Musicologists call them the “second wave,” the young blues players in the 1960s and ‘70s who were inspired by their Mississippi Delta idols. Among the young guns, Chicago’s Barry Goldberg emerged as a blues master and a keyboard collaborator with everyone from Bob Dylan (on stage with him when he famously “went electric” at Newport) to Mike Bloomfield to Steve Miller to Buddy Miles to Percy Sledge — and that’s the short list.
Goldberg and longtime Chicago sidekicks Nick Gravenites and Harvey Mandel will lead the reunion of the legendary blues, soul and R&B band, The Electric Flag, into Blue Note Napa for two shows this Saturday.
On the phone from his home in Los Angeles last week, Goldberg talked about the band and the reunion tour, referencing the deaths of guitarist Michael Bloomfield in 1981 and drummer Buddy Miles in 2008.
“We decided to have a tribute to the people who are no longer around,” he said. “The founding members were Nick Gravenites, myself, Michael and Harvey Brooks, with Buddy, of course.
“Nick and I, we did something like this a few months ago in Illinois, and it worked out great. Now we’ve decided to add a horn section, which is really important. The Electric Flag in its heyday was one of the first rock bands to have horns, before Chicago, before Blood, Sweat & Tears.”
“Nick and Harvey and I are still spreading the word that the Chicago guys were the unsung blues heroes. The English guys got it,” Goldberg said, referring to the UK’s own “second wave” blues players — John Mayall, Eric Clapton, the early Rolling Stones, etc. “We never gained that popularity because we never went with the outfits and the hair and stuff. We stayed true to our roots and just played the blues.”
“The English are great. They picked up on those import records, then Muddy (Waters) came there. Muddy was playing in England. They got it too, but it was the direct line coming from Chicago that made it distinctive.”
The Electric Flag reunion is one of many projects in which Goldberg is immersed. His new album, “In the Groove,” released only last week, is his first solo venture in two decades. “It’s just a love thing that I did,” Goldberg said. “Early keyboard instrumentals that turned me on — a Johnny and the Hurricanes thing, Doc Bagby, Milt Buckner, the early B3 organ guys, Jimmy Smith of course, obscure things that just pressed my buttons and made me want to play rock ‘n’ roll and blues.”
Goldberg is a founding member of the The Rides, the blues supergroup with Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. “We’ve done two CDs and three tours,” he said, “and we’re trying to get together in the fall to do another CD and a tour. Everybody’s schedule is so busy. Stephen is out with Judy Collins now, and Kenny has his own band and is doing a new record. Kenny and I have been working on some new material. It’s just a matter of finding a time where we can all get together.”
At Blue Note, The Electric Flag reunion band will be Goldberg on keyboards, Mandel on lead guitar, Gravenites on vocals and guitar, Rick Reid on bass, Roy Blumenfeld on drums, Ben Perkoff on saxophone, Tom Bray on trumpet and Rob Stone on harmonica.
Goldberg is wowed by Stone. “He’s a young Chicago blues harp player who blows my mind. He’s the heir apparent to all the great harp players that I’ve played with—James Cotton and Little Walter. He’s got that tone, like Charlie Musselwhite and all those people. He’s the real deal.”
As if Goldberg, at 75, doesn’t have enough to do, there’s also a movie in the works, “a documentary that we’ve been working on for 10 years called ‘Born in Chicago,’” he said. “Dan Aykroyd did the narration. It’s the story of us as teenagers growing up in Chicago, and going down to the South Side and West Side and sitting in with the great masters like Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, everyone. How we did that, and how they were so kind to us.”
“We learned how to play the blues from the great masters. It was a very special magical time that will never happen again. We were lucky enough to be there. There’s some great footage of the clubs back in the ‘50s and ‘60s on the West Side of Chicago, on Maxwell Street. It’s Chicago, man.”
Saturday, June 23, 7 p.m. (doors open 5:30 p.m.) and 9:30 p.m. (doors open 9 p.m.). $29-$59. Blue Note Napa, 1030 Main St., Napa. 707-880-2300. BlueNoteNapa.com.