Joe Walsh is known to many as the rubber-faced guitarist for the Eagles. He’s one of the most impressive guitarists to ever pick up a Fender Stratocaster, personally responsible for classics like “Funk #49,” “Rocky Mountain Way,” and “Life’s Been Good,” to name a few. What many people might not know about Walsh, is that’s he’s also a Gold Star kid.
“My father died in active duty in 1949 when I was about 20 months old” he said. “So, my whole life I’ve been aware of what a family goes through and what a kid goes through, making that adjustment. I’ve been kind of resonant to that.” As the wars in both Iraq and especially Afghanistan rage on, with seemingly no end in sight, Walsh has decided to do something to help the veterans of those wars cope with the effects of the battlefield, as well as their reintegration with society, by holding a blowout concert call Vet Aid on September 20 in Fairfax, Virginia. Walsh will perform, along with the likes of Gary Clark Jr., Keith Urban, and the Zac Brown Band.
“I’ve always kind of been on the perimeter looking at it and it just doesn’t feel right,” he admitted. “I decided to take it up a notch and make it a cause, try to get some awareness going and try and help. There’s too many families that are hurting.”
As a veteran myself, the event means a lot to me, and I recently had the opportunity to talk to Walsh about this new venture, the future of the Eagles, and what it meant to perform at the last Steely Dan concert ever to feature it’s founder Walter Becker before he died.
Why did you decide to talk up the cause of Veterans?
I just don’t see much being done. It’s public awareness, I don’t think the public is really aware, really, of what’s going on over there. And what the soldiers have to go through and what it’s like to come home. If the public knew about that more, I think more help would be available. But, in the meantime, there’s organizations that do good in helping vets. But in my experience, the bigger the organization are the more money goes towards the administration of the organization. They can almost get too big and kind of lose sight of what they’re doing.
So, with this festival, are you looking to disperse funds to local veterans groups then?
When we find people who have a great record, people who have feedback from vets that they helped a lot. We look at them. I think we’ve got about fifteen this year that we’re going to introduce at the concert. And there will be a little video about each of them and what they do. It will be an ongoing thing as we become aware of the smaller organizations, we’ll put them on the list. When we get a batch, we’ll announce it and send out the funds. It’s the first time I’ve ever done this, it’s new to me. But I think we’ll get the hang of it.
How did the lineup come together?
Well, the first round of asks were pretty discouraged and kind of late notice. Most people were out on tour or have a full schedule by this point. It was pretty bleak, people would say ‘Gee, I’d love to but, I’m playing that night.’ Or ‘My equipment can’t get there’ or ‘I’m on a family vacation.’ So, I thought maybe we’ll just try again next year. But a couple of people said, ‘Wait a minute, I’ll get back to you.’ Keith Urban initially said he could come and kind of play with the house band. He didn’t think he could get his whole band there. That was great. Then he called and said, ‘Never mind, I’m bringing my whole band.’ Gary Clark Jr. has something on the west coast that conflicted, so he couldn’t get there, he really wanted to come. So, the initial, ‘Sorry man.’ Turned into ‘Wait a minute.’ That, whatever it was, got delayed. So he called and said, ‘I’m coming, I want to open.’ Same with Zac Brown. They said I could play too! So, yay!
Talking about performing live, you recently played a pair of live shows, The Classic East and West with The Eagles with Glenn Frey’s son filling in…
Right, Deacon, exactly. How did his integration into the band come about?
We spent a good part of the year just being sad and figuring that was it, it was over. We didn’t see anyway in hell that… we didn’t see any solution at all. Gradually, we just hung out with Deacon Frey a little bit and figured, ‘Well, geez, he’s pretty good actually.’ We didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to him even when Glenn was alive, but he’s really good. So, very cautiously, we thought, ‘Well, we’ve got to try. We’ve got to at least try.’ Then we can say it’s over, or it’s not.
How did the shows themselves come off from your view?
It was absolutely wonderful on stage. The reaction that we got, I mean, the whole audience was singing along with us. We got great reviews. So, very very cautiously… we’re not going to go out and do a massive tour. We’re just going to play here and there when we can have the highest quality that we can have. We’re going to keep going. There’s no reason not to. We really want to be able to play our music, we just didn’t think we had the means to do that.
As I’m sure you’re aware, the Classic East in New York was the final live performance of Walter Becker from Steely Dan. Looking back on it now, how does that feel to you?
Well, sad. Just sad. I naively thought, ‘Hey, this is great. We’re all going to get old together.’ But, boy, the last couple of years, our peer group has just been dropping out. And every one of them hurts. Steely Dan and the James Gang were on the same record label in 1971. So, I knew those guys since then. Walter was great, an amazing guy. I spent so much time trying to figure out his guitar parts, and I never really could.
Yeah, the dude is a wizard, for sure.
I had to give up in disgust, and say, ‘Oh well.’
I have to admit, I’ve said the same thing to myself trying to learn some of your parts.
Well, okay, you know the feeling then.
Since I have you, what is the secret to great slide playing?
There are certain basics. First of all, the E major tuning. Tune your guitar so it’s playing in E cord with no left hand on the neck, just open. Duane Allman taught me how to play like that.
Wow, that’s a pretty amazing teacher.
The less you think about it, the better it’s going to get. Keep it simple. Nothing is rigid, everything is just totally loose. Don’t get tight with your hand, don’t hold the slide real tight. Just totally relax. If you do that, gradually, it will start to get swampy, and that’s what you want.
Swampy is good.
You definitely want a swamp element.