Joe Walsh says the hardest thing about putting together his VetsAid benefits for the past six years has been “the ask.”
“I had to ask other artists if they would considering coming and participating and I’d never had to do that before, and I was very uncomfortable about it,” Walsh tells Billboard via Zoom. “I didn’t know if it would work.” It clearly has, but it turned out Walsh didn’t even have to invite one of the biggest names, Dave Grohl, to play at this year’s event, taking place Nov. 13 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
More from Billboard
“I hesitated to ask him, but it was his idea,” says Walsh — who played both of Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins benefit concerts with his band James Gang, which is also on the VetsAid bill. “He said, ‘I’m gonna come’ and I said, ‘What are you gonna do?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, but I’m coming.'”
Grohl is billed as a special guest on the lineup, which also includes Nine Inch Nails, the Black Keys and the Breeders, with comedian/actor Drew Carey hosting. Walsh says Grohl “can do anything he wants. He’s gonna play a couple James Gang songs. I’m sure he’ll play ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ with me, probably help sing it.” Grohl performed “Funk #49” with James Gang at both of the Hawkins tribute concerts.
Walsh — whose father was a military flight instructor who died while on active duty in Okinawa, Japan, when Walsh was just 20 months old — founded VetsAid in 2017 to raise funds and awareness for the needs of veterans and their families, distributing funds to grassroots organizations in the communities where the concerts are held and beyond. VetsAid, in partnership with the Combined Arms Institute, has so far distributed more than $2 million in grants from the benefits and other fundraising efforts.
The acts playing this year’s VetsAid show all hail from Ohio; Walsh, though born in Kansas, moved to the state as a youth and attended Kent State University, where he formed his band the Measles. He joined the James Gang during late 1967, scoring Billboard Hot 100 hits “Walk Away” and “Funk #49” before leaving the band in late 1971.
“It’s gonna be all Ohio bands,” Walsh notes, “and there’s a great history of music that came out of Ohio. I’m grateful that I was in Ohio in a band that could play downtown (in Cleveland) and there were 11,000 students on campus that came downtown and supported us. That’s how I put in my 10,000 hours. Ohio has always been that way. There’s places to play and a lot of support. It’s a great place for musicians to work at their craft.” As for other possible collaborations, Walsh adds that “knowing musicians from Ohio, I don’t know who’s gonna be playing with who, and I can’t wait for that soup to get stirred.”
There were early reports that VetsAid would be a final gig for the James Gang, which also includes founding drummer Jimmy Fox and bassist Dale Peters. But Walsh says that may not be the case. “Glenn Frey (his late bandmate in Eagles) used to say never say never, so I’m not,” Walsh explains. “We played the concerts for Taylor Hawkins and it worked really good; we got in front of an audience and we were able to do what we used to do. I haven’t played loud on 11 in a long time; I play in a vocal group, so I have small amps. It’s different to turn it up and go for it, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until we started cookin’ with the James Gang. I can’t wait to play again.”
At both of the Hawkins concerts — Sept. 3 in London and Sept. 27 in Los Angeles — James Gang performed “Walk Away” and “The Bomber” suite as well as “Funk #49.” “What got me was how much love there is in the world for Taylor, and how much Taylor would have loved to be at VetsAid,” recalls Walsh, who’s also contributing to an album celebrating original James Gang member Glenn Schwartz, which is being curated by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. “It was a pilgrimage of musicians. The green room was kinda like the Star Wars bar, and we all got a chance to bond, which we don’t get to do anymore in the digital age. It was profound backstage, and the amount of love that came off the stage and back from the audience was, yeah, profound.”
For those not in Columbus, VetsAid will be livestreamed via veeps.com, with tickets on sale via vetsaid.veeps.com. Net proceeds will go to the charity, while Fandiem and Bandsintown are also participating in helping to raise additional money. This year’s grant recipients include Paralyzed Veterans of America — Buckeye Chapter, Hire Heroes USA, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, the Resurrecting Lives Foundation, Back the Heroes Rumble and more. Updates and other information can be found at vetsaid.org.