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Joe Walsh: My Life in 15 Songs

Guitar legend looks back on more than 40 years of music and mayhem with James Gang, Eagles and beyond

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Joe Walsh performs onstage during the 2016 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, California, on April 16th, 2016.

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Joe Walsh has called himself an "ordinary average guy," which is something of a stretch for a man who's written some of rock's greatest riffs, from the James Gang's "Funk #49" to the Eagles' "Life in the Fast Lane" and his own "Rocky Mountain Way." Walsh's offstage exploits are similarly the stuff of legend: He's hung with Hendrix, freaked out Elton John, leveled hotel rooms with the likes of Keith Moon and John Belushi, and even ran for president (his platform: Free Gas for Everyone) – all while consuming enough vodka and cocaine to fell an elephant. "I never imagined how far down one could go," Walsh told Rolling Stone recently about his years of abuse. "But I went there. And it was a long way back."

Now 68 and sober for more than two decades, Walsh has righted his course. He released a well-received album, Analog Man, in 2012, and is currently out playing sheds on a co-headlining run with Bad Company, on the aptly named "One Hell of a Night" tour. He checked in with RS from a (presumably intact) hotel room in Arkansas to look back on his roughly half century in music. "It's a pretty good list of songs," he remarked about the ones discussed here. But, he added, "I don't think I'm done yet. There's still some more stuff I want to say."

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INDIO, CA - APRIL 16: Musician Joe Walsh performs on stage with The Arcs during day 2 of the 2016 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Club on April 16, 2016 in Indio, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Coachella)

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“The Radio Song” (1987)

I decided I would make a song that explains how I write music. Because I got tired of people asking me. And if you read the lyrics, it tells you exactly how I do it: "I like to sit in a silent place when no one's around and listen inside it/Inside the silence is the melody/Voices singing harmony." That's it. 

As far as the album title [1987's Got Any Gum?], I was in New York City and I was walking down the street. And this guy was coming toward me and he was obviously homeless and looking for change and stuff. So I reached into my pocket and pulled out a handful of change, and when he got to me I held it out and said, "Here." And he said, "Nah, I don't want any money. You got any gum?" And I thought, "This guy's a genius! That's brilliant!" It was like a Zen riddle and that was the answer [laughs].

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INDIO, CA - APRIL 16: Musician Joe Walsh performs on stage with The Arcs during day 2 of the 2016 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Club on April 16, 2016 in Indio, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Coachella)

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“Ordinary Average Guy” (1991)

You know, that whole Los Angeles thing, that lifestyle, it isn't real. I'm in Arkansas right now. That's real. Ohio, where I came from, that's real. I grew up just a kid on the block, doing all the stuff that kids do. I wanted to re-identify with that life, so I wrote a song about it.

And here's the thing: What we do as rock & roll stars, everybody thinks that's a whole lifestyle that we live, and that it's glorious and extravagant and wonderful. And they think that 24 hours a day we're famous and wearing expensive clothes and riding around in limos. But that's not really true. We're really cool for about an hour and a half onstage. And the rest of the day we're taking out garbage and picking up dog crap and washing cars and sucking eggs like everybody else on the planet. We're ordinary average guys.

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INDIO, CA - APRIL 16: Musician Joe Walsh performs on stage with The Arcs during day 2 of the 2016 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Club on April 16, 2016 in Indio, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Coachella)

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“One Day at a Time” (2012)

For a long time my alcoholism and use of drugs was manageable. By that I mean I would hang out with people and they would say, "Well, you're not so bad!" But you know, it is a disease and the last two or three years of [my addiction] were terrifying. It gets bad beyond your wildest imagination and then you crash and burn and then it gets worse than that. An awful lot of my buddies died before they hit bottom. I hit bottom before I died.

Getting sober was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Because alcohol had convinced me that I couldn't do anything without it. And they say "one day at a time," but really it's one thing at a time. You start with not knowing how to do anything sober and you just build up your toolbox. For a long time I thought there was a possibility I might not be able to write music sober. And I said, "If that's the case I'm just going to have to accept that." So I stopped trying to write, and one day this song kind of wrote itself. I ended up telling my story about what it was like to be an addict, and my road to getting sober. It just came out of me. But the trick was I had to stop trying. And so many addicts and alcoholics have contacted me to say they know exactly what I'm talking about in this song. I'm saying there's life after addiction and it is good.

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INDIO, CA - APRIL 16: Musician Joe Walsh performs on stage with The Arcs during day 2 of the 2016 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Club on April 16, 2016 in Indio, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Coachella)

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“Outside” (2014)

Dave Grohl told me once that Nirvana was, at the most, a really bad James Gang. I thought that was a fantastic compliment. When the Foo Fighters were making that series [Sonic Highways], they were doing the episode about L.A. and they asked me to play on this song. They said to just do something in the middle and gave me free rein. I did and it worked out really good. So now I'm like an alumni Foo Fighter.

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INDIO, CA - APRIL 16: Musician Joe Walsh performs on stage with The Arcs during day 2 of the 2016 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Club on April 16, 2016 in Indio, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Coachella)

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“No Man’s Land” (2016)

I wrote this for a documentary that's coming out called Citizen Soldier. It's about a National Guard unit in Oklahoma that out of nowhere got called up to go to Afghanistan. They got put behind enemy lines, in some really deep shit. And they kicked ass. They took GoPros with them, and then someone made a documentary with the footage. So it's their story, through their eyes. And not all of them came back. The really sad thing is, Afghanistan is still going on. It's a forgotten war. And these guys – I wanna say kids, because that's what they are – they're coming back really confused. So I hope the documentary raises some awareness. I mean, God, what are we doing?

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