Joe Walsh and the James Gang were a hard rocking, funky band that churned out riff heavy songs and theatrics from it’s guitar player. The James Gang were the American Cream, a power trio bar band from Ohio. Once you heard the grungy, bluesy opening chords, this was a band that fit with hard rocking bands like Grand Funk, Steppenwolf, Canned Heat and Humble Pie.
The one advantage James Gang had over the other groups was Walsh’s ability to write radio friendly tunes. Rides Again was their second album and the first to feature the lineup of Walsh, Jim Fox and Dale Peters. The band also dubbed keyboards onto the album to give the songs a bit more variety and texture. The Gang would power straight through the a guitar/bass/drum rocker and then go a different direction, incorporating acoustic guitar, organ and piano, to provide atmospherics and orchestral stylings to the songs.
The band’s producer was Bill Szymczyk, who would go on to produce the Eagles, which Walsh would join in 1976. James Gang would produce one more studio album and a live album before Walsh left to form Barnstorm. Rides Again was their best album but Thirds, the follow-up had a few qualit songs like Walsh’s “Walk Away” and “Midnight Man”. More of the songwriting on Thirds was shared with Peters and Fox, which did not match Walsh’s songwriting ability.
Walsh was the main songwriter on Rides Again, but he had plenty of help from Fox and Peters.
- “Funk #49” (Fox, Peters, Walsh) 3:54 The prototype power trio groove song. The song that really introduced James Gang and Walsh as a guitar player. From the opening chords, this album has hooked you. Four minutes of rock and roll you won’t soon forget.
- “Asshtonpark” (Fox, Peters, Walsh) 2:01 An instrumental, really just a jam, but a good one.
- “Woman” (Fox, Peters, Walsh) 4:37 One of the standout tracks. The bass has a nice groove which lets Walsh add several different guitar layers. Much like “Funk #49” the strength is in how this group struts and sets a distinctive groove.
- “The Bomber: Closet Queen”/ “Boléro”/ “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” (Fox, Peters, Walsh, Maurice Ravel, Vince Guaraldi) 7:04 Could be the best song on the album. If you like Led Zeppelin II, you’ll like this and the next song. With the distinctive percussion and guitar treatments, you’ll think this is “Moby Dick.” Walsh is as talented as Jimmy Page, and as adventurous in his younger years.
- “Tend My Garden” 5:45 “Apple Dan, he’s just a man, to pick fruit off your branches.” This is a great, driving, guitar song with keyboards. This group was good at having the guitar, bass and drums work together on the beat and the rhythm of the chords.
- “Garden Gate” 1:36 A nice little acoustic number by Walsh.
- “There I Go Again” 2:51 Another acoustic song with a bit more instrumentation, with a country flavor, steel guitar and such.
- “Thanks” 2:21 Another acoustic but slightly more rocking. All three of these songs could fit on Led Zeppelin III, a folkish album.
- “Ashes the Rain and I” (Peters, Walsh) 5:00 Continuing the acoustic feel, this is a couple of acoustic guitars and orchestration. The song seems written in a minor key and rather melancholy. Who would have thought about a mainly strings on a rock and roll song, but it works.
I was in junior high school when I first heard Rides Again. It was the kind of album parents didn’t really want their kids listening to. This wasn’t drug music, although it had some mature imagery, and had some nasty grooves. I was impressed with the tight guitar riffs and the elaborate production on “The Bomber” and “Ashes the Rain and I.”
Once in awhile, the original band gets back together, as long as it doesn’t conflict with the Eagles touring.