The Teachers:  Late '70's

I owe 99% of how I learned to play from Gary Smith, the Godfather of the South Bay Area blues scene. Gary took the time to show me the how-to's and the don't-do's of the Blues harmonica, along with the approach to the music I love. 

I also spent a lot of time going to see Charlie Musselwhite everywhere he played in the Bay Area. I finally got the nerve to ask him for a private lesson (I really was wrapped around the axle on third position) and imagine my surprise when he said “yes” and showed up at my parent’s house. Charlie patiently played guitar to my caterwauling harp until those 3rd position mechanics started to sync in. I'm forever grateful for that time with one of my true heroes. Charlie continues to inspire me to this day. 

People who strongly influenced my musical direction were Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Charlie Musselwhite, Lee Oscar, The Band (Levon Helm), Robert Montes and Bob Gomes. Robert and Bob are childhood friends who were playing music in bands way before I started playing. Their band Jackson Street Band (w/ Dave Gonzales) opened up regularly for the touring bands coming through the Bay Area. Through them, I was able to hang out stage-side to Freddie King, Albert King, Albert Collins and many, many, more. LOT'S of great nights at the BODEGA, Campbell! A up close musical education I would not trade for anything.

The 1980's and Joshua's Blue Monday Parties 

During the early 1980’s I formed my own band, Bar-B-Q Barnes and the Rib-Tones. We had a regular slot at JOSHUA'S, San Jose. It was a downstairs venue and always had a pretty big crowd. We also had an on-going slot at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz. 

The band featured Hap Scott on bass and vocals (rest in peace, Hap), Larry Calley on lead guitar (Larry, I miss you're playing!), rock solid Robert Montes on drums, Bob Gomes on the B3 and Sid Morris on piano. That was a damn good band if I say so myself. A B3 with Leslie and a stand-up piano. What a sound and what an aching back every single gig was like moving an apartment! 

For a number of gigs, I was able to get Sonny Lane and Johnny Waters to come in from Oakland. For the 2nd Fountain Blues Festival in San Jose, Sonny helped me enlist Francis Clay (Muddy Waters Band, James Cotton Band) and Luther Tucker (Little Walter Band, James Cotton Band.) The night they played with my band at Joshua's was like "Fathers and Sons". God, I was thrilled. Both Francis and Luther were easy going, no airs despite their legacies, and real gentlemen. 

Sonny Lane and I became close friends. It wasn't until you get to an age where one starts to look back and reminisce that I realized what Sonny had done for me by getting these guys to play with my novice ass and allowing me to be on stage with them. I'm forever grateful Sonny. You really are royalty.

I also performed as “The Duo” with Greg Hartman. Simplified and easy. A guitar and harp. Greg is a purveyor of the "Piedmont" style of guitar playing and sing's with a mature. Playing with Greg stretched me to expand my harp playing and to play music that could be said was obscure at that time, but is front and center right now. 

Vinyl and CD's 

In 1980, I had the pleasure to cut a 45 with my own songs, “Blues for Breakfast” and Close Call”, on my own label Rib-Tone Records. This session included the great Little Willie Littlefield on piano (Google him!), Ron Thompson on vocals and slide, Junior Watson on guitar, Bill Stuve on bass and Robert Montes on drums. 

Little Willie Littlefield held court at the Red Stag in San Jose taking requests and covering a lot of Nat King Cole standards. I doubt any of the patrons were aware of his true stature in the music world. I spent time chauffeuring Little Willie to many of his gigs and we became good friends. I learned some valuable insights into the music business as well as an appreciation for his outlandish behavior. He was chief character amongst a cadre of characters! 

A couple of years later, more vinyl, an EP called “Bar-B-Q Barnes and the Rib-Tones” with more original songs. Once again Robert on drums, Junior on guitar, Bill on bass and the addition of Sonny Lane on guitar, Bob Gomes on B3, Hap Scott on vocals and the legendary Mark Naftalin on piano. (God, I love that piano and B3 combination.... ) 

I have remained friends with Mark. My wife and I traveled to Cleveland when he was inducted into the 2015 Rock‘N Roll Hall Of Fame along with the other members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. It was Mark, who let me use one of his drawings for the cover art and cd title for “Bald Guy With A Lot On His Mind”.

The 2014 "Hyde and Seek" Project includes reworking of songs from the New Orleans great, Alan Toussaint/Lee Dorsey, some Gospel classics, and even a rocker (“Ain’t Not Rest For The Wicked” Cage The Elephant) that I wanted to rework with a Gospel approach. The session featured Earl Thomas, Lady Bianca (Sly and the Family Stone, Frank Zappa, Van Morrison), Ron Thompson (John Lee Hooker band leader), Rev. Paul Smith (Ike & Tina Turner, Natalie Cole), Oshmin O. Oden and Winfred Williams. 

Present Day 

Currently I am spending a lot of time focusing on creativity in the studio. The juice for me is in choosing the material and the musicians, going in and exchanging ideas around an original song or reworking a cover into something of our own and then getting it recorded. 

My recent projects include producing and playing on the “Lady Bianca Sings, Hold On Just A Little While Longer / Gonna Have A Mighty Good Time” digital 45. This was a full on Gospel production and I am very proud to have been involved.

 In 2020, I released a CD under my own name, “Bald Guy With A Lot On His Mind”. This includes some of my originals and reworking of some wonderful obscure songs form Chuck Berry to Ray Charles. The sessions were done at Greaseland Studios, Hyde Street Studios and Jon Atkinson’s Big Tone Records. They recordings include all the A-Team of the Bay Area: Kid Andersen (Rick Estrin and the Nightcats) , Sid Morris, Johnny Cat Soubrand, June Core (Charlie Musselwhite band), Mike Phillips, Vance Ehlers, Robi Bean, Lauren Halliwell, Kyle Jester and Ron Thompson (R.I.P) 

The latest project, "A Summer Day At Greaseland" is a Limited Edition 2-Song "Digital 45".   Both songs were a collaboration with Mighty Mike Schermer.  It doesn't get much better than that.  Recorded at Greaseland USA with Mighty Mike on guitar, slide guitar and vocals on "Hatin' On Love", Dennis Dove on drums and vocals on "See What I'm Sayin' ",  Kid Andersen on bass (yes, I said bass!), Chris Burns on piano, clavinet and Fender Rhodes.  Lisa Leuschner Andersen adds some killer vocals to "See What I'm Sayin' ".

That brings us to today and I'm still striving to make and play legitimate roots music. 

Neil Barnes