If you played electric guitar in high school during the 1970s, you probably had your Steppenwolf and Bad Company and Deep Purple and Neil Young licks down, but you also knew some James Gang. Their guitar player was a guy named Joe Walsh. His power chords were hormonal and sizzled with voltage, largely because he was said to have hot-wired his guitar’s pickups. There wasn’t a self-respecting prom band in San Diego (and possibly throughout the rest of the country) that didn’t have “Funk #49” or “Walk Away” on their setlist. But learning Joe Walsh presented a problem: one could master the chords, but there was no way you could sing like him. How to describe his voice? In the high range, ragged, adenoidal, sounding as if his sole mission was to shout down a stack of amplifiers.
In 1968, Walsh was in fact the replacement guitarist in the James Gang, a power trio that may have defined, as Mike Watt once pointed out, the bare minimum of what a rock band requires: guitar, bass, and drums. In 1971 Walsh left and started Barnstorm, which was really a front for him to emerge as a solo artist: Barnstorm would give us “Rocky Mountain Way,” his first breakout single.
By 1975 Walsh was an Eagle, a sweet gig he holds to this day. A past resident of Encinitas, Walsh is finishing up a solo album called Analog Man — his first in 20 years — which he says by phone from L.A. is not really an analog recording. “I just decided I’d better get with it. After all, it is the digital age. Back when it was all analog, we used to go in the studio, and studios had knobs. We used to turn knobs and say, ‘Let’s see what this does.’ Now we have a mouse.”
JOE WALSH: Belly Up Tavern, Thursday, February 2, 8 p.m. Sold out.