By Don Wilcock

As iconic, eclectic and influential as Jerry Garcia was, it would be myopic to look at Steve Kimock as simply a Jerry Garcia clone. Yes, Kimock is best known for playing guitar in various iterations of the Grateful Dead following Jerry Garcia’s death including RatDog, The Other Ones and Phil Lesh & Friends, but if you’re expecting Kimock’s Friday night performance at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre to be a Dead cover band in the tradition of Darkstar Orchestra, think again.

His repertoire is much broader than that, and his new solo album, Satellite City, is less like the Grateful Dead than it is like Bryan Ferry or even Renaissance – including contemporary sampling that’s very 21st century. That’s not to say Kimock doesn’t have the finesse, dexterity and flash of Jerry, but his female singer Leslie Mendelson is classy and classic like Bryan Ferry with the finesse of Annie Haslam of Renaissance.

Kimock’s 28-year-old son John plays drums on the album and will performing Friday night. He is responsible for much of the sampling on Satellite City that sometimes takes on a sci-fi motif (“Friend of the Sun” and “Mother’s Song”) and at other times, as on “Prelude,” reminds me of Songs of the Humpback Whales, a ’70s LP that Kimock once owned.

“At about age three John just started playing on the floor, opened up the kitchen cabinet and pulled out the pots and pans and spoons and got to work. I’m walking through the room and he says, ‘You wanna hear a song?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ And so he plays a little thing on his piles of sounds, and I give him the obligatory daddy clap like, ‘Really good, man.’ And then he looks at me really serious. ‘You want to hear it again?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, all right. Let’s hear it.’ And he played it again.

“I got that he was looking at an arrangement of things that had some relationship and there were these associations, promoting these associations and he presented these, and it was compositions exactly. And he’s still doing that. There are a couple of things that are solid Johnny in terms of their concepts on the record, and it’s really some of my very favorite stuff.”

Kimock named his son after the late John Cippolina, a close friend of his and the lead guitarist in Quicksilver Messenger Service, my favorite San Francisco band of the ’60s.

“John was fantastically cool,” says Kimock. “His take was that the San Francisco scene died when people actually learned how to tune their guitars, and the whole sound went away. He had this little upstairs kind of thing, a couple of big rooms that was just filled with all these great, old, weird guitars: Danelectros and all these crazy old amps, the Quicksilver (rig) and stuff like that. It was somewhere between Addams Family level, like weird stuff, kind of a museum of material, odd guitar paraphernalia. It was crazy, crazy shit. Anyway, John and I became very close friends, and he was a big influence on a level much beyond.”

The Grateful Dead connection has been a mixed blessing for Kimock. When I told him that I appreciated that he’s his own man on Satellite City and not standing in Garcia’s shadow, he said of the album, “It’s not (even) in the genre. If I was doing an electric blues record which I will probably do next, it’s kinda hard to avoid the shadow or whatever from the influence. There’s a whole bunch of everyone else on this record, too. That’s part of what I like about it.”

Kimock grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to San Francisco in 1974, a good decade after the Dead had established their leadership position in the Bay Area and around the world.

“I guess the first thing I heard by Grateful Dead, I was still a young teen probably living at home. Up to that point I had been into maybe the Allman Brothers, Johnny Winter, Black Sabbath, the more obsessive hard rock stuff along with whatever pop and miscellany I was listening to, but I mean hearing Garcia play, his chromaticism and his sound and the whole thing was just very much more interesting, melodic to me and sophisticated. I love the sound of it. I was immediately taken when I heard it.

“Getting into the time I spent in California, everybody kind of worked under the shadow of the Grateful Dead or Jerry’s band when he was playing in town. I’d play down at the Café Che Che Club with (my band) Zero, and there’d be one person in the crowd and like next door there’d be like 10,000 people. You’d try to book a gig, and it was like, ‘Oh, wait a minute. We can’t do it. The Garcia Band is (in town).’ There was no point.

“So, I deliberately stayed away from it for a long time. You know, I didn’t play the tunes, wasn’t specifically trying to emulate that style, and I had to maintain some identity for myself. I had to kinda push off from some music I really loved that was influential for me, so that was a little weird and a little disappointing, and, of course, along the way I met the guy, and we became friends.

“The important thing for me is to maintain an authentic relationship with my instrument and the musical community, collaborate and jam, be inspired and all of the points of the process of that, all the hardware and software and all the personalities and all the methods of investigation. It’s all part of it. You can’t walk away from it just because so many years ago you might have done better (commercially). You do what can do right now. You do as much of it as you can.”

Steve Kimock performs on electric, acoustic, lap and pedal steel guitars playing blues, jazz, funk, folk and psychedelic-prog-rock with a band featuring Leslie Mendelson (keyboards), Andy Hess (bass) and son John Kimock on drums.

WHO: Kimock
WHERE: The Egg’s Swyer Theatre, Albany
WHEN: Friday (November 3), 8pm
HOW MUCH: $29.50

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