Steve Katz Interview By Jorgen Andersson
What are you doing now a days?
In 1988 I became managing director of a small Celtic label called Green Linnet Records. At the same time, my wife, a ceramic artist, came up with some really good commercial ideas( “designer” spoonrests”, for instance )and I would help her do craft shows on the weekends. This led to a catalog and big wholesale shows. The business grew to the point where I had to devote full time to it. But I still find time to play a very good club around where I live once every 8 months or so. I play an acoustic set - my songs, folk-blues, etc. It’s a lot of fun because now I only do it for the love of it.
When did you start to write songs? How did your musical style develop? What were your influences then and later on? How do you compose (w. guitar or piano,etc)
I started to write when I was about seventeen. I’d written some poetry around then and was just starting to play guitar, experimenting with tunings and all, so it seemed natural. The influences on my playing were basically folk, country blues, and old-timey music, but previously I had sung Sinatra songs at weddings and banquets when I was a kid. My teacher, Dave Van Ronk was probably my biggest influence along with Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, the list would need a dozen more megabytes. I always composed on guitar.
Have you composed for others?
Just for myself and the bands I was in.
After leaving B,S&T you started a career as a producer with Lou Reed, you produced the excellent live recording Rock’nRoll Animal. How did you get in touch with him?
My brother Dennis was head of A&R with RCA around that time and signed Lou. He then left RCA to manage Lou. Lou used to also rehearse at the BS&T practice hall in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Rock’nRoll Animal was meant to offset the lack of sales in Lou’s previous album, Berlin . Lou and I were getting friendly at the time and the combination of my wanting to leave the road and go into the studio, and Lou’s needing a new album sort of made for a perfect marriage.
In 1976 you joined Craig Fuller, Eric Kaz and Doug Yule, for a recording-project called American Flyer. The music was more oriented into America and Crosby, Stills,Nash & Young. Did you feel that you were going back more to the roots?
Absolutely. This was more my kind of music at the time.
Why did American Flyer last such a short time?
A couple of us did not want to put a road show together. We just wanted to record and when the record company fired the person who signed us, we were left in limbo so we decided to continue pursuing our solo careers (for Eric and Craig it meant a duet album for Columbia Records).
Of all the artists that you have met, who have impressed you the most, and why?
Wow! This is a tough one. I’ll first assume that you mean in music so that should limit my answer a little. Let’s see...Otis Redding because he was so big and had a soul to match (I met him backstage at the Monterey Pop Festival)...Mississippi John Hurt because he was such a sweet man who made some of the sweetest music on earth (John was a friend in the early sixties)...George Martin (produced the first American Flyer album) who unlocked some of the secrets to the Beatles recordings...Cannonball Adderly, Herbie Hancock, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Duke Ellington...on and on.
How had you met and become friends with Bobby Colomby? (Before B,S&T) Did you share same views about music?
Yes. Bobby and I became best friends just at the final days of the Blues Project. He was playing with Odetta at the time and we wanted to do something together...not so much for common musical influences as just for the fun of doing something together. Our musical differences proved to be an asset in how diverse our music was to be.
How did it feel to be a member of a hugely successful band? Were you surprised about the success in 1969 (it was not very "easy" music)?
I once walked in to my local Post Office to pick up mail and the man behind the desk said “Hi, Steve” and I got all angry and I shouted “how did you know my name?” and he said “Well you’re famous!”. I thanked him for reminding me.
Was it a democratic band? How were the decisions about band members, solos, records, etc. made?
BS&T was too democratic. It meant that there were loads of politics being played in private and I wasn’t happy about this even though I was partially responsible. On BS&T4 I had written a song called “For Melissa” for my wife at the time. The band “democratically” decided that David should sing it instead of myself. It was changed to “For My Lady” and totally lost meaning. As for solos, it was pretty much laid out as to who would solo where.
Are you happy you were a member of the band? Was it more a good experience or a bad one for you?
In retrospect it was a great and exciting experience, one that I will always treasure and never regret. We worked hard and managed to create some pretty good music. Imeant some great people and worked with some great people.
What did you learn in the band, musically and otherwise?
Musically, I learned that I should have taken more lessons to read music. Reading was not in my background and the more involved the charts became, the harder it was for me. On the other hand, working with such great musicians as I did taught me a lot and especially helped in terms of my becoming a producer and executive.
What was the main reason for you to leave the band?
Like I said, I was about to work with Lou and I just had it with being on the road. I wanted to do something new - to work in the studio and be more in control of my own natural talents. In a band situation, you sometimes deny these things. It’s only been recently in my life that I realized that I can finally listen to and play the music I want to instead of what I’m expected to.
What was the best period for you in the band?
When we put out the second album. It had reached 16 in Cash Box and when I called to find out the next week’s chart position, the secretary there said she couldn’t find it so I thought the album dropped off the charts. She called me back to say that she hadn’t thought of looking at the #1 spot and there we were. Very few things in this life feel that good.
What is your best memory from the time you spent with B,S&T?
See above, along with raising the money for the defense of students at Kent State, Cannonball Adderly sitting in with us at the Greek Theater in LA...winning three Grammy awards...playing Philharmonic Hall in NY, Albert Hall in London...on and on.
What is your worst memory from the time you spent with B,S&T?
By accident, I once smoked PCP at the Las Vegas Convention Center before going onstage in front of 10,000 people. I honestly thought that I played the whole set upside down.
Is there anything that you think could have been done different?
Of course, but that’s like crying over spilt milk. I don’t regret anything except that I might have been a better musician.
Do you have any contact with other members of the band?
I just got off the phone with Bobby and will probably visit him in LA this summer. I speak to Lew Soloff and Fred Lipsius every now and then. Lew sat in on one of my gigs. I sang Bessie Smith’s “Young Woman Blues” and Lew played trumpet. He sounded great and it was loads of fun.
Who were your best friends in the band?
I was closest to Bobby, but when you’re on the road a lot with a bunch of guys, you pretty much all have to be friends, or, at the very least, family.
I have heard that you removed your name, solos and singing from Al Kooper¦s Soul of a Man album? Will you ever perform with him again?
No. No way. I was invited by Al to play a gig at the Bottom Line - his 50th birthday “bash”. The day before the gig, Al handed out recording contracts and video releases to all the musicians. The Blues Project and BS&T were to take a backseat to Al’s ego, otherwise known as his “soul”. I pulled myself from the project. The Blues Project was Danny Kalb’s band and I hated to see Danny get the shaft from Al’s historical manipulations.
My favorite of the songs you wrote for B,S&T is the Battle, can you tell me something about it?
It was an anti-war song that didn’t work because our audience had changed drastically as soon as we had hit records. We no longer had very much credibility with the left. Most of the band was apolitical and I was frustrated. Glad you like it.
Of all the songs that you have written, which one is your favorite?
A song I’ve never recorded called “Kettle of Fish”. It’s autobiographical, about growing up in Greenwich Village and hanging out in the folk music scene in the early to mid-sixties. The Kettle of Fish was a bar next to the Gaslight Cafe where on any hootenanny night you could find Phil Ochs, Dylan, Van Ronk, etc. I was the kid with phoney ID.
Do you listen to the old records?
Non-stop, of every age and category.
What kind of music do you listen to these days?
Everything, but I do listen to a lot of classical music. It makes up the bulk of my CD collection. I still love the blues and bluegrass and I listen a lot to world music, jazz, and soundtracks (I’m a movie buff).
Do you have any plans in making another record in the near future?
I would like to. I have yet do exactly what I want on record as an artist. Ironically, I’m playing better than ever, although I mainly now play acoustic. I feel more mature and confident than I ever have in the past. Isn’t that ironic? That you really have to be young to be successful in the world of music and that I bet some of my contemporaries are playing the best music of their lives. Well, I’m happy I can make a living doing something else.