More than a collegial quartet, Steve Kimock's band is a movable love-in, and the good vibes have little to do with his history as the post-hippie guitarist of choice for just about every band spun off by surviving members of the Grateful Dead.
While always juggling several projects, Kimock has spent a good portion of the past two years touring with an all-star combo featuring keyboard legend Bernie Worrell, former Gov't Mule bassist Andy Hess and the deservedly ubiquitous percussionist Wally Ingram, whose career is back on track following a life-threatening bout with cancer. The powerhouse band performs Thursday at Great American Music Hall and Monday at Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz.
After years of passing each other on the road and chatting about trying to line up a gig together, Kimock and Ingram finally intersected about two years ago. While the percussionist has toured and recorded with everyone from Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Brown to Warren Zevon, Tracy Chapman and Timbuk3, he and Kimock bonded musically over their mutual devotion to multi-instrumentalist David Lindley.
"There's almost some kind of Lindley school, an attitude that we can both hang our hats on," says Kimock from his home studio in Pennsylvania. "There's some common risibility between everyone in the band, and Wally's optimism and perseverance inform the band's humor in that way."
Hess, an imposing guy who looks like central casting's notion of a bassist,
"Before I played guitar, I was a bassist, and as soon as I heard Andy with Sco, I thought that's exactly what I wanted to play," Kimock says. "He's got that big, solid Fender tone -- boom, boom, boom."
Kimock connected with Worrell though his son, formidable drummer John Morgan Kimock, who had been playing with the keyboardist for years before he happened to mention that "you know, my dad plays guitar," Kimock says. "So Johnny brought him home, and one thing led to another."
Worrell earned his spot in American music's pantheon as a founding member of George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic, the group with which he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. But he could have just as easily earned entry as the unofficial fifth member of Talking Heads, with whom he recorded and toured throughout the 1980s.
Always ready to contribute to an interesting ensemble, the weirder and funkier the better, Worrell collaborated with Bay Area bass master Les Claypool, guitarist Buckethead and drummer Bryan Mantia in the gonzo combo Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains. More recently, he joined SociaLybrium, an all-star funk-rock band launched by Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist and musical director DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight.
In Kimock, Worrell has found a kindred spirit, an artist capable of going in any direction.
"Steve is free like me," says Worrell, 68. "He can play anything, any genre of music. He's improvisational, and his technique is phenomenal. We're two peas in a pod."
A mainstay on the Bay Area scene for about two decades, Kimock moved from rural Pennsylvania to San Francisco in the mid-1970s and quickly established himself as the most searingly lyrical post-psychedelic guitar slinger on the scene. It didn't hurt when Jerry Garcia described Kimock as his favorite guitarist.
While extending his reputation through several influential bands, including the mid-'80s psychedelic outfit Zero and the proto-jam band KVHW, Kimock has also communed with jazz improvisers and Hawaiian slack-key masters. Surprisingly, he was first drawn to Worrell not by his relentless funk but through his gift for melodic invention.
Kimock credits the keyboardist's conservatory training and deep knowledge of the European classical canon with providing "a really deep well for the creative melody stuff.
"There are not a lot of guys who can play melody on the fly," Kimock adds. "He'll take synth sounds and play these amazing lines that turn into iconic performances. He's got the ability to reach people with any kind of sound. He can do no wrong musically. He's ascended, and what you experience is the joy that comes out when he plays."