Weekend Songs: James Gang, ‘Funk #49′
Classic rock is about heavy hooks, power chords, and tight harmonies, but it’s also about letting loose and enjoying the good times — and there’s no better time than Friday evening, when we pick up our paycheck, punch out of work, and enjoy a couple days of much-needed rest and relaxation.
This week, we're paying tribute to the legendary Joe Walsh, a performer whose thirst for the good times is almost as legendary as his guitar prowess. While he's arguably best known to most casual fans as a member of the Eagles, Walsh's career started long before he joined up with those chart-topping fowl; in fact, for a small-but-passionate group of fans, he first rose to prominence with the James Gang, a hard-rocking Cleveland trio whose first three studio records boast some of his finest early work -- including today's track, the molten chunk of AOR known as 'Funk #49.'
Like a lot of great rock songs, 'Funk #49' started out as a jam. As Walsh recalled during a 2012 interview with Guitar World, "The James Gang started out doing cover songs. And then the next thing for us was to do the beginning of a cover song and then do a five-minute jam in the middle that was different every night. And ‘Funk #49’ was actually a groove that we’d come up with -- one of our tools that we would throw into the middle of cover songs. And finally we just wrote some words for it."
While the lyrics aren't much to speak of -- as Walsh put it later, "the words never really impressed me intellectually, but they seemed to fit somehow" -- they give the listener something to shout along with while enjoying the real meat of the song, which is Walsh's incendiary guitar work, Jim Fox's propulsive drumming, and Dale Peters' insistent bassline. The whole thing adds up to a master class in how a band can take a basic groove and turn it into something you never get tired of hearing.
It's since become a staple of Walsh's live sets (as you can see below), but at the time, 'Funk #49' didn't make much of a splash; in fact, the closest thing this incarnation of the James Gang ever had to a hit was 'Walk Away,' a #51 single pulled from their next album, 1971's 'Thirds.' 'Funk #49,' like the rest of the 'James Gang Rides Again' album, mainly had its impact on the band's Cleveland fans -- and by late '71, Walsh was off onto his next project, the band Barnstorm.
Of course, by the end of 1975, Walsh was the Eagles' new guitarist, joining just in time to be featured heavily in the sessions for 1976's gajillion-selling 'Hotel California' -- a lucky break that gave him the household name status he deserved, even as it stalled his solo career and pulled him away from gratifyingly loud 'n' sloppy guitar workouts like 'Funk #49.' But even if Walsh is going to spend his summer playing 'Life in the Fast Lane' for the umpteenth time in the latest high-priced Eagles tour, we've still got this song, and it still sounds just as great as it did the first time it was committed to vinyl more than 40 years ago. So scroll down a bit and treat yourself to a 'Funk #49' smorgasbord, from the studio version to an assortment of live performances, and let the weekend start...now.
James Gang, 'Funk #49'
Joe Walsh with the Eagles, 'Funk #49'
Joe Walsh with Booker T. & the MG's, 'Funk #49'
Joe Walsh with Brian May, 'Funk #49'