Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Interview with Barry Goldberg
Goldberg keeps Chicago and the blues close to his heart as he embarks on a tour with his new band, The Rides.
By Linda Cain
In the halls of Chicago Blues history, Barry Goldberg’s name will forever be linked to his fallen compatriots Michael Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield. And Goldberg wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, he famously backed up Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival with Butterfield’s band and he played keyboards with Bloomfield in The Electric Flag.
Although he went on to achieve major success outside of Chicago and the Blues, those two influences remain the cornerstone of his life and his career, as he continues to make music history at age 73. Now with his current band, The Rides, Goldberg’s name also will be linked with Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd in future music history accounts.
In fact, Goldberg and Stills worked together before, most notably on the landmark Super Session album from 1968 along with Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper.
Chicago-born Goldberg first met guitarist Bloomfield in high school. Both were fans of the city’s blues music, which they bonded over. Both of them ventured into black neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West Sides to listen to, learn from, and sit in with legends like Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Howlin’ Wolf. Their relationship, both personal and professional, is chronicled in Goldberg’s autobiography Two Jews Blues.
Shortly after Bloomfield recruited his piano playing buddy to sit in with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in Chicago’s Old Town, the group was invited to play at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Bob Dylan saw the band play its rousing version of electric Chicago blues and invited them to back him for his set. With Goldberg on piano, drummer Sam Lay, bass player Jerome Arnold, guitarists Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop, plus Al Kooper on organ, Dylan “went electric” for the first time; it was seen as an act of treason in some folk purist camps. Legend has it that Pete Seeger was so outraged that he attempted to pull the plug on the stage’s electricity. It was a moment that made music history and saw the introduction of electric blues for white audiences as well as the birth of folk rock. After that, Goldberg continued to work with musical giants, as did Bloomfield.
After leaving Butterfield’s band, Bloomfield relocated to San Francisco and formed The Electric Flag, which combined blues, rock, soul, R&B, jazz and psychedelia, in 1967. He recruited fellow Chicagoans Barry Goldberg and Nick Gravenites along with drummer Buddy Miles from Wilson Pickett’s band, Harvey Brooks on bass and added a horn section. The band was critically acclaimed but short-lived due to drugs, ego conflicts and management problems.
Goldberg’s first professional session gig was in New York for Detroit rocker Mitch Ryder. He played keyboards on Ryder’s hit medley “Devil with the Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly.” He also played on albums by Leonard Cohen, The Ramones, The Flying Burrito Brothers and more. Goldberg worked as a songwriter and often collaborated with Gerry Goffin (who also partnered with Carole King). His songs have been recorded by Rod Stewart, Gladys Knight, Joe Cocker, Steve Miller, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Gram Parsons and B.J. Thomas.
He co-produced albums by Percy Sledge, Charlie Musselwhite and James Cotton and did some studio work with Dylan. Goldberg’s long list of his work as a producer and session player, along with his own discography, can be found HERE.
In 1992, he played keyboards with the Carla Olson and Mick Taylor Band and recorded a live CD with them, Too Hot For Snakes. Carla produced Goldberg’s album Stoned Again featuring Mick Taylor on guitar. Goldberg appears on Carla’s 2013 album Have Harmony, Will Travel.
In 2005-06, he first toured with the Chicago Blues Reunion along with fellow Chicago blues buddies Nick Gravenites (guitar, vocal), Harvey Mandel (guitar), and Corky Siegel (vocals, harmonica). The group has toured several times since then; their Chicago appearances have featured special guests such as Dave Mason, Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, Eric Burdon, Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Shemekia Copeland and Siegel’s Chamber Blues ensemble.
Goldberg, Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd formed The Rides in 2013 and released their debut album, Can’t Get Enough, which earned them airplay, acclaim, concerts and a nomination in 2014 for a Blues Music Award.
The Rides are about to release a sophomore CD, Pierced Arrow, and embark on a tour. They will appear in our neck of the woods on:
· Tuesday, May 3 at the Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee, WI
· Thursday, May 5 at the Sangamon Auditorium, Springfield, IL
· Sunday, May 8 at the Star Plaza Theater, Merrillville, IN
We caught up with Barry Goldberg in his Studio City, CA home for a phone and email conversation.
Q. Please tell us about the new CD, Pierced Arrow, by The Rides. Is there any Chicago Blues on it?
I really loved recording with the Rides; it has great original material. We have become a band influenced by Chicago Blues. This album is a bit more rock ‘n’ roll than our first disc, it’s a bit Stonesy.
Q. Are there originals and covers?
All original, except an homage to Willie Dixon with our cover of “My Babe.” We always pick a classic blues song to cover. On the first album, we covered Muddy Waters and Elmore James.
Q. Who produced it?
We all did.
Q. You are about to go on tour with The Rides. What can fans expect to see and hear from The Rides in concert this time around?
Great rock ‘n’ roll and blues.
Q. Who else is in the touring band? How many pieces are on stage?
There’s five pieces: Kevin McCormick, who played with Crosby, Stills & Nash, on bass and Chris Layton, from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s and Kenny’s bands, on drums. And me, Stephen and Kenny.
Q. It’s rare for different generations of musicians (who aren’t related) to join together in the same band and have such chemistry. Kenny Wayne Shepherd is young enough to be your or Stephen’s son. Does he give you and Stephen a lot of respect? What is it like to work with him?
He gives us great inspiration and energy .
Q. Kenny seems like an old soul who has much in common with you and Stephen. You all share a great love for the blues. He has always given props to his musical elders and he made his own documentary about the history of the blues. And you all had problems with drugs and overcame them. What else do you all have in common?
Most importantly, the music. It’s a perfect fit!
Q. Does he ask you and Stephen to reminisce a lot about your historic careers?
Sure, we share our histories with him. Kenny is a student of the past as well as the future.
Q. Kenny can certainly learn much from both of you. Has Kenny taught you anything, like how to use social media and do new things on your smart phones?
For sure! He is on the VIRTUAL case (a reference to The Rides new song “Virtual World”).
Q. You are known for working with outstanding guitarists throughout your career: Mike Bloomfield, Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, Harvey Mandel, Mick Taylor, Duane Allman, Neil Young, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters and now Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Are there any living guitarists that you would like to play with that you haven’t yet?
Not really. I have been blessed to play with the best.
Q. The British blues rockers always seemed to know so much about American blues artists. When you worked with ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, was he aware of Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield, prior to meeting you?
Yes, he knew the history of the American guys. He is a true soul brother.
Q. In your autobiography, Two Jews Blues, you talk about Cream playing a gig at the Fillmore West that Electric Flag would also play. It would be the first meeting between Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield. You said you were looking for Mike to “cut” Eric, to show him up as a guitarist. Instead, Mike took a back seat and then told Eric he was the best. You were very disappointed. What happened? Why did Mike back off?
It could have been his mental or physical state at the time. He suffered from anxiety and sleep deprivation. So he might have been burned out prior to the show. But it just didn’t happen that night. Michael just didn’t catch fire and burn it down, unfortunately. It happens in sports all the time, you get your off nights.
The rest of the band was fired up, and we had all of these “weapons” in Electric Flag – Buddy Miles on drums, a horn section -- just a whole team of great players versus the three guys in Cream. Plus I wanted to show up these English guys, because they took our girls away. They had the fashionable clothes and the haircuts. We never dressed up and didn’t care about fashion. So they got the girls.
Q. You played briefly with Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1964 in Chicago prior to them being invited to play at the Newport Folk Festival. Tell us about that time period.
I was playing on Rush Street with a “twist” band (Top 40 band). We were wearing matching suits and playing clubs with red velvet wallpaper. Michael Bloomfield told me I was too good to be playing places like that and he invited me to come play in Old Town at Big John’s with Paul Butterfield’s band. It was a totally different scene where everyone was hip and wearing jeans. And then the band was invited to play at Newport and they asked me to come along.
Q. So you traveled to the Newport Folk Fest to play with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, but when you got there, you were told that Butterfield’s producer, Paul Rothchild, did NOT want you to play with the band. And then you ended up backing Dylan with the rest of the band, but Butterfield did not. What was that all about?
The producer did not hear keyboards with Butterfield’s sound. He didn’t want it. So here I was in Newport, stranded, with no one to play with. But it turned out to be much to my good fortune. Michael introduced me to Bob Dylan, who asked me to play with him for his set at Newport. And that was the beginning of my relationship with Bob and the beginning of Folk Rock, which I got to be a part of.
Q. Why didn’t Butterfield play with Dylan at Newport?
I don’t know. I have no idea.
Q. Do you know Bob Jones, who played drums with Bloomfield at one time? I learned from his recent CD, Michael and Me, that Mike used to play on the soundtracks for blue movies. Jones wrote a song called “Blue Movies” that recalls this side job. Were you aware of that? If so, what kind of music was he playing for the porn flicks? Was it blues?
It was all blues related and pretty much ad lib.
Q. You have had a full career with many successes. If you could pick one or two highlights that stand as pinnacles in your career, what would they be?
Playing with Dylan at Newport and The Rides.
Q. Let’s talk about your Chicago roots. You have been working with local filmmaker John Anderson for years on the documentary Born in Chicago. What is the status on the film being released on DVD or shown on Netflix and other outlets?
It will soon be on Netflix. We are finishing final edit.
Q. Are there any plans for a Chicago Blues Reunion tour? We know that Harvey Mandel has been battling a rare form of cancer. But he’s been able to perform lately.
After Born in Chicago is released, we have a tour planned to coincide with the film.
Q. Do you happen to be sitting on any tapes of shows you did with Harvey Mandel, Charlie Musselwhite, Michael Bloomfield or Nick Gravenites? If so, will these ever be made public, even if just on YouTube?
Yes, the great show that Chicago Blues Reunion did at the Vic in Chicago a couple of years ago.
To see Chicago Blues Guide’s review of that show from 2013, click HERE.
Q. Even though you moved to California decades ago, you are still in love with your hometown, especially The Cubs. You wrote a rally song for the Cubbies that made a splash and now you and your son are writing a Part 2 for this upcoming season, which you must be very excited about. Tell us more about your Cubs songs. Where can fans hear your Cubbies tribute songs?
“The Cubbies are Rockin’” was featured on Rhino Records’ Baseball’s Greatest Hits II: Let’s Play album. My son and I are working on a Part 2 version of the song, which we are recording now.
For more info on the baseball music CD, click HERE
Q. Will this be THE year for the Cubs to win the pennant? They came so close last year.
Vegas seems to think so. Let’s hope so. Go Cubs!!!
Q. Are you a fan of Chicago’s other sports teams?
Yes, my son (even though he was born in L.A.), loves all the Chicago teams: The Blackhawks, The Bulls, The Bears. So do our friends and neighbors, some of them are from Chicago. They and their kids don’t like the L.A. teams either. So every Sunday during football season, we get together and watch The Bears games. It’s like a religion. Every Sunday. And then we order Chicago style Italian beef or pizza.
Q. What is your favorite Chicago deep dish pizza?
When I was in Chicago, I liked Uno’s, Due’s and Gino’s East. But now it’s Lou Malnati’s.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to say to your friends and fans in Sweet Home Chicago?
Chicago will always be my home, my roots are deep!