Some 50 years into an acclaimed music career that has twice landed him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Stephen Stills is finally getting back to his first love — the blues.
Stills, along with blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd and keyboardist Barry Goldberg, has formed the supergroup The Rides. The trio performs 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1, at Tropicana Casino and Resort.
Stills, who spent the bulk of his career in the folk-rock genre with Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) and his solo work, seems to be reveling in this late-career change of pace.
“Like everybody else in my generation, we were into R&B and rock ’n’ roll, and listening to the same (blues) guys as the (Rolling) Stones –– as with everybody else, that was my first love,” Stills says. “The question of getting thrown in with all those folkies perpetuated itself for 40 years.”
The “folkies” in question aren’t just your ordinary guitar strummers, but two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees: the mid-’60s folk-rock group Buffalo Springfield, an early collaboration with Neil Young, for which Stills wrote the classic song “For What It’s Worth,” and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
His company in The Rides are two well-respected blues musicians: guitarist-singer-songwriter Shepherd, a five-time Grammy nominee who has released six chart-topping blues albums, and Chicago-based blues-rock keyboardist Goldberg.
The free-wheeling group came together from several directions at once. Stills and Goldberg each contributed to the 1968 “Super Session” concept album, but hadn’t actually played in the same room until their mutual manager recently suggested they try writing songs together.
“When we first got together to write some loose songs and jams, I heard Stephen play guitar and it blew me away,” Goldberg says.
Stills calls Goldberg “his lost soul brother.”
“I missed Barry by a day for the ‘Super Session’ record,” he says. “I’m astonished we hadn’t crossed paths since.”
Meanwhile, Stills and Shepherd had jammed together at a party before the 2007 Super Bowl. From the first time the three got together, they clicked, according to Shepherd.
“You can’t fake chemistry — it either exists or it doesn’t,” Shepherd says. “To all of our delight, everything was effortless.”
The recording of their album came together just as smoothly.
“We recorded the album in seven days and seven nights,” Stills says. “We rehearsed at my house, we were prepared. We had never worked with the rhythm section, but we’ve been at this a long time.”
Ultimately, it’s their passion for the blues that makes the group work.
“We all share a mutual love and respect for the genre,” Shepherd says. “We are paying tribute with our music. It’s really fascinating: If you look at the numbers, we are from different generations, but we all come from the same place. Whatever we choose will be a new interpretation of material that is exclusive to us.”
Opener Beth Hart’s career, personal blues are over
Beth Hart’s life story sounds like perfect fodder for her trademark, bluesy songs of loss and redemption. The singer-songwriter, whose voice earned comparisons to greats such as Janis Joplin and Etta James, got her break in the ‘90s when she won the “Star Search” competition, signed with Atlantic Records and released her first album. But Hart’s career derailed before it really got started, due to her twin struggles with substance abuse and an undiagnosed bipolar disease.
After gaining her sobriety and getting treatment for her illness, Hart re-launched her career in Europe a decade ago, and is now looking to regain momentum in the U.S.
Over the last few years, Hart has released two albums of covers with blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa, as well as her solo record, “Bang Bang Boom Boom.”
“I’ve been so fortunate to get to make music in my life,” Hart says. “It’s a great way for me to funnel out that stuff –– my joy, my fear, my pain.”
Hart’s star continues to rise again, thanks in part to an appearance at December’s Kennedy Center Honors; she performed a searing version of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” with Jeff Beck on guitar.
The well-received performance led to Hart recording the track “What You Gonna Do About Me” on Guy’s recently released album “Rhythm & Blues.”
“I adore Buddy Guy, and Jeff has been so good to me for so many years,” Hart says. “It was wonderful to be there with my husband and meet the president and his wife.”
Hart is writing material for a return to the recording studio in February.
“I’m enjoying the second chapter — not just career-wise, but life-wise,” she says. “I love being a woman who is in her 40s.”