The last time that Joe Walsh released a solo album, George H.W. Bush was president and Kriss Kross had the Number One album in the country. Since then, the guitarist quit drinking and reformed the Eagles, touring the world many times over and even recording a new LP with them in 2006. Although the group is hashing plans for a 40th anniversary tour, they’ve been taking it slow this past year, giving Walsh time to go back into the studio and cut his new disc Analog Man (out June 5th) with producer Jeff Lynne. Walsh spoke to Rolling Stone about the new LP, getting sober and what’s in store for the Eagles and the James Gang.
Why did it take you 20 years to record a follow-up to your last solo album?
I just never got any momentum going to finish any solo project. None of us really have. In 1994, the Eagles decided to get back to work, and we did Hell Freezes Over. We’ve been around the world a couple of times, and that’s been a priority for us. The other thing is that in 1994, I had to get sober. I was hitting bottom and I ran out of options, so I had to stop everything and rebuild Joe from the bottom up. I had to relearn how to do everything without vodka. That took a while. Vodka was my best friend for a while there.
For a while I just couldn’t really go into the studio or around that kind of environment. Working on music when it started to get late…there were just too many triggers. I just had to learn to do it sober. But I didn’t disappear. I got married three-and-a-half years ago [to Marjorie Bach, sister of Ringo Starr’s wife, Barbara]. She’s really the part of me that was missing. I really found a partner. She said to me, “You ought to get off your ass and put this record together.” And she said, “By the way, here is Jeff Lynne’s number.”
Did you know Jeff well prior to this record?
Yeah. He was invaluable. I get these great ideas and I get them started, but I can never quite finish them up because I have a new idea that I have to go do. Jeff’s a real closer. You can just dump it on him and he says, “Alright, here’s what we’re doing first.” He took me in a direction I would never have gone.
The album is called Analog Man. Did you record it on analog equipment?
It was cut digitally. I’m not saying I’m some old fart who just came out of the woods, and I’m not saying analog is better. The whole analog thing is observations on what’s going on, not really a judgement. I know about digital recording. We cut Long Road Out of Eden digitally, but I like vinyl. I like reading the album covers and I like side B. I like cassettes. We did the last album with recording tape and knobs. This album I did with a hard drive and a mouse.
I had to make some adjustments. We all did. There is a whole new technology, but there is also a whole new world that’s virtual and that doesn’t really exist. We all spend more and more time in there and we get lost. Meanwhile, our bodies sit in chairs and wait for our minds to come back. I don’t know if it’s working for us, or if we’re working for it. I know that it ate the record business, and I know it ate radio and it ate intellectual property. I hope it doesn’t eat me.
Do you find it more fulfilling to work on your own than in the Eagles?
I’m real proud of this album. The Eagles are great. Being part of a band – especially that band – is really fulfilling onstage. Don [Henley] and Glenn [Frey] come up with great stuff to play guitar to. I had a really good time doing this album, though. It was great to get my brains out onto a CD. I really think I’m back, and it’s not going to be another 25 years until the next one. I really learned how to do it sober. It’s opened me up a lot. I’m more confident. My lyrics aren’t so abstract, and I’m not hiding behind my humor. I’m letting people in and letting them know who the real Joe is. It’s a little scary, but it’s a good feeling.
What’s up with the James Gang?
I went back to Cleveland about a month ago and we visited. I don’t think we can do a comeback tour or pretend that we can sell out 10,000-seaters. I think we do best in little clubs, like the House of Blues and stuff like that. We agreed that if we do little venues, that we can really knock your socks off as a three-piece. So that’s in my bucket list.
Here’s the deal…We’re coming up on the 40-year anniversary of the Eagles. With that theme, the plan is to put out kind of a new show. That’s for next year. In the meantime, we all have individual projects. Glenn has an album and Don’s been in Nashville recording. But as soon as possible, the James Gang is going to go out and ride again. We’re going to play small venues and try to do what we used to do.
Are you going to use the backup singers again? I know some fans prefer you as a three-pice with nobody else onstage.
Coming from a huge band in the Eagles and harmonies, and two keyboards and stuff, when I sat down with a drummer and bass player I said, “Whoa! Boy, do I feel naked!” On a good night, there’s nothing better than a three-piece band. But on a bad night, there’s nothing more horrible. So, I just had a little cushion there, so it wasn’t such a shock. I think we do best as a three-piece. I agree with you in that we should go in that direction.
Is that James Gang tour going to happen before or after the next Eagles tour?
I don’t know. We’ll have to see how it goes next year, but if there’s a window in any of this, we don’t need a whole lot of preparation. We’ll just pack our stuff and go do something. I think that’s the way to do it. I don’t think we need a big announcement and a lot of press. We were always more word of mouth, so we’ll just go about it that way. It’ll be more fun that way.
I’ve heard that the Eagles tour is going to present the songs chronologically and utilize archival videos of the band. Is that the plan?
That’s the plan. We have archives all the way back, and we’ve been talking about doing some retrospectives, going back and looking at some stuff that wasn’t a hit from Hotel California and from the early days – revisit Desperado and stuff. There’s also videos and interviews from the old days. It’s real loose and we want to do it real bad. We haven’t started yet, and we’re saving it all for next year and taking this year off just to get ready. But I think if we can get it together, it’ll be really good.
I know the fans would love to see Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon back onstage, especially if you’re doing long blocks of songs from the period when they were in in the band. Is that something you’d be cool with?
Oh, yeah. It would be fun.
Do you think that’s possible?
Uh, at least they’ll be represented video-wise. I don’t have any problem with that. Maybe on some of the big shows, if we put one together for a DVD. I think it would be an important part of it if they showed up.
Hell, if the Beach Boys can put aside their differences for at tour…
Yeah! I don’t know how they agreed on anything, but it’s nice to see them all together.
So, you really think it’s not going to be another 20-year wait for your next album?
Yeah. Like I said, I’m sober now. I’m really confident and my wife has my back. Things are good and I want to talk about it. And this is the beginning of it, I hope. I feel creative and I’m not done yet.
If I hadn’t quit drinking when I did, I probably wouldn’t even be here. Most of the guys that I ran with in the 1970s aren’t here and I don’t really get why I am, but here I am. A lot of people have reached out to me and said it was important watching me stop for them to decide to. Maybe I’m here for that.
Back in the 1980’s, some people saw you as this lovable, happy drunk. It wasn’t clear just how sick you were.
I was a functioning alcoholic for a while, but towards the end of it I just crashed. I crossed the line, shall we say. I spiraled downwards and it happened pretty quickly, and I just ran out of options. You know, I had a good run. I took it was far as it could go. I’m so, so glad that I quit. I’ve got a life that I never could have imagined back then. I didn’t think I’d ever be funny again or anything. I thought all the fun was over. But I’m having a great time.