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Joe Walsh: Learning That Life Is Better Without Drugs
(Novus writes inspirational stories of people in the news who have overcome addiction. This is not to infer that these people are connected to Novus Medical Detox Center but simply to provide hope and encouragement to those fighting addiction.)
In early October last year (2015), tens of thousands of people rallied together on The Mall in Washington, DC, to tell the world that addiction is not a shame or a disgrace, it’s striking countless millions of people from all walks of life and all of them deserve our compassion and our help to achieve full recovery. Here at Novus, we blogged about this game-changing event last December.
There were a lot of speeches. But for many the highlight of the day was an extraordinary concert featuring iconic rock stars – names like Joe Walsh of the Eagles, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow.
These and the other artists appeared at the event because they all have their own personal stories about addiction and recovery and redemption, whether about themselves or band-mates, or friends or family members.
One of the biggest stars at the concert was Eagle’s guitarist Joe Walsh. The famed rocker’s epic struggles with alcohol, cocaine and other drugs persisted for most of his career, from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s. For more than two decades, Walsh was a major contributor to the wild legends of rock-star excess.
When the Eagles broke up in 1980, Walsh continued his solo career, but his addictions continued to tear at the fabric of his creative and personal life. When the Eagles reunited in 1994, one of the stipulations was that no one in the band would be allowed to abuse drugs or alcohol. By 1995 Walsh was clean and sober, and has remained so ever since.
“We went out and toured around the world at least three times. It’s been a full-time job,” he told Interview magazine a few years ago. “But I love it. And now I have lived sober long enough and learned how to do it all without drugs.”
Music was in his genetic makeup
Joseph Fidler Walsh was born in Wichita, Kansas, and it appears his penchant for music was in his genes. Walsh’s mom was a classically trained pianist, and he grew up with music in the household.
After his dad was killed in a plane crash, Walsh’s mom remarried a man named Walsh. Joe took his stepfather’s last name, but later he adopted his birth father’s last name, Fidler, as his middle name.
The Walsh family moved to Columbus, OH for a few years, and when Joe was 12, they relocated again to New York City, and then in his teens to Montclair, NJ. Joe attended Montclair High School where he played oboe in the school band.
It’s true, the oboe doesn’t sound like a rocker star instrument. That classically conservative instrument didn’t foreshadow the wild-man rock star who emerged from New Jersey a few years later. But it was the beginning of a musical life.
Before finishing high school, and inspired by the success of the Beatles, Walsh joined The Nomads, a locally popular rock band, playing bass guitar. You might say that this was when his career as a rock musician began.
After high school, Walsh played with several rock bands in the Cleveland area, 50 miles or so north of Kent State where he was attending college. While at Kent, he co-founded The Measles in 1964 or ’65, a four-piece bar band that remained popular around Kent for a decade.
But Joe Walsh wasn’t around for that. He dropped out of Kent after only one term. It was 1968, deep in the Age of Aquarius, and Joe was drawn by the irresistible Siren call of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Soon Walsh was playing with The James Gang, another legendary Ohio band that made several records and garnered a wide following through the end of the ’60s and into the ’70s. While Walsh was transforming himself into a famous rock guitarist, more than rock music entered his life and changed it forever. Drugs and alcohol were fueling his life almost as much as his love for music.
Reputation for guitar playing and partying
Musical success was fairly easy for the talented guitarist. He tired of The James Gang and went solo in 1971 to form his own band and make his own records. Walsh moved to Colorado where he formed a band called Barnstorm. He expanded his instrumental prowess by experimenting with acoustic guitar, slide guitar, fuzzboxes and even keyboards. A couple of their albums charted. But by then he was utterly dependent on drugs and alcohol.
In 1975, Walsh came to the attention of the Eagles, a quintessential ’70s rock band out of California. Founded by drummer/singer Don Henley, guitarist Glenn Frey, guitarist Bernie Leadon and bassist Randy Meisner, the Eagles needed a new guitarist. Bernie Leadon had left the band and Walsh was invited to replace him even though Henley worried that Walsh was too wild.
This was an historic moment, because Walsh helped define the Eagles phenomenal success that soon followed. He contributed enormously to the band’s major 1976 album, Hotel California. It was the band’s fifth album, but was the first with Walsh. The title track, Hotel California, has become the band’s signature song, featuring a classic rock guitar duet by Walsh and guitarist Don Felder, who had became the band’s fifth member in 1974.
As the band’s success grew and touring became a way of life, drugs and alcohol were also an essential part of life for Walsh. The guitarist became famous for his guitar playing but notorious for trashing hotel rooms with his own personal chain saw that he carried on the tour bus along with his guitars.
The Eagles toured and recorded for roughly 5 years, became a legendary band, and then melted down and dissolved in 1980. Drugs and alcohol helped fuel a fierce breakdown in interpersonal relationships. The band’s breakup was so acrimonious that for years afterwards, it was said they’d only get together for a reunion tour or concert “when Hell freezes over.”
There was no letup in his immersion in cocaine, alcohol and other drugs. Even as he pursued a solo career, as did the other members of the Eagles after the breakup – in fact throughout his entire career – Walsh says he was addicted to drugs and alcohol.
The Hell Freezes Over reunion
In 1993, the impossible happened. Henley and Frey decided to bring the band back together after 13 years. But with the reunion came the caveat no drugs or alcohol or the reunion was off. The Eagles reunited and recorded a new album called – what else? – Hell Freezes Over.
It was a turning point for Walsh. He was encouraged by Henley and Frey to try rehab, and he did and finally conquered his dependence on alcohol and drugs.
Seated in his tour bus near the Washington Monument, where he came to headline the Unite to Face Addiction rally last fall, Walsh told the Washington Post he hadn’t really been able to do much of anything sober for decades. But since emerging from rehab in ’94, he’s remained sober ever since. And he’s writing and playing perhaps better than ever.
“As the disease of addiction progresses,” he said, “it convinces you that you can’t do anything without it. And really you give all your power away.”He says he took it slowly while working up the confidence “to relearn how to do just about everything sober.” He didn’t write music for four or five years, but at some point he realized that life was better without alcohol.
The band has continued to record and tour ever since the reunion, as well as leaving the members free to pursue solo careers and other interests. Although sadly Glenn Frey passed away last month, today, the Eagles are known as one of the best-selling bands in the world, with more than 150 million albums sold world-wide – 100 million in the U.S. Hotel California sold 32 million copies alone. And Walsh has recorded at least a dozen of his own albums.
“You don’t just flick a switch and you’re sober”
“I’ve been sober for 18 years now,” he told Interview magazine in 2012. “It wasn’t like you flick a switch, and you’re sober. It takes a while. You have to learn how to do everything all over again. You can measure how long that takes in terms of years.
“What I didn’t know at the time was how to write music and do rock-‘n’-roll and live rock-‘n’-roll and record sober. I didn’t try to do that at first. I learned how to take care of myself and then play in front of people. I didn’t tackle going back to rock-‘n’-roll until I had some sobriety under my belt.”
Today, Walsh speaks out against substance abuse of all kinds, appearing at meetings, retreats and giving interviews to help others get on track with the message of getting your life back. Walsh’s 2012 composition “One Day At A Time” that celebrates his recovery from addiction has helped him spread the word that there is no shame in addiction, the Post reported. “I see so many addicts in this country and it’s destroying so many lives and so many families. I’ve got to do something about it,” he said.
“My message,” Walsh said, “is that there is life after addiction, and it’s really good. If I had known, I’d have stopped earlier.”
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