When Jerry Garcia died, there were some shoes to fill. His fans’ (and his band’s) appetite for performance was insatiable, and remains so. As the dominant voice in rock’s premier and original jam band, Jerry effortlessly bore the single largest workload in the history of lead guitar. Never mind that every Garcia solo turned out to be a Phil Lesh solo, too; Jerry’s spidery and lyrical meandering filled the spaces, all of them, with a fine and seemingly infinite webwork.
He was what baseball fans understand as an “innings eater.” You might love him; you might not. But you can’t argue that he was an ox, night after night, for 30 years. If there is one thing that the players who followed him learned, it is to “go long” and never falter. There is no end to your solo.
Stepping in to share the burden of what amounted to the presidency of jam were several seasoned cats, each with a formidable résumé already, and a distinctive personal style. All are now fixtures on the American rock scene: From the literal and musical South came Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule) and Jimmy Herring (Aquarium Rescue Unit). These fellows probably had to unlearn a little bit of blues to play the Jerry part in Ratdog and Phi Lesh and Friends and the Other Ones, for Jerry was one of the very, very few classic rock guitarists who wasn’t predominantly blues-based.
From the Dead’s own Bay Area came a fine, curiously subtle and restrained player by the name of Steve Kimock. Kimock had once been called “my favorite unknown guitarist” by Jerry Garcia himself. Much of Kimock’s recorded output in the band Zero, in KVHW and in the Steve Kimock Band roughly fits the template for blues-leaning funky fusion, but Kimock’s playing itself is a bit of an oddity. Seldom does he outright blow and burn, favoring instead subtle filigree and layered guitar arrangements.
On some recent projects, he has seemingly forsaken the “lead guitar” role altogether, embracing instead the modern, post-Radiohead conception of the electric guitarist as texturalist and sound painter. Zero’s 2008 release Joke Box plays like a disturbed Minimalism or pissed-off New Age music. It’s really quite good, and very different from anything that you would be tempted to call jam or Deadlike. Genres be damned; Steve Kimock is a guit-artist. Catch him and his band, featuring Bernie Worrell (Parliament Funkadelic, Talking Heads), Andy Hess and Wally Ingram, at Bearsville this Friday night, December 7.
Steve Kimock, Friday, December 7, 9 p.m., $40/$35/$25, he Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-4406, https://bearsvilletheater.com.