The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get

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The Smoker You Drink the Player You Get by Joe WalshThe second of two albums featuring singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joe Walsh with his backup group Barnstorm, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get features a fine selection of diverse rock, blues, folk and jazz. This diversity in style is parallel to the diversity of composers within Barnstorm as well as the multiple lead vocalists throughout the album. As a result, this 1973 album proved to be a commercial breakthrough for Walsh and the band, reaching the Top 10 in the United States.

After much success with James Gang, Walsh decided to leave that rock trio in late 1971. He relocated to Colorado, where he formed the band Barnstorm, with bassist Kenny Passarelli and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale. Very soon after forming, the group started recording their debut album, which was originally released as the eponymous Barnstorm (later listed as a Joe Walsh solo album) in October 1972. While a critical success, the album had only moderate commercial success.

The group immediately began work on a follow-up in late 1972 with producer Bill Szymczyk. Recorded throughout the winter of 1972-1973, this second album features a fourth Barnstorm member, keyboardist Rocke Grace, although the album is fully credited to Walsh as a solo artist.


The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get by Joe walsh
Released: June 18, 1973 (ABC-Dunhill)
Produced by: Joe Walsh & Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: 1972-1973
Side One Side Two
Rocky Mountain Way
Book Ends
Wolf
Midnight Moodies
Happy Ways
Meadows
Dreams
Days Gone By
Day Dream (Prayer)
Primary Musicians
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards. Vocals
Kenny Passarelli – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Rocke Grace – Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Vitale – Drums, Percussion, Drums, Keyboards, Flute, Vocals

The album begins with its most popular and indelible track, “Rocky Mountain Way”, compositionally credited to all four Barnstorm members. This entertaining, methodical rocker features a masterful coda section with an impressive talk box lead followed by Walsh’s signature slide guitar as the song fades out. Lyrically, the song was inspired by Walsh reflecting on his decision to leave the James Gang and move to Colorado and it became Walsh’s first Top 40 hit.

Vitale’s “Book Ends” is a Bowie-esque glam ballad with piano and nicely treated guitars on top, while the drummer takes on lead vocals duties, followed by the dark folk, almost pyschedelic vibe of “Wolf”, where the minimal arrangement lets the full sonic effect shine through as well as concentrate on Walsh’s vocal delivery. “Midnight Moodies” is a jazzy, piano-led instrumental composed by Grace, with some good rhythms, slight rock guitar as well as plenty of flute flourishes by Vitale. “Happy Ways” features lead vocals by bassist Passarelli along with plenty of extra percussion added by Vitale and session percussionist Joe Lala.

Joe Walsh and Barnstorm

The album’s original second side begins with “Meadows”, a rocker with multiple dynamics throughout from the hard rocking chorus to the quiet acoustic mid section. “Dreams” may be the best overall song on the second side as a very unique track which highlights Barnstorm’s musical talent and versatility. It alternates from quiet jazz ballad to upbeat Gospel sound with piano and organ playing a large musical role throughout. Vitale’s “Days Gone By” is a pleasant enough jazz/pop/rocker but an odd one as the final proper song on the album, being a sort of fusion between the sounds of Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and a Broadway show tune. “Day Dream (Prayer)” was constructed as a stand-alone coda, featuring rich backing vocals by guests Venetta Fields and Clydie King and really only one proper verse before a long fade out ending the album.

In 1974, Walsh played slide guitar on Vitale’s debut solo album, Roller Coaster Weekend, continuing a decades long musical relationship between the two despite the fact that Barnstorm would break up following The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get. Later that same year, Walsh released his first totally solo record, So What, which was much more introspective and much less musically diverse than this final Barnstorm album.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Ordinary Average Guy
by Joe Walsh

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Ordinary Average Guy by Joe WalshJoe Walsh‘s long solo career was beginning to wind down by the early nineties, in part due to a decades long “party” which was starting to take its toll on him personally and professionally. His ninth solo studio album, Ordinary Average Guy, is hardly his most heralded or successful. However, this was an important record in the sense that it takes a nostalgic look to the past as well as a sobering assessment of the present. Also notable here is Walsh’s inclusion of several fine ballads, a musical area which he had rarely explored to that point in his long career.

After The Eagles broke up in 1980, Walsh dove into his solo career which he began with Barnstorm in 1974 and continued in between Eagles albums with releases such as 1978’s But Seriously, Folks. In 1981, Walsh released the commercially successful There Goes the Neighborhood, which spawned the single, “A Life of Illusion”, a song originally intended for Walsh’s first solo album. Later in the decade, Walsh released You Bought It – You Name It and The Confessor, the latter of which included heavy input by Stevie Nicks. 1987’s Got Any Gum? would be Walsh’s final release of the decade and a commercial disappointment.

In 1990, Walsh reunited with former Barnstorm drummer Joe Vitale to co-produce Ordinary Average Guy. This album also features vocal and composition contributions by former Survivor lead vocalist Jimi Jamison as well as backing vocals by the legendary Ringo Starr.


Ordinary Average Guy by Joe Walsh
Released: April 23, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Joe Walsh & Joe Vitale
Recorded: August 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Two Sides to Every Story
Ordinary Average Guy
The Gamma Goochee
All of a Sudden
Alphabetical Order
Look at Us Now
I’m Actin’ Different
Up All Night
You Might Need Somebody
Where I Grew up (Prelude to School Days)
School Days
Joe Walsh – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Waddy Wachtel – Guitars
Joe Vitale – Drums, Percussion, Keyboards, Bass

Ordinary Average Guy by Joe Walsh

The album begins  with “Two Sides to Every Story”, co-written by bassist Rick Rosas. It starts with a harmonica lead, accompanied by a basic rock drum beat and chanting vocals and is fun and entertaining overall, albeit lyrically a bit clichéd. The title track, “Ordinary Average Guy”, is a fun bag of sonic candy which acts as a near modern adaptation of the famous “Life’s Been Good”, complete with rock/reggae elements and textures and the spoof-like lyrics. “The Gamma Goochee” cover song sounds like a great party tune with thumping bass and subtle synths to complement the vocal chanting and call and response crowd effects.

“All of a Sudden” is the first song on the album to depart from the established “party mode”, with somber and introspective lyrics on growing older. Co-written by Jamison, this track showcases fantastic music to match the vibe and mood.  With slide electric guitar interludes over some steady synths, bass and drums and a saxophone lead by Larry Otis,  this is the high point of Ordinary Average Guy. Unfortunately, this is immediately followed by the album’s low point, “Alphabetical Order”, a complete throwaway song, which seems like it is a mockery of rap but even misses the mark on that front.

Joe Walsh

On the second half of the album, the material is more evened out with accessible pop/rock. “Look at Us Now” has a rollin’ drum intro with slowly developing, harmonized slide guitar. The song proper maintains the beat while adding riff rudiments to accent the vocals, in an approach reminiscent of material on John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band more than two decades earlier. “I’m Actin’ Different” has an acoustic backing throughout with steady but strong rhythms and a slight Soul vibe as the song goes along. “Up All Night” features some over-the-top synths along with Latin-flavored percussive effects, while the cover “You Might Need Somebody” features a unique mix of 1980s Adult contemporary with Walsh’s persistent talk box guitars leading a built-up layer of fine guitar textures. The album concludes with a suite of two songs which nod back towards adolescent years. On “Where I Grew up (Prelude to School Days)” a synth arpeggio accompanies the solo Walsh vocals with little additional arrangement, while Vitale’s “School Days” wraps things up with the drummer taking lead vocals in a quasi doo-wop rock with eighties-style production overtones.

While a couple of songs were Mainstream Rock hits, Ordinary Average Guy failed to break the Top 100 on the Album charts. Similarly, its follow up Songs for a Dying Planet in 1992 was equally non-commercial and critically panned, and Walsh would not release another solo album for two solid decades.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1991 albums.

But Seriously, Folks by Joe Walsh

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But Seriously Folks by Joe WalshJoe Walsh found his greatest solo success with But Seriously, Folks in 1978, although “solo” is used loosely here. The versatile rocker did have help from all four members of his (then) current band The Eagles as well as a prime member of his former backing group Barnstorm. In fact, some have called this “the album the Eagles should have made” because it was released at a time when the next Eagles album (eventually The Long Run) and Walsh’s leftover track “In the City” was eventually used on that band album. No matter how the credit gets dispersed, But Seriously Folks is an excellent and original album, methodically combining musical styles with top-of-the-line production techniques.

This was Walsh’s first studio album in four years after releasing three in consecutive years from 1972-1974. During that time, Walsh replaced Bernie Leadon as lead guitarist of the Eagles and recorded the blockbuster Hotel California with the band in 1976. When the band had trouble composing material for a timely follow-up, Walsh decided to do this solo album and enlisted producer Bill Szymczyk for the project.

Joining Walsh in this insightful and melodic collection is former Barnstorm drummer, keyboardist, and multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale, who played a big part in forging the album’s song. Still, this is Walsh’s album through and through as elements from his James Gang, Barnstorm, and Eagles phases are fused with a contemporary sound to forge a truly unique collection of songs.


But Seriously, Folks by Joe Walsh
Released: May 16, 1978 (Asylum)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk and Joe Walsh
Side One Side Two
Over and Over
Second Hand Store
Indian Summer
At the Station
Tomorrow
Inner Tube
Theme from Boat Weirdos
Life’s Been Good
Primary Musicians
Joe Walsh – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Don Felder – Guitars, Vocals
Jay Ferguson – Keyboards, Vocals
Willie Weeks – Bass
Joe Vitale – Drums, Percussion, Keyboards, Flute, Vocals

 

The opener “Over and Over” starts with measured, hat-heavy drums by Vitale accompanying Walsh’s deliberate, flanged, addictive guitar progression. When the song fully kicks in, it contains dramatic and effective riffs with melodic vocals pushed out through Walsh’s typical whine. Lyrically, Walsh takes an introspective outlook on rejuvenation, a pattern he would repeat throughout the album.

After the rock-oriented opener, the listener may be surprised by the two rather easy-listening tracks which follow. “Second Hand Store” has an Eagles-like country/waltz vibe with an acoustic backing and slide guitar by Eagle Don Felder on top, along with some piano and vocal harmonies. This all makes for a very melodic and moody song. Driven by high bass notes of Willie Weeks, “Indian Summer” is a mellow song which builds slowly and eventually, containing some orchestral instruments and the signature slide guitar of Walsh, in many ways making it the most James Gang-oriented song on the album.

Joe Walsh in1978

The first side completes with the fine “At the Station”, a true collaboration between Walsh and Vitale. This electric, upbeat and theatrical tune could easily be a theme for a film or television show. It is a mini-suite about mid-career indecision morphs from guitar riffs through an organ-led section with the drums smoking throughout to make it cohesive.

Side two begins with “Tomorrow”, almost a quintessential late seventies soft pop song laced with pleasantly strummed acoustic topped with sonically pleasing “squeezed” electric guitar and bouncy bass notes. Walsh gives way keyboardist Jay Ferguson who provides a fine organ lead which compliments the upbeat and optimistic lyrics. A couple of instrumentals fill the middle of the side. “Inner Tube” is a very short keyboard and piano piece which probably got its name from the “liquid” sounding synth that forms the backing for the piece and leads directly into “Theme from Boat Weirdos”. This semi-improvised rock jam is a collaboration among the cohesive backing band including producer Szymczyk. Although there are many fits and stops and the mood seems to constantly change from section to section, this piece still remains interesting and cohesive throughout with all kinds of instruments making cameos including several synths, clavichord, strings, synth bass and flute.

Life's Been Good by Joe Walsh singleThe finale, “Life’s Been Good” is a sarcastic ode to Walsh’s “rock star-party guy” persona and went on to become the highest charting song of his career. On this album, all roads lead to this song which is the ultimate culmination of everything on But Seriously, Folks. Put together with several semi-autonomous sections, with each section methodical yet interesting morphing from Walsh’s dominant layered guitars to a brilliant verse reggae to a mid section led by an ARP Odyssey synth. The very end of the song and album ends with a minute-long inside joke mimicking “a flock of wah wahs”. Before the release of this album, “Life’s Been Good” first appeared on the Grammy winning soundtrack to the film FM.

Walsh returned to the Eagles for their final studio album (for nearly three decades afterwards) and played a major role in recording 1979’s The Long Run. That band adopted “Life’s Been Good” during their final tour and, when Walsh ran a mock campaign for President in 1980, one of the planks of his platform was to make “Life’s Been Good” the new national anthem. After the Eagles broke up in 1980, Walsh continued his solo career with many more albums for decades to come.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.