With his VetsAid benefit concert about to happen for a third year — on Nov. 10 at the Toyota Center in Houston — “the ask” is getting a little less awkward for Joe Walsh.
“People who did it (before) are talking it up,” the Eaglesguitarist tells Billboard. “They say, ‘Hey, VetsAid is great. If you get a chance to play it you ought to go.’ Last year was magic; We had a gospel choir open it up, we had a color guard, we had a couple brilliant speakers and there was no down time in-between acts. So it was run really great, and people hear about that. So it’s starting to be kind of a family deal. Plus, there’s a lot of musicians who are sensitive to this issue. They have people in their families or know people (in service). It resonates with them.”
Walsh — the son of a Gold Star veteran who died while on active duty when Walsh was just 20 months old — launched VetsAid three years ago to help fund local, grassroots veterans aid agencies. So far the charity has distributed nearly $1.2 million in grants, and this year’s lineup — the Doobie Brothers, ZZ Top, Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit — will be playing to benefit 17 nonprofits. Jon Bon Jovi — whose new single “Unbroken” for the upcoming documentary To Be of Service honors veterans — considered playing this year as well, according to Walsh, but couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts.
“I aimed it at the little vet-run organizations in the Midwest and stuff that didn’t have a budget,” Walsh explains. “If a vet gets home and he’s pretty alone and not a lot of people understand him, that’s the beginning of the depression and the isolation, and that’s the seed of the suicides. So it’s so important to keep those organizations going, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”
Walsh acknowledges that the peer support he’s had for VetsAid means that “I have to play all of their benefits in the future, but that’s OK.” This year he’s particularly looking forward to rubbing musical elbows with the Doobie Brothers, running buddies from the ’70s who share Walsh’s penchant for good times.
“In the old days we played a couple tours together and we started messing with each other, and it got pretty brutal,” Walsh remembers. “I remember one time they got the Chippendale dancers to come out in overcoats and flash me, so to get them back I got them a petting zoo to come on stage during one of their songs. It’s all hilarious stuff, but we were just messing with each other. They came on board for (VetsAid) right away. I don’t know what they’re gonna do to me this time, but I’ll have something for them.”
Walsh says VetsAid will continue to travel each year rather than settle into one city. Meanwhile he’s also traveling with the Eagles, which kicked off a tour last month in Las Vegas playing Hotel California in its entirety, accompanied by orchestras and choirs. “There’s stuff on that album we never played,” notes Walsh, who gives co-founder Don Henley credit for the concert concept notes. “We had to go back and figure ’em out, and it was a lot of work. I had to go back and really study, so playing the whole thing live really took some focus, and somehow we tamed the orchestra so it doesn’t overwhelm the show — it enhances it. When I got a chance to finally just sit back and be part of it and hear the orchestra behind us, I got emotional.”
Walsh also appears on Sheryl Crow’s latest album, Threads, and worked with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach on a new album for original James Gang guitarist Glenn Schwartz, which is expected out during 2020. And, per usual, he plays on brother-in-law Ringo Starr’s new album, What’s My Name, co-writing “Gotta Get Up to Get Down” and playing on a new version of the early ’80s John Lennon track “Grow Old With Me” that also features Paul McCartney on bass.
“Oh boy, that was great,” Walsh says. “It sounds just like the Beatles. At first I didn’t know what to do, but I think I really nailed it, and I’m so proud of it. I just thought, ‘What would George (Harrison) do?’ and went with that. It’s a real honor and privilege to be on song like that.”