News From The Woods - January 14, 2002

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published January 14, 2002


"Confessions of a Walshaholic"


Yes. It's true. I state it plainly and openly.

I AM a Walshaholic.

I can't get enough of Joe Walsh.

I have followed his career from The James Gang (4 albums), through the Barnstorm era (2 albums) and his other solo ventures (9 albums), and then after he joined the Eagles (4 albums). I have his most obscure releases. Albums that didn't even show up on any charts. I even scour the Internet looking for rare and hidden Joe Gems. I like everything he does, from the sappy but hilarious "I.L.B.T's" ,"Rocky Mountain Way", and "Life's Been Good", to the brilliant "Help Me Make It Through The Night", and "Song For A Dying Planet".

Many people dismiss him as the Class Clown… The Royal Jester of Rock….. but I know him better. To me, his best songs are the melancholy and introspective tracks like "Country Fair", "Class of 65", and " Pretty Maids All In A Row", a song which did not reach it's full potential until Joe did it with the Eagles. Listen to it on the "Hell Freezes Over" album sometime. His way with words and they way he turns a phrase always hits the mark. Sometimes it's straight to the heart. Sometimes I have to think about it. And so many times it's just damned funny when he writes purely tongue-in-cheek.

He doesn't play guitar with the fire of Jimi Hendrix, the speed of Eddie Van Halen, or the technique of Eric Johnson, but he is a genius in his own style. He has his signature licks and also knows when NOT to play over the top. His personal sense of structure and arrangement can be felt in all of his more complex songs, but even the most simple tune like "All Night Laundry Mat Blues" gets the Joe treatment.

Several years back, in a fit of Walshaholic Idolization, I took his lyrics to heart. From "Life's Been Good": "So I got me an office, gold records on the wall/just leave a message and maybe I'll call". Well, like an idiot I tried that, thinking he might actually do it. Wrong. Perhaps I gushed over the machine, I don't remember. I just wanted to say "hi" and invite him over. He was using Memphis as home base at the time and I am located only 180 miles west of Memphis, so it wasn't a long drive.

Yeah, right........ Like Joe would drive over here to Arkansas to visit ME!

My intentions were good. I didn't want to hear road stories (necessarily) or get him to record something in my studio. I thought perhaps he might have just liked to get away for a day and maybe go trout fishing and float down the White River for a few hours. I suppose in my own way I wanted to just offer him a "getaway". Although I'm sure I couldn't have made it through the encounter without attempting to enlighten him about what his music has done for me and countless others over the years.

Sappy, huh? Yeah, I know. Why on earth did I think he might actually call me?? For all HE knew I could have been some kinda' (boat) weirdo Walsh Stalker. Yeah - like I'm gonna' bother a guy who is notorious for taking chain saws to motel rooms! H-m-m-m-m-m, I wonder if he uses a Poulan like mine? Naw, he seems more like a Husqvarna kind of guy…..

I have since learned that rock stars usually do not like to be treated like rock stars. Fans gushing over and deliriously shaking hands and blabbering nonsense about "how much your music means to me"! I witnessed that first hand once after a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert in Little Rock. One of my best friends, John Partipilo, used to work for CSN&Y, and was invited down for a concert at Robinson Auditorium. He brought along all six of us in our Friday Night card game group. At the end of the concert we were ushered backstage to meet the guys. Beforehand John had warned us not to act like they were stars, that they hated that. So, in spite of ourselves, we all sat around and just talked about regular stuff….. the weather… the people…. the gig…. the local food….

David had started to quarter an apple with a sharp knife just before the show and had seriously cut his finger. After a half hour of pure panic by the promoter and an examination by a doctor, the band decided to play the gig anyway and David came on stage wearing a bandaged hand. By the end of the set it had begun bleeding through the bandage. So this was the present topic of conversation as Stephen and Graham chided David for wielding a sharp instrument just before a gig when a music correspondent from France came up gushing (doing exactly what I had wanted to do) and before this guy had even sat down all three CSN got up and exited to their respective dressing rooms. The guy sat there talking to us for about five minutes until he realized we were nobodies and then got up and wandered off. About ten seconds later a door opened up and I saw Graham Nash stick his head out. Then out came Stephen and David. They sat back down and we picked up where we left off. I learned a valuable lesson that night.

I suppose night after night of people fawning over you could get to be a bit more than annoying. Maybe that's one of the reasons we read about TV's being thrown into swimming pools and other acts of excessive behaviour from our rock stars. Maybe it's a way of "normalizing" one's self in an unreal world situation, like touring. They can't take a chance on someone being just a normal person in their presence, so they don't take chances on anything. The end result is they are so insulated from the public's view and influence that they spend most of their time on the bus or holed up in their room (with a chain saw).

I also remember getting into trouble with a band mate back in the 70's when I made a modification to his Fender Twin amp which I had read about in an interview with Mr. Walsh in a Guitar Player magazine. Boy, it really brightened up that amp…… It made my Fender Mustang bark like a puppy! Unfortunately, we were using that amp for a keyboard amplifier, so that didn't turn out exactly like the plan. I guess I should have asked first. See the trouble I get into because I am a hopeless Walshaholic?

So what IS it about Joe Walsh that strikes me so personally, so deeply?

Well, for one thing, I appreciate his mindset. He's not afraid to poke fun at himself or to use weird, strange and humorous lyrics in a serious song. Years ago his music gave me the courage to write in a similar fashion. I also like to write funny lines in my songs but up until Joe Walsh entered the scene it wasn't fashionable. Sure, you had your Roger Miller, your Ray Stevens, and even your Jim Stafford, but it just wasn't rock and roll. I couldn't count Frank Zappa as his music was too much like jazz. Besides, Frank didn't write anything like anybody! At this point let me mention the "other guy" who I'd like to meet someday, Ringo Starr. Ringo had the courage to write funny stuff, but he was a Beatle and he could get away with just about anything (and often did). I read that Ringo and Joe were good friends somewhere. It figures. Great minds think alike.

Then there is Joe's guitar playing. Primarily, I am a drummer. But I also fancy myself a "sort of" guitar player. I know just enough lead guitar in the blues/rock style to get myself in trouble. I once talked myself into trouble playing guitar on stage between two great guitarists, Co Co Montoya and Earl Cate. I was playing with Whiplash Gumbo in Fayetteville and one night Co Co came on stage while I was there and I eventually found myself standing between these two doing a trade-off of guitar chops. God! Talk about feeling inadequate! I shrank back as far as I could from the spotlight but they kept prodding me on until I just went with it. I'll never forget that night as long as I live. What a thrill !

People ask me who I play guitar like. Well, I learned the basics from The Ventures albums, like so many others in the 60's. Then later, when I got more serious about guitar I followed the careers of Ritchie Blackmore, Tommy Bolin, and Joe Walsh. I'll never be able to touch Ritchie's style but I can appreciate his Whammy Bar technique and I utilize some of that in my playing. Tommy's ability at "feel" and his use of Echoplex and also the Whammy Bar inspire me. But I think it is Joe's great taste in playing that makes me second guess every solo I've ever played on a session. He plays less notes with more feel than anyone else I know. Sure, I admire speed and technique players like Eric Johnson, Steve Morse, and Jeff Beck, but I can't touch those guys. Not that I am in the same league with Joe Walsh, mind you. He just seems to hit me where I live. His chops are the tastiest of chops.

While proofing this article it occurs to me that the best thing that could happen for me would be if he never reads this! I'd be totally embarrassed. But if I ever did get the opportunity to meet him personally and shake his hand, I would still do it at the drop of a hat. I would try to keep my mouth shut, but those of you who know me well, know what a chore that would be. It's not that he probably doesn't already realize the impact he has had on music, it's just that there are so many who really appreciate his music, his style, his humor, and his verse, that I felt the need to express it.

For those who wonder why I think he is one of the greatest artist of our generation, I invite you to listen to this. And now, to quote another of his titles, I guess I'll just "Shut up".

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