The James Gang was one of Cleveland's signature rock-n-roll bands, almost anyone could name songs like "Funk #49", "Walk Away", favorites of the classic rock canon, and still sounding fresh today. The James Gang is really three (or more!) bands, the original band, the Joe Walsh fronted trio, and the various incarnations after Walsh left.
The original James Gang was founded by drummer Jimmy Fox, who had spend some time in Tom King and the Starfires. After going through some musicians (including Schwartz's old Pilgrims bandmate Dennis Chandler) the lineup was in place. Fox, together with bassist Tom Kriss, guitarists Ron Silverman and Glenn Schwartz, and keyboard player Phil Giallombaro, they took the Cleveland scene by storm in early '67 with a repetriore that favored more of the 'underground' sounds including British blues-rock and more obscure songs by the harder rock-n-roll bands of the day. The band made their first attempt at recording sometime around April of '67 when they recorded a couple songs at Cleveland Recording, the Zombies "Indication" and "Sometimes I Think About" aka "Willie Jean". Both sides are really powerful, with Glenn's noted guitar virtuousity in strong effect, it's hard to understand why the labels weren't climbing over themselves to sign the group. In June of '67 Bill Jeric replaced Ron Silverman.
The Gang coupled stellar musicianship with an energetic live show that included Schwartz hanging upside down off the shoulders of Jeric! The band was huge in Cleveland and Kent, where Fox was living at the time. Kriss and Giallombardo were still in high school, while Schwartz was a old timer who had played in bands since the late 50s and spent two years in the military.
The group did get plenty of notice, though, so much that Glenn was recruited by the California act Pacific Gas and Electric to be their featured guitarist. He played his last show in December of '67. Meanwhile, the James Gang had been playing the Kent bar scene extensively, and Joe Walsh, who had been trying out many different projects after leaving the Measles (including stints with the Panicks, Chancellors, and an audition with the Human Beingz) jumped at the chance to replace his local guitar idol. With Walsh in place, the band hardly missed a beat, and continued to be a huge attraction, at least until the spring of 1968, when Phil Giallombardo left to join the Choir. Bill Jeric left, and apparently Ron Silverman returned, if only to fulfill some gig obligations. All the shuffling, and the changing Cleveland music scene (Polished bands like Cyrus Erie had easily surpassed the Gang's popularity) drove the band to consider disbanding. As rumor has it, an AWOL Ron Silverman meant a that a gig in Detroit had be done as a trio - and went over big time. A few more well received shows with the three finally convinced ABC to sign the group to their Bluesway 'underground' label.
The Gang debut, "Yer Album" did well on the underground scene and got the band some more exposure. The LP, while occasionally a bit too loose, has a strong sense of identity and well written and peformed songs that display a range of melodic rock to bluesy blasters. Tom Kriss left shortly after the LP release and Dale Peters (from the like minded Case of E.T. Hooley) replaced him. With Peters, the group recorded the "Rides Again", which included the big hit "Funk #49" and radio staples "The Bomber" and "Tend My Garden". Many fans consider this record the Gang's highpoint, but it also demostrated that the group was working in two not always complimentary directions - the hard blues rock that was their signature since '66, and Walsh's more melodic, progressive compositions. The first pressing of the LP included a passage of the well known classical theme "Bolero" in "The Bomber" but apparently due to some copyright issue the section had to be deleted. The group recorded a third LP, entitled "Thirds", that offered up the hit "Midnight Man". Mary Sterpka, the singer in Lacewing/Measles, sang backgroud vocals. "Thirds" was similar in style to "Rides Again", but was not able to land the knockout punch that could have made the Gang one of the world's biggest bands. The time while these LPs were on the charts were the Gang's short excursion in the palace of rock-n-roll royalty. Pete Townsend, among others (the Gang opened several shows for the Who) sang their praises, and group had a successful tour of Europe. Walsh was not able to rectify his songwriting direction with the band's sound and left in '71 to start his Barnstorm project (including former Chylds drummer Joe Vitale).
The James Gang post Joe Walsh became a revolving door or guitarists and singers, initiated by Canadian Dominic Troiano (formely of Toronto's Mandala) and singer Roy Kenner. This group made two LPs in short order, and the group left ABC records to wind up on Atco. Troiano left to be replaced by legendary gunsligner Tommy Bolin for two LPs. After Bolin, the Gang actually called it quits for a while. Fox and Peters regrouped in Cleveland and the group reached back to their roots and brought in Richard Shack, who had played guitar next to Dale Peters in E.T. Hooley. Bubba Keith was the new singer. This lineup recorded the "Newborn" LP which was came and went in a hurry. Shack and Keith bailed, and two more local players were brought in - Bob Webb, the former Comin' Generation and Measles guitarist (he had replaced Walsh in the Measles as well!), and back for another tour, Phil Giallombaro. This group cut the "Jessie Come Home" LP, which musically is a far cry from the Walsh era, with Giallombardo's classically influenced piano prominent. Webb was probably the most Walsh like guitarist of the four. This LP made no noise either, and the Gang called it a day (or a decade).
Joe Walsh and Tommy Bolin's careers have been dissected on numerous occasions, both of them would make almost anyone's list of famous rock-n-roll guitarists of the 'classic rock' era. Dominic Troiano died in 2005. The James Gang, classic Walsh/Fox/Peters lineup, played two knockout reunion shows in 2005 - who knows, may they ride again, again?
And they ride again indeed, on a US tour in the summer of 2006!