Steve Kimock leads a life on the periphery of rock | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Steve Kimock leads a life on the periphery of rock

"I seem to have made a career out of being an outlier on some level."

Always on the fringes: Steve Kimock
Always on the fringes: Steve Kimock

After more than 30 years of flirting with the mainstream music industry, playing with members of The Grateful Dead and forming his own psychedelic projects, Steve Kimock's passion for musical performance and education continues to flourish.

"I seem to have made a career out of being an outlier on some level," Kimock says. "I love to play, and playing with people. I really do enjoy all of the miscellaneous accoutrement and hardships of being out on the road and doing that. I'm sure a lot of people have enough of airports, but I'm still OK with it." 

His devotion to music dates back to his early childhood in Bethlehem, Pa. He was introduced to the art by family members like his Aunt Dottie, who performed in a folk band, and his cousin Kenny, who played electric guitar. As he grew into his teen years, Kimock's mother suggested he learn an instrument.

Kimock initially felt attracted to the violin. A man down the street from his grandparents' house owned an electric Fender model, and after a chance encounter with the instrument, those fond feelings faded quickly. 

"That guy hit that violin with the bow, and it made the most god-awful sound," Kimock says. "I jumped three feet in the air and told my grandma, ‘I don't want to play the violin!'"

When Kimock chose guitar, he committed to it, finding gratification in advancing his skills with very little outside instruction.

"I really did just hunker down into it," Kimock says. "I would play literally all day until I would fall asleep in my chair and wake up with the guitar in my lap. I spent every waking moment playing. It would only be interrupted occasionally by going to the bathroom or someone slipping a sandwich under the door."

By age 16, Kimock realized he was "signing up for this aesthetic," agreeing to give up the hopes of getting "the girl, the car or the job with the hazardous-duty pay" by choosing guitar as a primary focus.

"If I was working on it and making some progress, that was enough of a reward. I just wanted to play in a good band," Kimock says.

In his 20s, Kimock started playing with The Goodman Brothers, moving into their house in Springtown, Pa. Despite the abundance of music within the home, the group yearned for a change of scenery, and soon headed to California.

"There was not a whole lot going on in Pennsylvania, and everyone had a pretty strong case of ‘We got to get out of here,'" Kimock explains.

In San Francisco, Kimock was faced with a bit of culture shock.

"Growing up in a little steel town where there's basically no entertainment industry, nobody would even admit to having a career as a musician," Kimock says. "Maybe you'd play with your friends once in a while. Where I went, it was just all the people from Janis Joplin and Quicksilver [Messenger Service] and The Grateful Dead. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was at the gigs. You couldn't imagine the depth of the talent that was just kind of walking around. It was really inspirational." 

Kimock would go on to share his love of music with many Bay Area musicians throughout the 1970s and '80s, performing with The Grateful Dead's Keith and Donna Godchaux in the Heart of Gold Band, as well as forming Zero with John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service. 

"I've learned everything from the people that I've played with," Kimock says. "There's a certain amount of stuff you get secondhand from books and stuff like that, but for the most part ... if you walk into a room full of people and they all have colds, you catch a cold. So if you walk into a room where everyone is playing East Bay funk, you're going to catch East Bay funk."

Kimock's other past projects include Steve Kimock Crazy Engine, PRAANG and Steve Kimock & Friends. His devotion to elevating his understanding of the guitar has yet to cease. Kimock recently took up playing the lap steel guitar, to avoid stalling his educational process. 

"The way that I work, which is kind of like a rock-band format, there's only so much stuff you can really put in that bag," Kimock says. "It's a great bag, and I love it, and after all these years I'm getting pretty good at it, but it's just one dimension of the thing. If I would just allow myself to only stay in that, that doesn't serve the original idea I had of wanting to have a learning relationship with the guitar."

And Kimock's love for guitar holds an even deeper meaning for him now that his work also supports his family. He is currently raising two sons, Skyler, 9, and Ryland, 5, in Lehigh Valley with his wife Jennifer. His elder sons Johnny and Miles, both 19, reside in California. 

After three decades of professing his adoration for the guitar, one of Kimock's greatest lessons rests in the experiences he shares with others.

"People are the biggest influences," Kimock says. "Music is not something learned secondhand. It's a real firsthand experience, trial-and-error kind of process when there are people listening to you. My playing and thinking about music is every bit as much influenced by their company and friendship as any of the British-invasion bands, because those guys were right there in my lap. It's the people that are right there with you that make the difference."

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