My day was more or less bookended by Joe Walsh. It began this morning, after listening to a bit of my radio station’s morning show, when I settled in to do a little get-ahead work at home and I put on the James Gang “Live In Concert” CD. I picked this up for cheap a couple of weeks ago when I went on a little Bull Moose Music spree, which finally filled the final hole in my Walsh-era JG collection (three studio albums, one live). The other end of the equation was finding out Joe Walsh would play Portland this summer. I really ought to check him out while he’s still alive, well and active.
Of all the phases of Joe Walsh’s career, his James Gang period is still the phase that resonates with me the most. Yes, this power trio cranked out some legendary rockers like “Funk #49,” “Walk Away” and especially “The Bomber,” but they were also capable of creating more atmospheric moments like “Ashes, the Rain and I,” “Tend My Garden,” and today’s DDT, “Take a Look Around.”
“Take a Look Around” was the first impression the listener had of Joe Walsh/The James Gang’s career, leading off their 1969 debut “’Yer Album.” I first got to know it via the double-disc Walsh retrospective “Look What I Did!” which I picked up around age 18 or 19. Being that age, I picked it up because I really dug “Life’s Been Good,” “Rocky Mountain Way” and the two James Gang tunes our local classic rock stations in Massachusetts would play. I would quickly learn there was a lot more to Joe Walsh than the self-deprecating (reformed) partying rock and roller you get from most of his hits.
As trios do, The James Gang did a bit of overdubbing, and on this track Walsh handles organ, piano, and of course guitar. You don’t even hear Walsh the guitarist for the first time on “’Yer Album” until nearly three minutes into the track. “Take a Look Around” rides along on a constant bed of Hammond organ, and the moment when you finally hear the guitar is as transcendent as a Joe Walsh recording could ever be; it’s like you’ve reached altitude, cruising above the clouds, and that airy haze is pierced with a graceful Walsh solo.
Of course, it’s interesting to hear how Walsh handles this track on the live album: no guitar, just organ, and a straight segue right into the keyboard-heavy “Tend My Garden.” I’ve always been intrigued by power-trio live albums, especially in how they arrange their most complex recordings for stage. Yes, you lose something in the live version here, but it’s honest with no trickery, and that’s to be respected. (Plus, I could listen to a Hammond Organ drone on for an hour and love it.)
I’ve always enjoyed the mellow, slightly brooding side of Joe Walsh. He would explore that avenue a bit more on a few tracks on the next two James Gang albums, and on his excellent “Barnstorm” solo debut album of 1972.
And then in 1983 he would record a song called “I Like Big Tits.”
And that’s Joe Walsh.