Steve Kimock Crazy Engine: A New Trip

By: Joy Bashew Rosenberg

Steve Kimock Crazy Engine by Dan Savage
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.

"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.

Steve Kimock by Jennifer Brunner Kimock
"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."

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."

Continue reading for more on Steve Kimock Crazy Engine...

I think that there's a great deal of positive energy that can be generated playing music in general, but I think that this specific batch of people - because everybody represents a comfort zone that I recognize - I think that it's going to be good energy for people right now. The whole country is undergoing some kind of metamorphosis. It's time to get out there and put some energy into that.

-Steve Kimock

Photo by: Greg Kessler

Sharing a stage with each other may be a relatively new event, but Kimock and Melvin Seals both have deep roots in the Bay Area music scene of the '70s, '80s and '90s. Their shared connections are almost endless, with links through members of the bands Legion of Mary, the Grateful Dead, Merl Saunders and the Rainforest Band, Zero and the Jerry Garcia Band.

John and Steve Kimock by Michael Weintrob
But, there can be no doubt that his most special bond with a Crazy Engine member is that which he shares with his son John Morgan, who was banging pots and pans in the kitchen before he could speak. Although Kimock saw potential talent "as soon as he got a hold of a stick," by two years of age, John Morgan was writing his own compositions.

Kimock remembers the day he knew John was a musician: "He would grab stuff - a toy and a plate and a box and a bell and whatever - and make semicircles on the floor, and amuse himself by doing whatever he believed the permutations of those collections were. So, one day he's sitting there with his collections on the floor, and he says, 'Do you want to hear a song I wrote?' I was like, 'Sure.' And then he goes around for a minute or two, and then he stops, and you do the usual thing, clap, but then he said, 'Do you want to hear it again?' And he did it again! It was a really long sequence, and he knew what it was supposed to be. He was composing! And I was like, 'Cool!' So, he still does that a lot. He writes beautiful, beautiful stuff."

John has played with his father in several projects, but this is the first time he's a permanent member of one of his father's bands. Steve Kimock doesn't take credit for his son's skill. Instead, he attributes John's keen attention to detail to his own inquisitiveness about all types of music.

"I know a lot of people who listen to a lot of music [but] he listens to more music than anyone I know," says Kimock. "He's heard so much stuff, and he's been at it for so long. He has such a right attitude about his own place in all of it that he approaches the thing with a lot of respect. It's pretty cool."

Janis Wallin by Paul Kruis
Part of the discipline required for a nineteen-year-old to expertly serve in the rhythm section for a band that boasts so much experience and talent can be attributed to John's experience as a national martial arts champion. According to his father, as a second-degree Black Belt submission grappler in high school, he was "kicking ass and taking names." "He brings a certain resolve to his work that few people have. He's been beat up by professionals. He knows how to pay attention."

It's these newfound strong connections with his band mates that Kimock feels will help Crazy Engine to create the soundtrack to the "existing, developing energy" that is present in the world right now.

"I think that there's a great deal of positive energy that can be generated playing music in general, but I think that this specific batch of people - because everybody represents a comfort zone that I recognize - I think that it's going to be good energy for people right now," he says. "The whole country is undergoing some kind of metamorphosis. It's time to get out there and put some energy into that."

So, why Crazy Engine, and why now?

"From a family perspective, it's the right time for me to be working with Johnny for Johnny. That's one reason," says Kimock. "I'm thrilled with his development, and I know that he's going to be off to bigger and better things, a wonderful and expansive musical life of his own, and I just want to spend some time with him before he gets away. I enjoy playing with him so much and love him and his playing, and I know he's got a world out there that I'm happy to let him go after."

Continue reading for more on Steve Kimock Crazy Engine...

I'm not as interested in playing the guitar as in what playing the guitar does to people. I know that there's a lot of power in it that I don't really have much of an understanding of, honestly - and maybe no one does, and maybe it's not the kind of thing that you understand - but I have an appreciation of the experience.

-Steve Kimock

Photo by: Susan J. Weiand

Rather than perfecting his technique onstage, Kimock is ready to use his time in this band to explore other realms of consciousness through his playing, hoping that the audience is able to experience the range of emotions particular to their own experiences. "I'm not as interested in playing the guitar as in what playing the guitar does to people," he says. "I know that there's a lot of power in it that I don't really have much of an understanding of, honestly - and maybe no one does, and maybe it's not the kind of thing that you understand - but I have an appreciation of the experience."

Steve Kimock by Susan J. Weiand
Kimock feels a responsibility to bring his good intentions to his audience, especially during this time of great potential for major social change in a positive direction.

"When you have gatherings of any kind, those are 99-percent social events. You've got to think about the energy of those gatherings and the energy that you're bringing them and what you're sending the people home with energetically," he observes. "It's a piss in the ocean, because there are a lot of people out there, but you can do what you can to bring the thing up and keep the thing going for people. It's part of the work that I signed up to do on some level when I said I wanted to play music."

Crazy Engine's broad catalog includes not only Kimock's original instrumental material, but also many blues, R&B and Motown covers that have been standards in the JGB catalog for decades. Rucker and Starks lend their voices not only to those JGB tunes they know well, but also to the instrumentals, raising the already luminous tunes to angelic heights and infusing them with a gospel spirit. Adding vocals to his tunes was something Kimock always thought might be interesting to develop but until now, he never had the opportunity.

Steve Kimock Crazy Engine
03.07.09 NorVa by Paul Kruis
"There are just so many possibilities for it that I'm really looking forward to developing," he says, admitting that although the band has practiced many tunes, the real meat of Crazy Engine's arsenal has yet to be formed. "You can't really tell until you get the thing going, because it all evolves together in a non-linear way. You don't know what's going to come up. So you can't write for the thing until you get it going, and once you get it going, the process gets more and more streamlined."

He adds that he's "happy to be at the beginning of that process, that steep part of the learning curve." He likens this genesis to "one of those Zen archer moments, where you have the bow that's impossible to lift, the string that's too tight to draw, this giant arrow, and the target is impossibly far off. You take it up anyway, and you point it and when the tension's right, it will fly."

Concertgoers should expect the unexpected from this group as they find their footing on stages across the country over the next few months. Crazy Engine is playing older music in new ways, and completely new pieces that are backed by decades of experience. In fact, Kimock plans to branch out from his usual comfort zone onstage to the extent that he may even be sharing more singing duties with Rucker, Starks and Seals when the mood strikes him.

"I sing at home a lot; I'm terrible," he says. But, keeping with his philosophy of learning and growing, "I try to learn what notes are, to sing in tune. I'm in full appreciation of the whole mystery of the voice. I bust it out for novelty effect just to see if I can."

And if the leap of faith doesn't work?

"I'm going to keep trying it until people start throwing stuff."

Download Steve Kimock Crazy Engine's shows from The NorVa earlier this month for FREE here.

Steve Kimock Crazy Engine's next show is on Thursday March 26 in Crystal Bay, NV. They also perform two nights at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall this weekend. Complete Crazy Engine tour dates available here.

For more on Steve Kimock Crazy Engine check the video here.

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kandrokitis Tue 3/24/2009 05:33PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


these guys are awesome. anything kimock gets his hands on is usually great. janis is one of the coolest chicks ever. check out this free show:,3628/Steve-Kimock-and-Friends-mp3-flac-download-3-7-2009-The-NorVa-Norfolk-VA.html

Treetophigh Tue 3/24/2009 05:47PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


seen him with some bands

but didnt really pay atttention

but hes got my attention now


im pumped for the wakarusa set

RambleOnShelbyRose Tue 3/24/2009 06:42PM
+7 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


kimock rules. should've been the guitarist for the dead

kandrokitis Tue 3/24/2009 06:44PM
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not to mention that he lives only about an hour from me.

bloggersrlosers starstarstarstarstar Tue 3/24/2009 06:57PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Most definitely should be the dead's guitarist. going to see crazy engine up in burlington and then seeing the dead a few days later in worcester (and not missing work!) gonna be a good weekend

bigworld starstarstarstarstar Tue 3/24/2009 07:54PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Great read! Definitely jump on those free crazy engine sbd's from livedownloads! Steve Kimock's guitar work sounds so angelic to me. Sonic bliss.

bigworld Tue 3/24/2009 07:57PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

bigworld < Tongue n Groove with Keller. Words cant describe it... Post your faves!

tribez44 starstarstarstarstar Tue 3/24/2009 08:52PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

So excited about this Kimock project. Hopefully they get some new material going. That would be great!

Distraction_420 starstarstarstarstar Tue 3/24/2009 08:54PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Really looking forward to seeing them at All Good

gregboyer starstarstarstarstar Tue 3/24/2009 09:07PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Kimock plays some great stuff and I'm sure this project will be interesting with Melvin Seals and JGB material, as well as hopefully some good new songs-I love Tangled Hangers as much as anybody but I've heard it too many times. Whoever thumbs-downed bigworld for the link is a dumbass. My personal favorite SK moment, although nothing rare, is 4/16/99 Stella Blue instrumental with Phil and Phriends, also on This was perfected by Charlie Miller as well as the free NorVa shows I'm downloading right now.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} Wed 3/25/2009 03:54AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

that jerry like TONE Of SKB is absolute magic.

Steve is an amazing player, and has been one of my all time favorites for years now.

I am not so sure about adding vocals to old SK songs? hmmm. I like instrumentals.

threef Wed 3/25/2009 07:41AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

YEa if Kimock was in the Dead I would be all over seeing them. He was so good in RatDog a few years ago and was smoking good with Phil Back in the day. I think the 1999-2000 NYE with Zero, Derek Trucks, John Lee Hooker and KVHW was one of the best show I have seen. I can not wait to check this band out!

moephishH2O starstarstarstarstar Wed 3/25/2009 08:18AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Great read! I freakin' love Kimock. I miss the SKB lineup of Kimock, Mathis, Walters, & Holmes though. The Oregon run is going to be great! Bend > Portland > Eugene!

SlaveTotheDarkStar starstarstarstarstar Wed 3/25/2009 08:59AM
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why would you ever pick warren to play dead songs over steve? all due respect to warren, but kimock's playing is so much more reminiscent of jerry!

shackca starstar Wed 3/25/2009 09:06AM
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Kimock is a maestro - freaking amazing, But he should never have blown up SKB (with Reid Mathis, Robert Walter and Rodney Holmes). SKB was his greatest band and Holmes totally jelled with his amazing playing. I understand that he really wanted to play with his son - who has great chops - but is not in Holmes league. Guess I'll just have to continue watching SKB Live and DVD bootlegs. Also I love JGB and Melvin - but JGB alone is better than this band.

Colonel Redbeard starstarstarstarstar Wed 3/25/2009 02:53PM
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Colonel Redbeard

TAHOE tomorrow!!!

Hankskool Wed 3/25/2009 04:20PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Yee Haw.

I have two pair of waxed skis, a fresh bag of coffee, a reservation across the street, a full tank of gas and a ticket to see these guys in Crystal Bay tommorrow night, one of my favorite musical venues this year. Anyone else heading up there. Skiing music. Skiing music. Did I leave anything out?

justin r starstarstarstarstar Wed 3/25/2009 05:39PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

justin r

kimock being on of my favorite musicians i have to admit i was slightly let down at the post phish shows, the band was a lame excuse when compared or thought of in the same league as SKB (with Reid Mathis, Robert Walter and Rodney Holmes) but hopefully they can gel and really develop into something deeper. Also the bass player looks like the kid from dazed and confused who is always grabbing his nose first thing i thought when i walked into the norva!

Hankskool Wed 3/25/2009 08:41PM
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My favorite band of his is still the KVHW incarnation that I saw a couple of times. However, I'm willing to try anything with Mel Seals on the Hammond B3. Chug, a lug.

dcharles Wed 3/25/2009 10:18PM
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i went to both of the norva shows and just want say that was some of the best music i have heard in a long time. It was incredible, the sound in norva was incredible. The recording doesn't do justice to how good it sounded. and i was sober!

nomemory starstarstarstarstar Thu 3/26/2009 06:49AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Kimok is amazing, in any incarnation. A great chance to see a great band, in mostly smaller venues for reasonably priced tickets (something harder and harder to come by these days). And to sweeten the pot, throwing in Melvin Seals of JGB, are you f'n kidding me?!?! He's amazing. The thing that always cracks me up about Melvin is that when he tried out for JGB, upon a friends request, he honestly didn't even know or realize who Jerry Garcia even was. After the first practice, he said something to the effect of, "your a pretty good guitarist", that's just amazing to me. The guy started out as a organ player for church gospel bands. Man, to have seen him in church would've truly made me feel the spirit of the lord.

adventuresinperception starstarstarstarstar Thu 3/26/2009 11:13AM
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Kimock is God

tomorrow and saturday look out for the poncho at the GAMH in SF

WidespreadPhanic starstarstarstar Thu 3/26/2009 12:18PM
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all good

zzach16 starstarstarstarstar Thu 3/26/2009 06:20PM
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I've been hearing Crazy Engine on Sirius 17 already. Sounds great! Good article.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} Fri 3/27/2009 05:53AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

slave to the dark star is RIGHT.

dcharles Sat 3/28/2009 12:06AM
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slavetothedarkstar is right BUT to Phil Lesh, steve kimock doesn't exist. Had a major falling out.

torn&treyed Sun 3/29/2009 01:34PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

they picked warren, so he could sing the songs...

I heard the falling out was becuase phil tried to actually tell him how to play stuff.. you cant do that.

bistrobarry starstarstarstarstar Mon 3/30/2009 02:02PM
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We stood next to the authors Husband in line at The GAMH. We told him what a great article this was and we would tell you via Jambase. Cheers. The shows were awesome too. Killer Dont Let Go on night two!

dankb23 Tue 3/31/2009 06:54AM
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no chicago love on the tour ? well maybe next year, after they are more cohesive

Mike starstarstarstarstar Tue 3/31/2009 02:55PM
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It's so awesome that Janis is getting the recognition she deserves. She's one hell of a bass player and one of the nicest folks you could ever hope to meet. Check out her band, Family Groove Company. They don't disappoint.

Girard starstarstarstarstar Wed 4/1/2009 02:00PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I agree with Mike. Janis is one hell of a bass player. She will bring it, so be ready!

WILBUR!!! starstarstarstarstar Wed 4/1/2009 02:13PM
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steve kimock sucks...

at nothing!

angelsfear Wed 4/1/2009 04:22PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


what would janis do? cool t-shirt!

D-Line Thu 4/2/2009 10:26AM
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ive been listeing to those 2 free shows for about a week and i cant get enough of them , steve kimock sounds better then ever. reminds me of legion of mary, i dunno just very garcia/merl, whatever it is, making me think of checking a show out