During the ’60s, the Collinwood native was rock royalty among peers Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Hendrix. Schwartz helped form the northeast Ohio-based James Gang before leaving early on, moving to California and starting Pacific Gas & Electric.
After a few years of hippie and drug culture life, the respected guitarist moved back to Cleveland, eschewed the limelight and converted to Christianity using his musical talents to preach The Word. In the early ’70s, he joined the All Saved Freak Band headed by Ashtabula-based Christian commune leader Reverend Larry Hill.
In recent years, he performed with his bass-playing brother Gene as the Schwartz Brothers. For many years in the ’00s, they held down Thursday nights at Hoopples in the Flats, and in the past decade they performed regularly at the Beachland Ballroom
I had the pleasure of talking to Schwartz more than two years ago when at that point after more than 45 years he planned on recording new material that may have never been released. (A quick check on the Internet didn’t reveal a release.) Nevertheless, Schwartz at the time did travel to Nashville to record with longtime friend Joe Walsh and Akron’s Dan Auerbach at The Black Keys recording studio.
While the project was positioned as being new, Schwartz noted many of the songs had been in his repertoire for decades such as the driving “Wagon Wheels,” the bluesy “Don’t Take No One Woman to be Your Close Friend” and the heavy “Fear and Doom.”
As a saved Christian, the latter track was something special for Schwartz.
Its lyrics included: “Just like the devil, that’s like you always do/And your filthy rock ’n’ roll will go to hell with you/Soon it will be over, and yes you will be gone/I’ll watch the devil as he drags you down.”
Schwartz viewed his music as being spiritual, but still in the heavy and hard rock vein. He said, “We’re reaching out to people and bringing the Good News to them.”
Invariably, Schwartz was an elder statesman of classic rock.
“I’m trying to keep it alive,” Schwartz said. “And I’m trying to get people to hear it and to spread the good word.”
In both regards, Schwartz’s life was perhaps a struggle but ultimately a mission accomplished.
[Written by John Benson]