April 29, 2004
by BOB DORAN
THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT THE WAY Steve Kimock [photo at right] plays music that reminds me of Johnny B. Goode, who could "play a guitar just like ringing a bell." Kimock has a lead guitar style where notes well up and flow like liquid, apparently emanating from his stream of consciousness.
I caught Kimock off guard when I called him at his Pennsylvania home over the weekend. I almost expected him to be holding a guitar -- his technique is so accomplished and sure, you might think he practices constantly. Instead he was cradling his 13-week-old son (not easy to do while holding a phone in one hand).
After he found a safe place to settle the babe, we briefly talked about his kids. (He has three.) He recently bought a place in Pennsylvania, his home state, after living for years in the San Francisco Bay Area, in part to be close to his son from a previous marriage: John Morgan Kimock, age 14, "my big boy," he calls him. "He's a furious drummer and a serious martial artist," said Steve proudly.
Kimock has settled into "an old farm house with a great big barn in PA," not far from his hometown, Bethlehem. When he mentions the pleasure he gets out in his barn "cranking up the steel in the middle of the night," it sends us off on a tangent talking about lap steel guitars (he has "a pile") and pedal steel -- he has one but hasn't mastered it, can't seem to get it to produce the sound he hears in his head.
"There's a certain kind of logic to the tuning on a [regular] guitar that I figured out when I was younger. I was never able to extrapolate that logic to the pedal steel; it's not really like a guitar. It's cool, but I've never been able to get to that stream of consciousness place."
Wondering how he got to that "stream of consciousness place" on guitar, I asked if there was some particular point when he decided he wanted to dedicate his life to being a musician.
"Absolutely," he replied immediately. "I was 16 when it happened. I remember it clearly. I just thought, you know, I like this. I could do this. It won't be like getting a job; I'll basically be this impoverished person with no social life, but maybe if I get good and I'm lucky, I'll get to play in a good band or something like that. That was what I was hoping for. Eventually that's what I got, so be careful what you wish for. I should have wished that I would get good at it and make a bazillion dollars. Oh, the folly of youth."
Kimock did end up playing with a few good bands. After moving to the Bay Area in the mid-'70s, he began associating with the Grateful Dead crowd, eventually joining forces with drummer Greg Anton to form a psychedelic rock band called Zero. Over the years he toured or recorded with Dead spin-offs like Bob Weir's Kingfish, Phil Lesh and friends and the Other Ones. In 1998 he formed KVHW with an all-star crew, and played with them for two years. The band earned acclaim but somehow never got around to recording an album. Early in 2000 he formed the Steve Kimock Band. They have just released the all-instrumental DVD, Live at the Gothic Theatre. A double-disc CD drawing from the same material will follow soon.
I asked him why he chose playing guitar, and music in general, as a way to make a living.
"This may sound a little hippy dippy when I explain it, but I think there are a couple of interrelated issues that make it good work in a life sense, things that don't have anything to do with earning a living. One is that music provides community. I think it serves a function similar to religion, but without the dogma. It's a church kind of thing; people get together and experience some kind of fellowship and community -- it's basically like-minded folks enjoying themselves together."
The way Kimock brings people together has something to do with what the Beatles recommended: "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream."
"It's true, I try to use as little of my brain as possible," he said in agreement, although in Kimock's hands relaxing and floating do not lead to mindless noodling. His skill level is simply at a point where he does not have to think about what note comes next.
How did he get there? "There's a lot of really dull work there, repetition, rote memorization, crap like that that has little to do with the actual musical experience. That's more or less a succession of feeling states that hopefully lead to that flow state where you rid yourself of the whole duality of mind and the chronological perception of time and stuff like that."
His hope is that by reaching that place himself, he can bring the audience along. "That's the other function of music: I think it's one of those activities where there's this flow state -- when it hits right, you can get moments where time literally stops -- you're just transported -- it gets you right into the now in a way very few things can. And I think that's a huge benefit to people. Even if it's very temporary, you get a glimpse outside your normal dualistic mind state -- you are in the moment, being right there, right then. And that's a good place to be."
Lincoln Wachtel presents the Steve Kimock Band in concert Saturday, May 1, at Six Rivers Brewery Old Town with Jim Kost on keyboards, Mitch Stein on rhythm guitar, Leo Traversa on bass, Rodney Holmes on drums and Steve Kimock on lead guitar. Doors open at 8:30; show 9:30 p.m.; tickets, $25. For more on the band, see www.kimock.com.
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.