Music/Lyrics: Joe Walsh
Vocals: Page (lead), Trey (backing)
Original Artist: The James Gang
Original Album: Thirds (1970)
Historian: Ellis Godard (lemuria)
Like Phish, Joe Walsh's original material includes a wealth of both frivolity and rock. Solidly in the latter category, "Walk Away" was the sole single from Walsh's last album with The James Gang and the band's only Top 40 hit. It emphatically addresses tension and departure – in its music, lyrics, and history, as well as in the timing of Phish's performances of it.
The music starts with a three-chord rock melody and disintegrates through a multi-tracked clashing of guitars as the song fades out. (On the liner notes, Walsh was credited with "guitar, vocals, and train wreck.") The lyrics correspondingly express angst at someone giving up, a mix of avoided conflict ("seems to me, you don't want to talk about it") and restrained disgust ("thinking some words I can't name ya").
"Walk Away" – The James Gang
Those sentiments reflect the band's ongoing personnel shifts throughout its history, with 14 members who thought "looks like my stop, don't want to get off", but did: four had already left the group before Walsh joined, three more departed before he finally walked away, and at least a half dozen more have come and gone since. With each change, remaining members were left with something different, sounds and relationships that "don't taste the same" as they did before, colleagues who "talk all night" but "ignore just what was said."
Though one part of a shifting mosaic, Walsh really made The James Gang, and made something of it. The band didn't release an album until Walsh joined, and none of the six released after his departure matched the relative success of the three in which he participated. He was thus "hung up" on the band, but "startin' ta doubt" his commitment and "tryin' to decide what to do." When he left, it was to fill the spot made when Bernie Leadon walked way from the Eagles, who released their own version of the tune on the 1999 Selected Works boxed set.
"Walk Away" – Phish, 4/29/90, Woodbury, CT
The song was relatively prominent in 1988-1990 Phish shows. Rather than dropping out completely like some rarities, it then went halfway, receding into key improvisational moments, including four strong “Tweezer” jams (2/20/93, 4/30/93, 7/22/93, and 5/7/94), between "Sparks" and “Antelope” on 8/14/93, and as part of solid jam sequences on 12/29/93 and 5/7/94.
The song itself then walked away, gone for the 367 shows from 5/7/94 to 10/29/98. Its dozen-plus returns have continued to mark departures from the norm, with four solid showings in 2000, and a historical nod in Telluride to the band's show there two decades earlier. What's more, 2010 versions so far (6/17 – widely considered among the best ever, 8/10, and 8/17) have featured bits of "Tweezer Reprise" jamming.
"Walk Away" – Phish, 6/17/10, Hartford, CT