In 1972, Cameron sat down with (one of the many configurations) of the James Gang in this lengthy interview for the San Diego Door. There’s some interesting discussion around the music business, life without Joe Walsh (who left the band the prior year) and their recent albums, Straight Shooter and Passin’ Thru. We hope you like it!
James Gang Rides Again
Not unlike those James Brown records that constantly remind us all that he of “the hardest working man in show business,” those James Gang biographies always seem to emphasize that the James Gang is “the hardest working band in show business.”
The James Gang is seven years and six albums old and have yet to show their age. In the course of those years, lead singer guitarist and fan focal point Joe Walsh left, leaving bassist Dale Peters and drummer Jim Fox as the bandleader and spokesman. Added to replace the vocal and musical void were Canadians Roy Kenner and Domenic Troiano. Troiano, the new lead guitarist, has since released a solo album on Mercury Records, while the estranger Walsh released his first solo effort, Barnstorm.
The James Gang have constantly been on the road for the past few years with the intermittent periods taken out to record in. Straight Shooter, the band’s first post-Walsh release, unveiled a new direction… while the newest LP, Passin’ Thru, defines a new format for the James Gang. One of electricity and accessibility.
The following interview took place shortly before the release of Straight Shooter.
One thing that hasn’t been made clear in the biography I received, and to the public, is where the old group ended and how and when did the present group begin.
FOX: The old group (Fox, Dale Peters and Joe Walsh) ended verbally last September. Joe Walsh, being an incredibly good person, backed out in a way it takes a hell of a guy to do. He said he wanted to quit the band, but he’d stay playing gigs till the end of the year. So physically, last December 12th, or so was our last job with the old band. By that time we’d already found Don (Troiano).
We were kind of counting on Don to do the singing. We found, though, that he sings approximately like we do… so (laughter) we got Roy (Kenner).
Joe was very, very tired of the road. He’d been at it a long time. He was, I guess, a little less able to cope with it than we were. We’re still on the road. We’re as tired of it as he was. Constantly traveling, never being at home can be a drag. Of course, Joe had a wife, plus a kid, so that made him want to be home all the more. Plus, he always had very personal music, so he wanted to express it himself rather than bouncing off the group.
So right now, Joe is doing, more or less, a solo trip. He’s got other people working with him, but it’s his thing. That’s what he wants to do. He’s not traveling yet; he’s recording at his leisure. In general, he’s doing a nice laid-back thing.
Will it ever reach the point when you’ll be doing a solo album?
FOX: I don’t have any ambitions for doing a solo album. I have things in the back of my head that I’d like to get out someday that I don’t think are suitable for any group; but, I don’t have any burning desire for doing a solo album. The James Gang have been my thing for, let’s see, going on six years, and I’m really proud of the music we make.
At what point does performing becoming a chore?
FOX: Well, you try to make it so the actual performance itself never becomes a chore. What drags you down is the traveling, the bullshit, the waiting… the gigs… you know, the minute you hit the stage, it’s gotta be like your first time out. When it ceases to be that way, then it’s time to leave. We always try to keep a real good head about the gigs, themselves. The worst part of it is the stuff in between.
How did the stage act change when you added the two new members?
FOX: More than we thought it would. It changed radically. Dale and I tried to kid ourselves… ‘well, it’s gonna be a change, but it’s still gonna be the band.’ Well, it is still the band but it’s different. It’s drastically different. There’s a different voice up there. There’s a different guitar player up there. There’s two new faces. It’s changed, we don’t deny it at all. I must say we’re very happy with it. Things can’t be the way they were. Our manager heard us for the first time… ‘Gee, Roy, you oughta sing the songs more like Joe did. As an impulse. It was so different. It’s good. We think it’s equally good. In many ways it’s better. But it’s not the same.
Is it hurting you financially?
FOX: That’s hard to say…
PETERS: No it’s not. Yes… It is.
FOX: It’s hurting us in the sense that some kids were Joe Walsh fans. Since Joe isn’t with the band, the band holds nothing for them. Musically it hasn’t heard us a bit. Financially… I haven’t seen a check in so long I can’t say (laughter).
What is the situation with the old tunes on stage?
FOX: We do some of the old tunes. We feel obligated to do some of the old tunes. We do the good ones. We do the tunes we have always done. We drop tunes, even when Joe was around we dropped tunes. Like “Bluebird.” It was a very popular tune but we’d played it three thousand times. We played it long before we even recorded it. You do a song so many times and it gets to you. “Funk 49” isn’t our favorite song, but we still enjoy playing it. The kids definitely still want to hear it. That’s enough reason to do it.
Last time you were supposed to play San Diego…
FOX: Dale had heart attack.
PETERS: We had to cancel the gig ’cause I felt terrible. Really terrible.
So wasn’t a heart attack.
FOX: Dale’s modest.
PETERS: Well, I have a heart condition.
FOX: Dale has a heart problem… it wasn’t a heart attack in the sense of a coronary.
PETERS: It was really acting up. I couldn’t breathe.
FOX: The three of us looked at him… and didn’t want to take the responsibility for his death by playing the job. He was in bad shape, so we immediately flew him to the doctor. We had to cancel four jobs.
PETERS: We never cancelled a gig before. It’s the first one we’ve ever messed.
TROIANO: I saw the sign they had on the Sports Arena sign ‘James Gang Cancelled – Heart-Attack Victim.
FOX: That’s how the roadies found out the show was cancelled.
TROIANO: I know. They didn’t even know.
FOX: The road crew had already left. They had no idea. The first thing they found out about it was when they drove up and saw the sign.
What’s your rehearsal schedule?
TROIANO: Well, we’re trying to fit our rehearsals in between gigs. We’re rehearsing right now for a new album, so we’re rehearsing all we can. You just can’t record a new album without a lot of rehearsal.
How does the album material compare to Straight Shooter (the first LP with the new band)?
TROIANO: Basically the music is the same, because we have the same people playing. But… Straight Shooter was… I joined the band two weeks before we went into the studio. Roy joined the band three days before the studio. No one really knew each other. Right now, though, I’ve been playing with them four months along with Roy, so we’re alot more of a unit now. Straight Shooter was… Alright. Who’s got songs? With that mind, I think the album turned out pretty good. Some stuff was really good. But this new album I think is more…
TROIANO: Right. Consistent. We’ll be more of a group.
FOX: We found – Dale and I getting to know Roy and Don better that there was a lot of common ground – which we suspected, there’s also a lot of experiences that we’ve had that they haven’t had. There experiences they had that we haven’t had. Musically. So when you set up about making an album you naturally want to find material that will please everybody.
What do you feel about mixing politics of music?
FOX: I don’t really think you can mix politics and music.
PETERS: People do. We feel it’s the wrong thing to do.
FOX: We all have belief. Some of us are strongly steeped in our belief. The stage isn’t the proper place to lay it down.
We played Carnegie Hall two weeks ago and we hired Elephant’s Memory to open the show. Lennon didn’t show up, we kind of thought he might, but instead of John Lennon, they brought John Sinclair. His trip was standing up on stage smoking a joint rapping about the ‘new people.’ We kinda sat in our dressing room thinking what great music it was. The sound of John Sinclair toking.
That’s cool for them. We don’t even knock it. For us, we’d rather go up on stage and play some music.
TROIANO: You pick up a paper everyday and read about…
KENNER: That’s the thing.
TROIANO: Being Canadians, Roy and I really don’t care that much about American politics.
PETERS: It’s a drag to think that all the kids think that right away every rock star is an expert on politics.
FOX: Plus, there’s like another thing. I went to Kent State. So did Joe at the time. We were a Kent band for years and years. After the shootings… the last discussion we had with Rolling Stone all they wanted to talk about was Kent State. If they want to contact me as a student to talk about Kent State – fine. I’ve got some things to say. As a musician, we were gigging that day. So… but then we usually talk to three people a week who say they’re from Rolling Stone. So…(laughter).
What do you think a stage theatrics?
FOX: Very important. We’ve done a lot of gigs with The Who. And they sure make it clear. They make you understand how important is to make the kids realize that you enjoy what you’re doing. It’s also important to provide entertainment.
KENNER: Regardless of how you slice it. You’re still in show business. Rock ‘n roll is just another facet of show business. For the last little while it’s been very hip with the press to really slam anything that they could label as entertainment. For a long time James Brown would get slammed because… ‘My God, isn’t he slick. It looks like he’s rehearsed every move.’ Well, so what.
Rock ‘n roll groups, what there is what they’ve done, is presented the same type of thing except in a very nonchalant type of manner, so that it doesn’t look like they’ve rehearsed it. But, those are things that have to be worked out, either at rehearsal or something acquired over a long period of development. In other words, you’re getting down your entertainment. You’re not doing it off the top of your head and it’s great and smooth and everything fits. It has to be worked on. I like to entertain and I enjoy my theatrics, because I like show business.
FOX: It’s still down to the music. If you don’t have good music to back it up, you’re in trouble.
We went through a thing with Dale a while ago. For Dale, the biggest move of the week would be for him to tap his foot. To the audience he looked petrified. He’d stand there, his eyes down, his head down. You know, tap his foot to the beat. And the audience couldn’t really believe that he was into it. All it took him was a period of time where he’d look up, find the audience and they were really feeling it the way he was. It’s a question of communication. It’s playing to the fortieth row.
What kind of stage theatrics do you have now?
FOX: Well, Roy is quite an acrobat. He’s a good mover, so we just let him do whatever he feels.
PETERS: We just stand around and watch.
TROIANO: Suits me just fine (laughter).
FOX: I do what I can even though I have to remain on my ass.
What do you think of the live album?
FOX: I thought it was really good representation of the band. I like it more now than I did then. I was the last one in the band to like it. Alot of groups go about making a live album and they tape for seven nights, they splice notes out of songs; they go back and overdub, practically everything in the studio to come out sounding like a good live album. That album says it was recorded live at Carnegie Hall and it was. All we did was select the tunes we thought were best. We played for over two hours that night.
“Walk Away” was only the second time we’d ever done it on stage. The recording is fairly good.
Did you get into the live album cover? Three horses parked out in front of Carnegie Hall on the cover with the road crew shoveling shit on the back.
KENNER: Not very many people got it.
FOX: It was the first album cover we ever did on our own. And it’s not a question of intelligence: it’s a matter of just looking at it. We flew three guys up to Carnegie Hall; we rented three horses from a riding stable, had ’em come in at six in the morning for the picture. The next week we got some horseshit from the Mounted Police. Six o’clock on Sunday morning and we were posing for pictures shoveling shit off the sidewalk in front of Carnegie Hall. The janitor comes out… “Hey what’s going on…”
Anything planned for the next album?
FOX: We’re toying with James Gang Bang. We don’t know if we’ll get away with it or not, but it’s worth a try. We might have to stick a comma or a gun with “Bang” coming out the barrel in there.
What do you think of the record business?
FOX: The record businesses is a necessary evil. All business is corrupt by its very nature. I think it’s probably the corrupt businesses that ever existed. The music business is phenomenal. It’s a multi-billion dollar business. Wherever there’s money, there’s more opportunity for corruptness We try and stay out of the business. We have a good manager and that helps. It’s very difficult, though, to remove yourself from a business when they hold your future.
Guys have tried to work alternative methods, like some of the things Bill Graham did. Fillmore Records… was a disaster. Apple Records was a disaster. Shelter, Blue Thumb. They were disasters because artistic people can’t run a business. You need business-minded people. You can’t let art rule your business. Art should be art in its purest form. Yet, there is business involved. If you have to market a painting it becomes business. If you make a movie as artistically as you want, then the guy up there says, ‘Listen this is an R movie, but you’re trying to appeal to the 14-17 year olds. Therefore, it must be PG.’
Take for example, the movie we did a couple years ago, Zacariah. Started out to be a really good movie. But the higher ups and MGM and ABC got together and said, ‘Listen the movie is an R; yet you’re trying to appeal to the people that legally can’t get into see an R picture.’ So they cut out all the tits and ass and dope and made it a PG. Unfortunately, it removed 80% of the plot. (laughter)
At that moment Norman Winter returned to the table. Shortly afterward a waitress stopped by the table to drop the ‘Will there be anything else’ line.
“Did you know these are the James Gang?” Winter asked of the waitress.
“Will there be anything else?”
Jim Fox leaned over, “Norm’s a necessary evil too.” He paused a moment. “But… he’s a nice guy.”
Courtesy of The Door (aka The San Diego Door) – Cameron Crowe – October 23, 1972 – November 2, 1972