The James Gang is one of classic rock's earliest power trios. Though the band's line-up changed numerous times during a seven-year existence, rock historians and fans cite the line up of Joe Walsh, Jim Fox, and Dale Peters as the James Gang's definitive line up. Combining catchy boogie guitar riffs, funky time changes and a heavy rock rhythm, the James Gang were one of America's first bands to be called hard rock in the early 1970s. Though the band never reached the same height of fame as other power trios like Rush or Cream, the James Gang became an influential source for decades after the band's demise in 1976. It's most famous member, Joe Walsh, left the band early on to join the Eagles and his replacement, Tommy Bolin, later quit to join Deep Purple, never giving the band a proper fighting chance at becoming superstars.
Growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, drummer Jim Fox and his friend, guitarist Ron Silverman, began to play music together around 1966 under the name James Gang. Silverman named the band after the famous Jesse James outlaw gang. Not long after the band got their name and began to play shows however, Silverman was drafted into the army. Fox was left to play with bassist Tom Kriss, keyboardist Phil Giallombardo, and a new member, guitarist Bill Jeric. Fox later dwindled the band down to a three piece that included himself, new guitarist Glenn Schwartz and Kriss.
Just as Fox got his new trio all set, a few months in, Schwartz decided to leave to join the band Pacific Gas and Electric. According to Fox, not a day after he quit, fellow Kent State University student and guitarist Joe Walsh knocked on his door to see if he could join the band. It was then that the true James Gang was formed.
The newly revamped James Gang signed a record deal with ABC/Dunhill Records in 1969 and released their debut, Yer Album, later that year. Produced by Bill Szymczyk (who went on to produce some of the Eagles biggest records), the album, which contained mostly originals with a few covers (Buffalo Springfield, the Yardbirds), hit number 83 on the Billboard charts and although it didn't contain any huge hit singles, it was clear that the band had potential to be big. The record earned a dedicated following by musicians including Pete Townshend, legendary guitarist for British rock band The Who. He was so impressed by Joe Walsh's songwriting, he asked the James Gang to go on tour with his band in Europe. The following year, the James Gang opened for Led Zeppelin on the legendary group's first visit to Cleveland.
The band hit its stride two years later with James Gang Rides Again. Kriss had departed the group and was now replaced by Dale Peters. The line up of Walsh, Fox, and Peters proved to be a hit success as the album went gold, peaking at number 20 on Billboard. With the addition of keyboards, the band's hard boogie and groove found new heights on Rides Again 's collection of hard rockers and sensitive ballads. The riff-heavy track "Funk 49," a sort of follow up to Yer Album 's "Funk Number 48," hit number 40 on Billboard and today has one of the most memorable classic rock riffs. It was clear to critics that it was Walsh who made the James Gang's definitive new sound, and it was his songwriting that allowed the band to balance the hard with the soft. Another single, "Tend My Garden," remains a classic rock radio staple today and with the current trio line-up, the James Gang had the world at its feet.
In 1971, the James Gang kept their songwriting energy vibrant with the release of Thirds. The album, once again hit Billboard at number 27 while the instantly recognizable single "Walk Away," stopped at number 51. Walsh wrote both of these hit songs, but after the release of Thirds, it felt his dedication to the band was beginning to wane. The band even changed up their sound a bit for the record adding a country feel with the addition of pedal steel, and softer side with flowing strings and sweetly sung back up vocals by the Sweet Inspiration. The album went gold.
Things were going great for the band and the future looked good until the winter of 1971 when Walsh, the true driving force of the James Gang, left the group. Walsh would go on to become a prominent solo artist and later a guitarist for the massively popular band the Eagles, but when he left the James Gang, the band lost its most valuable asset. While drummer Fox probably should have closed up shop, he thought he might be able to score some more hit singles with the James Gang name so he hired two Canadians, Roy Kenner and Dom Troiano, to join the group. Now a quartet, the newly revamped James Gang recorded a pair of albums, 1972's Straight Shooter and Passin' Thru. Without Walsh though, the band lacked the hooks, riffs, and attitude the James Gang once exuded.
After some legal battles with ABC Records, the James Gang had to find a new home on Atco to release their 1973 album Bang. Troiano left the group to play with The Guess Who and guitar wiz Tommy Bolin stepped in. It's rumored that Joe Walsh recommended Bolin, who had previously played with Zephyr. Produced by Tom Dowd, with Bolin's energy and guitar prowess, it looked like the James Gang would get the boost it needed ever since Walsh had left. Bolin and Dowd resurrected the band's semi-popularity briefly with the released of Bang, but then just as 1974's Miami was released, Bolin quit the band to begin a solo career, and later join Deep Purple.
In 1974, the remaining members of the James Gang decided to call it quits. A year later however, Fox resurrected the band name with two members, Richard Shack and Bubba Keith for the 1975 album Newborn, and with help from Bob Webb on Jesse Come Home, the band's final recording in 1976. After poor sales of the record, Fox and Peters finally decided to close down shop for good. Later that year, the James Gang officially disbanded; the same year, former guitarist Bolin died from a drug overdose. In an interview with Citi-Music Cleveland, Peters admitted the reason behind the eventual break up of the James Gang: "It basically came down to the fact we just never could get back to the old sound once Joe left. And we finally had to realize it was time to move on."
In the late 1990s, the James Gang reunited with Peters, Fox, and Walsh for the occasional show, including a 1996 election rally for President Bill Clinton at Cleveland State University.
For the Record . . .
Members include Tommy Bolin (born in 1951, in Sioux City, IA; died on December 4, 1976; group member, 1973-1974), guitar, vocals; Jim Fox , drums, piano; Phil Giallombardo (group member, 1976), keyboards, vocals; Bubba Keith (group member, 1975), vocals, guitar; Roy Kenner (group member, 1973-1974), vocals; Tom Kriss (group member, 1969), bass; Dale Peters (group member, 1970-1976), bass, guitar; Richard Shack (group member, 1975), vocals, guitar; Dom Troiano (born 1945, in Italy; died on May 25, 2005; group member, 1973-1974), guitar; Joe Walsh (born on November 20, 1947, in Wichita, KS; group member, 1969-1971), guitar, vocals; Bob Webb (member 1976), guitar, vocals.
Group formed in Cleveland, OH, c. 1966; signed to ABC/Dunhill records, 1969 and released Yer Album; toured with The Who; released James Gang Rides Again, 1970; Thirds, 1971; guitarist/songwriter Joe Walsh left group, 1971; group released Passin' Thru', 1972; left ABC records and signed with Atco and re leased Miami, 1974; released final album, Jesse Come Home, 1976; disbanded 1976.
Yer Album, ABC, 1969.
James Gang Rides Again, ABC, 1970.
Live in Concert, ABC, 1971.
Thirds, ABC, 1971.
Passin' Thru, ABC, 1972.
Straight Shooter, ABC, 1972.
Bang, Atco, 1973.
Miami, Atco, 1974.
Newborn, Atco, 1975.
Jesse Come Home, Atco 1976.
Nite, Norm. N, Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock N' Roll—The Modern Years: 1964-Present, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1978.
Strong, Martin C., The Great Rock Discography, Random House, 1998.
York, William, Who's Who in Rock Music, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.
"James Gang," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (June 20, 2005).
"The James Gang," Citi-Music Cleveland, http://www.esquirerecords.com/artists/feature/jamesgang.asp (June 20, 2005).