On Dec. 14, 1974, Joe Walsh released the album So What. It picked up where Walsh left off from 1973’s The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get with his group Barnstorm—lots of great rock ‘n’ roll guitar licks, but also quite a few tracks with thoughtful musical arrangements, incorporating delicate instrumentation. The album would go to #11 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart.
I’ve always liked the album, but didn’t realize until I started researching it what a painful period this was in Joe Walsh’s life—and yet I had sensed it in his music, especially “Pavanne,” his instrumental interpretation of Maurice Ravel’s “Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant” (“The Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty” from the Mother Goose Suite) using only ARP and Moog synthesizers, and “Song for Emma.” the heartfelt song of remembrance that solemnly closes the album. It usually brings me to tears, and now I know why.
In 1974, Walsh’s daughter, Emma, was killed in an accident on her way to nursery school. Walsh and his wife could not bear to live in Colorado anymore, and the tragedy led to the couple’s divorce. Walsh was quoted as saying that nothing much mattered after Emma died. The album’s title, So What, summed it up.
In retrospect, hints of the heartache can be heard on almost every track. Even his re-working of a previous song, “Turn to Stone” from 1972’s Barnstorm LP, has a sharper and harder meaning in light of his daughter’s death.
And yet, there are moments of beauty throughout the album. Joe Vitale, from Barnstorm, is back on drums. And Eagles’ Don Henley, Randy Meisner and Glenn Frey provide soothing background vocals on several tracks, especially “Help Me Through the Night.” Walsh would join the Eagles in less than two years when Bernie Leadon left the group, and “Help Me Through the Night” would became a staple for Eagles concerts in later years.
“Song for Emma” (http://bit.ly/SongForEmma)