The James Gang was a rock band formed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1966. The band enjoyed moderate success with the singles "Funk #49" and "Walk Away", and are perhaps best remembered as the first popular band to feature guitarist/vocalist Joe Walsh, later a member of The Eagles.
Drummer Jim Fox first played with the Cleveland area band The Outsiders but left them in 1965 to attend college. After they scored a national hit the following year with "Time Won't Let Me", Fox returned temporarily to play with them after their other drummer was drafted. After leaving them to return to school once again, Fox, heavily influenced by the sound of British outfits, like The Beatles and The Yardbirds, began to think about forming his own band, teaming up with schoolmate Ronnie Silverman (guitar), bassist Tom Kriss and keyboardist Phil Giallombardo. Reportedly, it was Silverman who suggested the name James Gang.
The James Gang's earliest lineup consisted of drummer Fox, Tom Kriss (bass), Ronnie Silverman (guitar), Phil Giallombardo (vocals, keyboards) and, after auditioning some twenty five candidates for lead guitar, the band decided to go with Greg Grandillo (who was later with another popular Cleveland outfit Rainbow Canyon), who was quickly replaced by Dennis Chandler (who would go on to play with many name artists, including Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and B.B. King) and then by a guitarist who was simply known as "Mouse". But Fox was still not entirely happy with the lineup.
A short time later, Fox was invited to auditions for a nine piece rhythm and blues outfit that was being assembled. Fox initially declined the offer but changed his mind when he heard local guitar legend Glen Schwartz, who was fresh out of the army, was to be in attendance. After hearing Schwartz play and hearing that two of his influences were the Spencer Davis Group and Jeff Beck, Fox was knocked out and invited Schwartz to join the James Gang. "Mouse", however, was not as enthused about Glen's playing as Fox was and left the Gang right then and there. Ronnie Silverman soon departed as well to enter the military. Bill Jeric was then brought in to play alongside Schwartz. Unfortunately, no recordings were ever released by any of these early lineups of the band.
Around Christmastime of 1967, Schwartz, who turned out to be AWOL from the army and was breaking up with his wife, decided to leave the band to move to California, where he ended up forming Pacific Gas & Electric. Just days later, shortly after the new year of 1968 had dawned, a friend of Schwartz's, Joe Walsh (from a fellow band called The Measles), knocked on Fox's door and asked to be given a tryout as Glen's replacement. Walsh was accepted and the band continued as a five piece for a short time until Giallombardo, who was still in high school at the time, left. Jeric and Walsh worked together on guitar parts but Jeric ended up leaving as well in the spring of 1968. He was then replaced by a returning Ronnie Silverman, who had been discharged from the military.
In May 1968, the group played a concert in Detroit at Motown's Grande Ballroom opening for Cream. At the last minute, Silverman informed the others that he would not be joining them at the show. The band, desperately in need of the money, took to the stage as a trio. They liked their sound as a threesome and decided to remain that way.
In 1968 the band signed with manager Mark Barger, who was handling the career of a fellow Ohio outfit The Lemon Pipers, who had just scored a big hit with "Green Tambourine". Barger put the Gang in touch with ABC Records staff producer Bill Szymczyk, who signed them to ABC's new Bluesway Records subsidiary in January 1969. In March 1969 the band, now consisting of Fox, Kriss and Walsh and produced by Szymczyk, released its debut LP, Yer' Album.
Later in 1969, the group's producer, Szymczyk, was music coordinator for the George Englund movie Zachariah (which was eventually released in 1971), based on the novel Siddhartha by writer Hermann Hesse. Szymczyk arranged for the band to appear in the movie, with two James Gang songs, "Laguna Salada" and "Country Fever", also being used. For the recording of these two songs, vocalist Kenny Weiss was brought in as a means of allowing Walsh to focus on his guitar playing. Weiss, however, was gone by the time the group arrived in Mexico to film their scenes in the movie. "Laguna Salada" and "Country Fever" later reappeared as bonus tracks on the 2000 re-release of The James Gang Greatest Hits.
In November 1969 bassist Tom Kriss decided he was no longer into the music and left to be replaced by Dale Peters, who was brought in from another group called E.T. Hoolie.
In July 1970 the band released its second album James Gang Rides Again, which included the popular single "Funk #49". In the spring of 1970, the band opened for The Who during a U.S. tour and their guitarist Pete Townsend was so impressed with them he invited the Gang to open for the Who on their fall tour of the United Kingdom. In July 1971 the Gang returned to tour Europe. During their heydey, the Gang also shared the stage with artists like Grand Funk Railroad, Kinks, Humble Pie, Three Dog Night, Led Zeppelin and many more.
But after two more albums, 1971's Thirds and the live album James Gang Live in Concert released later that same year, Walsh, who was tired of the pressure of doing the lion's share of the writing and singing and being the lone melodic instrument in the trio, left the band in December 1971 to relocate to the mountains of Colorado and eventually formed Barnstorm.
Peters and Fox carried on with vocalist Roy Kenner and guitarist Domenic Troiano (both ex-members of the Canadian band Bush) for two albums, Straight Shooter and Passin' Thru, both released in 1972. But in recent interviews, Fox stated that things didn't work out musically with Troiano as hoped, so he left the band in 1973 and would subsequently join The Guess Who.
Troiano was replaced by future Deep Purple guitarist Tommy Bolin after Joe Walsh called to recommend him to the band. Bolin joined the Gang in August 1973 and appeared on two albums, Bang! and Miami, that saw the band moving from ABC Records over to Atlantic Records' Atco label. The popularity of Bolin's previous band Zephyr temporarily revived the James Gang's popularity, though they were never again as big a concert attraction as they had been during Walsh's tenure. During the recording of Miami in 1974, Kenner ran into legal troubles after a drug bust and was not available for recording at first. Other singers were reportedly auditioned but eventually Kenner was able to return to complete the album. After the record's release, a disillusioned Bolin suddenly decided to leave. He played his final show with the Gang on July 27, 1974 in Waterbury, CT and left a month later to work with Dr. John and Alphonse Mouzon and attempted to form another group with future Crosby, Stills and Nash keyboardist Mike Finnigan before accepting the offer from Deep Purple in 1975.
Not long after, while Fox and Peters were in England auditioning guitarists, they were visited by The Who's John Entwistle, who brought along Scottish guitarist Jimmy McCulloch who suggested himself as Bolin's replacement, though he ultimately elected to remain with Paul McCartney & Wings.
By early 1975, Fox and Peters decided to try again with a new lineup that included Fox's old friends, vocalist Bubba Keith, who had been playing out in LA with a band called Uncle Tom and guitarist Richard Shack, who had previously played in the band E.T. Hoolie with Peters. This lineup recorded the album Newborn which featured a cover of the Elvis Presley staple "Heartbreak Hotel".
The band released a final recording, Jesse Come Home, in February 1976, which featured the return of early member Phil Giallombardo, who rejoined along with new guitarist/vocalist Bob Webb (who, like Joe Walsh, had played in the group The Measles). Ultimately, none of the post-Walsh lineups achieved the level of success enjoyed in their heyday. Drummer Fox was the only remaining member of the original band when James Gang finally disbanded early in 1977.
After James Gang broke up, drummer Fox was involved for a time with the Belkin management firm, who handled the affairs for artists like Michael Stanley Band, Wild Cherry and Donnie Iris. As for other latter day Gang members, Bubba Keith went on to play for England Dan & John Ford Coley and was later the lead vocalist for Point Blank, while Bob Webb played in Jay Ferguson's band.
The "classic" lineup of the band consisting of Walsh, Peters and Fox reunited to perform at an election rally for President Bill Clinton at the Cleveland State University Convocation Center on November 4, 1996. They also appeared on The Drew Carey Show in the 1998-99 season and at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Allen Theater in Cleveland for three shows in February 2001, joined by keyboardist Mark Avsec (ex-Wild Cherry and Donnie Iris & the Cruisers). And in the summer of 2005, the group performed another handful of shows in the Cleveland area.
As of May 2004, Glenn Schwartz was playing guitar and singing Thursday nights at "Major Hooples" in the Flats, Cleveland. As of 2014, Glenn continues to perform at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland.
In April 2006 it was announced that the Walsh/Peters/Fox lineup of the group would be touring the United States later that summer, supported by keyboardist Bill Appleberry and backing vocalists Gia Ciambetti, Robbyn Kirmsse and Stacy Michelle. During this summer tour, the band appeared in August performing live on The Howard Stern Show on Sirius Satellite Radio.
In March 2012 it was announced on ultimateclassicrock.com that Walsh was holed up in the Cleveland-area Lava Room Recording sudios with Fox and Peters working on new recordings of their well-known James Gang classics with long time friends Joe Vitale and Michael Stanley contributing.
- Yer' Album (March 1969)
- James Gang Rides Again (July 1970)
- Thirds (April 1971)
- Straight Shooter (July 1972)
- Passin' Thru (October 1972)
- Bang (September 1973)
- Miami (July 1974)
- Newborn (May 1975)
- Jesse Come Home (February 1976)
- James Gang Live in Concert (December 1971)
- The Best Of Featuring Joe Walsh (January 1973)
- 16 Greatest Hits (December 1973)
Rock Band music gaming platform
The song "Funk #49" was made available to download on Dec. 30, 2008 for use in the Rock Band music gaming platform in both Basic rhythm, and PRO mode which takes advantage of the use of a real guitar / bass guitar, along with standard MIDI-compatible electronic drum kits.
- Wolff, Carlo (2006). Cleveland Rock and Roll Memories. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company, Publishers. ISBN 978-1-886228-99-3
- James Gang website
- IMDb James Gang
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