Steve Kozak - Ambassador of West Coast Blues
For over thirty years Vancouver musician Steve Kozak�s music career has been fueled by passion and a promise. His album It�s Time is a fulfillment of both.
Steve Kozak’s name is synonymous with the blues. While he enjoys all kinds of blues, from Texas to Chicago it’s the west coast blues sound that he has sunk his teeth into.
Like any axeman worth a blues lick, Steve Kozak knows his history. “It started with a migration of Texas players that moved to the Los Angeles area, people like T-bone Walker and Pee Wee Crayton,” he explains. “It [west coast blues] kind of emulated a big band sound without a big band. It has a swing or jump blues feel that is upbeat. A lot of the guys did include a horn, or the harmonica, (the Mississippi saxophone) would take that place as well. The guitar could also follow a horn line. That’s how it developed.”
Kozak’s own development in the blues included the legendary Muddy Waters and a meeting that would shape the young musician. “I got to meet Muddy Waters and spend a few nights with him when he played at a place called the Old Roller Rink in Vancouver in the 70’s. I recall Jim Byrnes opened that show. Muddy talked with me and was quite interested that I liked playing the blues. He told me I should stick with it because ‘we need people to keep this music going’. He said ‘promise me you’ll stick with it and one day it’ll all come together.’ He told me it took him a long time to get recognized.”Blues music is honest and true, and if you�re not that people can see through it.
“That set me on a mission”, laughed Steve. “It was a powerful thing.”
Muddy Waters invited Steve back each night and shared stories and encouraged Kozak to ‘stick with it’.
The passion Steve Kozak has to be a part of the blues and to keep it going is even stronger today and is evidenced by his latest release It’s Time.
The album has a warm, vintage blues sound and you can get plenty of tasty guitar solos, smooth vocals, horns and harmonica on the tracks.
Working on the album with Steve and his band were Matt Rogers and Shawn Hall also known as the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer. Matt Rogers, who is also a talented producer, produced the album. “I’ve wanted to work with those guys for a long time,” says Steve. “I met them when they were just getting started. They’re blues guys but they’re considerably younger than me. A lot of us guys are stubborn in our ways in how we think the blues stuff should be and sound. I wanted to get a younger perspective on it. I know how talented these guys are. Shawn produced the vocal sessions and got me to sing some stuff better than I normally would’ve.”
Of the dozen songs on It’s Time, Kozak penned seven of them. Steve Kozak says “Blues music is honest and true, and if you’re not that, people can see through it.” Each song carries a piece of Steve Kozak in it.
There is the poignant “Stranger In My Hometown” where he addresses the changes in the city that he’s grown up in. “Goin’ Fishin’ is self explanatory. If there’s one thing Steve Kozak loves as much as the blues, it’s fishin’. He admits that he has as many fishing rods as he does guitars.
The covers Steve chose for the album all have meaning for him as well. One in particular stands out, “Kiddio” and carries with it a great memory from when he was just starting out.
“When the late great Pee Wee Crayton from Southern California use to come to town, he would play at a place called Mama Gold’s and I got to play with him which was really cool. We were at a party with all the musicians one night at Al Walker’s place and there was a jam session in the basement. Everyone got a turn to play. When it was my turn I got up and I sang “Kiddio”. He [Pee Wee] stopped me and said, ‘okay I gotta give you a singing lesson. You have to have a little more soul in your voice when you sing this song.’ It was a moment of intimidation recalls Kozak. “All the great blues players in town were at this party. Everyone just stopped and looked. He kept making me sing the lines over and over again. I got through it and I had a singing lesson from Pee Wee Crayton in front of everyone.” That song has its rightful place on Steve’s album It’s Time.
Admittedly it can be difficult to get new people exposed to blues music, says Kozak. He does take every opportunity to that. “I played some gigs for some video game development companies and the people there were all a younger generation. When we started playing, their heads snapped up and it was like ‘whoa, what is this?’ They loved it but they all said ‘we never heard this stuff before’. It’s a matter of exposure and getting the music out there.”
Steve Kozak continues to be an ambassador of the blues and you can catch him playing regularly at Pat’s Pub in Vancouver. He says he’s blessed to play with some really great players. The Steve Kozak Band is Steve Kozak on Guitar and vocals, Dave Webb (piano, Hammond organ), Roger Brant (bass), and 2016 Maple Blues Award nominee for drummer of the year, Chris ‘The Wrist” Nordquist (drums).
Perhaps one day Steve Kozak will take the time to talk with a young musician who’s at a show. Maybe he’ll tell him or her about the honesty and the truthfulness of the blues and how they need to stick with it because the blues needs someone like them to keep it going and that one-day it’ll all come together. Just like Muddy Waters did with him those many years ago.
The Steve Kozak Band has recently been nominated for Blues Artist of the Year for the 2017 Western Canadian Music Awards.
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