During the Mid-sixties, a regional band called the James Gang had one local hit that everyone I knew loved beyond reason. The song was called “Georgia Pines.” It was a ballad about regret and the South. Every boy in my orbit could handle sensitivities like that without being called inappropriate slurs.
A few years later while browsing in a record store (remember those?) I found an album by the James Gang and my heart pounded like the pile drivers just starting to proliferate on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Alas, it was a different James Gang with a different sound; led by some drunken guitarist named Joe Walsh. I never quite forgave Walsh for that bit of heartbreak and spent years ignoring his work. Then he joined the Eagles just when they needed something special for “Hotel California.”
I accepted Walsh as a guitarist from then on but still didn’t care much for his singing. High is okay; nasally is okay; but not high and nasally. Except for one song; “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” There was something breathtaking about this particular song, a lament to daughters growing up too fast.
I went on with my life after that, listening to the Eagles when the time was right but slowly allowing others to take up the space formally allotted to Frey and Henley and the Boys. When they got back together we saw them at Clemson and they were beyond great. I was excited for a while but slowly let newer stuff seep into my ever decreasing listening time. I guess the songs were too familiar.
Recently one of the pay television networks began airing something called “The History of the Eagles.” I wasn’t excited originally but finally tuned in for a taste. My eyes wouldn’t leave the screen. It was likely the best rockumentary I’ve ever seen. And yes, I’ve seen that one. That one too.
My current favorite part happens during the band’s reformation discussion specific to Joe Walsh. The other guys agreed he must get sober, for the Eagles’ sake, but more so for his sake. Walsh talks openly, honestly, and emotionally about how that decision gave him back his life, considering the shape he was in at the time.
Joe’s comments are interspersed with footage of a live performance featuring “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” The segment closes with Joe and his teenage daughter. If you can watch this part without getting misty, you are a better man than I.
For maybe the first time in my life, I actually listened to this man talk and he made sense. He spoke about his place in music and how important it was to be a lesson for the coming generation. He talked about things I wasn’t aware he was aware of. Hell, I didn’t think any rock guitarist was aware of such things.
A few weeks after my second or third viewing of “History of the Eagles,” I stumbled upon Walsh on one of those Guitar Center shows; part music, part talk. During that episode Joe mentioned that when one is young, life seems pretty random, with lots of stuff happening indiscriminately but as one ages and reflects back, those random events develop an orderly pattern. There is a line from a Ray Wiley Hubbard song that claims that “Muddy Waters is as deep as William Blake.” Maybe a lot of those guys are.
Joe Walsh definitely is.