Photo by Suzy Perler
So many things go into a live show, from the moods of the musicians and the attitude of the audience to the sound, the lights — and the room itself.
“Oh absolutely,” says guitarist Steve Kimock, who will bring his Steve Kimock and Friends to Le Poisson Rouge on Friday and Ardmore Music Hall on Saturday. “It has an effect on the performance. The attitude of the security people. Can you walk out the door and get something to eat?”
He notes he played the Ardmore venue “like a million years ago when it was Brownie’s 23 East. The stage used to be on the other wall, and I remember going there after it became Ardmore, and I saw the stage was on the long wall and I said, ‘Oh man, I remember this place.’ And for whatever reason, that particular venue feels like home.”
Playing in Ardmore, near Philadelphia, is also a bit of a homecoming gig for Kimock, who recently moved back to his hometown of Bethlehem after a stint in California. He’s joined in Steve Kimock and Friends by his drumming son, John Morgan Kimock, bassist Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green, Bill Kreutzmann, Marco Benevento) and Dead and Company keyboardist Jeff Chimenti.
Kimock, a long-time practitioner of Grateful Dead music with Dead originators, most recently Bob Weir’s Ratdog, and Chimenti, who also played in Ratdog, “have a lot of the same experiences with our own music and playing in rock bands,” the guitarist explains.
“When the jazz musicians found out I was hanging out with those Grateful Dead guys, they were like, ‘Oh man, don’t hang out with those guys, they’re playing some weird shit and taking some weird drugs, those weird motherf—ers,’ ” he remembers, laughing. “And the Grateful Dead guys were like, ‘Those are great guys, they take some weird drugs, don’t hang out with those guys.'”
He continues, “I’m not a legitimate jazz player like [Chimenti] is, but I think we have real similar tastes and experiences, a love for music outside of the Grateful Dead and that style of improvisation. And we do genuinely love each other as people. There’s good chemistry.”
Anyone who’s witnessed a Kimock concert, especially with his own bands, has seen him surrounded by myriad stringed instruments. So how many does he usually take on tour?
“It’s usually around half a dozen, although it could be more,” he says. “I like to play acoustic, so I’ll have an acoustic guitar with a pickup on it. Then I play the Hawaiian guitar as well as lap [steel]. Then generally two versions of the electric solid-body, one with light strings for doing the traditional blues kind of things and one with heavier strings for just that clean-tone thing. On this trip, because I want to do some stuff like ‘Invocation’ [his recently released song] and more out of that bag, I’ll probably bring an additional steel, triple-neck Fender, stuff like that.”
Kimock spoke to us from Bethlehem after getting back from Ohio, where he was teaching at Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna legend Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp. After the SK & Friends tour, he’ll play a run of California dates with Zero in November.
Kimock’s return to Bethlehem has allowed him to be closer to family, including John Morgan’s new baby, Kimock’s first grandchild. The town, which now boasts several thriving music venues, has come a long way since his youth.
“Oh, it has changed, it’s unimaginable from when I was here as a young kid before I hauled off to California,” he says. “It was all Bethlehem Steel, a little bit of Mack Truck and Western Electric. The idea that any part of that would be a music venue or the town would have any entertainment industry was unimaginable.
“Every one of my relatives sat me down when I was showing signs of being a guitar player and cautioned me mightily. They would’ve been much happier if I announced that I was going to be a male prostitute. At least I’d make some money.”