Watching Barry Goldberg’s fingers melodically race across the keyboards during the Rides’ two tours during the past five years, it was quite apparent that the group’s elder statesman didn’t take a back seat to bandmates Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
“The magic and the chemistry is there,” says Goldberg whose 76th birthday will be on Christmas Day. “The rhythm section is on automatic, and the groove is always there. The interplay between Stephen and Kenny is very exciting, and it’s great to play with them. Everyone is loving what they are doing.”
Goldberg, who released an excellent solo album In the Groove in June, has loved playing music for a long time — long before the Rides released their debut album in August 2013. As a teenager in Chicago, he sat in with Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, and Howlin’ Wolf. He played keyboards for Bob Dylan when Dylan controversially went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and formed the Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield two years later. “I have been so fortunate and lucky to have been part of such great music and able to play with all the amazing musicians I have worked with and the magic that it has brought me throughout the years,” Goldberg tells me.
Dylan recruited the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Goldberg and Al Kooper to back him at Newport, and they were booed and jeered by folk purists who thought Dylan was betraying folk music by going electric and mixing folk with rock. The boos started when the band, which was propelled by the stinging electric guitar work of Butterfield Blues Band member Butterfield, launched into a fast version of “Maggie’s Farm,” and then Dylan kept rocking with “Like A Rolling Stone” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.”
“I remember how controversial it was,” Goldberg says. “Bob wanted to create something different with his music and take the next step with his career. What he did was invent folk-rock. We were all on that mission together. Even though there was mostly a negative response, we made history in the name of rock ’n’ roll.” Goldberg cites other great musicians he has worked with — Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Ryder, Neil Young, the Ramones, Leonard Cohen and Gram Parsons — and mentions his songwriting with Gerry Goffin, who wrote some of the most memorable songs of the 20th Century. Goldberg’s songs, including some penned with Goffin, were covered by Parsons, Rod Stewart, Gladys Knight, Joe Cocker, Steve Miller, Bobby “Blue” Bland and B. J. Thomas. Goldberg also co-produced Blue Night, a Grammy-nominated 1994 album by Percy Sledge; albums by Charlie Musselwhite, James Cotton and the Textones, and Dylan’s version of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”
Sledge, a great singer whose catalog is deeper than his well-known hit “When a Man Loves a Woman,” was “an honor to work with,” Goldberg says. “He was a true rhythm and blues legend, a sweet and talented man who sang like an angel.
“I co-produced the album with Saul Davis, and it was one of my dreams coming true. It was my goal to give Percy the production he deserved. I did this with the help of Jerry Wexler and Steve Cropper along with all the great musicians on the record. It was named Soul Album of the Year and earned a Grammy nomination. I’m so proud of this album.”
Regarded as a hot white blues session player on piano and organ, Goldberg has often been overlooked as a solo artist. His new album, In the Groove, has been nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album category.
The album, produced by Carla Olson, kicks off with a swampy, bluesy, almost ZZ Top groove in “Guess I Had Enough of You” — the only song with a vocal — sung by guest star Les McCann. Blues and jazz seep through on subsequent songs, but Goldberg says the album salutes the rock and roll instrumentals he listened to as a youth in his bedroom late at night in Chicago.
“I wanted to do homage to the records I first heard as a teenager that featured keyboards,” he says. “I was so happy the way it turned out. It’s the record I always wanted to make.”
Goldberg’s self-titled 1972 solo album is top-notch, but it has never gotten its due, although it was produced by Dylan and Wexler. It includes a dozen original songs, including the Goffin-Goldberg classic “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” a big hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips. The album features a great rhythm section consisting of Muscle Shoals session players, and Dylan sings background vocals and plays some percussion
“I first met Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965,” Goldberg recalls. “We stayed friends and hung out periodically in New York City. I told him I wanted to do a solo album, and he said he would try to help me get a deal. He called Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records, and Jerry said he would only do it if Bob was involved.”
Goldberg points to the self-titled album and four other recordings as his best studio work. He played keyboards on Musselwhite’s 1967 album Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s Southside Band, which Musselwhite recorded at age 22. The album, Goldberg says, is “true to the blues.”
He says his other top studio works were playing piano with Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels on “Devil With a Blue Dress;” the Electric Flag’s “very innovative” 1968 album A Long Time Comin’, and Two Jews Blues, an album featuring “the interplay of Michael Bloomfield and me” with guests Harvey Mandel, Duane Allman and Musselwhite.
Another huge feather in his cap was his contribution to the legendary 1968 album, Super Session, of Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stills. Goldberg’s keyboard work shines on the first two songs, “Albert’s Shuffle” and “Stop.” “
It was great playing by all of us — Stills, Bloomfield, Kooper, (bassist) Harvey Brooks and (drummer) Eddie Hoh,” Goldberg remarks. Bloomfield, a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and one of music’s greatest guitarists, “played with an intensity that brought the electric guitar to another level,” Goldberg recalls. “He was on fire! He was an aficionado of many styles, including blues, jazz and flamenco.”
Goldberg says it’s not possible to compare Bloomfield’s guitar expertise with the skills of his bandmates in the Rides, Stills and Shepherd.
“When you reach a level of a certain greatness on your instrument, you cannot compare one artist to another,” he says before noting that the Rides’ expect to release their third album next year. “Each are masters in their own right.”
Another musical giant, Ray Charles, probably the most influential artist in the development of soul music, looms large in Goldberg’s memory. He says a show by Charles in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1973 was the best concert he ever attended.
“It was with his big band and the Raelettes,” Goldberg says. “I went with Jerry Wexler and Michael Bloomfield. I’ve never seen so much soul on one stage.”
It was another live concert, however, that influenced him most as a musician. “It was 1963 on the West Side of Chicago at a club called Silvio’s watching and playing with the great Howlin’ Wolf,” Goldberg says.”That’s when I truly knew I was a bluesman.”