Graying whippersnappers reunite to honor Wolf, Waters at Bluesfest
PROVIDED PHOTO Harvey Mandel, Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites and Corky Siegel. Paul Natkin

Barry Goldberg's resumé reads like a Who's Who of the last half-century of popular music.  

The Windy City-born keyboardist-songwriter-producer backed Bob Dylan on his first "electric" performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, a pivotal set in Dylan's career.

 He has also written for -- and manned the boards -- for everyone from Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels to Janis Joplin to Leonard Cohen to the Ramones and, most recently, Jakob Dylan, Bob's son.

Yet for Goldberg, 69, and many of his pals in the Chicago Blues Reunion, their early '60s tutelage under local blues legends remains the core of their musical endeavors.

"We took what we learned, the blues fundamentals, into the rock world," he said.  "Even later on, when I played with the Ramones, that influence is always there in our music."

Scheduled to perform June 13 at the 27th Chicago Blues Festival, kicking off Friday in Grant Park, Goldberg will be joined at Petrillo Music Shell by greats Harvey Mandel, Charlie Musselwhite, Corky Siegel, Sam Lay and Nick Gravenites. Like Goldberg, all cut their teeth in South Side blues clubs.

Goldberg, raised in the Uptown neighborhood, and his fellow "Reunion" players trekked South and beyond, learning the blues from masters such as Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush and Muddy Waters. Though a fan of pop icons Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis, Goldberg found his calling with the electric blues pioneers.

The music "was something deeper," he said. "It was a direct contact with the soul. It was a no-nonsense, raw, kind of feeling and the greatest feeling I could have (when) I heard Otis Rush shake a string, when I heard Muddy play the slide (guitar), when I heard and saw Howlin' Wolf sing with his whole being. It just sent me into another world."

  Goldberg began making sojourns to the South Side in 1962, aligning himself with Waters keyboardist Otis Spann, a musician with a dozen full-length sets in his own right.

Mannish boys

 It took a while for the blues community to welcome the gaggle of white teens fawning over the music and playing alongside its creators.

 "In the beginning, we were sort of like freaks," Goldberg recalled. "They would charge an extra 50 cents at the door because they had a little white boy playing with them that night. Eventually we fit in and learned our lessons well from the great masters and started to play the blues the right way. They recognized our passion for this music and wanting to learn it.

"It wasn't until we really started playing the blues for about a year that they really acknowledged our presence as musician and young bluesmen coming up in the ranks."

Goldberg released nearly a dozen albums in his own right and his keyboardsmanship can be heard on rock staples such as Ryder's "Devil with A Blue Dress," the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Gilded Palace of Sin," and the Ramones' "End of the Century." He also formed the short-lived Electric Flag.  

The Reunion-ites' CVs also astonish. Mandel cofounded the hippie-blues ensemble Canned Heat and was a contender to fill the slot vacated by guitarist Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones. Gravenites penned the blues-rock chestnuts "Buried in the Blues" and "Born in Chicago." Harmonicist-pianist Siegel  has led his Siegel-Schwall Band for nearly five decades. Drummer Lay provided the beat for Bob Dylan's seminal "Highway 61 Revisited."

Other notable apprentices of local blues clubs in the early and mid-'60s include rocker Steve Miller and late six-string virtuoso Mike Bloomfield, who also performed on "Highway 61 Revisited." Bloomfield, who led Goldberg and Gravenites in Electric Flag, ranked 22nd in a Rolling Stone list of "Greatest Guitarists of All Time."

Next-generation blues

The first "Chicago Blues Reunion" show was staged in San Francisco in 2002. Goldberg, then involved in television and film scores, saw an ensemble with his longtime friends as a way to return to concert action.

"I was missing the playing and actual response with the people," he recalled. "The film and TV thing wasn't doing it for me. I'm a musician and I really dig playing live more than anything else."

One year later, Goldberg brought the show to the Chicago Bluesfest. He went on to join Gravenites, Lay, Siegel and Mandel at a live show in Berwyn, Ill., in 2004. Their performance was released on as the much-heralded "Buried Alive in the Blues." 

Timm Martin is the founder of Northbrook, Ill.-based Out of the Box Records, which released "Buried" and is home to the eclectic likes of former Traffic-man Dave Mason and local faves the Freddy Jones Band. He is producing the Reunion show for the festival.

"It's blues-influenced music," Martin said of Reunion. "I think a lot of people are surprised. They're going to hear pure blues, rock and everything in between. You're going to hear these members' interpretation of the blues. It's their version of the blues told in a different story."

"We play traditional blues in our set," Goldberg added, "but we have a little bit of a blues-rock explosion in our music."

Longtime director of the Chicago Blues festival Barry Dolins was an early fan of the ensemble, both individually and as a group.

"These performers actually cut their teeth with that first generation of cross-generational blues players," Dolins said. "They hold the tradition in high regard and are certainly as important to the tradition and part of the continuum."

 

WHAT: Chicago Blues Reunion featuring Barry Goldberg, Corky Siegel, Nick Gravanites, Harvey Mandel and Sam Lay, 7:10 p.m. June 13

WHERE: Chicago Blues Festival, Petrillo Band Shell, Grant Park, Jackson Boulevard and Columbus Drive, Chicago

COST: Free

FYI: (312) 744-3315, www.explorechicago.org.

 

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