_Photo courtesy of Arielle Phares_
A walk through the used record bins of some of the country’s finest music stores with musicians, both famous and infamous.
Steve Kimock slides the CD out of the jewel case and into the disc player, cranks back the car seat and closes his eyes. The distant strains of Ali Akbar Khan’s sarod emerge over the drone of the car’s potent air conditioning as we race east down Geary towards the Great American Music Hall. As the angelic voice of a backup singer apexes to match the melody Khan is playing on the sarod, Kimock takes a slow, deep breath in through his nose and clutches his chest with his hand. His eyes suddenly snap open.
"Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh," he exclaims, exhaling. "Listen to that- his sarod intertwining with her vocals. That’s North Indian classical music, man."
North Indian classical music isn’t the only eccentric genre of music that has influenced Kimock’s sound, both as the frontman of his own quintet and as a member of the legendary Bay Area jazz-rock fusion band, Zero. A self-taught musician, Kimock’s influences range from Coltrane and Miles to Hendrix and The Who, from Zappa and Captain Beefheart to slightly more obscure guitarists like David Lindley, Roy Buchanan and Lightning Hopkins. Yet, much like the rest of his generation, Kimock’s introduction to music came from four guys from Liverpool, England named John, Paul, George and Ringo.
"The first record I bought was a Beatles’ 45," Kimock says as he flips through the Beatles section at jam-packed Amoeba Music on a Friday afternoon. "This is it right here. With the Beatles, from 1963. That was the shit, man. I remember because they did "Please Mr. Postman" on it, and I loved the way they did that. It wasn’t all that funky, but it was really fucking cool. I’m partial to Abbey Road now, cause I like the production on it. I listen back to Magical Mystery Tour every once in a while, and it seems a little dated to me. Some of the early stuff is still evergreen to me."
As he grew older, Kimock’s musical tastes expanded and Zappa became a regular on the turntable.
"My mom probably threw out 10 copies of Uncle Meat," he says, turning the CD over in his hands. "I just kept buying it. She’d hear "The Voice of Cheese" about Suzy Creamcheese coming out of my room, find the record and throw it out. Zappa was huge for me. I really liked his stuff up to Apostrophe. After that, he kind of lost my interest."
Kimock’s enthusiasm for music is obvious, even by just walking around the record store with him. The Pennsylvania native started playing the guitar at 12 years old and once made a deal with his high school principal that he would not skip any more classes if he were allowed to play the guitar in the school’s hallways in between classes. In the mid-1970s, Kimock migrated to California with a folk rock band called The Goodman Brothers and was immediately enveloped by the music scene on the West Coast. After the Goodman Brothers broke up in ’79, Kimock joined the Heart of Gold Band, featuring Keith and Donna Godchaux of the Grateful Dead and drummer Greg Anton. Besides being embraced by the psychedelic scene in the Bay Area, Kimock got into the surf sound out of southern California.
"Pet Sounds, now that’s an incredible record. I loved the Beach Boys," Kimock says. "Brian Wilson’s writing is just so honest, so na. I mean, In My Room’…shit. It’s just so straight-ahead and teenage. It’s like he didn’t have to even work to have that stuff come out. Just sitting at his piano, going You know, wouldn’t it be nice…’ He was huge for me."
Over the years, Kimock has had the good fortune to play with many incredible musicians and heroes of his from his childhood. One of the most memorable experiences was playing with Steve Winwood during his time on the Furthur Tour with the Other Ones.
"Traffic was huge around my house. John Barleycorn Must Die was a phenomenal record. One of my favorite albums of all time, no question about it. Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys was just amazing as well. Winwood is such an incredible musician. I love his singing, man. A couple of years ago when I did the Furthur tour thing, he came up as a guest and did "Dear Mr Fantasy." I was standing right there next to him, and it was that same voice I heard listening to records growing up. It kind of freaked me out, to be honest."
Interestingly enough, the man infamous for being dubbed Jerry Garcia’s "favorite unknown guitarist" did not get off on the good ol’ Grateful Dead.
"I listened to absolutely no Grateful Dead as a kid. None. Didn’t listen to any of it," Kimock says. "The people who were listening to the Dead when I was in high school…man, they were weird. (Laughs) The East Coast Deadheads were a bunch of drunks and taking pills. We were listening to Hendrix and the Moody Blues and dropping acid. It never really occurred to me to listen to them. But once I heard Europe ’72, I was like, These guys are cool.’"
Talk of the Dead and his time playing in the Other Ones following Garcia’s death in 1995 inevitably begs the question of Kimock’s relationship with the late guitarist.
"We were just both huge fans of the guitar, man, and enjoyed talking about music," Kimock says. "I think that, um…to the extent that he was surrounded by people who were just pecking him to death with all this bullshit, the rare times we got to hang out for an extended amount of time and just talk shop, he seemed really relieved. You know, just to be sitting there talking with someone about the guitar and guitar playing, and he wasn’t getting constantly harassed. We talked a lot about music and the records we were into. It was basically shop talk. I really cherish the time I spent with Jerry and think he enjoyed it too."
We pass by the Van Morrison section, and Kimock comments how much Astral Weeks and Tupelo Honey influenced him as a musician. I mention that I find that surprising, given that Kimock is most known for his skills as an improvisational musician.
"Here’s the thing I really like playing the guitar, and I really like improvisational music. But my formative years, it was really just songs. Songs and great singers. Whether it was Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin, Dylan or Bob Marley, if there’s a good band getting behind a singer, I’m digging that shit. I love that stuff."
Besides playing electric guitar, Kimock is a gifted lap steel player. A fan of Hawaiian pedal steel and sacred steel music from the Pentecostal church, Kimock’s approach to the steel guitar is also heavily influenced by Duane Allman’s slide guitar playing.
"Duane Allman was a huge influence on me. The Derek and the Dominoes stuff was kind of like The Bible to me," he says. "You know, there’s people that think it’s all Clapton and others who believe it’s all Duane. Duane did tear that shit up. And I loved all the Allman Brothers stuff as well. That and Derek and Dominoes was in heavy rotation for a long time. One of the most underrated guitarists of all time in my opinion is Dickey Betts. He was the complete package great songwriter, great voice and a great player. I hope he’s doing well."
Passing through Used Jazz, Kimock makes a point to stop at the Coltrane section for a quick rant on the timelessness of the jazz great.
"He’s just unbelievable," he says. "I think I spent a month listening to A Love Supreme once. I used to put it on in the morning when my son and I ate breakfast together. It’s funny, because I can hear the influence of that music when I listen to my son play. He and I jam in my barn studio, and the Coltrane influence has got him. He’s been raised on Coltrane, Miles and Mingus. I own all of their stuff, and there’s a lot of it."
We get to the Blues section and find ourselves staring at a stack of the 1974 Muddy & the Wolf album, which features the great Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf paired with some of rock music’s elite, including Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield and Ringo Starr.
"I love Muddy Waters, man," Kimock gushes. "I play along with Muddy at home. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I don’t play along with records much anymore, but whenever I have Muddy on, I play along. It’s kind of silly, I know. But what the fuck…it’s Muddy, right?"
Steve’s Picks of the Day
Johnny Winter, Progressive Blues Experiment
The Beatles, With The Beatles
Van Morrison, Astral Weeks
Ravi Shankar, At the Monterey International Pop Festival
John Coltrane, A Love Supreme