Earlier this year, Joe Walsh jammed on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at a Beatles tribute in Los Angeles with Dave Grohl backing him on the drums. “I had a really good run at it,” Walsh says. “And the reason was, he was right behind me and his drum part was really kicking me in the butt. It made me step up, kind of, ‘Oh, yeah?’ You have to come up to his energy level, ’cause you gotta keep up with him and that really makes everybody play better.”
The musician, who is a member of the Eagles and former singer and guitarist for the James Gang, found himself in the same situation later in the year when he played a long, spacey solo on the Foo Fighters song “Outside” for their latest record, Sonic Highways. Walsh also sat for an interview for the Los Angeles–focused episode of the HBO series of the same name, in which he talked about his impressions of the city’s music scene and allowed the cameras to capture his session with the band in the California desert. As it turned out, the Foo Fighters were just as excited to play with him as he was with them.
“I’m sorry but how awesome does it sound to have Joe Walsh in the Foo Fighters?” drummer Taylor Hawkins said in the episode. “I mean it’s fucking rad!”
When Rolling Stone spoke with Walsh about the experience, he was still beaming about the overall experience. “I got to be a Foo Fighter for a couple of days,” he says. “You have to be in a good mood around those guys. It’s wonderful energy.”
What did you think of how the show approached Los Angeles?
I thought they did a good job. There’s a whole part of L.A. – a generation earlier than the one they focused on – that’s covered pretty much in-depth in the Eagles documentary. I think Dave decided, rather than to rehash all that, they went for the other scene that came a little later in L.A., and that’s a lot more closer to the current generation. It was an ode to the Whisky and Rodney Bingenheimer and a whole bunch of big-hair bands and the glamour bands, Joan Jett and folks like that. So I thought they did a real great job. Just reminds me how much of a grandfather of rock I am [laughs].
What did you want to express about L.A. on the show?
When I got here, this was the place where dreams come true, and I guess L.A.’s always been that way with movies. In the very early Seventies and the very late Sixties, nobody out here was originally from L.A. Everybody was from, like, Ohio and Detroit, like Glenn [Frey], and Texas and all of that – it was a big melting pot. And, because of that, there was a wonderful artistic community of people all living in the same apartment – or all living in the same car – and everybody was playing all the time. That’s how it all got started.
L.A. is kind of flat these days; I guess Austin and other places are like that now. But that’s what I wanted to get across: You could be as crazy as you wanted, and that was OK. You didn’t have to be good, people would still come and hear you. And that just gave everybody a chance to invent themselves and experiment and try stuff. It was a wonderful place to be.
You recorded the song “Outside” with the Foo Fighters. What was that experience like?
It was really a hoot to go to Rancho De La Luna [in the Joshua Tree desert] and record with everyone playing at the same time. I had almost forgotten how, and it’s just the basic way we used to do it. You just went for the best take. You didn’t fix everything on it.
How did you approach the song?
They just had this blank palate in the middle part of the song. They said, “When you’re ready, go. We don’t care what you do, just make sure we like it.” So, I did, and I went minimal on it. I didn’t want to play screaming-fast guitar all over it, because the desert does that to you. You know, if we had been in Manhattan, I would’ve played twice as much. But out in the desert, I just kind of laid some spatial stuff in there with some effects and stuff. I think it came out really good.
The Foo Fighters have played “Rocky Mountain Way” live a couple of times. What songs of yours did they tell you they liked?
Yeah, they liked that. And I had to show everybody how I play [the James Gang’s] “Funk 49.” And the song “County Fair” from the So What album of mine. They said I could go in that direction for this song, and that was what I needed to really pursue it. I think they were thrilled. Well, their drummer’s nuts. He’s such a good guy.
Do you have a favorite Foo Fighters song?
My favorite song right now is the one I played on, “Outside.” I tell you what, that was a bitch to figure out. Some songs, you’re just on automatic pilot and you cruise through ’em, but that one, I had to really pay attention to what was going on. There’s a lot going on in their songs, and, until you try to play along with it, you don’t realize how good it really is. But to dig into it and see what everybody’s playing, whoa.
What else surprised you about the band?
Dave is very methodical, not dictatorial. They’re kind of a community, and he leads the charge. They’re very thorough and constantly asking each other, “What do you think?,” and I love that kind of chemistry. I’ve been in all kinds of various arrangements of chain of command, and I was very comfortable – and everybody was – and I think the music shows that. I’m an honorary Foo Fighter, I guess. Or alumni or something. I’m proud to be one.