‘It’s really tempting to fix everything with a computer now because you can,” says Joe Walsh of the meaning behind both the title and the recording philosophy of his solid new album, “Analog Man,” which features appearances from Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Graham Nash, producer Jeff Lynne, and Tim Armstrong of Rancid. “Every time you do that you lose a little magic of a human performance. You take all the mojo out.”
And Walsh knows from mojo. The singer-songwriter-guitarist has been the purveyor of big, bright, straightforward classic rock for more than 40 years with the James Gang (“Funk #49,” “Walk Away”), as a solo artist (“Life’s Been Good,” “Rocky Mountain Way”), and as a member of the Eagles. For his first solo album in more than 20 years, Walsh, who plays the Cape Cod Melody Tent Wednesday and the South Shore Music Circus Friday, decided he wasn’t going to fix what wasn’t broken.
“I thought a lot about whether I should reinvent Joe for the 21st century,” he said recently by phone from Los Angeles. “And I listened to what’s out there and I didn’t hear a whole lot that I wanted to be like, so I figured, ‘Why don’t I just make an album for my fans who have been with me for the whole ride?’ ”
We caught up with Walsh to chat about that ride, including the new album, what’s happening with the Eagles, and the benefits of having Starr as your brother-in-law.
‘I thought a lot about whether I should reinvent Joe for the 21st century . . . [but] I didn’t hear a whole lot that I wanted to be like.’
Q. On the sweet song “Family” on the new album you sing about your life now and you sound very content.
A. I am. I got married 3½ years ago, and I had pretty much given up but I found somebody who really is a life partner, somebody who was like the part I was missing — and which also made my brother-in-law Ringo Starr. Along with my wife came this extended family that’s very close, and this is a dynamic I’ve never been around, and learning to be part of [it] is an ongoing experience. The holidays, it’s all new to me and I just have to go in a room and sit down once in a while because everybody talks at the same time! (Laughs.) I have to learn how to do that.
Q. Really? That didn’t happen in the Eagles?
A. No, we didn’t talk at all. (Laughs.) But this whole family thing, I get it now and it’s wonderful and I don’t feel alone anymore. And I got David Crosby and Graham Nash to sing on it and of course anything they sing on makes it really special.
Q. I interviewed Starr recently and he joked that you had to play on his most recent album because you’re his brother-in-law. Tell the truth, as a music fan and former All Starr you would’ve done it anyway, right?
A. Well, yeah, pretty much. (Laughs.) But the good thing is then he had to play on mine.
Q. What is the current state of the union with the Eagles?
A. What we’re doing now is we’re putting together a documentary. I’ve seen some of it and it’s really powerful. It’ll be out, I think, between now and the end of the year. Based on that and the 40th anniversary, the plan is to put together a whole new show and have a Happy-Birthday-to-Us tour, probably starting the middle of next year. There’s a lot of work to put a new show together.
Q. Earlier this year you performed on the Grammys with Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and Dave Grohl. How did that come together?
A. Paul had that “My Valentine” song from his new album and needed somebody to play the guitar part. Eric Clapton actually played on the record but he was not around. So Paul said, “Could you help me out?” and I said yeah.
Q. You don’t really say no to a Beatle right?
A. Exactly. You shake your head yes and smile. I do a lot of head shaking, I tell ya. (Laughs.) Then Paul said, “I want to close the Grammys with the end of ‘Abbey Road’ and there’s guitar players going at it at the end there and would you be one of them?” and I said OK. This was like the day of the Grammys. And then he came back to me a half hour later and said, “What if we ask Grohl?” And I said OK. And then about an hour and a half before the Grammys started, he said, “Go ask Bruce for me will you?” (Laughs.) I said all right, OK, and it was great because Bruce and Dave and I didn’t have any time to think about it and we didn’t rehearse it and we just plain went out and plugged in. It was really an adrenaline rush.
Q. “Analog Man” is your first solo album in 20 years. What took so long?
A. In 1994, the Eagles decided to get back to work and we’ve been around the world a couple of times and nobody really has had any momentum to finish, put out, and support solo projects. That’s why we’ve all been doing it this year. It’s been pretty much a full-time job. That’s one reason. The other reason is, in 1994, I ran out of options and I had to get sober. I had so totally convinced myself that I couldn’t do anything without vodka, I had to start all over. For example, playing in front of people without a buzz was terrifying at first. And writing music, I thought my music was good because of the alcohol, and then when that started not to work, I thought: Obviously, I’m not drinking nearly enough. I chased it for 20 years. So I had to learn how to live life sober. I’ve been sober 18 years now and I can do all this stuff sober and I feel complete because of my wife, and I feel confident and whole because of my family, and it won’t be 20 years till the next time.