Classic Rock Review

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Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get (1973)


The second of two albums featuring singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joe Walsh with his backup group Barnstorm, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get features a fine selection of diverse rock, blues, folk and jazz. This diversity in style is parallel to the diversity of composers within Barnstorm as well as the multiple lead vocalists throughout the album. As a result, this 1973 album proved to be a commercial breakthrough for Walsh and the band, reaching the Top 10 in the United States.

After much success with James Gang, Walsh decided to leave that rock trio in late 1971. He relocated to Colorado, where he formed the band Barnstorm, with bassist Kenny Passarelli and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale. Very soon after forming, the group started recording their debut album, which was originally released as the eponymous Barnstorm (later listed as a Joe Walsh solo album) in October 1972. While a critical success, the album had only moderate commercial success.

The group immediately began work on a follow-up in late 1972 with producer Bill Szymczyk. Recorded throughout the winter of 1972-1973, this second album features a fourth Barnstorm member, keyboardist Rocke Grace, although the album is fully credited to Walsh as a solo artist.

The album begins with its most popular and indelible track, “Rocky Mountain Way”, compositionally credited to all four Barnstorm members. This entertaining, methodical rocker features a masterful coda section with an impressive talk box lead followed by Walsh’s signature slide guitar as the song fades out. Lyrically, the song was inspired by Walsh reflecting on his decision to leave the James Gang and move to Colorado and it became Walsh’s first Top 40 hit.

Vitale’s “Book Ends” is a Bowie-esque glam ballad with piano and nicely treated guitars on top, while the drummer takes on lead vocals duties, followed by the dark folk, almost pyschedelic vibe of “Wolf”, where the minimal arrangement lets the full sonic effect shine through as well as concentrate on Walsh’s vocal delivery. “Midnight Moodies” is a jazzy, piano-led instrumental composed by Grace, with some good rhythms, slight rock guitar as well as plenty of flute flourishes by Vitale. “Happy Ways” features lead vocals by bassist Passarelli along with plenty of extra percussion added by Vitale and session percussionist Joe Lala.

Joe Walsh and Barnstorm

The album’s original second side begins with “Meadows”, a rocker with multiple dynamics throughout from the hard rocking chorus to the quiet acoustic mid section. “Dreams” may be the best overall song on the second side as a very unique track which highlights Barnstorm’s musical talent and versatility. It alternates from quiet jazz ballad to upbeat Gospel sound with piano and organ playing a large musical role throughout. Vitale’s “Days Gone By” is a pleasant enough jazz/pop/rocker but an odd one as the final proper song on the album, being a sort of fusion between the sounds of Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and a Broadway show tune. “Day Dream (Prayer)” was constructed as a stand-alone coda, featuring rich backing vocals by guests Venetta Fields and Clydie King and really only one proper verse before a long fade out ending the album.

In 1974, Walsh played slide guitar on Vitale’s debut solo album, Roller Coaster Weekend, continuing a decades long musical relationship between the two despite the fact that Barnstorm would break up following The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get. Later that same year, Walsh released his first totally solo record, So What, which was much more introspective and much less musically diverse than this final Barnstorm album.


July 3, 2021 Posted by | Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get | | Leave a comment

Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get (1973)


Review Summary: They say “The higher you get, the better you play.” Lucky for Joe Walsh, he’s always high.
With the album’s title Joe Walsh is riffing on a popular phrase of the time that “The higher you get, the better you play.”

Lucky for Joe Walsh, he’s always high. And “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” is a prime example of that.

A psychedelic effort from Walsh and company, “Rocky Mountain Way” is the joltingly radical rocker intro on your trip down Walsh’s rabbit hole. An ode to the Colorado mountain range, it begins with a simple blues riff, slamming into high gear when the charging buffalo herd of the piano-led rhythm section and Walsh slide guitar makes the song the classic that it is.

In the first lyric, Walsh brags about spending the last year “Rocky Mountain Way, couldn’t get much higher.” As the song heads towards its climax of a trippy yet funky talk-box solo, it’s clear that what’s he saying is very true.

The next two songs reinforce this psychedelic notion, first with the airy “Book Ends” in which frequent Walsh collaborator Joe Vitale takes us down a dreamy tunnel of memories, followed by the haunting “Wolf,” which ensconces us in a spooky twilight zone of rock n’ roll.

By “Midnight Moodies,” we’re fully enveloped in Walsh’s sonic trip. A jazzy instrumental driven by a whimsical flute solo, we feel as though we’re being led through a forest by a half-goat, half-man that may have once recorded a Steely Dan B-Side.

“Happy Ways” stumbles into sunshine pop territory with hints of Caribbean influences, capping off with a joyous “la-la-la” refrain bolstered by Walsh’s slide guitar.

From there, we take a frolic through the “Meadows,” the part of the trip where one rambles on and muses that life is like a “circle that stands unbroken.” Drifting from verse to chorus with upbeat phase-y guitars, I’m convinced this is the song the lotus-eaters from the Odyssey had blaring on repeat.

As you come down from the trip, you are comforted with the closing tracks: the introspective “Dreams,” a late night barfly jam with sprinkled with organ and synthesizer, “Days Gone By,” a reflection that invites us to look back on where we’ve been, and finally “Day Dream (Prayer),” a seeming ode to The Beach Boys that caps off the album with some beautiful harmonies and a little bit of that signature Joe Walsh coarseness.

With “The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get,” Walsh acts as a guide on a psychedelic Rock N’ Roll excursion. And as a listener, you should take his hand; it’s one trip certainly worth taking.

July 1, 2021 Posted by | Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get | | Leave a comment

Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get (1973)


There’s a story Joe Walsh used to tell about how after leaving the James Gang, he holed up in the mountains in Colorado in January 1972, where he was eventually joined by multi-instrumentalist and drummer Joe Vitale. According to Walsh, the pair talked about the kind of new music they envisaged. Vitale left his drums in the car and they stayed there for three weeks. The reason for this delay wasn’t due to their laid-back approach but because, in Walsh’s words, it was “too darn cold to go outside to bring them in”.

The resulting album, Barnstorm, with bassist Kenny Passarelli on board, was released in 1972 under Walsh’s name. Tired of the gritty blues rock certainties that characterised his time with the James Gang, Walsh branched out musically, extending his reach to a sound that’s broader in scope and more speculative in nature while still being rooted in rock.

The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get further develops the sonically inquisitive template and introduces keyboardist Rocke Grace. Having been a fan of Walter Carlos’ Switched-On Bach, Walsh was keen to integrate synthesisers into the band’s sound. Reputedly a gift from Pete Townshend, after Walsh had supplied The Who’s axeman with a rare guitar, the synth is used sparingly but effectively as a textural tool, adding colour and shade.

Wolf’s gently undulating acoustic guitars are hypnotically meshed with their electric counterparts, with the ominous boom of bass synth bringing a certain gravitas – think of the coda to Genesis’ Entangled and you’re pretty much there. It’s unlikely that Walsh would’ve heard of Genesis at that point, but the similarities in the intricate acoustic passages, especially with the use of Vitale’s flute playing, are striking both on here and Barnstorm.

A discernible Beatles’ influence is present in the swooping harmonies of Vitale’s Days Gone By. As Walsh develops a slow-building solo, everything is swamped underneath the vestigial psych of slowed-down sonics and heavy phasing. With a credible nod towards jazz rock via the instrumental Midnight Moodies, this is an outfit thinking beyond the usual parameters of the period.

With an eye towards commercial potential there’s the throwaway pop of Happy Ways, with its cod-Jamaican inflections, and the amiable chug and buzzsaw riffing of Rocky Mountain Way, the latter netting Walsh substantial radio play and a raised profile.

Although his recruitment to the Eagles in 1975 would take Walsh down a more conventional musical path, the quirky, open-minded nature of these songs show a genuine progressive instinct at work.

July 1, 2021 Posted by | Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get | | Leave a comment

Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get (1973)


I rarely do this, but the review that states this album has ‘stinkers’ on it, hasn’t bought the same album I have. I’m not sure what album they have, but it’s not the one I have. The album I have is a pretty wonderful collection of songs, played by great musicians, and made with the decision that Joe Walsh does not have to play a guitar solo for every song he writes. And to me that’s refreshing. I’m glad he thought so too.

I’ve always thought that The Eagles needed Joe Walsh more than he needed them. Songs like ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ Walsh could have written on his own, in his sleep, while making Pot Noodles. The best thing that comes from his association with The Eagles is his work with Don Felder, and on ‘You Bought It, You Name It’, this ‘team’ comes up with one of the best Joe Walsh tunes of his career. But that’s on another album. I’m just stating the simple fact that Joe Walsh is an immensely talented musician, who’s experimentation with everything, not just guitar, makes him quite a talented man indeed. And this album is full of experimenation. So there are no stinkers.

Second point is this. In 1973, a Grammy went to the engineering work done by Geoff Emerick on Paul McCartney’s Band On The Run. It’s pretty obvious that the Grammy’s are decidedly ‘fixed’, because I swear Alan Parson’s engineering on Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ puts BOTR to shame. And many albums I’ve heard from that year put BOTR to shame. Steely Dan’s ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’, 10cc’s debut album, Frank Zappa’s ‘Overnite Sensation’, ELO’s ‘Eldorado’, George Harrison’s ‘Living in the Material Word’ to name only a few on a large list. The Grammy went to the wrong person for the wrong album.

And I have to say, and I own ”The Smoker . . . . ‘ on vinyl, that this album is in fact, one of the best sounding albums from that year, if not the best, that I currently own. It literally sounds so modern that I was very hard-pressed to remind myself that this was 1973 I was listening to. It is an incredibly engineered & recorded album, and this alone makes songs that are so called ‘stinkers’, truly worth hearing for the amount of hard work and patience that went into mixing and making this album. I have many albums from 1973, and this one is just about the best one I’ve ever heard. Sorry Pink Floyd!

What I also love about this album is the contributions by all of Walsh’s band at the time, Joe Vitale on Drums, Flute, and Keyboards, Rocke Grace on Keyboards, and Ken Passarelli on Bass. Each of these musicians contributes songs to what is called a ”Joe Walsh” album, and I just like the fact that if you were in Joe Walsh’s band, he had no problem with you writing songs for ‘his’ album. I also like the fact that Walsh so rarely chooses to guitar solo on this album. He pratcically doesn’t do one at all, barring ‘Rocky Mountain Way’. That I find incredibly interesting, and it actually removes that expectation of ”well, I’ll get through the song til the guitar solo comes up, then I’ll just move on to the next one”. It forces you to accept that there is no guitar solo coming to ”redeem” the song in any way, so you might as well listen to what Walsh thought was more important, and that’s the song itself.

There are some beautiful songs on this album, and songs that truly ‘rock’. Most Best Of collections take from this album ‘Rocky Mountain Way’, ‘Bookends’ and ‘Meadows’. But they miss the other songs, which would mean making the whole album a best of collection. And I do believe every song on this album is as good as anything Walsh has ever worked on. The material his band comes up with, and those he wrote. Passarelli’s ‘Happy Ways’ is a great bit of Pop, where Grace’s ‘Midnite Moodies’ is an instrumental with great playing from everyone. Particularly Vitale’s Flute. When it appeared in the song, I had to look at the credits once or twice to see who was playing Flute! Discovering it was the drummer, just made me say, that guy is pretty talented. He’s not just ‘a drummer’, like that’s a bad thing ‘just to be’. His whole band was full of talent, and Walsh lets that shine through on every song here. The title of the album may be confusing, but what happens on it sounds cohesive, artistic, and just a pleasure to listen to.

Need you buy this album? That’s not up to me, but I wish that you would. Just to hear what Walsh was capable of as a solo artist, and that The Eagles were lucky to have him.

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get | | Leave a comment

Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get (1973)


Now here is an album I have not heard in a long time and it happens to be one of my all time favorites. I had the vinyl version when it first came out and distinctly remember playing it several times a week. I liked Joe Walsh’s voice and guitar playing. For this listener both of those factors remain very distinctive to this day.

The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get (24 Karat Gold) is a stellar piece of diverse rock music, originally released in 1973. I would have to say that Joe Walsh has never topped this solo work since. His place in rock history is secure with his contributions to The James Gang and The Eagles and this particular release launched a very successful solo career.

Audio Fidelity has made an excellent choice to remaster this classic slice of rock music as part of their 24 karat gold releases. Besides the rock anthem “Rocky Mountain Way” this album offers diverse jazz rock fusion inflected instrumental pieces like “Midnight Moodies”.

It gives the listener the opportunity to realize the full talent range of Joe’s band at the time that consisted of Joe Vitale (vocals, drums, flute, keyboards, and synthesizer); Rocke Grace (keyboards, vocals), Kenny Passarelli (bass, vocals) and Mr. Walsh provided guitars, vocals, keyboards and synthesizers. The multifaceted talent of this band was allowed to shine through on the nine tracks on this album and now it sounds superior remastered from the original source tapes and given the Audio Fidelity treatment in the gold disc version.

Some of the tracks are atmospheric with dreamy intros like “Wolf” with its beautiful acoustic guitar chased by a piercing electric lead with Walsh providing some of the best vocal tracks of his entire career. “Meadows” which opened side two on the LP has a funny intro with Joe screaming before launching into some fine six-string work. He was one of the clown princes of rock for many years and his antics were well documented prior to him giving up the sauce. This is yet another very strong track with great instrumentation and vocals.

The entire album is unblemished and stands as nine tracks of time tested rock. Really there are no weaknesses which made it an easy choice to make into a special edition 24 karat gold release. It makes it a bit less of a task to remaster and package when all you have to do is capitalize on the strengths of a recording rather than embellish any weaknesses. The original artwork is included with a windowed cardboard sleeve as usual with a nice reproduced tri-fold CD sleeve.

I think Walsh and this album was and still is highly underrated. It is one of the best albums recorded in the 70s and needs to be recognized as such. Hopefully this new version will shed some light on Walsh and the release with new found enthusiasm and gratitude for a superb rock classic now given its just due.

March 27, 2013 Posted by | Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get | | Leave a comment