After Dark: Steve Katz
05:00 AM, Sep 26, 2013
If you go
What: Steve Katz.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Lovin Cup Bistro & Brews, 300 Park Point Place, Henrietta, near the Rochester Institute of Technology campus.
Tickets: $10 advance ($12 the day of show), available at the club.
Steve Katz looked around the rehearsal studio. He saw Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson and Bill Evans. Great players. Jazz players.
Blood, Sweat & Tears had been a band of big ideas, fusing rock and jazz. And it delivered with hits such as “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die.” Yet, “I’d look at the charts and say, ‘I can’t read this stuff,’ ” Katz says. The music had drifted far afield from where he had once been, what he really loved. He was now far from the Greenwich Village of the 1960s, where he wanted to be. “The last couple of years weren’t that great,” Katz says of the band he had helped create. “I wanted out. It wasn’t my sorta music anymore.”
Katz drifts back to those Greenwich Village days, and highlights and lowlights of his entire career, with a Saturday night of acoustic performance and storytelling at Lovin’ Cup Bistro & Brews. He’ll tell of going to Dave Van Ronk’s apartment, where he’d find Bob Dylan sleeping on the couch. “Van Ronk and those guys would get together and they wouldn’t have any transportation,” Katz says. “They called me up to see if I had my parents’ car.” Yeah, there goes Katz, riding off to another jug band gig, Dylan sitting next to him in a 1960 Chevy convertible.
Perhaps most importantly, Saturday night Katz will reveal the secret to music happiness: “Never let horn players write songs.”
Today, the 68-year-old lives on nine acres of land in the small town of Kent, Conn. He’s the right-hand man in his wife’s pottery business, dabbles hard in photography and minds the dogs and the African Grey parrots. “They’ve bonded with my wife, they’d rip my eyes out,” says Katz, who otherwise does not seem to be a fearful man. He doesn’t write many songs these days. “I’ve been married to a woman who I love very much for 30 years, it’s hard to write love songs now,” he says. But he does write. Sixty thousand words so far of a proposed 80,000-word memoir. Katz has just signed a book contract.
His live shows will spin off of the old songs and the stories that will be in that memoir. He doesn’t need the band for either task. “I love to play alone,” he says. “Where it’s OK if I play an extra bar or an extra couple or measures or forget a word or two and some guys doesn’t say, ‘Hey, schmuck …’
“In other words, I don’t have to deal with musicians.”
He was a young guitar prodigy from Schenectady, and joined the Village culture with enthusiasm. He was running with Maria Muldaur, John Sebastian and the rediscovered bluesmen Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James and Son House after House had been found living in Rochester and working as a railroad porter. “Not the nicest guy in the world,” Katz says.
Nevertheless, “That’s where my heart is, and always was,” he says. “And that’s what I’ve come back to.” The success of Blood, Sweat & Tears was a nice surprise but, “I always thought I would be struggling for money, and I didn’t care,” he says. “I just wanted to be a musician.” He describes having hit records as “weird,” but as for the money, “accountants and lawyers were absconding with it.”
During the restless Vietnam era, Blood, Sweat & Tears somehow seemed to be connected to conservative thinking. Perhaps it was something someone else in the band said, or how it was associated with the corporate entertainment world in general. Katz recalls the futility of trying to combat that image. “Politically, I was very much to the left,” he says. “When you get hit records like we did, your fans are young and old, it transcends generations, your demographics are very huge. We were playing a state fair in Georgia, I think, and I decided the best publicity is we get busted for possession, maybe get a story in Rolling Stone. So I went up to a cop and said, ‘What would you say if I told you we had an ounce of grass back in the hotel room?’ And he just laughs and says, ‘Oh, we love you guys!’ “
Moving away from playing, Katz was producing albums, including a few by Lou Reed, and by 1977 was a record exec. “When I was vice president at Mercury Records, that’s when I really wanted to get out of it,” he says. “You could see things changing, I’d go to A&R meetings and I could see these guys didn’t care about music at all. I’d go back to sitting in my office listening to 12-minute conga breaks and disco tapes.”
His memoirs will recall the day in the ’60s when he left New York City in a ‘52 Mercury on a cross-country driving trip with his friend, guitarist Stefan Grossman. “You’d stop for breakfast in Ohio or Iowa and the eggs would be the size of softballs,” Katz says. “On the radio, you could hear different kinds of stations all across America. None of that exists anymore. Now you get off an exit and every place has a Target or a Home Depot. The only difference is whether there’s a palm tree or not.”
Can we ever rediscover that forgotten America, just as we rediscovered the old bluesmen?
The four saddest words of Katz’s story: “No way. That’s gone.”