Tribute frontman makes act his own
Rocky Mountain Way started with a Facebook post.
Roger Latham’s wife, Chery, posted a photo of her husband alongside one of Joe Walsh, and the response was overwhelming about how much the two looked alike.
Latham was no stranger to tribute bands. He was a founding member of the Moody Blues tribute act Time Traveler and spent 10 years playing guitar and singing Justin Hayward’s lead vocals.
He was no stranger to Walsh either. When Latham was in high school, and Walsh was studying at Kent State University, their bands were on the same bill several times in the late 1960s.
“Everyone adores him in northeast Ohio, and I was one of those guys,” he said. “I first met him in the summer of ’66 or ’67 at Chippewa Lake Park, back when they had Ohio teen fairs and appreciation days with local radio stations.”
Walsh’s band The Measles followed Latham’s The Brogues on stage on a bill that also included The McCoys, Neil Diamond and the Young Rascals. Walsh caught everyone’s attention by playing both guitar parts simultaneously to The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing.”
“Everyone was infatuated with him,” Latham said.
Latham’s bands played with The Measles and, later, the James Gang up until the the release of the James Gang’s 1969 debut “Yer’ Album.”
“I still remember my manager came up and said, ‘They’re pretty good, but they’re not going anywhere,” Latham said. “The next year, they were opening for The Who.”
The James Gang also toured with The Kinks, Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad and songs like “Funk #49” and “Walk Away” became staples of AOR and classic rock radio. Joe Walsh continued to have success as a solo artist and added a rock edge to The Eagles.
More than 50 years after The Measles were playing Chippewa Lake and local venues like Packard Music Hall, Walsh splits his time between The Eagles and his solo career.
Rocky Mountain Way — Latham, lead vocals and guitar; Ronnie Gillard, drums; Rick Usko, guitar; Bob Martin, bass; Chery Latham, keyboard and vocals; and Christine Vick, keyboard and vocals — will cover it all when the band performs Saturday at the Warren Community Amphitheatre as part of the River Rock at the Amp concert series.
Despite the physical resemblance, Latham initially was hesitant about starting Rocky Mountain Way.
“I was a reluctant warrior. There’s only one Joe.”
That’s why he doesn’t try to do an impersonation on stage.
“I’ve always taken the attitude of celebrating the music,” Latham said. “We are similar in look and playing, and I embrace that, but I don’t try to let the audience think I’m Joe Walsh. I don’t put on a wig. I don’t speak in the first person like I’m Joe … I just do my natural inclinations and it works.”
While Walsh is known for his guitar heroics, what impressed Latham as he was preparing for the role was Walsh’s restraint.
“In his vocals and his arrangements, there’s space to just play that one note and let it ring,” he said. “It was a discipline.”
As a fitting tribute to an artist who sings a song called “Analog Man,” Latham said the band doesn’t rely on backing tracks to recreate the Eagles’ hits and solo favorites. Another later Walsh song that Latham said he relates to is “Lucky That Way.”
“I feel lucky,” Latham said. “I’m the only surviving member of that first band that opened up for The Measles. ‘Started in the middle of nowhere / Didn’t have far to fall’ — that’s me.”