By: Joy Bashew Rosenberg
Recently, audience members who arrived at the Phish after-party shows at The NorVa in Norfolk, Virginia, were surprised to find that although the marquee outside said "Passion Presents: Steve Kimock and Friends," it was actually the debut of Kimock's highly-touted new band, Steve Kimock Crazy Engine.
|Steve Kimock Crazy Engine by Dan Savage|
"Well," the guitarist says with a laugh, "they are my friends."
The band used the two late night dates to test out the fresh relationships, some new material and a new production team before their national tour kicks off in late March (find tour dates here). Joining Kimock in Crazy Engine is master of the organ Melvin Seals (Jerry Garcia Band, JGB), bassist Janis Wallin (Family Groove Company), vocalists Cheryl Rucker and Shirley Starks, and Kimock's son John Morgan Kimock on drums. The national tour will hit the West and East Coasts through most of April and end in New Orleans in early May. They are already on the bill for several summer festivals, including 10,000 Lakes, High Sierra, Wakarusa and All Good.
Previewing this band at the NorVa was a technique Kimock used to quell any worries he had about starting the new project – an effort to dispel the "black and white movies of planes trying to take off, trains crashing head on, that kind of thing" that occur in his mind before any new musical venture. "I don't assume serendipity," he said later that week, back at his East Coast home. "I have to assume that the boat is going to leak and I have to keep an eye out. For me, starting out it's a long mental checklist about the stuff you need to pay attention to."
Would Kimock's loaner Hammond B3 organ hold up to Seals' caliber of playing for those first weekend shows? What about the production, all that wiring? For all his anxiety, the sneak peek performances proved to Kimock, his band mates and all who were there that this is an inspired band with the right mix of the familiar and the experimental to create a novel sound that appeals to many generations of music fans.
"Eighty-percent of [the worries] go away when you hit the stage and you play a note," says Kimock. By the second show of that weekend, he felt there had been progress on all levels. "It's as cool as I thought it'd be playing with that group of people. It's neat to be starting out with something I intend to spend some time with."
|Steve Kimock by Jennifer Brunner Kimock|
In recent years, Kimock has performed with many different projects: Praang, with members of String Cheese Incident; the Steve Kimock Band; reformations of the Goodman Brothers Band and Zero; and performances with RatDog, among others. Yet he felt he lacked an opportunity to work and write for a particular group of people who have a "stable chemistry" with each other and for whom he could write new material.
"I really enjoy having a group of people and then figuring out what material fits everybody's shared direction," he says. "It's a really rewarding little puzzle. It directs the writing in a certain way; writing to other people's strengths."
The members of Crazy Engine come from a range of genres and bring their own, diverse professional catalogs and musical influences to the group. When was the last time you went to a concert and saw as many women on stage as men? The even ratio of females to males in the band is a refreshing change for a rock & roll stage. "There was no plan to have three guys and three gals in the band," Kimock admits. "That's just how it shook out." Besides providing "abundant musical talent," vocalists Rucker and Starks, along with bassist Wallin, provide the feminine presence that has been lacking on stages for way too long - a precedent Kimock is proud to NOT perpetuate.
He met Wallin when the two were performing in the Everyone Orchestra. "I was a huge fan from note one when I heard her play," he says. Having begun his own musical career as a bass player, Kimock receives particular inspiration and direction from that instrument. "As soon as she started to play, I was really struck by her very responsible, old-school bass playing. If the whole band fell off the back of the bandstand, and the only person left was the bass player, you'd still hear the whole song, you'd still be grooving. I have a lot of respect for that."
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