Joan Baez: James and the Gang (1987)

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Joan Baez: James and the Gang (1987)

Recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joan Baez has written very few original songs but after her painful separation in '73 from her activist husband David Harris – who had been imprisoned for refusing to be drafted into the army – she raised their son Gabriel who mostly lived with her.

In the Eighties Gabe, as he was known and is now drummer in her touring band, was a wild child and fell in with a local guy named James whose influence lead him to dope smoking, booze, dropping out of school and becoming something of a drifter in late Eighties.

During this time Baez was still touring but hadn't recorded an album since '79.

Her relationship with Bob Dylan in the Sixties was still the stuff of myth and her activism continued, but she seemed increasingly like a woman with a great past, extraordinary voice and now a woman out of time.

In '87 she decided she needed to get back in the game and signed with Danny Goldberg's little start-up label Gold Castle.

91yZnMqEePL._SL1500_She did three albums for the label – Recently, the live Diamonds and Rust in the Bullring recorded in Bilbao, Spain (five of the songs in Spanish) and Speaking of Dreams – but they never got the traction they deserved.

After Speaking of Dreams in '89 there was another recording hiatus until '92 when she released the fine Play Me Backwards (reissued with extra tracks in 2012).

The Gold Castle albums have now been re-presented on Proper (available in New Zealand through Southbound) as a triple set and for Baez fans there are some excellent covers among the 30 songs (see the complete track listing here).

But attention alights on her rare original James and the Gang (on Recently) about Gabe, by this time 18, to whom she offers a sympathetic hand, conveys her fears, namechecks the Grateful Dead and also notes that she too had her wild days on the back of a Harley.

At the time she noted that hadn't been present for the young Gabe and if she had been then maybe James and his gang would not have seduced her son.

And yet to this tale of real life she seems to imbue James and his followers with an almost Biblical quality.

It's that voice, huh?

For more oddities, one-offs or songs with an interesting backstory check the massive back-catalogue at From the Vaults.  

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