Mention Jerry Garcia and most people immediately think of the Grateful Dead as the late guitarist was considered the focal point of the legendary pioneering psychedelic rock band, renowned as much for their music as they were the circus-like atmosphere of their annual tours.
As a musician, Garcia was multifaceted and his catalog went far beyond the group he was best known for and when the Dead was not on the road or in the studio, Garcia was usually working with one of his side bands where the music often leaned towards R&B and jazzier arrangements.
Beginning March 11 in Washington, D.C., guitarist Steve Kimock leads an all-star band on a short tour as they pay tribute to the soulful side of Garcia with an emphasis on material recorded over a two-night period in July 1973 that Garcia played with keyboardist Merl Saunders, bassist John Kahn and drummer Bill Vitt at the Keystone in Berkeley, Calif.
An interview with Kimock aired on the Feb. 28 edition of Greasy Tracks. To listen to Garcia-related music and the discussion with Kimock, click here.
Kimock’s tribute to Garcia will play the Gramercy Theatre in New York City on March 13 and The Met in Pawtucket, R.I. the following night.
The trio of Garcia, Kahn and Saunders played off and on for years as part of the Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders Band, Legion of Mary and, later, Reconstruction — performing nearly 300 shows and releasing seven albums. They were regulars at the Keystone, an intimate club near the UC Berkeley campus. It was in this relaxed setting — the band did not rehearse — where they could delve into the Great American Songbook, playing everything from jazz standards like “My Funny Valentine,” Motown classics such as “How Sweet It Is” and “I Second That Emotion” to wide-ranging covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Jimmy Cliff, Jesse Stone and Chuck Willis to name but a few.
Three releases stemmed from those performances: “Live At Keystone,” “Keystone Encores” and “Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings.”
Kimock — who will be joined by Vitt, bassist Bobby Vega, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, guitarist Dan Lebowitz and drummer John Morgan Kimock — said these shows provide a way to pay tribute to Garcia and the musicians he played with doing such diverse music, which sadly has largely remained under the radar.
Vitt, who also did stints with the Sons of Champlin, The Electric Flag, Tom Fogerty and Brewer & Shipley, is the only living musician from the band that called the Keystone home for literally hundreds of shows. Garcia passed away in 1995, Kahn a year later and Saunders in 2009.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Kimock moved to California in the mid-1970s, but he was not really familiar with Garcia’s music. “I wasn’t trying to sound like Jerry,” he said, “I was failing to sound like Roy Buchanan.” Noting some of Garcia’s subtle references to Buchanan on the Keystone recordings proved to be a catalyst for Kimock to pay more attention to Garcia’s playing as time passed.
Oddly enough, Kimock would only play a handful of times with Garcia, most notably when Garcia and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart sat in with Zero — the band Kimock and Vega were part of for nearly two decades — for three songs during a 1988 concert at the Bandshell in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Kimock’s involvement with past and present members of the Grateful Dead is far more in-depth.
Following their exit from the Dead in 1979, keyboardist Keith Godchaux and his wife, singer Donna Jean Godchaux, formed the Heart of Gold Band with Kimock on guitar and drummer Greg Anton. In 1984, Anton and Kimock founded Zero. Saxophonist Martin Fierro — with whom
Kimock had played briefly in The Underdogs, a salsa band — soon joined. Fierro had played with Garcia in The Legion of Mary. In 1986, Kimock did a short spell in a reformed Kingfish with Bob Weir.
Following the break-up of the Dead, Kimock and Vega played with former Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick’s Missing Man Formation. In 1998, he joined Dead alums Weir, Hart and Phil Lesh in The Other Ones. He did a brief stint with Phil Lesh and Friends in 1999. In 2006, he toured with the ex-Dead drummers Hart and Bill Kreutzman in The Rhythm Devils and over the past few years, has regularly been part of Weir’s band, Ratdog. In May, Kimock joins Kreutzman in Voodoo Dead for three shows in New Orleans during Jazz Fest.
The Garcia tribute line-up features a veteran group of players. Vega did sessions with the likes of Sly Stone, Etta James, Paul Butterfield and Billy Preston and toured with Tower of Power. In addition to playing with Kimock in Zero, he was also part of KVHW with Kimock, drummer Alan Hertz and ex-Frank Zappa singer/guitarist Ray White.
Jeff Chimenti has played with Furthur and RatDog and in July will join the remaining members of the Grateful Dead for a three shows in Chicago to mark the 50th anniversary of the forming of the Dead. Lebowitz fronts the band ALO and Kimock’s son, John, has worked on projects with such notables as Bernie Worrell, Robert Walter, Stanton Moore, George Porter, Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste and Bruce Hornsby.
Greasy Tracks, which airs Saturdays 3:30-5:30 p.m., is the longest-running soul and blues show in Connecticut.