When Joe Walsh Showed He’s Just an ‘Ordinary Average Guy’
After the lukewarm reception that greeted his previous outing, 1987's Got Any Gum?, Walsh retreated from the spotlight for several years, ending his long association with Warner Bros. and spending a period of time as a free agent. Even without a record contract, Walsh could periodically be heard on the radio — some notable cameos during this period included his slide guitar work on Richard Marx's "Don't Mean Nothing" and the Wilson Phillips hit "Impulsive" — but his commercial ebb as a solo artist coincided with a period of worsening substance abuse.
Yet even as he neared the end of his drinking and drugging days, Walsh managed to keep hold of his muse. Ready to record again a few years after Got Any Gum? flopped, Walsh signed a contract with Epic and secured the services of his longtime drummer/musical foil, Joe Vitale, for the album that would eventually take shape as Ordinary Average Guy.
Walsh and Vitale co-produced the set starting in the late summer of 1990, enlisting an assortment of studio vets and session ringers that included Ringo Starr, Survivor singer Jimi Jamison, and David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer as well as renowned guitarist Waddy Wachtel and bassist George "Chocolate" Perry.
Although the resulting tracks made certain concessions to modern sounds, the time away didn't have a terribly substantial impact on Walsh's approach or attitude as an artist. As on previous outings, he balanced the track listing more or less evenly between goofy humor and thoughtful balladry; for example, the record slots Walsh's cover of the old Kingsmen cut "The Gamma Goochee" alongside the glossy Jamison co-write "All of a Sudden"...which in turn arrives ahead of the smirking, self-explanatory "Alphabetical Order."
While mainstream audiences reacted to Walsh's return essentially the same way they'd responded to Got Any Gum?, the record's fortunes at rock radio proved he still had an audience among the faithful. The title track was a Top Three hit at the format, joined in heavy rotation by "All of a Sudden" (No. 13). Ordinary Average Guy rose no higher than No. 112 on the Billboard chart, but it led to a well-received summer tour with the Doobie Brothers, and seemed to breathe new life into his solo career.
Unfortunately for fans, it wouldn't really work out that way. His next Epic release, 1992's Songs for a Dying Planet, tanked completely, failing to chart, and after the Eagles reunion in 1994, his solo career went back on hiatus. Although he'd certainly stay busy during the interim, it'd be another 20 years before Walsh returned with his next LP, Analog Man.
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