You've been preparing questions? I didn't prepare any answers.
Before we get too deeply into it, I do want to give you the ability to, even
after the fact, say, "Oh, don't print that." I don't know if you're going to
need to that kind of thing, but I don't want to ambush you into going on the
record with something you wish you hadn't, so you can interact with me
Fuck you.... Don't print that.... No, print that. No, don't print that.
Should I ask if this is going?
I think Kene will tell us when it's going. Oh, I can see him back there
making the "rolling" motion with his fingers. Hey, is anyone else
participating in this?
It's all right with me.
We're all here. Don't make it all about me by default. Don't just show up
and walk away!
I welcome kibbitzing if people want to pipe up and say something...
It's a family interview. [starts playing scales]
If you're, as you're doing right now, sitting with the guitar, and I would
call it noodling, but I'm not a musician, I don't know if that's an insult....
No, not at all.
Good. Is that (without putting words in your mouth) for the sake of your
chops? Is that a relaxation technique? Is it something that involves just
being involved with music as much of the day as possible? What does it do
Hmm. It's partly neurotic, I guess.
Like worry beads?
Yeah. And then the other thing is, if you don't play.... Do you play music?
No. Well, I sing a little.
What you're trying to do is shorten the times in between the times you're
playing. If I sat down right now and played all day and all night, and then
didn't play until, you know, Friday, then it wouldn't do me any good.
So you can't "bank" it.
Yeah, so I was playing before I went to bed, and I gotta get up and play
some more just to keep that time inbetween short. It's better for your
hands and it's better, even if I'm not doing anything too specifically other
than knocking the dust off, it's what allows me to be in some kind of
shape in case I do get an idea, and you never know when that's going to
happen. You'll be sitting around, you'll finally get warmed up, and
something will hit you, and you'll go ooh, and you'll finally get a piece of
something. Then you can assemble those later, but you don't get the
opportunity to do that if you don't have the thing in your hands a lot, so I
do sit with it a lot.
I think the equivalent for me is just writing all the time, so that I'm
writing when something good comes out.
Exactly. Yeah, that's exactly what it is, even if it is just doodling or
sketching, though I guess you don't have to write to maintain your writing
hand. There's some kinds of flexibility that have to be kept up.
It seems that music is on some level a physical discipline, an athletic
thing. So you're kind of staying in training, keeping yourself in condition
As best I can. What do they say about talent and work? There's something
they say about talent and work. It's like 99% perspiration and 1%
inspiration. It's that kind of thing.
It's like, all the talent in the world may be no good to you if you don't have
your instrument working.
It's mostly work. It's nowhere near as much talent as it is just
Do you revisit inventions that come up in that spontaneous way later on
when you're performing?
Yeah, that's one thing, but if it's something good, it's more specific than
that. I'll get a little bit that I hadn't stumbled on before, and it will either
be difficult to do and then I'll know to work on it, or it'll be easy and then
I'll do it a bunch and I'll remember it. Most of the stuff that hops up and
then is usable later, hops up in an ensemble context. I'll find something
and go, "ooh, that worked there," and like a fool I'll try to apply it the
same way another time and go, "Oh, that doesn't work now. What's up with
Are you conscious of when you're learning to do something new, when
you're on the threshold of a conceptual breakthrough? I assume that if new
things aren't happening it's going to get boring, it's going to get old, so
when you come up with something fresh, are you aware of it?
You'll get to a point with something where you can feel that
you've almost cracked some idea, or illuminated some concept from a
different angle, but you don't know what you're going to get. You're just
breaking into some unknown territory, and then you work, and you work,
and you work, and you work, and you work, and you might be working on
something that seems like it's going in one direction, and then when it
finally reveals itself, it's something completely different.
So, does that mean it feels more like a process of discovery than one of
Yeah. You necessarily don't know what you're doing when you're trying to
do something new. So it's not like you're going for something that you
know. It's not like that.
Always the Same, Never the Same Way
Is there any conscious will or effort not to repeat yourself? Does any of
that thinking go into your playing?
Sometimes it does. I don't think of it like that, and I wouldn't prefer that
it be that way, because that's kind of knee-jerk, in a lot of ways. That's
not like going towards something; it's like going away from something. In
the case of having played a tune ten thousand times - like in Zero we've
played Catalina ten thousand times or something like that, or a hundred
million times - then to spite myself I'll go, OK, I'm just going to play it
ska today, even though I know that that's not it. That's not really going for
That's like pricking yourself with a pin to stay awake.
Nothing against kids, because I was a kid myself and had the same thing
going on, but that's that "rebelling against yourself" kind of thinking. You
don't necessarily want that. It would be better not to have a path that
consisted completely of negating this or negating that.
Sure, and I don't want to keep hammering away just on this one thing--
No, it's cool! It's a cool thing.
You're hammering away on a cool thing. We'll all learn something.
All right, let's beat that horse. I have to come at it from the listener's
point of view because I don't play music, and when I've listened to you
playing a solo, perhaps on a song that I myself have heard you play
twenty-five times before or a hundred times or something like that - and
you're not the only soloist for whom this is the case - the thing I'm going
to say one day is... uh.... [Steve laughs] ... I'm jinxing myself
I don't know a lot of music theory, except for in my ear, and maybe it's
just speaking this language and having heard the music of this culture, but
my ear knows when there's a certain expected note or resolving tone.
Sure, and it happens in spoken English too: it's confusing when somebody
seems to be asking a question and they're not. You expect the intonation to
fit a pattern, and the kind of soloists who excite me when I'm listening
end up dealing with the requirement of that cultural conditioning, but not
in the way that my mind had preconceived it.
And, that often comes down to kind of dancing around that last note. When
you, individually as a player, or the whole band seems to be heading
toward some inevitable climax or resolution, often there's a kind of dance
to come up with a fresh way to get there, maybe crabwalking sideways
and then surprisingly showing up at that place after all. That's one of the
things I enjoy the most about your playing. There are times where I'll
think, What the hell is he doing now? This is way off the map! and then my
mind kind of does a figure-ground flip around and I realize you're there.
You actually were going there, and I just couldn't see it myself, and I don't
know if there's a question in there....
Well, no.... [Everyone laughs]
I guess I'm interviewing myself now. This is the great thing about editing:
I can cut out all my own crap.
How conscious is that? Are you conscious of the thing that I'm perceiving
as a fan, as an audience member?
That's a good question. Yes and no. Specifically, what kinds of musical
paths get taken to deal with specific musical situations - say, there's a
space in this song that's x amount long that's going to have to come back
to the tune - all this sitting around and noodling and looking for little
things to do, what you're trying to wind up with is "always the same,
never the same way." That's the basic Big Dumb Idea that's at work, and
what happens in my head to try and get it there and what happens in your
head as a listener are very necessarily different. You're just going to hear
stuff differently on different days, different things are going to surprise
you, and different things that I'm going to try are going to work to varying
degrees on different days.
So how specifically I'm going for that is only as specifically as I just
said, which is always the same, never the same way. You always want it
to be good. You always want it to somehow have that balance of surprise
to the listener and comfort. It's always got to be mixed up, but I don't
think there's any batch of little stuff that you have to be specifically
And sometimes, exactly what you're saying, "Where is he?" shows up in
the Zero thing quite a bit. We'll begin to play, and the thing will instantly
be on Mars, and I'm going, "Where are they?" I'll go back to where I knew
the tune was and I'll just start playing quarter notes, like 1, 2, 3, 4,
playing the old straight time against the prevailing time, which often
sounds totally weird.
Until you get those beats where it comes back together.
I'm playing [demonstrates quarter-note strumming, whispers] "I'm not
doing anything different from what we started doing," and everybody's
looking at me like, "Where the fuck are you, man?" and then it kind of
flips up, comes back over, and there you are, and I'm already there.
Sometimes it's that simple, but how people perceive music, the difference
between a trained listener or an improvisor in the act and an untrained
listener, there's almost no cross in that. It's like an impossible gulf to
cross. OK, so you, or anybody else who's listening who's not a trained
musician is necessarily listening referentially. They're hearing the music,
and they're comparing it to something else. They're getting an emotional
hit from it, or a feeling like "ship tossed on a stormy sea", and I'm
thinking, "G Minor." So what I've got to do, to operate my equipment on my
end, is completely different than what you've got to do, to receive it at
the other end.
That's a mystery. I wind up mostly being an absolutist as opposed to a
referentialist about the musical stuff, and I'm quite content with the
interplay and the juxtaposition of the actual intervals and the math of it.
That's fine with me. I'm not trying to paint a picture. I'm actually working
with the intervals, with the music, and I'm delighted by that.
Infinity Goes Up On Trial
Would you say that when music is working, it works across that spectrum,
maybe for different reasons? Maybe the untrained fan who walked in by
mistake might hear one thing that's appealing, the obsessive fan would
hear something else, the musician would hear another thing, but when the
music is right, it should make the dancing people dance, and the thinking
people think, and the musicians think about chord changes?
Yeah, or not at all. Ideally, not at all is the place to be, but you don't often
get to start there, with the no-thinking thing. Anyway, that's where it's
heading. I don't know if we'll get back to a question that can actually work
on the right answer.
Oh, well that's all right. We'll make up the questions afterward. Well, let
me ask something, unless you have something to add about that, because I
don't want to cut you off.
It's just that, ultimately, one of the reasons why I sit around and play all
the time is because, playing music or being in that music thing, there's a
timeless quality about it.
That's interesting, since you're dealing with time in a very hand's-on way,
when you're playing music.
Well, musical time is different than chronological time, extremely
different, and the actual experience of music is a no-time kind of thing.
When it's really happening - when it's *really* happening, when it's really
in the zone - there is none of that duality of time. There's none of this
thinking like "all nine of my old ladies are here," or "this guy's looking at
me," or "that's not right." There's no judgement. There's no thinking like,
"He's not playing the right thing," or "I'm not playing the right thing," or
"I really have to go to the bathroom," or whatever possible thing you could
think. There's no thinking when you actually get in the moment, and the
time thing kind of stops entirely, and so does all the rest of your duality,
all the rest of that nonsense, judgement or thought about yourself.
Do you think it's that feeling that makes you want to play music?
Yeah. Yeah. Oh, yeah. That's why people listen. That is it. If you're loose
enough or can indulge yourself to the point where you actually get it, you
get those moments where everything stops, and it's just there. When you
really get to that flow state, that's it. That's what it is, and the
attraction to that seems fairly obvious: cheating chronological time. It's
kind of a godlike thing to do, you know. [He strums]
It's just like, boom, you've got the eternal moment there. There's other
ways to get there. You can crash your car into a tree or you can kiss a girl
for the first time, stuff like that, but music consistently, I think, more
than anything else, gets people to that space, and when you're in that
space, that's the "piss in the ocean" consciousness raising that music
does that's good for people, for everybody involved, for the community.
When you get community, you get the music, and you get to that place,
everybody comes out better. That light that happens right then, that's it.
That space, that's God. That's where people are trying to go. When they
write the book about how to get there, that's where they're trying to go!
The divine feeling.
Yeah. It's the now.
That might be the thing that bridges the fan's "tossed on the ocean"
feeling and the musician's technical understanding of what's going on,
because if you're both in that place, it really doesn't matter how you got
in that place.
No, it doesn't. On the way in, there's necessarily a me and you, and there's
up on stage and there's out in the audience, and there's right foot/left
foot, and all this stuff, but not when it really gets there. All that shit just
disappears when it's really good, and everybody that's heard good music
knows that. All the rest of it's gone. The job is gone.
Would you say that you become conscious of the people who are just
hearing the music? Does it feel like a group thing to you or is there a self,
an ego at the center, that's generating it?
No. It's not an ego-generated space. People will try and talk to me at a gig,
or before a gig, or inbetween on break. They'll start talking about the
music, or about me, just like what we're doing right now. I understand
that there's a need for it, but for me personally it's counterproductive,
because anything that you do that creates a sense of self around the ego
needs to be discarded to go ahead and play the music in the first place. So
you wind up having to tell people, "Thank you very much," and that's it.
It's hard to talk, because you either walk away feeling like "I fucked up"
or you're all full of yourself and either way, whatever that is, it's going to
have to be dropped before you actually get to some kind of zone. It's part
of the responsibility of musicians.
Also, if I may interject
It's also about being with many other people who are also in need of it. I
see you guys very much as being in service to our spirits.
Right, yeah. Exactly.
How many times have you not heard somebody say, "God, I need a show"?
Absolutely. Yeah, it's like a well that you've drunk from and you're thirsty
And it's not necessarily to see big famous musicians on stage. It's being
together and enjoying an experience, that manifestation, together that
produces a result other people can only dream of having.
For me, what I feel the work is, is to try and do what's necessary to
produce that authentic musical improvisational experience, which tends to
take people to that place. It takes me to that place. That's the job. All the
rest of this guacamole, all the rest of this work is for that. It's for
Well, I've had to consciously restrain myself from bugging you at gigs...
...because of that exact phenomenon, and I think I see both sides of it,
because I do get drawn in. It's an attempt to get to the center of things,
but I'm also aware that you're working and that you probably have to keep
your concentration. That person who comes up to you and starts jabbering
away about their theory or the vision they had, they probably really just
want to hug you or something. That would probably satisfy that urge of
theirs to touch you and say, Wait you are another human being, right? That
magical thing that happened was a human thing, wasn't it?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. When people hear music or when they're taking part in
an event like that and they get that feeling, sometimes you have to try and
explain this. No, that's not about me. It's about you. Youÿ got that. I didn't
give that to you. You got that. Pat yourself on the back. That's your own
capacity to open up and to enjoy music and to just experience things in the
moment for a minute.
You may have put the foot in the door for that person, though, even if they
still had to push their way through on their own.
They may think so, but still, it's them. It's you, individually. Different
things'll do it for you at different times, which as far as I'm concerned is
proof that that's the case. I mean there's music that got me off totally
when I was a kid that I can't listen to now, and there's stuff that I
listened to when I was a kid where I was like, This is horseshit, that I
listen to now and I'm like, Oh, God, I love it so much! So different stuff
takes you there. It's completely an individual thing. It's your own capacity
to open up and to feel that. Somebody's not doing that to you. It's you
allowing that for yourself.
You used the word "authentic," talking about the improvisation being
authentic or the music being authentic.
Authentic, spontaneous. A real, authentic experience, not some kind of
phony experience, not, you know, Now we're going to do this and you're
going to do this. It's not like audience participation: Everybody clap your
hands, you know? It's like we're just gonna hop up here with our pants
down around our ankles, man, and we're going to go for it, and so are you,
and we're either gonna get there or not, but it's real, something real,
authentic, not phony.
Well, I think that that's what comes across. One of the things I heard
instantly in your playing that has always made me want to come back and
hear more is that authenticity, which I would have called honesty. You
mentioned once, in an
I read up on the web at the old Rockweb
site, that "mood is not a note choice," but music plucks at emotional strings
in our physical bodies and in our heads, and I feel like I'm hearing really
you. There seems to be a level of emotional honesty. It might not seem
that way to you, because you may not be thinking about emotions at all.
Maybe it's just one of those things that comes through the cracks when
you're forced to jump off a cliff and cope, and I guess I have to make a
question out of this again....
True or false! [Everyone laughs]
What do you think is the role of emotion in music, especially from the
playing perspective. Does it create feelings in you while you're playing?
Or when you're listening to the tape later? Is that a meaningful way to
think about music at all from a musician's point of view?
Yeah, it is. Boy there's a really good answer to that question, too. I just
can't think of what it is right this minute. Let me think just one minute. ...
How does that work? ... Boy that's a good question. We're going to have to
come back to that because this is some thin ice, questionwise!
We can enter it from another direction later, as far as I'm concerned.
I certainly can prove it in court that I cannot convey to you a specific
emotion through a specific combination of pitches or tones. There's no
one-to-one correspondence between any of the intervalic or mathematical
relationships that maps directly onto your emotions or onto colors or onto
smells or onto anything. It's its own thing, entirely, and it's complete
within itself. For some reason we get all wrapped up in this emotional
component to the thing. That's a gift that it's there, but it's not how it
starts. In a way it's completely tied up in it, and in another way no part of
it that maps onto it either.
It's sounds like it's the thing you can't go for. It's not like it's an
ingredient you can dial up. It has to come across as a side-effect?
Well, no. You have to intend that it's part of the thing. It's my intention to
play in a way that will engage you emotionally, somehow. What exactly
that means, I don't fuckin' know, you know? I know that when I heard
music when I was a kid that I dug, whatever it was, like Duane Allman or
whatever, or Roy Buchanan or something, it got me! I was just stuck
straight through with a spear. I'll even play you some music that I listened
to yesterday that just cut my head off, it was so good. You'll hear it and
maybe you'll get off too. It's so good.
I'll pretend to if I don't.
Oh, no, no, no. I'll force you. I'll drag you in there to listen to it.
So I know that some part of the thing has to include that emotional
ingredient, but how exactly to get there, I don't know. But I do intend for
it to be there, and I know that that's part of the thing.
There's a good answer in there somewhere because that's a really good
You gotta have an attitude, right? When they write a piece of music, they
say right on the music the tempo and the key signature, and then, in Italian
or French or something, there's always some kind of thing about how it's
supposed to be played. You're supposed to have a certain attitude to play.
"Lively," or "somber but not slow."
There's descriptions of tone color I work with that may have an emotional
connotation for people, because you need to think of the physical sound in
a certain way sometimes to make it be that way. You need to think that
it's going to be buoyant or radiant or veiled or open, like a kid shouting, or
whatever the thing is going to be. There's attitude involved that may be
emotional entirely and have nothing to do with what you're actually
playing. You can play the same note the same way thinking "buoyant," or
you can play the same note the same way thinking "shrill." Maybe that part
of the thing might come off as being the emotional part of it.
It often sounds like a clear channel. It just feels very direct. Rather than
trying to guess at what you're hoping to achieve, I feel like I know it. I
don't need to put it into words because it's already beyond that level.
Cool! That's good.
I want to sort of inch a little bit--
Yeah, ask a question about something I forgot so I can say, "I forgot."
Yeah, that'd be good. What was your first girlfriend's name?
There you go. OK, do you like licorice?
OK, I just wanted to get that straight. Also, can I state for the record that
Kimock is spelled with one 'm'? I notice that even the Rolling Stone fact
checkers weren't able to get that one straight.
Nobody gets it right. It's one 'm'. K-I-M-O-C-K. King Ida Mary Ocean Charlie
King is how the Highway Patrol describes it when they pull me over.
Somebody told me that that's a Slovak name. Is that right?
Yeah. My peoples were all Hungarian or Czechoslovakian. I think when they
came from there it was Carpathia or something, that part of the world.
OK, I'm gonna go in a totally different direction. When you're interpreting
a song, someone else's song, how do you decide what part of the way you
learned it is essential and what part is the arrangement, which can be
rearranged like a variable in another rendition?
It depends how often you've heard the song before, I guess.
Is it just intuition? Is it just an instinctive thing?
If I haven't heard the song before, I ry to see what the form of it is, listen
to the version that I'm hearing, and try and separate the stylistic
elements of the people who are playing it from the form.
Is that part of it easy to do?
Yeah, there's obvious elements of style.
How about when you do know the song?
If I do know the song, if I've heard it a million times, then I'm interpreting
my feelings about the song. My impression of having heard the song so
many times has an ebb and flow to it, and an attitude, and I just go with
that and do whatever I can do to make me feel like I'm playing that tune.
If you know the song better, does that mean you'd be more likely to take
liberties, to interpret it more radically?
It's almost better if I don't know it. Are you familiar with the concept of
Well, that's the deal. In the expert's mind there's few possibilities, and in
the beginner's mind it's wide open. The fresher the better for me.
Was that how it was when you played the Eleven at that concert [The Other
Ones Debut, benefit for the Rainforest Action Network, at the Warfield in
SF, on June 6, 1998]? You didn't have much time to think about that did
Clueless. I was clueless about all of that. Totally clueless about all of
that stuff. So happy. [He laughs]
Were you thinking "time signature"?
No, I tend to not think about it. You can tell when stuff is not metrically
entirely straight, but I have a really twisted kind of metrical conception
Want to talk about that a little bit?
It's kind of technical, but the short version is, in Western music the
metric component to the thing is called compound duple, groups of four
things or eight things, basically, and it's subdivided. It's really kind of a
funny way to do it. The older musical cultures think of music as either
being circular, like the Indians, or layered - layers of rhythms - like the
Africans, and we have this chopped up kind of thing. That's how they teach
it, that's how it's learned, and that's how you talk about it: this fraction
of this beat or this subdivision of this grouping. But what you wind up
getting with compound duple, when you have four things [holds up his
fingers of one hand splayed] is you have no center, and then you have
uneven spaces, and you either have a beginning- or an end-accented thing,
necessarily when you have two things, right? So if you have an unaccented
pulse [slaps lap], and then you accent the first part [ONE two ONE two ONE
two rhythm] it kind of tends to plod or slow down. If you accent the other
part [one TWO one TWO...] and you don't think about it for a minute, it's
turned back into, you know, "ONE two, ONE two." It turns around. So in
compound duple, where we're kind of forced to think, stuff either falls
back or falls forward.
In the last couple of years, I started looking at all the even divisions as
being groups of odd divisions anyway, so eight, for me, for example, is like
five and three. If you look at five things and three things [holds up fingers
again], then you've got a center for the five and you've got a center for the
three, and you've got even spaces, and so it's just a different way to look
at it. If you take five and three, and you accent the middle of the five and
you accent the middle of the three, you have backbeat anyway. You've got a
['BOOK chicka, booka chicka, BOOKa chicka booka chick' beat], so you wind
up with the same stuff. It's just a different feeling, but then once you're
that far, what's the problem with [slaps out beat] five or seven? [slaps out
a seven beat]
It all grooves if it's got a backbeat, except the backbeats are now in the
middle of the thing. It's all odd anyway, so when stuff's odd, especially if
I don't know it's supposed to be odd, I don't have any problem with it. It
doesn't bother me that much. But when I know it's "in seven" - and so
much of that Grateful Dead stuff that I'm working on right now is in odd
time signatures and odd bars - it's confusing to have to think of it first,
but it's fun to just hear it and play it.
It sounds a little bit like the way, in visual arts, asymmetry can be
sometimes more appealing than symmetry. Those regular, even, perfectly
divided things can seem less interesting.
Yeah, the odd numbers in music, whether it's pitches or beats, tend to be
the ones that seem symmetrical.This seems to be the way most of the
primitive music was generated. If you have a central, starting pitch,
[holds out hand palm down] and you go a note above that [points] and a note
below the starting pitch [points], and you go one more note above or below
that [points to both], you wind up with a pentatonic scale. So it's just a
starting pitch and then pitches on either side of that ... and repetition at
the octave. So that's where the melody's been for the last couple million
Is it time for it go somewhere else?
OK, just checking.
I think it's part of the human condition that we hear it that way.
Limitations, Thresholds, Goals
Can you describe any of your limitations as a musician or thresholds that
you might not have crossed, that you find still waiting for you to get
Oh, yeah. There's a million of them. Most have to do with writing. I always
wish I was writing more. I try *real* hard to write, man. I come up with,
you know, *shit*. [He starts playing again]
What makes you think you *should* write more?
Well, if I could write like a hundred tunes right now, and any of them were
any good at all, then in twenty-five years one of 'em would be a
toothpaste commercial and my kids would get mailbox money. [Laughs]
That's a good reason.
That's one reason [strumming the guitar]. The other thing is that,
improvisational music - which is what I enjoy, I enjoy improvising - even
with recording, kind of dies with the improvisor. The improvisor goes, and
there goes that music. It's different if you somehow manage to wheedle
your way into the literature. It seems like that would have a little more
enduring [strums a chord, gently] impact. One of the reasons any of us do
this at all is because we want to have more good music in the world. It'd
be nice if I could do something so that there's more good music in the
world right now, and it'd be nice if there was something I could do so that
there'd be more good music in the world later, too. It's nice to think that
you've contributed something.
It sounds like *any* form of writing, which has to do with recording, with
getting things into some constructed form, rather than purely relying on
spontaneity all the time.
And the bigger picture of there being music and musicians at all in the
generations that follow, to have something to draw from. I always thought
it would be neat to add something to that. Maybe I will and maybe I won't,
but, along the way, whatever I can do to et there to be more good music
out there, I do that. I'm a pretty big booster of other people's playing. I'm
constantly going out and finding things for people, fixing their amps, or
getting something. There's not enough of that, either, but that's not
something that's lacking in me. I turned it around into something positive.
What else can't I do? I don't get enough practice playing through changes.
That's another part of the writing thing, because I think that there are
some areas where there might be something to add, in terms of just
having some interesting "blowing changes" for people to play over. What
else can't I do that I was really wishin' I could do? I don't know. Play more
instruments. Play blues. [Laughs] Play a decent blues. Sometimes I can play
it a little bit.
Are all the instruments you play stringed instruments?
I used to play the saxophone, and the flute, and the piano, keyboard stuff. I
used to do that more when I was younger. I was never really any good at it,
but I dug trying it. I just kind of got stuck with the guitar. I *love* playing
the lap guitar, Hawaiian guitar stuff. That's a lot of fun.
When you pick up a new instrument, a stringed instrument but not one
you've played before, how much carries over from what you already know
how to do?
It's not that different. If I really decided I wanted to play mandolin, I
could. If I really decided I wanted to play *violin*, that might not work.
The violin's pretty different.
I want to keep talking about this question of your "instrument." My
understanding is that you are involved in the electronics of the electric
guitar, [Kimock starts playing scale, absently] that you constructed or
modified or customized a lot of the equipment that you use?
Right. Yeah. Kind of a hot-rod mentality, more than anything else.
I guess this gets us back a little to the Grateful Dead thing, because I used
to sit at Grateful Dead concerts and envision that the guitar and the amp,
and the microphone in front of the amp or whatever simulation of that
they use now, and the connection to the soundboard and the connection to
the p.a. was actually a big Dr. Seuss-like instrument. In one sense you
seem to be playing this medieval instrument, but in another sense you're
playing this modern-day electronic instrument. When you say "my
instrument," are you thinking of this object you can carry around or are
you conscious that there's this whole electronic body of the instrument
that goes beyond the guitar shape in your hands?
When I talk about my instrument, I talk about my relationship with my
guitar. I dig the production stuff. I dig it a lot. I love to tinker and I love to
fuck with the stuff. The cool thing about the technology we're working
with here - that guitar design, the strat, is from the what? early '50s or
late '40s. That was the first popular solid-body electric guitar, you know?
That instrument over there, the Regal, that's from the '40s. These aren't
new designs. This guitar, the Epiphone Emperor, was made in '53, but it's
an archtop box. It's the same basic instrument. I've got pickups on guitars
that were made in the '30s. I've got amps here from the '30s and late '20s.
You can get into this stuff just like an old car and, for pennies, do
something that maybe to you improves the sound of it. So it's not like it's
really modern technology. The technology is old. It's generations and
generations old and, with almost no investment other than wanting it to
be so, you can mess with it and make it more the way you want it to be.
I'm all about the production though, sure, but I don't see it as the
It has to do with clarifying the result, getting it to come out the way you
want it to?
It's just that you're always trying to get a few percent here and there, and
if you get a percent here and a percent there a hundred times, you've got a
hundred percent improvement. So that's what you're trying to do, and it's
easy to do with the kind of gear I use because it's just old junk. You can
make it better just messing with it.
Pass the Acid
Recently somebody sent a post to a newsgroup where people talk about
Grateful Dead stuff, rec.music.gdead, during the process of them finding
people to play the guitar for this tour, that said "I don't trust any
guitarist who wasn't at an Acid Test." From the worst perspective, that
would be a kind of Grateful Dead parochialism, where if you didn't go to
the right place or do the right thing, you shouldn't be sitting in this seat. I
wonder if there's any way I could reassure potential fans that that's not
going to be a handicap for you?
That I wasn't at an acid test? Bwahahahahaha! [He laughs uproariously]
I'm sort of trying to counter the literalism of that person's quip.
I'll connect it to music too, because the music of the Dead, and the music
of Zero - and there's a lot of other bands that could probably be described
this way - is listened to by people who are under the influence of acid,
quite a lot, and from what I understand of acid, it affects your sense of
time and your sense of delay - the visual trails effect, for instance - and I
think that affects the way people hear, and it could affect the way the
music gets played, just in a huge feedback loop over the long run.
I'm a visual person, really, and I think of it as there being an extra
dimension: you've gone from two to three dimensions, or from three to
four, maybe one you can't really visualize normally. Some music gets
listened to that way and sounds flatter, because it's only happening in
those original two dimensions. Other music seems to be moving, vibrating,
or dragging, for instance.
Right, according to the individual listener in that moment, but that's it.
It's not across the board. We've done this already before. Different kinds
of music affect you in different ways at different times in your life.
There's no absolute about it, whatever the music is.
I mean, thank God we grew up in a generation when there were some
psychedelics available, in spite the fact that some people seem to have
suffered permanent damage behind doing some of them, because we all
know people that just aren't the same. But I'm glad that that was
available to our generation, but if you think you have to do it every day to
maintain some kind of perspective, well, I don't think that's right.
Whoever that guy was that didn't trust anybody that hadn't been to an Acid
Test, tell him to bring his guitar over and tell him to bring his acid over,
you know? I'll test him! [Everyone laughs] I've done plenty of acid. I've
played plenty of guitar. What kind of bullshit is that anyway? That's silly.
David Lindley's Rig
That guy, I think he's a reggae fan, and I did want to ask you about reggae.
It seems like a kind of touchstone for you.
I love reggae music.
It just feels good. Musically, it's third-world beer-drinking music. It's not
that different from polka, the basic idea. You've got a beergarden, or
you've got some place in Jamaica and everyone's smoking a spliff, and
they've got their music. It seems like it's an adjunct to a lifestyle or
social thing. If you started to make a partial list of the great American
jazz artists or writers, you'd have a partial list of totally luminous
musicians, enormous, huge musicians. Louis Armstrong. Miles Davis. You
start thinking about these people that played and people that wrote, and
you think about reggae and you think, well what is it? It's party music. As
far as I'm concerned, Bob Marley kind of wrote the book, and I *love* Bob
Marley, and I love playing reggae, and I love hearing reggae. It's a cool
thing. You know who did reggae good that I liked? David Lindley. I liked
what he did with the reggae thing. I love Lindley's playing.
When Zero plays Mercury Blues, I always hear it as a David Lindley tribute.
Absolutely. I don't know how it came up that we did that song. But what
was the other one we did? Oh, the Sexual Healing thing. John Kahn used to
come out to the barn and play with us and hang out. He would always be
pulling out all these old Motown tunes and soul tunes, and once he says,
"Let's play Sexual Healing," because he liked the bassline. He played the
changes and I went, "This is a great tune and everything but this is lame,"
because I didn't want to do it like that, but it's the same changes to one of
those Lindley things. [Plays on the guitar to demonstrate, the melody used
for Zero's instrumental tune Tongue 'n' Groove]. You know? So that's
When I made my little Kimock & Friends disc, I said right on there: if you
copy this disc send five bucks to Dave Lindley. [Laughs] I used to go see
Lindley play all the time. I used to stand right at the edge of the stage, and
watch all the stuff that he did.
Have you ever played with him, or would you like to?
I would love to. I'm not worthy. All my shit, man, is Lindley's shit. The
same kind of guitar, the same kind of pickups, the same kind of tuning, the
same strings, the same amp, the same all that stuff. You know? So,
whatever people say about all the rest of this stuff, I'm using Lindley's
rig. That's where that's at. [Starts playing again]
What are you listening to these days?
I listen to north Indian classical music. Ali Akbar Khan mostly, on the
sarod, the slidey stuff. I've been listening to a lot of this Keith and Jewel
Dominion Church service stuff from Florida, which I'd like to play for you
before you go. The churches were so poor that they didn't have organs, so
they used steel guitar, lap steel, to accompany the service. You should
hear these guys play. It's the best. You'd have to be into steel guitar, I
guess, but I never heard anything so good in my life. It's just incredible.
Is that how Freddie Roulette got into lap steel?
Well, Freddie's a special case. He's from another planet. I've been listening
to some Freddie Roulette too. I love Freddie's playing. I think Freddie
Roulette was the guy that got Lindley into playing the lap steel, that's
where that works, and I think the instrument that he plays mostly was a
gift to him from Mr. Dave.
I'm always fascinated by that kind of lineage thing, the traditions that get
handed down. There's a stereotype of a Deadhead as someone who listens
to the Dead twenty-four hours a day, but there's another type of Deadhead
who sees a signpost pointing in six or seven different directions, and
starts tracing those things back. Somebody who grew up on Robert Johnson
may not find the Dead's version of Walkin' Blues to be compelling, but to a
college kid or a teenager who's never heard it, that's the first hint that
that other stuff is buried underneath. I thought I'd ask you about a couple
guitarists specifically, so if somebody hears your playing and likes it,
they can do their research.
Yeah, you could do that or I could make a list that would take all day to
Yeah, I'm afraid of that. That's why I thought I should prompt you. For
instance, I wanted to ask you did you ever spend any time listening to Joe
Yeah, some, but I spent more time listening to George Barnes and Carl
Kress. They had a great duo, jazz thing. I listened to Joe Pass, but I
listened to way more Wes Montgomery than I listened to Joe Pass, and I
listened to as much Lenny Breau as I listened to Wes Montgomery. Lenny
Breau was probably the best guitar player on the planet before they found
him in the bottom of a swimming pool.
Are there specific Lenny Breau albums or cuts that people should look for?
There's a Live at Shelly's Manhole that I thought was real good. Any of the
Lenny Breau stuff. He was an incredible, incredible player. Unbelievable.
How about Charlie Christian?
I listened to a bunch of Charlie Christian, but when I was younger. I
listened to a lot of Django Reinhardt, but again when I was younger. And
then all the second-generation electric blues guys.
Yeah, I was going to say Jimi Hendrix.
Obviously, huge Hendrix fan. Getting the hit off the Hendrix thing is
different from getting the hit off of almost any of the other stuff,
because he was one of those guys that slammed it. He didn't close the
chapter. He slammed the door shut on the thing. Charlie Christian might
have had something to do with getting the door open on the electric guitar
thing, but Hendrix was like, It's done. Bang! Case closed.
So how do you persist? Do you have to go in another direction to avoid
Yeah, you can't. The thing that was cool about Jimi Hendrix was that he
was completely utterly all the way original, and so as soon as you play his
shit you've just taken the best part of it away. So what do you do with
that? I'll get a little Hendrix quote in there once in a blue moon, but
stylistically for me it would be a dead end. It's not a style that you can
emulate successfully because, as far as I'm concerned, the impact of his
playing was in its originality.
I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan once or twice do an arrangement of Voodoo
Chile (slight return), and he was good - he had the chops, from my
perspective - but to me it seemed more like a tribute, and Jimi Hendrix
deserves tribute, that's legitimate, but...
Right, but the tribute that Jimi Hendrix deserves is for everybody to be
original with their stuff. That's what he was saying! Don't do it like those
guys! Do it different!
Let me ask you, can you name other musicians who influenced you on other
instruments besides guitar?
Oh, yeah. All the obvious, Miles Davis and Bill Evans. Miles Davis on the
trumpet or just as an incredibly influential musician. I think he influenced
how everybody heard and played music. I love Bill Evans' playing on the
piano. I was a big Cannonball Adderley fan.
Mostly jazz guys outside of guitar?
The post-bop jazz thing got me real hard. I liked that. But, to bring it back
around to the Grateful Dead thing, when I did finally begin to listen to
some of the Grateful Dead, after the other listening that I had done -
because I was never really into that band so much, but I heard it and I dug
it, and I loved Jerry Garcia's playing, but I didn't really listen to it that
much - when I finally started listening to it, I went, Oh, this is small
band improvisation. This isn't a rock band. This is the shit. This is the
stuff. These guys are actually going for it. And the time signatures and the
tonalities, and the juxtapositions of the tonalities that were being used,
it was all very jazzy, and I thought it was really cool. [Laughs]
But it's small-band improvisation, and that's mostly the stuff that we're
talking about getting off on here, whether it's Wes Montgomery or Roy
Buchanan or David Lindley, small-band improvisation. It's not big-band
charts, and it's not 164-track Madonna mixes. It's the guys getting on
...and listening to each other while the play.
Yeah. So Hendrix was a huge one who basically I wouldn't touch with a ten
foot pole. Clapton's stuff I enjoy playing and don't mind covering. I don't
Maybe because he left a lot of possibilities out there.
Yeah, maybe it's a little easier to deal with than the Hendrix thing. I love
the Allman Brothers. The Allman Brothers kick my ass totally. Stevie Ray
Vaughan I liked a lot, but he came along a little late for me and, as much
as I love his playing, I would put his entire output - and I'm a total
asshole for going on record as saying this because everybody loves Stevie
Ray Vaughan and so do I - but still, for me personally, from where my
listening came from, I would put all his stuff up against In Memory of
Elizabeth Reed [makes balance with his hands] and In Memory of Elizabeth
Reed would dump it all. [Tips to one side] I thought Dickey Betts was a
fuckin' incredible player.
Roy Buchanan was a huge influence. We've talked about David Lindley.
Johnny Winter was a big influence; I love Johnny Winter's playing. And
then there's just a million other guys. The other influence, the other
instrument would be sarod. Sarod's a big influence.
When you talk about small-band improvisation, it sounds like defining it
that way has to do with bucking the assigned labels or genres. This is rock
'n' roll, and this is jazz. This is r'n'b and this is blues. I've often heard
musicians not accept those distinctions or categories, and I was
wondering, do you think of yourself as someone who plays jazz?
No. I'm influenced by it, of course, but I wouldn't say I play it. No, no.
Would you say you play rock 'n' roll, then, is that your home-base genre?
Yes and no. I play electric guitar, so it's more rock 'n' roll than it is jazz.
Electric guitar is not really like a jazz instrument. A couple of guys got in
there and played some. John McLaughlin, for example, another huge
influence. I love McLaughlin's playing, with Miles and later on.
I might be wrong but I think it was Leonard Feather who said, "It's jazz if
it's jazz musicians playing a jazz tune on jazz instruments with a jazz
tone and phraseology." You can't have jazz musicians playing jazz
instruments on a jazz tune and using a fuzz box and playing it with a disco
beat. Then it's not jazz anymore, as soon as you don't have that stuff. And
you can't have the jazz tone and phraseology and the jazz tune and all that
stuff, and then have a bunch of rock guys playing it. It's not jazz. And
anybody's that's listened to jazz - I hate making these kinds of
distinctions, but we all know what the fuck good jazz is, and it's not
what's on the FM radio these days that they call jazz. That's not jazz,
How about the Meters? Zero tackles Meters stuff.
I'm totally into the Meters. All those little bands that play together, four
guys or five guys, like the Meters or Booker T, that kind of stuff, I just
thought that was great.
On the subject of your new project, you're writing stuff or making stuff
up with that group, KVHW, so where do you see that going? It's a four
piece right now, right? Guitar, guitar, bass, and drums?
Are you happy with that right now as an outlet for your music, for music
you're writing or that you're writing with other people?
Yeah. That works good. I love playing with Bobby Vega. Bobby and I have
been playing together for years and years and years. We lived together. I
have a lot of respect for Bobby's playing and have done my best to get
inside his stuff, and he does his best to get inside my stuff. So we know
each other real well, and we really enjoy playing together.
So that's a core that you're building on?
Yeah, just some stuff for me and Bobby to do. And Alan is a fabulous
drummer, and Ray is the perfect rhythm guitar player. He's like Bobby.
When in doubt, he's funky. So it's great. And he's a great singer. If we play
something that sounds like it ought to have words, he makes them up.
Improv lyric and melody. It's cool.
So how different is it to play with a rhythm guitarist versus being the
only guitar voice in a small group? Does it change your approach? Do you
figure someone else is holding down the changes, or the rhythm?
It doesn't change it that much. It opens stuff up a lot. If you have two
singers you have twice as many singers, and if you have two drummers you
have twice as many drummers, but if you have two guitar players it's like
having 11 guitar players. And in a way it's kind of nice not having the
keyboard, as much as I like keyboards. It's just more open.
You have to use different kinds of sounds and different kinds of guitars to
cut through certain things. It's real different playing with a synthesizer
than it is playing with another guitar. Texturally and timbrally, there's
more stuff you can do. It's more open like that.
Other Ones Arrangements
Over on the Other Ones side of the deal, it's an eight-piece band, I guess.
Yeah, with like 30 guitar players.
Yeah, with three guitars, and I understand in this fairly short amount of
time, the whole group has had to rehearse and get familiar with material
and arrangements and all that. How much of it is literally worked out
where you're going to play a lead or a melody or a fill here and Mark Karan
is going to play it there? Is it mapped out who's going to solo?
Well, not much. There's some stuff where right inside a tune - for
example, in Sugar Magnolia, after the first little chorus, I think it's my
job to take that break. I think! [Laughs] We'll see. It kind of gets switched
around, and it's hither and yon. It'll settle in once we get going, I think.
And there's a couple of tunes, what the hell is it? Corinna, I think.
A very rhythm-based song.
Yeah, where I was just like, Oh, this is cool. I can just skank on this. And
then somebody says, "Well, you know, how about some solos?" and I'm like,
"No, man, I'm with the rhythm section." I dig that.
You know the Dead used to be accused of being all rhythm section. You've
got two drummers, and at times they've had two keyboard players. You
often have many different rhythms overlaid, going on at the same time.
Yeah, it's cool.
Is it hard to pick your way between them, or float something in there?
I have so much fun. And admittedly it's been like one gig. "One data point,"
as Doug would say, "does not a curve make," but I really dig playing with
both those drummers. Of course, I don't really know either of them or their
stuff that much, but just being in the section and trying, you know, I
actually got to the point where I could have one eye on Molo and one eye on
Mickey Hart [goes walleyed], and play with both of them at the same time,
limbs going everywhere. It was very cool. So I dig that.
But, specifically in terms of the distribution of the soloing and the parts,
I came to the thing a little late, so as much of the responsibility for
playing any of the parts stuff that Mark is willing to take, he's more than
welcome to. I don't know the material all that very well. I've heard a lot
of it, but I've never played it before, because the whole Jerry Garcia thing,
as cool as it is, has also kind of cast a pretty long shadow over the stuff
that I've been doing. I showed up in California in '75 or '76 and people
would say, "You sound like Jerry Garcia," and I would go, "Well, I was
trying to sound like Roy Buchanan, so I'm obviously fucking it up." So I've
had to kind of like steer away from that stuff, and as it turns out for
whatever reason, I don't play that, but I kind of play like that, so there I
am playing like that without doing that thing. In many way, I'm clueless.
Probably in many other ways, it's perfect that I am clueless. So, how it's
exactly going to work out, I don't know.
One thing that's cool is I know I'm going to get to play some more lap
steel on the thing, which I'm real excited about, because when I first got
the feeling that I'd be able to do the thing, I thought, Well, it's going to be
the usual. A couple of guitars. But I'll get a chance to play some more
steel just to help spread out the available guitar tonality thing.
My first reaction when I heard there were going to be three guitarists,
was, Maybe we're going to get to hear Steve play some steel. There are
tunes that had steel on them, like the Wheel, which was on a Jerry Garcia
solo album originally. He plays several guitars on the cut, but he plays a
pedal steel on that.
Yeah, see that's good, because I wasn't aware of that. That's good to know.
I'll have to look at that song. [Laughs]
Then there's the question of playing it where it wasn't played before.
I think the lap steel thing is going to work nice. I'm not going to play pedal
steel with these guys. That's too much of a hassle.
Why is that a hassle?
It's just another layer of production complexity that I'm not willing to
deal with relative to the time involved playing it.
How come the lap steel isn't a hassle?
Well, I've got the legs, man. I've got legs, so I can stand up and play that.
And that's cool. You have to sit down and play the pedal steel. And then,
you play too much steel, man, it makes it hard to play the guitar. The
angles that you have to hold your body at are so different, and the weight
of the big steel bar is a lot to deal with.
Sitting Down while Playing
It seems like your comfort zone on stage is usually sitting. Some people
interpret you standing up as meaning you're more into it, putting more
energy into it. We were talking about Miles Davis before, and Miles used to
get criticized for playing facing away from the audience. It's like the
question of showmanship. How much of your job is it to show people what
you're doing and how much of it is to just do it?
Sometimes you've got to stand up and jump around a little bit and have
some fun with it. There's a fun-factor thing with moving around on stage,
and there's times when it's appropriate, but a lot of times when you're
just playing and you're trying to concentrate, you've also got to relax. I
normally play with a fairly heavy action on the guitar. In order to get
interfaced with that properly, sitting really works better.
Heavy action means the strings are strung tight or high off the frets?
Big strings and the action's kind of high,. You don't want to get yourself in
a situation where you're supporting the weight of the guitar with your
shoulder all night, or having to support it with your hand, you know. You
want to save whatever energy you have for getting around on the thing. My
concentration's always better when I'm relaxed, and the playing's always
better as relaxed as you can get. You should be able to just kind of like
knock me over at any point.
I think guitar is supposed to be played sitting down, in spite of all the
various really cool duck-walking, guitar-tossing, and windmilling that
accompanies the rock 'n' roll thing.
I have seen you playing it over your head.
SK [mock serious]
I can do that, yes. And I can throw it and I can jump around, and I used to.
Where were you guys twenty years ago if you wanted to see me jump
around, play the Les Paul with the wah-wah through the Marshall, and
throw shit. Yeah, I did that, but I think I've proven to myself that I can do
a good job holding the thing properly. So I jump around occasionally, but
mostly I just try not to get into a situation where any kind of additional
muscle tension is going to create additional musical tension that's going
to cause me to lapse or fuck up.
This sort of goes back to it being a physical discipline again.
I think I zone a little more quickly when I don't have to worry where my
body is. Oftentimes, when it's time to play, even when I am standing, I get
down on one knee, let the instrument rest, and relax and start to play. So, I
apologize if it's not too showy, but it works for me.
I don't think you have to apologize. I want people to understand it doesn't
mean you don't care. I think they're reading it as rock 'n' roll, performance
Yeah, that's cool, and it's not like I'm being lazy, but again, if there's
going to be any authenticity to my own presentation of the thing, I've got
to be responsible for my body getting onto the guitar properly. I really
will get more quickly to the point if I don't have to worry about standing
up. [Laughs] Sometimes, I'll actually fall down. I'll kind of get away from
it and go, oh shit, and I'll be teetering.
I've seen you playing while stanfing on one leg, like the "tree posture" in
I don't know why I do that. You know Lindley does that too, and I don't
know why, but especially on the steel, where you're physically located on
the instrument makes a big difference in how you're able to do your
intonation, get your hands in the right place. I think sometimes when
standing still, I'll pick up a foot just so I don't move. I'll be in the right
place, and I'll go, OK now I'm just going to stay there, because here's the
spot, here's the balance. Instead of moving around, because that
completely screws it up.
Balance seems like a big part of it, because if you can get to that balanced
position, not falling one way or the other, you have most freedom.
Look how much you have to move the bar [plays] to totally change the
sound of the thing. Watch this [rotates bar slightly in hand, plays slightly
different sound]. If you find a spot where you've got that just where you
want it and you move the bar, you've got to go back to it, so there's
something about being still that works.
When you mentioned having one leg on the ground and one in the air, it
makes me think of an electrical ground.
Well, if there is some electrical potential in the body going one way or the
other, with your hands on those metal strings all the time some little
circuit must be completed.
Other Ones Arrangements
There's this rumor going around that you're going to sit in on a Phil Lesh &
There's a Phil & Friends August 7th and 8th  at the Fillmore. That's
how that whole Other Ones thing got started. This lady Kathy who works
for Phil at the Unbroken Chain thing called me up and said, Do you want to
do a Phil & Friends? and so I said, Sure. She called up like a week later and
said, Do you want to audition for the Furthur Tour? for the Other Ones
thing. So I went and auditioned on a Monday morning, just like this, and I'm
totally fogged. I went down there and played, and it was fun, and it was
nice to see those guys. Then a couple of days later they called back and
said, "Nah, never mind. We got somebody else." And I said, "Cool." Then a
week later they called back and said, "Will you come back to rehearsal?"
And I went, "OK, I'll think about it." So I went back, and that was it, so I'm
already in and out of the thing.
Bass Greats, Lesh and Vega
I was going to ask about playing with Phil Lesh, because you said of Bobby
Vega "when in doubt, he's funky." I love Phil Lesh's lead bass playing, but I
would almost never describe him as funky. That doesn't seem to be his
thing. He's more out of some classical western field.
Maybe he's never in doubt.
That could be it. [We laugh]
That's a good answer. No, both of those guys are great players. They're
both unfailingly musical. Bobby is never at a loss for the groove, and Phil
is never at a loss for the note choice thing. Phil's a great player. Playing
melodically on the bass - and this is something that I deal with with
Bobby all the time - there's some hierarchy of note choice relative to
register, where there's different kinds of tension and release, and relative
degrees of consonance and dissonance, relative to the register you're in. In
higher registers there's obviously way more stuff you can get away with,
so to understand how to play melodically in that register Phil plays or
Bobby Vega plays, it's a whole different ballgame down there. I don't
really understand it, in fact. I know how to work my side of the street, but
it's different, down that low.
Do you have to respond to that in a different way? Does it bring something
out of your playing, hearing the melody come out of the bass registers?
It all gooses you somehow, one way or the other.
Other Ones Arrangements
How many guitars are you taking with you?
I'm bringing the new guitar (which is the Florida guitar), I'm bringing the
Explorer (the one with the angles), I'm bringing the white stratocaster
(which is kind of like my main squeeze), I'm bringing the Vega (which is
the guitar that I play the most around the house), I'm going to bring this
[the Epiphone Emperor], and I'm bringing a couple of lap steels. That's it.
Are we going to hear you play some acoustic on stage?
You ever listen to any punk music?
Anything you like?
No! [Everyone laughs] Some of it's cool. I went and saw the Ramones, you
know? No, I thought their hearts were in the right place, but really by the
time the punk thing showed up on the scene, I'd pretty much already found
my footing. It wasn't a big influence.
Have you ever been aware of the improvisational music scenes that have
come and gone in San Francisco, recently, such as the acid-jazz thing,
such as Charlie Hunter or Will Bernard, who opened for Zero recently? Do
you hear those guys?
Some of it I hear. Some of it people are kind enough to make me aware of
and will get me a tape, and I'll get a chance to listen to it, but honestly, I
don't have the resources to go out and look for it. I've been a musician for
so long that I'm down to: I stay here at Kene's place without a car. I don't
have a car, I don't have a bank account, I don't have anything. I have a pile
of guitars, and if I can get a gig I'll go out and play. So it's not like I get to
go out and chase music around, which I would love to do, but I don't get to
OK, let's go back to KVHW. You've got a gig coming up after the Furthur
On the 15th of August, at the Great American Music Hall.
That group came together here at Studio E?
Yes. We were trying to send Kene to Paris. Kene's gal was up in Moscow
and she couldn't get back here, and they were going to meet in Europe. And
so we went, OK, kids, let's put on a show, and me and Bobby thought we'd
have a gig here. We decided this on a Monday and booked a gig for that
following Friday. Alan showed up on Wednesday, Ray showed up on
Thursday, and we did the gig on Friday. So that's the entire amount of
preparation we had.
How did Ray fall in there? Does he live around here?
Ray's an old friend of Bobby's and we ere thinking who could we get, and
all of a sudden it was going to turn into another Zero gig, so we said, No.
Let's try Ray. So, we did it. It worked great. We've got a video
of the gig, the very first time the thing turned a wheel. We video'd the
whole thing. It's nice.
Is that your only solo project right now. In other words, going under your
Rhe old Steve Kimock & Friends group hasn't gigged for almost a year now.
No, there's been a couple of parties and stuff in there, but the Kimock &
Friends thing was supposed to be something I could do on my time off, kind
of like a card game kinda gig, you know? Get together with the guys,
smoke cigars, and play cards. Just a Saturday night kind of thing once in a
while. I never intended it to be something serious, just something fun. I
hate going out and playing and having it turn into some big serious thing.
We just wanted to go to the bar and play, and I guess it just didn't work
out like that. Everybody expects it to be some friggin' spectacle or
So how did the album come out, the one SK&F album that's out there?
Oh, Steve Fink, who used to come and tape the Zero shows - he would help
me get to the shows and stuff, and help book the gigs - had a little four
track machine, and he'd stick it in the back of the pickup truck when we'd
run the mic lines in the window. So we just went to a couple of bars, like
the very first time we played the tunes, again, and recorded it. We did a
little noise reduction on it, and did a little mix on it, a little eight-track
thing. It sounds great. But that's it. We only printed a couple, two thousand
or something like that. I think they're gone.
I got mine already.
Good. I have no idea where mine are, or if I even have one.
I couldn't also figure out if that was your signature live or printed on it.
Oh, yeah, I signed 'em. I signed every single one of those myself. I signed
them all, signed and numbered every one of them.
The Florida Guitar
What about that guitar someone brought you? The Florida guitar?
Oh, yeah. A guy called me. I'm not going to say any names now, to protect
the innocent. This guy calls me up, somebody who's obviously a fan but not
somebody I knew very well, and said was there anything that I needed for
the tour? And, I thought, well, no. And then just making conversation
almost, because it seemed so unobtainum-- unobtainium to me, I said,
What I do have is a bunch of altered-body stratocasters and plywood
archtops with wooden bridges and stuff. I don't have anything with the big
clear neck-through kind of sustain that Jerry's guitars had, like the Irwins
or the later stuff. That was on a Wednesday. By Friday, this guy had gone
out and found, unassembled, just a neck and a body, a guitar made by that
Florida builder, Steve Cripe. He made Jerry's last couple guitars.
So this guy located one, bought it, took it to the guy who had been doing
the setup on Jerry's guitars, Gary Brauer, and had it set up just like
Jerry's guitar,. He brought it to me and said, "Here, this is for you." The
guitar is just beautiful beyond description, an orders of magnitude better
instrument than I've ever played or heard. It's just a killer guitar, man.
It's just awesome. I'll be playing a bunch of that.
It's one of those instruments that says "Play me" when you pick it up?
Yeah, it's beyond special. Even when you just hold it and wear it, the
balance of it and how it presents itself to you. It has a kind of
presentation to you, like, "OK, let's go." It's great.
Another question that I was tipped off that I might want to ask you is,
Who's going to be packing your gear on the tour?
Me! [Everyone laughs]
I take it that's not because they can't afford a roadie for you?
I've had the same guy doing my gear for 30 years, man. That's me!
Does it focus your mind? Does it help you concentrate?
Stringing the guitars, getting the stuff set up, and making sure that
everything is as right as it can be, it's trying to stack the deck
in your favor as much as possible. It's part of the meditation, yes. I would
be uncomfortable if somebody else were packing my 'chute.
It sounds like on some level you focus on the handcraft, the hands-on, the
things you can control. Your position, where you're sitting, the equipment
It's just an awareness thing. Trying to be aware of all the myriad little
details that go into it, tomake sure you're doing as good a job as you can.
The less involved you are, the more you defer that kind of stuff, probably
the less able the are to do the job. I know how far I can push my stuff and
what it's going to let me do. If I'm going to set it up a certain way, I know
what it's going to point the playing towards.
I enjoy that. The actual production part of it has always fascinated me.
The Grateful Dead's production I always thought was at least a decade
ahead of everybody else's and was all very creatively done. I didn't go to a
lot of Grateful Dead shows, I went to like three Dead shows, but every
time I went or listened to any of the stuff, the production was always
incredible, and I was always so impressed by it. I'm a fan of that aspect of
the thing, because I used to work in the theatre and do lights and stage and
all that stuff. Those guys kind of wrote the book on taking a big, creative,
crazy rock thing out on the road and making it work, and I'm really, really,
really honored to know those guys and watch that happen. So when Parrish
said I could be on the crew, man, I was like, whoa!
So is that sort of like a new playground then, for you, this very advanced
equipment setup? New toys to play with?
Well, the part of it that I'm privy to, that bit of it that I can see, I'm
enjoying seeing. I'm going to learn something. I've got every expectation of
being out on my ass in the snow when this tour's over. Just like, "OK, thank
you very much [thwok]," you know?
Welcome to the '90s.
Welcome to your old life. That was fun. Now get back to work. I have no
expectations or delusions about the thing. I'm happy to be on board, and I'm
going to learn what I can, and I have a keen interest in the production
aspects of it. The thing that I like best about doing this trip right now
with the Other Ones is being on that accelerated learning curve, which I'm
always very up and very happy for. I don't want that curve to be limited to
that time that's spent on stage playing. I'm not going to learn anything
sitting in a hotel room. I'm not going to learn anything sleeping on a bus.
I've sat in hotel rooms and I've slept on buses, man. I want to see the work
Group Improvisation and Soloing
You mentioned having a theatre background,. Driving up here, I was
listening to the Zero live album, Go Hear Nothing, and it rolled around to
Tangled Hangers, and there was a nice, long delicate delayed introduction
to the song. I remember thinking I was hearing a sense of drama, setting
the stage. It reminded me of something I've enjoyed about Zero and
particularly your playing: You don't necessarily rush into things. You allow
things to build from nothing.
Well, there's two things about that. One is, that's the only shape that
group improvisation takes. If you're talking about form in music, and you
talk about group improvisation, it's always the same thing. There's a slow
gathering of energy till the thing finds some direction, then there's some
kind of peak, and after that it falls off at a much quicker pace than it
ramped up. That's the basic improvisational form. It's really, really hard
to come up with another form for improvisation. Occasionally when
somebody does actually come up with a long piece of improvisation that
doesn't follow that form, it's significant. Like Miles Davis' In a Silent
Way, for example, is really horizontal and layered, as opposed to
searching, finding a direction, gaining momentum, peaking, and then
Also, those introductory spaces that I try and get into my own tunes are
part of the raga form thing where there's like an introduction to the
material. The basic material that you're going to work with in the
improvisation is stated. I'm not using a scale-specific thing like they do
with a raga, but the basic form is the same. You do it first without time,
and you show the things you're going to hit. Tangled Hangers combines
these two basic forms: the raga thing, and the standard jazz tune where
you've got a head and a blowing section. I try to get that in there when I
can, because I think it's a nice head space. The material that's played
initially does comes up later on
So it's like an overture, in classical music? You run through the high
points or the touchstones?
Yeah, it's kind of like stating the material. We're going to go this way,
when it comes togetherh. It sets up some expectations.
Trying to stay on that idea of drama, or as in theatre, the way you present
art, there's a--
Ha, ha. In theatre, the way you present art is you bang nails all week, hang
lights, and read cues, and carry shit around, and unpack big boxes, and
stuff like that.
Sure, but the goal is to tell a story, ultimately, right?
The goal is to do all the things you need to do to get the story told,
whether you're telling it or not.
Is there a narrative thrust to your playing? Is there kind of a story that
you're telling, when it comes time to speak your piece?
Necessarily, the rhythms and constructions that stick in people's heads
are speech based. When you allow for that, there's some underlying form,
as if it were storytelling. There are characters that move around, and
come in and out of the thing.
Not literally, like Peter and the Wolf?
Not literally, like Peter and the Wolf, but certain moves or areas of
activity that represent things get juxtaposed in different ways, have
relationships to each other, just like people in a play might do. The
rhythms, again, are speech based. If you play music, then for a lot of the
rhythms, there's some vocalese that describes different rhythms. Whether
it's: dead ant, dead ant, who parked the car? dead ant, dead ant.
Rented a tent.
Rented a tent, yeah. So there's gotta be some storytelling aspect to the
improvisation thing just for those reasons. That's how we're used to
hearing and constructing stuff. Everybody is. That's our cultural
I've noticed, and you're not nearly the only musician for whom I've noticed
this, that you sometimes appear to be singing the part that you're playing.
Well, it helps you not get too busy with stuff, and it helps get the
breathing in the right places . Stuff that's hard to sing is hard to hear.
Stuff that's easy to sing is easy to hear. If you keep a little bit of that
vocal thing going, it's easier for you people to hear it, and if you're also
doing a vocal, you realize you have to stop and breathe. I have done it
where I've set up a nice long space like that, and let it build, and breathe
and everything, and then watch the people and go right over some spot
where I'm supposed to breathe (because I don't have to because I'm
playing) and watch everybody go [puff, wheeze], like twenty people in the
first row have to stop and catch their breath because they're singing along
and hearing it. I've actually seen that happen.
Other Ones Arrangements
One of the features of those earlier Phil & Friends shows was that they
started resurrecting what was from the fan point of view the "forgotten
repertoire" of the Grateful Dead. They were playing Alligator, which
hadn't been played since forever, Mountains of the Moon. The Eleven at the
show you played in was a new thing, that actually had'nt been played
really since 1970.
I'm relatively clueless. I think most of the stuff that got played at the
Warfield was the A List of stuff to learn, either because they wanted to
do it or because they thought it would be easy to learn.
So in the rehearsal process, there's no nod to "Now we're going to work on
an oldie"? I assume if it's a song that the Grateful Dead have played all
throughout the '80s and '90s, that the guys who were in the Dead don't
have to relearn it, they just need to teach you or teach the other players
what to do, whereas if it's a song that they actually haven't played
themselves for 20 years, that they're resurrecting and possibly putting
into a new arrangement, I would guess they have to work harder. Can you
tell from that perspective?
Yeah. For example, they just asked me this in the radio interview, ."Are
you going to play Dark Star?" And it's like well, yeah, I guess so. We spent
all damn day on it! [Everyone laughs] ... and it wasn't like me spending all
damn day on it, because - I listened to Dark Star the other day from the
record [Live/Dead], and, what a great track, man! that's a bad jam! there's
all kind of great stuff going on there - where they're coming from, playing
that stuff, playing the spaces, playing the music, I'm there anyway. I don't
have to rehearse that. I might be patting myself on the back, but I think
I'm there to do the unrehearsable part of it. But everybody else in
rehearsal, they're learning that stuff. They're figuring it out. I don't care
how many times they've played it. What do you work on when you're
working on St. Stephen, when you're working on Dark Star? You're working
on the text of the tune. The exploratory portions of it are necessarily left
The Depth and Breadth of Hornsby's Bag
Are there other new tunes in the works?
Yeah, there's going to be other good stuff. There's going to be other
different stuff. We got to whatever we could get to in rehearsal. The
Hornsby stuff I really dug too.
Hornsby seems like the kind of player who pick up on little sounds he
hears and throw them back at other musicians.
He's so sharp and fast He's great. Of all this stuff about being involved
with those guys, his presence as a player and a person was probably the
thing that hit me most strongly, initially, because he just does it all.
There's a lot of music in that guy, and obviously in everybody else who's
playing too, but Hornsby plays the piano and knows all that literature.
There's so much great piano music, and he knows all of it. He'll sit down
and play Gershwin. He'll sit down and play Charles Ives. He sits down and
plays Bach. Sits down and plays Bill Evans, just like Bill Evans played. It's
spooky. And he rocks, and he writes hit tunes. Guys that play all that stuff,
they either play the piano or they're some kind of rock star or something
like that and they don't get it, but Hornsby, the depth and breadth of his
bag, man, is fuckin' amazing. Inconceivable. He's got it all. He's cool.
In rehearsing, do you guys ever break it down to smaller numbers of
players, three-piece, four-piece ensemble kinds of things?
Oh, yeah. OK vocals. OK, you guys do that. That's just part of rehearsing.
But how about live? because it seems like in an eight-piece band, you've
got an eight-piece band but you've also got a couple three- or four-piece
bands floating around inside that.
It would be nice to have two quartets wouldn't it?
Playing two different things.
Hey, man, we could do it, pretty easily, and it'd be fun. We should do that.
Are there new covers, material that the audience would know but wouldn't
expect this band to be playing?
And you haven't brought material to them to play, like, "Let's play
Elizabeth Reed," or anything along those lines?
Hardly my place.
Is there anything we should be talking about that we haven't hit?
Where do you think you're headed with KVHW?
Once I've accomplished this Other Ones task, which is essentially not
dropping over dead before I finish the tour, I think. If I get through that,
then I'd like to put some attention on the KVHW thing.
So you might be touring?
It would be nice to go out and do some work with that. I also very much
would like to get the Zero thing back on the road in some kind of shape
that allows it to do what it does best.
Would you ever consider playing solo, just you and the guitar in jazz clubs
or small clubs?
Sure, yeah. I'll do that at some point when that's what I feel like doing. It
changes every month, what I feel like doing. Every thirty or sixty days, it's
something totally different, so that'll come up.
So if somebody were to bring you a brand-new sarod, what would happen
then? [Steve laughs]
What is a sarod, now?
It's an Indian stringed instrument. It's fretless, you play it with your
And you have one and have been playing it or you'd like to get one?
If somebody brought him one we might be in trouble.
If somebody brought me a sarod, I would stop playing the guitar, and I
would sit around with my legs crossed and play the sarod for the rest of
my life, because it would take me that long to learn to tune the damn
thing. They sound great. They're my favorite stringed instrument.
We're gonna make sure no one brings you one.
S [into mic]
Do not bring me a sarod. If you want to hear me play the guitar, do not
bring me a sarod, because I will never play the guitar again if I have a
sarod. It would be pointless.
Did you ever play a sitar?
Yeah, I played a sitar. Sitar's cool. But sarod's just got it. That's the axe.
How did you get hooked into that?
I accidentally moved to California, and the very first place I lived was
right behind the Ali Akbar College of Music, and so I got up the very first
day I was in California and there was all this music coming out. I was like
"Holy shit, where I am? This is incredible." So, since that time, I've been
hanging with different people down at the school and listening to
specifically Ali Akbar Khan's playing. Unbelievable stuff. He's the king.
Have you ever played with a tabla player?
Yeah, I've done a little stuff with tablas. I'm nowhere even near the
training-wheel level of actually doing that stuff, but it's been an
enormous influence on my general approach to doing music at all. It's
improvised music with what in the West we admit is a 2000-year
tradition for the Indians simply because before that we say it's
prehistory, when by their accounts it's more like a 10,000-year
improvisational tradition, passed down from father to eldest, not just
eldest son, but eldest worthy son. It's just an incredible tradition,
The Jerry Garcia Thing
I'm about tapped out.
What are some other fan questions?
OK, here's something. Deadheads sometimes used to refer to the keyboard
role in that band as the "hotseat," because a number of keyboard players
passed through the band and not all of them survived. It seems to me like
the lead guitar role in the Dead has got to be a hotter hotseat than the
keyboards, as it were.
I really do not think of it like that at all. I don't think there's any amount
of pressure that could be brought to bear on my thinking about it that
could be greater than the pressure I put on myself anyway just to play. I
knew Jerry Garcia. I didn't know him well, but we hung out and we talked,
and we played a couple of times. He dug where I was coming from and I dug
where he was coming from, and we kind of worked the same side of the
street. When he died, I had the weirdest kind of feeling about it. Remember
the Maltese Falcon, where Humphrey Bogart's partner gets snuffed by the
girl? It was like that. I felt like I had to do something, like I couldn't just
let it be that Jerry was dead, that the music was not happening or
So there's this feeling of obligation or responsibility.
Yeah, it was like a work thing. It wasn't like an emotional thing. It was
like a work thing. It was like, it doesn't look good. It's not good for
business. Just like in the movie, you know? It's not good for anybody, not
to do something about your partner getting killed. It's the Humphrey
Bogart thing. I was being totally Humphrey Bogart about it. And then Vince
all fell apart, and we picked him up, "Come on, let's go play," and got him
The whole Jerry Garcia issue for me, again, has followed me around and
followed me around. He played in a style, and yeah, he was Jerry Garcia,
and yeah, he was the best guy in that style, but it wouldn't be any
different if it was B.B. King, and there was only one blues band, right? and
it was B.B. King's band, and B.B. King died, and they needed to get a guitar
player because you gotta have some guitar. Well, then you'd get a guy that
played the blues with a friggin' hollow-bodied guitar, you know?
There's some kind of West Coast psychedelic improvisational music style
that Garcia played in, and he was obviously the king of that thing, but it
was still a style, and John Cipollina played in that style. He was a West
Coast psychedelic improvisation kind of guy. There's a bunch of guys. Jerry
Miller was another one. Terry Haggerty was one of those guys who would
just go for it, and get out. Obviously Garcia's contributions, just to the
culture and the Dead and everything like that, are immeasurable, but he did
play in a style, and I play in that style.
When you hang out in a room full of people and they've all got colds, you
catch a cold. And when you hang out in a room full of people who are
playing a certain way, you catch that too. And I did the thing with Merl,
and I did the thing with Nicky Hopkins, and I did the thing with Cipollina. I
did the thing with all the same people. John Kahn. All the same time, the
same style of music, and did not have any success doing it, none. Zero
success. And I've either been living in a car, or living in a tree, or camping
on somebody's couch since '75, since I got to California. The pressure to
maintain some kind of integrity to play in that kind of music and to do
that improvisational small-band thing without any rewards is a lot more
pressure to maintain than what does it feel like to be playing with these
guys or being in Jerry Garcia's place or something like that. That's not it.
You've had to deal with people pigeonholing you, or people coming from a
perspective where they never heard Terry Haggerty, let's say, they never
heard John Cipollina, they're fifteen years old! but they heard the Dead, or
they went on tour, so they hear you and that's their only reference point. It
almost seems like you might as well take the seat, because people are
going to hang you in that tree either way.
But I still have to answer to myself. I still have my own integrity, if
there's anything you hear in my music that makes any sense to you. If
nowhere else in my life, I've got some integrity there in my music. It's not
about the audience perception about what's the deal with the Jerry Garcia
thing. I have nothing to prove to those people. I'm just going to go play, and
I think it's appropriate that I do that, and if anybody else thinks it's
appropriate that I do that, fine. And if they think it's inappropriate to do
that, fine, I'm going to play anyway. I have every expectation of going out
there and doing a good job, and I have every expectation of being out on my
ass in the snow when the thing is over. I have every expectation of not
allowing any of that to bother me, and to continue playing.
Would you make a point of not playing any of that material again, outside
of that context, or could some of that stuff enter your repertoire or
influence the way you play?
I've never willingly played that material. When I did the gig with Bob Weir
and he wanted to do one of those tunes, I'd say OK, because that's my job.
Right? And when I did the gig with Merl, if he wanted to play Bertha or
something like that then I'd play that. When I did the gig with Vince, if he
wanted to play a Dead tune, it was like, OK. But for exactly the same
reasons I've had to stay away from that, because that's not it. I think it's
OK that I play in that style. It's a style, and I look up to those guys, and I
look up to what they did. It's great and I'm not trying to copy what they
did. I'm not even so presumptuous to think that I could add something to
what they did. I just happen to think that that's a cool way to play, and
that's where it wound up. It didn't get there the same way, and it's not
going to wind up going the same place, but it's in that style. And there's
not a lot of guys that played that.
It's an incestuous little community here. Everybody plays with everybody
else. Everybody knows everybody else musically. I played with all the
same people, drank the same water, and saw the same shit. I did the gig
with Keith and Donna. When somebody said, play in this band. I'd say OK.
They'd say, play this material. OK. Go over here in this band, play this
material. I'd play it. And when I play my own stuff, I play my own stuff.
How did you hook up with Keith and Donna, back in 1970-something.
After they left the Dead they had a band. I think Cipollina was playing the
guitar for them, and then he couldn't do it. Somebody in the band said, Call
Kimock up, and Donna called up. I was heavy into this jazz thing, doing all
this fingerstyle gut-string guitar stuff. She called up and said, "Is this
Steve Kimock? This is Donna Godchaux," and I said, "Fuck you. No it's not."
[everyone laughs] "Who is this really?!" So that was fun. I dug playing with
them. I just have a feel for that stuff. I don't know the material, and I'm
clueless, and I'm learning a lot about it, and I'm enjoying learning a lot
about it, but I'm not going to pretend that it's me and I'm not going to try
and take advantage of it.
I've heard you sit in with a lot of different groups, and my impression is
always that when your turn comes to take the lead or play a solo, I hear
you. It may be respectful of the music that it's fitting into, but it's often
surprising to me what you decide to do, because it's like sliding in from
the side somehow rather than jumping right into the very obvious open
space. It seems to me that that will serve you well in this context. I think
it's important that fans understand that you have your own approach and
that you're not on stage thinking about what the 25,000 people out there
want to hear or don't want to hear.
I don't know what they want!
So much the better.
No, it's great. I don't know.
But they don't know either. They want to hear what they used to hear, but
they know they don't want to hear it exactly the same.
Right. Well, part of what they want to hear, I'm guessing, is somebody
playing in that style, and again I'll get back to the production aspect of it.
The basic thing productionwise that you're looking for is a Fender guitar
through a Fender amplifier, and kind of a modal improvisational thing
that's roots based but at the same time obviously ate too much acid when
it was a kid. So in general terms, I'm there. Productionwise, that's what I
do. It's not about playing through changes, and it's not about the tune
things so much. It's about can I handle that space. So, we'll see how it
goes, but I'm not going to go out there and try and prove to anybody that I
can do this or that or the other thing. I'm just going to go play.
It was still pretty clear, that, through all these maneuverings, locally
certainly, you were the people's choice.
There was something of a grassroots movement.
Yeah, that's cool. I have no idea how much that influenced their decision to
include me in the thing, because I went and did it and it was dismissed.
They said, uh, thanks but we won't be requiring your services. I said,
Great. Well, cool, I don't need this stress anyway. And then they called
back, and then I was like really like "Oh, you fuckin' guys. This is mean."
You're in! You're out! You're in!
Yeah, so it's like one day at a time, for me really. I got the hint that Phil
dug my stuff. I got the hit also that maybe some of the guys were just kind
of phobic about guitar in general.
Jerry cast this big shadow.
Yeah, absolutely. All my life, I'll go to do a gig, and there'll be nobody
there and it's like what's the deal? Oh, Garcia's playing. It's like, you can't
book a gig then. Why not? Oh, because Jerry Garcia's playing, down at the
whadayacallit. And I'm all, Well, fuck it. Let's go play anyway. So what.
Somebody's going to show up. Or maybe nobody's going to show up, but I
can't just stop or not try, or do it different, because somebody else is
doing it. And I loved Garcia's playing, man. I loved his playing. He was a
great player and he was a really, really cool guy, and it was a great loss
that he's not with us, or with the band, or with those people, because he
was obviously an enormously important-- what was he, not a personality?
He was like a force a nature.
He was real special, and nobody's going to replace that, but in a more
mechanical sense of, if these spaces or these frequencies are covered in
some fashion does that allow the rest of the thing to function? I think the
answer is, Yes, it does.
Don't sell yourself short, saying it's mechanical.
No, it is to a large degree.
But it's mechanical maybe for somebody who's done all the work you've
done up to this point. I don't know whether they could take any guitarist
and hand him the same equipment and say, now, make these songs work.
I don't know if they can hand me the guitar and say make these songs work.
We'll see. Again, I'm not trying to prove anything. I'm not on some mission,
or some fuckin' crusade, to prove something to anybody about what side of
the bread anything is buttered on. I'm just going to play. I'm making
myself available to the thing and to the extent that the Other Ones are
able to take advantage of whatever it is I have to offer, it will be them
taking advantage of whatever. I'm not going to force anything on them, or
try to make it do this or do that. I'm going to do my thing.
Are you at all afraid of the obsessive level of the fans, the way they did
fixate on Jerry, and they were moved emotionally in some of the ways we
were talking about before - I'm saying they, but I'm one of them.
Yeah, me too.
Some people theorize that one reason why he became more and more
remote and more and more inaccessible was that he felt an enormous
pressure of attention and adulation. Your playing's already "great" enough
that some of your fans also exhibit a degree of adulation.
Right now I don't get that from people. Right now, at least, it's still at a
level where if somebody comes at me with this I can just punch 'em in the
arm [punches me in the arm]. You know, "fuckin' wake up!"
You have to keep your one-liners sharp.
That still works. I'm not a bit worried about receiving too much positive
attention, and I'm only the tiniest bit worried about somebody deciding
the only way to deal with this upstart is to be violent about it. That's the
worst of it.
People That Do Stuff, People That Know,
and People That Care
What I get in our communications - and we get a lot of it because we get
hundred of phone calls and more e-mail messages every day - is, "Wow,
now that Kimock's on the tour, I want to go more places."
Cool. That's good! Is any of that information communicated in any way to
the band or to anybody else.
The people that can do something about stuff, generally don't surround
themselves with people who know, because people that know then get into
the thing with people that do stuff about stuff, right? So people that know
talk to people who care, and then people that care eventually talk to the
people that can do something about stuff, but people that know generally
don't talk to people that can do something about anything, and the people
that can do something about anything generally don't talk to people that
know. There's like this "people that care" thing in the middle. You know
what I mean?
I think so. I think I'm following you.
Go West, Young Man
What happened that made you come to California?
I was in a band, the Goodman Brothers. We were playing back there, and
one of the guys that would come and see the band was bicoastal, and he
says, You guys should be in California. He thought it would be cool, and so
we said, Well, fuck it. We're sitting here in the snow in Pennsylvania.
Let's go to California. We were twenty-one or something like that, so we
just put everything we owned in a couple of cars and vans, and just
[whoosh] drove to California, landed in Fairfax, went Wow! Because Fairfax
in 1975, man, what a zoo! What a great place. I was just amazed. I stayed
You did in fact play with Keith and Donna. You did in fact play with John
Cipollina. Do you feel like it was magic that you played with those people,
more than planning?
None of it was planned. I can't remember the last time somebody said, do
you want to play, and I said, No. Occasionally somebody says do you want
to do this, and I listen, and it's some synth pop thing, and I go, Hey, you
can probably get somebody else to do a better job than me. But I'll try
anything. It just happened to be along the way, a lot of those same people
and same influences that worked on this scene, worked on this music,
were my influences too. And I played with them, and like I said before, you
hang out with people who've got colds, you catch a cold. You hang out with
people who play a certain way, you play that way.
The Future of Zero
A lot of fans of Zero have mixed feelings. They feel happy for you, because
this is obviously a career opportunity, and jealous or afraid of losing this
special band they get to see, and you implied earlier that you'd like to see
Zero continue the way it does best, so can I reassure those fans that
you're interested in there being more Zero gigs in the future?
Yeah, of course. There was never any intention of not doing that. Before
this came up, to do the Other Ones trip - and God bless 'em for letting me
on board for a minute - what I wanted to do was make a Zero record. I kept
going, We gotta take some time off, and write, and we've gotta make a
record. It was the like the band had gotten into this working grind about
going out and playing a gig for a thousand dollars is cool, or going and
playing in Santa Barbara on Tuesday night. We all know what the good Zero
gigs are, when we park our butts in some place for a day or two and play,
and let people come from all over the place. They're weekends or some
kind of hippie high holy days, like Summer Solstices, where people want to
go and do the Zero thing. I think the Zero band has just allowed itself to
crunch along doing whatever comes up workwise, without doing the real
mature work that's on the plate in front of us. I'm hoping that that's what
we get to after this. It's purely speculative, but you would think that the
additional press and stuff would help leverage the thing up a little bit.
I wasn't looking for a big gig, I was looking for a big job. I want to do a big
job, a job that you've got to plan, like making a record, getting material
together, creating a body of work, that kind of stuff.
Yeah, not like going to a bar and playing. My God! That would be work when
you're eighteen - you know, Can I get in? - but not when your forty
something and playing in a bar. It's ridiculous. So the Other Ones thing is a
big job, and getting the Zero thing straightened out enough to make a great
record and get the touring schedule together, that's a big job, but the band
was not in any kind of mental or emotional shape to do that, and we were
ready to take a break anyway. So here's the break, and I'll do my best to
leverage the thing up from outside the band.
I'm sure we'll continue. I've been doing the Zero thing most of my adult
life. There's no reason to stop doing it now. There's every reason to think
that recently it's been starved for the real attention it needs, which is the
writing and the more creative booking thing. I don't think anything's going
to happen to the Zero gig in the future except that it'll get a lot better for
everybody, because we know how to do a good gig. We know how many
people you've got to get. We know where and when you've got to put it. We
know what we've got to do, to do that. We just don't do it consistently
The Perfect Size Audience for a Gig
Something I've heard from other fans, a number of times is a feeling of
getting away with something, in the sense of, surely this band can draw
more people than just us! As a fan you're happy to be in a room where the
music is intimate, and yet as a connoisseur of music, you want other
people to come along and agree with you that it's good.
There's an upper limit, audience-sizewise or room-sizewise, for doing
something intimately. There's a couple of guitars and singing. It's
essentially chamber music. It's improvisational. There's no reason to think
you can do that in front of many thousands of people and have it be the
same thing at all. I don't think you can do it for more than one or two
thousand people at the same time. This is something that I've talked to
some of the guys over the years in the Grateful Dead organization about:
What are the ethics of doing this music in front of 10,000 people? You
can't even dot a quarter note in that room! You're playing in a damn hockey
rink. When's the tail wagging the dog, here? I want to play in a room that
sounds good, with a bunch of people and some energy but without going
down to some mob-level mentality forcing you to play a certain way. I
know what I think is good about that, and I know exactly - the kind of fans
you're talking about - what they think is good about it, and we're in total
agreement about it.
I have heard speculate about it would be nice to see Zero at the Greek
I think that would suck! [Laughs]
Fans think that's an intimate space, even though it's not enclosed.
It's gotta be a couple thousand. That's really big. I'm only guessing, but I
would think that beyond four or five thousand people, it's a big rock-show
entertainment, production kind of thing. I'm guessing that at a certain
point you lose some of the real intimate part of it that really does make it
magical, when the band's own dynamics are holding itself together. When
you've got a room that's so big that the delay time on it is like crack,
[wait] crack, and the ambient audience noise is already 90 dB, what are
you doing for tempos? What are you doing for dynamic range? What are you
doing for being able to hear yourself play?
How many does the Fillmore hold?
That's fine. The Music Hall is nice. That's why I want to do that KVHW
thing in the Music Hall, because I think that we can actually play like
human beings in a good-sounding room, and get some people in there and
have it sounding good and feeling good.
It's like a circus after a while, just a big extravaganza.
Well, this Other Ones thing is the first time that I'm going to get to go and
see what it's like to do something on that kind of scale. I'm sure I'll learn
a lot about it, but I don't think it's going to change my mind about what
circumstances best bring up what I think of as an authentic musical
The show at the Warfield was just amazing. We don't get a nuggie like that
that often, but with these Phil & Friends gigs we've sort of had Fat City
I tell you what, man, I'm really looking forward to those Fillmore shows,
because I know that room, and it's not going to be an Other Ones thing, and
- I don't know who's going to have to kick and scream the most, but I'm
not going to do a gig outside of the Other Ones thing with those
headphones or earphones or anything like that. Keep it in the room, you
Have you been fitted for the little earphones?
I've been fitted, man. I'll show you exactly what happened. [Stands] I was
fitted for my earphones, I was handed my little box, and I took the little
box like this, and looked over at the console at Mike, the monitor mixer,
and I went [phssht] and I fired the little box to him, and he put it away
Are you going to be wearing headphones then?
No, I'm sure when I get to the gig in Atlanta, Mike will go [phssht] and flip
me my little box back.
Don't you want to try to get comfortable with it, if that's the interface
everybody's working through, to hear each other?
Yeah, if that's the way they want to do it, that's the way I'm going to do
it. I'd like to think that I'll be the very first guy to figure out how to do a
good job with those damn things on. That's my attitude about it.
I saw things really improve, Grateful Deadwise, after they did the little
The vocals got better, noticeably.
Oh, the vocal thing is incredible.
When everything really gets going, there's something about using your
ears, right? [Snaps fingers] because your ears can help you locate a sound
- the shape of your head, the distance between your ears. There's a whole
psychoacoustical thing that happens that allows you to locate stuff. So
when that's gone, it's kind of difficult to direct your listening to a place.
If I'm on a stage with a real band, and even if it's noisy and I've got to
listen all the way across the stage when I want to hear the Leslie, I can -
like a bat - kind of get there, get to the Leslie. You can't really do that
with these things on. They don't give you a location.
It's an imaginary space.
Right, there's no panorama really. There's none of the reflection off the
outsides of your ears. There's none of the time difference between one ear
and the other. So the locatedness of it is gone, which makes it a kind of
Don't you lose the feedback?
Well, the instruments are all still in some ambient field. There's still
sound around. There's giant sound coming out of the speakers in the front
and everything like that. It's just not as direct.
It will be over like [snaps fingers] that. I'll be onto the next thing. I won't
worry about it.
At the End of the Tour
You're coming back on the 26th of July, and you've got shows on the 7th
and 8th and you haven't even figured out who's going to be in the band yet?
Details, details. [Yawning] I'm not the tiniest bit worried about it.
[Everyone laughs] The Fillmore, man. What a great room! It almost doesn't
matter who we get.
Well, we should probably call it quits.
Put something cool together out of that, Christian.