WAKE OF THE DEAD
August is also the tenth anniversary of the death of Grateful Dead guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and leader Jerry Garcia. Hence, the month-long JamBase tribute to his legacy. I would be remiss in excluding Kimock from this tribute. Garcia once called Kimock his "favorite unknown guitarist," but that assessment, fortunately, has changed much over the decades. Indeed, Kimock has taken turns in various post-Dead-related projects, but the listener should be warned. Kimock's guitar work transcends something so simplistic a definition as 'Grateful Dead-like.'
Steve Kimock by Tony Stack
"The whole Other Ones/Phil & Friends/miscellaneous Grateful Dead thing was an overwhelmingly positive experience," said Kimock. "I really learned a lot and formed a lot of long-standing friendships through that gig, and got to play some really cool music with some really cool people. Beyond that, it was kind of a mixed blessing - achieving any kind of notoriety not based entirely on your own efforts is tricky. People will come at you and say: 'Hey - play some Robert Hunter tunes.' Hey now, that's kind of not what I do. I was just lucky enough to get the gig and lucky enough to move on with my own stuff when I did. Pretty much a great bunch of cats. The whole Grateful Dead thing is just such a different trip. It's got so little to do with me, and I've got so little to do with it that that's sort of the mixed blessing about being involved. It winds up being more of a distraction in coming up with your own bag."
THE GUITAR MONK WITH JAGUAR EYES
Recently, the tables were turned, and the silent conductor became the one being conducted. Steve Kimock sat in with the Everyone Orchestra at the 10,000 Lakes Festival - a band setup that seems intrinsically suited to his acute improvisational sensibilities. EO Founder Matt Butler and later, the incredible Jamie Janover, took turns conducting a stellar cast of musicians and a receptive crowd. If there was one defining moment in the 2005 Festival Season for me, it was when Janover got his mob of music All-Stars to play stop-and-start-on-a-dime mind games while directing the crowd to assault the stage with random noise. Kimock looked equal parts poised jaguar and a kid in a candy store. I've never seen a musician's eyes so riddled with both joy and precision.
Steve Kimock by Arielle Phares
"It's just fun," said Kimock. "The thing that the Everyone Orchestra is about for me is the conducting. Obviously, there is whatever chemistry between the individual players. But the success of the concept in my head is how the conductor is doing, how he's managing to communicate with the audience - the audience is part of the performance, which I think is totally cool - and how he's relating to the band. I've performed with the Everyone Orchestra a few times now, and every time we've done it, it's just become more and more fun. It's easier to do, and the conducting has gotten more sophisticated, more musical, and more humorous. I think at that last performance at 10,000 Lakes, I was just totally stoked on the direction. It's a real pleasure for me to participate in that format."
How did you get started in music? Who were some of the musicians that turned you on?
"That's an interesting question because it seems that my early listening stuff stuck with me in ways that I'd never thought possible after all of these years. I'll be fifty this year, and I started to listen to music as a young teen. The first stuff that really caught my ear? I liked The Beatles a lot. I liked Ravi Shankar a lot. That Live at Monterey Pop Festival album [1967 groundbreaking event that also featured Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, The Who and the Grateful Dead]. I was a huge Johnny Winter fan. There was that bunch of stuff that I'm still into. Some kind of interesting production, song form, kind of eclectic pop forms, Indian music, and electric blues and bottleneck and slide guitar-playing - that stuff was all really formative for me. Every show, there's some of that influence there to this day in the playing and the writing. I'm really kind of surprised by that. You'd think that you would move away from that kind of stuff, but you don't. In my later teens, I was listening to a ton of Coltrane, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery, Django Reinhardt - whatever served as the standard jazz fare. Mingus and Dolphy, too. Nothing too bizarre. That sort of gets in there as a kind of overlay. More modern jazz-related concepts were in there, but that wasn't formative listening for me. That stuff showed up later."
If you extend it all the way out - what motivates you to find new musical directions?
"I'm at a point now of beating my head against this wall my entire life where I'm just starting to understand what people are hearing and feeling when they're hearing music in the first place. That's tremendously exciting to me. I spend a lot of time learning to feel and hear as a listener and not as a player. I think a lot of players (especially guys like me who are sort of clever with their hands - talented wigglers) there are a lot of very talented people out there who are sort of wiggling their fingers, and the whole gig sort of starts and ends at the ends of their arms, whatever's going on in their wrists and their hands is the gig - that's obviously not how people are receiving it. I'm constantly trying to figure out what it is that people are really feeling when they're experiencing music and try to get into that place as a player - not have my playing mess up the playing so much."
Steve Kimock by Janice Wulf
The thing I like about your guitar playing is that you always seem to find a melodic framework within the space of a song. Some guys just stay with the groove, but you offer a lot of song-craft within your music.
"I think that might be my own overreaction to not wanting to be too technical. The less I'm playing, the less I'm trying to impose guitar technique on the sound, the more effective the sounds are at conveying some emotion. Eventually, I'll have to get to a place where I don't have to wiggle at all. That sound will be nice, and then I'll be happy."
Any current musicians or bands that raise your eyebrows?
"People who are out there right now who I think are cool? Bill Frisell is doing some great stuff, and of course, has been for a long time. I got to hear his set at High Sierra, and it was just enchanting, so beautiful - I just loved it. (laughs) I'm a big Derek Trucks fan. I think Derek is great and is really coming from a very good place. I wish him the best."
How did he get it together so young? Not that you didn't. (laughter)
"You know—go cat go."
Kimock is sometimes labeled the Guitar Monk, which I guess would be a bit of a burden if you thought about it for five minutes. But along those lines, Zen can be defined as a way to let things flow without a preconceived direction. Zen - that word, again. I have to pick a word out of a hat to try to define his work on Eudemonic.
Steve Kimock by Arielle Phares
"There's certainly an attitude of some of that which I try, paradoxically, to keep in mind," said Kimock. "How best to explain that? Here's the easy way to look at it - for me, when I think the thing is working, when I think people are actually feeling the music, you know, when you're really getting it for a minute, you're not in any kind of dualistic space. You're not thinking, 'Well, I'm here and my feet hurt' or 'I'm doing this and she's doing that. These people are doing this and I wish I was doing this.' You're not in your mind at all. There's no time in it or this, that, or the other thing - it's just a totality."
Dualistic space? That's an interesting phrase. I like that.
"Yeah. Anytime you're thinking. Anytime you're thinking at all. It is not a mental place - it's an entirely feeling place. It is not a place where your mental activities are keeping events discrete. There's no sense of I'm trying to do this or I'm succeeding at doing this or I'm feeling good about myself because I'm doing this.' That is automatically not where it's at. I take every opportunity to steer myself away from those states of mind, so that when I get to a place where maybe I can play, I'm playing from the same kind of place where somebody who is being receptive to music may also be feeling it too. You know what I mean? Instead of being from some ego point of view or a point of view of trying to accomplish something."
Within your own framework, are you trying to gather musicians that think that way? Musicians that don't get in the way of that open space?
"I don't know if it's possible to do that, or if it's entirely necessary. I think it's more important to understand how you feel music as a listener, without trying to engage yourself in it in an intellectual way or trying to define what's happening. I think when you're really enjoying something, you're really enjoying something. If you're feeling it, you're feeling it, so I try to leave it there as much as possible."
That's where clarity rolls towards the sand, washes upon the shore, and sinks back into the depths of the ocean. You think you've got Steve Kimock figured out, and then he plays another note within a series of notes that moves you back again...
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