A shot from last year's VetsAid concert with Joe Walsh (in purple jacket) and friends.Photo by Peter Dervin/Courtesy of It's a Beautiful Day Media
Throughout his decades-long career in rock and roll, Joe Walsh has been all over the world. And there may indeed be no place like home. But on this October morning in 2019, Joe Walsh wants to be somewhere else.
“Well, Bob, I’m in Colorado and yesterday we woke up to four inches of snow! So it’s a great day to say indoors and do interviews!” he says in his distinctive, much-imitated speaking voice. “So it’s time to go Houston where you’re at for this show where it’s warmer!”
The show Walsh is talking about isn’t with his fine feathered friends in the Eagles (though they will be here March 6 and 7 next year for the just-announced Hotel California 2020 tour), or even a solo gig. Instead, Joe Walsh will be headlining this year’s VetsAid 2019 on November 10 at the Toyota Center.
As a Gold Star kid himself, veterans issues are very close to Joe Walsh's heart.
Photo by Myriam Santos/Courtesy of It's a Beautiful Day Media
Joining him will be hometown heroes ZZ Top, country superstar Brad Paisley, rocking folkie Sheryl Crow, Americana artist Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and other guests to be announced (and likely a surprise or two).
VetsAid is a nonprofit group founded by Walsh in 2017 to raise funds for and then disperse them to both large and small other veterans-serving nonprofits. To date, $1.2 million has been given out to groups like Combined Arms, Headstrong Project, U.S. Vets, Next Op Veterans, Grace After Fire, Train a Dog to Save a Warrior, and Texas Veterans Outdoors.
This show is the third VetsAid to date, and Walsh wants to travel it around the country. Houston was chosen partially because it is—according to a VetsAid press release—host to the second largest population of veterans in the country with over 250,000 former military men and women. Other activities around the concert will include a job fair and a “Houston Salutes American Heroes Veterans Day Celebration” for which Walsh will serve as keynote speaker and Grand Marshal.
The subject, as diehard fans know, is close to Walsh on a personal level. Very close.
“I am actually a Gold Star kid. My father was in the Army Air Force before there was an Air Force, and he died when I was two years old,” he says. “So there’s sadness and growing up without a father – though I had a great stepfather who always had my back. But Gold Star Families really resonate with me. Though back then there wasn’t a Gold Star. It was just ‘Oh, your dad died. That’s too bad.’ That’s about all the help you got.”
Walsh’s father was an Army flight instructor based in Okinawa, Japan. In 1949, he was training pilots in the run-up to the Korean War on the then-new Lockheed F-80, the U.S. first combat-worthy jet.
“Back then, when you were a flight instructor, you were also a test pilot. Your flight log went back to Lockheed and they would try and make improvements,” Walsh continues. “My father’s plane malfunctioned coming out of a turn or dive and didn’t do what it was supposed to do. He didn’t come home.”
Throughout his career as a musician – and even before he became a famous as he did – Walsh would go and meet with veterans who had returned to the United States, often at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. And it wasn’t just him as a bedroom poster come to life who walked those halls.
“A lot of big musicians would go and hang out with the guys and thank them for their service. And you could see such a glow in them, that somebody would even come over. It made a huge difference and was uplifting for them,” he says.
He has less uplifting words, though, for others. “We are at war. It’s a forgotten war. The media doesn’t pay any attention to it,” he says. “I guess the current political situation is all that’s on the news and so be it. But this is a kind of war we’ve never fought. And more people have been seriously injured than killed. Guys are coming back just shattered.”
Having ZZ Top on the bill for VetsAid 2019 was a no-brainer, given that the Little Ol’ Band from Texas has the deepest Houston roots of any rock act in history. It helped that Walsh and singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons are “like brothers” and fellow serious guitar collectors. Gibbons also served as the reverend who married Walsh and his wife Marjorie Bach in 2008. And fun fact: Marjorie Bach’s sister is Barbara Bach, actress and longtime spouse or Ringo Starr. That means Joe Walsh can claim a Beatle-in-Law!
He’s also aware of how a large music event with a crowd like-minded in a cause can be an uplifting and transformative experience for both the performers and audience, with the Sept. 11 memorial shows coming to mind.
“Music is incredibly healing, and so is the energy. And last year, we got at least 45 vets employed at the job fair,” he says “And we have a big section for people with wheelchairs and prosthetics and Gold Star families. There’s even a room for the kids to get together and play and make friends. The experience of all of us being together and listening to music is great, but there’s also a lot of networking in vet communities.”
Finally, there’s news about his “day gig” with the Eagles – who continue to fill huge venues despite the 2016 death of the seemingly irreplaceable Glenn Frey (Frey’s son Deacon and country star Vince Gill fill that slot, along with Walsh, Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit and backing musicians onstage).
The band’s set on next year’s Hotel California 2020 tour will revolve around playing the complete Hotel California record, followed by a greatest hits set. Released in late 1976, it was not only the band’s biggest seller, but one of classic rock’s Epochal Albums.
Asked what made this one so special compared to others, he subscribes to a mantra you might hear from any real estate agent: Location, location, location.
“We were…how do I say this?....we were in Southern California and at the time musicians at the time across the country, me included, had gotten about as far as we were going to get from where we were,” he says.
“We all realized that if something was good was going to happen career wise, it would be in Los Angeles. Before any of us got famous we were all hanging out together and wrote about the world around us. All of that energy came together on that album. And that’s part of the reason we called it Hotel California. Nobody living there was from California. They were all from places like Detroit! Some of us didn’t make it and went home. Some of us didn’t and should have. And some of us did and are still here!”
VetsAid2019 with Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and surprise guests starts at 5:30 p.m. on November 10 at the Toyota Center, 1510 Polk. For information, call 866-4HOUTIX or visit ToyotaCenter.com. $25-$199.50.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE...
Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.