blues harpist and producer Neil Barnes released Hyde
And Seek on CD in 2015. The 9 track CD is an all star blues-rock
album featuring the cream of the crop of San Francisco Bay Area blues
greats including singer Earl Thomas, Lady Bianca (piano,
vocals) Rev. Paul Smith (organ), Ron Thompson (guitars)
and much more, all backing up Barnes on his wailing harmonica. For
the most part, Hyde And Seek is mostly a hard hitting blues
rock set but a heartfelt cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water
(subtitled here as A Song For Jill) adds another dimension
to the album. Theres just one original here, written by singer
Earl Thomas, with the CD mostly featuring tracks penned by Oris Mays,
Allen Toussaint and the above mentioned Earl Thomas. Speaking about
Hyde And Seek, Barnes explains, I wanted to move forward
with a gospel blues release because these particular songs resonate
with me. I can only begin to tell you how excited we are to share
Hyde & Seek with the world. This is a unique collaboration
of world class musicians. Music fans take note: Hyde And
Seek is one of the coolest blues-rock albums of the decade. www.NeilBarnesMusic.com
mwe3 presents an interview with
How did the Hyde And Seek album take shape and how did you
decide on what music you wanted to include on the release? And how
did you come up with the title Hyde And Seek?
It had been quite a long time since my last project and with this
one, I wanted to lean more heavily towards a gospel feel and approach
both in musical content and with the instrumentation.
The Hyde in Hyde And Seek, comes from Hyde Street
Studios. This iconic San Francisco studio has seen been the home of
great sessions by James Brown, Grateful Dead, Herbie Hancock and the
Headhunters, Green Day, to name a few. Plus, Hyde Street Studio A
could accommodate both the piano, B3 and everyone in the same room.
I wanted to record live as much as possible.
The Seek comes from the fact that I really wanted to take
a gospel/more spiritual approach to the majority of the material.
My intent was gospel, with the piano and B3 combination, but with
a distinct blues edge, with the harp and Rons slide and his
grit. Not too churchly, but still deliver the message.
I wanted to break away from straight ahead Chicago blues and go after
a few of my favorites, which includes a lot of New Orleans influence.
I also wanted to make sure that the vocals were a key focus.
I have no personal originals on this session, Earl brought in one
of his. These songs I chose just move me or have personal meaning
to me. Heart Like A Locomotive is a Joe Droukas song.
This is my tribute to Paul Butterfield. When I first heard it years
ago, I passed over it. Then I heard it again years later on a bootleg.
He absolutely owned the vocals and phasing. And there is no harp on
the studio or bootleg versions, so I had a clean slate to work from
for the harp solo. Not having to worry about copying a lick or phrase.
The song I took a chance on was Aint No Rest For The Wicked
by Cage The Elephant. It was a rock radio hit, But I could hear it
Gospelized in my head. I could hear Rons guitar
work and room for harp in there. It is a very quick song vocally,
and it would take Earl Thomas to articulate it and pull the blues
I have to say, this was probably the worst way to go into the studio.
A sure recipe for disaster. The musicians did not know each other,
this combination had never played together, we could not rehearse
all together, and we had only two days to record 9 songs because of
peoples schedules. But, I had absolute trust and confidence in the
musicians and in the material. No one, no one, called it in. No one
balked at any of the song choices. Each and every musician came in
prepared and ready to go. Everyone wanted to make sure things were
right and that I was getting what sound I had bouncing around in my
head. The worst outcome would be that it would be good.
How many albums have you released and worked on as a solo artist as
well as a producer / session musician over the years? Where are you
from originally and where are you based now and how does that influence
your sound and music?
a 45, a 4 song EP, a compilation CD, including
the studio cuts plus a lot of live material; and now the Hyde And
Seek CD. I also played harp on childrens music album, which
was actually a lot of fun.
Im a harp player who doesnt sing. So I need to surround
myself with good musicians. If I do have a strength, I think I am
pretty good at putting together musicians that havent played
or recorded together, but I know in my head would sound good together
and then put new or different material in front of them. My first
record was 1980, a 45, yep, an actual 45. Two of my original songs,
Blues For Breakfast and Close Call. It featured
Ron Thompson on slide and vocals, along with Junior Watson (guitar),
Bill Stuve (bass), Robert Montes (drums) and the great Little Willie
Littlefield on piano.
The second endeavor was a 4 song EP in 1981, again on vinyl, three
more original songs and one traditional blues. I produced that session.
This session included Mark Naftalin on piano, Bob Gomes (Hammond B3),
and again Junior Watson, Bill Stuve, Robert Montes. In addition, we
had Hap Scott there for vocals and my friend, Oakland guitarist Sonny
Lane. The traditional blues was a duo with myself and Greg Hartman
(vocals and Piedmont finger-picking style guitar).
We recorded at Parvin Studios in Pacifica and mixed by Pete Kaukonen
I was born in San Jose, California and grew up in Santa Clara, the
South Bay. The San Francisco Bay Area music scene was on fire. A wonderful
melting pot of different styles. It was the Sixties, man! Being so
close to Oakland and San Francisco, many blues and R&B, funk and
rock artists either came through touring or took up residence. Looking
back, I took so much for granted
I thought that was the way
it would always be.
mwe3: What can you tell us about the players on the Hyde
And Seek CD and how and why you chose them to play on the album?
The album has a great musical ESP and sonic chemistry. How long did
the Hyde And Seek sessions take and what else was involved
in your production?
Barnes: The Hyde And Seek crew
Earl Thomas: Earl is the modern day bluesman. Incredible vocalist.
Earl tours regularly on the international stage. Hes also a
proficient songwriter and has written songs for Etta James and Solomon
Burke. The material I wanted to do required a very strong vocalist
in order to even come close to doing it justice. Earl is the only
person I know of who could have handled this material in the way it
needed to be done.
Lady Bianca: Music treasure. Three-time Grammy nominee. Lady Bianca
actually did stints with Sly Stone, Frank Zappa and did backup vocals
and vocal arranging on a number of Van Morrison albums. Lady Bianca
is a star in her own right, is very active in the area, performing,
writing, producing and running her own record label.
Ron Thompson: Band leader of many years for John Lee Hooker. Played
and recorded with Chris Isaac, was a featured member of Mick Fleetwoods
Blue Whale band. He was responsible for bringing Jimmy Reed to the
Bay Area, as well as The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Ron is actively touring
and playing regularly.
Rev. Paul Smith: Played on Ike & Tina Turners classic Nutbush
City Limits album, played on a couple of Bill Withers albums
and worked with Natalie Cole for a while.
Oshmin Oden: Bay Area premier gospel, blues, funk bass player. Oshmin
is Lady Bianca and Henry Odens son (Henry Oden is famed Bay
Area bass man). Oshmin kept us honest with the groove and changes!
Winfred Williams: Gets around the Bay Area, has played in a number
of well known bands. Winfred and have played together for a number
of years and I wanted him by my side.
Tia Carroll: Singer! Tours internationally, just returned from South
America. Plays regularly with her own band. Tia had not worked with
Lady Bianca, but together, and with Earl, they created an entire choir.
Charlie Beutter: was the chief engineer at Hyde Street and has quite
a resume. He is also a master on Hyde Streets NEVE console.
If youre an audiophile, the NEVE analogue mixing console is
one of a very few left of these handmade masterpieces. There is just
something magical about what you get out of them. Charlie was key
to the success of the live mix I was after.
Joe Tarantino: from the famed Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California.
Joe did the complete re-mastering of the Stax catalog, Speciality
catalog, as well as mastering on Isaac Hayes and a plethora of jazz
Earl was such a big help. The Bay Area has a very deep bench of talent,
and I had folks in mind for the B3 and piano, but it was Earl who
suggested Lady Bianca, Rev. Paul Smith and Tia. They all come from
a church background and it would be second, really first, nature to
them. And it was. Lady Bianca and Rev. Paul Smith did not know each
other, but because of that connection, they fell right in sync. I
have to say right now that Lady Bianca is a blessing. Not only did
she bring incredible skill on the piano, vocals, and background vocal
arranging, she is such a wonderful, calming presence.
and helped keep the atmosphere light. You dont spend more
than five minutes with Lady Bianca without getting a laugh out of
something she says.
As to my producing style, I have certain ideas that I want included.
Be it an idea for an intro, an ending, one or two specific parts,
but then I get out of the way. Im not going to tell Ron Thompson
how to play guitar, Earl how to sing, or Lady Bianca how to play piano.
And I leave room to incorporate their ideas.
The engineer, Charlie Beutter, was crucial to the success of the project.
I also have to mention Nick Kasimatis from Blackbird Films. His production
of the video was as important as that of the CD.
What were your early music studies like and long have you played and
studied the harp and harmonica as your main instrument? I remember
Charlie Musselwhite and John Mayall were great blues harpists and
you have a great style of your own. I read about Musselwhites
influence on your harp playing.
Thank you Robert. Once I got the spark from hearing the Paul Butterfield
Blues Band, I flipped from being an appreciative listener to wanting
to be able to play. I became obsessed with the music and wanting to
learn the harmonica. Butterfield took me backwards, so that I could
By that I mean Butterfield took me to Muddy, Wolf, Little Walter,
Sonny Boys x2, Cotton, Willie Dixon, and into the whole world of Chess,
Chicago Blues, then Excello blues, the entire blues world. I bought
my first harmonica at Campis Music Store in San Jose. I think
it cost me about $2.50. I spent hours in my room trying to pick out
things from records. I finally approached Gary Smith. Gary is the
Godfather Of Bay Area Blues. Gary took the time to show
me the how-tos and the dont-dos; along with the
approach to the music. From Gary, I learned the foundations. A few
years later, I was still trying to expand my knowledge and I was getting
wrapped up on learning some of the playing positions
different keyed harmonicas to a piece of music. Charlie Musselwhite
was living in San Jose and playing everywhere around the area. Charlie
was killer at playing different positions. I was focused on learning
3rd position- very minor sounding; some refer to it as
Dorian Mode or scale. Just know that you have to play
the harp differently to make it work. I approached Charlie. He come
over to my folks house and we spent hours... Charlie patiently playing
guitar while I caterwauled away trying to play in that scale. The
approach was a Im-not-going-to-play-it-for-you, keep-blowing-until-it-makes-sense-and-
you-wont-forget it. True That.
So, Ive been playing harmonica since I was about 16. I spent
years listening and trying to emulate the masters. No detail was/is
too trivial. Then, during the late 80s and early 90s,
I stepped away from actively playing. I was disenchanted with the
music scene at that time and I was focused on starting a family, finishing
college, and nailing down the corporate salary. I still kept my ears
The Forward Part, I strive at keeping both feet firmly planted in,
and with careful respect, to the blues, but now I look to pepper it
with a strong gospel message and song structures not limited to the
Robert: note that harps and harmonicas are
the same thing.
Harp or Blues Harp is just slang for the
harmonica, short for mouth-harp. Not sure of the origin.
mwe3: How would you compare the harp and harmonica and who
were some of your other music heroes? Were you influenced by rock
and pop as well or mostly blues and blues rock? What are your favorite
harps and harmonicas to play and how many instruments do you have?
What about any other instruments that you play?
Barnes: My other music influences
are pretty eclectic. The Band had a profound impact on me. Its
hard to put into words exactly. Later, I was influenced by the RCO
Allstars. This was literally my dream team band. Levon Helm (drummer,
vocalist from The Band), Paul Butterfield (harp), Booker T. (organ),
Dr. John (piano), Duck Dunn (bass) , Fed Carter Jr. (guitar), Steve
Then there is WAR with Lee Oskar on harp. I loved the harmonica and
sax combination, with the harmonica playing horn lines. Latin with
congas, the music itself was undeniably cool. Lady Bianca would call
it real people music. And when Lee Oskar went solo, I
was never exposed to the harmonica being played with a focus on beautiful
Then theres Paul DeLay, bluesman from Portland, Oregon. He had
a very unique playing style, a very effective vocalist and his song
writing was, more often than not, doused in humor that most every-man
could identify with.
Im actually a big fan of Los Lobos, Hank Williams and the western
swing of Asleep At The Wheel.
Charlie Musselwhite continues to amaze me. His playing is better than
ever and he keeps trying different things with different people. The
work he did with the Blind Boys Of Alabama on the Spirit Of The
Century album was a true inspiration to me and my direction.
Current bands and songwriters I pay close attention to are Paul Thorn
and also the California Honey Drops.
My Harmonicas: I prefer out-of-the-box Marine Band Crossovers
and Seydel 1847s.
And, of course, I have boxes of harmonicas. I have some harps with
different tunings and different models that I keep in mind to use
at some point. Not as a gimmick or trick, but to serve the song. I
have an old Marine Band Octave Harp that really sounds cool on Cajun
or Mexican music. Ive also been working out more and more on
the chromatic harmonica. There is so much I need to explore and learn
As to what other instruments do I play?.... GAHHH!
is like a knife in the heart to any harmonica player. A big-rig trucker
friend once told me, Just because you can drive a truck, it
doesnt make you a truck driver. Its the exact same
thing for a harmonica player; there are a lot of guys out there who
play at the harmonica, it doesnt make them a harmonica player.
There is a lot of nuance. To my non-musician friends, I usually use
the golf analogy. When you start out golfing, you can progress fairly
quickly. But then if you decide to take it serious and improve your
game, youre in for a lifetime of frustration and continuous
learning. Clubs, types of clubs, a myriad of swing techniques, different
skills for different phase of the game, etc. and so on. Its
the same with the harmonica. Sometimes I feel like the more I learn,
the less I know.
I am studying some piano, to up my music theory and enhance my song
writing. But, at heart, I still want to be a harmonica player.
The Hyde And Seek cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water
is superb. How did you end up covering that track and why do you call
it A Song For Jill? Also, how did you decide on the Allen
Toussaint covers? Tell us about those tracks and something about Toussaint
for those who dont know him. He must be among the most underrated
musical influences in the world. Any other favorite Toussaint songs?
I wanted to do Bridge Over Troubled Water for my wife
Jill. This was our song in high school. Yep, weve
been married for 33 years. As a harp player, if you can find a woman
who likes, or even tolerates, harmonica, youd be a fool to let
her get away.
The song has also come to mean more to me over the years with everything
weve been through together.
Besides a lot of my original songs were about nagging women, being
trapped by marriage, and women troubles in general. I think she might
have started to take it a little personal... I owed her.
It was also the one song that Earl, Bianca and Oshmin went Whoa!
This is a serious song, we have to do this one right.
We cant mess this one up! It carries a lot of weight. It was
also a stretch for me to have the harp fit, but not be obtrusive.
Allen Toussaint has to be one of the most prolific American songwriters
and the scope of his work, from the funkiest to his beautiful ballads,
is incredible. Most any, and I mean any, song coming out New Orleans,
either Allen wrote it or plays on it or both. Im really fond
of the Lee Dorsey catalog, but I didnt want to do his big hits,
Working In A Mine or Holy Cow. Lees
songs I chose on the CD are When Can I Come Home and Tears,
Tears and More Tears, both written by Allen Toussaint.
Ive learned that if I like a song, I go directly to find out
who wrote the song. It turns out that youll probably like their
other material. Other songwriters I favor, other than Willie Dixon
of course, are Bobby Charles, Henry Glover and Jesse Winchester.
mwe3: How did you come to work with Mark Naftalin, from the
Paul Butterfield band? Naftalin has also worked with the guitarist
on the Hyde And Seek album called Ron Thompson. Ron also has
a number of albums to his credit. Tell us about Rons guitar
work on Hyde And Seek.
In the late 1960s, Mark Naftalin put down roots in the Bay Area
and in the 70s ran his Blue Monday Parties
which would include Charlie Musselwhite, Francis Clay, Luther Tucker,
Lowell Fulson, Percy Mayfield, Ron Thompson and many more. Blues
For Breakfast was getting some good regional airplay and my
band was actively playing.
Ron Thompson was on that 45 and Mark and Ron were good friends. When
I decided to do the Parvin Studio sessions, I decided to just reach
out and ask him. Mark knew of the musicians I was putting together.
He knew Junior Watson and Bill Stuve by their work with Rod Piazza
and the Mighty Flyers, and Sonny Lane as one of the Oakland regulars.
It sounded like an interesting project so when he accepted, I was
thrilled. Mark and I have remained friends. When we reconnected a
few years back, I bent his ear over the trials and tribulations of
putting together another session. He was very supportive and provided
me with some good insights. A quick aside: we recently returned from
the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction of the Paul Butterfield Blues
Band in Cleveland. I was so proud and honored that Mark invited my
wife and I to attend as his guests. Life is so wonderfully weird.
I started playing because of these guys; they were my heroes as a
teenager; then being able to play and record with Mark as a musician,
and now, close to 50 years later, being invited to witness one of
his and the Paul Butterfield Bands lifetime events.
Ron and I have been friends for many years. Im always in awe
of Rons musical abilities. Ron was an integral part of that
Bay Area Blues scene. As a side note, Ron learned slide techniques
from Robert Lockwood Jr., while Ron was driving for him and some of
the other blues greats coming through the Bay Area from Chicago. Robert
Lockwood Jr. actually learned guitar from his step dad
Robert Johnson. So, if you do the math, its Robert Johnson->
Robert Lockwood Jr. -> RonThompson. Thats a pretty remarkable
lineage. Ron played on my first 45, and I would not have done Hyde
And Seek unless he was going to be on it.
What other plans do you have for the Hyde And Seek album and
how about other plans as far as new music, live shows and other new
and interesting music news you could share with the readers?
I would have loved to have done a series of live shows with the Hyde
And Seek group. Its been difficult to make it happen due
to everyones touring schedules and they all have their own working
bands. That group on stage would really be something to hear and see.
There is still opportunity. Hyde and Seek has been well received
with the blues crowd and Americana crowd. Id like to get more
attention from the traditional gospel folks with a few of the songs.
Theyre a finicky group... I have an uphill battle professing
no synthesizer and more harmonica and gritty guitar!
Ive already been noodling the next project. Hopefully, it wont
be too long. Ive got a couple of original songs almost ready
to go. Theres a couple of other songs Id like to rework.
Id definitely like to pursue more Gospel-Blues material.
Rev. Paul Smith has a couple of gospel tunes that he approached me
with that Im pretty excited about.
I have some folks in mind to play, to tap on the shoulder to collaborate,
and hopefully theyd be willing to take a chance with me.
to Neil Barnes @ Neil