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Classic Rock Crate Digger

Classic Rock Crate Digger: Are James Gang The Greatest Power Trio Ever?

Classic Rock Crate Digger: Are James Gang The Greatest Power Trio Ever?

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When classic rock nerds such as myself start debating the 10 greatest power trios of all time, the usual suspects emerge: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Rush, Blue Cheer and ZZ Top. Great bands, all of them. But I can think of others I enjoy just as much, like Budgie; Grand Funk Railroad; Motörhead; Speed, Glue & Shinki; Mountain; and the mighty James Gang.

The reason why the James Gang, one of the greatest rock bands to ever come out of Cleveland, don't receive more props might have to with the group's lack of artistic and commercial consistency. Their first incarnation -- spanning 1967 to '68, with obscure six-string genius and Christian psych-rocker Glen Schwartz leading the way -- didn't even release any music. At the other end of the band's career, after their most famous guitarist, Joe Walsh, departed in 1971, the band burned through several shredders-for-hire, including Tommy Bolin, while releasing a string of flawed albums, each one boasting two or three cool tracks surrounded by a whole lotta filler. This means the James Gang's golden period is quite brief: just four albums over three years.

But what a golden period it was. My god. At their very best, they were singular groove-engineers blending post-psychedelic boogie with the kind of hard funk Funkadelic and The Meters were busy pioneering at the same time. The James Gang reached their peak with the release of 1970s Rides Again, which sounds so damn fresh even 40 years later. Much of its staying power has to do with the trio's love for groove and rhythm, as opposed to meandering solos -- the record sounds like one long string of breakbeats. In fact, if you were capable of traveling through time back to mid-1970s New York, then chances are every one of disco's founding fathers (David Mancuso, Nicky Siano, Walter Gibbons, et al) would be intimately familiar with the percussive middle section of "Funk #49."