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Analog Man: A Conversation With Joe Walsh

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Mike Ragogna: Joe, how are you?

Joe Walsh: Hello, Mike. I'm good, thanks.

MR: So your new album, Analog Man, is your first in 20 years. Twenty years?

JW: Well, two things happened. The Eagles decided to get back to work, so Hell Freezes Over came out of that, and we've been working ever since. We've been around the world a couple times. That's pretty much a full time job, so I hadn't really gotten any momentum going in terms of solo work. The other thing was in 1994, it was time for me to get sober, and I had to reinvent myself starting from the ground up and figure out how to live life sober. That took a while. Playing in front of people was terrifying. I learned how to have fun again, and a whole bunch of stuff, I just had to learn how to do it. I didn't do songwriting or artistic work right away because there were a lot of triggers there until I got some sobriety under my belt. Between those two, it's been a while, yeah. Holy smokes! The last time I made a record, it was on recording tape, and we had knobs, and now there's a mouse, so it's all new technology I've had to learn.

MR: Well, you are the Analog Man.

JW: Well I am! Yeah!

MR: Okay, so Analog Man is the name of the album, and you make a couple of points in that song, Joe. As most people will tell you, it's like a ten-year-old knows more about digital than most grownups. We just scratch our heads going, "How'd they do that?"

JW: Yeah! When my computer doesn't work, I just go and find a kid to fix it. It's a whole new world. It's a virtual world. It doesn't exist. It's an illusion that a computer has made, and we all spend a lot of time in there.

MR: The whole world living in a digital dream.

JW: While our bodies sit in chairs waiting for our minds to come back. It's new to me. I've had to make some adjustments from the old days, and I don't know what to think of it! I don't know if we're working for it or if it's working for us.

MR: That's a good way to put it. Now, this is your first album in twenty years and it's a real personal album -- you can so tell that with "Lucky That Way," which is kind of like "Life's Been Good (Part 2)."

JW: It kind of turned into a sequel, didn't it?

MR: Yeah. And you have songs like "Family," etc., that are also very personal. The significant change that happened to you, other than being sober, was creating family, right?

JW: Yeah, I got married three and a half years ago, and I found a wonderful, wonderful woman -- my wife Marjorie. She's kind of the part of me that was missing. I also got, along with her, this very large extended family that's very close. They all have each other's backs, and this is a new dynamic for me that I've never been around. I was isolated in my dark days and was in some relationships that didn't work and just toured by myself for years, so learning to be a part of it is something new to me, but wonderful. I have this wonderful new family and it's really helped me open up and let everybody inside.

MR: Yeah, I love some of "Family"'s lyrics, such as, "Give thanks, break bread, say grace, bow heads for all of this love that surrounds me." You truly love your family, sir.

JW: I really do! I really do, and I look at everything in a completely different way. I'm just healthy, happy, confident and sober, and I have a lot to say because I haven't done this in a long time. I think that's what you hear in the album.

MR: Now, you're staying socially conscious on this album with "Band Played On," which I think is saying, "Hey, everybody, we need to take a look at things. We need a new pair of glasses."

JW: It seems to me that we're like ostriches with our heads in the ground pretending nothing's wrong, and in the mean time, the economy is crashing, and the government is broken, and there's a lot of stuff that needs fixing. There's a complacency that we have, that this is acceptable. We're not doing anything. We're just waiting for the economy to get better, and it may not. I think that's dangerous, so I slipped that into a song about the Titanic because it's kind of an analogy. Maybe the ship is starting to sink, and it's not good that we just stand around and watch.

MR: The amazing thing is that every time there's an election, it seems like we get all excited about change -- "change" having been the big operative word the last time out -- and then things stay status quo.

JW: I agree. It's not a real choice, really. It's all the same. It's just whether the Republicans do it or the Democrats do it. I remember when Obama got elected. That was huge! Gosh, everybody was celebrating that finally change was on the way, and here we are again. I'm not putting him down. I'm not putting anybody down, but I'm just saying that this complacency is a bad habit that we've developed. How could we not? Our choices for people to vote for... There's not a whole lot out there.

MR: Right on, let's get back to the record! Joe, you're a Rock And Roll Hall of Famer. How do you feel about that?

JW: Well, it's good for my ego.

MR: (laughs) I love it! Let's get back to the new album Analog Man. You co-produced it with good ol' Jeff Lynne.

JW: Yeah, one of the things my wife said to me was, "I really believe in you and you should maybe get off your rear end and finish this. And by the way, here's Jeff Lynne's number." She's known him a long time and he and I never really officially met. Way, way back, ELO -- Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra -- and James Gang played some festivals together. But we never had quality time, so Jeff and I met socially, and at one point he said, "Why don't you bring your tracks over sometime and we'll have a listen." That led to some comments and ideas that he had. Gradually, we worked on some stuff and checked out some of his stuff too. It ended up that he really helped me finish it up and ended up producing. He really put his stamp on my music and took it in a direction I never would have gone, and I'm really grateful to him. He's a great friend, and he's an amazing musician.

MR: Nice. And speaking of family, you have your brother-in-law Ringo on drums on the project.

JW: Yes, I do! I played on his album.

MR: He owed you.

JW: It wasn't free.

MR: (laughs) Joe, you're becoming a Beatle, like didn't we see you at the Grammys playing with Paul McCartney on "Valentine"?

JW: I'm afraid you did.

MR: (laughs) That was beautiful, man, oh by the way.

JW: It's wonderful having a Beatle for a brother-in-law, but in this family I'm talking about, between Christmas and Thanksgiving and stuff, he's like a brother I never had. His insight and his wisdom has helped me immensely both with my life and with my music. I'm really, really grateful to have someone like him in my life. He's a special person.

MR: Before we leave the territory of changing one's life from the way it used to be, you are so insightful on the song "Wrecking Ball." If you live your life like a wrecking ball, there's a pretty high price to play when you slam into another big wall.

JW: Yeah, well that was retrospective a little bit. That's about the old Joe. Also, I kind of am dedicating that to the new group of young celebrities who are, shall we say, on probation. (laughs)

MR: Excellent way of putting it that. And everybody, in order to get through those kind of challenged times, should be living one day at a time, right?

JW: Exactly, exactly. In recovery, I wanted to tell my story -- what it was like, and what it's like now -- with the least amount of words, just plain and simple. I wanted to put that song out there as kind of a beacon of hope to anybody who listens to my music and might be in some trouble themselves. There's life after it all and it's good, and if I help one or two people along the way, that's good. It's worth the energy.

MR: Yeah, nicely done.

JW: Thank you.

MR: You're welcome. Okay, so you've also got "Funk 50," your wiseguy song, a variation on "Funk 49" with a little extra.

JW: That's a good story. In pre-season football this year, ESPN called me up, and they have the Sunday NFL countdown in the morning where they analyze games and compare notes and stuff -- Chris Berman and those guys. They said, "We're James Gang fans, so we want something like 'Funk 49' but not 'Funk 49.' We need some new music." So I did about a minute for their intro and the ins and outs of the show and they used that all last season, except it was 9 o'clock Sunday morning, so nobody ever heard it. But I thought that came out pretty good, and it was a shame it was just a minute, so I put some vocals and went ahead and made it into a song and put it on the album. They wanted "Funk 49" but not "Funk 49," so "Funk 50" they got!

MR: (laughs) By the way, your instrumental, the experimental "India"? Classy. Something for the kids too.

JW: Yeah, you know, I absolutely love the trance, the dance, the remixes that the DJs are doing, all of that electronica music. I listen to the satellite radio channel of it. I don't know who's who, but some of them are making great, great music. It's not mainstream, so they're really dedicated. My wife and I went to India. We finished an Eagles show and were in Australia, so we went on to India, and it was an amazing experience. It really changed how I looked at the big picture. In Mumbai, I happened to hear an electronica band. They didn't play musical instruments, they played laptops; they had MacBooks. That's what they played, and it was really loud with really good lights, and I heard it live, and it just made me want to do that. I just said, "These guys are cool! I want to be like that!" So I named it "India" because that's what got me into doing it. I just wanted to make a song like that, I just decided to do an instrumental at 120 beats per minute and just put it out there. So that's my electronica experiment.

MR: Joe, by the way, it seems like that's the next wave. Every kid is doing it now, every kid is learning programs like Ableton, and they're all jumping on board with programming all sorts of music, making music from their computers.

JW: And they're doing great! It sure gets me off.

MR: But they're not exactly analog men.

JW: No, no they're not!

MR: But they know what they're doing.

JW: We're fewer and fewer, but we know how to make things phase like Hendrix did.

MR: (laughs) There you go! Joe, I ask you this every time, let's do it again. What advice do you have for new artists?

JW: Well, I would say -- and I've always said -- you cannot be a legend in your parents' garage. You've got to go play in front of people, even if you stink. You've got to go do it and learn how to do that because that's as much of a part of being a good musician as the music. You've got to go play for free. You've just got to get out and play in front of people. And if you do that, the rest will take care of itself. It's a new world. There's the Internet now. There's no more record companies. I would like to give people some advice, but I'm wondering what to do myself!

MR: (laughs) You're an Eagle!

JW: You get on there and you make your presence known. If you can just make people know that you have music, they'll find it, and there are ways to do that with the social networks and stuff. I'm just learning it, but it's a whole new game than when I was young, so every man for himself, kind of!

MR: Are you enjoying it still?

JW: Oh, yeah. I'm having a great time, I really am. I never thought about being this age. I'm still this kid in this body that's starting to slow down, but I'm not done yet, and like I say, I'm really positive and confident, and I've got everything that I've learned over the years to use as tools and I got a lot more music to make.

MR: Beautiful. Joe, I really appreciate your time, as always, and let's not wait until the next album to get together again.

JW: All right, fair enough! I'm on tour this summer. Come and hear me! We'll get arrested.

MR: All right, you got it.

Tracks:

CD
1. Analog Man
2. Wrecking Ball
3. Lucky That Way
4. Spanish Dancer
5. Band Played On
6. Family
7. One Day At A Time
8. Hi-Roller Baby
9. Funk 50
10. India
11. But I Try
12. Fishbone

DVD
1. Analog Man - live video
2. Lucky That Way - live video
3. Wrecking Ball - live video
4. Interview and Track by Track with Joe Walsh - video

Transcribed by Kyle Pongan