A CONVERSATION WITH STEVE KIMOCK
Puremusic: So, one thing I want to talk about is, there's so much branding going on now around the term "jamband." I see you being associated with this culture, or movement, but it's something of a misnomer. Let's talk about where you think your music is coming from, and what tradition you're carrying on, so to speak.
Steve Kimock: Yeah, okay. That's a fair place to start. I don't know when this jamband thing got started. Maybe it was Phish, you know. This is a hard question to get started on. I'd already been doing basically what I'm doing now for twenty years, or something like that, when somebody came along and said, "Oh, hello, jambands." I never really thought of it like that. I don't know what a jamband is. It's kind of a catch-all phrase. You look at some of the people that they're talking about that are doing this, and it's confusing. Karl Denson [Karl Denson's Tiny Universe], is that a jamband? Is Government Mule a jamband?
SK: Are they the same thing? You know, one of those bands is clearly a rock band. I mean, as far as I can tell.
PM: For instance, one thing, whenever I refer to or describe you, it always comes up that "he's a West Coast guitarist," you know, although that could be ambivalent in jazz circles. I mean, that still means something to me, that, "He's a West Coast guitar player."
SK: Yeah. Well, you know, I grew up in Pennsylvania -- grew up in Pennsylvania with you. [laughs] But the music that seemed to influence me the most was this stuff that was around in those formative years, my early twenties, when we came to California [in the mid '70s]. So I'm kind of out of that school, if you want to call it that: [Jerry] Garcia, Carlos Santana, Terry Haggerty, Jerry Miller.
PM: John Cipollina.
SK: John Cipollina, of course. But that's where it's coming from, it seems to me. And those were the people that I was eventually playing with in California. You know, one of the very first gigs we played in California was [on a bill] with Merle Saunders with Martin [Fierro, who later played with Steve in Zero] playing the tenor through the Echoplex...with a headdress on, incidentally. [laughter] At the Old Waldorf.
SK: So yeah, what was happening then, that's kind of where it comes from. And in the meantime, of course, I was a huge Coltrane fan, a huge Miles Davis fan. I wasn't all that clued in to the North Indian classical thing, but of course, when I landed my first apartment in California, I was adjacent to the parking lot of the Ali Akbar College [in San Rafael, Marin County], which was a literal wake-up call to me the first morning when I got up there and heard that...
SK: Guys in the parking lot would be warming up outside the school. I would think, "Wow, where am I?" So my background, the stuff that I was exposed to, for real, were the people right there. It was the improvisational rock, and the North Indian classical stuff. And that's what I was listening to hard, and practicing. And practicing hard, you know, in a kind of state where I was influenced.
So that's what the influences were, small band improvisation. That's always what I thought it was that I was trying to do. I didn't see a big difference between what Miles Davis' post-bop stuff was and the Grateful Dead. This is the same kind of stuff; these are different guys. You know, they were working with the same kind of stuff...maybe at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they got to it coming from different places, but they got there. And I don't think that any of those artists or any of those fans would have considered what was going on like a jamband kind of thing. That's not what that is. So I don't know, I think it's just a sort of marketing pigeon-holing.
PM: Yeah. There's a different level of gravity between the idea of players or an audience talking about being a jamband, and a serious musician of your caliber talking about small band improvisation. That's two different takes on a similar idea. Because like we were saying yesterday, you could easily be spoken of, more accurately, as one of the last of the great West Coast psychedelic guitar players. That's more apt than a lot of things one could say.
SK: Yeah, I'd agree with that. continue