Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Interview: -- James Walsh (Gypsy)

~ Gypsy ~

Gypsy should be a classic rock staple everywhere.  The band had been fine-tuning their musical talents nightly, feasting on overlong house band hours before finally hitting the studio to record their 1970 self-titled debut. By this time, Gypsy was well-oiled and well-tested. And it showed.

It was album rock with a shot of prog.  Cosmic vocals and harmonies with hits of jazz-psych.  Together, you have an almost majestic album.

The band quickly followed with two more albums of equally enjoyable tracks while touring the world with songs just begging classic rock radio crankage.  By their fourth, and final album, Gypsy was long past frustrated and direction-torn.

I was lucky to discover Gypsy while killing time on a recent vinyl-dig.  It was a total blind buy, struck by the beautiful album cover.  As any vinyl enthusiast will quickly tell you, there isn't a much better feeling than dropping the needle on a blind-buy and being pleasantly knocked out by the sound.   Gypsy is just a perfect example of a really good band making really good music getting lost in the sham of the business. Ask your radio to play'em. In the meantime, go out and get you some.

Gypsy (James Walsh Top-Left)

Casey Chambers:  Gypsy released their first album in 1970. What was leading up to that?  How did you score your record deal with Metromedia?

James Walsh:  Gypsy was the house band at the Whisky-a-Go-Go and we played every night of the week.  We'd come early and they'd feed us.  We'd taken over the gig from Chicago after they debuted their double album and left.  We took over their spot.  We got to play with Little Richard and when King Crimson first came to the United States, they played there and we were the opening act for them.  And of course, every night at the Whisky a lot of people...and a lot of record people...hung around there.  It was fun.  Good times.

And Tommy Valando and Artie Valando, who were the president and vice-president of Metromedia came in one night.  They saw us.  Got interested.  And made us an offer.  We had also gotten an offer from Atlantic Records, but we went with Metromedia because they only had one other artist at the time...Bobby Sherman.  He was a TV star who already had a kind of built-in audience, so we thought we would have less chance of being lost in the shuffle going with them.

It was kind of a launching pad deal for us.  But subsequently, it was the wrong decision.  We should have gone with Atlantic.  But that's how we got the record deal.

Casey Chambers:  For Gypsy, or any band for that matter, to release a double album as their debut is a pretty ballsy move. A lot of bands would have sandbagged some songs for their follow-up.  Was that your intent from the very beginning?

James Walsh:  Yeah, well halfway through (recording) our album, we realized we had a lot of good material.  And many of the songs were very long.  Seven, eight...10 minutes long.  So we went to the Vallando Brothers and asked them to let us expand our project into a double album.  Of course, it all had to do with money, 'cause budgets were tight.  After a lot of arguing and negotiating, they let us do it.  We went from a budget of $20,000 to $43,000.  And in 1970, that was a lot of money.  It was a big move for them.  But I think that was a big part of the album's success.

Casey Chambers:  And when the needle drops, the killer opening track, "Gypsy Queen (Part One)"...one of many lost gems on your self-titled debut...feeds the listener's head.  What a great song to lead off the album.

"Gypsy Queen (Part One)" - Gypsy / "Gypsy" (1970)

James Walsh:  Yeah we thought that was the strongest song.  And we got some radio play on it.  That one and "Dead And Gone" were the most successful songs off that album.

Casey Chambers:  "Dead And Gone" was an 11-minute free-ride that hung a progadelic louie three minutes in.  Probably my favorite track.  What were your thoughts when Metromedia edited down the song for single release?

James Walsh:  That was a decision out of our hands. We didn't have much say on it.  The song was just too long for radio.  Nobody was playing anything that long back then.  I didn't like it. If you have a painting, you don't want to just see half of it.

"Dead And Gone" - Gypsy / "Gypsy" (1970)

Casey Chambers:  Gypsy was very much an album band. When you guys were recording a lengthier number like "Dead And Gone," how difficult was it to get it down?

James Walsh:  My keyboard parts were all worked out in advance.  We did all that pre-production stuff at home, so we knew what we were going to play when we got into the studio. But we didn't have the freedom to cut and paste like they do today with the digital.  It was all tape.  Analog tape.  So, we had to play those songs from the front to the back without stopping.  And sometimes it did get very frustrating when we were six minutes into the song and someone made a mistake.  And then you'd have to go back and start over, but we got through it.

Casey Chambers:  What was the songwriting process like for you guys?

James Walsh:  Enrico Rosenbaum (lead singer) would usually come up with a lyrical idea.  Or maybe a riff or two.  And then Jim Johnson (guitarist, vocals) and I would arrange the songs. Like all of the middle section of "Dead And Gone" was done by Jim and I.  And all the song beginnings were done by Jim and I.  That was kind of our forte.  Enrico was the lyricist and we were the instrumental parts of the whole thing.  Three minds on it.  That's what I think brought a special edge to our music.

Casey Chambers:  Your first songwriting credit for Gypsy was the jazzy-psych mood-slide..."The Third Eye." How did you go about presenting that song to the band?

James Walsh:  We had regular songwriting meetings where we got together to rehearse and we'd present our songs.  And it was always nice to have other people's input, ya know?  Then we would work on it, if we decided we might record it.  Prior to doing an album, we would put together maybe 20 or 25 songs and then slowly work it down to the ones that were going to be on the album.

"The Third Eye" - Gypsy / "Gypsy" (1970)

Casey Chambers:  After the album dropped, did you guys hit the road running?

James Walsh:  All over the country, yeah.  And then when we did our second album, we toured all over the world.  We were the opening act for The Guess Who for two and half years.   We traveled everywhere with them.

Casey Chambers:  That's cool.  I guess you got to know those guys pretty well.

James Walsh:  Oh yeah.  Their (record) company actually bought our company. We flew everywhere.  We didn't travel by bus, 'cause you couldn't get away with it back then.  Not with all the equipment.  Yeah, we knew them very well.

Casey Chambers:  You mentioned Gypsy's second album, "In The Garden" (1971), another progadelic gem begging rediscovery.  The 12-minute epic..."As Far As You Can See"...is just killer.  What a great song and intro.

James Walsh:  Our drummer, Bill Lordan, and I were at the studio one night.  We were just kind of monkeying around looking for something to tag onto the front of that song.  It's kinda eerie the way it starts and then becomes more and more aggressive with the keyboards and guitars and stuff. It worked out perfect and we still play that song, too.

"As Far As You Can See" - Gypsy / "In The Garden" (1971)

Casey Chambers:  Earlier, you'd mentioned taking over the house band gig from Chicago.  When you guys recorded your 4th album, "Unlock The Gates" in '73, you had Chicago's horn section sit-in, right?

James Walsh:  Yeah, Chicago were good friends of ours. Every Sunday, we'd play some sports with them.  Gypsy against Chicago.  And we were just talking one day about having horns on an album.  It took us about three months to get permission from Columbia Records to let them do it, but they finally did and it was a lot of fun.  And that kind of led into what is today's band.  Now we've got four horns and it's a 10 piece band.  And that was kind of the start of that.  I love the horns.

Casey Chambers:  Gypsy got the chance to perform at both of the legendary Fillmores.  What a nice coup for anyone's bucket list.

James Walsh:  Fabulous places. Well run. Great crowds.  And we played both East and West several times. Gypsy played at the west coast Fillmore with Spirit and Savoy Brown.  And we also played at the New York Fillmore with Poco and Savoy Brown a couple of times.  So it was a lot of fun.  For $2.00 a night, you'd see three great bands.

Casey Chambers:  Wow, you're killing me.

James Walsh:  Yeah, no kidding.  It's crazy.

Casey Chambers:  In 1978, you released a new album under the moniker..."James Walsh Gypsy Band", which had more pop-rock leanings.  More horns and blue-eyed funkiness.  "Cuz It's You Girl" was the break-out track and it was no wonder.  The song was catchy and very much a part of the times.

"Cuz It's You Girl" - James Walsh Gypsy Band / "James Walsh Gypsy Band" (1978)

James Walsh:  Well, I had come home in 1975 from Los Angeles after Gypsy had kind of lost its momentum and I started another band and presented some songs to Warren Schatz who was the A&R director for RCA Records.  He fell in love with, "Cuz It's You Girl" and subsequently gave me a record deal.  So we recorded that album here in Minneapolis and it did very well.  We went on a tour with that for a couple of years.

And there's a lot of great instrumental stuff on it, too.  We had the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra play with us on that album.  Big orchestra.  About 40 pieces.  It was pretty cool.  We had an idea we wanted to add some strings and we thought...if we were going to do it, let's do it right.  So we made some calls to the union and got ahold of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  We put charts together and the leader came down and reviewed the material.  It cost about $7,500 to have them in for one day.  But it worked out well.  That record is still being sold by RCA all over the world.

Casey Chambers:  Before I forget, I'd like to back up and ask you about the time Gypsy played the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970.

James Walsh:  That show was huge.  There was about 350,000 people there. And it was almost the same lineup as Woodstock.  Hendrix and all the great ones were there.  And they had to helicopter us in and out.  It was a mess getting anywhere.  But it was really incredible.  Yeah, it was just awesome.

Casey Chambers:  What a memory-burn that must have been.  Did you cross paths with Hendrix at the show?

James Walsh:  Absolutely.  Yes.  And Jimi also came out to see us at the Whisky A Go Go.  And he came out to our house and stayed with us for a couple of days.

Casey Chambers:  Get out!

James Walsh:  Yeah, he was a very nice guy.  Very quiet.  A gentleman.  It was great.  Got to play a little bit with him, too. Talk music. And, Jimi was a veteran like our guitar player, Jim Johnson, so they had a lot to discuss about that. It was a nice time.

Casey Chambers:  There is a documentary..."Gypsy: Rock & Roll Nomads"...that just came out.

James Walsh:  Yes, and it's doing very well  It's won some film festival awards up here in the city.  And it recently played at the St. Louis International Film Festival.  I think they're planning on going to Sundance with it, as well.  It's really quite an honor after all this time, ya know?  We never quite reached the level we had hoped to.  But this documentary certainly puts everything into perspective for us.

"Gypsy: Rock & Roll Nomads" Official Trailer (2016)

Casey Chambers:  I watched the trailer.  Can't wait to see it. Plus you guys are going to be hitting the stage again real soon.  It's going to be great hearing those classic songs bleed the amps.

James Walsh:  Oh yeah.  People still love hearing those songs in concert.  Matter of fact, when we play, the first 30 or 35 minutes is constant music.  It's pretty cool.  We're going to be performing two shows down in St. Louis at the Wildey Theatre on January 28, 2017.  We're also going to be at the River City Casino in St. Louis in April.

Casey Chambers:  Excellent. That's gonna be some good stuff.  James, it has been a pleasure.  Thanks for hanging out.

James Walsh:  Well, I appreciate it, Casey.

Gypsy Official Website
Gypsy Facebook

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good interview, Casey. Enjoyed every bit of it.