Steve Katz of Blood Sweat And Tears

by Sal Serio
September 2009

vintage Blood, Sweat & Tears

vintage Blood, Sweat & Tears

Steve Katz’ initial guitar motivation came from folky blues great Dave Van Ronk and the Reverend Gary Davis. I asked Katz about his first guitar and his connection to Van Ronk. “(It) was a Gibson J200 acoustic. I never even played electric until I joined The Blues Project. I took lessons from Dave when I was just a beginner. Both Van Ronk and Rev. Davis will always be major influences on me.”

Inspired by the folk and jug band music that was popular in the early/mid 60s Greenwich Village scene, Katz found himself in a group of like-minded friends and musicians, including Stefan Grossman, Maria Muldaur, John Sebastian, and David Grisman, forming the Even Dozen Jug Band and recording a self-titled album in 1964 for Elektra Records. Steve commented to me on this early group of eventually high profile performers, “The great thing about the jug band was the diversity of styles of all the members. There was a blues, bluegrass, and a ragtime contingent. We were all friends and it was a great way to bring all our musical interests together. We performed at Carnegie Hall, on The Tonight Show, and a TV show called Hootenanny.”

Next Katz got an offer to play guitar with the Danny Kalb Quartet, which was funny because he hadn’t ever played electric guitar before. In fact, during his audition, he had the volume turned all the way down. Kalb and Katz wound up forming a new band called The Blues Project, and hired Al Kooper initially as a session musician to play on the song “Violets Of Dawn”. Kooper became part of The Blues Project, which worked as the Café au Go Go house band, and recorded a handful of records for the Verve Forecast label. This first incarnation of The Blues Project played it’s final show at the Monterey Pop Festival, which Katz recalls as, “one of the highlights of my life. It was a beautiful festival. All the stuff about ‘peace, love, and beads’ was what this was truly about. (Monterey was) much better than Woodstock.”

Next, Kooper, Katz, and drummer Bobby Colomby formed a new band that was influenced by the brassy sounds in the Electric Flag and an album by the Buckinghams called Time And Changes. This was the inception of Blood Sweat & Tears, whose first album was Child Is Father To The Man on Columbia in 1968. This record was primarily a vehicle for Kooper’s songs, although Katz sang lead on his own “Megan’s Gypsy Eyes” and the Tim Buckley composition “Morning Glory”. Regarding Child Is Father To The Man, Steve reflects, “The first album initially did not do well, so Kooper talked about leaving. Bobby and myself knew we could never be a commercial success with Al’s singing, so it worked out well. If Al continued in the band, we would only have wound up as a footnote in rock history. It was because of the second album that the first received acclaim and, eventually, sales.”

The second album that Katz refers to was the self-titled Blood Sweat & Tears from 1969 which produced three top ten singles (“Spinning Wheel”, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, “And When I Die”) and sold six million copies worldwide. Blood Sweat & Tears was produced by Jim Guercio, who also had produced the influential Buckinghams’ Time And Changes. Interestingly, the hit “And When I Die” was written by Laura Nyro, who the group considered for lead singer following Al Kooper’s departure, before settling on David Clayton-Thomas. Katz remembers Nyro’s audition. “It just wouldn’t have worked. Essentially, we would’ve had to be a back-up band for Laura.”

I asked Steve about his guitar set-up for this album, since he has a really nice, nasty, fuzz tone on his solos. “(I used a) Gibson ES335 through a Fender Super Reverb amp. Volume on ten. No treble, no bass.”

Ironically, at the height of the band’s popularity, BS&T’s momentum was derailed by a US State Department sponsored tour of Eastern Europe (remember this was Vietnam era), as well as accepting some Las Vegas Caesar’s Palace gig offers. I asked Steve how those decisions come to be made for them, and upon reflection should the group have chosen another path? “We had no choice with the Eastern Europe tour. The Justice Department was threatening to take away David Clayton-Thomas’ visa and so we had to work out a deal with the government to keep him in the US (David is Canadian). It is only years later that we can talk about this. As for Caesar’s Palace, bad career move but a lot of fun.”

In 1973, Katz played harmonica on the first Lynyrd Skynyrd album “on “Mississippi Kid”, but I was just called in for the session. They opened for a Blues Project reunion at Avery Fisher Hall in NY. I remember them as very nice kids.”

Around this same time, after leaving BS&T, Steve met Lou Reed since they shared management. Consequently Katz produced Lou’s next records Rock N Roll Animal and Sally Can’t Dance. While Lou in his leather phase seems about as far away from BS&T’s sensibilities as one could imagine, Katz offers this insight, “my roots were closer to Lou’s at the time. BS&T was moving in more of a jazz direction and I related more to what Lou was doing.”

Reed also was going through a commercial roller coaster ride of his own, with the success of Transformer and then bomb of Berlin. Rock N Roll Animal got Lou’s career back on track, and in my opinion some credit must be given to the awesome backing group and arrangements on that record. “The band was already intact when I came on as producer. It was one of the reasons I thought Lou should do a live record.”

After the years producing Lou Reed, Katz played with a band called American Flyer before working in the record industry and signing the Irish group Horslips. I mentioned to Steve that I’m very fond of Horslips’ The Belfast Gigs record (1980) and asked how he got exposed to them. “I was Vice President of Mercury Records at the time. One of the deals I brought in was Dick James Music which had Horslips and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. I went to Ireland to meet the band. We got along really well and they asked me to produce them. I worked with them for three albums.”

In 1985 Steve met ceramic artist Alison Palmer, whom he calls his one true love. In 1987 Katz became Managing Director of Green Linnet Records, the premier label of traditional Irish music in the US. In 1988, Steve Katz and Alison Palmer married, and he took up an active role with Palmer’s art business and also as a photographer. “Alison opened up areas about the visual arts for me that I knew little about.”

In the 2000’s musical opportunity came knocking again via Blood Sweat & Tears. “I got a phone call from the band’s management asking if I would like to sing one of my songs with the band at a concert. I was delighted to do it.” Steve rejoined the band permanently in September 2007. In regards to the current line-up, Katz notes, “I’m the only original, but these guys are the best musicians I’ve ever worked with. We’re always around and we always will be. You can check our website - to find out where we’ll be.”

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