Joe Walsh doesn't remember everything. But he does remember New Zealand. He tells me that it's a very special place.
"New Zealand is in my heart, always", he drawls down the line. Walsh is due to release Analog Man, his first solo album in more than 20 years, but we have to talk about New Zealand.
You see Walsh, briefly, was a member of the Kiwi reggae act Herbs. "I don't remember everything about my life," the rock legend says laughing - years of alcohol addiction have given him a permanent slur - "but I'm very fortunate to have a group of friends I can rely on - they fill in the blanks." He pauses to laugh wildly then continues: "But New Zealand is very special to me. And the Herbs were a great band. I remember them, I love them. I remember Charlie Tumahai [vocalist], I think about him a lot. He's in my heart. A beautiful man, a great musician, he was very instrumental in me finding my clarity.
"I'll never forget the moment when I was standing on the marae with the members of Herbs and I realised that I needed to get clean. That will stay with me forever."
Life had been very good to Walsh by that point.
The American guitarist joined hard-rocking power trio The James Gang in 1968. He quickly became the main attraction and was on the path to solo fame by 1971, with new group Barnstorm swiftly relegated to backing band, Walsh the star. Blessed with a beautiful guitar tone, rock songs that referenced American blues, country twang and pop music and the talkbox solo that drives the classic Rocky Mountain Way, Walsh seemed to be living a charmed life.
In 1975 he joined The Eagles, one of the biggest bands on the planet.
"I was a fan of the group, I thought they were great, loved The Eagles - but I thought that their beautiful harmonies would sound amazing with some rock guitar behind them." Walsh sounds like he took his cue from Neil Young hooking up with Crosby, Stills & Nash. He was instrumental then, pardon the obvious pun, in taking The Eagles further towards the rock 'n' roll and slightly away from the country and folk sounds of their earliest records.
With Walsh in the fold, highlights of the live set included Heartache Tonight and of course Hotel California, a song that Walsh says he's still "very proud to be a part of. How can you not be? That song is part of every guitarist's development". He and fellow Eagles guitarist Don Felder traded lines to create the epic guitar solo duel that sends one of rock music's biggest hits to its climax. "It was just so much fun to be playing this music - to have this huge audience and to be playing with these great writers and musicians."
WALSH managed a solo career while playing with The Eagles. In 1978 he had his biggest solo hit, Life's Been Good, now a highlight of Eagles reunion shows. But to say that he was managing is not entirely accurate.
The death of Walsh's 3-year-old daughter in the mid-1970s contributed to a spiral of drugs and drinking. Joining the world's biggest band did not help. "It was out of control man, really out of control. But we had so many good times - the stories about my life are, in some cases, probably exaggerated - but I don't doubt that most of them are true. As I say it's good to have some friends that are still here to remind me of the things I did."
In 1980, Joe Walsh ran for president of the United States. His main policy and slogan was "free gas for everyone". If elected he planned to make Life's Been Good the national anthem. In and around the madness Walsh kept remarkably busy, playing guitar with B.B. King, producing albums by Dan Fogelberg and Ringo Starr, acting in movies such as The Blues Brothers and Robocop. In 1989 he produced Herbs' Homegrown album. It included an early version of Walsh's song Ordinary Average Guy, the Sunday morning to Life's Been Good's perpetual Saturday night. He joined the band. By 1990, when the album was released, Walsh was back in the US. The haze of cocaine and booze kept him company, in the deceitful way that addiction can claim to. But New Zealand had provided him with his epiphany.
"It's been a long journey," Walsh says with clarity. "It's been strange and beautiful and it's been very lonely at times. But three years ago I married my wife and that has been the new beginning I needed; it's been 15 years sober but I couldn't have done it without Marjorie. The journey started without her but she has been the one that has opened my heart, she's made me happy."
She is also part of the reason that Walsh has a new album. "Marjorie comes from a well-known family, she's connected - so she was the one that suggested Jeff Lynne [Electric Light Orchestra] should take a listen to my new tracks. He was going to have a listen, maybe play something. He ended up producing. I knew of Jeff but I didn't know a lot about him - he has opened up some new ways for me to think about how the songs could sound and we've just gotten on brilliantly. Marjorie was also the one that heard some of my old demos and ideas and told me that I should make another album."
Marjorie Bach is the sister of actress Barbara Bach, making old pal Ringo Starr Walsh's brother-in-law.
"Ringo is such a great man. He's been through a lot in his life and we've had a lot of the same problems. We've been friends for years, worked together a lot already but we're closer now - we're family. One of the things that Marjorie has done has given me the joy of family. It's a joy I never really knew. I spent a long time being lonely and hiding and now at Christmas there's this huge family. That's something that's very new to me. And very special."
Analog Man will not surprise Joe Walsh fans. "You know I started trying to listen to what the kids were doing - I bought some new music and tried to keep up for a while. Then I just thought 'who am I kidding' you know?" He bursts into another huge laugh. "So I listened to some of my old albums and I made a Joe Walsh record. But", he points out, "this is the most confessional thing I've done. It's very honest. It's my life on a record, there's a lot of reflection in these songs, something that could only happen after this long time being sober, finally being comfortable with it."
Walsh never meant to take a 20- year break between solo records, but he says that two things happened to hold up the album. "Well, I needed to get sober. I was frightened. And I needed to get clean. That's been a long process but also, in 1994, The Eagles reformed to do the Hell Freezes Over show and album. And from there that's meant a bunch of tours. And I love playing with those guys. We still sound great when we get together. So that, really, has been the delay."
Walsh will tour Analog Man around the US and Europe and though he may not make it to New Zealand ("I really mean it when I say I want to get there but you guys are just so far you know,") he says to keep the diaries at the ready for next year.
"We're gearing up for something special, the 40th anniversary of The Eagles. This year is a chance for us to do solo projects. Glenn [Frey] has a new record out too, and Don [Henley] is working on one. But then we'll get together, we've got some big plans to go through the archives. There'll be a bunch of things happening. I'm not really sure just yet but there'll be some new versions of the albums with outtakes and a bunch of things you've never heard. And we hope to do an all-new show, with the hits of course, but with some of the songs we've never played. I hope we can make it. Love to see you beautiful people again."
Joe Walsh's Analog Man is released tomorrow.
- The Dominion Post
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