Joe Walsh talks upcoming Vegas run, Sly Stone and ‘Funk 50’

Joe Walsh plays six shows at House of Blues beginning January 11.
Photo: Sally Page
Matt Wardlaw

A lot has happened since Joe Walsh returned to touring solo—he spells it “Toor,” which you can get on a T-shirt—in late 2015.

He’s had more time than expected to play his own music after the sudden death of Eagles bandmate Glenn Frey last January. Walsh spent the summer co-headlining with Bad Company—featuring a Walsh setlist comprising solo favorites, some Eagles chestnuts and songs from his earlier groups, including the James Gang and Barnstorm—before moving on to do his own headlining dates.

And he’ll take his solo band on the road starting in April as the opening act for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour.

Before that, he’ll play six shows in Las Vegas at the House of Blues beginning January 11, the main subject of his chat with Las Vegas Weekly.

What can fans look forward to at these Vegas shows? I’ve got to play what they came to hear, right? I realize that. I don’t want anybody to go home disappointed. What we’ve been doing is opening up some of the songs to kind of a free-for-all improvisation jam, like the old days, and it’s been working really good. I’m encouraging the guys in the band to just go somewhere we haven’t been. I wouldn’t say it’s a Grateful Dead approach, but I’ve been opening up the songs and what’s been coming out is really great. I think a lot of bands are doing that now.

But I also want to play something they weren’t expecting, where they go, “Holy sh*t!” So I’ve got to find those songs. This is kind of a search and destroy mission. It’s really a challenge, and I love it.

We could probably go out and do a four- or five-song unplugged acoustic set. We could do stuff like “Pretty Maids All in a Row” and “Meadows.” But I don’t know what [the fans] are coming to do. If they’re coming to rock ’n’ roll, maybe it’s just best to work out electric songs full-on. I’m just going to have to feel it out and see where it goes.

That acoustic idea sounds cool. I think your fans dig stuff like that. They know that if they come to see a Joe Walsh show, they’re going to get some hits, but also some stuff that’s off the beaten path. I think by the third night we’ll have a really good idea of how to do it. We’ll just plug stuff in and see where it goes. I’ve really taken the production up a bunch, and we’re doing some other stuff that I think will be great. We’ve been doing Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”

What brought that one out? My singers were doing it one day. Ricky Washington is from a Baptist church in Miami, Florida, and he can pretty much sing anything. We just started working it up at soundcheck, and holy smokes, it’s just great! The audience gets to singing. So there’s that stuff to do—find some old obscure R&B stuff, because we can do it justice.

You definitely have a band that can go to any of those places— Waddy Wachtel on guitar and your old buddy Joe Vitale on drums. Oh yeah. Joe helps me go back to the James Gang and Barnstorm [material] and revisit that. And Waddy, of course, really keeps me honest.

I watched the video of you jamming “Funk #49” with Vince Gill and the Time Jumpers in Nashville last month. That must have been a lot of fun. Holy sh*t, was I scared. That’s the best of the best in Nashville. I mean, it’s profound.

That country swing niche, it’s like old country and western from the ’40s and early ’50s. Every one of them is like a kung fu legend. I felt very humbled, but they told me they did too, so go figure. I was scared of them, and they were scared of me. So it worked out great. (Laughs.)

What are the chances we might see another James Gang tour? That’s always there. I would have to go back to Cleveland and try it out. I’m not sure we can do what we used to do. I do talk to Jimmy [Fox] and Dale [Peters] from time to time. You know, on a good night, nothing beats a three-piece band. And on a bad night, there’s nothing worse. I’m used to singers and keyboard players, another guitar player and stuff. But with a three-piece, you’re bare-ass naked out there and you’d better have your stuff together.

I want to make sure the majority of the nights are good with those guys. If we can do it, I don’t see why not.

It’s hard to believe 2017 marks the 50th year of that band first coming together. Oh my God, wow. Thanks for reminding me. That might be a good reason to go out. We could call it Funk 50 (laughs).

Joe Walsh January 11, 13-14, 18, 20-21. 7 p.m., $100-$436. House of Blues, 702-632-7600.

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