Rhinofy-So What

How do you follow up “Rocky Mountain Way”?

You don’t.

Going solo after success in the James Gang, Joe Walsh believed the world was his oyster, he’d have instant success now that he could play by his own rules, but this was not to be, his solo debut, “Barnstorm,” was a stiff. Oh, it contained the original version of “Turn To Stone,” but Joe seemed to fit the paradigm that the act was always bigger than its star. Until “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get,” with the aforementioned “Rocky Mountain Way,” which still gets played live by the Eagles today and has eclipsed its talk box brethren, Peter Frampton’s “Show Me The Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do,” in longevity.

Oh, Frampton’s tracks still maintain. But somehow, unlike Peter’s records, Joe’s doesn’t seem dated, it’s not a curio, it exists as a singular relic of the seventies that has lost none of its power in the ensuing decades. That’s the power of the riff. Oh, Black Sabbath majored in headbanging, but Joe eclipsed them with “Rocky Mountain Way.” It was a languid walk, so representative of the ethos of the day, one in which the younger generation had detached from the economy, the entire mainstream, and had gone on its own personal hejira fueled by drink and drugs. Oh, Miley Cyrus wants parents to pay attention, to be pissed if nothing else, whereas Joe Walsh and so many of the rock stars of the seventies just got in their convertibles, headed for the sunset and never looked back…and the minions followed them. “Rocky Mountain Way” is heavy without being bleak. It works whether you’re driving with the top down or in your basement almost comatose, and when it’s played now, it reminds baby boomers of what once was, who they were, when they were skinny and music ruled.

And at this late date, we can see that “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” was uneven. But it was such a great listening experience, with not only “Rocky Mountain Way,” but the second side opener, “Meadows,” employing the same riff as Deep Purple’s “My Woman From Tokyo,” but with far superior dynamics, when the song gets quiet in the middle you swoon.

So, to go back to the top, “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” becomes a staple, almost impossible to follow up, but Joe Walsh tries anyway, with the not long thereafter released “So What,” which is sans the absolute peaks of its predecessors, but is ultimately much more satisfying, it’s the Joe Walsh album I listen to today.

Forty years ago, I saw its opening track, “Welcome To The Club” as imitation “Rocky Mountain Way,” not as slow, not quite as heavy, but trying to achieve the same feeling it failed. But as the years passed and the comparison evaporated, “Welcome To The Club” began to stand on its own, listen today and you’ll nod your head, because it feels so good! It’s the guitar work, it’s hypnotic, it’s like Joe didn’t care if you were paying attention, he was just gonna go off and do his own thing. And when it breaks down at the two and a half minute mark and then builds back up, you’re enraptured. That’s Joe Walsh’s secret weapon, dynamics.

And then there’s “Time Out,” which also hearkens back to “Rocky Mountain Way,” but is slower and therefore more meaningful, especially when you get to the sweet chorus, juxtaposed with the heavy guitar.

The second side has a remake of “Turn To Stone,” since almost nobody heard it the first time around. It’s refined, a bit better than the original, still I prefer the first, although I could be the only one, in any event it’s a great track.

Following that is the slow “Help Me Through The Night,” from an era back when everything on an album didn’t sound the same. And despite being quiet, it’s not a hair band ballad sellout, you think Joe truly believes it. And it’s a counterpoint to the humor of the first side’s “All Night Laundry Mat Blues.” Joe was a three-dimensional character.

And “Song For Emma,” a tribute to Joe’s deceased daughter, closes the album on a quiet note.

But the piece de resistance comes just before, “County Fair.”

This is the “Rocky Mountain Way” follow-up, this is where Joe went next, the fact that no one realized it does not deny it, this is an incredibly powerful cut that sounds completely different from “Rocky Mountain Way” but is every bit as powerful. I realized this sitting in a movie theatre in Century City, nearly alone, watching Robert Towne’s 1998 movie about Steve Prefontaine, “Without Limits.”

Oh, today all music is compressed, made to sound loud on the horrible systems people listen to. But when you’re in a theatre, and the image is gigantic and the sound too…you’re bowled over!

It was the second Prefontaine movie. It stiffed. But Towne was shooting for the limits, he always did, and when that whacking, powerful riff emanated from the sound system, with the drums pounding underneath, it was like being in that Maxell ad, where your hair got blown back.

Oh, “County Fair” is a long number, nearly seven minutes, and when it quiets down at the end and the riff solos, it’s positively magical. They don’t make music like this anymore, pristinely produced with professional playing, when you listen to “County Fair” it sounds so fresh, even more modern than what’s on the airwaves, a veritable Dead Sea Scroll come alive.

Joe Walsh went on to join the Eagles, he even had more solo success, but at this late date not only has the stiff “Barnstorm” album been wiped from the map, but “So What.” You should check it out.

Rhinofy-So What

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