Like discovering a great new bakery or stumbling upon a cool obscure bookstore (you can substitute your own favorite experiences), there is something uniquely wonderful about dropping by your neighborhood bar and catching some talented musicians just playing for the fun of it.
This happened to me last week when I popped into my favorite neighborhood bar, the Mint, where Barry Goldberg is having a Wednesday night residency through February. Goldberg, if the name doesn’t ring a bell, was the go-to keyboardist in the Chicago blues/rock scene of the mid-Sixties and his long list of credits include names like Dylan, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen and the Ramones.
Goldberg’s backing players boasted just as impressive resumes: bassist Rick Reed has played with Jimmy Vaughan and Shelby Lynne, drummer Gary Malabar’s gigs have included Springsteen, Van Morrison and Steve Miller, while harmonica player Stanley Behrens has worked with Bo Diddley, Floyd Dixon and War. Guitarist Jimmy Vivino is Conan O’Brien’s bandleader and he actually serves as ringmaster for these shows, with the quieter Goldberg sitting more Buddha-like behind his B-3 and Yamaha electric piano.
Opening with “I Got A Woman,” the guys treated the song with respect while giving everyone room to play. Goldberg filled the small room with the B-3’s warm tones. The ease that these guys had with each other wasn’t surprising considering all but Behrens played together a few years back as the L.A. blues outfit The East-West Connection.
These vets – the embodiment of pros’ pros – played with a casual intensity, given the opportunity just to play the blues for the sake of it. This night had the added significance of falling close to the anniversary of the death of blues-rock guitar legend Mike Bloomfield, who founded the short-lived supergroup The Electric Flag with Goldberg and Paul Butterfield. Vivino acknowledged Bloomfield’s influence on his playing before launching into “Born In Chicago,” a tune Bloomfield performed during his time in the Butterfield Blues Band.
These shows like these also provide the opportunity for guest spots and Goldberg’s guests came with credits just as impressive as Goldberg and his crew. Guitarist Kat Dyson (a vet of both Prince’s and Cyndi Lauper’s bands) started a little guitar showdown with Vivino while local vocalist Shari Puerto belted out a powerful rendition of the classic “Tore Down.” Puerto also held her own performing the Goldberg co-write “My Imagination,” which Gladys Knight turned into a big hit.
Continuing in the “ladies’ night” theme, Carla Olson (who counts ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor among her frequent collaborators) sat in with the band when they covered John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” and led the way through a blistering version of “Walking The Dog.”
It was quite a collection of talent to encounter while enjoying a drink for an hour. Goldberg and his pals make for a midweek highlight that any roots music fan should seek out while they can. Goldberg will be setting up shop at the Mint again February 20 and 27.