Kimock isn't exactly a household name even today. Rather, he's sort of a musician's musician - a guitarist whose skills are as admirable as the music he produces. He's also the sort of musician who is often brought up whenever the always-contentious Rolling Stone's Greatest Guitarists of All Time debate of 2003 is reprised. And after years of playing in an array of bands, many of which are branches of the Grateful Dead family tree (Heart of Gold Band, Phil Lesh and Friends, Rat Dog and others), the past decade has seen Kimock achieve a senior statesman status within the jam rock world. And now, he is taking his new ensemble, Steve Kimock Crazy Engine, out on the road this spring, playing what the guitarist implies is good times music for what some people might consider bad times.
With the opening night of the tour only a week away and having only played a pair of actual shows with the Crazy Engine lineup, Kimock is in Northern California on a Wednesday afternoon where he says it's currently 74 degrees. He's in his old stomping grounds - his musical career took off in the Bay Area, although he's since relocated to his actual home state of Pennsylvania - and taking a second to spell out his plans for Crazy Engine.
"Any time you start fresh with something it takes a minute to find your balance with it," Kimock says of the band's first two shows in Norfolk, Va. in early March following the Phish reunion shows. And technically, those shows, although including the entire Crazy Engine lineup, were actually Steve Kimock and Friends concerts. But names aside, the show seemed to indicate that Crazy Engine very well may already be balanced.
The band is clearly Kimock's operation and his guitar speaks its signature voice throughout the live recordings from the Norfolk shows. But there's also Jerry Garcia Band's Melvin Seals on the keys and Janis Wallin (Family Groove Company) on bass, both esteemed musicians in their own right. This, of course, causes one to wonder if this just another one-off all-star band, built solely for shits, giggles and a tour or two. But Kimock seems to indicate otherwise.
"That batch of folks just turned out to be people that I enjoyed spending my musical time with the most over the last couple of years as we've hooked up on and off to work on different projects," Kimock says.
Also in tow is Kimock's own son, John Morgan Kimock, who compliments his father nicely on the drums, an instrument he's been playing since he was two years old. The band is rounded out by Cheryl Rucker and Shirley Starks, a pair of big-voiced singers, adding a nice air of accessibility to a band that although dripping with talent, might be misjudged as merely a platform for freeform noodling. Kimock, who has a knack for instrumental compositions, says that he knew early on that he wanted vocals in this act.
"I just didn't want to start by assuming that I wouldn't have vocals. The Steve Kimock Band stuff, despite the fact that it was 99.9 percent instrumental band, the tunes were still largely songs formed with melodies that could have easily accommodated lyrics," Kimock says. Then he starts laughing.
"I can't just leave the singing thing out entirely just because I can't sing. I have to get some vocals in there."
Vocals are just part of what makes the early case for Crazy Engine being, well, sort of a party band. For a guy that might sell a nice cut of tickets to fellow guitarists who come to bask in the light of a man who has been called a "guitar monk," this ensemble has an easy going, good time element to it that might surprise some more tenured Kimock followers....not to say that Kimock hasn't brought a party to his shows in the past. But, like most of us, Kimock is cognizant of the fact that this a time when people might need a reason to party.
"I think it's natural for people who are experiencing hard times to either just laugh it off or party through it or just lock themselves in their rooms in the dark and lament...If there's anything I can do to push the tipping point for anybody over to thinking, 'Hey, let's just push through this,' it would be perfectly understandable to me," says Kimock.
Steve Kimock Crazy Engine
8pm doors, 9pm show. Thursday, April 2. Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. $20/advance, $23 door. All Ages.