Joe Walsh spent the first half of the 1970s burnishing his reputation as one of America’s top rock guitarists. The larger-than-life character from Wichita, Kansas had been building his career in the late ‘60s with Pacific Gas & Electric and then the James Gang, after which he was in the band Barnstorm. That group were effectively presented as Walsh solo, and gave him his first US chart appearance in October 1972, with a Dunhill/ABC album named after the band.
The record that really sealed the deal for Walsh as a solo artist was 1973’s ‘The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get.’ It included the rock anthem ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ and reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200, going gold in just five months. Before the end of 1974, ‘So What’ arrived as the follow-up, released 40 years ago today on December 14. It turned out to be Walsh’s last studio release before he joined the ranks of the Eagles as replacement for Bernie Leadon.
There may have been no one banner track that stood above all the others this time around, but ‘So What’ more than enhanced Walsh’s name as a player of wit and imagination. It included a remake of ‘Turn To Stone,’ which had appeared on the ‘Barnstorm’ album of two years earlier, as well as a co-write with his soon-to-be-bandmate Don Henley, ‘Falling Down.’
Henley and fellow Eagles Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner were also present on backing vocals on a record also tinged with sadness in the track ‘Song For Emma,’ written for Walsh’s daughter who had died in a car accident the year before. Where ‘Smoker’ had taken five months to go gold, ‘So What’ won that certification just a month after release, and climbed to No. 11.
By the next time he made a studio record under his own name, Joe was a fully-qualified Eagle and part of the multi-million-selling phenomenon that was ‘Hotel California.’