By Chris M. Junior
It often looks really good on paper when well-known musicians agree to join forces for a new project. Whether they’ll be on the same page personally and musically is almost impossible to predict.
When keyboardist Barry Goldberg (Electric Flag) and singer-guitarist Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills and Nash) first got together to collaborate, they had visions of making a modern-day version of 1968’s “Super Session” album, the stars of which were Stills, Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper (with Goldberg among the supporting cast).
Goldberg and Stills quickly bonded with each other socially and creatively. They soon found another good fit in acclaimed blues guitarist and singer Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who became the third member of the band now known as The Rides.
Featuring a mix of covers and originals, “Can’t Get Enough,” the debut album by The Rides (available on 429 Records), was completed quickly and organically at EastWest Studios in California.
“We all set up in the same room and played every song down together as a unit,” Shepherd says. “We let the music kind of guide us. The solos were dictated on the spot, in the moment. We didn’t map it out before we played it, and we never really did more than a few takes of any song — and usually, the first take ended up being the keeper.”
Goldberg and Shepherd recently checked in to talk about the making of The Rides’ debut, a notable song on the album that was suggested by co-producer Jerry Harrison and whether The Rides will be a short musical trip or one that goes the distance.
GOLDMINE: Barry, when you and Stephen got together to write at the suggestion of your mutual manager, was it a shared feeling of “What the hell took so long for us to do this?”
BARRY GOLDBERG: Stephen and I crossed paths a lot [before] — you know, we just missed each other on the “Super Session” album. And for whatever reason, I always felt sort of a closeness to Stephen, even though we really hadn’t done any projects together. He has a soulful vibe – his guitar playing, his organ playing, his singing. I really admired him.
And when [manager] Elliot Roberts said, “Why don’t you get together with Stephen? He’s thinking about a blues-style record, and maybe you guys can write,” I was really thrilled — and a little nervous at first. I went over to Stephen’s house, and it was like finding a lost soul brother. We connected immediately; he was really nice and groovy to me. The first song out of the box, Stephen loved. And the second song Stephen loved, so we were off to a good start. And it was really easy, and when good things happen, it’s usually easy. It was just a natural thing.
GM: How soon after that did you guys decide to form a band and bring Kenny in?
BG: We were looking for a third person. It was originally supposed to be a jam thing — guitar-oriented, not unlike the “Super Session” album. But that went out the window when Kenny came in. I suggested Kenny’s name because he’s a hot, young guitar player and someone I always wanted to play with, as well. When Kenny walked in the room, it was like when I met Stephen. Whatever it was, the magic was there, and it was easy. Kenny just came right in, man, and we came up with some grooves and some hooks. Stephen turned some lyrics around … it was just a natural transition and feeling. Three or four days down the line, we had four or five songs.
GM: Kenny, was participating in this project a no-brainer, or did you have to clear some things in your schedule to make it work?
KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD: I had to rearrange some stuff, but the minute that I was called about this, I was in. Stephen and I go back many years; we jammed on several different occasions at private parties that Jim Irsay, who’s the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, put together. Initially, we had to figure out when everybody had an opening in their schedule, and then seize the opportunity, which we did. The year was winding down; we got together toward the end of November and wrote those songs. But what happened was we had a little bit of a tight schedule, because my wife and I were expecting our fourth child to be born, like, any day. And Stephen had some things coming up, so we had a very short window of opportunity to get this thing done. So we spent about a week working on songs at Stephen’s house, and then we immediately went into the studio and spent about a week recording the record and got it done. If we had given ourselves more time, I think the whole album would have been all-original material. But it ended up a really good balance between original, new material and cool covers that we dig.
GM: How did the legend of “Super Session” influence the making of The Rides’ debut? I guess you threw that basic blueprint out the window, but did you still try and incorporate elements of how that album was made into creating “Can’t Get Enough?”
BG: Well, not really, because it turned into something bigger. “Super Session” was a great record, but these are three guys who got together who can write songs together. This was something really unique, and the fact that we could all so effortlessly write and flow and groove together was the beginning of something really special. And it translated into the studio. It was that live feeling in the studio — the three of us looking at each other and being close to each other. It was like playing onstage, each one of us giving inspiration to the others, and the excitement and the energy of being in that room together, cutting live with a great rhythm section. It was an exciting, inspiring and soulful moment for me.
KWS: If you listen to the “Super Session” record, and the way that all went down, it was completely different from the way this went down. That was the initial concept — a modern version of that — but what ended up happening was we formed a group here. That was not the case on the “Super Session” record. They didn’t write songs as a group; they didn’t perform songs as a group. This turned into a band situation, where we have a core group of Stephen, myself and Barry — and then we have Chris Layton on drums, who’s the drummer in my band, and then Kevin McCormick, who’s Stephen’s bass player in his band. So that in and of itself is different from the nature of the “Super Session” album. To do a new version of the “Super Session” album was a cool idea, but the end result actually morphed into something far more special than that would have been.
GM: As the recording sessions progressed, did anyone emerge as the leader of the band? Or did it remain a democratic process throughout?
KWS: It certainly was a democratic process throughout, that’s for sure. Nobody brought any egos into the room; everybody was treated as equals, and everybody’s opinions carried the same amount of weight.
BG: That’s exactly what happened. The feeling was beautiful. Everybody respected each other, and inspiration was coming from all of us. Just being in the same room with them, at this stage of my career, was totally inspiring for me and brought me back to the major leagues, to another level that I hadn’t been for a while.
GM: Talk about Jerry Harrison’s contributions as a producer. Kenny, you came into this project having working with Harrison many times before. But Barry, I believe it’s the first time for you and Stephen, right?
BG: Yeah, it was my first time with Jerry. He was a cool guy. He’s got some great ideas. He would walk around and spot-check things, making sure the grooves were right. I didn’t know too much about Iggy Pop and the song “Search and Destroy.” Jerry brought this song in, and we listened to a tape of it. And Stephen and I looked at each other and said, “Man, this is like punk-rock stuff.” I had played with The Ramones before on the “End of the Century” album, so [punk] really wasn’t that new to me. But for this record, we sort of looked at the changes [in “Search and Destroy”], and they weren’t what we were used to playing, especially for a blues kind of a thing. Elliot’s young son was doing a video of the session, and Stephen’s young daughter was taking the photos, and they went nuts — “Oh, man, that’s really a cool song.” We worked it up, and Kenny started blazing on the guitar. Stephen and I looked at each other and said, “Wow, we must be on to something. The kids are dancing and jumping around.”
KWS: There were some discussions early on about a couple of other guys maybe producing this record, and those didn’t quite work out for whatever reason. And then Jerry’s name got thrown into the hat. I respect his opinion, and I respect his input. He’s really good about focusing in on individual parts and making sure that everybody’s parts are complementing and adding something different to the groove. But he also knows when to stay out of it and just let things happen. He knows when there’s magic happening and there’s no need for intervention, but then he also comes up with these seemingly off-the-wall suggestions, and [“Search and Destroy”] is a perfect example. I’m really glad that Jerry was able to participate in this project. I thought it was instrumental that we had someone [in addition to me and Stephen] playing the role of producer. Before we went into the studio, we knew we had magic writing songs, but we hadn’t recorded yet together, so you never know how that’s going to work out. So for me, it was comfortable having somebody [additional] playing the role of producer, and certainly with my history with Jerry, I was pretty comfortable with him.
GM: So-called supergroups tend to be short-lived. How likely is it that The Rides will continue as a recording entity in the future?
KWS: Well, we’ve already gotten together at Stephen’s house and started the writing process for the next record. I think we’re all on board to do another album, and to be honest with you, I’m hoping that we begin that process toward the end of 2013.
BG: The bottom line is that we all have fun together, and we all love playing together. And playing live together will be an extension of this record. I don’t like the “supergroup” thing. [This is] a cool band of guys who really get along and love to play together.
KWS: When this was going to be the next “Super Session” thing, maybe everybody was thinking, “We’ll just go make a record and see what happens.” But once we got together, we realized the chemistry was so special that this is not just a one-time deal. This is something too special to not follow through with it, so I certainly anticipate more albums to come. GM