How the new guitar-centric blues-rock supergroup The Rides came together involves a genesis that's more football than foot pedals. But the core trio of singer/guitarists Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd and keyboardist Barry Goldberg couldn't be happier about the venture, whether it's a one-off project or one with more legs.
"This was an interesting opportunity for me to do something out of the norm. I've always wanted to put together a side project," Shepherd says from a stop on the band's current tour in support of debut CD Can't Get Enough (429 Records). "I wanted to be part of a band and have a new experience."
That experience started when Stills, coming off a nearly two-year world tour with day-job band Crosby, Stills and Nash, wanted to explore something bluesier for his next project; that or maybe he was just tired of playing "Our House" every night.
Wanting to recreate the vibe of the legendary 1968 ad-hoc record Super Session that found keyboardist Al Kooper collaborating with guitarists Stills on one side and Michael Bloomfield on the other, Stills reached out to Goldberg (ex-Electric Flag) who had played on a couple of that effort's tracks about a similar project.
It was Goldberg who suggested Shepherd as the other axe hero, and it turns out that Stills has already met and jammed with the younger player at parties hosted by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.
Adding CSN bassist Kevin McCormick and Shepherd's drummer Chris Layton (ex-Double Trouble, Arc Angels) to the mix, the quintet cut Can't Get Enough in just seven days.
"Stephen and Barry had started writing some songs before I joined up. Not everybody is compatible when it comes to writing, but we were and thankfully the process was pretty effortless," Shepherd offers. "And nobody wanted to overthink anything or put the songs under the microscope."
As a result, the tracks were laid down with minimal takes, overdubbing, and fixing.
The record features a mixture of originals by the trio ("Don't Want Lies," "Only Tear Drops Fall," the title track), and blues covers (Muddy Waters' "Honey Bee," Elmore James' "Talk to Me Baby"). But more interesting (and surprising) are the Rides interpretations of rock numbers like Iggy and the Stooges' "Search and Destroy," Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," and Stills' own "Word Game."
Shepherd explains how he became "the world's forgotten boy" for a while with Iggy Pop's proto-punk classic.
"The producer, Jerry Harrison [ex-Talking Heads] suggested it. He has a knack for coming up with interesting covers songs that on the surface make people scratch their heads," Shepherd notes, adding that both Stills and Goldberg were "resistant at first" to tackle the tune.
"But we humored Jerry and figured the worst thing that could happen was that we lost an hour and a half of studio time," he continues. "But it was cool how it turned out."
Interview continues on the next page.
Adding to the cool factor was the presence of Layton, whom Shepherd calls "one of the greatest drummers in the world" and a natural for the material.
"He's got such a pocket and understanding of the genre. He knows what to play and understands the dynamics," Shepherd says. "The only other person I've heard play this well on bass with Chris was [Double Trouble mate] Tommy Shannon."
The quick-step production of Can't Get Enough, though, was also at least partially influenced by outside forces - Shepherd and his wife were anxiously awaiting the impending delivery of their fourth child during the recording.
"Yeah, we had a tight schedule! I was expecting the call any minute!" Shepherd laughs. So, if said kid had popped sooner, would the blonde blues hero have put down his guitar and sprinted out of the studio?
"Maybe," he says. "But Jerry and Stephen have kids, so they know what it's like!"
As for his own future, Shepherd is putting the finishing touches on his next album, which will consist entirely of covers from some of his blues heroes and feature guest spots from Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Warren Haynes and Robert Randolph.
And he's not against another ride with The Rides, even hinting that any second record would feature more originals. On the current tour, the band runs through most of the record, along with some solo material from Stills and Shepherd, and the tune "I've Got to Use My Imagination," which Goldberg co-wrote with Gerry Goffin and became a No. 1 soul hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1974.
As for coming to Houston, the show will mark Shepherd's second recent appearance at the Arena Theatre, having recently opened for Peter Frampton there. And onstage, eagle-eyed audience members might just see the guitarist's treasured relic from the Bayou City.
"I was on tour opening for Van Halen in the late '90s and did a clinic at the Guitar Center there, and I bought a 1958 Stratocaster that I still use onstage," Shepherd says. "And every time I look at that guitar, I think of Houston!"
The Rides with opening act Beth Hart perform at 8 p.m. Friday, September 20 at Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Fwy.
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