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James Gang to Jesus Freak: The strange journey of Glenn Schwartz, blues guitarist, ultra kook

Glenn Schwartz
 
Here’s a truly strange tale about Cleveland guitar madman turned Jesus freak madman, Glenn Schwartz. Schwartz, a blues guitar virtuoso of whom Jimi Hendrix was allegedly a fan, could have quite possibly become legendary, playing in the mid-to-late sixties with the likes of The James Gang and Pacific Gas & Electric among other rock and blues outfits before something went horribly wrong (or amazingly right, I guess, depending on who’s telling the story). 

For starters, let me just say that a whole lot of the information that I gathered for this post came straight from the horse’s mouth in an interview that Schwartz did when he was inducted into the Cleveland Blues Society in 2013. In it, Schwartz is completely open about his contentious history and about the strange religious transformation that changed the whole trajectory of his life and music. The interview indicates that Schwartz was born and raised in Cleveland’s working class Collinwood neighborhood and that he got his first guitar at the age of ten. He began taking lessons at the age of 11 and winning contests and kicking ass at his instrument almost instantly, and according to Deanna R. Adams in her amazingly detailed Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Cleveland Connection, Schwartz soon became better than his teachers. As he grew up, he played constantly in everything, in polka bands, wedding bands and in the mid sixties, with a group called the Mr. Stress Blues Band. He also started playing with the first version of The James Gang in 1967 and began to get some attention. From Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Cleveland Connection:

Schwartz gained [The James Gang] local celebrity by playing the guitar with his teeth (before Hendrix!) and playing while hanging upside down form guitarist Bill Jeric’s shoulder.

Eventually, according to Schwartz in the Cleveland Blues Society interview, he headed to California where drummer Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra from Canned Heat got wind of the blues virtuoso and hooked Schwartz up with Pacific Gas and Electric Company. He gained serious notoriety for being kind of an otherworldly blues man. The Cleveland Blues Society interview indicates that people were calling him the white Hendrix. Deanna Adams and the interview both state that he was offered a spot in The Allman Brothers Band before the job went to Dickey Betts. Notably, Schwartz played at Jimi Hendrix’ last birthday party.

But drugs and alcohol were beginning to take a serious toll. He says in the Youtube interview that he was almost dead, he could barely play anymore and nobody wanted anything to do with him. And then, according to Schwartz, one night on the Sunset Strip, at his lowest of lows, he runs into a street preacher, falls down on his knees and become a certified Jesus Freak right there on the spot. He cleaned himself up and held on to his position in PG&E for a while, but oh man with the Jesus. He says he had the band singing gospel songs and was constantly berating the whole crew with the fact that they needed to be saved. According to Schwartz, it got to the point where they only kept him on board because, again, he kicked so much ass on the guitar. Schwartz goes on to say in the interview that when PG&E toured, the band gave him his own hotel room and separate transportation and basically started having very little to do with him except onstage. In the interview, Schwartz says that he would, despite the band’s misgivings about the whole thing, get on a microphone in front of 80,000 people telling the crowd they needed to find God. And then, finally, “enough with the fucking Jesus already” got him kicked out of PG&E once and for all.

Adams points out in Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Cleveland Connection that Schwartz was a featured artist at the Miami Pop Festival in 1969 before he returned to Cleveland in 1970 and started a band with brother Gene on bass called (appropriately enough) the Schwartz Brothers. But, according to Schwartz in the blues society induction interview, he began drinking again and eventually did time at a workhouse on a spousal abuse charge. After jail time, Schwartz fell in with Larry Hill, a real-deal member of the Jesus movement running a Christian commune in Orwell, Ohio and he stayed there on the farm for seven years. He recorded four records with an evangelical musical outfit called the All Saved Freak Band. The records are kind of great with excellent players spinning out a trippy blues/folk amalgamations as long as a you can get past the preaching the word of God thing (unless, of course, that is your thing, in which case you don’t have to get past it, I guess). They toured the country promoting the farm’s ministry to some notoriety. If you really want to get freaky one night, put on this shit from the 1976 album amazingly titled For Christians, Elves and Lovers.
 
All Saved Freak Band
 
Eventually, according to Swartz in the interview, his parents, apparently worried about losing Glenn forever into the commune, sent in this guy Ted Patrick (an entire article could itself be written about him) who made a name for himself in the 70’s “deprogramming” cult members. Schwartz says in the interview that he was handcuffed by bikers before Patrick went to work on him in a hotel room on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, but Schwartz held on to the biblical belief and stayed on the farm. When he came out of the experience he recorded an album called Brainwashed with The All Saved Freak Band. He left the farm in the late seventies while continuing to play all over the place and taking the Jesus freakishness to fire-and-brimstone levels of fury.

More after the jump…

Posted by Jason Schafer | Leave a comment
The James Gang with Tommy Bolin on late night TV, 1974
01.06.2013
10:37 pm

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Music

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The James Gang
Tommy Bolin


 
They came from Cleveland, which is enough to give them some rock cred, and they featured one of rock’s great guitar players in Joe Walsh, but I didn’t pay much attention to The James Gang until my friend Tommy Bolin joined the group in 1974. What the band had lost in grittness when Walsh left the group was made up for in a more metallic and glammy approach with Bolin on guitar and Roy Kenner (with grooming tips from Bolin) on vocals.

At the time of this performance on Rock Concert, the center wasn’t holding for The James Gang. Line-up changes had taken its toll (the only original member left was drummer Jimmy Fox), the group had lost its identity and Bolin wasn’t patient enough to stick around and re-invent the band in his own image. Deep Purple was calling.

The James Gang on Rock Concert in 1974. You got to agree that Bolin was one cool motherfucker (even though the cameraman seems to have a thing for Kenner).
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment