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's
a Grateful Dead parochialism. 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!
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 acid affects your sense of time and your sense of delay -
the visual trails effect, 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.
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. 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! 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. 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
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
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. So, whatever people
say about all the rest of this stuff, I'm using Lindley's rig. That's where
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 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 jazz duo 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.
Charlie Christian and Jimi Hendrix
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 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, right?
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.
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
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 something.
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.
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?
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.
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
I've heard you sit in with a lot of different groups, and always when your
turn comes to take the lead or play a solo, I hear you. It's often surprising
to me what you decide to do, as if slide in from the side somehow rather
than jumping right into the very obvious open space. I guess I hope 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.
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!" So 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.