Joe Walsh’s 70th Birthday Party

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Life’s been good to me so far.

I first saw the James Gang at Staples High School, in Westport, Connecticut, in the spring of 1970, they were opening for Rhinoceros, and when Joe sat at the organ and played the intro to “Take a Look Around”…

I was elated.

Steph turned me on to “Yer’ Album,” the band’s debut. It was over by then, but having my driver’s license I decided to give it one more shot, I drove to Dorset to play mini-pool as she ignored me and that record played in the background, at least I got something out of the night.

And when I got back to Connecticut I immediately bought “Yer’ Album” and became infatuated. And the funny thing is I still listen to it, regularly,  it roots me, makes me feel like I’m part of  something, on a giant continuum, which warms my heart in an era where society has been blown apart, where we’re all here and we cannot connect.

It was at the No Name and it was a who’s who of somebodies.

I immediately ran into Kenny Passarelli. Who just looked like an older version of his same self. Funny how it is, some have lines in their face, and others retain their youthful good looks. And then I talked to the birthday boy himself. I reminded him of his quote, I read it in “People” magazine a few decades back, wherein he said the challenge was staying alive, that dying was easy. And believe me, that’s true. You feel the same inside but the world changes and your friends disappear and just when you’re completely weirded-out, you’re suddenly comfortable in your own skin. The
penumbra dissipates, it’s just an endless river of hype, and if you get on your float and let the current move you along you can actually enjoy the ride. It’s when you want to go against the river’s wishes that you get in trouble.

And then Don Was and Benmont Tench.

And Ken Ehrlich and his wife.

And Felice started a conversation with Stewart Copeland and that’s when I looked around and realized the room was a who’s who. Everybody from Bill Maher to Paul Allen. From Jerry Moss to Sherry Lansing. From Jim Keltner to Jeff Lynne. From Tom Hanks to Richard Lewis. Everybody was recognizable. That’s what fame will deliver, the inner circle, somewhere we all want to be
and rarely get access to.

I felt privileged to be in attendance. Especially when people knew who I was. Joe’s wife Marjorie came up to me and my natural instinct was to state my name, to explain who I was, that I was not an interloper, and she said of course she knew who I was, they were big fans.

So maybe I’m inside. Or half in and half out.

And it’s been a long way to the top of rock and roll.

We all listened to these records. I’d say they changed our lives, but they were our lives. We knew not only the tunes, but the stories of those who made them. They were like best friends, even though we’d never ever met them.

So after schmoozing, catching up with Luke, there was a video.

And then there were speeches.

Joe Vitale recited the road shenanigans. The glue gun stories. All that legendary stuff you’ve read about, Joe was a progenitor.

And Bill Szymczyk said “Barnstorm” was the peak of his career.

And then Barnstorm took the stage.

It was a little space. The instruments barely fit. I’d say it resembled junior high school, but even there they would not punish the band with so little foot space.

And then Vitale, now in his t-shirt, hit the drums, Passarelli fingered the fretless bass, and Joe Walsh WAILED!

In the sixties bands sounded bad. There were inadequate sound systems and the players were not seasoned and it was a facsimile of the music.

This was the music itself.

It was just astounding, not only does Joe never miss a note, he can recreate all those sounds you believed were studio confections.

You hear the intro to “Rocky Mountain Way” and the guitar is a bit fatter, and the riff is chugging along and you can’t believe it, you’re pinching yourself, you’re ten feet away and your life flashes before your eyes, all the times you heard this track, driving in your car, at home with the stereo blasting.

His roadies are swapping guitars. He’s pushing the pedals. And you’re just stunned the sound is so exquisite, so right, even the voice box effect. You’re seeing an arena-sized show in a bar. All led by a guy who’s been at it for decades, who dedicated his life to rock and roll.

That’s what we did. We didn’t realize it at the time, we just had to get closer.

And then came “Life Is Good,” which Szymczyk said Joe wanted to leave off the album. This was after “Hotel California,” Joe filled the hole, he was bigger than he ever was.

But then came the original breakthrough, “Funk #49.” I can hear it in my brain as I write this. It’s one of the few tracks that is even more legendary, more part of the firmament than it was when it came out. You see there are few iconic riffs, and isn’t it astounding that Joe has written so many of them?

I was tingling. You rarely get to see a master at work this close up. We all played in bands, most of us sucked, we gave up, how did Joe Walsh get so damn GOOD?

You realize there’s no comparison to today’s “musicians.” They’ve got 10,000 hours in social networking, whereas the stars of yesteryear, the ones who still have careers today based on their efforts back then, practiced and rehearsed in obscurity until they were ready, off the grid, with no attention, and then they got everybody’s attention.

And it’s hard to keep it, attention that is. There are always new acts coming up. Ones who want to replace you. You can’t hold the brass ring very long.

Except if you’re the Eagles. America’s biggest band, just check the statistics, who are ironically better in their new incarnation.

And then Ringo sat behind the kit and did “Boys.” I played that one on my guitar. It was on the VeeJay album, “Introducing the Beatles,” the one we all bought after purchasing “Meet The Beatles,” when we needed more.

And then came an iconic track from that American debut, “I Wanna Be Your Man.” That’s right, it’s a Beatle, all these years later, playing the drums the exact same way, with fists closed, bouncing ever so slightly on the stool. A man who’s famous around the world, based only on a song. Politicians are forgotten, titans of industry too, but not musicians. And Lukather was telling me how many hundreds of millions of streams Toto had on Spotify. He was thrilled with the new world, and he could whip off the lines in “Birthday” like he recorded then in Abbey Road.

And then the confetti rained down and dessert was served and I got the history of the James Gang from Jimmy Fox, talked politics with Jackson Browne, and got into it with my new best friend, Sarah Buxton, who co-wrote Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy,” the song that got me into country music, although her original is entitled “Stupid Girl.”

And Kenny Passarelli filled me in on what he’s been doing all these years. He started out as a classical player, but the pull of rock and roll…

It was just too strong, we couldn’t resist it. It wasn’t music, but something more. It was religion, it was freedom, it expanded our brains, it made us feel good.

But it had to be made by somebody.

And without business people you’ve got no success.

But someone has to write and play the tunes.

What does that feel like? How do you soldier on when everybody knows your name, when everybody’s paying attention?

Just ask Joe Walsh, he wrote the book.

That Ringo helped prop open, that we all read, that we’re all still reading, it’s our Bible.

I blasted “Walk Away” in my dorm room at Middlebury.

I listened to “Meadows” as I drove over Vail Pass in ’76.

When it’s warm in the fall my brain sings “Indian Summer.”

And I live in the city.

Tonight I was welcomed to the club.

Back to where I once belonged.

You know the feeling…

Because you’re a member too.

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