Blues Image’s ‘Ride Captain Ride’: A Tale of 73 Men

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Why does Blues Image’s one and only hit, 1970’s “Ride Captain Ride,” begin with the lyric, “Seventy-three men sailed up from the San Francisco Bay?” You might not make the connection at first, but it has something to do with the keyboard lick that takes up the first 15 seconds of the song.

That keyboard that you hear on the #4 single was a Fender Rhodes, an early electric piano, and although Frank “Skip” Konte was the band’s keyboardist, the instrument actually belonged to Blues Image’s guitarist and singer, Mike Pinera. The pair was in the studio recording what would become the followup to their self-titled debut album for Atco Records when they started fooling around with the now-very-familiar opening keyboard line. They both liked it, but Pinera, it seems, was having trouble coming up with words for the new song.

He looked at the keyboard right in front of him, which, unlike a conventional piano, had 73 keys. From there, he has told the story often, “the song wrote itself.”

Some have theorized that the story line of “Ride Captain Ride” is based on the voyage of Sir Francis Drake, who explored the west coast of what is now the United States, but Pinera has shot that idea down. “Ride Captain Ride,” he’s insisted, is entirely fictionalized. “It’s from my imagination,” Mike Pinera has said.

Wherever the idea came from, it came quickly, and the completed song found its way to the group’s second, Richard Podolor-produced Atco album, Open, and to a single, where it was backed with the tune “Pay My Dues.” “Ride Captain Ride” reached the Billboard Hot 100 on May 9, 1970, and quickly ascended into the top 10, where it peaked at #4 on July 18. It was certified Gold by the RIAA on Aug. 4.

Related: See where “Ride Captain Ride” ranked among the year’s biggest hits

As for that crisp, economical guitar solo midway, contrary to popular assumption, it was not played by Pinera but rather by Kent Henry, who would next join Steppenwolf. Pinera, who performed the more distorted solo toward the end of the record, would himself go on to bigger things, first joining Iron Butterfly (replacing Erik Braun for the band’s fourth album, Metamorphosis) and later forming Ramatam and joining up with Alice Cooper’s band. He later worked with the video medium and launched the Classic Rock All-Stars, a band that consists of former members of ’60s-’70s rock bands of some renown.

Blues Image’s “Ride Captain Ride” has remained a staple of oldies radio both terrestrial and cyber, and has been covered by bands as diverse as Phish and Blood, Sweat and Tears. (You can watch both of those bands’ covers below.)

Blues Image squeaked into the charts one last time several months after their hit, with a track called “Gas Lamps and Clay,” then sailed off on their mystery ship.

Watch the official video of Blues Image’s “Ride Captain Ride”

Bonus video: Watch Blood, Sweat and Tears cover the tune in 1976

And now, a more recent cover, by Phish

Finally, listen to Blues Image’s original studio version

Related: The 50 best rock albums of 1970

Jeff Tamarkin

18 Comments so far

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  1. Kool H
    #1 Kool H 10 May, 2018, 05:14

    One of my go-to, feel good songs.

    Reply this comment
  2. LeeJayInHonolulu
    #2 LeeJayInHonolulu 1 September, 2018, 20:21

    Blues Image from Tampa had double drums before Allman Brothers Band formed. Keyboardist Frank “Skip” Konte later played for Three Dog Night (The Show Must Go On) & percussionist Joe Lala had extensive touring & recording history with Manassas (Stephen Stills’ best musical situation) also Souther-Hillman-Furay. Producer Richard Podolor & American Recording Studios birthed many records for Three Dog Night & Steppenwolf also. Their first album produced by Bill Halverson didn’t move any units, has some very tasty guitar from Mike Pinera & tight ensemble work. Thanks for posting –

    Reply this comment
  3. Bezukhov
    #3 Bezukhov 30 November, 2019, 09:06

    I always thought this song was about Nixon’s trip to China.

    Reply this comment
    • Teddy
      Teddy 18 July, 2020, 16:03

      Nixon didn’t visit China until 1972, two years after this song came out.

      Reply this comment
      • Bezukhov
        Bezukhov 19 July, 2020, 14:21

        Thanks for the correction, Teddy. Somebody told me that when I was kid, and I believed it ever since.

        Reply this comment
  4. Coolpop17
    #4 Coolpop17 10 March, 2020, 10:24

    Yes, Kool H… It invokes memories of bell bottom jeans and a tight t-shirt. Those were young man days:-).

    Reply this comment
  5. Billy
    #5 Billy 10 May, 2020, 13:48

    Some say that based on some of the lyrics it is the story of the USS Pueblo (AGER-2): “73 men sailed out of San Francisco Bay”, “No one heard them calling; no one came at all”, “Ride, Captain ride on your mystery ship”.

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    • trumpman
      trumpman 4 March, 2021, 00:27

      Billy – yes, I concur. I always thought this song referred to the USS Pueblo too. The song came out 2 years AFTER the capture of the ship. But apparently, that ship had 83 crew members. Still, it sure seems to fit!

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      • SeniorChief
        SeniorChief 28 June, 2021, 11:11

        Definitely fits our mystery ship and time in North Korea SKCS Earl Phares USN ret Former crewman and POW

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    • Sundown
      Sundown 21 July, 2021, 21:09

      I always thought it had to do with the USS Pueblo spy ship with 73 sailors who were captured and held by North Korea for several months before being released.

      Reply this comment
  6. warrenzepfan
    #6 warrenzepfan 10 May, 2021, 15:17

    “Perfect rock song”? Hmm …

    Reply this comment
  7. 122intheshade
    #7 122intheshade 18 July, 2021, 18:27

    Love the intro with the keyboard and backwards cymbals. Terrific.

    Reply this comment
    #8 SHE WHO DANCES 19 July, 2022, 01:46


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  9. conrad
    #9 conrad 19 July, 2023, 10:20

    I love this song I never get tired of hearing it, Besides the great sound it bring back memories of this 12 year old and the wonderful people in my life at that time.

    Reply this comment
  10. BMac
    #10 BMac 19 July, 2023, 12:35

    Has to be one of the top 5 or so best one hit wonders in the rock era. Made the top 10, the group never came close again, and broke up within the next year. In fact, I think I’ve read that by the time the song hit, there had already been band departures.

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  11. Howling Rabbit
    #11 Howling Rabbit 20 July, 2023, 04:24

    The video is the original version… in its proper mono mix.

    Reply this comment
  12. The dude
    #12 The dude 23 September, 2023, 00:06

    Good guitar good organ introduction good beat but a terrible song it’s one verse saying twice that’s pretty stupid they could have done a lot more with this song because of the rhythm and the instrumentation yeah it’s cool I remembered as a little kid but when you listen to it it’s the same verse twice that’s lame

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