Kent State 50th: Joe Walsh Looks Back

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Joe Walsh (Photo: Myram Santos; used with permission)

In the late summer of 1965, Joe Walsh arrived at Kent State University and almost immediately started integrating himself into the local music scene with his first band, the Measles. By the spring of 1968, Walsh joined and then fronted the James Gang, a hard rock power trio playing two to three nights a week at a downtown Kent club called JB’s. In addition to being extremely popular on the local Kent and Northeast Ohio music scene, the James Gang began playing shows nationally opening for the likes of Fleetwood Mac, The Who and Led Zeppelin.

Walsh was on the Kent State campus on May 4, 1970, and the events of that tragic day when four students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard, with many others wounded, left a lasting impact on him.

On May 4, 2020, Walsh issued a statement, “Today marks 50 years since the shooting at Kent State University. Those of us who were there remember that day graphically, when our classmates, our friends, got shot down. We were naive young people who had left our parents nest and were just starting our lives by going to college and furthering our education. And we were peacefully demonstrating but because of a total dysfunctional authority trying to handle a situation they didn’t understand, it mutated into elevated emotions and anger, chaos and fear escalated into violence.

“It was a long time ago but the reason it is so important and should be remembered is because history repeats itself – and we are as divided as a country now as we were then – and people demonstrating have no chance against people with guns. The solution then, as it is now, is to be able to peacefully assemble and understand each other and accept our differences, without fear, without hatred, without violence.”

1972’s Barnstorm album

Following his time in Kent, Ohio, Walsh left the James Gang and formed Barnstorm with Joe Vitale and Kenny Passarelli.

Walsh went on to a successful solo music career and eventually became a member of the Eagles just in time to record their iconic album, Hotel California.

Walsh has written or co-written such classic rock songs as “Rocky Mountain Way,” “Funk #49,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Life’s Been Good” and “In the City.” A multi-Grammy Award recipient, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, Walsh tours both as a solo artist and as a member of the Eagles and continues to support Kent State and Northeast Ohio.

The 50th anniversary of the shootings was to be commemorated with a benefit concert featuring Walsh, reuniting with his Barnstorm bandmates and David Crosby (with his touring band). It was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. KSU has created a time capsule for the anniversary here.

The university has created the May 4 Legacy Scholarships, which will provide four endowed scholarships to be given to students majoring in Kent State’s renowned Peace and Conflict Studies program. Each scholarship will bear the name of one of the students killed – Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder – to serve as a lasting testament to their lives and presence at Kent State.

The endowment of the four scholarships had long been a goal for many of the family members of those killed and wounded during the anti-war protest on May 4, 1970.

In the days following the Kent State shooting, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded Neil Young’s composition, “Ohio,” based on the tragedy. Its Top 15 success on the pop charts that summer helped to raised international awareness of the events at Kent State.

Related: Our story on the recording of “Ohio”

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