Occasionally it is interesting to hop a ride on the Wayback Machine to take a new look at popular music releases of the past to see if they have held up over time. Rides Again, the second album by James Gang remains a very important record for one big reason: it's the album that made Joe Walsh a star.
On this LP Walsh played with an eclecticism that many of his more esteemed contemporaries had yet to display. He was more accessible than many of the guitar gods of his day because he could rock with wild abandon and also play with tasteful restraint and melody. Listeners who may have thought Jimi Hendrix and Cream were over the top enjoyed this disc. I remember a college friend who had no affection for hard rock at all yet she loved this album.
The trio, and especially Walsh, really let it rip on side one. It opens with the classic rock staple, "Funk 49." The rest of the side features the boogie-style rock n’ roll that Walsh, bassist Dale Peters, and drummer Jim Fox played best. Side two offered both country-rock and ballads, all of which were enjoyable, but not quite as memorable as the harder stuff on the first side. Walsh was the lead singer, he played lead guitar on every track, and he either wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s best songs.
This lineup would record one more studio album together, Thirds, which featured their biggest hit, "Walk Away" and then Walsh left to pursue his mostly mediocre solo career. There would be replacements, including the late Tommy Bolan, but James Gang never again achieved the heights of Rides Again.
In 1976, Walsh guaranteed his place in history as a rock legend when he joined The Eagles in time for Hotel California. The title cut contains what is arguably his most famous guitar solo. He and Don Felder teamed up for the memorable guitar duel on the coda of the song that has become one of classic rock’s most revered and overplayed songs. Walsh's "Hotel California" solo does indeed pack a punch but to me Walsh was at his very best, a long, long, time ago on Rides Again.