Classic Rock Landmark Finally Reissued on 180 gram LP

"Joe Walsh was in a band before the Eagles?"

Yes, oh yes, Walsh not only had a very successful solo career in the mid-to-late 1970s, in the days of "Rocky Mountain Way," but he also played in a band, now rapidly fading into history, called the James Gang.

Formed in Cleveland in the late '60s, the JG went through a number of lineup changes until becoming a trio in 1968. Signed to ABC Records that same year, they released their debut, Yer Album, in 1969. While that album did moderately well, it wasn't until their second effort, James Gang Rides Again —like the first produced by Bill Szymczyk, and this time out sporting a black-and-white cover and a cool back-cover shot of the trio on chopper motorcycles—that the band burst onto the national scene. Opening with the bent guitar chords of hit single, "Funk #49," James Gang Rides Again became one of the most memorable early hard-rock albums. "Funk 49," a tune with six lines of lyrics total, has been used on the soundtrack of a lot of films, the latest being War Dogs. It's also been used as accompanying music in a number of video games, including Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned.

On side two, known as the "acoustic side," the band broadens its stylistic range, adding a pedal steel played by Poco cofounder Rusty Young to "There I Go Again" and "Thanks." The melancholy, almost English-folk closer, "Ashes the Rain and I," is an entirely different flavor. Keyboards were also used on side two to fill out the sound. The album ultimately works not only because of Walsh's songwriting and buzzy but precise guitar work but also his reedy but always underrated singing voice.

Rides Again has now been reissued in glorious fashion on 180 gram LP by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. This new release was mastered by Krieg Wunderlich, assisted by Rob LaVerde, at the MoFi lab in Sebastopol, CA. It's high time someone produced a high-quality reissue of this classic. Because this was such a party record, due in large part to the "Funk#49" opener, and was housed in the kind of white cover that cannot remain clean after 49 years of existence, James Gang Rides Again is notoriously hard to find in good condition. And because the LPs are usually so scarred and scuffed, I'm not actually sure I've ever heard a really good-sounding pressing until this reissue.

There's also a cherished bit of record collecting lore attached to this record. On the B-side this trio from Cleveland decided to get fancy and slide a 85-second quote from Maurice Ravel's Bolero into the middle of a three-song medley called "The Bomber." Trouble is, of course, the band never tried to clear this with the Ravel estate. After a cease-and-desist letter, the Ravel quote was removed from subsequent pressings of the album. Like the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams" controversy, the pressings with the Ravel left in are now valuable. There was also a lag in changing the album jackets to reflect the removal of the offending track so some jackets still have "The Bomber" with the Ravel bit listed on the back or inside (though there are variations there, too) but the actual LP inside does not contain the uncleared snippet.

It's all a bit confusing, though it's the kind of tangle that LP collecting completists live for. I have a friend who has a shelf full of Rides Again in its many different iterations. Because Ravel's piece of music is now out of copyright, the original track is included on the new MoFi reissue.

Following the release of this record, the trio opened a US tour for The Who, whereupon Walsh and Pete Townshend struck up a friendship that endures until this day. Over the years Walsh has credited Townshend for inventing the style Walsh plays in, which he calls, "Lead Rhythm." Alas, though, James Gang Rides Again did not propel the band into superstardom. And after two more albums, Walsh felt the trio format had grown stale and limiting. In 1972 he left for a solo career. But as '70s hard rock albums go, are the few that are the equal of James Gang Rides Again.

ednazarko's picture

Played until they sounded like crap, one after the other. The last one, I ripped to reel to reel the day I bought it, twice, because I knew I'd wear the first one out. Used "Funk # 49" backstage on headphones to get myself pumped up to speak at big conferences. Got lots of comments over the years about my energy level when I'd hit the stage.

brenro's picture

Which didn't take all that long on my parent's console hi-fi with the ceramic cartridge.