I usually like my music to come with vocals and lyrics. I like to listen to the singers, their voices, the words they sing and what they mean. They could be joyous and exuberant or morose and melancholy, love struck or angry. It doesn’t matter. I like all of that and depending on my mood, I usually love to hear songs sung as much as I do the rest of it—the music, the beats, the rhythm and the solo riffs. But sometimes, words can become a distraction. Sometimes, like it was for me last week, words just don’t do it for you. You are too preoccupied with your own thoughts to need somebody else’s words and you just need instruments and nothing else. No pernicious interruptions by vocalists, no matter how great they are.
So that was what it was last week when I turned to a great but short-lived band named KVHW. The band (named after the last names of its members: Steve Kimock, Bobby Vega, Alan Hertz and Ray White) was essentially a live gig playing outfit that toured for two years—from the beginning of 1998 to the end of 1999. And they mainly played long, jam-heavy instrumental numbers. Last week that seemed perfect for my mood—I didn’t want to get distracted by clever (or stupid) lyrics. And I was craving for some nice noodling guitar, lots of bass and drums solos. keyboards and that sort of thing. KVHW provide shovels full of that.
For one, Kimock is a brilliant guitarist whose style is as inventive as it is explorative. He blends psychedelic riffs with sounds derived from jazz and oriental music and has a touch that is uniquely his own. His guitar-style is melodious and laid-back and it has often been compared (not in terms of the sound but in terms of the attitude) to that of Jerry Garcia’s. There, indeed, is a Grateful Dead connection to Kimock: he played with former Dead band members, Donna and Keith Godchaux’s Heart of Gold Band. That band folded after Keith’s death and Kimock co-founded another Bay Area band called Zero.
The formation of KVHW followed as did several live concerts. Many of these are accessible free (and legally so) on www.archives.org and almost all of them are good recordings. I particularly like a December 7, 1999 show at the Wetlands Preserve, which used to be a live concert venue in Tribeca, New York. The two-set concert will fill three CDs and has many great tunes—long, melodious and extremely soothing if you’re stressed or down in the dumps or just simply feeling fragile.
The three-hour plus concert has several original KVHW tracks but also some surprise covers: The Allman Brothers’ Whipping Post, Frank Zappa’s Willie the Pimp and a great version of the Albert King song, Born Under a Bad Sign. Kimock is the quintessential hippy musician—playing because he loves it and not because he’s driven by commerce. His music has a laidback vibe that has incredible stress-busting powers and his bandmates appear to complement his guitar, very obviously the main driving force of the band.
I have other KVHW concerts—there are more than 50 that you could download—including one from September 19, 1999 at The Fillmore that is also rather good. Sadly, KVHW disbanded when one of its members quit but Kimock quickly reformed his remaining bandmates and added new ones to form the Steve Kimock Band whose music too is downloadable on the same website. I have one that is a 2005 gig at Dallas’s Granada Theater and features Kimock on the guitar as well as the lap steel and has an excellent bunch of co-musicians—Rodney Homes (drums), Robert Walter (keyboard) and Reed Mathis (bass). Walter is an excellent exponent of soul jazz on the keyboards and is the founder member of the funky Greyboy Allstars. On the set that I’m talking about, his inclusion brings a great New Orleans feel to their versions of Cream’s Glad and The Meters’ Cissy Strut.
Kimock, 56, has evolved his band into a new avatar a few years back. It’s now called Steve Kimock Crazy Engine and features a cellist, Trevor Exter on bass, Melvin Seals (an old member of the Jerry Garcia Band) on keyboards and his Kimock’s son, John Morgan Kimock, on drums. I’ve just downloaded an April 17, 2009 concert they played in Fairfield, Connecticut’s FTC Stage One that I’m going to be listening to while you’re reading this on Sunday.