Meet The Rides — the new project that brings Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Barry Goldberg together on the same stage…
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Separated in age by a musical generation but bonded by a mutual love of classic cars and the blues, two time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stephen Stills and five-time Grammy nominated singer, guitarist and songwriter Kenny Wayne Shepherd draw fire from their extraordinary collective histories–and join forces with famed Chicago rock/blues keyboardist Barry Goldberg–to blaze a fresh trail for the historical American art form in the 21st Century.
Launching an exciting new chapter in each of their storied careers, the trio’s new band The Rides—which Stills dubs “the blues band of my dreams,” built to last beyond the concept of a one time all-star gathering—is further powered by the explosive rhythm section of bassist Kevin McCormick and Shepherd’s longtime drummer Chris Layton (also a veteran of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble). Their 429 Records debut Can’t Get Enough, helmed by longtime Shepherd producer Jerry Harrison, is a fascinating historical sweep, featuring a hard hitting mix of Stills-Goldberg-Shepherd penned blues/rock originals, classic blues tunes by Muddy Waters (“Honey Bee”) and Elmore James (“Talk To Me Baby”) and blistering twists on Stills’ favorite Neil Young anthem “Rockin’ In The Free World” and the Iggy Pop & The Stooges’ early 70s classic “Search and Destroy.”
For each principal, the inexplicable, free flowing chemistry and collective energy they shared during that high octane week of mostly first and second takes recorded at EastWest Studios on Sunset Blvd. took their creative A-games to transcendent places. “Barry and I got rid of everything we have learned over the past 40 years about how to screw up a record,” says Stills, who launched his career with Buffalo Springfield in the mid 60s, penning the generation defining “For What It’s Worth” before cementing his legend with Crosby, Stills & Nash (and among many classic hits, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Dark Star,” “Southern Cross” and “Love The One You’re With”) over the ensuing decades. “In the spirit of that simple, raw authentic 40s and 50s blues music the three of us love, we got in there and boom! A few takes and we were done. The songs have muscle, they don’t sound dated or contrived, they’re very natural and organic. It’s been the most magical experience of my life and I can’t wait to tour with these guys and start recording again!”
“The Rides are a perfect mix of generations, where three musicians who love and play the blues collide and create music together that go beyond all our other life experiences and career achievements,” says the 35 year old Shepherd, whose accolades in the rock and blues realms since signing his first record deal with Giant Records at 16 include two Billboard Music Awards, two Orville H. Gibson Awards, the Blues Foundation’s Keeping The Blues Alive Awards, two Blues Music Awards and six #1 blues albums. “This is a whole new kind of ensemble for me. I built my own band, which includes Chris Layton, from the ground up, and at the end of the day I’m calling all the shots. But working with Stephen and Barry in The Rides is the first time I’ve been a member of a band where everyone contributes equally to the songwriting and creative and business decisions. It’s something I have wanted to do for a long time.”
Barry Goldberg’s decades of contributions to the blues and rock realms are formidable. As a teenager in his native Chicago, he sat in with Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Howlin’ Wolf. He played keyboards for Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, formed The Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield and later helmed the Barry Goldberg Reunion. Goldberg’s songs (some co-written with Gerry Goffin) have been recorded by everyone from Rod Stewart, Gladys Knight and Joe Cocker to Steve Miller, Percy Sledge, Gram Parsons and B.J. Thomas. He has also received a Grammy nomination for producing and playing on Percy Sledge’s Blue Night. More recently, he has been touring with the Chicago Blues Reunion Band and produced “Born in Chicago,” a documentary about the city’s younger musicians creating a blues/rock explosion from what they learned from the bluesmen who migrated there from the Delta. The film recently premiered at the 2013 South By Southwest Conference.
“Just hanging out and working with masters like Stephen and Kenny was one of the most soulful times I can ever remember having in the studio,” says Goldberg. “Working as a film and TV composer for many years, I had taken way too long a hiatus from my first love, the blues, until a few years ago. What they brought back to me is immeasurable, just reconnecting with the reason I started playing in the first place. I liked working for other people, but I had missed this kind of collaboration and the spontaneity that comes from this kind of immediate interaction and live playing. It’s really a full circle thing for me, and I’m enjoying playing as much as I did when I started in the 60s. As proud as we are of Can’t Get Enough, fans are going to see something even more exciting from us when we start getting out there and playing these songs live.”
Decades before Stills and Goldberg’s mutual manager Elliot Roberts—who has worked with Stills since his Buffalo Springfield days—planted the seeds for Can’t Get Enough with his suggestion that they hook up and start writing together, the two veteran musicians appeared on separate sides of the 1968 seminal jam album Super Session, conceived by Blood, Sweat & Tears founder Al Kooper. (Side 1 featured Mike Bloomfield on guitar, with Goldberg on two cuts, while Side 2 featured Stills). Stills says, “I’m not sure how or why I didn’t meet Barry when we both contributed to that recording, but despite being raised in different regions, him from Chicago and me the Southern white kid, we got together and discovered a mutual love for Little Walter, Elmore James, Ray Charles and all the great blues players of the 40s and 50s. That’s also the common thread Barry and I share with Kenny Wayne, despite being from different generations.”
Goldberg adds, “When I first went over to Stephen’s house to start writing, it was like finding a long lost soul brother. We connected on so many things and started jamming and soon had written our first song for the project, from which we got the album title.”
Roberts’ idea to reach out to Shepherd about bringing him into the project was ironic because of a unique musical connection that Stills and Shepherd had – a night jamming at a private party before the 2007 Super Bowl, hosted by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. As Shepherd recalls the night, he took the stage with Mike Mills from REM, John Mellencamp and drummer Kenny Aranoff and halfway through the second song, Stills jumped up and started jamming with them for the next few hours. Looking back, Stills finds it hilarious that the combination of his hearing loss and Aranoff’s drumming power overwhelmed his ability to hear Shepherd’s guitar. Though he and Shepherd hung out and interacted casually at other Colts games over the years, when Roberts suggested Shepherd for the project, Stills at first didn’t realize this was the guy he had shared the stage with that night. This unique background story brought irony and humor into their dynamic and spontaneous musical mix, which Stills compares to the otherworldly excitement he experienced jamming with Jimi Hendrix at their respective studios in the wake of the legendary Monterey International Pop Music Festival in 1967.
“Long story short, Kenny Wayne got together with me and Barry, we started working on some songs and everything happened very quickly, like Kenny Wayne and I were cousins or something,” Stills says. “I love him, he’s a great guitar player and one of the nicest people I know. All the great blues musicians I wanted to play with over the years had their own bands and because I was always busy with my harmony group, I never had time to find the right combination of people. As good as I think The Rides are now, I can’t wait till we get some live gigs under our belt.”
When Shepherd entered the picture, Stills and Goldberg had three songs that were close to being finished, which the guitarist later contributed to; they then began writing more songs and later chose a unique array of cover tunes. Their original collaborations include the heartfelt ballad “Only Teardrops Fall,” the searing and emotional “Can’t Get Enough,” the brooding, image rich “RoadHouse” and the reflective plea “Don’t Want Lies.” “Word Game” is a socially conscious song about the hypocrisy of the world which Stills wrote several decades ago but never recorded. The lead vocals are almost evenly split with Stills taking six and Shepherd taking four of the cover songs, “That’s A Pretty Good Love,” “Talk To Me Baby,” “Search and Destroy” and “Honey Bee.”
“From our initial songwriting session to our sessions at East West, everything happened effortlessly, and the creative process was invigorating,” says Shepherd. “We wrote the songs in a week and did the recording in a week. Can’t Get Enough has honest performances recorded the way old albums were made, using analog 2 inch tape with everyone playing in the same room together. When established musicians get together the way we did, everyone’s bringing different experience and musical contributions to the table, and you never know what it’s going to be like. But despite the so called ‘star power,’ we really didn’t have big expectations. We just wanted to have fun and play music together, with nothing contrived. The first day we started writing together, we became aware that this was a special chemistry and what began as a cool concept for the three of us to work together evolved naturally into a real working band that is creating and developing its own sound.”
Echoing his partner, Stills adds, “I’m absolutely dedicated to this group, including the rhythm section combination of Kevin McCormick and Chris Layton, who keeps a pocket on the drums that no one else can. We’re joined at the hip and nothing’s going to change that. These are the guys I’ve been waiting for to play the blues with.”