Joe Walsh: The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get - Album Of The Week Club review

Credited to Joe Walsh, Barnstorm's second album The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get was their last before Walsh jumped ship fly solo

The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get cover art
(Image: © ABC/Dunhill)

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Joe Walsh: The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get

The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get cover art

(Image credit: ABC/Dunhill)

Rocky Mountain Way
Midnight Moodies
Happy Ways
Days Gone By
Daydream (Prayer)

Tired of the gritty blues rock certainties that characterised his time with the James Gang, Joe Walsh branched out musically in new band Barnstorm, extending his reach to a sound that was broader in scope and more speculative in nature while still being rooted in rock.

Second album The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get – officially a Barnstorm album but credited to Walsh – further developed the sonically inquisitive template and introduced 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.

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 psych of slowed-down sonics and heavy phasing. 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.

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Other albums released in June 1973

  • Touch Me - Gary Glitter
  • Messin' - Manfred Mann's Earth Band
  • Chicago VI - Chicago
  • Fresh - Sly & The Family Stone
  • 10 - The Guess Who
  • Fantasy - Carole King
  • Jesus Christ Superstar - Various Artists
  • A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night - Harry Nilsson and Gordon Jenkins
  • Never Turn Your Back On A Friend - Budgie
  • Roger McGuinn - Roger McGuinn


What they said...

"Walsh's ability to swing wildly from one end of the rock scale to the other is unparalleled and makes for an album to suit many tastes. Joe Vitale (drums, flute, backing vocals, keyboards, and synthesisers – a talented man) and Kenny Passarelli (bass and backing vocals) are once again employed, and once again prove themselves adept at handling Walsh's various styles." (AllMusic)

"From his slide-guitar mastery and early adoption of the Heil Talk Box effect on Rocky Mountain Way to the lilting twelve-string figures and soaring solos of Wolf, Walsh proves he possesses the chops for fiery flash as well as seductive subtlety. The album’s only notable flaws: Occasional corny and awkward lyrics on tracks like Dreams and Happy Ways. (Vinyl Reviews)

"The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get is the sort of wildly popular major-label album that litters nearly every bargain bin in the country, but don’t underestimate it. It reveals Walsh and company’s instrumental depth and aptitude for emotionally resonant songwriting beyond of the radio staples for which they were known and loved by classic-rock radio programmers and the people mesmerised by them." (Jive Time Records)


What you said...

Alex Hayes: The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get was a fresh listening experience for me this week, and one that I was very happy to get on board with. Although this particular album is new to me, Joe Walsh's previous work with The James Gang certainly isn't. I was very interested in seeing how this album would measure up to James Gang Rides Again.

It didn't manage that, but was still a decent listen. To be honest, parts of the album did little more than wash over me, without making any real impact. We're presented with quite a varied collection of moods and textures here, so it was inevitable that I would gravitate to certain songs over others. Occasionally, I'd prefer it if a certain album would just 'pick a lane', and The Smoker You Drink... is one of those times.

It's a bit of a crime that this album was marketed under the Joe Walsh name, as the other members of Barnstorm were much more than a run-of-the-mill backing band. Kenny Passarelli, Joe Vitale and Rockie Grace were all much more involved in the writing and production side of The Smoker You Drink... than might be apparent from a mere surface level glance. In fact, it's their contributions that help shape the album, and give the music it's eclectic feel.

For all that though, a Joe Walsh album is what this ultimately became, and there's no question who was truly in the drivers seat here. The Smoker You Drink... is another strong testament to Walsh's versatility as a writer and musician. There's much more depth to this guy than might be gleaned from first impressions. Walsh is a true talent, and blessed with far more strings to his bow than simply being a member of the Eagles, or a wild man of rock.

On second thoughts, maybe labelling this music under the Barnstorm moniker might have been a mistake. Just like the album title, the band's name is misleading. Together, they give the impression that this is going to be a far more raucous, shit-kicking affair. It isn't in the main. The Smoker You Drink... is much more atmospheric and sedate in its approach.

It's an interesting album this, not a great one. Although there's more depth to the music than the signature song, Rocky Mountain Way, indicates, it won't live long in my memory, and I doubt that I'll make an effort to revisit this in the future. 6/10

John Davidson: I bought this for £1 in 1980. Listened to it once and thought it wasn't for me.

I listened to it again this week for the first time in over 40 years. It's not a bad record, but it still doesn't move me or speak to me. Rocky Mountain Way is memorable enough but beyond that I'm struggling.

Wade Babineau: I must confess that I have not listened to a full studio album by Joe Walsh. It's been compilations that I have been exposed to and I've loved the songs on those. Nice to be able to sit back and give a full Joe Walsh album a go. Rocky Mountain Way, Happy Ways and Meadows I've heard on this hits albums. Whenever we would get together for darts, the host would turn Happy Ways way up to get that bass rattle opening booming through the basement. Good times. Having given this a full go I see Joe Walsh in a different light. Always thought of him as the chainsaw maniac who cut down hotel walls (which he was of course), but he presents a varied musical experience on this! Thanks for the pick this week

Mike Canoe: With expectations built on the album title and the only song I knew, Rocky Mountain Way, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get is considerably mellower than I expected. Instead of power chords and wise cracks, the listener gets a batch of well-written, surprisingly introspective songs.

Which, once I recalibrated my expectations, was generally fine. I have a high tolerance for jazz flute so I enjoyed multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale's playing on his pseudo-epic Days Gone By and the instrumental Midnight Moodies written by keyboardist and new band member Rocke Grace. Bassist Kenny Passarelli's Happy Ways makes me feel like I'm basking in gentle sunshine while Vitale's Bookends makes me feel like I'm basking in gentle nostalgia.

As for Joe Walsh, the man with his name instead of Barnstorm's on the cover, Meadows and Dreams are pretty great but Wolf and Daydream (Prayer) are downers that I am most likely to skip on future listens.

I can't say there's anything terribly wrong with the album, just not what I expected. Despite the party-ready title, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get strikes me as more of a reflective Sunday morning record than one for the raucous Saturday night that preceded it.

Keith Jenkin: Got into this one quite young on the back of Rocky Mountain Way without knowing about Walsh's past in The James Gang and also a good couple of years before he popped up in The Eagles. Expecting an album in keeping with the hit, the record is actually much more varied than that and in hindsight offered up a great cross section of most of the rock styles popular over in America around the time of release. With strong songwriting throughout I think it's Walsh's best solo album and is still a great collection filler for anyone who is a fan of the music of this era.

Gus Schultz: One of my favourite albums from Joe Walsh. Love the string of albums between this one and the confessor. He almost always has a good sense of humour in his music to address life’s ups and downs. This album made its mark just for Rocky Mountain Way in the way But Seriously, Folks... did with Life’s Been Good. It doesn’t have the slick Eagles-like production of But Seriously..., but this album is a must for anyone exploring Joe Walsh. Definitely one of his best.


Final score: 8.06 (91 votes cast, total score 734)

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