Sunday morning coming down

Steve Katz came to town this past Thursday for an appearance at the St. Paul Jewish Community Center. Katz was a founding member of the Blues Project and of Blood, Sweat & Tears. I loved the Blues Project and the first, least commercial Blood, Sweat & Tears album. The world would be a better place without the last two BS&T albums, but all together they sold something like 30 million albums. Katz is on the road occasionally promoting his 2015 memoir Blood, Sweat, and My Rock ‘N’ Roll Years: Is Steve Katz a Rock Star?

Growing up on Long Island and working on the high school newspaper, Katz discovered the early’60s Greenwich Village folk scene. He took guitar lessons with both Dave Von Ronk and Reverend Gary Davis. The Even Dozen Jug Band (with John Sebastian and Maria Muldaur) was his first group. Then came the Blues Project and all the rest. I loved the tribute he paid to his teachers and his performance of a few of the songs dating to his work with them. The man has a story to tell.

His Blues Project bandmate and BS&T founder Al Kooper told one side of a part of the story in Kooper’s Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards, which must be my favorite music memoir. Kooper devoted about as much space to Katz as to anyone. Kooper has an edge to his comments because he tried to get Katz thrown out of BS&T after the first album, but the band threw Kooper out instead. Kooper thought Katz’s guitar work was inadequate; the band thought Kooper’s vocals were deficient.

From Kooper’s own account you can tell that Kooper would have been a difficult colleague and BS&T’s subsequent commercial success in a way renders its own verdict, though Katz has harsh stories to tell about BS&T vocalist David Clayton-Thomas. Thursday nights’s quotable quote: “If you had to play ‘Spinning Wheel’ every night for five years, you’d take drugs too.”

Katz reviewed his career with guitar in hand on Thursday night. I thought he was terrific. He drew an enthusiastic crowd of fans like me. We all wanted to apprise him of our favorite of his songs. I was grateful that Katz played mine as part of the show without my having to ask, off that first BS&T album, Child is Father to the Man. I thought Katz turned in the sweetest vocal on the record in the Larry Beckett/Tim Buckley number “Morning Glory” (video below). It was good to hear him singing it 50 years later.