Colorado Connection: Joe Walsh
Joe Walsh "Rocky Mountain Way" (Courtesy The Best Of- Home Of Classic Music)
In 1971, Joe Walsh was looking to make a break from his old life so that he could explore new territory, both geographically and musically. Tired of his work with the James Gang – the band with which he recorded four albums, one of which included the minor commercial hit “Funk #49” – Walsh yearned for the freedom to fully explore his creativity. Friend and producer Bill Scymczyk, who had decided to move away from Los Angeles after the 6.6 magnitude San Fernando Earthquake that struck earlier that year, suggested that Walsh move out with him to Colorado. Hoping for isolation, privacy, and a change of scenery, Walsh agreed.
What Walsh ended up discovering was the soon-to-be-famous Caribou Ranch. Built on 4,000 acres of land outside Nederland, Colorado, Caribou Ranch was the improbable home of a budding recording studio. In time, it would become one of the finest studios in the world, recording legendary musicians such as Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, U2, Chicago, and Billy Joel, among others. Elton John recorded his 2x platinum album Caribou there.
But when Walsh arrived at Caribou Ranch in 1972, it was little more than a partially renovated barn, with only one room fully completed. During the recording of Barnstorm, the eponymous first album made by Walsh’s new band, the band members had to urinate down an elevator shaft. But James William Guercio, Caribou Ranch owner, had hired Tom Hidley, ex-Beach Boy and now one of the top designers in the world, to transform the ranch into a world-class recording locale. Guercio's association with the Boys stemmed from filling in on a few of their tours in the early '70s.
Barnstorm was only moderately successful, stalling out at No. 79 on the pop charts. But the album was a prelude to the outfit’s second musical endeavor, 1973's The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get, which featured on it a little ditty titled "Rocky Mountain Way." Based largely on the strength of that single, which reached #23 on the Billboard Music Charts, Walsh had his first major commercial hit, and established himself as an artist capable of reading the pop music audience.
"Rocky Mountain Way" was simply a song about Walsh’s fondness for his new Colorado home. Having broken free from the past and the artistic limitations he was feeling with the James Gang, Walsh appreciated the majesty of the Rocky Mountains and the new culture that he was living in. "Rocky Mountain Way" is a song about new beginnings, personal liberation, and excitement for the possibilities of the future.
Walsh says that "Rocky Mountain Way" came to him while he was mowing his lawn. When the lyrics popped into his head, he ran inside his house to write them down, leaving the lawn mower to run out of control and destroy his neighbor’s garden. When Walsh croons that he “Spent the last year/ Rocky Mountain Way/ Couldn’t get much higher,” he is not only singing about the elevation of his new digs, but about the great altitudes he had found emotionally.
It will surprise few people to hear that a recording studio isolated in the mountainous wilds of Colorado became not only a place to make great art, but also a place to enjoy some good, old-fashioned drunken and drug-induced debauchery. There were even some local girls who lived full time at the ranch, performing basic chores by day, and satisfying some of the artist’s other basic needs by night.
In 14 short years Caribou Studios had risen from a dilapidated barn to the home of dozens upon dozens of albums made by some of rock and roll and folk music history’s most recognizable names, meeting its demise in March, 1985, when it burned to ashes, taking with it numerous irreplaceable Gold Record plaques housed on the studio's walls. (Courtesy songplaces.com)
"Emma's fountain lives long after rock 'n' roll tragedy"
Boulder Daily Camera (CO)
You might have had a drink from the unassuming water fountain at the North Boulder Park playground. But, unless you turned and looked down, you probably missed the memorial plaque.
On a recent overcast October day, the words of the dedication were partially covered with overgrown grass, fallen crabapples and autumn leaves. It reads:
This fountain is given
in loving memory of
April 29, 1971-April 1, 1974
Emma's mother, Stefany Rhodes, still a beautiful, petite brunette, recalls meeting Joe Walsh when she was a student at Boston University. They married shortly after her graduation, when she was just 21 years old. The couple welcomed baby girl Emma in the spring of 1971 and the family moved west a few months later.
Emma's life coincided with the area's blossoming rock music scene. As a baby she often slept on the floor of the Caribou Ranch recording studio, while her father was making an album. The destination studio was built near Nederland in 1971.
Later, when the family moved down to Boulder, Stefany worked hard to make a home for the golden-haired girl amidst smoke, loud music and a constant stream of hippie musicians. "Our house was like a crash pad," she said in an interview. The young wife put her foot down when yet another singer-songwriter, Dan Fogelberg, asked to stay at their home.
Mother and daughter were very close. They walked nearly every day from their home to North Boulder Park to enjoy the playground. There were bars for Emma to swing on and the toddler especially loved it when her mother joined in the swinging. "She was warm and funny," Stefany said, describing Emma's personality.
On April 1, 1974, Stefany drove down 9th street, taking her daughter to a morning playgroup. Joe, who had been touring extensively, as well as recording in Los Angeles, was returning to Boulder that day. Stefany was planning to drive back to their house and get ready for her husband's homecoming.
But a driver ran a stop sign at 9th and Spruce, crashing into the passenger side of the Walshes' green Porsche. The impact caused the Walsh car to spin around and hit a fence across the street.
Emma Walsh, less than a month away from turning 3 years old, sustained massive head injuries from the accident and was taken off life support late that night.
One of the girl's physicians came to their home asking for permission to harvest Emma's corneas and kidneys for donation. Although taken aback at the request, Stefany gave consent.
The Walsh marriage didn't survive the tragedy. "The accident kind of did us in," Stefany said. "We divorced shortly afterward."
Joe later suggested a memorial water fountain at their favorite playground and she agreed. "The fountain was all Joe's doing, really," she said. "Joe was a very romantic person." Arrangements for the memorial were made through their lawyer.
A popular 1970s style, the 'exposed aggregate' fountain was designed to match existing buildings in the park. Originally, it was built into a wooden structure and the memorial plaque was placed above eye-level.
Boulder Mayor Frank Buchanan took the ceremonial first sip of water, when the fountain was dedicated at North Boulder Park on May 25, 1976.
In 1984, Stevie Nicks' impromptu visit to the fountain with Joe Walsh inspired her song, "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You."
According to Lisa Martin, Urban Parks Manager for the City of Boulder, the fountain has been vandalized often over the years. The base began rotting and became unstable. In recent years, the city had the fountain removed from the original structure and moved slightly. The plaque was then secured in the ground.
There are no current plans to restore the drinking fountain.
For parents who take notice of her daughter's memorial, Stefany's message is, "Love your children and pay attention to them -- just pay attention to them."
Emma Walsh is buried in her mother's hometown cemetery in Ipswich, Mass.
Carol Taylor and Silvia Pettem write on history for the Daily Camera, alternating weeks. Write Silvia at the Daily Camera P.O. Box 591, Boulder 80306 or email email@example.com , and write Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of last.fm.com, dailycamera.com, wikipedia.com