On the day before Thanksgiving, when the nation returned home through the bottle neck of interstate traffic jams and airport tarmac delays, Steve Kimock found himself reeling from a congestion battle of an entirely different kind. After finishing up a tour leg with Crazy Engine, he decided to treat the family to an afternoon of fun at Disney World in Orlando, before rolling through the in-laws in Boca Raton, FL.
“It was only the busiest day of the year,” jokes Kimock with a sigh of relief after finally getting settled. “A normal Thanksgiving for us is my side of the family at our home in Pennsylvania,” just off I-78 in the Lehigh Valley, “but this year I am nothing more than a guest with my wife’s side.”
All roads lead north for the band after the holiday, as they prepare for two New York performances in conjunction with Phish’s December run at Madison Square Garden. Kimock has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving besides his underlining passion of continuously being able to make music with his eldest son. Crazy Engine, which he set loose on the rails back in January 2009, is steaming ahead with a new found burst of creative chemistry and a new lineup alongside NOLA native ivory wrangler Melvin Seals.
“The lineup, as it is now, is much more in line with my original vision in terms of the band’s chemistry,” says Kimock. “We had a very soulful, grooving, first incarnation but it didn’t seem to fulfill our hunger for group improvisation and for the writing as well.”
The original lineup, which included John Morgan Kimock (drums), Seals (keys), bassist Janis Wallin of Family Groove Co., and singers Cheryl Rucker and Shirley Starks, has consolidated into a compact sonic output.
“I had two singers originally and that turned out to not be as economically feasible for dragging around the country. That was something I thought I would be able to handle, which in retrospect I didn’t get quite right.”
“We made another musical change on bass,” referencing to the addition of Trevor Exter, “it seemed to loosen up the rhythm section as well as the entire band.”
“I never felt the creativity spark would run dry or someday wouldn’t be there,” Kimock responds. “Just using sound for expression, whether it music, pitch, storytelling or speaking – using vibration to clear your mind is birth right stuff. Everybody has that from the moment they are born.”
“It’s all coming together,” he offers. “It is such a long process anytime you are trying to do something. Saintly patience is required. But to be honest with you, I haven’t had this much fun with a project since I was a teenager.”
With the holidays upon him, Kimock couldn’t help but to reminisce about the inherent sense of freedom he experienced from cutting loose and heading West as a young man.
“My brother went off on the back on somebody’s motorcycle one day with just a pair of jeans, t-shirt and a leather jacket. He looked back at me while he was on the back of the bike and said, ‘I’m going to California.’ And off he went.”
“I didn’t leave Pennsylvania until later that year, and it was one of the heaviest winters that I could remember. The snow was drifting up over the roof of the barns and there we were, loading up this old rag tag station wagon. It was a crazy trip across the country, I can remember it clearly. We had no idea where we were going and ended up landing in Marin County,” just north of the bay area. “It was a very fertile scene back then in ‘77.”
“Everything was different from Pennsylvania. The sky was different, the air was different, the trees were different and the people were completely different. It was a huge culture shock arriving in Northern California.”
“It was so much fun because we had a lot of youthful exuberance about what we were doing,” he continues. “We thought we were going to take San Francisco by storm! But the reality of the situation was we were traveling across the Golden Gate Bridge, in a clunker of a car, basically dying as it crawled across the bay,” with laughter. “We were literally on the roadway pushing the car on the way to our first gig opening for Hot Tuna as the old Waldof. The only girl we knew in town we met as she was driving her ’67 Beatle across the bridge and saw us pushing our car. She waited for us at the toll plaza and offered to shuttle all our gear to the gig.”
While in San Francisco Kimock began collaborating with Keith and Donna Godchaux, before eventually becoming a full blown member of the Grateful Dead family.
“I bumped into Jerry Garcia for the first time at the old Folk Street Studio,” says Kimock. “I was hanging out at the space and there was Jerry, all excited showing everybody his new guitar. I remember him showing it to me and I was learning a bunch of finger style jazz at the time. I was basically trying to learn it from a book. So I was like, ‘hey man, [pause] how about this?’”
Kimock began to play.
“Oh, elevator music,” Garcia responded.
“He wasn’t a fan of my ‘elevator music,” Kimock jokes, “but he told me to believe in myself. That was the only real advice I got from the guy. He told me I had plenty of chops, all I had to do was believe. It’s pretty good advice for anybody doing anything.”
Chops were certainly never an issue for Kimock’s musical pursuits and ambition in the 30 years since then, garnishing stints in RatDog and Mickey Hart’s Rhythm Devils. Melvin Seals solidified his reputation as well, spending 18 years as the musical director the Jerry Garica Band. But as the generations peel away it is Kimock’s eldest son, John Morgan, who will be creating music within a fundamentally changed America. His Bethlehem, PA based New Madrid Faults (Ropeadope Records) will be speaking to a generation of youth who will be faced with economic uncertainty, bleak employment opportunities and massive national debt.
The most recent piece of governmental legislation making its way through the Senate, which will redefine income tax rates, economic deficit hurdles and the basic standard of American living, is Health Care Reform. It is a topic which deserves the voice of the constituents, not the lobbyists and bureaucrats.
“Health Care Reform in America is essential,” says Kimock, “if not for the direct effect of the availability of care, but in the greater sense of getting the health care system out of the hands of the pharmaceutical and insurance companies. I think that would go a long way in being able to provide globally leading health care products across the world.”
“As far as I can tell, we are already completely past the point of our national debt making any difference in this decision. I mean, we are already talking massive national debt here. The next generation is already screwed in the sense that the dollar is going to be a peso any minute. To be honest, I don’t know if debt is even an issue at this point.”
“If we are to have reform, we need to get out of the business for mega profit. American greed creates a global bottle neck. Six million children across the world still die a year from preventable and treatable illnesses. Meanwhile American drug companies are dumping all of their money into cures and treatments for the already healthy. If you were really sick and somebody gave you a medicine that would cure you, there would be no need to keep taking it. That is the philosophy in the industry.”
“There is no money in trying to create cures for stuff that people are going to stop taking. Because of that you have pills that give you erections, but intern makes your leg twitch. So to fix the leg twitch, they give you another pill but that makes your tongue dry so you can’t talk in public. Oh, but they have a pill for that too. The list goes on,” Kimock explains.
“How much money do these guys have to make? There has to be some kind of justification for why these companies should spend all of this money on designer medicines when it can go to helping really sick people.”
“To me it creates a bottle neck that prevents efficiently developing health care products which would not just greatly benefit us, but the rest of the world as well. We certainly have the brilliance, expertise and leading fashion capabilities to get the necessary medicines to those who need it, not just domestically but abroad.”
“But hey man,” as Kimock concludes, “I’m a musician and that will continue to be my focus no matter what is thrown our way from the government.”