The long run


October 17, 2003


'Life in the fast lane -- surely make you lose your mind," the Eagles sang in 1974, crooning a tune co-written with guitarist Joe Walsh.

Looking at the ticket prices for the current tour by the legendary California country-rockers -- or pondering why they're calling this reunion jaunt "The Farewell I Tour" when they have a new album due next year -- you may think that they have indeed lost their marbles.


*8 p.m. Tuesday
*Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont
*Tickets, $45-$175
*(312) 559-1212

Otherwise, though, the band is once again intact (albeit with several key veterans missing; the focus of the group is now Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Timothy B. Schmit and Walsh, with the likes of Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon and Don Felder confined to the history books). And it is once again set to bring favorites such as "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Lyin' Eyes" and "Hotel California" to Chicago fans when it performs at the Allstate Arena on Tuesday.

I spoke to Walsh by phone from his home in California shortly before the start of the current leg of the tour.

Q. I've always been curious about this: When an organization like the Eagles comes back together, is it as simple as Don or Glenn giving you a buzz and saying, "Hey, Joe, do you wanna go out and play?" Or is it an endless round of conference calls between agents and managers and lawyers sending memos?

A. Well, it's not simple, but it's simpler than you say. A lot of it is logistics and the availability of the guys in the band. Usually we're fairly available. We get the call three or four months before anything has to happen, and then you have to look at who else is going to be touring, if it's time to tour, and availability of the halls. If it's basketball and hockey season, a lot of the venues you just can't get. Heck, we wanted to go to New York, but Bruce [Springsteen] was there for a week, and then Bon Jovi was there a week later for a week, and what's the point of going to New York when them guys are there?

Q. It's like planning a military campaign.

A. Exactly. You just throw everything possible out on a big table and put it all together like a big puzzle.

Q. What is the chemistry like within the band these days? We're talking about it in business terms, but do you get a personal kick out if it when they call you?

A. It's great fun. It's lovely to be an Eagle at this point because there's a new generation of kids that show up that weren't there when the records first came out. There's one of everything in our audience, and it's a great feeling after all these years -- they're so familiar with the songs, and people are really glad to see us. But I also like to get lean and mean and go out and do solo stuff; we all do.

Q. One of the long-standing critical knocks against the Eagles is that when the band performs live, you guys are standing still on stage, rigid and not moving or interacting a lot.

A. To some degree, that's true. I don't know if you've really seen us lately, though.

Q. I have not seen the band since the first reunion tour in the early '90s. But it was true then, and it was true when I saw the tour supporting "The Long Run" in 1979.

A. Well, we've come into our own kind of a little bit of late. But I tell you what, because it's a vocal group, we have to be on mike. I would love to just run all over the stage and be nuts, but I've got to sing a lot, and you've got to kind of stand still. That's just the way the band is. To do the songs right, it requires a lot of attention. And the band always did just kind of stand there.

Q. But you say it's a thrill to play those songs?

A. Yeah, it's fun or we wouldn't do it. You should come out and see us now. It's a new show -- we've rotated some stuff, and we have [the new song] "Hole in the World."

Q. Tell me how that came together.

A. Don and Glenn wrote that as a kind of a post-9/11 song, but it probably would have gotten written anyway due to their frustrations with current events and current policy and all of that. That just kind of came together and got written as part of the new album, which is a work in progress. We're more than half way done, and it will probably be done next year, but we're not working on it full-time. It's every six weeks for 10 days.

Q. When we read the stories of recording some of those classic '70s albums, there seems to have been a lot of Sturm und Drang in the studio. Is the recording process different these days? Is it looser?

A. Yes, but it still takes forever. Part of that is because we don't have a label, so we don't have a deadline. That's the worst thing you can do to a band, but that's OK. When it's done it will be done. Anyway, "Hole in the World" is the first thing that was really close to being what we would consider finished, and we just wanted to put something out.

Q. It was encouraging to see the Eagles put it out the way you did, floating the tune on the Net. Rock veteran that you are, what do you make of the state of the music industry today? Here you have one of the biggest bands in rock history without a label, and it doesn't know if it needs a label anymore.

A. It's certainly stuff I never thought about in the old days. It would be really hard to be a young musician in a band nowadays, based on what I know. Everything I know is obsolete. There is some good young music out there that I really like -- I can't name anybody special -- but there is a tremendous energy in some of the young bands. I try to overlook "is there anything special in the recording process?" and go back to my early days in the James Gang, when there was tons of energy even though we didn't know how to record and didn't know what production was. I'm kind of keying off the energy of the bands and flashing back to where I was at and forgiving them if they're not masters of the craft. In that respect, I see great hope for the future.

But I remember when this was an art form and not an industry. I don't think the record companies are going to let go; what they have that everybody still needs is the distribution to get into the stores. But nobody really needs the record companies, and the record companies can't stand that! Of course, with the Internet, nobody thought about copyright, so that's a big mess. It seems to me that technology has moved faster than anybody dreamed of, and now we're starting to work for it instead of it working for us. Somebody like me can only scratch his head and be grateful that we already got paid!

Q. How about the other criticism that's always leveled against the Eagles: the ticket prices? You were the first band to break the $100 barrier. The best tickets for this show cost $188.60 per seat with the Ticketmaster "convenience" charges. How can some young fan inspired by your guitar playing -- those kids you were talking about earlier -- possibly afford that?

A. We are not the most expensive ticket; we're under I think [Paul] McCartney and Elton [John] and Billy Joel. All I can tell you is that it is a very complex, very expensive thing to travel with your own lights and sound, and post-9/11, the logistics of travel have gotten even worse. Commercial flights and trucks and everything -- it costs a lot to do what we do. We make a bunch also, though. I don't know what to tell you other than we've been together a long, long time and there are people that go away [from our shows] very, very happy. We're doing a lot of charity stuff. Henley is Mr. Charity.

Q. When you play in a band with a guy like that, who always seems to be campaigning for sainthood, do you ever feel a little inferior?

A. Not so much. He comes to us with situations and stuff like that, and we help when we can. We usually do at least one gig per tour for charity. We don't talk about it a lot, but not all of that money goes into our pockets. Plus, now that we don't have a record company, we're paying to record. So yeah, we make a lot, but we work really hard for it, and I think if you opened the books and saw where the money goes, it would make sense.

Q. You said the new album is coming out next year. Do you anticipate touring behind it, despite the "Farewell" thing?

A. I suppose it would be time, but I don't know.

Q. How about your solo career?

A. I have a solo album in the process, but I had to shelve it to be an Eagle for a while. I haven't really thought about it, but I do have another solo album in me. I may do it at home and just put it on the Internet so people can download it. About the only thing left is to work at the craft. Having been rich a couple of times and famous a couple of times, I know about all that. But it's really nice to be in the Eagles, and I love playing on Henley's songs -- he has a great voice, and of course the two of them as a songwriting team are unbeatable.