1. Guitarists Michael Landau with his Strat (left) and John Bohlinger sporting a PRS while getting ready to put down some tracks with Joe Walsh. 2. Guitarist John Bohlinger (foreground) works the rhythm while guitar hero Joe Walsh effortlessly lays down the lead tracks. 3. John Bohlinger, Tim Pike, Joe Walsh, Gary Novak, Jimmy Haslip, Michael Landau, and Scott Kinsey while recording in L.A. Photos By Joseph Armario
I was in L.A. last week working on a project
with philanthropist and Microsoft
co-founder Paul Allen at his private studio.
(One of the most beautiful studios I’ve
seen, it’s located in Beverly Hills and has
enormous floor-to-ceiling windows that
look out onto Coldwater Canyon.) On
this project, Paul and I were sharing guitar
duties with L.A. session ace Michael
Landau. Paul was recording a simultaneous
session with Doyle Bramhall, so he would
overdub his parts later, which left Michael
and me tracking together, sitting next to
each other with our speaker cabinets in
nearby iso booths.
The rest of the band featured drummer
Gary Novak and bassist Jimmy Haslip, who
have a side project band called Renegade
Creation with Landau and Robben Ford.
Given Landau’s legendary ability—combined
with the fact that these three guys
usually hear Robben playing the other guitar
part—I told myself, “Leave the shredding to
Michael, just work a solid support part.”
Before recording, we listened to the
demos, checked the charts, divided the
work, and decided who would play what:
“You go high, I’ll go low.” “You’re playing
the Strat, I’ll go with humbuckers on the
PRS.” “I’ll do the tremolo thing while you’re
doing the weird Bigsby cowboy moves.”
I did take a few solos, but only when it
was a solo that I had played on the demo
that became integral to the song. We left
room for Paul to overdub his parts and gave
Landau plenty of room for guitar heroics.
We fell into a rhythm and quickly knocked
out some good tracks. I was happy working
in the non-glamorous position, because
that’s where I belonged.
On the third day of tracking, we experienced
a paradigm shift when Joe Walsh
arrived. I’m talking “Funk #49,” “Life’s Been
Good,” and “Rocky Mountain Way.” He’s
a damn Eagle, a rock ’n’ roll legend, your
Ordinary Average Guitar Genius. Walsh was
there to play and sing a cameo on a song
called “Six Strings from Hell.” This swamp-nasty
groove (a bit of a modern narrative
of Robert Johnson cutting his deal with
Scratch) had a low chugging guitar part
welded to a high slide part that Paul and I
came up with while demoing the song.
Walsh, who was producing this song,
liked the interplay of the two parts and
said, “Yeah, you guys do those parts, they’re
cool. I’ll play around it.” Although I played
slide on the demo, there was no way I was
going to pick up a slide while Joe Walsh
was in the room. I don’t mind a musical
ass-whooping every now and then when
I deserve it, but I would rather raise the
white flag before we even begin.
As we talked it through the song and
checked the chart, I said, “Hey Michael, I’ll
do the low chug and you do the slide part.”
Landau, perhaps reading my mind,
replied, “No way am I playing slide in front
of Joe Walsh.”
We had a standoff. It was a bit like those
ultra-courteous cartoon gophers from Looney
Tunes, with each of us politely encouraging
the other to go first. We spent a few minutes
going back and forth: “You do it. The part
on the demo is good.” “No, you do it—your
slide playing is way better.” Etcetera.
Eventually Landau said, “You guys can
fire me or whatever, but I’m not doing it.”
Finally we agreed to split the rhythm riff,
with Landau going high on slide, me going low
on chug, and Joe doing all the fills and solos.
Joe set up his own rig—Les Paul, a couple of
stompboxes, and a combo amp—and stood in
the center of the room surrounded by the rest of
the band. He didn’t tweak his tone, mess with
his cue mix, or even warm up. The drummer
counted it off and Walsh came in with both
barrels blazing. I could not get over how great
he sounded—everything he played was the
perfect part. What made it even more incredible
was that he was playing a song he’d just heard
with a band he’d just met. No wonder this
guy is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
We ran the song three times and it was
done. We went back to listen in the control
booth and Joe picked the second take.
There were no fixes. The only change from
the live track was that Joe erased a few of
his fills he thought got in the way of the
vocal. I was thinking, “Man, this guy is
throwing away cooler stuff than I have ever
played.” Yet through it all Joe was funny,
encouraging, and incredibly generous—
even bringing my wife Megan Mullins in to
sing harmony with him. If you’re allowed
to work with one Guitar Hero in life, Joe
Walsh is the one to get.
Guitar is the puzzle you never finish.
Play 10 hours a day for 40 years and those
sweet six strings will regularly reveal new
mysteries. Michael Landau is a brilliant
player, and Paul Allen and I each have our
own cool bag, but combined we could
never out-Joe-Walsh Joe Walsh. Everything
he played sounded like a signature part.
Listen to Hotel California and you’ll hear
how every note serves a purpose. That’s
what makes some players so great: They
know how and they know when.
is a Nashville multi-instrumentalist best know for his work in television, having lead the band for all six season of NBC's hit program Nashville Star
, the 2011, 2010 and 2009 CMT Music Awards, as well as many specials for GAC, PBS, CMT, USA and HDTV.
John's music compositions and playing can be heard in several major label albums, motion pictures, over one hundred television spots and Muzak... (yes, Muzak does play some cool stuff.) Visit him at youtube.com/user/johnbohlinger
and check out his new band, The Tennessee Hot Damns