. (Well, technically I suppose, Ravel’s “Bolero”, and indeed, Ravel’s estate made them remove the reference from initial pressings of the album!)
And another note for LZ fans: Joe does some crazy stuff with his bare hands at around 2:30-3:30 going into “Bolero” that Jimmy did with a violin bow. THAT’s Joe Walsh for ya.