Under the influences: Steve Kimock’s wide musical vocabulary
October 17, 2012
CARBONDALE – When Steve Kimock arrived in northern California in the mid-’70s, he believed he had found the musical wellspring. San Francisco’s Summer of Love may have been just a hazy memory at the time, but Kimock landed in Marin, the county just to the north to which many of the Bay Area’s legends had decamped.
“The most insane culture shock imaginable,” said Kimock, who had come from Bethlehem, Penn., with his band, the Goodman Brothers. “Coming from this little hick cornfield, and to land in that! The creative and intellectual commons there was magnificent. A really fertile time and place, the best musicians in the world.”
Among the guitarists that Kimock mentions are Jorma Kaukonen of Hot Tuna and the Jefferson Airplane and Terry Haggerty of the Sons of Champlin. But the musician from that scene most commonly linked to Kimock was Jerry Garcia.
Kimock’s style – fluid, deep in improvisation, wide-ranging – is clearly related to Garcia’s. Garcia reportedly stated that Kimock was “one of my favorite unknown guitarists.” (As to whether Garcia actually said it, Kimock says, “He had plenty of time to object to it if it wasn’t true. We enjoyed each other’s playing and company.”) So Garcia would have liked to know that, after his death, in 1995, Kimock became one of the first post-Jerry substitutes, playing in the Other Ones, a group that featured most of Garcia’s former mates from the Grateful Dead. And on the subject of Garcia’s playing, Kimock is almost reverent: “His sound and approach were beautiful beyond description.”
But Kimock says there were other even bigger influences on his playing. “I think it’s a distinction worth making – you’re really always influenced by the people you’re closest to,” Kimock said from Santa Rosa, a few miles north of his old neighborhood. (Kimock now lives back in Pennsylvania.) “As much as Jerry Garcia was an influence, to say I was more influenced by him than by Billy Goodman, all those nights with his slide guitar, and all these people you don’t know who sat me down and taught me jazz harmony – those are the biggest influence. That’s first-hand experience stuff. ‘Layla’ – that was second-hand. Jimi Hendrix – I heard him through headphones.”
Perhaps the truest view is that Kimock has absorbed just about everything he has come in contact with. In his early years in California, the biggest influence might not have been Garcia, or even a rock guitarist. Kimock still raves about finding the Ali Akbar College of Music, run by Ali Akbar Khan, and Indian and master of the stringed instrument, the sarod. Kimock immerses himself deeply in contemporary classical music, in electric blues, in ’60s pop-rock, in vintage San Francisco psychedelia.
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The full range of sounds will be on display tonight when Kimock makes his first valley appearance since a 2005 gig at Belly Up. Wednesday’s 8 p.m. gig, at PAC3 in Carbondale, will find Kimock surrounded by keyboardist Bernie Worrell, a key part of Talking Heads and P-Funk; bassist Andy Hess, who played several years in the hard-jam band Gov’t Mule; and drummer Wally Ingram, who has backed Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne.
Kimock got an early start on developing a wide musical vocabulary. His first three records were “Live at Monterey Pop” by Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar; the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; and “The Progressive Blues Experiment,” the debut album by blues-rocker Johnny Winter.
“Those three basic ideas – one, that there were other cultures worth investigating; two, this quirky pop stuff, whether that was the Beatles or some other personal, idiosyncratic stuff like the Beach Boys; and three, this America lineage from the blues,” Kimock said. “It was taking those three starting points and seeing where they’d go. Where’s the world music? Where’s the fusion? Where’s the pop stuff? That’s the world right there.”
At 57, Kimock still has his ears open. A current favorite is Hermeto Pascoal, a Brazilian guitarist. He is very impressed by certain things going on in Southeast Asia. “What the Vietnamese are doing with electric guitar in their music is amazing, and we never hear it,” he said. “I try to keep looking at what other people are doing. That’s really the biggest contributing factor.”
One component that isn’t apparent in Kimock’s musical make-up is singing. The current band features just a few vocal numbers, with Kimock and Worrell handling the singing. Kimock has been in a few groups that were song-oriented, including Zero, which had a 15-year run beginning in the mid-’80s. But the signature of Kimock’s combos has been instrumental improvisations that are closer to rock than jazz.
“It leans toward the Meters, or the Meters meets Miles Davis,” Kimock said. “That kind of vibe rather than the Beatles.”
For Kimock, the current quartet, which began touring about a year ago, stands out for two reasons. First, it is fun. “We walk on the stage laughing and we get off the stage laughing,” he said.
Second, it allows him to explore yet another corner of the musical spectrum.
“I’ve always had this reggae thing as my comfort-food music, in between everything else that goes on,” he said. “I’ll be listening to just B.B. King or just modern classical music – but there’s always Bob Marley going on, this funky dance thing between the studying thing. This band goes to those places so naturally.”