Classic Rock Bottom

ALBUM OF THE WEEK # 271 JAMES GANG - JAMES GANG RIDES AGAIN (45TH ANNIVERSARY - 1970)

Artist: James Gang

Genre: Rock

Nationality: American

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Member: No

Album: James Gang Rides Again

Producer: Bill Szymczyk

Release Date: July 1970

Running Time: 35:09

RIAA Certification: Gold

Peak Billboard Chart Position: 20

Singles: Funk #49 

 

Disclaimer: All info that does not reside in my brain is gathered from wikipedia.com (mostly because Jon can't stand it). 

Every month Jon and I post an anniversary alb um on the first weekend of the month.  This week is no different.  Your Album of the Week is celebrating it's 45th anniversary.  That's a long time ago.  But great music is timeless.  

I can't say a lot about this album.  I've only had it for a short time.  But I will say I like it. Obviously, Funk #49 is a pure classic.  But what else is there?  For me, I like the songs Asshton Park, Tend My Garden and Ashes, The Rain and I.  That doesn't mean I don't like the others, I do.  But those three plus Funk#49 are just really good.  I have nothing else to add, so I'll just post an article about the making of the album that appeared on UCR this past week.

Here it is:

On record, the James Gang excelled at wresting rock ‘n’ roll glory from the jaws of seemingly certain chaos — and that’s exactly what they did behind the scenes during the months leading up to the release of their second album, 1970′s James Gang Rides Again.

To celebrate Rides Again‘s 45th anniversary, Ultimate Classic Rock’s Matt Wardlaw talked to James Gang drummer Jimmy Fox, bassist Dale Peters and guitarist Joe Walsh, as well as producer Bill Szymczyk, all of whom shared their memories of how the album came together — and how, not long after its success seemed to poise the group for greatness, they started coming apart.

Label expectations were fairly minimal for James Gang Rides Again, which arrived a little more than a year after the group’s debut, Yer’ Album. But if following up their first record was feasible from a sales standpoint, it proved a far more complicated prospect in terms of establishing just who was in the James Gang — starting with the abrupt departure of bassist Tom Kriss, who Fox says tendered his resignation before Yer’ Album had even arrived in stores.

“He just spilled his guts,” recalls Fox of a band meeting called after he and Walsh realized Kriss “hadn’t said s— in six months.” “‘I hate this band. I hate the music we’re making. I don’t think I can play it anymore.’ Joe and I were blindsided. You know, it was like, he was, I thought, a very fine player. ‘Tom, aren’t you somewhat equally responsible for the music we’re making? What do you want to do?’ ‘Well, I don’t know, but I can’t take this anymore.’”

Fortunately, Fox knew just who to call: Dale Peters, who had replaced him in a college band at Ohio State University a few years before. Although Peters had been drumming at the time, he’d since picked up the bass — and Fox happened to know he was at loose ends with his own group, the Case of E.T. Hooley.

“I said, ‘What are you doing? I know the band is not doing well.’ He said, ‘Yeah, we’ve kind of split up. I was thinking of going back to school,’” recalls Fox. “I said, ‘Well, there’s a situation here. We have an unhappy bass player, who I think we’re going to have to replace. Why don’t you come down tonight after the gig and we’ll play for a while?’ And he did and it was magic. It was instantaneously an upgrade, which we never expected. It was like, ‘Well, Tom’s got his wish.’ The next day, we sat Tom down and we said, ‘Tom, you know, we talked to Dale Peters, another bass player, and you’re free to go.’ He goes, ‘Wow, thanks man, that’s a load off my mind.’ Literally, the following night, Dale was in the slot and we never looked back.”

“We could just play instantly,” Peters adds. “I mean, we had the same record collections, we liked the exact same kind of music — we could just play. We can still do it. If we got together tomorrow, it would just work. It just works, I don’t know why. We’re completely different people and we never really hung around together, but we could always play together. So it was great. It was great fun. It was easy. It was fabulous. It was just natural right from the beginning.”

Peters’ addition was an obvious fit for the James Gang, but the same could not be said for vocalist Kenny Weiss, who was briefly brought in to try and relieve Walsh from the double duty of singing and playing guitar. As Walsh says, he only took over vocals for the band because the group’s last singer quit the night of a gig.

“I couldn’t sing — well, I didn’t sing — I had never been a lead singer, I just played guitar. But I sang a lot better than the other guys,” he says. “We got a standing ovation and an encore, and we got gas money to go home. When we got home, we looked at each other and said, ‘Well, do we really need anybody?’ We just decided we’d do it as a three-piece, and that was really the beginning of the James Gang. But I never would have learned how to play and sing if I didn’t have to — then I never would have been the singing guitar player unless I had to, but I had to and so I did. That’s the reason for my style, which is kind of Pete Townshend-ish. It’s kind of ‘lead rhythm’ in the James Gang. I’m grateful that happened, because being in a three-piece band, there’s nothing better on a good night. And on a bad night, there’s nothing worse.”

Walsh’s gratitude in hindsight aside, he wasn’t entirely comfortable being the James Gang’s lead singer at first. “Joe comes to a gig one day and says, ‘I’ve been thinking. I’m not up for this job as a lead singer. I’m no good,’” laughs Fox. “I said, ‘I’m not sure what to say.’ He said, ‘Look, I’m not fooling anyone — I have an odd voice. I think I might be stronger concentrating on the instruments. Who do you know?’”

Walsh is a fine singer, but as Peters points out, he’s a truly singular guitarist. “Joe’s a phenomenal acoustic player. You know, there’s guitar players that are great electric or great acoustic or great slide [players]. Joe is the only guy I know that’s a phenomenal slide player, a phenomenal acoustic player, a phenomenal electric player,” he enthuses. “He’s the only guy I know who does all three about as well as they can be done. And I’m comparing him to everybody, you know, Clapton and everybody else. I mean, Joe … man, he can play.”

Fox turned to his grade school buddy Weiss after his conversation with Walsh, and invited him out to sing with the James Gang — a gig that lasted about as long as it took Weiss to track a couple of cuts for Zachariah, a movie Szymczyk was working as the music director. The band members were hired to perform the songs in the film, but by the time the cameras rolled, Weiss was already out of the lineup — a decision Fox says started with Walsh and manager Mike Belkin.

“The hardest call of my life was at 4 in the morning, calling Kenny at his house and saying, ‘Kenny, don’t get on the airplane,’” says Fox. “He sued us for $50 million — a whole big bulls— thing.” Fox remembers that Szymczyk, unnerved by the lawsuit, offered to mix the band’s next album for free if he settled with Weiss, so he did what he had to do.

“We settled for literally pocket money. It was so embarrassing and so sad. I literally took my share out of my pocket to pay the settlement, and it was a couple of hundred dollars I probably had,” says Fox. “It was stupid. Just stupid. And at a certain point, his attorney knew that and knew it was time to cut bait.”

Firmly resettled as a power trio, the James Gang entered the studio to record Rides Again — but first, they booked a spring 1970 U.S. tour opening for the Who at the personal invitation of Townshend, who Szymczyk guesses had been infected by the “amoebic success” of Yer’ Album.

“Townshend heard them and put them on a Who tour opening for them, and that’s all it took in those days and they were on their way. So when it came time for Rides Again,” he recalls, “they had … especially Walsh, he had a giant head full of ideas. I don’t mean a giant head, but he had a head full of ideas.”

“We learned a ton from Pete,” says Peters. “You know, when the Who played back then, I used to love to watch the people in the first row. Because when they started playing, it was like an avalanche, these people, the energy would just blow them back in their seats. It was incredible and it was great to watch. Because they would always start full-tilt.”

Even though Fox recalls the band having merely “a couple of ideas” for Rides Again when the recording process started, Szymczyk saw a group firmly positioned to take a step forward; looking back now, he identifies a few key ingredients, starting with the addition of Peters and including the new — and eventually signature — James Gang songs “Funk #49″ and “The Bomber.”

“I liked Dale immediately, and he had a much better personality. They were prepared. They had played for a year on the road and their chops were really up,” recalls Szymczyk. “Walsh had a bunch of ideas and … ‘The Bomber’ they were playing live. They had put that together themselves on the road and it was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s just amazing.’ ‘Funk #49′ was initially their warm-up that they would do in sound check, just a riff that they’d jam on and then Walsh wrote six lines and that was the end of it,” he laughs. “The story of ‘Funk #49′ is six lines and a great guitar lick.”

“With Dale on the same page, there didn’t seem to be direction issues,” adds Fox. “It all seemed to be pulling in the same direction and that was very helpful during those days, because it went together more easily. Joe for instance, was less likely to say, ‘Listen, Tom, I want you to do this, Jimmy, I’d like you to do this.’ Because what we were playing was organically more naturally right to us all.”

As Peters recalls, the band saw a turning point in its audience at the gigs leading up to the Rides Again sessions, which fed into the energy surrounding the sessions.

“We were doing real well in the clubs, and you could do that back then. You could show up at a club and put 700 people in, just jammed to the rafters,” he says. “When I knew things were different, we played somewhere in Pennsylvania, maybe Beaver Falls — some college — and we played at the field house, and I think we had a $1,500 guarantee against the door. The guy expected a thousand people, and that would have been a good crowd for back then. When we showed up, there were 7,000 people. And it was like, ‘Who are they here to see?’ To me, that was the gig that turned everything. After that, we were surprised at how well we started doing, quickly.”

Amid all the growing buzz, the members of the James Gang found time to buckle down and write new material for the next record. “We jammed in the dressing rooms before each show, so that’s kind of where it all came from. All of those riffs and all of those little things we had thought about month after month, just to get warmed up, they turned into tunes,” adds Peters. “I mean, it was easy. Bill got a great sound and he was really great to work with. You know, he was really loose and never said, ‘No, we can’t do that’ or ‘We don’t want to do that.’ We could do whatever we wanted.”

The album Is available on Amazon for a paltry $4.99.  Hard to beat that.

1. Funk #49

2. Asshton Park

3. Woman

4. The Bomber: Closet Queen/Bolero/Cast Your Fate To The Wind

5. Tend My Garden

6. Garden Gate

7. There I Go Again

8. Thanks

9. Ashes, The Rain and I

 

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1. Looking at the title, I fear what I'm getting into. But it's rock'n'roll :-)))..and I've heard it before. I like this. Lot's of cool guitar. As I've said before: I LOVE the sound of the start of the 70's!! Nice riff!!

2. What's comes to my mind is Dr. Hook, Mungo Jerry and bands like that. I would never buy albums by those bands, but I like to listen to them on the radio back then. This has a rather long intro, unless it's .....ah, it WAS an instrumental.

3. This one sounds good. It also reminds me of early Nazareth, pretty much in fact, except for the singing off course.

4. Another great start!! The heaviest so far!! Now, I'm thinking Deep Purple, Zeppelin :-) This is good stuff!! Sadly around 1.35 it slows down and gets a bit weird with that Bolero. Not necessary imo. And at 6.03 it's great again. Hmmm, sounds like they are trying to make a "Whole Lotta Love" on this one.

5. Hey, the guitar and clap sounds exactly like Boston!! Another good track. There's need for a slow track once in a while. Good guitar-solo.

6. Hmm, sounds like they've heard Zeppelin a bit. 

7. Not a promissing start to this one. This is definitely filler!!

8. Hmmm, even the title sounds like a Zeppelin-song. I'm afraid this is another filler-track What started out very good, seems to end a bit boring. That's a bit sad.

9. Come on, let this one be the best track of them all: Okay start, but let's ROCK'N'ROLL!!!! Too bad, this appears to be the most boring track of them all!! What a weird album: Like a "White and Brown" side on the album, and brown in this meaning being crap!!

Side 1 was very good - side 2 was NOT very good.

But it certainly was an improvement from last week.

What an album! Not a boring or bad track, just solid, good time rawk. Shame that I was too young to notice this album at a record store, it's so blinding that you wo8uld have had no choice but to pick it up. Could just be me, but this doesn't sound like something that came out in 1970, it sounds like something that came out in the mid-70's. 

This post gave me another idea on something that I may (or may not) be working on. We shall see.

What more can you say about this album?

I have their first 3 albums, and this one you posted and Thirds were staples of my older brother.  Those two really are Walsh solo work precursors.  He really grew on these.  'Yer Album is solid as well.

Woman was feature fairly recently on SHT playlist and it went over pretty well, so its no surprise that the full album would change any expectations.  It would be interesting to hear Miami or another album from this band without Walsh.  In the meantime, these first 3 albums are must haves IMO!

This series continues to roll on in High Quality fashion!  Great work !!

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