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Interview | Barry Goldberg Brings Blues Reunion to St. Charles

By: Robin Zimmerman | Photos: Howard Greenblatt

Much has been made of Keith and Mick’s meet up at the train depot in Dartford, England. They bonded over blues records and their shared love of musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry. When these boys hit it big as the Rolling Stones, they tried to pay it forward by bringing their beloved bluesmen on tour with them.

Here in Chicago, a couple of chance encounters at the Jazz Record Mart on Illinois Street helped set the stage for a big stateside blues revival. Bob Koester’s iconic shop was one of the local outposts where Michael Bloomfield and Barry Goldberg discovered they were on the same musical track.

They soon found other like-minded blues lovers, all of whom helped bring the genre to places like the Fillmore East, Newport Folk Festival and other venues of note.

Although guitar virtuoso Bloomfield passed away in the early eighties, keyboard whiz Goldberg is still going strong and is preparing to return to the Chicago area as part of the big “Chicago Blues Reunion” on May 12th at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles.

He said this all-star reunion will feature “many of my old buddies and survivors of that wonderful period.”

Many of the musicians taking the stage in St. Charles ran together in the early sixties. As chronicled in Paul Butterfield’s iconic “Born in Chicago” song, they set out to blues clubs on the city’s tough west and south sides and sat in with Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf and many others.

Goldberg recalled that, “We struck up relationships with the old masters and got to play with them.” He added that, “They were so kind and wonderful. They became our extended family.” They brought their newfound family members to the North Side clubs, like the legendary Big John’s in Old Town.

The blues family that will grace the Arcada stage include Nick Gravenites, who penned “Born in Chicago.” His old band mate, Rick Reed, will be joining him on bass guitar.

Legendary guitarist Harvey Mandel who played guitar with Canned Heat and the Rolling Stones is also on the bill. Drummer Gary Mallaber has an equally impressive resume as he’s performed with Steve Miller and the mercurial Van Morrison.

Goldberg also had high praise for the harmonica player they’re bringing on stage. He said that Chicagoan Rob Stone is the “closest thing to Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson” and is in the top tier of current performers. Another harp virtuoso, Sugar Blue, will be there as well as his wife, bassist Ilaria Lantieri.

Goldberg was on keyboards when Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. He counts this as one of the high points of his illustrious career. He is currently a member of the Rides along with Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Stills has described this trio as “the blues band of my dreams” and it’s clear that Goldberg relishes being along for the ride with guitarists that span the generations. They’ll be playing a few festivals in California at the end of May.

While Goldberg has resided in Los Angeles for decades, it’s obvious that his Chicago roots run deep.

He is also a wonderful chronicler of the rich musical history that he’s long been a part of. His “Two Jews Blues” should be required reading for any Chicagoan as it delves deep into the city’s blues history and how this “second generation” group of white, middle-class musicians learned from the Delta-born legends and later branched out to form groups like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Electric Flag.

“Two Jews Blues” is a riveting read but nothing beats being able to actually witness these musicians playing live via archival footage and interviews. The documentary, “Born in Chicago” has been a longtime labor of love for Goldberg. The film originally premiered at South by Southwest in 2013 but they have been tweaking and editing to make it even more electrifying. The film should be released this summer.

Goldberg said, “I’ve seen lots of music documentaries and it’s important to have more music and less talking heads.” He feels that “Born in Chicago” will be enhanced with footage of folks like Muddy Waters and other blues guys performing on Maxwell Street during its heyday.

Goldberg believes this documentary will be a draw for more than blues lovers. After all, this is a “unique story of teenagers who heard about the blues and were lucky enough to have it right across the tracks. It’s also something that will probably never happen again.” He added that, “they taught us everything first hand and we carry that when we play with others.”

When this band of blues survivors takes the stage on Friday night, audience members will be treated to an incredible evening of traditional blues. Goldberg said, “that’s what we celebrate when we play together and the audience will pick up on our feelings for the music and for each other.”

It’s going to be an incredible night of music, and tickets are still available.

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