Easy Riders: Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd Discuss Their New Blues-Rock Supergroup, The Rides

by Alan di Perna
Posted Oct 28, 2013 at 5:49pm

This is an excerpt from the December 2013 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story and more — including Nirvana, Chris Broderick, Cage the Elephant, a fuzz box roundup and John Petrucci's new column — check out the December 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

Easy Riders: Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd team up to lead the new blues-rock supergroup, the Rides.

“I wanna make a blues album with some s----hot kid!” That’s what seminal guitarist, songwriter, singer and all-around rock legend Stephen Stills told his manager, Elliot Roberts, not long ago.

The realization of Stills’ wish is the Rides, the new supergroup that teams Stills with blues guitar slinger Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

At 36 years of age, Shepherd is no longer the kid he was when he first burst onto the scene in 1995. But he’s still “s----hot,” to borrow Mr. Stills’ adjective, and one of today’s finest exponents of contemporary blues guitar.

For that matter, the entire Rides lineup is highly impressive, featuring artists whose careers collectively span half a century of deep blues and game-changing rock and roll. Veteran keyboardist Barry Goldberg played with Bob Dylan and Mike Bloomfield back in the mid to late Sixties. Drummer Chris Layton laid down the backbeat for Stevie Ray Vaughan for most of the late legend’s career, and bassist Kevin McCormick has distinguished himself with both Crosby Stills & Nash and Jackson Browne. It’s an all-star cast, to say the least.

The Rides recently released their debut album, Can’t Get Enough. Slammed down live-in-the-studio in just a week, it’s a rip-roaring collection of classic blues and rock covers plus half a dozen brand-new, group-written songs that cut to raw essence of American roots music. Naturally, the disc is heavily laden with brilliant guitar work from both Stills and Shepherd.

“It was all very spontaneous,” Shepherd says. “We just set up and started playing. But it soon became obvious that this wasn’t just a one-off project; this is a real band. We’re touring, and we’ve already starting writing our second album.”

Stills and Shepherd are a perfectly matched pair of guitar buddies in many ways. Stills brings the old-school swagger and Shepherd brings the speedy energy of youth. Their personalities are diametrically opposed, yet mutually complementary. The 68-year-old Stills is brash, irascible and eloquently, if often bluntly, outspoken. Shepherd is the quiet, reserved product of a younger generation. In fact, Stills said he had to goad Shepherd to ramp up his aggression during sessions for the album.

“At one point, I just had to tell Kenny Wayne, ‘Dude, why didn’t you cut loose there? C’mon, stomp all over me.’ He said, ‘I was being polite.’ ‘Well, don’t be polite! F---in’ rip it. All right? I know I can’t play that fast, you know I can’t play that fast. That’s the whole point here. You can do s--- that I can’t, ’cause I have carpal tunnel and a weak left hand that won’t make some of the bends that you can. But I’m gonna learn. Because, before this is over, I’m gonna steal you blind.’”

Stills’ bond with Barry Goldberg is of a different nature. Both are veterans of the great, late-Sixties rock explosion, and both played on the mother of all superstar blues jam albums, 1968’s Super Session. However, they didn’t actually meet back then: Goldberg played the first day’s session with Mike Bloomfield, and Stills came in on the second day as a hasty replacement for Bloomfield, who had bailed on the project due to issues with insomnia and drugs.

Stills and Goldberg didn’t meet until Elliot Roberts brought them together for the project that would become Can’t Get Enough.

“Barry Goldberg came over to my house, and we immediately wrote about five great, old-fashioned rock and blues songs in about a weekend,” Stills recalls. “Then I went on the road for so long, and his notes were so sloppy that we forgot two of them.” Among those early songs that made it to the album are the title track and the soul-inflected “Only Teardrops Fall.” But even those didn’t come to fruition until Kenny Wayne Shepherd came onboard.

For the rest of this story and more — including Nirvana, Chris Broderick, Cage the Elephant, a fuzz box roundup and John Petrucci's new column — check out the December 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

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