Joe Walsh joined the Eagles in 1975, at the height of the “Hotel California” craze. He established a solid, long-lasting career as the band’s guitarist and keyboardist.
Yet, the guitarist had maybe the worst experience a person could have before becoming a long-term band member.
During his marriage to Stefany Rhodes, which lasted from 1971 until 1978, he had a daughter named Emma. Emma was born in the first year of their marriage.
Emma was only three years old when she was killed in a car accident while driving her daughter to their favorite playground, North Boulder Park. As a result of the negligent driver’s failure to stop at the stop sign, the three-year-old toddler had severe head injuries.
Emma suffered a significant head injury that day and was taken off life support the following evening. As her organs were donated, her parents began to experience trauma that would last a lifetime. Walsh was returning from a tour when he learned he would never see his daughter again.
This tragedy precipitated the couple’s separation and subsequent divorce. They both faced loss and grieved in different ways. Yet, Walsh’s suffering did not become visible until he began composing songs about his emotions and seeking resolution in his mind.
As a dedication to his daughter, he released “Song For Emma” in 1974. In a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, the musician explained his emotions following Emma’s death and how they relate to this song. He was furious at God and unconcerned about his own life.
He stated the following:
“I was married and living in Boulder at the time. My wife was driving our four-year-old daughter to school when a woman ran a stop sign and smashed into our car. In addition, I lost my daughter. And it was all bloody.”
“My wife and I didn’t have the fortitude to overcome the sadness over the next year, so we divorced and separated. But there, I met a girl, and my song “Help Me Through the Night” was a plea to her to be there for me. She came because she knew I was a wreck and needed to mourn Emma.”
“These two songs can be found on my next album, ‘So What,’ I gave it the moniker since I was of the “so what” school of thought. I was furious. I was enraged with God. And I felt it was a great reason to drink.”
“Bless you. My daughter was taken away by God. As a result, I adopted the perspective that ‘this is the worst thing that has ever happened.’ It makes no difference to me. Only to reinforce the notion that making mistakes was OK.”
Walsh began to succumb to bad habits, seeing alcohol and drugs as a secure haven. He was still romantic and built a fountain in her honor in North Boulder Park.
When they started dating, he took Stevie Nicks there, and they developed a bond over their loss. He inspired Nick’s song “Has Anybody Ever Written Anything for You,” Their relationship was based on alcohol and drug use.
The couple divorced because they would support each other’s addictions despite knowing it was wrong. The day at the fountain was a bonding time for Nicks, who described Walsh as the love of her life and the only man she truly believed she could marry.
The vandalism caused the fountain’s foundation to deteriorate over time. Even though Emma died 47 years ago, and there are no intentions to restore it, he still thinks about her frequently.