Steve Kimock will be hosting workshops at the Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio in September 20-23, followed by a stint in Chicago, playing with Dan Lebowitz of ALO at Martyr’s, September 27-28. The Bethlehem, PA, native will also set sail on the Jam Cruise, playing alongside Keller Williams, in January, cruising to Jamaica and the Bahamas. Though Kimock has played with Jerry Garcia and a host of other amazing musicians, he remains a humble teacher of musical techniques to help others in their music voyage.
We start with idle chitchat, as I explain my father is from Pennsylvania, and we talk about some of the old stonework that is found in the area. Steve tells me about an old fountain where the pilgrims would drink. The conversation transitions to Europe, as he asks if I have had any overseas ventures, and as I explain that I studied in Florence, Italy, for Johns Hopkins University, we talk of how the Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania were inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Italy, and things come full circle.
Marisa: How did you get started in music? Did you come from a musical family? What were your biggest musical influences?
Steve Kimock: My immediate family, mom and dad portion of the program, I am the eldest; I have three sisters younger. My mom played piano, because she was a teacher; she taught K-3 my whole life. Back in the day, if teaching kindergarten, she would play and sing with kids, so there was that level of piano playing in the house. My father was pretty committed, still is, to New York talk radio politics, but he would occasionally burst into World War 2 songs. “When rolling along, over the hill, over the dale, we will hit the dusty trail…” Aunt Dorothy was a folk singer, before Peter Haas, a fixture on the Philadelphia folk scene. As a youth, around 10 or 12, I would visit cousins, and Aunt Dotty would be there with her guitar, auto harp, or other instruments. She would sing and entertain us, so there was a little music there. It got me into the idea that people played recreationally, not just for school type thing. As a young teen, my cousin Kenny came home from the service in Germany. He had a gold top Les Paul, and he played blues, rock and roll, Rolling Stones songs, so that was extent of my family influence, but it was still very influential. Kenny got me started on the electric guitar, and Dotty gave me the idea to play at all. My eldest son, John, plays drums in the band. He grew up on the road, saw all the guys play, so that’s a different kind of musical family. My early influences were, being the 60s, the Beatles, and I also had a little bit of Indian influence, like Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, as well as the usual rock and roll. Johnny Winter was big early on, especially The Progressive Blues Experiment record. Those early influences really endured for me: world music, north Indian music in particular, American blues, quirky pop stuff… It’s all probably what makes me go. Later on, when I was in my late teens and early 20s, as expected as musician in our culture, I learned jazz, learned show tunes, so that influence came later with jazz. It was a big influence, but secondary to the world music, quirky British pop and American blues.
Marisa: What instruments do you play, and how old were you when you learned to play them?
Steve Kimock: Playing guitar as a young teen, I didn’t really have the little light bulb in my head that said you’re committed until when I was about 16. By the time I was 16, I was like, I’m guna do this. I don’t care what happens. I’d play whatever other instruments fell into my hands along way. I dabbled with flute, sax, piano, anything get hands on, violin, but I stuck with guitar. I like the strings vibrating, plucking the strings, so I play guitar, slide guitar, fretless guitar, steel guitar, pedal steel – I got my first one at 16, so I’ve played plenty of the basic string instruments.
Tip: There’s a really fun website, if anyone is interested in guitar or what’s called plucking the strings. It’s called the Atlas of Plucked Instruments, http://www.atlasofpluckedinstruments.com/. You can see regions in the world and the different kinds of instruments they play there, like Southeast Asia. Not only can you see all the instruments they play there, but they have Youtube links to see guys playing them. Surf around the world to see the instruments you want. I found it and bookmarked it.
Marisa: When did you get started doing the workshops at the Fur Peace Ranch, what types of things are offered at the workshops?
Steve Kimock: It’s been a couple years, at least, since I’ve been doing the Fur Peace Ranch stuff. I don’t think there’s anything I could point to musically specifically about what goes on. You just have to be there to appreciate how immersive it is. That’s the real hit that I get from it, and I know my students and Jorma’s students, or whoever is teaching there at that time’s students, are in it all day long. There’s a lot of people that play music. They dabble, do for recreation, maybe pick it up once a week, or even everyday for ten minutes, but the real difference is from being there with people and instruments all day long. I saddle up and stay in it all day. There’s a constant instruction and camaraderie. It’s like a creative common, and a lot of people working at all time. It’s various, so no matter what level of playing you are at, you see people working together and helping each other.
Marisa: What was your first concert that you attended, and how did that compare to the first concert that you played?
Steve Kimock: The first concert I played had nothing to do with any others that I actually played, but first real concert I went to, I was right up front: Sly and the Family Stone at the Ag Hall in Allentown, the Agricultural Hall. I had no idea what to expect. There was a promoter on stage saying that Sly was a little late, orbiting the airport, but he was coming. Like a fool, I believed him, but he was probaby in back trying to sober up. The concert started so late, and it’s so long ago, I don’t remember, as I was probably about 15 or 16. When they finally hit stage, oh my God, what an eye-opening experience. I mean, you’d hear the songs they’d play on the radio, but they played so hard! Greg Erriko, who I would later become good friends in California, went onto play with David Bowie and other musicians that were rather unexpected when you think back to early Sly. Imagine that band coming out, slamming that music so hard with vocals; it was extremely impressive. My own first concert was probably some high school gymnasium; I don’t even remember.
Marisa: I remember my dad telling me that he had seen Sly and the Family Stone back in the day, and he had talked about how it took him forever to come out on stage. Funny thing is, here in Detroit, from what I understand, and from what I’ve been told by my friend Rich Mavis, who was at the show, it was actually Sly and the Family Stone that caused a balcony to collapse at one of the big, theatre style venues back in the day, the Michigan Palace. Everyone was just so pumped when he finally came out, and there were so many people squeezed onto the balcony, that when they started jumping around, all excited, that it literally started to cave in, and collapse basically.
Steve Kimock: Sly’s band and that act back in the day, they were just a force of nature. Just check out Youtube stuff of it. They were strong, so strong. They were a great band, one of many great San Francisco Bay area bands.
Marisa: How do you go about writing music? What comes first for you: drums, guitars, vocals or something else? Has the process of writing changed for you over the years at all?
Steve Kimock: I haven’t really stumbled onto anything too formulaic for getting a tune completed. I always have a giant pile of half written stuff, hooks and stuff, but the big joke in the studio – and lots of other professions have a similar version to this: “how you make a hit record? Any way you can!” Song writing is kinda like that. Some tunes are written where the first thing in mind was a lyric line or chorus. Write it. Sing it like a dog, so I think of words and write a song. Some stuff I’ve written accidentally on the piano while trying to figure something else out. At least a couple bits are deliberately performed from some theoretical manipulations; like I wrote out a chart, folded it in half, and back on itself, permutation transformations. It could be anything.
Marisa: When I covered the first Jam Cruise for High Times, my favorite was watching the sun rise, just a big ball of fire from the center of the ocean; what do you look forward to the most when playing on the Jam Cruise?
Steve Kimock: The other musicians. I just like being in a place where there are lots of people playing. You might get to spend a minute, or collaborate. You’re all on a boat. It’s not too dissimilar to what enjoy about Fur Peace Ranch; its very submersive. The vast majority of the time, I’m working. There may be another band on the bill, but probably not. To level up from that, this week, we are playing Cabaret Vibes (Gathering of the Vibes in Bridgeport), and it’s great to get to see them and hang out for a minute, but I might only have like ten minutes to hang with John Scofield. On a boat, you can sit and drink coffee. It’s nice on boat, because everyone is there the whole time. You can develop friendships, compare notes, and that’s the part I look forward to, that I don’t get; for me, I could always stand to have more musician around, because it inspires me.
Marisa: How did you get hooked up with Keller Williams, and what’s the coolest thing about your latest project?
Steve Kimock: I’m completely immune to the calendar; I have no idea what day it is. When was it? It might have been on one of those Further tours, a long time ago. Anyway, the cool thing about Keller, for me, is his willingness and openness; he’ll go for anything. When he goes for it, he does it with great intelligence and humor. I find that a very attractive quality for somebody who will just really go for it, and do it with a big smile. Bruce Hornsby is like that too, a big smile, like he is getting away with something, while he is going for anything. It’s like “te he he” the whole time. Keller’s like that. My son John is on that as well, Keller and Kimock.
Marisa: What is the scariest thing about being on the road?
Steve Kimock: There’s a million scary things: fly on plane, ride in a car, run out of gas, bed bugs, bad food, getting stuck in a snow storm, stuff like that. It’s the same stuff that confronts you about travel anywhere. That’s the really the worst of it. I haven’t had an issue of any kind with venue or management that’s been scary in years and years, for whatever reason. The vast majority of events I appear at is friendly, good natured, happy and positive. One festival got busted really bad one time, Utah or some kind of quasi-utilitarian, out in woods police state; the cops raided the whole thing. That’s probably the worst of it, some run in with police, where you get dragged off in hand cuffs, but most are overwhelming positive. No nightmare scenarios of being trampled or stuff on that scale.
Marisa: Career highs and lows?
Steve Kimock: That’s tricky. Career highs for me keep coming all the time. My favorite thing is being up on stage with someone else when they’re really throwing down, and I’m front and center for that. I’ve played with enough great writers and famous people. I’m not singling anyone out. When I played with Steve Winwood, standing next to him, that was a career high, to see him throw down. As much as you hit your tunes on the radio, standing next to someone while they’re singing it is a whole nother level. I like stuff like that, people who are playing their asses off. I feel blessed to be with them every night, standing three, or five, feet away from them, and soaking in it. Career high is being there with them. The low parts are not so much music related, as related to peripheral parts of stuff. I’ve rolled vans full of equipment; that’s kind of a career low. My driving career is low, but musically, it’s all pretty high. It’s a test of patience, takes forever, but I guess that’s the nature of the thing of life. I’m glad to be living the musical life.
Marisa: What’s your favorite way to travel and why?
Steve Kimock: I guess my favorite way to travel is in a car, especially if you get to go some place cool. The bullet train in Japan is cool; but overall, driving through certain areas, like the desert in the United States, or the Black Forest in Germany, you feel the nature unfolding. You’ll have long stretches of nothing, then you’ll find that novelty eventually. Travel in car, because you can stop. Air travel any more is a nightmare. I think it’s the same for everyone. If I have a choice to stand in line to get x-rayed, or see scenery, I’ll take scenery.
Marisa: What’s your favorite place to travel to, and is there anywhere you have not been to that you would like to go to?
Steve Kimock: There are thousands of places I’d like to go to. I’ve never been to India, Africa, or Brazil; I would love to go there. There’s all sorts of Pacific rim places I’d love to go to, southeast Asia. I like to go everywhere, if I could. The places I’m most excited to go is anywhere overseas. I’ve spent the majority of my life here in the States. I’ve travel to Europe, and Japan a couple times, but I’m always excited to see people, how they live, what they do, and see how they respond to music, as soon as I’m out of the States. It’s more rewarding, and there’s stuff to see.
Marisa: What’s your biggest musical fantasy?
Steve Kimock: Here, it’s completely backwards. Even though I understand that he’s kinda of a bastard as a band leader, I’d love to play with Van Morrison. I’ve listened to him a lot, early stuff, and later stuff. There’s any number of folks that have passed away that I wished could’ve played with. I would have loved to have been on the bus for one of the Bob Marley tours, but if there’s one that keeps popping up, I’d strum acoustic guitar for Van Morrison.
Marisa: I have three personality questions that I ask everyone. They might sound like hogwash, but I promise, there is a psychological basis to the answers ;-) First, if you were an unicorn, and you could be any color but white, what color would you be and would you have any special powers?
Steve Kimock: I’m guessing that I would be pink, with the power of invisibility. Next time you see an invisible, pink unicorn, it might just be me.
Marisa: If you were yogurt, would you be mixed fruit, fruit on the bottom, what flavor and why?
Steve Kimock: Oh, I’m going to have to get Myles’ opinion on that one. (He repeats the question, is heard laughing and returns shortly with his answer.) Myles seems to think I’d be blueberry, fruit on the bottom. I had to get my “ask the audience” card for that. Maple would be a possibility, too.
Marisa: I actually have an audience question, too. I was asked to ask you, why the Steve Kimock Band stopped in 2006 and if you had any plans of playing with Rodney Holmes again in the future.
Steve Kimock: It just hasn’t come up. It keeps stretching availability, but it hasn’t happened yet. The band with me and Rodney, and Reed, and Robert Walter is a fantastic band. It was a lot of fun. People seem to relocate. Reed got super busy and moved. Robert was in New Orleans, but he bailed out after Katrina. Reed settled in L.A. and wound up in steady gig doing film stuff. Everybody used to travel. It will come up.
Marisa: Describe yourself as either a dog, a cat or a cartoon.
Steve Kimock: Bugs Bunny. You can read into that however you want. Bugs Bunny. Final answer.
Marisa: Do you collect anything?
Steve Kimock: Musical instruments, but I do not collect, so much as accumulate. I’ve got plenty of guitars, and a nice pile of stones and crystals, that I get along the way. Pretty much, instruments accumulate around me, because I like them. I don’t collect Star Wars figurines, or anything like that.
Marisa: Do you have any hidden talents or special skills?
Steve Kimock: I have one weird thing I do that I think you could consider special skills: I enjoy picking up broken glass. When a glass breaks, nobody goes near it. I get in there, because I know I can’t cut myself. I’m super careful and super thorough, because I have kids. That’s the extent of my super powers – with the exception of if stuff is lost, I can find I, because I never stop looking. I’m a good finder.
Marisa: What’s the most important thing to remember?
Steve Kimock: I really, for me, I work pretty hard, and struggle, and things are hard, but the most important thing to remember is that I have beautiful children that I love, and I love them.
Marisa: What was your most influential moment?
Steve Kimock: Going back to Uncle Kenny showing me how to play the Rolling Stones; that made all things possible for me.
Marisa: If you were not doing music, what would you be doing?
Steve Kimock: I would be, you know, the guy with the mullet and a three color Camaro, and really loud exhaust; that’d be me. I’d be an alcoholic street racer probably. I was rescued from being a greaser by music.
Marisa: What are three things you must have with you when you are on the road?
Steve Kimock: I gotta have my guitar, some ID, and a ride. I am a man of very modest means.
Marisa: Any advice for musicians starting out?
Steve Kimock: Don’t quit.
Marisa: Where can people find your music?
Steve Kimock: www.facebook.com/stevekimock, www.myspace.com/stevekimock, www.kimock.com,
I know there are any number of internet music sites to stream music from, but stick plucked instruments in there, too: http://www.atlasofpluckedinstruments.com/.
Marisa: Closing thoughts and additional comments?
Steve Kimock: Let people know – whether it’s my own band, or anybody else’s – support live music. Enjoy the music, the fellowship and community music view, when gathering to support live music.
For more information on Steve Kimock, visit www.kimock.com. For more information on Steve Kimock at the Fur Peace Ranch, visit http://www.furpeaceranch.com/instructors/steve_kimock.html, and for more information about the Jam Cruise, visit www.jamcruise.com. The author of more than 100 books, Marisa Williams earned her Master’s in Writing from the Johns Hopkins University; for more on Marisa, visit www.lulu.com/spotlight/thorisaz.