Joe Walsh brought a necessary fire to the Eagles when he joined the band in 1975. Although Don Felder allowed the band to credibly play a more hard-edged version of rock and roll, it was Walsh who brought the true wild man spirit that the band were lacking in their initial country rock incarnation.
Walsh didn’t have a lot of time to announce his presence either: his first album would be the band’s second to last during their first run, 1976’s Hotel California. By this point, Don Helene and Glenn Frey has almost completely taken over control of the band, meaning that Walsh was never going to rise above that of a utility player. As Henley said in History of the Eagles: “Not everyone can be the quarterback”.
But Walsh was still able to have an impact. During early rehearsals with the band, the new guitarist didn’t want to stir things up too much. He simply began warming up with a riff he had to improve his coordination. “I had this lick that I played that I would warm up for shows with,” Walsh told Paul Shaffer years later. “It’s a coordination exercise between your right and left hand.”
The riff was noticed by Frey, who told Walsh to keep the riff for a song. Frey eventually paired the lick with a series of lyrics inspired by a car ride he was taking with a drug dealer. The two were going to a poker game and were carrying huge amounts of drugs when the dealer began pushing 90. Frey asked what he was doing, causing the dealer to smile and simply reply, “Life in the fast lane!”
Eventually ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ would be one of two writing credits that Walsh would receive on Hotel California, the other being his solo vocal ballad ‘Pretty Maids All in a Row’. The song also became another showcase for him during live shows, giving the freewheeling Walsh the spotlight along with solo cuts like ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ and ‘Life’s Been Good’.
Check out Walsh and Shaffer discussing the origins of ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ down below.