July 1970 – James Gang, Independence Day, and American Music

July 1970: James Gang – James Gang Rides Again

It’s the morning of Independence Day in the U.S.A., and it’s such a strange time. I awoke early and stepped out on the back patio to visit with my wild friend Ginny for a bit and enjoy some fresh air before temps reach triple digits later today. I’m pondering what the Fourth of July means to me now with so much uncertainty in the air. It occurred to me that the best way for me to enjoy the day is to indulge in my favorite pastime, listening to music. Today, it’s 100% American music: Gershwin, Copeland, Miles, Bird, Dylan, Willie, Muddy, Bruce…you get the picture.

ginny.jpg

I didn’t have to put this post together today. James Gang’s second album, James Gang Rides Again (a.k.a. Rides Again), was released some time in July of 1970, but I’ve not been able to locate the exact 50th anniversary among my usual sources. I doubt it was released on July 4, but today seems as good a day as any to celebrate it as the album is a quintessential early 1970’s recording by a classic American band.

James Gang Look Back on 'Rides Again' at 45: Exclusive Interview

Rides Again contains one of the band’s two hits, Funk #49 (the other being Walk Away), but every track on it is quality rock music that features Joe Walsh’s fantastic, multidiminsional songwriting and musicianship, as well as that of bassist Dale Peters and drummer Jim Fox. Other than the driving Funk #49, my favorite song is The Bomber. The band ran into a bit of a legal dispute early on over this track due to its unauthorized inclusion of a rendition of Ravel’s Boléro, which was removed after initial pressings. It was restored on recent CD releases.

James Gang, The | Nostalgia Central

The organ on Tend My Garden adds another diminsion to the band’s sound that fades into the mellow folk of Garden Gate. This gives way to the country rock of There I Go Again which features Rusty Young on pedal steel guitar. Walsh has acknowledged that he only sang because the band needed a vocalist after their original singer quit the band and audiences responded well to him. He says he developed a lead/rhythm guitar style à la his friend Pete Townshend in order to allow him to sing effectively. As an aside, and speaking of Pete, James Gang opened for The Who on a few U.S. dates that same year.

James Gang - Wikipedia

*Non Music-Related Editorial Alert*

I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to do this, but I feel the need to express something on this American holiday that’s supposed to be a cause for celebration. I don’t claim to speak for any other Americans who might read this, but to those of you from other parts of the planet who follow my blog, I’m disgusted with what is happening to my country right now and apologize for any negative impact it’s having internationally. Whether it’s Covid 19 or race-related, the absolute lack of leadership at the highest levels of my government and the shocking levels of selfishness and willful ignorance among much of the American population is sad and unnerving to me. This is not the United States I grew up in, nor is it representative of what I believe to be the vast majority of my fellow Americans.

Happy Fourth of July. Thanks for reading.

-Stephen

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Funk # 49
  2. Asshtonpark
  3. Woman
  4. The Bomber: Closet Queen/Boléro/Cast Your Fate to the Wind

Side Two:

  1. Tend My Garden
  2. Garden Gate
  3. There I Go Again
  4. Thanks
  5. Ashes the Rain and I

https://www.allmusic.com/album/rides-again-mw0000194237

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Gang_Rides_Again

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/james-gang-interview-2015/

 

June 14 – The First Time the Grateful Dead Went Mainstream

6/14/70: The Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead

For their fourth studio album, the Grateful Dead wanted to record in less time and with less fuss and expense than with their previous efforts. This was due in part to please Warner Bros., who hadn’t seen much of a return on their investment in the band, but also because the kind of music the band was gravitating toward demanded it. Workingman’s Dead was recorded over a period of about nine days in February 1970 and released a half-century ago today.

Grateful Dead - Workingman's Dead

The album represented a shift in direction from the psychedelic sounds of their first albums, as well as the mayhem of those recording sessions, to more of a folk/country rock sound. Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir had occasionally played acoustic guitars on tour just prior to going back into the studio, with the former being especially influenced by the Bakersfield sound. Garcia introduced a steel guitar to their music, and vocally the Dead were influenced by CSN’s vocal harmonies. And in a repeated theme of the time across the rock landscape, the influence of The Band’s first two albums crept into the music of the Grateful Dead, specifically with Robert Hunter’s lyrics.

Opinion | The Genius Behind the Grateful Dead - The New York Times
Robert Hunter

In his original Rolling Stone review from July 1970, Andy Zwerling emphasized the album’s warmth resulting from Garcia’s acoustic guitar and the band’s clean harmonies, but predicted “staunch Dead freaks” probably wouldn’t like country flavored songs such as Uncle John’s Band. He also pointed out that even the tracks which aren’t exactly country, such as Casey Jones, have that flavor. The group had dispersed from Haight-Ashbury into quieter and more rural surroundings around Marin County, which in turn also influenced the vibe of the album. While it might’ve seemed like a radical shift in musical direction, the album is a reminder that Garcia’s and Weir’s musical roots, as well as those of lyricist Robert Hunter, were found in places other than the manic psychedelia of the Dead’s first albums. Country, bluegrass, folk, straight forward rock, and blues make up this record.

Grateful Dead 1970 London Photograph by Chris Walter

As I’ve probably mentioned in the past, I’m a bit of a tweener when it comes to this band. That is, I enjoy the Grateful Dead as a live act and recognize that they were at home on stage, but I don’t possess the knowledge, passion, commitment, and downright obsession of most Deadheads to fully submerge myself in the vastness of their live documents. Not yet at least, though I’m inching in that direction. But from what I can tell, I might appreciate their studio albums more than those entrenched in the live recordings. What can I say, I’m an album kind of guy I suppose. And on this one, my favorite tracks besides the obvious Uncle John’s Band and Casey Jones are the country tinged High Time and Dire Wolf, plus New Speedway Boogie (Hunter’s commentary on Altamont), and Cumberland Blues with it’s fantastic harmonies.

TUE FEB 25 7:30pm – BPO recreates 1970 Grateful Dead & BPO ...

Workingman’s Dead topped Rolling Stone magazine readers poll for best album of 1970, and contemporary reviews were universally enthusiastic. More significantly, the album and its followup, American Beauty, greatly expanded the Dead’s audience just as In the Dark and the promotional vehicle known as MTV would do 27 years later for better and for worse. As Blair Jackson pointed out in Guitar World: 

“Workingman’s Dead” turned the Dead into a song band, and it was the launch pad for everything that came after it. It was a big gamble, a radical change in direction, but it paid off like a royal flush.”

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Uncle John’s Band
  2. High Time
  3. Dire Wolf
  4. New Speedway Boogie

Side Two:

  1. Cumberland Blues
  2. Black Peter
  3. Easy Wind
  4. Casey Jones

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workingman%27s_Dead#Track_listing

https://www.guitarworld.com/artists/workingman-s-dead-grateful-dead-shifted-uncommercial-jam-band-one-worlds-most-popular-acts

Workingman’s Dead