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Career lessons from Joe Walsh

Today, careers everywhere have been shaken up. No gig is guaranteed, and many people are on their own when it comes to benefits or health plans while politicians sort out the details. But musicians have always lived this way. Recently, you might have caught some of the History of the Eagles documentary on TV that cast the latest light on the dark corners of that business.

The lot of the musician is one of constant adaptation, persistence and reinvention. You have to prove yourself every night in front of a new audience, pretty much for the rest of your life if you plan on being around that long. Many don’t make it.

But a good example of successfully navigating this sea of uncertainty is Joe Walsh, as a solo artist and an “Eagle,” he’s always proven to be maneuverable, versatile entertainer devoted to his craft. So since we’re in a rocking mood, let’s glean some career lessons from this iconic guitarist.

Always look for opportunity. Walsh started his career in the James Gang when their song Funk #49 kicked off the 1970′s by blowing out Camero speakers everywhere. After three records with the Gang, Walsh had some money and fame, but he knew it was no time to get comfortable. So he bailed out of the James Gang to start a new band, Barnstorm, and then kicked off a solo career that would result in over a dozen albums. Do you balance staying “comfortable” with taking risks?

March to your own drummer. Not too many artists put their solo career on hold to join a band, but that’s what Walsh did when he agreed to replace Eagles’ guitarist Bernie Leadon in 1975. The result was a new direction for the band that produced their classic Hotel California album. Walsh’s guitar solo on the title track ranks as one of the best ever. Always be open to new options, and keep in mind that your next gig might be in a direction you didn’t anticipate.

Always bring something to the table. Walsh brought three things to this established band. 1. An edgy guitar sound that gave The Eagles the opportunity to venture out into fresh territory. 2. New song ideas including riffs and lyrics. 3. The willingness to collaborate and compromise in a team environment. (The latter is often not easy for those used to calling the shots, such as solo artists.) New ideas and fresh thinking are not the sole province of entrepreneurs and start-ups. If you are joining an established organization it’s just as important that you bring creativity, money making (or saving) ideas, and a team-player attitude.

Cultivate your network. Over the years Walsh has helped out by playing guitar on records for many artists from Dan Fogelberg and John Entwistle to Any Gibb and REO Speedwagon. He’s also known to be generous with his gear, sharing vintage guitars from his collection with other musicians such as Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page. Do more than just connect with others on LinkedIn. Cultivating a network where you share your time, talent and treasure pays lifelong dividends.

Don’t take yourself so seriously. While he’s a member of a superstar band and his songs have been rock radio staples for decades, Walsh doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s known as one of the most laid back approachable “rock stars” around. His albums reflect this with titles such as, “So What,” “Ordinary Average Guy,” and “Got Any Gum?” In a world of inflated egos, social media status updates and bloated bios, take the road less traveled and let your work speak for you. Do that and you’ll be in business…for the long run.