Joe Walsh Analog Man

Joe Walsh recently gave a scintillating and exclusive series of guitar lessons in Gibson’s London showroom. Now the guitar great has a promise for fans: 20 years will not pass before he records his next solo album.

Yes, Analog Man, Walsh’s latest effort, is the first solo album the Eagles guitarist has released in two decades. What’s amazing is how perfectly the album dovetails with past Walsh classics such as 1973’s The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get and 1978’s But Seriously Folks…. Rife with radio-friendly melodies, sensational guitar work and Walsh’s trademark wit, Analog Man (which, ironically, was recorded digitally) deserves some sort of special comeback award. “I’m writing music I really like,” says Walsh. “This album is all about the new Joe.”

Recently, Walsh talked about making the album with producer Jeff Lynne, his distinctive guitar style and how he and Don Felder pushed one another during the recording of the Eagles’ classic, “Hotel California.”

Did you and Jeff Lynne have a great rapport?

When he and I first got together, he said, “Why don’t you bring some of your stuff over, and we’ll listen to it?” We did that, and he had comments and ideas. Gradually we saw just how much we enjoyed working together. In terms of taking a good idea and making a complete thing out of it, he’s invaluable. He took the album in a direction I never would have gone by myself. He brought out the best in me. He’s also an analog guy.

By “analog,” you’re referring to something other than how the album was recorded. Are advances in technology not an altogether good thing?

These are great times to be alive, to see where all these things are going to lead us, but I don’t think anyone gave forethought to the effects the Internet would have. Our bodies sit and stare at a computer screen, waiting for our minds to come back. People who play those really violent games … they’re not here, they’re inside that game. Some people do that for days. They don’t bathe, and they wonder what day it is when they come back to real life. Of course, that’s an extreme example.

You’ve always made great use of space and silence in your guitar playing. How did you hit on that?

I look for symmetry in things. When things are put together in such a way that you can’t quite hear everything that’s going on, that really bothers me. Maybe I have attention deficient disorder, or maybe I’m slightly autistic, but I have to be able to hear everything. If a record is playing, and I’m listening to a part, and something else is going on in the background that keeps me from hearing that part properly, I get irritated, and I can’t enjoy what I’m listening to. So I try and always make spaces.

Are there other artists you admire who’ve done that?

Brian Wilson did it in The Beach Boys, back in the day. And Alan Parsons, in the Alan Parsons Project. There are people around who are on the same page as me, but of course there’s an awful lot of music around where that factor isn’t considered. And that’s okay, too. All of it has to do with studying records.

Is that how you learned to play guitar, by listening to albums by other people?

That’s what you do. You learn how to play every Beatles song, on guitar. That’s a good start. And of course you listen to Clapton and Beck and Page. Actually you listen to a whole bunch of people, and figure out what all your influences are. Two things are important. First, you sit and figure out other people’s parts, including listening to the old blues players, so that you get a bank of knowledge to draw from. Eventually that leads to coming up with your own ideas, writing your own material. Second, you have to get out and play in front of people. That’s a big part of being a musician. Lots of kids rehearse in their parents’ garage and become legends in that environment, but they never play for anybody.

Duane Allman taught you slide guitar. When did you first put that lesson to use?

“Rocky Mountain Way” was the first major statement. I sat in a garage for about a year, listening to old blues records and playing along with them. Eventually I got to a point where it was second nature to play slide parts. And I got to where I wasn’t playing other people’s licks, to where I was starting to be able to play what I heard in my head. But the way you learn is to play other people’s licks. “Rocky Mountain Way” was the first instance where I said, “Okay, here we go. Here’s a slide song, and I’m serious.”

People always want to know about the guitar interplay on “Hotel California.” Did you and Felder spend a great deal of time working out your parts?

Not a great deal. Once Don [Henley] had figured out the words, and once the vocal was sung, so we knew where not to play, Felder and I decided we would have multiple guitars playing together, doing the same thing, in different voices. We wanted to build that up within the body of the song, so that it would gradually become more complex. And we decided that, at the end of the song, we would have a go at one another. Felder and I pushed each other. It was competitive. It was like, “Okay, watch this!” We did that on purpose, because it created tension, that effort to be the tougher guy. You can hear that in our performances.

The two of you were also careful to mix a single-coil guitar with a Les Paul?

That’s right. I played a [guitar with a single coil] and Don played a Les Paul. We always tried to do that, instead of having two double-coil guitars, so that you could tell who’s playing what. We found that the contrast between a single coil and a double coil created two distinct personalities and sounds. Don and I might have spent two days, three hours at a time, building up the guitars on “Hotel California.” Those were great times. We were really focused. It was a lot of work to do that in such a way that it sounded like one guy playing.

How far along are The Eagles’ plans for next year?

We’re working on a documentary. We’ve looked at all our archives – lots of archived video and interview footage that dates back even before I joined the band. It’s going to cover the entire lifetime of the band. Everybody on the perimeter is interviewed, and we’re all interviewed. We’ve got great people producing and directing it. My best guess is that it will come out around the end of the year. The plan is to put together a new show based on the theme of it being our 40th anniversary as a band, and based on the documentary project. With all that content, we’ll go out and have a “Happy Birthday” tour sometime next year.

And in the meantime?

We’ve got our individual projects going on. I have my album, Glenn [Frey] has a new album out, and Don [Henley] is working on an album of his own in Nashville. I’m going out this year and play my new music, plus some of the old catalog. It’s been kind of downtime for the Eagles, but things are in the works. Whenever the four of us get together, it turns into something much bigger than the individual parts. We recognize that and we love playing together, but not all the time. We have to have our own space as well.