Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Guest Interview with 1960s Seminal Blues and Rock Keyboardist Barry Goldberg, by Jeff Tamarkin

Text (c) Jeff Tamarkin, 2013
Images from the Internet
Reprinted with permission by Jeff Tamarkin
Earlier this year I did an interview with keyboardist Barry Goldberg for a British blues magazine that then elected not to publish it. Rather than see it disappear into the void I'm presenting it here for anyone who's interested. Goldberg was best known as the keyboardist in Michael Bloomfield's Electric Flag. He also played with Dylan at the 1965 game-changing Newport gig and has done a ton of other stuff. At the time I interviewed him he had just finished recording a new blues album with Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. That has since come out (under the name the Rides) and the band did tour, but at the time I had not yet heard the record.

JT: How did you come to record a blues album with Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd?
BG: My friend Elliot Roberts, Stephen and Neil’s manager, said, “Stephen said he would like to do a blues-oriented record. Why don’t you guys get together?” We knew each other a long time ago from doing the Super Session album. We’ve seen each other from time to time but we weren’t really that close. I contacted him and they set up a writing session for Stephen and me to at Stephen’s house. We were just hanging out and he started playing some licks on the guitar and it blew me away. I forgot what a great guitar player he was. Then he started singing and one thing led to another and the vibe carried itself to a blues-rock kind of feeling. We were fooling around with some grooves and I had a couple of things in mind. My idea, after I heard the great guitar playing, was to make the vibe guitar-oriented with a lot of room for him to play soulful licks and sing as well. We instantly connected. It was like finding a new soul brother. We didn’t live far from each other and we wrote two or three things together and then the idea was not just to have a younger guitar player but a really hot young guy who can really play. A few guys were mentioned—John Mayer was one of them and Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Kenny’s always been one of my favorite young guys so he came in and all three of us started writing together at Stephen’s studio with the idea not just of writing songs together but getting ready to do an album together. The original concept was a jam kind of thing but then Kenny came up with some great grooves, Kenny came up with some lyrics and I came up with some hooks. The three of us were like a special force. We got along great together. It wasn’t a forced project where you put people together that had nothing in common. We all had our roots that were deep into the blues and rock and roll, and it was a natural transition for the three of us and it started flowing. We wrote five or six songs together, four of which the three of us wrote on the album. It transcended into something more than just a jam record.

JT: Stephen said you were originally going to call it Super Session 2.
BG: That was the original idea. It was Bill Bentley’s idea but for whatever reason we weren’t allowed to use that name. The first song that Stephen and I wrote together was called “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love,” and Kenny Wayne said, “Why don’t you just call the album Can’t Get Enough?” Stephen’s sounding like Joe Cocker. His singing is phenomenal from the first song on. It’s a whole other thing. And his guitar playing—Kenny Wayne brought out the energy from both of us. We needed that young guy to come along and bring the electricity.

Who is the rhythm section on the record?
BG: Kenny Wayne’s drummer, Chris Layton, who played with Stevie Ray—Kenny said, “We’ve gotta send for him.” At first he couldn’t make it but the right things took place and he came in. He’s an unbelievable shuffle and blues and rock and roll drummer. Then Stephen chose the bass player, Kevin McCormick from Crosby, Stills and Nash. They each felt really comfortable with the choice of the other two guys and then Luis Conte was brought in for percussion. He’s phenomenal; he’s a Cuban guy. We went to the studio and I wouldn’t say it was intense but the energy demanded itself to get to another level. There was no fooling around; it was business. The grooves came out—I don’t even know if there are any second or third takes. It just happened in the studio—EastWest Studios on Sunset. The producer, Jerry Harrison, was supervising—he worked with Kenny Wayne before—and this guy E.T. [Eric Thorngren], who does a lot of Kenny Wayne’s records, was the engineer. I was happy. I wouldn’t say I’ve been in the minor leagues but I haven’t been in the major leagues for a while, in an A studio. The luxury of that, and the luxury of Stephen’s guys and Kenny’s guys tuning my piano and bringing this over and “What do you need?’ is something I haven’t had for a long time. That was wonderful for me.

JT: Are you playing organ or just piano?
BG: I’m playing B3 and piano.

JT: Are there any cover songs?
BG: Jerry had an idea to bring in Iggy Pop’s “Search and Destroy.” Stephen and I couldn’t relate to it but Kenny Wayne thought it was a great idea. As soon as we got into it, the young kids in the studio—Stephen’s daughter and Elliot’s son—went crazy. So Stephen and I looked at each other and said, “Yeah, OK.” Then Stephen came in one day and said, “I want to do this song.” And it was “Rockin’ in the Free World.” He said, “I want to do this for Neil.” Wow! It’s really a great version of the song. So it’s very diversified. But it all fit. There’s a couple of traditional blues songs on there and the songs that we wrote. Kenny Wayne’s singing, Stephen’s singing. It’s just a fun record, a really cool record. The name of the band is the Rides because Kenny and Stephen are into cars. Gary Burden designed the album cover. He does all the Eagles and Crosby, Stills and Nash and Neil’s stuff.

JT: Are you going to tour behind it?
BG: They said something about going out for three weeks in August, after Stephen is done with Crosby, Stills and Nash.

JT: You’re also involved in a new documentary called Born in Chicago. What is the story behind that?
BG: I was involved in producing it. That was almost five years of trying to bring that story of the guys from Chicago—who really didn’t get the recognition for what they contributing to the rock and roll arena. They were just as important as the English guys in bringing the blues to rock and roll. That’s the story of how we learned first-hand; being from Chicago it was just a few miles away from us. We could go as teenagers and a group of us—Butterfield, Bloomfield, myself, Nick Gravenites, Harvey Mandel—you went to the South Side and the West Side to discover first-hand from the masters: Wolf and Muddy. And in reverence and respect and dedication it wasn’t at all considered a ripoff, it was out of love.

JT: You played with Muddy and Wolf.
BG: Oh yeah. We were like freaks at first, these young white kids. They were so nice to us. Whatever we needed to know about the music, about them—they became an extended family. They took us in and we played alongside them. When Otis Spann wanted to take a break he called me and of course Muddy noticed that it wasn’t Otis Spann on piano. But eventually, after months, I did get it right to where it didn’t bother him that I was playing. We just learned so much from them and we gave it back when we played the Fillmore and Michael introduced Muddy and B.B. King to Bill Graham. It was in reverence, which we carry with us today in our band Chicago Blues Reunion. What we’re trying to accomplish with this documentary is to bring more of an awareness to who we were and what we did, us and Nick Gravenites and Janis Joplin. And Dylan—when we played at Newport it was Sam Lay and Michael and myself. Even the sessions with Mitch Ryder, “Devil With a Blue Dress On,” there’s blues influence in my licks that I play on that record. it was a number one pop record but it couldn’t have happened without he Chicago blues.

JT: What drew you to the blues originally?
BG: We all came from different backgrounds. Michael was a wealthy kid from the suburbs. I had lost my father and the family lost all our money and I was not doing well after my father died. I became sort of a delinquent, a wayward child looking for something different. Rock and roll was always there—Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly. Fooling around with the dial sounds like a clich√© but I had a little radio and I tell the story in the movie and it’s true, that I found this station at the end of the dial, WGES, and this show called “Jam with Sam.” It was on at midnight and he created another world for me, with the reverb, and then Wolf came on. It was like supernatural, surreal. I’m in my bedroom and all of a sudden, what is this music? Jimmy Reed! It created things inside of me. I got a great feeling from rock and roll and the Spector records but this was something else. This was a mystical kind of voodoo. I met Michael in high school and we had rival bands competing for sweet 16 parties. That was the cool gig because there were no other guys there. He said, “You should come down with m to the South Side or the West Side. I’ve been going down there and striking up relationships with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy.” So I did one time. We went to Silvio’s and there it was, another world. We played “Killin’ Floor” with Howlin’ Wolf, we met Muddy. I sat in with Otis Rush. They were so nice and took us in like family. My family wasn’t there for me so in a way they were my uncles. We didn’t even realize how great it was learning from the greatest poets and painters of that era. That would never happen again but it was happening in Chicago. Once you got it, you got it. Wolf told me that he got it from Robert Johnson and he said, “You better have it ’cause you playing with me now.” At first it was a joke—we were like a novelty, little white boys. They loved it because more white people would come in and spend money. Then the blues moved to the North Side, when Old Town was like the Village in new York—a lot of folk singers. Michael was doing an emcee thing at one of the folk clubs, bringing in Big Joe Williams, Sunnyland Slim, Hammie Nixon, and introducing them to the college kids. It was a freaky scene. Then Butterfield started playing at this club called Big John’s. they were an interracial band, with Sam Lay and Jerome Arnold and Butterfield and Elvin Bishop. It was a black and white joint; there was no color; it was about the music and about people that loved the music. People from Second City came in—David Steinberg. Ken Nordine came in, pool hustlers. Wires hanging from the ceiling. And all this time, J.B. Lenoir, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Buddy Guy—they all came in to play along with Butterfield. Then Steve Miller and I had a band that followed Butterfield at the Big John’s club, the Goldberg-Miller Blues Band. We also had a black drummer—not intentionally, it just happened.

JT: Fast forwarding a little bit, what do you remember about Newport ’65, playing with Dylan? Did you have any clue what he had in mind?
BG: Not at all. When we did that we opened it up for everyone to do and it wasn’t easy. Butterfield asked me to play with him and Michael at Newport. We all got in the car and drove. We didn’t really get out of Chicago that much so this was a big adventure. We went to Newport and when we got there, Paul Rothchild, who was Butterfield’s producer, said, “I don’t hear a keyboard with the band at all,” without even hearing me. So Paul said, “Sorry, man, but our producer said that you can’t play with us.” So I was incredibly bummed. I was there alone in a strange place. The next night there was this big party and Michael had played a few months earlier on Dylan’s record “Like a Rolling Stone” in New York. Bob said, “I don’t know if my keyboard player was gonna show”—that was Al Kooper—“and I don’t know what to do.” Michael said, “This is my friend Barry Goldberg.” Bob said, “Would you like to play with me tomorrow night?” We rehearsed the next afternoon and people were not liking the electric music—Peter Yarrow and Pete Seeger were giving us dirty looks. So we went on and Bob was black leather and the whole deal and Michael was just blasting away. We went into “Maggie’s Farm” and we did another song and then “Like a Rolling Stone.” I felt that we were definitely all on a mission. It was something new. Al Kooper did show up and there were two pianos, but on “Like a Rolling Stone” Jerome Arnold couldn’t get the changes so Al played bass. I’ve felt, and Sam Lay felt, that something different was happening, something great. When you do something different, most of the time people aren’t going to accept it. This was so different for these people, that when we were done playing “Like a Rolling Stone” I felt so energized on another level—it was like the magic from Dylan transferred into me and to this day I carry that.

JT: Were people definitely booing?
BG: Some people booed and some people liked it and applauded.

JT: How did the Electric Flag come together?
BG: I was playing in New York, doing the Mitch Ryder stuff, and Michael had this concept that he came to me with. I was doing some session work in New York and he said, “I want to start an American music band,” with all different elements of American music: Stax, R&B. He knew I knew about Percy Sledge and R&B and the Phil Spector sound. He covered the blues. He said, “I want to have a horn section so we can do ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ and ‘Higher and Higher,’ and I want you to help me put it together. We decided we were gonna use Harvey Brooks, who was the premier session bass player in New York. We didn’t think he’d ever leave but he jumped at the chance. Then we went to the show where Mitch was playing, the Murray the K show, and the drummer was Buddy Miles. Michael and I looked at each other and there’s this guy who was rocking the whole theater to “Midnight Hour.” We took Buddy back to the Albert Hotel, where Michael and I always roomed together—it was a real funky, filthy Village hotel. We bought like four boxes of Oreo cookies. We laid Buddy down on the bed and kept dropping cookies in his mouth. After the fourth box and telling him he could meet all the flower children girl groupies in San Francisco, which I knew nothing about, and he could run the city, Buddy said OK and Pickett was not happy about it. For a year he was threatening us. But that was the nucleus. Nick Gravenites was already in San Francisco looking for a place for us to start rehearsing. We all got there and Susan, Michael’s wife, was sort of like the den mother, the house mother. She took care of us. The first warmup gig was at the Fillmore West. The next gig was Monterey Pop.

JT: What was your take on Monterey?
BG: That was another moment where I felt that something exhilarating was happening in my life. I’d never seen so many people, like 50,000. I was hanging out with guys like Brian Jones and meeting the Mamas and the Papas. I though we really came through, having the horn section and having Buddy. People had never seen anything like that. Only to be blown away by Otis Redding. He was, to me, the greatest thing I’d ever seen. We didn’t even know if the flower children would understand what he was doing but they really did. Soul is a universal thing and when he came out with Cropper, oh my God. I remember Ravi Shankar, I remember Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix. Those were the highlights for me.

JT: Of all the solo records you’ve done, do you have a favorite?
BG: Probably Stand Back! with Charlie Musselwhite. That’s one of my favorite records, and a record I produced called Blue Night by Percy Sledge. The guitar section was Bobby Womack, Steve Cropper and Mick Taylor. We got the Soul Album of the Year award and W.C. handy and Grammy nominations. Percy has always been my favorite R&B singer so to get to work with him in the studio was the most beautiful experience.

JT: What is your feeling on the blues today?
BG: There’s guys that are carrying on the tradition. It’ll never happen in Chicago like it did or anywhere else but it’ll never die. You can still hear the influence today of the Chicago blues. Not only New Orleans blues but Chicago blues. Guys like Gary Clark Jr. and Robert Cray and Kenny Wayne—he lives for the blues. To talk blues with a 34-year-old kid and there are kids coming up that are younger than that, hopefully the film will tie it all in and the young kids will hear it. That’s another point of this film is to educate to the kids how this whole thing evolved and how important it was. Maybe some of them will listen and go back and say, “What is this?” like we did. Because it’s magical.

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