Forty years after guitar rock got really loud (and 20 years after mullets freely roamed the landscape), Cleveland is still a classic-rock town and the James Gang might be Northeast Ohio's greatest contribution to the music that defines it. School chums Jim Fox and Ronnie Silverman formed the band in 1966, but it became a national name after guitarist Glenn Schwartz left in '68 and singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Walsh replaced him.
"We wanted to play a kind of music that really wasn't being played in the United States in those days, which was the harder-edged, British blues rock," Fox recalls. "The Yardbirds that kind of stuff. When we found Glenn, it was like a dream, like, 'We can have a band out of this.' Glenn was the short-term answer, and Joe was the long-term one."
The Gang's classic lineup Fox, Walsh, and bassist Dale Peters came together for the band's second album, 1970's half-electric, half-acoustic Rides Again. In an era that saw pop musicians evolve into mythologized rock gods, the James Gang emerged as three cool regular guys who, in their best moments, could go toe to toe with Led Zeppelin. The band's heaviest moment, "The Bomber," seamlessly took a psychedelic stroll through Ravel's Bolero and Vince Guaraldi's jazz classic "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" before returning to a solid-steel riff. Movie soundtracks still use the band's music to convey grit and blue-collar authenticity.
After 1971, Walsh went solo, then joined the Eagles; he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with them in 1998. A rotating lineup would record six more albums before the James Gang disbanded in 1976. Since the late '90s, the Rides Again lineup has played a series of well-received, sold-out reunion shows, including President Clinton's inaugural ball.
As the James Gang saddles up for its latest national ride, Small Stone Records owner Scott Hamilton offers a blunt assessment of the band's greatness: "What sets them apart is the tone of their gear, the feeling of their individual playing, and of course the almighty Joe Walsh. He should've said fuck you to the Eagles and kept the James Gang around for 25 years." D.X. Ferris
James Gang performs Saturday, August 26, at Mizner Park Amphitheater, 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. The show starts at 8 p.m. with Big Bang Radio. Tickets cost $45.75 to $65.75. Call 561-966-3309, or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
Buffalo Wingin' It
Though no one's sure of the exact date, some time in 1974, in the cold, cold town of Buffalo, New York, a young jazz combo by the name of Spyro Gyra hit the stage. Since then, the group has performed all over the world (seriously places like Andorra and Jakarta) and released 28 albums (not including compilations). That works out to an impressive 0.875 records a year for 32 straight years. Outtakes recently spoke with Spyro Gyra leader and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein about all things Buffalo... and Greek.
Outtakes: Tell me about your favorite T-shirt, living or dead.
Beckenstein: I still have it, actually. It says "Pano's Greek Restaurant." The very first year the band was forming up, we'd manage to make maybe 20 bucks a player a night, taking in 50 cents at the door of a club. Pano had this souvlaki breakfast for $7.39, and I remember blowing one-third of my paycheck every single night after the gig on souvlaki and eggs. I still have that T-shirt, and it means a lot to me.
Spyro Gyra began in Buffalo, but you and several other band members moved to New York shortly after. Who hates the Dolphins more, Bills fans or Jets fans?
I think Bills fans. There's just no way that anybody can equal the Greek tragedy that was the Buffalo Bills. It scares me to this day. You know, there's a psychology to Buffalo. It's a city that has had to struggle over the last 40 years with constant shrinkage, people moving away from Buffalo and Buffalo not getting opportunities other places got. And Buffalo was a place that really had some great, great, great years. It was a big, important city for a long time. So when the Bills came along and they, you know, allowed some of the greatness back, people latched onto them emotionally, like just in desperation, and attached themselves so much to that sports team that I do believe Buffalo fans are some of the most intense in the world. Because they're very proud of their city, and their city hasn't had a lot of breaks, and here's this sports franchise that for year after year after year did great. But then, there's that Greek tragedy thing which is also part of the whole Buffalo psyche. Victims, you know. So the thing is, it's so much more than a sports franchise. It gets into the real psychology of the town. Rob Trucks
Spyro Gyra performs Wednesday, August 30, and Thursday, August 31, at Jazziz Bistro at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 5751 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets cost $26 to $57.50. Call 954-583-8335, or visit www.jazzizbistro.com.
Pimpology, History Of
You don't have to look very hard to find the connection between contemporary rap and Cecil Brown's new novel, I, Stagolee, published this month by North Atlantic Books. Even before the table of contents, an excerpt from the 1930s traditional folksong "The Ballad of Stagolee" makes it perfectly clear where rap's roots lie: "Stagolee was a good pimp, everybody did love/The whores and pimps swore by him/By the stars above."
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That's right: Before hip-hop was even conceived before Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, or 50 Cent Stagolee was big pimpin,' baby.
All the elements of pimp/playa/hustler rap existed in the African-American oral tradition a century ago, though some aspects of the game have changed. It hasn't always been hard out here for a pimp, as the Oscar-winning Three 6 Mafia has claimed. Pimping was once "respectable in places like St. Louis, where it was legal for ten to 15 years," Brown notes. He says that Lee Shelton the real-life inspiration for Stagolee was not only a pimp but an entrepreneur, owning both a tavern and a livery stable, where he maintained a fleet of horse-drawn carriages (the precursors to today's limos).
I, Stagolee portrays the protagonist as a true gentleman of leisure, a charismatic charmer who seduces attractive women with his verbal skills and turns to violence only as a last resort. The modern-day pimp is thought of as an exploiter of women, but Brown says that wasn't always necessarily the case. "You gotta understand too, the pimps never looked down on the women who were whores," he explains. "It was the Irish cops, it was the people in their own neighborhoods, their own families, who looked down on them."
The parallels between the ragtime era and hip-hop, Brown says, are fairly obvious ones: "There was a new music called ragtime, a new dance called the cakewalk, a new era around the turn of the century. And you can compare it to hip-hop in a way because, again, hip-hop brings a new dance, a new music, so forth and so on." Verbal game-spitters like Ice-T, Kingpin Skinny Pimp, and Mac Dre (to name a few) embody Stagolee's legacy whether they realize it or not. Eric K. Arnold