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Published: 2008/03/07
by Randy Ray

Between Movies with Steve Kimock & Friends

Steve Kimock & Friends returns for a series of Northern California dates beginning on March 11 at the Red Fox Tavern in Eureka. The latest incarnation includes Melvin Seals on keyboards, his son, John Morgan Kimock on drums, Bonnie Raitt bassist and first-time Kimock bandmate, Hutch Hutchinson, and Billy Goodman on guitar and vocals. As much as these upcoming dates are a homecoming for Kimock, Goodman’s association with the guitarist is also a reunion. Their relationship dates back to the mid-1970s when, with the Goodman Brothers Band, they traveled from Pennsylvania to California and enjoyed a unique musical partnership. Since then, Kimock has gone on to various lofty peaks like his long stint in Zero, his solo studio work, live performances, collaborations with various Grateful Dead members and the numerous versions of the Steve Kimock Band, including the extraordinary lineup featuring Robert Walter, Reed Mathis and Rodney Holmes a few years back. caught up with the veteran guitarist and bandleader on the eve of the Langerado Festival, as he was about to rehearse with the Mickey Hart Band, a partnership that will also play at the Wakarusa Festival in Kansas in June. We caught Kimock on a great evening, as he was relaxed, witty, candid and quite honest about his work and various experiences over the many years of an outstanding career.

RR: Since you’re in Florida for the Langerado festival as part of the Mickey Hart Band and you’re playing with him again in the future, what is it like to play with his band and what are some of the different dynamics from your other collaborations? Are there different listening skills that you have to adapt to in his band?

SK: Oh. (laughs)

RR: RememberI’m the guy who always asks you four-paragraph long questions.

SK: (laughter) Write down a bunch of laughing at this point. No, manMickey is the most special case of anybody you could ever hope to play with. On some levels for him, there is one instrument and that’s the drum and that’s it so the guitar is just some kind of funny drum to him. The majority of the direction that I receive from Mickeywhich I receive gladlyis “don’t make it sound like a guitar,” and “play more guitar. O.K. now, make sure it sounds less like a guitar.” (laughs) It kind of goes like that.

RR: Sounds almost like a film director.

SK: Yeah but it’s funny stuff. Mickey’s got an enormous amount of energyparticularly organizational with music. He really has an interesting visionvery different than what you’d expect if you were just listening to the Grateful Dead stuff and thinking: “O.K. that’s what is going on with the cat.” He’s very broadly influenced by lots of really cool stuff and tries to bring that out but bringing that out from the perspective that drumming is what is happening, now. He’s a lot of fun to play with.

RR: How much rehearsal is there? Do you get together and go over ideas or is it left open?

SK: Well, you know, it’s a little more evolutionary than that. I’m here in Florida early because we’re going to spend tomorrow rehearsing. That is almost more of a kind of a chemistry dress rehearsal than pre-production. A lot of the tunes that we’re playing started out with me going up to Mickey’s studio at his place in California and working with tracks that he had. He’s got ten million tracks of everybody compiled over the last thirty years. (laughter) He kind of mixes them all together and comes up with these little pieces and says, “O.K. what have you got?” We work with that and we get ideas and we find little bits of this and little bits of that that we like and we start assembling stuff and try to perform what’s assembled, evolving from that into something else. The actual process in which we’ve gotten to some of the original stuff is fairly long and involved. That’s not really reflected in the actual rehearsal time. There’s way more pre-production on some kind of a conceptual level, generally, than there is actual rehearsal time. You get cats like George Porter, Jr. on the bass and how much exactly do you need to rehearse somebody like that? (laughter) It’s “O.K. George, now you’re going to play in our group.” And he says, “No problem.”

RR: The obvious segue is how would your involvement with Mickey Hart differ from your playing with Bob Weir’s RatDogspecifically, last year as you came aboard while Mark Karan was being treated for cancer?

SK: That was a totally, totally, totally different thing. First of all, that RatDog thing has been going on forever. Bobby was RatDogging while they were still Grateful Deading. That’s right, isn’t it? You assume that.

RR: Yeah, Bob started it during the mid-90s and the band grew from there.

SK: That trip’s been going on for a long time with basically the same folks. They’ve got a very well established band chemistry and a deep book that they are all working fromall of that kind of practice and telepathic chemistry you get when you work with guys for a long time. You know what the guy is going to play by how he shifts his weight before he plays it. I was walking into that with a huge amount of material that I had nothing to do with so, on some level, they’re their own very practicedand well known to themensemble chemistry and my own willingness to work with that made that go. That’s different from Mickey’s band where there is a lot of original material that we came up with together during conceptual brainstorming sessions in the studio where he would throw stuff at me and implore me to play “not like a guitar.” (laughter) “You know that part that you play that is not a guitar part or anything? O.K. that’s it!”

RR: It’s interesting that you are also playing with another set of percussionists in EOTO, featuring Michael Travis and Jason Hann in April in Pennsylvania.

SK: Yeah, that’s kind of percussion heavy on some level. What do you kids call it these days? (laughter) More trance than world, which is where Mickey’s going. Although, ultimately, I guess it is probably the same idea.

RR: I just saw them about a month ago and it is amazing how many different types of layers that they can add over a basic foundation just between the two of them.

SK: Yeah, it’s cool stuff.

RR: Let’s talk about your California homecoming gigs beginning on March 11 with your new version of Steve Kimock & Friends.

SK: There’s not much I can say other than I’m pretty much looking forward to it. It’s such an interesting mix of people that I try not to jinx that kind of thing by too much second-guessing or planning ahead with it. It was something that I learned from myself a long time ago working with Zero to the extent in which you screw yourself up by planning. There are certain logistical things where failing to plan is planning to fail. And then there’s other stuff like your idea of what a musical outcome would be if you were to combine certain things. “If we do this and this and this then, that will have this effect.” That kind of thinking almost always turns out to be wrong. (laughs) That’s never right. You don’t know what any of that stuff really needs or what it is going to do so you get this grand design in your head about how something is supposed to work and it doesn’t work that way and then, you’re so invested in your own vision that you can’t see what is there. You’re just upset that’s it is not what you thought it was going to be. The basic dynamic there is it is never what you think. Sometimes, if you try too hard at going on doing this and this and this so that means it is going to do this, you screw yourself up. When you get up there and it’s not that, where are you? (pauses) That is going to read like shit when you write that down. (laughter)

RR: No. No. Not at all. It’s brilliant. I understand and actually want to build on that since I have achieved my Master’s Degree in Reading Steve Kimock.

SK: (laughs) You get where I’m coming from there.

RR: Definitely.

SK: You can’t pretend to know shit that you can’t know and be upset that it isn’t what you thought it would be because it never is. You have to be open with that stuff.

RR: Let me circumvent that way of thinking, side-stepping the future tense issue, by talking about historical information. I really enjoy the new tunes that you’ve done with Billy Goodman, who you played with in the Goodman Brothers band back in the 1970s (and, coincidentally, with work produced by Mickey Hart in that decade).

SK: Oh, you got to hear that stuff?

RR: Yes. I haven’t had the chance to hear that side of your playing too often in the last several years. There is a rich chemistry due to a long history playing together. “Countin’ On You,” “You Are With Me,” “Evangeline” and “Ghost Town” are all fine songs. What are you enjoying about playing with Billy Goodman without looking too far into the future?

SK: Oh, it’s just such a huge comfort zone for both of us. We started playing together when we were teenagers. We made the trip from Pennsylvania to California together and have always considered ourselves, literally, brothers. There’s some pretty deep stuff there. I didn’t have brothers growing up. I had two little sisters. I never had a brother, always wanted a brother. So those guysthe Goodman Brothers [Billy and Frank]are like my brothers. They’re just a bunch of little, fairly nasty motherfuckers who went out there in the world to try to make music. They did it with very little else than an attitude and talentsuch talent which we hadand really trusting each other to get some kind of shared vision. That was always that way with me, Bill and Frank. We always had a pretty clear idea of what each other could do, what we like to do and what we could do with that so here it iswe’re still doing it. Billy’s been hanging at the house and playing. It just feels great. I love the cat, an old friend still doing it. He lives in Germany, now. I don’t know if people have been aware of that but he’s been in Germany for a long time.

RR: Right, he’s based in Heidelberg.

SK: Yeah but it seems like he’s been based in the barn. (laughter) [Author’s Note: the Kimock family have a barn on their Pennsylvania property which is used as a music room and serves as a creative space to collaborate.]

RR: Your son, John, gave me all the current scoop on the famous barn. How did you get back together with Billy Goodman, a new member of the latest version of Steve Kimock & Friends?

SK: It was one of his occasional trips to the States and I said, “What are you doing in town? Come on over and let’s play.” We’re playing and he said, “Oh, this is nice in here.” He liked the room, my little room in the barn, where I play. I’ve got my guitars, a Hammond organ, a drum set, a bass, and a bunch of old amps and old guitars. He said, “This is cool. We should try and record this.” I said, “This is not a recording studio.” He said, “Well, all we need is a couple of things.” Dave Morrison, the digital soundboard man, brought over some really, I mean, I don’t know what the hell anybody was thinking but, the most primitive recording setup that you can imagine. We had a couple of mikes, some computerssome kind of program that we couldn’t get to do anything. I don’t know if the program had more capability than we were able to pull from it or we were just sort of maxed out on what it was capable of doing but we wound up doing the whole thing with no EQsthere was nothing. We managed to get some information onto the tape so everything you hear on the tape is exactly what it was which is probably the neat part about it. It’s a very old school recording with absolutely no planning involved. Zero planning. Billy came out to the house with a guitar so we just did it. It wasn’t like “Hey, come on over and let’s do some music and then, go play some gigs.” He just came over and we just played. “O.K.get a microphone. O.K.there’s a song. O.Kwhy don’t we go out to California and play these songs and some other songs?”

RR: Where were the two recent YouTube films with you and Billy playing “Countin’ On You” and “You Are With Me” recorded?

SK: In the barn.

RR: Looks like a small room where you are facing each other and playing.

SK: Actually, there is a whole bunch of room behind the camera that you’re not seeing. It’s not a very small room. It also has about a 12-foot ceiling. I like that sound.

RR: Exactly. It sounds very good and that’s why I was curious about the room.

SK: It’s particularly forgiving. It’s sort of a medium-sized room. It has an, honest to God, small room adjoining it with two huge, straight-up wooden walls with 12-foot ceilings and a more intimate acoustic space. We were in the more ensemble space.

RR: Let’s talk about the other members of Steve Kimock & Friends, who will play with you in California, including your son, John Morgan Kimock on drums. Obviously, you’ve played quite a bit with him in the barn over the years.

SK: Yeah, maybe not as much as I’d really like but quite a bit. I really enjoy playing with Johnny but he’s got his own thing. I don’t try to muscle in on that. He’s got a couple of bands that he plays with and they’ve got great tunes, great sounds and great concepts all by themselves. I’m sure those all make perfect sense to them and I’m sure that when I do play with those cats in their own format, it probably changes it because they’re teenagers and I’m in my 50s. I don’t want to change it too much. I want to let him develop his own stuff.

RR: I do hear some elements of your specific DNA in his various music. There is some cross-pollination and I would expect that one would.

SK: Yeah, he’s been listening to and playing along with all of those bands for all of those years that I’ve been in. He probably played his first Zero gig when he was three or something. You knowhe probably played his first gig with me and Merle Saunders.

RR: How was the recent experience of playing with Zero with John in the band?

SK: I love it. I love playing with him so much that it makes it easy to put up with all the rest of the baggage that you have with guys who you’ve played with for twenty years.

RR: Hutch HutchinsonBonnie Raitt’s bass player among many other collaborations with other musiciansis joining Kimock & Friends for the first time.

SK: Beyond that I haven’t played with him before and I’m kind of jumping out of my skin to do so, there’s not much to say.

RR: How did he come under your umbrella?

SK: (pauses) That’s a good question. I think we were just looking around for people who might be available to play and he was one. We put out some calls to anyone who wanted to play. “I’m not doing anything. I’ll play.” It’s like that. Obviously, his Bonnie Raitt routine is still leading the charge, for him, gig-wise. The whole basic idea of Steve Kimock & Friends was always just sort of “between movies” stuff for me. Let’s just go have some fun. (laughs) Let’s try not to get too serious with the music. Let’s just go play and have a good time. Often, when you try and assemble and field a team and then, try and create all-original music and take it in an original directionwhich I’ve done a couple of times with a combination of folksit can get a little serious which is fun to do if you’ve got a bunch of folks that are going to be there all the time. It is also, for me, probably more fun to be getting fresh stuff with fresh people with the only idea, the only real concept being “let’s go have a ball with this.”

RR: And, of course, Melvin Seals, will be rounding out the quintet on keyboards.

SK: One of my all-time favorite guys to play with. All heart. That cat just plays beautifully and I think that he and I play beautifully together. We have a lot of fun playing together and we have a ton of respect for each other. I’m really happy to have him. He just plays the spookiest stuff I’ve ever heard of and he gets sounds out of the organ that nobody else getscrazy, windy layers and trails and all kinds of shapes that I don’t normally associate with keyboard sounds at all. The actual physical sound that [Melvin] somehow gets out of the instrument is different to me than anybody else, which would seem right but he’s so not the generic player. He’s a very interesting player.

RR: It is very interesting that you said that because I was thinking just now, that the same could be said of your playing, Steve. There were occasions that I’ve heard tones that no one has ever played and they seem to come from some other place.

SK: Well, you know, (laughs) being a little more intimately acquainted with guitar technique than keyboard technique, I thinkand I don’t knowbut I think when I’m getting sounds, because I’m very sonically-oriented and it is what it sounds like to me on some level and, when I’m getting sounds that are actually working in that way“Oh, that’s a cool and interesting thing”I’m not getting them as much as allowing them. I’m
not making the sound. I’m allowing some quality that’s already in the sound, very naturally, that is spaced to present itself. Do you play guitar? I don’t remember.

RR: No. I once played drums, though.

SK: If you hit a note on the guitar, it makes a sound, right? If you hit another note on the same string, just the act of hitting that note again, stops the sound that you just made. A lot of guitar playing, for whatever reason, (laughs) is stopping as many notes as you are starting. There’s got to be a way to start notes without stopping the note you are playing to play the next note. I don’t know. It’s a funny approach to how the notes connect and the shapes that connect them which might wind up being a little different than people use because I’m trying not to stop the sound that is happening to start another sound going.

RR: There is a wonderful Byrds-like quality to the new track you wrote with Billy Goodman called “Ghost Town.” What guitar are you using to create that sound?

SK: It’s a Charvel 12-string. It’s a Surfcaster! (laughs) The Surfcaster doesn’t come out muchit’s been a couple of years. I went in the back, dug it out and I needed a string or two because the strings were like 10 years old. I thought, “This is going to be perfect.”
That’s a Surfcaster with a little compressor and a little echo. That’s a cool sound and a very Byrds-y sound with a 12-string and a compressor no matter how you slice it.

RR: You’ve also been on the recent Jam Cruise in January.

SK: Jam Cruise. Yeah. Always a good timea drunken brawl.

RR: “I don’t remember it.”

SK: I almost remember that Jam Cruise.

RR: Tons of collaboration with Warren Haynes, Grace Potter, and Ivan Neville, to name a few. Your version of “Stella Blue” with Warren was specifically memorable.

SK: Oh my God, that was so much fun. I’m a huge Warren fanas a player and a person. When I heard his stuff, at first, I thought, “Shitthat dude’s great,” but I didn’t really know where it was coming from. Along the way, we’ve got to hang out and talking and he’s just the sweetest guy. He’s a great guy. When you know the guy and he’s playing, it makes perfect sense (laughs)how could that guy not play like that? That’s just him. So much of his personality in his playing. It’s wonderful. That was neat to get to hook up with him for the Jam Cruise stuff. He’s game. He’s one of those guys like [Bruce] Hornsby who is always up for playing something and it doesn’t matter if isn’t exactly what he was doing before. He always has a really clear idea of what that is going to be.

RR: And you also hooked up with Warren and the Allman Brothers last summer.

SK: Playing with the Allmans? That was a gas, obviously.

RR: Is that like jumping on a freight train?

SK: No, it’s cool. I grew up with that music. That’s a real comfort zone for me. You knowobviously, as a guitar player, on some level, going out to play with the Allman Brothers is a little intimidating. It was formative listening for me and there is so much history and incredible guitar playing then and now that what exactly do you do? (laughs)

So just to fuck with it, basicallywe were doing the RatDog thing. Weir would always give this look, this little dirty look as I’d pick up the L5this big Gibson hollow body guitarand I’d play the L5 on stage with a rock band, with RatDog. He’d say, “That’s a great guitar. How can you play that thing? Why doesn’t it just feedback and freak out? How can you get that thing to work on stage?” Normally, full box would just be [Kimock makes a feedback sound] honking and, generally, unplayable. It’s just one of those things. I can play an L5 on stage and it doesn’t bother me. Somehow, I keep it together.

(laughs) So when I did the Allmans thingjust to mess with Weir, I play the L5and when I went out there with the Allman Brothers, which is even more of a giant, big kaboom rock band and part of it was having fun with Bobby and the selection of instruments. “I’m going to go out there and do this, which probably isn’t a good idea!” (laughter) Walk out there with a big ole hollow body guitar and play that. After I did that, Warren said, “Come on up and play with us. We’re going to do “Mountain Jam” for the encore and bring that big Gibson guitar.” Suddenly, that was the thing. (laughs)

I’ve known Derek [Trucks] for years. The cat is so awesome. He’s a really sweet guy, too. Those guys, their personalities, my own lifelong familiarity with the attitude of that music, where it is coming from and the respect for that and the whole poking-fun-at-the-guitar-thing with Weir, bringing out the L5 for the big rock bandall of that together is just fun. It’s fun because of the people and the mutual love and respect for the music.

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