Scarlet Rivera and the Bluefish

How a pop icon used Island connections to produce her new album.


When Tim Goodman walked into Fred Walecki’s guitar shop in Malibu in February of 2014, little did he know that he was about to have an encounter with destiny that would have reverberations extending all the way to a dive bar in Oak Bluffs, and involve a slew of Vineyard musicians.

Fred Walecki’s shop was a mecca for guitar aficionados, and Walecki knew Goodman from his days as a professional musician. Goodman, who lives in Tisbury, and his band Southern Pacific, had four singles in the top 10 on the country charts, and he’s played with the Doobie Brothers, Neil Young, and Emmylou Harris, among others.

When Goodman walked into the shop, Walecki told him that there was someone he’d like Goodman to meet; “I want to hear you two play music together,” he said. “Someone” was Scarlet Rivera, a classically trained violinist.

Scarlet Rivera’s career skyrocketed when she was tapped by Bob Dylan to accompany him on his Rolling Thunder Revue, a group of musicians, including Joni Mitchell, Roger McGuinn, Rambling Jack Elliot, and Joan Baez, who toured the country like a band of minstrels in 1975. It’s a tour that was memorialized last year in a Martin Scorsese documentary, “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story.” Rivera also played an essential role in Dylan’s subsequent studio album, “Desire,” playing brilliant violin solos on songs like “Isis,” “Hurricane,” and “Mozambique.”

“I pulled a violin and a bow off the wall,” Rivera said, “and Tim grabbed a guitar. It was fun and it sounded good — Tim’s a great musician.”

But as far as Rivera knew, that was the end of it, a chance encounter that turned into a fun afternoon — once and done. But then later that night, Rivera got an email — it was from Goodman. He wanted to know if she’d be interested in helping him out with a project. He was producing an album for a group called Magic Music, which, like Goodman, had roots on the VIneyard. “Tim played some tracks for me,” Scarlet said, “and I loved it.” She would go on to play on the Magic Music CD, and over time, she and Goodman became good friends — they always said it would be fun to work on a project again sometime in the future.

The future happened about a year later, when Rivera called Goodman and wanted to know if he’d be interested in helping her with her songwriting. “She wanted some help finding her voice,” Goodman said.

Goodman was intrigued by the idea. Rivera had recorded multiple CDs in a variety of different styles, including new age, Celtic, and world music, but all as an instrumentalist — she had never been a lead singer before.

Rivera said she never really wanted to sing. “Dylan asked me if I would sing on the Rolling Thunder tour, and I think I had an emotional block; I told him I couldn’t do it.” But a few years ago, one of Rivera’s dear friends died, and it moved her to begin writing, and the writing turned into lyrics, and one thing led to another, and Rivera wanted to give voice to the lyrics,

Goodman threw himself into the project, collaborating on the music and lyrics, helping Rivera find her voice. “Scarlet would come into the studio and read the lyrics like they were poems,” Goodman said. “It had such emotion, I’d get goosebumps. So we’d go into the studio and Scarlet would begin speaking the lyrics, and then work her way up to singing them. In the end it was all seamless — and very soulful.”

One can’t help but be taken by the quality of Rivera’s voice. A friend of hers described it as being a cross between Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. The Island’s own Johnny Hoy put it another way; he described her voice in terms of a garden. “You know how things, let’s say parsnips, sugar up over the winter, and come spring, they’re just perfect. That’s what I feel when I hear Scarlet’s voice.”

“It was never a plan to make an album,” Goodman said, “it was a creative process to find Scarlet’s voice, and the more we wrote, we started to see an EP take shape.” Goodman began working on producing an album in L.A., and assembled an all-star group of session musicians — people who had formerly worked for everyone from Bonnie Raitt and Crosby, Stills & Nash to Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. He then came back to the Island to finish up work at his home studio. And it’s here that the CD, to be called “All Of Me,=-ytuyh,” began taking on a Vineyard bent.

“Scarlet would come to the Island, stay at our house, and we’d collaborate and she’d lay down tracks,” Goodman said, “and then one night we decided to take a little road trip. I brought Scarlet to the Ritz.” It was a Wednesday night, and Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish were playing their regular gig. Goodman had told Hoy that they might be stopping by, but Hoy had been around musicians long enough to know that their plans have a way of changing, so as much as he was looking forward to meeting Scarlet (“When I first heard her on ‘Desire,’ she killed me!”), he figured there was a good chance they wouldn’t show up. But show up they did.

“I loved the Ritz,” Rivera said, “It was all about the music. Even our waitress [Rose Guerin] was a musician, and I loved the Bluefish. Johnny [Hoy] was unbelievable, if he had tossed his hat in the ring when he was younger, he could have made it big. And Delanie [guitar player Delanie Pickering] blew the doors off the place.” Rivera figured she and Goodman would sit in for a song or two, but she was having so much fun they played all night

“I’m singing this song with my eyes closed,” Hoy said, “when I heard this huge, rich, sonorous sound, and I looked around and Scarlet was standing next to me, playing her violin. There were about 40 people there at first, but they all got on their cell phones, and pretty soon the place filled up. It was one of those magic nights.”

Rivera and Goodman would return again in a couple of months, and Goodman, knowing magic when he hears it, decided to use Hoy, playing mouth harp, Delanie on guitar, and Bluefish drummer Kevin Madeiros to play on Scarlet’s album. Darby Patterson of Edgartown also filled in on harmonies. And another chance encounter brought sound mixer J.B. Lamont into the fold.

“I was going to pick up some wedding pictures that Louisa Gould had taken for me, and I was telling her about my project,” Goodman said, “and she said, If you ever need a sound engineer, I’m married to one.” Goodman said he met Gould’s husband, J.B. Lamont, and they had an instant bond.

“I love that Tim used local people,” Lamont said. “He could have used anyone on this project, but he brought in a bunch of locals. I think the whole thing has been a great effort.”

“All of Me” was released for radio play in March, and it’s been getting a good reception. “We’re on three channels on Sirius,” Goodman said, “the Tom Petty Channel, the Outlaw Country and Cafe channel, and Americana Radio — I believe she’s being recognized as someone who has something to say.”

Ironically, her song “Lady Liberty” takes some shots at Donald Trump … “Life is all a talk show game, truth cannot be found … freedom is disappearing, Liberty hangs her head.” And, Americana Radio, normally a very conservative station, is giving “Right Now” a fair share of play.

A month ago, before the world changed, a record release concert was scheduled to be held at the Wang Center in Boston. “Everyone was really excited about the concert,” Goodman said, “but unfortunately all those plans are now indefinitely put on hold.”

So for now, the next best thing to being there is to listen to “All of Me” on iTunes, Spotify, or Amazon. And who knows, when social distancing is behind us, you just might see Scarlet and Tim some night at the Ritz, sitting in with Johnny and the Bluefish.

“We couldn’t have done this without the Vineyard connection,” Goodman said.