25… This is the 25th guitarist better than Hendrix.
I can keep doing this – for a long time. I get asked how long I can keep this list going, or similar, pretty much once a week. The answer is, “A long damned time! Hendrix was not that good, according to the metrics used.”
I also frequently get people who seem to think I hate Hendrix. I do not. Hendrix has a value and was a great asset to the instrument I know and love, something I’m pretty passionate about.
He just wasn’t a good technical guitarist, and that’s okay. He still made brilliant music – within his limitations. That’s okay. For all the novel things he’s credited with, he largely just put those together in a creative fashion and did so with a rather limited skillset.
The other day, I showed someone just eight notes of a scale and told them that there were infinite bitchin’ solos within those eight notes. If that makes sense to you, then it also makes sense that I absolutely love Hendrix. He just wasn’t a very technically adept guitarist.
I pretty much tell you this every week, you know. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to remind you – but I do, ’cause I get the same questions every week.
Yada yada… There’s a link in the upper right, it’s not up to date. Rolling Stone sucks. Most ‘greatest guitarist’ lists are horrible because they use shitty metrics. You know… The same shit I tell you every week!
I don’t have time for that nonsense! I want to write about my next guitarist.
This week, I’ve set myself a challenge! This one is going to be tricky to justify. As always, you are free to move ’em about the list – but I’m gonna provide justification for inclusion on the list. #25 Joe Walsh
That, ladies and gentlemen, is none other than Joe Fidler Walsh and I haven’t checked yet, but I bet nobody ever puts him on the list of greatest anything.
They’re wrong. Well, I assume they are – I didn’t actually check. Let me check that…
I am wrong.
Curiously, Rolling Stone put him on their list – in 54th position. I’m not really seeing him on (m)any other lists. I have to say, Rolling Stone probably got this one right. Fuck, it pains me to admit that.
On a list of 100 Greatest Guitarists, I can sort of understand putting him so low on the list. They’re wrong – but I can understand why they’d do that.
They’re wrong, because they’ve never really paid attention to the song Life’s Been Good. They’re wrong, because they don’t understand what’s going on – and it’s not their fault.
Let’s start in the middle – and we’ll go back to the beginning in a little while. Okay? Hold on…
If Joe Walsh had written no other song but Life’s Been Good, he’d be on the list. That’s right… I told you, I’m going to make this difficult on myself!
Now, I want you to think not just like a guitarist – but like a motherfucking rock star. From a guitarist point of view, and stepping into the mind of Joe Walsh, there’s no pure show of hedonism and unbridled ego than is Life’s Been Good.
I want you to now view that song in a totally different light. If you think Malmsteen has ego, you haven’t seen anything yet. If you think Glen Campbell had a raging cocaine addiction, you haven’t seen anything yet.
First, he’s got himself a riff – and it’s fucking awesome. So, he has some more awesome riffs and they’re fucking awesome.
He’s going to play them to you – in a live version that seems to go on forever. And it will be bitchin’..
From a guitarist point of view, that song is a bitchin’ set of riffs that he somehow figured out how to blend together so smoothly that you can tell that he’s not just telling you that he’s a rock star, he’s making you listen to him be a rock star.
It’s impossible to cover Life’s Been Good and not feel like a fucking rock star. You just can’t do it and you definitely can’t do it if you understand where the song comes from.
Where does the song come from? I told you! There’s no deeper message. The whole thing is pretty much Joe Walsh saying, “I’m a motherfucking rock star. Watch and listen to this!”
It’s pretty much just that, too. There is absolutely nothing deeper to it – but there is additional information to keep in mind.
See, Walsh is a fucking mess. It’s an industry hazard and it’s claimed Walsh.
He once woke up on a plane to Paris – with his passport and absolutely zero memory of getting on the plane and didn’t actually have a reason to be in Paris. This was in 1994 and it’s said this was his turning point and that he’s been sober ever since.
I’m skeptical, but if he’s sober I can’t actually tell. Walsh is a bit like Ozzy, with regards to ability to speak. He used to actually sound pretty normal, those days are long behind him.
The only fault that I can find with Life’s Been Good is that he lied. No Maserati was produced that could go 185 – and there wouldn’t be a Maserati model that could reach that speed until the 90s.
Now that you know all that, and can view it in that light, I submit that the song Life’s Been Good is one of the greatest songs ever made. Here, have a reminder of what it’s like, but this song should never be listened to quietly – it should be listened to at volumes levels that hurt the ears of mere mortals.
Oh, we’re not even close to done. I intentionally chose a version where you don’t see his hands.
We are going to unpack that song! Trust me, it’s pretty much the most awesome song to ever song!
Alright, we start the song off with some drum. That’s nice, you unoriginal bastard. It’s a fucking cliche – and intentional.
This is followed up by Joe Walsh just liking a riff. There’s no other reason for this – except because he wanted you to hear it ’cause it was awesome and he was just going to fill this song with shit he wanted you to hear – ’cause he’s a fucking rock star.
He keeps this up until almost a full minute has passed. After all, it’s important – and, again, a cliche.
At which point he’s like, “I’ve got another riff. Let me show it to you.”
It makes no sense, but he put it there ’cause he wanted it there. Fortunately, we rapidly move on to where Joe decides that he’s going to stop playing anything very complicated, or doing much at all, and he’s going to tell you a story.
Let’s examine those lyrics, shall we?
I have a mansion but forget the price Ain’t never been there, they tell me it’s nice I live in hotels, tear out the walls I have accountants, pay for it all
We can immediately tell what kind of song this is going to be. Joe wanted there to be no confusion.
The key point is that I can’t really think of anything in this song that is not true – except for the 185 MPH thing. But, he’s got more to say…
They say I’m crazy but I have a have a good time I’m just looking for clues at the scene of the crime Life’s been good to me so far
The second line was just ’cause he needed something to rhyme and that’s what you’re getting. He was probably not looking for clues at the scene of the crime – but we’ll allow him some artistic license and agree that maybe it’s a metaphor for something in his personal life.
The first and third lines actually are probably true. I’m pretty sure he is legitimately insane, had a good time, and life had been pretty good to him.
If you’re looking for deeper meaning, there isn’t any. Really, there isn’t. I can just show you the rest of the lyrics and you’ll see this.
My Maseratti does one-eighty-five I lost my license, now I don’t drive I have a limo, ride in the back I lock the doors in case I’m attacked
I’m making records, my fans they can’t wait They write me letters, tell me I’m great So I got me an office, gold records on the wall Just leave a message, maybe I’ll call
Lucky I’m sane after all I’ve been through (Everybody say I’m cool, he’s cool) I can’t complain but sometimes I still do Life’s been good to me so far
I go to parties sometimes until four It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door It’s tough to handle this fortune and fame Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed
They say I’m lazy but it takes all my time (Everybody say oh yeah, oh yeah) I keep on goin’ guess I’ll never know why Life’s been good to me so far
Other than a little bit of truth stretching (he’s definitely not sane), it’s fairly accurate and honest. Pure, unadulterated, hedonism. “I’m a fucking rock star.”
There’s a live version where he forgets the lyrics, plays it for like 15 minutes, and says, “I own a limo, ride in the trunk. I lock the doors in case I get drunk.” You can hear what sounds like a stifled giggle and you can tell it’s because he forgot the words and is pretty pleased with himself for fixing it on the fly.
If you listen carefully, there are some points where he’s playing and singing and he’s actually playing a different riff. Why? ‘Cause he’s Joe Walsh and he thinks they’re awesome.
You’ll hear that little touch of complexity when he’s saying life has been good. Coincidence? I think not! He’s showing you that life has been good, after all.
Then, you start to notice that he’s actually filling something in all over the place and, really, most of ’em appear to just be bitchin’ riffs that he was damned well going to include into one of the greatest songs to ever be composed. Some of them are actually pretty complicated.
The song doesn’t stop there… Keep listening…
Hey, wait a minute… Now Joe’s gone and changed the song entirely and you’ve got to somehow replicate noises where he seems to think he’s in a coffee commercial.
Musically, it pretty much makes no sense. Joe says, “This is bitchin’. Watch this shit. I’m a fucking rock star.” And, I have to admit, it is kinda bitchin’ and I’m not really sure why he included it but he was going to throw in a whole song of bitchin’ riffs, even if you don’t want to hear it.
Next, he throws in a bitchin’ solo. It might just be the most inappropriate solo – ever. You’ve got a coffee maker looping and he tosses in a bitchin’ solo.
If we unpack that bitchin’ solo, we learn that it’s one of those bitchin’ solos that deserve being called “sweet.”
Except there’s no reason for it. None. Joe just wanted to play that.
He then goes back and reminds you of those earlier riffs – just ’cause he liked them that much and he didn’t want you to forget that they were awesome.
For some reason, he says, “Yeah yeah yeah.” I don’t know why. Why, Joe? Why? I can only assume that he did so because he’s just doing whatever the fuck he wants, at this point.
Now, he kind of puts a bunch of those riffs together. Listen carefully – and he tosses in a bunch of bitchin’ solos and riffs. He makes you listen to them – until he gets bored. He stops and the music fades out.
The song stopped and you stopped watching/listening, didn’t you?
Go back up and finish it.
He says something about there being an incoming flock of wah wahs, and then proceeds to making bizarre noises into the microphone – for no good reason except to say, “Fuck you, I’m a rock star.” He keeps this up until he tires of it. I have no idea why.
They cut that out of radio play and you’ve possibly never heard it.
So, in conclusion, it’s a song that pretty much says, “Fuck you, I’m a rock star.”
And he’s right.
For some bizarre reason, this hodgepodge of musical gibberish actually goes together stunningly well. There is no pretense of anything but him saying he’s gonna play some bitchin’ music – because that’s what rock stars do. We also learn that he loves him some effects…
And, back when he was still spectacular, he did that while fueled on a concoction of drugs and alcohol that’d make Keith Richards nod knowingly. He might have actually done more cocaine than Glen Campbell.
Had he given us no other song, he’d still be somewhere on my list.
I’m serious. Completely serious. It’s impossible to cover that song and not feel like a rock star.
When I have a good band, I find excuses to throw it into sets. It sets the mood quite nicely. It looks good, it sounds good, it has an appropriate level of difficulty, and it is generally well received by the kinds of audiences I’m most accustomed to.
He had other songs! He certainly deserves to be on the list and it’s the remainder of his work that earns him his mention this early in the list.
So, who the fuck was Walsh and why is he this high on my list?
Joe was born way back in 1947. His father died and he was adopted by his step father. His mother was a classical pianist. Joe played an oboe, the most uncool instrument ever.
If you want the biography, read Wikipedia. That doesn’t actually tell you Joe’s story very well. Nope… That means I have to tell Joe’s story.
Joe has pretty much always been a mess.
He had a fairly unassuming childhood, at least as far as we know. I suspect he was a mess, even back then – except he played an oboe. I know he attended high school. I have no idea if he finished high school.
He is often credited with starting his musical career in 1964.
That’s probably technically true, but it’s horribly misleading.
From 1965 to 1967, he was in some garage band at Kent State – which makes me think he might have finished high school. That’s not actually important.
What is important is that the band was exactly that – not important.
They are notable in no way. None. Calling that the start of a music career is a bit misleading.
From 1968 until 1971, ol’ Joe was with a band called James Gang and their only notable achievements are having zero memorable songs and opening for other bands that you’d probably recognize.
If the James Gang had one claim to fame, it’s that Walsh replaced a guitarist who was actually AWOL. Who the fuck attempts to be in a band when they’re AWOL?
Wikipedia, when describing the James Gang, uses the phrase “produced such classics.” I’m undecided if that’s written by an idiot – or with sarcasm. They produced nothing notable. Nothing!
It’s no wonder that Walsh was a mess. He went from a garage band to a band that’s obviously dysfunctional – but he did get to open for people.
In 1971, Joe left. I don’t know why, but he packed his shit and moved to England. He was given the choice to replace Peter Frampton with Humble Pie, but he said no.
Inexplicably, Joe decided he’d instead move again, and this time to Colorado. Once there, he’d start another meaningless band, called Barnstorm, that produced absolutely nothing of value.
He’s also credited with starting his solo career during those years. However, I’m pretty sure that’s actually ’cause a whole lot of people ended up not getting credited and it’s not like he made anything good. No, he was a fucking mess.
Nope… Not a damned good thing came out of that – but he did get the chance to play with some effects. He just didn’t do so very well. Trust me, it’s terrible.
I’m telling you, he was a fucking mess.
Enter the year 1975…
There’s a band called the Eagles and they’re actually having a hard time deciding if Joe Walsh will fit in – because he’s “too wild.” That’s the polite way the industry says, “a fucking mess.” Ol’ Don Henley was probably his most outspoken critic at the time.
Yeah, Henley thought Walsh was too much of a mess.
But, he did join them and, for some unknown reason, something magical happened.
Granted, Walsh was still a mess – but the transformation was magical. I don’t know what happened and all I can guess is that he finally figured out how to play his fucking guitar.
The first Eagles album to feature Walsh was Hotel California.
Don’t nod sagely just yet. The song Hotel California has little to do with this.
Prior to Hotel California, the Eagles were pretty damned country sounding. They got rid of their guitarist, probably the strongest country influence in the band, and wrote rock songs.
That’s when they hired in Walsh.
In other words, they said, “We need a motherfucking rock star.” After some discussion, they picked Walsh. I still don’t know why – until then he’d done pretty much nothing of any skill.
If I had to pick when Walsh’s music career really began, I’d say it began with the experience playing with the Eagles and possibly attribute some of it to playing with Felder.
In the title track, Hotel California, there’s the signature guitar duet that features Walsh and Felder – but, importantly, there’s absolutely no writing credit for Walsh in Hotel California.
Go listen to “Life in the Fast Lane.” That’s Walsh.
Go listen to it as though you might listen to the song linked above, Life’s Been Good – with this new picture of Walsh in your head.
Here, try actually hearing it done by Joe Walsh and not the Eagles:
Watch what they show of his work on the guitar. He’s pretty much saying, “I’ve got a bitchin’ riff and a bitchin’ solo, and you’re going to listen to them. I’m a fucking rock star.”
He is, too.
He’s had like five wives – one of whom was a stripper and they mostly did mountains of cocaine, using alcohol as a ballast. She was 20 years his junior and that did not last long.
The list just goes on. There’s almost no aspect of his life that doesn’t scream, “I’m a fucking rock star!”
Even the sober years and reforming with the Eagles – all very much screaming he’s a rock star. Had he not finally sobered up, I’m pretty sure he’d be dead by now.
It doesn’t end there. Ol’ Joe has a bag of tricks and learned how to turn them into riffs that will just turn into excellent music – complete with bitchin’ solos.
Once again, I’ll prove it.
I’m pretty sure Joe just one day bought every single, at the time, effects pedal and ways to modify his guitar’s sound. He then just said, “You know what, I’m going to write a bitchin’ solo for this entire box of pedals and even make fun of Frampton. I’m a fucking rock star.”
And he did. Fueled on drugs and alcohol, he set out to write exactly that – ’cause he’s a fucking rock star and doesn’t really want you to forget that. He wants there to be no doubt about him being a rock star.
For some reason, near the end of his giant adventure, he decided he’d top it off with what might be the crowning achievement of his career – but it’s not very highly regarded by people who don’t actually understand.
In this next song, Walsh straight up lies to you. He does this just because he needs something that will fit his excuse to play bitchin’ solos and play with various effects and neat noises his wasted ass has figured out how to play with his guitar and make sound good.
Musically, it’s again a fucking mess – but he somehow put it together. The thing is, I don’t think he knew a lick of music theory – or even had any great guitar tuition. He did not care. He was a fucking rock star.
This seems to be a recurring theme – and it works. It’s as though his compositions are forced by sense of will and not finessed into place. It’s unrivaled guitar hedonism and a whole lot of ego.
As I said, he lies to you in this song. He tries to claim he’s an ordinary average guy. No, Walsh, you are not an ordinary average guy. Anyone who knows even the slightest bit about you, and as you’ve told us many times, you’re not average. I’m not sure why you expect people to believe it, so surely that’s mockery at that point.
Seriously, I’m pretty sure he’s just openly mocking people with this song. Why? Because he’s a rock star.
So, after years of absolutely horrible music – he finally figured out how to play the damned guitar and was actually pretty good at it – once he figured it out. Those first years were pretty terrible.
He shows mastery of countless techniques and his composition is unorthodox – but has influenced many others since. His knowledge of music theory, at least by textbook, is probably low – but his demonstration of an understanding of music theory is quite exceptional. You’ll hear key changes throughout his music, smooth transitions, every effects pedal he could find a use for, and pure fucking rock that is meant to say, “I’ve got a bitchin’ solo – and I’m going to find an excuse to play it.”
Probably followed immediately with, “I’m a rock star.”
Like I’ve said throughout – he’s right. How he got there, I have no fucking clue. If you look at his early work, I’d have figured him more likely to be a dishwasher.
Which, is pretty fucking inspirational – if you ask me. Which one of you, after reading this, doesn’t want to go out, do entire mountains of cocaine, and just fly to Paris for reasons you don’t quite understand or recollect?
It actually takes some skill to properly cover Joe Walsh.
More importantly, to properly cover Joe Walsh – you have to at least feel as though, for that moment in time, you too are a motherfucking rock star. He’s a motherfucking inspiration!
And that’s why he’s on my list. That’s also why he’s mentioned this early on my list. Like last week, I need to emphasize that you’re free to move ’em around on the list. In part, I just wanted to tell you about Joe Walsh – ’cause he’s a fucking rock star.
He’s since settled into a path that suits him. He spent quite a few years with the Eagles, a second time. They kind of phoned it in. He’s since done some work as a solo artist and with other artists. His later solo stuff is marked with him pretty much mashing pedals, playing bitchin’ solos, and telling you that he’s a rock star. Strangely, it works.
So, I figured I’d set myself a challenge and justify Joe Walsh’s inclusion on the list – and that I’d start it off by showing you in his least flattering pose.
Why did I do that? ‘Cause Joe Motherfucking Walsh is a rock star – and he gives no shits what you think, ’cause he’s a rock star. If he’d died in 1993, he’d be a legend. I’m glad he didn’t. I’m quite partial to the crazy old bastard who gave us so many bitchin’ solos.
I will leave you with one for the road. You know the song, maybe. You just probably didn’t know it originally sounded this bad. Seriously…
This is the James Gang – and you’ll see that he somehow manages to look spastic while playing poorly, and still insisting he’s a rock star. I’m pretty sure I can teach the eldest hoodlum to play this song better than he did.
Seriously, Joe? What the fuck happened? How did you go from that to becoming a guitar legend? That’s just fucking terrible!
Ah well… He finished his career nicely and he had some seriously fantastic years to give us. He is not just a guitar legend, he’s a rock hero and an inspiration to rockers everywhere. Until next time…