Joe Walsh left the James Gang in 1971 and moved to Colorado. Later, he created Barnstorm with Joe Vitale and Kenny Passarelli, although Walsh’s name appeared on their songs as a solo artist. After releasing their self-titled first album in October 1972, Barnstorm followed it up with “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” in June 1973.
Walsh’s name was used to promote “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get,” which ended up being a breakthrough record for Barnstorm. The first and lead song from the album, “Rocky Mountain Way,” was a major hit and got much on the radio. Walsh said that writing it cost him a lot of money.
Joe Walsh recalls quitting James Gang and beginning work on the record “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” in an interview with Rolling Stones. Walsh said that the lyrics for the instrumental piece, subsequently known as “Rocky Mountain Way,” came to him while he was mowing the grass and that everyone had been waiting for him to compose them.
Joe Walsh discussed quitting James Gang and working on the record “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” in a Rolling Stones interview. The lyrics for the instrumental piece that eventually became “Rocky Mountain Way,” according to Walsh, came to him while he was mowing the grass and everyone had been waiting for him to compose them.
Walsh said that he immediately entered the house so that he wouldn’t forget the lyrics and left the lawnmower behind. It thus wandered over to his neighbor’s yard and trampled her rose plants. Walsh said that the damages cost him 1,500 dollars, which at the time was a significant sum of money. As a result, “Rocky Mountain Way” turned out to be a very costly tune for him.
What Joe Walsh had to say to Rolling Stone about penning “Rocky Mountain Way” is as follows:
“I had left the James Gang, left Cleveland, and gone to Colorado because Bill Szymczyk was there, and so were a whole bunch of other people I knew. We had the ‘The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get’ album pretty much done, except for this one instrumental track. I couldn’t think of any words, and everybody was patiently waiting for me to come up with something.
One day, I was in my backyard in Boulder mowing the lawn, thinking, ‘Boy, I sure hope leaving the James Gang was a good idea!’ Because I hadn’t really surfaced as a solo act yet. I was almost there, but not quite. And then I looked up, and there were the Rocky Mountains. It was summer, but you could still see snow on the back range. It hit me how beautiful it was, 5,000 feet up.”
He went on to say:
“And that was it – the words came: ‘Spent the last year Rocky Mountain way/Couldn’t get much higher.’ And the second verse is about my old management – telling us this, telling us that, time to change the batter. I got all of that at once. And I ran inside to write it down before I forgot it.
The only problem was I forgot to shut off the lawnmower. It kept moving, went into the neighbor’s yard, and ate her rose bushes. [It] 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, was pissed. I said to her, ‘You don’t understand! I got the words!’ But she just looked at me.”
Regarding the song, Joe Walsh added the following:
“I’m living in Colorado, and I’m mowing the lawn. I look up, and there’s the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, and there’s snow on them in the summer. And it knocked me back because it was just beautiful. And I thought, well, I have committed. I’m already in Colorado, and it’s too late to regret the James Gang.
The ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ is better than the way I had because the music was better. I got the words, bam! I got all the words at once and ran into the house to write the words down. The lawn mower went into the neighbor’s yard and ate the garden. It was an expensive song to write!“
Below is a video of Joe Walsh’s song “Rocky Mountain Way.”