Thursday, November 12, 2009

The James Gang

Formed in 1967 in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, the embryonic James Gang comprised Glenn Schwartz (guitar/vocals), Tom Kriss (bass/vocals) and Jim Fox (drums/vocals). Schwartz left in April 1969 to join Pacific Gas And Electric, but Joe Walsh (b. Joseph Fidler Walsh, 20 November 1947, Wichita, Kansas, USA) proved a more than competent replacement. Yer' Album blended originals with excellent interpretations of material drawn from Buffalo Springfield ("Bluebird") and the Yardbirds ("Lost Woman"). The band enjoyed the approval of Pete Townshend, who admired their mature cross-section of British and "west coast" rock.

The James Gang's debut LP, Yer' Album, was very much a first record and very much a record of its time. The heavy rock scene of the period was given to extensive jamming, and four tracks ran more than six minutes each. The group had written some material, but they were still something of a cover band, and the disc included their extended workouts on Buffalo Springfield's "Bluebird" and the Yardbirds' "Lost Woman," the latter a nine-minute version complete with lengthy guitar, bass, and drum solos. But in addition to the blues rock there were also touches of pop and progressive rock, mostly from Walsh who displayed a nascent sense of melody, not to mention some of the taste for being a cutup that he would display in his solo career. Walsh's "Take a Look Around" must have made an impression on Pete Townshend during the period before the album's release when the James Gang was opening for the Who since Townshend borrowed it for the music he was writing for the abortive Lifehouse follow-up to Tommy. If "Wrapcity (i.e., Rhapsody) in English," a minute-long piano and strings interlude, seems incongruous in retrospect, recall that this was an eclectic era. But the otherwise promising "Fred," which followed, broke down into a pedestrian jazz routine, suggesting that the band was trying to cram too many influences onto one record and sometimes into one song. Nevertheless, they were talented improvisers, as the open-ended album closer, Jerry Ragavoy and Mort Shuman's "Stop," made clear. After ten minutes, Szymczyk faded the track out, but Walsh was still going strong. Yer' Album contained much to suggest that the James Gang, in particular its guitarist, had a great future, even if it was more an album of performances than compositions...(allmusic)

01 Introduction
02 Take A Look Around
03 Funk #48
04 Bluebird
05 Lost Woman
06 Stone Rap
07 Collage
08 I Don't Have The Time
09 Wrapcity In English
10 Fred
11 Stop.

With their second album Rides Again, the James Gang came into their own. Under the direction of guitarist Joe Walsh, the group -- now featuring bassist Dale Peters -- began incorporating keyboards into their hard rock, which helped open up their musical horizons. For much of the first side of Rides Again, the group tear through a bunch of boogie numbers, most notably the heavy groove of "Funk #49." On the second side, the James Gang departs from their trademark sound, adding keyboard flourishes and elements of country-rock to their hard rock. Walsh's songwriting had improved, giving the band solid support for their stylistic experiments. What ties the two sides of the record together is the strength of the band's musicianship, which burns brightly and powerfully on the hardest rockers, as well as on the sensitive ballads.

01 Funk #49
02 Asshtonpark
03 Woman
04 The Bomber: Closet Queen/Cast Your Fate To The Wind
05 Tend My Garden
06 Garden Gate
07 There I Go Again
08 Thanks
09 Ashes, The Rain And I

The James Gang Rides Again set the stage for the group's third album to propel them to Top Ten, headliner status, but that didn't happen. The band was on its last legs, rent by dissension as Walsh became the focus of attention, and the appropriately titled Thirds reflected the conflict. Among the nine original songs, four were contributed by Walsh, two each by bass player Dale Peters and drummer Jim Fox, and one was a group composition. But it was Walsh's songs that stood out. His "Walk Away," was the first single, and it climbed into the Top 40 in at least one national chart, the group's only 45 to do that well. "Midnight Man," the follow-up single, was another Walsh tune, and it also made the charts. The Fox and Peters compositions were a step down in quality, particularly Peters'. But the problem wasn't just material, it was also musical approach. James Gang Rides Again had emphasized the band's hard rock sound, which was its strong suit. But they had never given up the idea of themselves as an eclectic unit, and Thirds was their most diverse effort yet, with pedal steel guitar, horn and string charts, and backup vocals by the Sweet Inspirations turning up on one track or another. At a time when Walsh was being hailed as a guitar hero to rank with the best rock had to offer, he was not only submerging himself in a group with inferiors, but also not playing much of the kind of lead guitar his supporters were raving about. As a result, though Thirds quickly earned a respectable chart position and eventually went gold, it was not the commercial breakthrough that might have been expected...(allmusic)

01 Walk Away
02 Yadig?
03 Things I Could Be
04 Dreamin' In The Country
05 It's All The Same
06 Midnight Man
07 Again
08 White Man/Black Man
09 Live My Life Again.

The James Gang got a lucky break when they hired Tommy Bolin to fill the guitar spot, not only did he come in with all of the albums songs already written but it gave The Gang an opportunity to work with one of the most gifted and talented guitarists ever. The James Gang Bang album is essentially a Tommy Bolin project album in all but name. Tommy brought the songs in from his prior band Energy, who were unable to get a recording contract, so this gave Tommy the chance to get those songs heard, albeit, through the James Gang. None of the other members of the Gang wrote for this album except singer Roy Kenner's accapella Rather Be Alone With You. All the rest are 100% Bolin and Energy songs. Kicking off this album is Standing In The Rain, a rocker suitable for James Gang. More great guitar songs follow like Must Be Love, Got No Time For Trouble and The Devil Is Singing Our Song. All beautiful mini masterpieces. Tommy does get a lead vocal shot on Alexis, an acoustic song which not only showcases Tommy's great guitar but his beautiful voice. All in all this is a must own for everyone rock and a far departure from the Joe Walsh era James Gang.

01 Standing In The Rain
02 The Devil Is Singing Our Song 3. Must Be Love
04 Alexis
05 Ride The Wind
06 Got No Time For Trouble
07 Rather Be Alone With You (AKA Song For Dale)
08 From Another Time
09 Mystery

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