Novelist Peter Matthiesen once wrote: “Mountains are meaningless; they are the meaning.
Joe Walsh may have had similar impressed thoughts when he penned his signature hit. Way of the Rockies.
It was the spring of 1972, and Walsh, then 24, was in a period of transition. He had just left his band The James Gang, while simultaneously turning down an invitation from Steve Marriott to join Humble Pie, taking the place of Peter Frampton. Instead, Walsh upped the Cleveland stakes, moved to idyllic Boulder, and formed a new band called Barnstorm.
“I went to Colorado because Bill Szymczyk [James Gang producer] was there, along with a whole bunch of other people I knew,” Walsh said. rolling stone. Barnstorm’s self-titled debut album, recorded at Caribou Ranch in the Rockies, was influenced by the acoustic sounds of Crosby, Stills & Nash and James Taylor. It made a moderate noise, but the band wasted no time recording the sequel.
Walsh said: “We had the Smoking almost finished album [The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get] except we had this piece which was an instrument. I couldn’t find any words and everyone was patiently waiting for me to find something.
Inspiration came one day while Walsh was mowing his lawn. “I looked up and there were the Rocky Mountains. It was summer but you could still see some snow in the back. It just struck me how beautiful everything was, 5,000 feet up. And that was it – the words came: Spent last year at Rocky Mountain Way / Couldn’t get much higher. And the second verse is about my old management – Telling us this, telling us that, it’s time to change the dough. I understood everything at once. And I ran inside to write it down before I forgot it.
But in his haste to jot down the lyrics, Walsh forgot to turn off the lawnmower. He said: “He kept moving and went to the neighbor’s yard and ate his rose bushes. Cleared a small straight path. So those lyrics ended up costing me, I don’t know, maybe fifteen hundred dollars. But it was worth it. The neighbor, however, she was pissed off. I said to him: ‘You don’t understand! I have the words!’ But she just looked at me.
Walsh had written and recorded the instrumental track for Rocky Mountain Path with bandmates Joe Vitale, Rocke Grace and Kenny Passarelli. Now that the lyrics are complete, he returned to the studio with Szymczyk to complete the song. After perfecting the vocals, Walsh layered on “six or seven” guitars, arriving at this wonderfully dense texture on the rhythm part. For the lead role, he played slide fills, and for the solo section, he tried out a new toy called the Talk Box.
Walsh had borrowed the contraption from acclaimed Nashville guitarist Pete Drake, who had built it himself and used it on several country songs, as far back as his own hit, Still, in 1961. Basically, a Talk Box redirects the sound of an instrument into the player’s mouth through a plastic tube. The player can then shape that sound by vocalizing with it into a microphone. In short, it looks like a beer bong and sounds like a robot.
But Walsh was frustrated with the lack of volume of Drake’s invention and had sound engineer Bob Heil build a new rock version of the Talk Box. Famously, Heil would soon give one of these prototypes to Peter Frampton, who made it part of his signature sound in the 70s.
Rocky Mountain Path only reached No. 23 on the charts, but became an FM radio staple and was a solo spotlight for Walsh at Eagles concerts for years. Because the lyrics mention “Casey’s at bat,” a reference to a famous baseball poem, the Colorado Rockies have used the song after every home win since 1995. It’s steady royalty for Walsh and his Barnstorm pals. Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos football team uses the song at their home games, although they prefer Godsmack’s cover version. Another important Triumph cover became a hit in Canada in 1977.
Inspired by Rocky Mountain aside, Walsh said the song’s success is more down to earth. “One of the things that makes the song magical is that there’s a group of guys playing together in a room. It’s a groove you can’t do with computer software.