Music/Lyrics: Joe Walsh
Vocals: Page (lead), Trey (backing)
Original Artist: The James Gang
Original Album: Thirds (1970)
Last Update: 2015-06-17
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 fourteen 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 box set.
"Walk Away" – Phish, 4/29/90, Woodbury, CT
The song was relatively prominent in Phish shows during 1988-1990. Rather than dropping out completely like some rarities, it then went halfway, receding into key improvisational moments, including several strong “Tweezer” jams (2/20/93, 4/30/93, and 7/22/93), while the version offered on 8/14/93 was notable for turn-on-a-dime segues from "Sparks" and into “Antelope.” The famed 5/7/94 Bomb Factory gig saw “Walk Away” stretched beyond recognition, emerging from a loose take on “Sweet Emotion,” dissolving into an extended Type-II jam led by Page, before resolving in an instrumental take on The Breeders’ “Cannonball.”
The song itself then walked away, gone for the 367 shows from 5/7/94 to 10/29/98. Upon its return it was only played sporadically up until Phish’s first hiatus, though when it did appear it made a splash in memorable shows including 7/25/99 Deer Creek (segue out of “Birds of a Feather”), 6/14/00 Fukuoka, Japan (officially released as LivePhish 04), and 6/29/00 Garden State Arts Center (segue out of “Cities”).
“Walk Away” sat on the shelf for Phish 2.0, returning on 6/18/09 in Burgettstown, PA. “Walk Away” is notable as one of very few songs that witnessed an extension in jamming length in modern times – usually compacted into three-to-four minutes in the 80s and 90s, versions since 2010 have averaged well over six. “Walk Away” versions from recent vintage worth checking out include 5/27/11 Bethel Woods and 7/3/12 Jones Beach (both -> out of “Wolfman’s”), 8/28/12 St. Louis (sandwiched between “Sand” and an unusually inspired “Limb By Limb”) and 12/31/12 MSG, its only appearance to date following “Mike’s Song.”
"Walk Away" – Phish, 10/29/13, Reading, PA