Trumpet obsession keeps guitarist Steve Kimock inspired

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Steve Kimock has enjoyed a rich and varied musical life, including holding down the Jerry Garcia chair in Grateful Dead spinoffs the Other Ones, Phil Lesh and Friends, and RatDog. But if there’s one thing the 56-year-old guitarist wishes he could do over, it’s to master the instrument he rejected during his teenage years.

“I just love the sound of the trumpet,” Kimock confesses, reached at home in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. “What a great axe! If I thought I had another 50 years in me, I’d run out and buy a trumpet right now, man. I really would. There’s so much about it that makes sense to me, as an adult, that made no sense to me as a kid.

“When I was growing up, it was like ‘Oh, here’s the rock ’n’ roll!’” he adds, laughing. “And, like, ‘A trumpet? Like Herb Alpert? I don’t think so!’ But now I see how the thing works, I’m like ‘Ah, damn! I should have just spent the last 40 years doing that.’”

Kimock admits that he’s long been obsessed with trying to capture the near-vocal subtleties of a great trumpet player, and 2012 has been a breakthrough year in that regard. As captured on various YouTube clips of his new quartet—which has still to enter the studio—he’s clearly mastered an array of very trumpet- and trombone-like tonalities, thanks to a custom-made Scott Walker fretless guitar and some boutique electronics.

“The thing about the fretless,” he explains, “is there’s a little bit of that chatter, that lip-buzz thing that brass players get. And then there’s this beautiful little box, somewhere in this giant pile of stuff, that’s called a Bone Machine. It’s a Paul Trombetta design, where he’s got some kind of fuzz that stutters a bit at the beginning of the note, and if you get stuff dialled up right you can exploit that to make some nice horn sounds.”

The other factor in the Kimock approach is that he’s fascinated by singers, and by melody. Even though his group performs instrumental music almost exclusively—think of it as a kind of high-grade jam band—he and ex-Funkadelic/Talking Heads keyboardist Bernie Worrell often take turns in the “vocalist’s” chair.

“Bernie and I generally lean on each other that way, and we have a lot of fun with it,” he says. “And melody should be there. I try not to do anything to impede it, as much as possible. There should be something to be sung there, and it should have some breath to it, and I try to get it to intonate in such a way that it would make sense being sung. As an instrumental band, there’s always the option to play outside and cut up—but that brings with it the responsibility to get something to sing once in a while, too.”

The Steve Kimock Band plays Venue on Thursday (October 4).

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