CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. — Being named by Jerry Garcia as a young guitarist worth watching might go to some musicians’ heads, but for Steve Kimock it was just one small step in a musical journey that has lasted a lifetime.
“All that needs is some qualification,” Kimock told Lake Tahoe Action. “This was a long time ago, the late eighties I believe. Jerry was on the advisory board of Guitar Player magazine, as were many great musicians. They polled the advisory board, ‘who are you listening to that we don’t know about?’ When it was Jerry’s turn to speak up, he had two guitar players that he liked, Frank Gambale and me. I was completely blindsided by it. I had a friend call me up and say have you seen Guitar Player magazine? I walked down to the music store to check out a magazine and went, ‘oh man, I’m in trouble now.’”
Kimock has been wowing audiences with his tasty and innovative guitar chops since the ‘70s, playing in numerous Grateful Dead associated bands and achieving national success with psychedelic rock group Zero in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He has played with Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Melvin Seals and others.
Kimock is now on tour with a lineup of accomplished musicians, joined by Bernie Worrell (keyboards), Andy Hess (bass) and Wally Ingram (drums). The four will play Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room on Friday, March 29.
“Bernie Worrel is on keyboard,” Kimock said. “He was a founding member of Parliament Funkadelic and was with the Talking Heads. Bernie’s awesome. He’s achieved some state of grace as a person and a player where he seems to do no wrong.
“Andy Hess is playing bass. Some of your readers might know him from Gov’t Mule, Black Crowes and John Scofield band. He’s a great jazzy, modern, funky guy. I don’t know if there’s anybody better to have behind a guitarist, we’re really lucky to have him.
“Then there’s Wally on drums, with whom I share many musical tastes. He’s been in Dave Lindley and Sheryl Crow bands. We’re kind of cut from the same cloth.
“Generally it’s a pretty willing and good-humored band. They’re kind of ready to go for anything.”
Playing with Kimock’s band gets Worrell’s musical creativity flowing, the pioneering funk keyboardist said.
“Steve Kimock is an inspiration for me,” he said. “Our birth signs are opposites, but opposites attract. When we play together, it’s like magic. He takes me on a journey and it’s never boring.
“We play anything, everywhere anywhere, a lot of mixed genres, which is what I do already, and another thing that I like about Steve.”
The group came together out of a number of shared musical connections. Hess and Ingram had bumped into Kimock for years at concerts and festivals. The three always agreed that they should get a musical project going, Kimock said.
Worrell had been playing music with Kimock’s son, John Morgan Kimock, around the same time, when the son suggested that his father get together with the famous keyboardist.
“The rest is history,” Worrell said.
Now, the super group has been together for two years, touring heavily during that time. Kimock and company most recently returned from a trip to Japan this week.
“We’ve had some following there,” Kimock said. “The very first time I went over there, quite a few years ago, I was astounded at what parts of the American musical experience the Japanese held close. It seemed like they were all about stuff we weren’t that into. They were all about the pedal steel guitar and really intense big band swing.”
Back stateside, Kimock and his band are touring in the United States and working on a forthcoming studio album.
“I’ve got some ideas for some stuff we can add to it that will kind of tie it together and fill it out,” Kimock said. “Depending on everybody’s availability to tour behind it, I’m hoping to have that drop in the fall, maybe a little later, depending on how much we can do with it.”
Around half of the album will be new material, Kimock said.
Onstage with his lineup of stellar musicians, Kimock’s goal is to provide the audience with a show full of dynamic improvisation, putting the virtuoso skills of the stellar musicians around him on display.
“I like to feel like the band itself is connecting and being spontaneous, and that there are authentically elements of group improvisation in the thing, pretty much at any given moment,” Kimock said. “I don’t want it to be a recital. The flip side of that is the conditions that allow that are not entirely under the band’s control. You need a room that has good sound, and where there isn’t a ton of audience and ambient noise eating into the dynamic range. Those tend to be the best gigs, because it’s the best listening and the best sounding. Ultimately, for me, the good gigs are those where the band and the venue and the sound production are all in some kind of harmony.
Fortunately for Friday’s concertgoers, the guitarist has come to expect conditions like those at the Crown Room.
“It’s kind of hard not to have that kind of night at Crystal Bay,” the guitarist said. “That is a great sounding room, I’ll tell you. The room, the high ceilings, the sound system; it’s about as close as you can get live to a good sounding recording.”