Music News & Reviews

Car buffs and blues: Supergroup comes to Avila Beach festival this weekend

Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg team up to form The Rides

The Rides, which features Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Barry Goldberg, will take the stage Sunday, May 28, 2017, at the Avila Beach Blues Festival. Here's how three big names in music came together to form the blues supergroup.
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The Rides, which features Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Barry Goldberg, will take the stage Sunday, May 28, 2017, at the Avila Beach Blues Festival. Here's how three big names in music came together to form the blues supergroup.

At first glance, blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Stephen Stills, who made folk rock history as a member of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, might not have much in common.

But the two share a not-so-secret passion.

During downtime in the recording studio, “Stephen and I always found ourselves chitchatting about classic cars,” recalled Shepherd, a muscle car aficionado whose collection includes a 1972 Dodge Charger and a 1970 Plymouth Duster. “It seemed to be coming up … as much as the music was.”

Naturally, Shepherd and Stills took an automotive tack when naming their blues supergroup, The Rides.

The band, which also features keyboard player Barry Goldberg, will take the stage Sunday at the Avila Beach Blues Festival in support of its latest album. (2016’s “Pierced Arrow” takes its title from a now-defunct automobile manufacturer, the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co.) The concert will mark the second time Shepherd has performed at the all-ages outdoor music festival.

“The setting’s just beautiful. The crowds are very supportive. … The weather’s great,” said Shepherd, who headlined there in 2009. “It’s pretty fantastic.”

Shepherd, 39, has been driven since an early age. He began playing guitar in earnest at age 7, just months after meeting Stevie Ray Vaughn. (Shepherd’s dad, a disc jockey and concert promoter, introduced the two at a show.)

In 1990, bluesman Bryan Lee invited a 13-year-old Shepherd to perform with him on stage. But the “Blue on Black” guitarist’s biggest break came at age 18, when his platinum-selling debut album, “Ledbetter Heights,” spent 20 weeks at the top of Billboard’s blues chart.

Over the years, Shepherd has garnered five Grammy Award nominations, winning two Billboard Music Awards and two Blues Music Awards. His seventh studio album, “Lay It On Down,” is due out July 21.

Shepherd recently chatted with The Tribune about The Rides.

Q: How did The Rides come together in 2013?

A: Stephen wanted to make a blues record and so his manager, (who) also manages Barry, put the two of them together.

I’ve known Stephen for a long time. We both are friends with Jim Irsay, who owns the Indianapolis Colts football team, and we always saw each other going to football games. … At some point, while (Stephen) and Barry were starting to write some songs, they felt like they needed another member of the group and my name came up. I got a phone call and they asked if I wanted to join the party. …

Originally it was supposed to be an experimental thing: “Throw these guys together. Put them in a studio. Let them make a record. See what happens.”

It ended up working really well, and we all really enjoyed it. The chemistry was really strong so we decided to actually form a band.

Q: Why does that partnership works so well?

A: We’re all three very different kind of personalities but we also have some common musical backgrounds and influences. …

We have a blast. Onstage, Stephen and I really push each other. He certainly inspires me to sing more, and be a better singer. And we both inspire each other when it comes to playing guitar. It’s just a fun experience. I don’t see it as (just) a show. We genuinely enjoy doing what we’re doing up there.

Q: Why does that pairing surprise some people?

A: Some people for some reason want to throw Stephen into this folk music category. That’s not who he is. He has very deep blues roots.

Q: You’ve been playing and touring with the greats since you were a kid. Do you ever feel intimidated by the level of talent around you?

A: Not really. You look at these people and you’re able to see them as human beings.

I have a lot of respect for who they are and what they’ve accomplished, but we approach each other on a personal level and not a level of “Who are you and what have you done?” We’re just people up there making music together.

Q: What is the connection between cars and guitars?

A: All great guitar players love cars. You look at Jimmy Bond and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top and Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. (They’re) just (two) of those things that generally go hand in hand.

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the automobiles and the music instruments were actually inspired by one another. … The design of the guitars and the design of the cars were all coming from the same place. …

There are all kinds of songs (from) over the years where the car culture found its way into music and vice versa.

People get in a car, they go on a road trip and they turn on music to have a soundtrack for their drive. People’s love and passion for automobiles found their way into writing songs. Some really huge songs over the years have been about the love of automobiles.

Q: How does “Pierced Arrow” celebrate that?

A: There’s a song called “Mr. Policeman” that we wrote intentionally for people to be listening (to) while driving down the road. That song is about driving your car down the highway and getting pulled over by the police.

Q: What do you see as the future of the blues?

A: Blues music is timeless music. It’s a genre that’s over 100 years old that still has new talent coming into it, new records coming out. … It’s stuff that never sounds old, that never gets old.

Avila Beach Blues Festival

1 p.m. Sunday, gates at noon

Avila Beach Golf Resort, 6464 Ana Bay Drive, Avila Beach

$55 to $110

888-825-5484 or,