In Cleveland, Ohio, the James Gang was formed with founding members Jim Fox (drums), Tom Kriss (bass), Ronnie Silverman (guitars), Phil Giallombardo (keyboards) and Greg Grandillo (guitars). Grandillo was immediately replaced by Dennis Chandler, who was then also replaced by Glen Schwartz who happened to be Fox’s and Kriss’ schoolmate at Kent State University.
However, Schwartz left the band as he moved to California and formed Pacific Gas & Electric. Joe Walsh came along to replace him. Giallombardo also quit, rendering the James Gang to a quartet. But in 1968, Silverman left the band too, leaving only Walsh, Kriss and Fox.
The trio released their first album Yer’ Album in March 1969; despite not yielding any hits, the album nevertheless had a crack on the Top 100 albums at #83. Before the group went to the studios to record their second album, Kriss left. He was replaced by another bassist Dale Peters. Peters’ inclusion would prove the group’s classic lineup.
The newly revamped group released their second album James Gang Rides Againin the summer of 1970; its single “Funk #49” reached #59 on the Hot 100. The track would become one of rock’s finest tunes, highlighted by Walsh’s extraordinary riffs. The album itself would also become one of the most revered rock classics. James Gang opened for the Who in their UK tour; the Who’s Pete Townshend, in fact, became a fan of Walsh’s guitar work.
The trio also released Thirds (1971) — which yielded their highest-charting single, “Walk Away” at #51 on the Hot 100 — and the live album James Gang Live In Concert (late 1971).
Walsh left the group in 1971 to form his own group Barnstorm. He then later joined The Eagles, who would go on to become one of the biggest bands of the decade.
James Gang after Joe Walsh’s departure
Despite Walsh’s absence, Fox and Peters were still determined to keep the group going. They hired new members Roy Kenner (vocals) and Domenic Troiano (guitar), expanding James Gang into a quartet. Despite their successive 1972 releases Straight Shooter and Passin’ Thru, the group had been obviously struggling since Walsh’s departure. Troiano left to join another group The Guess Who, and was replaced by Tommy Bolin, formerly of Zephyr. Bolin was already a popular figure as a guitarist, and he proved to be an exceptional songwriter as well. His presence injected some fresh perspective into the band. With Bolin, James Gang released two underrated LP’s Bang! (1973) and Miami (1974). Following the album’s release however, Bolin quit. He pursued a solo career as well as played for Deep Purple before dying in 1976 of substance abuse. He was only 25 years old.
Despite the situation James Gang was going through, Fox and Peters tried one more time to resurrect the group. They recruited Bubba Keith (vocals) and Richard Shack (guitars). With the new lineup, James Gang released another LP New Bornin 1975 and 1976’s Jesse Come Home before finally calling it quits for good the following year.
Reunion of the classic James Gang lineup
Little has been heard from the band since the breakup, until the classic James Gang lineup — Walsh, Peters and Fox — got together again for the first time to perform for then-president Bill Clinton’s election rally in late 1996. The group also made appearances on The Drew Carey show during the late 1990s and performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio in February 2001.
The classic James Gang trio also toured across the country in the summer of 2006, where they were supported by backing vocalists and musicians. The best-known James Gang tune “Funk #49” became available for the Rock Band 3 video game platform.