How Joe Walsh Used “Rocky Mountain Way” To Get over a Former Band Breakup

Joe Walsh’s 1971 departure from James Gang and his subsequent move across the country from Cleveland, Ohio, to Boulder, Colorado, might’ve felt like his entire life was going topsy-turvy, but at least he got the iconic track “Rocky Mountain Way” out of the tumultuous experience.

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Walsh left the rising Midwestern rock band after growing frustrated with the band’s creative limitations and their management under Mark Barger. The guitarist didn’t take long to settle down musically in his new city out West, forming a new band, Barnstorm, that same year.

While Walsh originally wrote “Rocky Mountain Way” for Barnstorm, he would reinvent the track as a solo artist when the band dissolved four years after its creation. Indeed, by the end of the 1970s, the driving blues track would see Walsh out of two band breakups.

Inspiration Struck During A Bit Of Yard Work

As Joe Walsh would later explain in a 2016 Rolling Stone interview, he made the decision to move from Cleveland to Boulder because Bill Szymczyk, who had worked as a producer for the James Gang, was living there at the time. But Walsh’s choice wasn’t without hesitation. The musician told Rolling Stone that the day he wrote the opening lines to “Rocky Mountain Way,” he was mowing the yard, fretting over whether he had made a mistake leaving the James Gang.

“Then, I looked up … and there were the Rocky Mountains,” he recalled. “It was summer, but you could still see snow on the back range. It just hit me how beautiful it all was, 5,000 feet up. And that was it. The words came.” Spent the last year Rocky Mountain Way, the song begins, couldn’t get much higher. Out to pasture, think it’s safe to say, time to open fire.

“The second verse is about my old management,” Walsh continued. Well, he’s telling us this and he’s telling us that, changes it every day, according to Walsh, was about his old band’s manager. Walsh, a baseball fan, uses a sports metaphor to describe his urge to leave Cleveland. Bases are loaded and Casey’s at bat, playin’ it play by play, time to change the batter.

How “Rocky Mountain Way” Ended Up Costing Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” would pay him back tenfold throughout the course of his solo career, but not before he coughed up a chunk of change himself. In his 2016 interview, Walsh recalled how the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and the sudden lyrical inspiration led him to sprint toward the house and jot down the lines before they slipped his mind. The only problem, of course, was he was still in the middle of mowing the lawn. In his haste to capture the muse, he had left the mower running.

“It kept moving and went into the neighbor’s yard and ate her rose bushes,” Walsh said. “Cleared a little path straight through. So, those lyrics wound up costing me, I don’t know, maybe 1,500 bucks. But it was well worth it. The neighbor, though, she was p***ed. I said to her, ‘You don’t understand! I got the words!’ But she just looked at me.”

Although the neighbor might not have agreed at the time, all was well that ended well with “Rocky Mountain Way.” Barnstorm broke up one year after they released the track, but Walsh continued to perform the song as a solo artist and in his subsequent bands, including The Eagles and Australian rock band The Party Boys.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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