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  • SF Chronicle // The Rides pay no mind to generation gapSeptember 24, 2013

    The Rides pay no mind to generation gap
    Lee Hildebrand // Published Thursday, September 19, 2013

     

    After recording an album's worth of material in a week at EastWest Studios in Hollywood, nailing many of the tunes in one or two takes, singing guitarists Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd and keyboardist Barry Goldberg racked their brains for what to call their new blues-rock band. The conversation continued as they left the Sunset Boulevard building.

    "We were standing looking at the car show that's typical in an L.A. studio parking lot," Stills, 68, says from a Connecticut hotel room the morning after a concert a week into the band's first tour. "There was a huge Humvee and one of those fixers, or whatever they are, with gorgeous lines on it. I've got a Bentley from the '90s that's got a classic shape, and Kenny Wayne's got a Hemi-head Dodge Charger. We were standing there saying, 'If we want to have a wretched excess, I guess that's our guilty pleasure.'

    "It does well for an old gas-guzzler," the veteran rocker says of his Bentley. "It's like driving a very nimble living room, and it has a big enough trunk for my guitars and golf clubs. What I have instead of pets is a couple of cars."

    They named the band the Rides. Their CD, released Aug. 27, is titled "Can't Get Enough" and consists of four songs the three leaders composed together; three classic blues by Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Big Maybelle that were selected by Shepherd; a tune Stills wrote in the '60s when he was a member of Buffalo Springfield; his onetime Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young band mate Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World"; and Iggy Pop and the Stooges' "Search and Destroy."

    "Search and Destroy" was suggested by Jerry Harrison, who co-produced the disc with Stills and Shepherd. It initially struck the musicians as a very odd choice for a blues-oriented album.

    "He threw Stephen and I a curveball," Goldberg, 70, says of the onetime Talking Heads member. "Because I had played with the Ramones on the 'End of the Century' album, I was a little bit more familiar with that kind of idiom. We couldn't figure out the changes or the vibe of the song, but Kenny just went right into it.

    "My son and Stephen's daughter were in the studio at that time. We started working it up, and they went nuts. Stephen and I looked at each other and said, 'OK.' We went with that because the kids loved it, and then when we put our stamp on it, it was just a really cool blues-rock thing."

    Although not generally associated with blues music, Stills listened to and learned from blues records while growing up in Tampa, Fla. He had been playing drums, then trombone, in his school's band, but took up guitar after hearing the blues.

    "The first thing that you learn when you're 12 is Jimmy Reed and the great adventure of picking out what the words are saying, especially with Robert Johnson," he says, "which is like Whoopi Goldberg trying to decipher Mick Jagger's 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' in the movie 'Burglar.' It's one of the funniest scenes in a movie ever."

    Stills did make a blip in blues history by appearing on the best-selling 1968 album "Super Session," on which he was co-billed with producer Al Kooper and singing guitarist Michael Bloomfield. Stills and Bloomfield did not perform together on the disc, however, Stills having been called at the last minute by Kooper after Bloomfield failed to show up for the second day of recording.

    Goldberg, who had backed Bloomfield on his half of the album, also absconded.

    "He was my buddy and my partner," says the Chicago-born keyboardist, who was then a member of Bloomfield's Bay Area band Electric Flag. "When he left, I left with him. Michael hated L.A. He really hated just about everywhere, except Mill Valley in his house."

    Stills and Goldberg finally met about 10 years ago through Elliot Roberts, their mutual manager. When the new group was being organized, Roberts suggested Shepherd, who at 36 is nearly half the age of the other two, as the third member.

    "Who?" Stills asked upon hearing Shepherd's name, even though the two guitarists had previously jammed together at several Super Bowl parties hosted by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.

    "The old fart that I am, I didn't put the dots together," Stills says. "I had never really gotten his whole name, and being half deaf anyway, I'm terrible at names. Even with the best hearing aids, I'm half reading lips, especially in a crowded room."

    At his first Super Bowl jam with Shepherd, Stills remembers, "We had this drummer who played so hard that me and Kenny Wayne couldn't never really hear each other. Finally, I walked around the front and said, 'Jesus. This guy's really good. He's like Stevie Ray Vaughan.' "

    On his own albums, Shepherd often turns the singing over to others, but with the Rides he shares the vocals with Stills.

    "When I was a kid," the Shreveport, La.-born musician says, "I focused all my efforts on learning how to play guitar. I struggled with the sound of my voice because I sounded like a kid, and I wanted to sound like Muddy Waters. I had a certain sound that I was looking for in my head, and for a long time I wasn't able to capture that with my own voice."

    Rounded out by Stills' bassist Kevin McCormick and Shepherd's drummer Chris Layton, the Rides have been stretching out beyond the arrangements heard on the album during their tour, which stops Wednesday at the Fillmore.

    "We started playing over the top of each other and playing lead at the same time," Stills says of himself and Shepherd. "We think of the same kinds of things. We're not thinking, we're just jamming, and it's just that cacophony of guitars. It's really cool. It's something Neil and I used to do, as well. They go nuts when we do it." {sbox}

    The Rides: 8 p.m. Wednesday. The Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco. $49.50. (415) 346-6000. www.thefillmore.com.

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