Rock legacy Cliff Goodwin takes the stage at Sam’s Mill Fest in Pawtucket
(Pawtucket, RI) Though his drive to Pawtucket is only about an hour, Cliff Goodwin has traveled thousands of hours, and tens of thousands of miles, on his way into town.
Only this time, he is not showing up as sideman for another A-list rocker, he is fronting his own band, and promoting his first even solo release, the self-titled Cliff Goodwin Rhythm & Blues Union.
Guitarist Cliff Goodwin has amassed a four-decade legacy on the rock and roll circuit, having been launched onto the 70s rock scene in full force when his band, the Worcester-based American Standard Band, was selected by English singer Joe Cocker in 1976 as his touring and recording band. Goodwin remained with Cocker for 12 years, playing the biggest stages around the world, and recording some of his biggest hits, like “Leave Your Hat On,” “Shelter Me,” “Fun Time,” and “Up Where We Belong.”
Certainly getting there took chops – and Goodwin has them, big time – but in developing his exemplary skill, Goodwin logged tens of thousands of hours performing.
This began quite early, when his first, Beatles-inspired band formed during seventh grade. In time, he elevated to local-legend status with him hometown band Albatross, and then traveled more widely as a member of the American Standard Band, which signed independently with Island Records in 1978, two years into their stint with Cocker.
Once in the Cocker band, however, Goodwin’s reach became international.
Around that same time, in-between tours with Cocker, Goodwin was tapped by Robert Palmer for the “Secrets” album. Goodwin contributed to one of Palmer’s biggest hits, “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor Doctor),” as well as “Mean Old World,” and “Under Suspicion” – the latter covered on Goodwin’s new solo release.
He also influenced other great bands, such as the Jon Butcher Axis, which he helped form in the early 1980s. When Goodwin was called back on the road with Cocker, Axis continued on as a trio after being signed by Capitol Records. Goodwin and Butcher have continued to collaborate on recordings and performances up to the present day.
But at some point, Goodwin decided that life at home beat the grind of the road.
“I had spent so much time in Europe with Joe – three or four times a year we’d go – that I knew more about the restaurants and businesses there than I did in my home city,” Goodwin recalls. “I had a decade under my belt performing on the world’s biggest stages: Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, you name it. But I was missing out on time with my family.”
So now for Goodwin, it has become more about loving life, having fun, playing with musician friends, and enjoying the intimacy of smaller venues and audiences.
Or is it?
While he may have sworn off touring in the 1990s, nearly two decades later, Goodwin arguably has gotten the bug, fueled by a lifetime of music, and perhaps a dose of nostalgia.
In early 2016, Goodwin and former Cocker Band battery mate Deric Dyer discussed their shared hope to do something to celebrate Joe Cocker’s legacy following the singer’s death in 2014.
Shortly thereafter, thanks to the limitless reach of the World Wide Web, the pair were introduced to another singer in the UK, Elliot Tuffin.
Tuffin, it turned out, had a lifelong devotion to the music of his fellow country man, Joe Cocker, and had spent years mastering his performance of the Cocker songbook.
After locating the singer in London, Goodwin and Dyer formed the band Mad Dogs Unchained – a nod to Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen album - and took the band on a month-long tour of Europe, releasing a CD and a live DVD along the way. They are setting up an American tour for later this year, and plan on being back in Europe in 2019.
So, where does recording his own album fit into the schedule for this 65-year-old rocker?
Goodwin has always been an in-demand session guy, but doing so for other artists pursuing their dreams, or hoping to cut that next huge hit.
Finally, it was his time.
In 2015, he starting talking to colleagues about a desire to make his own recording, a project that would include a number of respected musicians with whom Goodwin had worked over the years.
Working with bassist and producer David Hull, and Grammy Award winning engineer Ducky Carlisle, Goodwin and friends laid down the tracks for his first ever solo album, Cliff Goodwin Rhythm & Blues Union, released in the spring of 2018.
Goodwin plays lead, slide and acoustic guitars throughout, and sings lead vocals on half of the material. Hull, Cocker-band alum Mitch Chakour (keyboards), and Marty Richards (drums) round out the core ensemble.
Guest artists include many collaborators, past and present, including Dyer, Butcher, harmonica player and singer James Montgomery, former Cocker back-up singer Ann Lang, singers Megan Wolf and Renee Dupuis, and several others.
Still, that’s not all there is in Goodwin’s full story to date. He can also be found in the “smaller” venues of New England performing with the Mohegan Sun All-stars, SNL band veteran Christine Ohlman, and a band of his longtime Worcester friends, The Silverbacks.
“It’s not about the size of the joint, it’s about doing what you love. And I have been blessed beyond belief to make a living doing just that, surrounded by friends and family, here at home.”
Cliff Goodwin Rhythm & Blues Union headline Sam’s Mill Fest at Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark, 67 Roosevelt Avenue in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on Sunday, August 26. Admission is free. Signed copies of the new CD will be available at the event. “Sax” Gordon Beadle, Bobby Keyes, and Western Caravan feat. Dave Hansen also perform. For more information, visit slatermill.org.