Joe Walsh on 200gm LP from Analogue Productions

Not so long ago, the 1970s were regularly and fairly vociferously disparaged as a musical wasteland. Lately however, it's become very noticeable, especially since Madison Avenue is now using '70s tunes to sell everything from cars to ice cream, that those voices have largely gone silent.

In fact, there is now a growing chorus from many different quarters—jazz and classical music fans included—that sing the praises of '70s music: that magical time before the compact disc, before Napster, before all the money drained out of the music business, and young folks decided that instead of creating music they would pour their good energies into building mobile apps, designing games and assembling beats.

One of the 1970s' seminal hard-rock acts was the James Gang, a power trio led by a Kansas-born guitar player named Joe Walsh. The band released its masterpiece, James Gang Rides Again, initially with an unlicensed cover of Maurice Ravel's "Bolero" on side one, in 1970. Two lesser albums later, Walsh left the band, moved to Colorado and formed another trio, Barnstorm, which included drum and flute player Joe Vitale and bassist Kenny Passarelli, both of whom could also sing. Signed to ABC/Dunhill Records by Bill Szymczyk, who went on to become the band's producer, the group, now a quartet with keyboardist/vocalist Rocke Grace aboard, hit it big on their second and final record together, The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get.

An outstanding new 200gm LP reissue from Analogue Productions, with improved sound thanks to a sparkling new remaster by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, makes it clear that this 1973 release remains—with the possible exception of 1978's But Seriously, Folks . . .—the undisputed highlight of Walsh's solo career.

Billed on the cover as a Joe Walsh record—the cover with the airplane seemingly flying upside down!—these nine tracks became his commercial breakthrough thanks to the hit, "Rocky Mountain Way." This once ubiquitous single is also one of the earliest and best-known uses on record of the vocal talk box, which allows a musician to shape a guitar sound with his mouth.

Smoker is also a classic example of another 70s phenomenon that's now faded: albums that were a great listen all the way through. What was the most frequently heard criticism of the CD? That you had to pay $18 to get one hit and a bunch of other material that was marginal at best! Here, it's not just two hits surrounded by filler. Also all these tracks were deliberately sequenced to be a coherent program of music. Ahhh, the '70s album, what a glorious art form it was!

Best of all, are the quality of the recording done at Caribou Ranch and the variety of what was captured on tape. The mix here between the quieter. more reflective tracks like Vitale's "Days Gone By," where his flute provides a not unwelcome flavor, and the riff-rock hits "Rocky Mountain Way" and "Meadows," is nearly perfect. The instrumental "Midnight Moodies" (with Vitale's flute again) and the Latin-beat "Happy Ways" are solid, tuneful tracks buried deep on side one. And after "Meadows" on side two, "Dreams" with its ARP synth squiggles and the tiny closer, "Daydream (Prayer)" where all four voices in Barnstorm soar into a rock hosanna of sorts, combine to make this a really marvelous record in the best traditions of 7190s rock.

Another week, another beautiful-sounding, wonderfully packaged reissue from Analogue Productions.

michaelhigh's picture

On any given day, in Marissa, IL (4 miles from my home), back in the mid-70's, Joe could be found at Ye Olde Music Shop, talking biz, hanging out with the locals, and usually, upon his arrival, the closed sign would come out, the 70's party favors would be brought out, and anyone lucky enough to be there was in for the fun (think Cheech And Chong). Joe and Bob Heil (inventor of the Heil Talk Box and original owner of Ye Olde, now defunct sadly) are also ham radio enthusiasts and regularly converse on their olde tube sets. God Bless You, Joe, for Rides Again, So What, and Smoker.

deckeda's picture

I met Bob Heil once, when I worked in Fairview Heights at the Hi Fi Fo Fum location that was suffering there for awhile.

Bob introduced himself and after informing me, by running through everything he'd either invented or developed or the Super Famous Bands and Super Famous Musicians he knew, I thought he was Oskar Heil (Air Motion Transformer/ESS Speakers ...)

Bob wasn't pleased.

michaelhigh's picture

The title is actually a play on the phrase "The Drunker You Get, The Better You Play".

hollowman's picture

In a recent review, I *think* JA noted "Rocky Mtn Way" being the most dynamic drums he's ever heard.
I'm not impressed with the midrangey sound of most early 70s rock albums.

Here's Alan Parsons from his 1999 track "Press Rewind" that, IMO, is ideal rock recording ... drums n' all !!

misterc59's picture

I certainly admire and appreciate Joe Walsh's contributions to our music culture, but I don't quite understand his place in history being missed with the Eagles which was huge. Perhaps I'm neglecting something, but I'd definitely include his contribution here as well, which seemed to have been glossed over..


JoeinNC's picture

It's Eagles hate.

Ever since The Big Lebowski, it's been fashionable in some circles to trash everything Eagles, just like Sideways ruined Merlot for some people.

Shootr's picture

Who's the mutton head that said the 70's was a musical wasteland? Not only have I been a Joe Walsh fan since his James Gang days but I must have played the double CD of "Smoker You Drink..." and "You Can't Argue with a Sick Mind" until the laser nearly burned through the disc (not really - just a euphemism). But there are countless other great 70's albums starting with The Beatles "Let It Be" released in 1970 and continuing with Dark Side Of The Moon, Moondance, Layla, Bridge Over Troubled Water (also released in 1970-), After The Gold Rush, Zeppelin III, Paranoid, and about 500 more examples. The 70's was the golden age of rock even more than the 60's. Cosmo's Factory, Abraxus, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd, - this post could be nothing but titles of great albums.