When Joe Walsh Stole Ted Nugent’s Drummer

When Joe Walsh made a bid to steal Ted Nugent’s drummer, all three musicians wound up happy in the long run.

Joe Vitale first saw the future Eagle play with James Gang in 1968 before they both went to Kent State University the following year. “When I moved to Kent, he was there with his band,” Vitale told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. “I looked him up, saw his show and told him I already met him, but he didn’t remember.” While Walsh focused on James Gang, the drummer worked in various collectives. “We were always talking about putting something together one day, but the James Gang were doing really well,” he explained.

Vitale was playing in Kent one night when “[Nugent] came down … looking around for musicians,” he continued. “I guess he liked what I was doing. I got a call from him a couple of days later and he invited me up to [Ann Arbor, Mich.] to audition for his band. It worked out pretty good, and I started playing for Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes.” Vitale recalled Nugent as a “fun” bandleader and that he had a “good time” in the six months he played with the Dukes. However, one night in Florida they opened for James Gang.

“After the show, Joe said, ‘Let’s hang. Come over to my room’ … He said that he was going to do something different … and he wanted me to play drums in it.” Vitale’s reaction was that the new group would be “fantastic” — but he had to quit his current employment first. “Ted was really sweet about it,” he remembered. “He was so nice. He gave us his blessing and said, ‘Listen, you guys should be in a band together.” Three months later, in January 1972, Vitale settled in Colorado to become part of Walsh’s band, Barnstorm, starting a collaboration that’s continued for 50 years.

Among Vitale’s high points is hearing recently that Bob Dylan regarded “Pretty Maids All in a Row” — an Eagles song he co-wrote with Walsh — as one of his favorites. When he read it in an interview, VItale called Walsh right away. “[H]e goes, ‘I know what you’re calling about.’ I said, ‘This is so cool, Joe.’ He was excited too … I printed out that article and framed it.”

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