Rant ‘N’ Roll: A Tale Of Two Guitarists

I’ve always been a fan of Joe Walsh. Always loved “Funk #49” by the James Gang. And, of course, as lead guitarist for the Eagles, he forced that easy L.A. band to grow a pair of balls. How ironic is it that it took a Jersey boy (Montclair High School, class of 1965) to make a good band great.

Quick flashback: I’m sitting backstage at Farm Aid ’92 while on the road with The Kentucky Headhunters. Someone gave me a laminated artist pass instead of a press pass. I know I’m not supposed to be there, sitting on a couch with Willie Nelson while he rolls a joint and passes it to Kinky Friedman. So I just shut up and observe. Well here comes Joe Walsh blitzed out of his mind, practically falling into the food spread, eliciting dirty looks from John Mellencamp. Walsh can’t stand, can’t walk, can hardly talk he’s so damned stoned, but he’s due on stage in minutes. Neil Young whispers to Kris Kristofferson, “There’s no way he’s going to be able to play.” I’m tingling all over just being there and watching this unfold before my very eyes. We all go to the side of the stage to watch what everyone thinks is going to be a total trainwreck. Joe Walsh then proceeds to put on one of the greatest sets of that year’s Farm Aid, rockin’ out like nobody’s business, with blazing guitar solos that split the night and drive the 40,000+ at Cowboys Stadium in Irving, TX, bonkers. I stand electrified, rooted to the spot for the whole set, and when he comes off, I follow him back into the dressing room where he promptly passes out on the couch.

Joe’s new Analog Man album (Fantasy/Concord Music Group), his first solo album in 20 years, is out, and it’s stunningly good. The lyrics are deeply personal (the disc also includes a song about his recovery from drugs and alcohol, “One Day At A Time”). He co-produced it with Jeff Lynne and even has Ringo on drums for the auto-biographical, “Lucky That Way,” a sequel song to “Life’s Been Good.” Crosby and Nash provide delicate gorgeous backup vocals for “Family.” “Funk #50” updates his legacy. This could be the greatest solo album of his career.

Another guitarist of highfalutin repute is Mike Stern. He’s All Over The Place on his new Concord/Heads Up CD. But that’s nothing new for the Miles Davis alum. Stern started out at 22 with Blood, Sweat & Tears. He spent ’79 and ’80 with powerhouse fusion drummer Billy Cobham. In ’81 and ’82, he got his Miles education, and can be heard on such albums as Man With The Horn, Star People and the live We Want Miles. Then it was on the road with the mighty bassist Jaco Pastorius from ’83 to ’85. After another stint with Miles in ’86, he went solo and has released 15 albums as a leader. The wide range of genres spread out over 11 tracks here testifies to his eclectic—and eccentric—vision. The players are world class: from trumpeter Randy Brecker and sax man Kenny Garrett to a bevy of bassists including Esperanza Spalding, Richard Bona, Victor Wooten, Will Lee, Dave Holland and Victor Bailey, the credits of whom could fill a phonebook. It’s all jazz but world music, funk, balladry, swing, bop, rock and blues get their rightful nods. Stern uses his players like a professional baseball manager—putting in a speedster at first to swipe a bag and saving a power hitter for that three-run homer. The talents of each player are up to the task and Stern, playing provocatively in every inning, wins the game.