- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Jerry Garcia, the late leader of the Grateful Dead, called virtuoso “jam band” guitarist Steve Kimock his “favorite unknown guitar player,” and some consider Mr. Kimock the Garcia heir apparent.

Consider: Frontman Caldwell Gray of Washington’s Cravin’ Dogs spent two months on a bus with Mr. Kimock while they toured with pianist (and Grateful Dead fan) Bruce Hornsby and his band in 2002. Mr. Gray said of Mr. Kimock: “He’s the epitome of the lyrical approach that Garcia mastered and, in a lot of ways, defined. Kimock channels the Garcia muse more than any other jam-band guitar player around. Everything I’ve heard him do is lyrical, beautiful and ornate.”

When he got started in the music scene in San Francisco in the mid-1970s, Mr. Kimock often played with Mr. Garcia. Since Mr. Garcia’s death in 1995, Mr. Kimock has frequently played in post-Garcia versions of the Grateful Dead, including Phil Lesh and Friends, Bob Weir’s Kingfish and the Other Ones. Even so, he shies modestly away from the comparison.

“In musical terms, I think there were some similarities between some of the kinds of things that Garcia did and the kinds of things I like to do — kinds of space the guitar would take in melody and texture. But I think those obvious similarities probably account for a small percent of the stuff that’s being compared. All the talk is someone else’s agenda — it’s got nothing to do with me.”

Though he insists that working for somebody else is “the simplest thing you can possibly do,” Mr. Kimock recently has been challenging himself by touring and recording with his own group, the Steve Kimock Band.

The band went on a brief hiatus early in the year so Mr. Kimock could attend to his pregnant wife. Shortly after the birth of his son, Skyler, SKB released its first live concert performance on DVD: “Steve Kimock Band: Live at the Gothic Theatre.”

Recorded on New Year’s Eve 2003, the four-hour-long opus includes 10 full song performances as well as interviews. A new studio album is due out later this spring. Mr. Kimock says SKB’s current tour, which stops at the State Theatre in Falls Church tomorrow night, was deliberately planned to keep him as close as possible to his newborn son and family in Pennsylvania.

For those who have seen SKB perform before, the lineup will look familiar. Jazz-influenced drummer Rodney Holmes, who has played with the likes of Carlos Santana and the Brecker Brothers, has been partnered up with SKB for the past four years. Of his guitarist, Mitch Stein, Mr. Kimock says: “He’s on ‘more guitar,’ as we like to call it, instead of ‘lead’ or ‘rhythm.’ And believe me, that guy plays more guitar.” Also onstage will be bassist Leo Traversa and keyboardist Jim Kost, Mr. Kimock’s friend since childhood, who joined the band last year.

Mr. Kimock picked up a guitar at age 12 and became so obsessed with teaching himself how to play that he was granted special permission to practice during school in order to keep him from skipping classes. At 21, he left his hometown of Bethlehem, Pa., and moved to San Francisco for a “summer of love” of the musical variety.

“I’m pushing 50 with a short stick,” Mr. Kimock said. “But I play every day. I’ve been playing for 40 years.”

For his live performances, it sometimes seems as if Mr. Kimock is trying to cram those four decades of musicianship into one set. He says the band needs a minimum of two hours to play just to be true to the songs and not shortchange the audience. More often than not, a show will break the three-hour mark.

“I wonder sometimes where the energy comes from to sustain my will to do it at all,” he said. “But I think if you dedicate yourself to it and find some way to stay interested in it and working on it every day, there’ll always be something to engage you. I don’t think there’s another way to do it.”

• • •

Vocalist Patti Austin pays tribute to jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald tomorrow night at the Birchmere and Saturday at the Ram’s Head Tavern in Annapolis. The show, titled “BeboperElla,” features songs from Miss Austin’s critically praised album “For Ella,” such as “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” “Hard Hearted Hannah” and “The Man I Love,” as well as a several jazz standards.

Miss Austin, the goddaughter of Quincy Jones and Dinah Washington, began her professional singing career in her teens and later became a backup singer for artists such as Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross. In the 1980s, she moved to the front, dueting with James Ingram on the hit “Baby Come to Me.”

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