Steve Kimock. He’s played with everybody from RatDog to Bruce Hornsby to members of Phish. Jerry Garcia once called him his “favorite unknown guitar player.” He has a brand new album that came out a couple weeks ago, “Last Danger Of Frost,” and he’ll be rocking and rolling at The Opera House over in Shepherdstown tomorrow night (that’s Wednesday for those keeping score). We recently caught up with the guitar player over the phone as he was traveling between tour stops in Massachusetts to talk about when or if he thinks he’ll ever give up playing music, how much of a prankster Bruce Hornsby can be, and how he got into this music thing in the first place. Tickets are still on sale, friends. This promises to be one hell of a show.
I want to start with the beginning to try and get a sense of why you picked up a guitar, and what got you into music in the first place.
I got into music – or aware of it at the level that it was something you could do – from family. My aunt was a folk singer in the Philly folk scene. She sang with Pete Seeger and made records and so forth. As a kid, visiting cousins down in Philly, there were guitars and cans and autoharps, and singing was something that just happened. A few years later, my cousin Kenny got out of the service, landed in town and had a real guitar – a Gold Top Les Paul, which I own today. So, it was all family.
At what point did you decide you wanted to make music your life and make a career out of it?
You know, I wasn’t hip enough as a young teen to really understand what it would mean to make a career of it. I just knew that I wanted to do it. I recall committing myself to it when I was 16. I just said, “You know, I could do this. If I don’t go anywhere, and sit here and work on this, I could get good at it.” So that’s what I tried to do. All I wanted to do was be in a good band – that was my goal. I wasn’t hip enough at the time to think I could make a lot of money off it. But along the way, I got to play with some really good bands, so I got my wish.
I wanted to ask you a little about that, too. You have an impressive line of musicians that you’ve sat in with. Is there anybody or any project that you’ve been a part of so far that stands out as your favorite? Because I know you played with RatDog and Bruce Hornsby and things like that.
Oh, so many of them were so good and so unique. There was a long string of just getting guys together and assembling one-off gigs. Create a band, create a program and then go and play it. I think maybe the most truly unusual one, in terms of preparation, was Bruce Hornsby. He called me up and he said, “Hey, do you want to play with an orchestra?” I was like, “Yeah.” He says, “We’re going to do some gigs with these orchestras. There’s a couple of gigs up and down the East Coast with a couple symphonies and we’ll do one for the opening of the President’s Cup, the golf tournament in Washington D.C. Everybody will be there – President Clinton will be there.” I was like, “OK. I’ll come down to your house and we’ll do rehearsals down there.” He said, “No, no, no, no. Just come up and play.” I was like, “You want me to come up and play a symphony gig in front of the President of the United States of America with no rehearsals?” He was like, “Yeah, yeah. It will be fun!”
How did it go when you finally got to play?
Oh, it was awesome! It was just typical Bruce – punking everybody all the time.
I know that right now, you’re out with your son – he plays with you. What’s it like being on the road with your son as part of the band? Have you guys run into any issues or problems? Do you fight a lot?
No, I love it. I’m in super-proud mode. Because Johnny – he’s not a kid anymore. He’s 26. He’s a full-grown man and a very serious and a very talented and a very creative musician. It’s great working with him. Total no-nonsense. Just, let’s-play-some-music kind of guy.
Did he find music on his own, or when he was growing up, did you make it a point to try and teach him how to play certain instruments?
He took an interest very early. He was two or something like that, and dragging pots and pans out of the cupboard, beating on them with spoons kind-of thing. I knew enough to leave him alone and let him find his way. I was supportive and encouraging as I could be the whole time, but I didn’t personally learn anything ever by somebody sitting me down and getting old-school. So, I didn’t do that with him. I tried to give him space to find himself musically and he has. It’s fantastic.
The Shepherdstown date is the second or third to last date on the tour. You put out a record last week, on the 18th, and it’s only March. What other plans do you have for 2016 after this tour ends?
When we get done with this East Coast run, we’re going to hop, as quickly as possible, into the studio, with the band, and continue expanding in whatever direction this is we are expanding in. I have a bunch of miscellaneous, kind of mainstream rock and roll improvisational gigs. I’ve got some Electric Hot Tuna stuff coming up. And Voodoo Dead, down in New Orleans, with Johnny on drums and George Porter and Jeff Chimenti. All that stuff is fun.
Is there anybody out there now who you have not worked with yet, who you’d really love to work with?
Yeah! I always wished I was in Van Morrison’s band. I never got to work with him. I’m a big Tom Waits fan, too. There’s plenty of folks; there’s so many great musicians, but off the top of my head, those are two of my favorite.
At any point, do you think you’ll ever want to stop playing, stop going out? Or do you foresee you doing this for as long as you can go?
That’s a good question. I know a lot of folks – and good friends – who have died with their boots on, so to speak. Right up to the final breath – just boom. And all though I don’t know anybody personally who played their last note and walked away, I know that guys have done it. They put down the horn at the end of the gig and that’s it. And I do occasionally wonder if that’s going to be me. I can’t imagine it, but at the same time, I know it happens, so that’s a good question. I suspect I’ll die with my boots on, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that people put down the guitar and walk away. It really could go either way.
What can we expect from the show in Shepherdstown?
Material from the record, “Last Danger Of Frost,” that I just made. That record was entirely a solo effort. Just me playing. Whatever I could point a microphone at that I was interested in the sound of at the moment. There’s actually a bunch of stuff on the record that we’re using on the stage. There will be a little more of an acoustic element and a little more of an electronic element than you would get in a normal bar.