Although formed around drummer/vocalist Jimmy Fox as a British Invasion-inspired group, The James Gang were in reality the product of a thriving Cleveland music scene.
The band was formed in 1966 by Fox, Tom Kriss (bass) and Glenn Schwartz (guitar) though it was after the latter was replaced by Joe Walsh (vocals, guitar, keyboards) the following year that the band got their break in the form of a support slot for Cream in Detroit.
The Gang’s debut release, Yer Album (1969), included pretty but powerful originals like Take A Look Around, Collage and Fred, an inspired reading of Buffalo Springfield‘s Bluebird, and several minutes of charming tomfoolery interspersed between the songs.
An encouraging beginning, it scraped into the US Top 100 and The James Gang received further valuable publicity from The Who‘s Pete Townshend, who proclaimed Walsh as “about the best guitarist I’ve seen” after they were on the same bill at a Pittsburgh show.
Following Tom Kriss’s curiously timed departure for session work in early 1970, The James Gang recorded their second LP with new bass player Dale Peters.
Rides Again (1970), one side of group-credited hard rock, one of softer, mostly acoustic guitar-based material written by Walsh, was a total success.
Funk #49 (a sequel to Yer Album‘s Funk #48) coupled a favourite Walsh guitar riff with catchy call-and-response vocals. Tend My Garden resembled a pastoral Who, while the lovely Ashes, The Rain and I concluded the LP’s gradual slope into retrospection, fading out on rising strings scored by Jack Nitzsche.
Perfectly paced and flowing, Rides Again set The James Gang a high standard that they were unable to match on the disjointed Thirds (1971). Songwriting was rigidly divided – four songs for Walsh, two each for Fox and Peters, and a collaborative effort on the slight instrumental Yadig?
Although Thirds produced a second Top 30 placing in the US, Walsh left the band in November 1971.
The thin and weary Live In Concert (1971), recorded before Walsh’s departure, was hardly a fitting memorial but it was preferable to Straight Shooter (1972), recorded by a new line-up that barely resembled the old one in sound or substance.
New members Roy Kenner (vocals) and Dominic Troiano (guitar) dominated the writing, while Jimmy Fox contributed very little.
Walsh prospered with new band Barnstorm as The James Gang’s fortunes went from bad to worse. After Passin’ Thru (1972) Troiano left to join The Guess Who and was replaced by future Deep Purple member Tommy Bolin.
By the time of Bolin’s departure in late 1974, the band had released Bang (1973) and Miami (1974) on Atlantic.
Fox and Peters recruited Richard Shack (guitar) and Bubba Keith (guitar, vocals) for one final LP, the optimistically titled Newborn (1975), but they split the following year, in stark contrast to Walsh who joined The Eagles for the million-selling Hotel California.