THE JAMES GANG
Jim Fox on the left, Dale Peters in the middle, a youthful Joe Walsh on the right
Jim Fox interview by John Wisniewski
Drummer Jim Fox worked in a blues group with guitarist Glen Schwartz (who would also later play in Pacific Gas and Electric) during the late 1960's but you probably know him better as a founding member of the James Gang, which later included Schwartz and a pre-Eagles Joe Walsh. The Gang made their dent in the early '70's with songs like "Funk #49" and "Walk Away." Here, we take a look at Fox's pre-James Gang days, and his times with Glen Schwartz as well as Fox's musical influences, the events of the 1960's and his love of the blues. For the first time, a new CD offers the recordings of the Glenn Schwartz-Fox Blues Crusade, taken from a 1967 recording.
PSF: What were the first bands that you were in? What sparked an interest in playing music?
JF: WOW!! That's a long time ago. I began playing in bands in the very early 1960s. There were a series of them, none rock and roll to begin with, and no names recalled!! Heck, I'm not even sure we HAD names!! One was an 8-piece "dance band," very much "of the times," with two trumpets, three saxes (including a girl who also sang lead once in a blue moon), piano, bass and drums. We played "standards," such as "Dancing on the Ceiling," and even played a gig or two. There was also a quartet with a Cordovox and a guitar...we might have ventured into THE VENTURES, but that was very short-lived. My first rock band, which I joined in November of 1963, was TOM KING AND THE STARFIRES. We played current R&B above all, a few of the "hits" and a bit of blues. By 1966, I had moved on to a college band called "THE GUV'NORS". We were playing British Rock...Beatles, Stones, The Who, etc. as well as Byrds and a bit of folk. TOM KING AND THE STARFIRES, however, went on to become THE OUTSIDERS and had a top five national hit with TIME WON'T LET ME. As luck would have it, their drummer was drafted right as the record was flying up the charts, and I was called to finish their first album and do their first tour, which included an appearance on a TV show called HULLABALOO. Later in the fall of 1966, I founded my band, THE JAMES GANG, whose history is pretty well known.
As to why I began playing music in the first place, I cannot remember a time when music wasn't my main interest in life. I never had any goals that did not center around music and I cannot imagine what I would have done had music not become my career.
PSF: Any favorite bands?
JF: Where to start!! I remember loving early rock and roll and bought records like "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, "Maybelline" by Chuck Berry, early Everly Brothers, Little Richard, etc. I also loved jazz, and for a time, was enamored by big bands like Ellington and Basie, hard bop such as Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (Blakey was my favorite drummer as well), Miles, etc. All that changed in one moment in November, 1963. Literally the same time I joined Tom King and the Starfires, I heard my first BEATLE record ("I Want To Hold Your Hand"), and my life changed forever. From then on, while I still appreciated blues, R&B, Motown, etc. my favorite music centered around the bands mentioned above with the Guv'nors, such as the Beatles, the Stones, Byrds, The Who, The Yardbirds, The Zombies, as well as Dylan, The Beach Boys, and many others. Many of those names are still my favorites today. I added such groups as CREAM, HENDRIX, ZEPPELIN, etc. as the decade wore on. By then, THE JAMES GANG was up and running. Drummers...Ringo, Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, Keith Moon (my God!!), and a whole lot of others.
PSF: When did you meet Glenn Schwartz and begin playing in the band?
JF: Glenn and I met in late 1966, as I was trying to get THE GANG together and he was just back from serving in the Army in Germany. He was a bit of legend in Cleveland, and while he had been away for a few years, he was known as a guy who could play better behind his back than most guys could play regularly! I had heard that he was back in town, but I did not know how to contact him. Soon after his return, I was invited to a rehearsal of a new 12-piece "show band" that was planning to be the host band on a local TV show. I explained that I was working on my own thing right then, and was told that Glenn was also invited to the rehearsal. I agreed to attend, planning on using the rehearsal as an excuse to have a conversation with Glenn about him joining my band. Glenn and I spoke at length about what type of music we liked, what our goals were, etc. and I invited him to sit in with us at a local gig soon after. He came by, we played and we immediately agreed to give him a try in THE JAMES GANG. The FOX SCHWARTZ BLUES CRUSADE was never a working group. We were musicians from a couple of local Cleveland bands who convened on a Sunday morning at a recording studio with the intention of trying to make a blues album. The results can be found in that album.
PSF: Are the Schwartz band live recordings of historical value to rock and blues fans, maybe a look into the early incarnation of the james Gang? How do you feel listening back to these recordings?
JF: There seems little doubt that the sessions that comprised the Fox Schwartz Blues Crusade form a direct line to the origins of THE JAMES GANG. THE GANG was only a few months old at the time this was recorded, and three of the five GANG members at this time did the recording session. Jim Fox, Glenn Schwartz and Tom Kriss were all GANG members at that point. The blues was a big part of the GANG repertoire in those days, and it was coming from two places. FIrst was the influence British blues was having on us as well as most of the rest of the American rock scene. Second was Glenn's knowledge of the original American blues scene. Those factors combined to give us a solid blues foundation by the time the GANG recorded our first album in 1969. Glenn was an important influence on Joe Walsh in those days, and it can be heard in his playing even today, through THE GANG on through the EAGLES and beyond. Listening back, I am surprised at the level of musicianship of the players. The playing is at a high level pretty much all around.
PSF: Will you be playing any live dates, Jim? Will any special guests be invited?
JF: There are no live dates planned at this point. Three of the six players have passed on in the last few years, sadly. If live dates seem justified, we could possibly have a look to see if anything could be done.
PSF: What was it like playing with Glenn Schwartz, Jim? How did you feel about the free concerts, the music and happenings of the sixties?
JF: Playing with Glenn Schwartz was a real privilege. Glenn was older than the rest of us and he knew so much more about music, especially about the blues. He was also the first guitarist who could play in the style that the rest of us felt we needed in the band...a technique of sustaining notes on an electric instrument through an amplifier. He was unique in his talents at that time and he gave the band exactly what it needed to begin to develop the style that we wanted. I loved the free concerts, and all the music of the 60s that was going on all around us. At that time, it was about nothing but music. Money was not nearly as important as the music itself, and we just trusted that if we did our work well, the money would come later. I may be a bit prejudiced, having been there, but I truly feel that the music of the late 1960s both in Britain and the USA stands as the best music made in the second half of the 20th century, and has yet to be surpassed even today.
PSF: Do you ever speak with members of The James Gang?
JF: The James Gang are still quite close. I spend half the year in Cleveland, OH, where Dale Peters lives about 15 minutes from me. We are in touch weekly, if not daily. And as for Joe Walsh, whenever we are in the same city (Cleveland, Los Angeles, etc.) we always get together and spend some time. We have recorded in the past few years and are discussing some live dates for 2017. We have an excellent relationship, and when we get together, it still feels like a "band"!! 2017 is our 50th year together!
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