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As Zero swings through Northeast, Steve Kimock discusses new archival release, the magic of Bill Kirchen, and Robert Hunter’s dire warning

Steve Kimock.
Steve Kimock
Steve Kimock.

Raised in the Lehigh Valley of Eastern Pennsylvania, Kimock was entranced by the vibrant music scene of the Bay Area in the 1970s.

“It’s like committing a crime, there's motive and opportunity," the guitarist told WAMC. "The motive was I found myself listening to a lot of music and going, I’d hear something and I’d go, what's that? Where are these guys from? I was skipping school one time, and I was supposed to go to high school, I would go to I would go to Moravian College, the cafeteria and get Jell-o because it was all I could afford. And I was in the hall downstairs at Moravian, skipping school, and ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’ came on the box, they played it over the thing in the cafeteria. That’s Bill Kirchen playing that truck driving, Telecaster stuff. And it's like, woah. I was just like frozen. It was so good, you know, the low string Telly thing. I’d never heard anything like it. I was like, I’ve got to figure out what that was. And it was Commander Cody, and so I went and tried to figure out where Commander Cody was from, and they were from California as near as I could figure it.”

With the scorching sounds of Bill Kirchen playing in his head, Kimock made his way west.

“We were in a band, we had a band called the Goodman Brothers," he said. "One of the brothers just got on the back of a motorcycle one day in Pennsylvania, said, I’ll see you in California, and went got kind of a toehold there. And then a couple of the people that we were working with said, yeah, let's go to California. And it was like the Beverly Hillbillies. We loaded up a station wagon and drove out there. And it was it. We landed in Marin County. So we were proximate to all that stuff, just north of San Francisco. And because we were there at that time, you know, it's like, the middle 70s. It was fertile ground.”

Kimock is known for his complicated relationship with the world of the ultimate San Francisco jam outfit: the Grateful Dead.

“It's always been a little like, you know, having a gum on the bottom of your shoe kind of thing. It’s like, oh, what a beautiful day- Oh, geez, what am I going to do with this,” said Kimock.

He played with front man Jerry Garcia, who once called Kimock one of his favorite guitarists, and has performed with Dead-related acts ranging from Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux’s Heart of Gold Band, Vince Welnick’s Missing Man Formation, Bob Weir’s Kingfish, and more. After Garcia’s death ended the Dead in 1995, Kimock was in subsequent incarnations of the group like the Other Ones, RatDog, and Phil Lesh and Friends.

“I learned so much from those guys, like on every level," said Kimock. "Not just from the players or from trying to study the music to the extent that I did or from personal association with the band and crew. I was a huge fan of their production, always- [Steve] Parish and Ramrod and all those guys.”

The move to partner with the surviving Dead members came against the advice of the band’s legendary late lyricist Robert Hunter.

“When Jerry died, he told me, this is exactly what he told me, he said, if those guys ask you to do anything, he says, you run away as fast as you can shooting behind you and never look back, just shoot behind you the whole time and never look back," said Kimock. "Don't go there. That was his advice to me. You know, just run away. They're heavy cats, man. That was a heavy scene. You look at it from the outside, and it's like, oh, hippies. Those guys are deep and powerful. And they kind of like existed in their own world.”

A falling out with Lesh on tour in the late 1990s would forever complicate Kimock’s relationship with the world of the Dead.

“Let's put it this way- They discarded a lot of people," he told WAMC. "They cast a lot of people out, things like that, and it wasn't like it was the band so much as it was the people immediately surrounding the band. They're super, super, super protected, but not protective of anything but their own self-interest. So dig- As a scene that was going on, and somewhere, in the middle of that, there’s this incredible writing, incredible songwriting going on and incredible playing and just like, musically, a giant, huge swath of really innovative and ground breaking and just evergreen stuff going on with the music and with the people, and it was not an easy scene to navigate.”

Kimock’s fall jaunt with Zero – the band he originally formed in the 1980s with drummer Greg Anton – is to support an archival release of recordings from the band’s 1992 run of shows at the Great American Music Hall. Titled “Naught Again,” it features an introduction by Hunter and a cast of characters including Jerry Garcia Band bassist John Kahn. Kimock says it’s been a complex emotional experience to turn back the clock three decades with the previously unreleased album.

“It was pretty sweet, just realizing how much good material was there and how much great playing happened on those sessions," Kimock told WAMC. "A bunch of the cats, man, that are on that record are dear friends of mine that have since passed away. Martin Fierro, of course, and Judge [Murphy], and Nicky Hopkins was such a treasure on those sessions. So, it’s a bunch of guys there that I've – John Kahn, for crying out loud – you know, people that I really miss as people. So that was, that part of it was, you know, bitter sweet. Mostly it was just kind of, it's fun to revisit and hear and just kind of marvel at the quality of the thing because it’s really well done. When I think about what a bunch of out at the ass, you know, kind of hippies we were back in a day, I really wonder how we like got it together. But man, it's good. It's really, you know, it's good.”

Steve Kimock and Zero are in Woodstock tonight, Hartford tomorrow, and moving throughout New England over the weekend, including a Sunday show in the Burlington area.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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