Steve Katz’s professional career started in the late fifties on a local Schenectady, New York television program called Teenage Barn. Accompanied by piano, Steve would sing such hits of the day as “Tammy” and “April Love”. At 15, Steve studied guitar with Dave Van Ronk and Reverend Gary Davis. It was at this time that he met and befriended guitarist Stefan Grossman. Steve & Stefan would sometimes act as road managers for Reverend Davis and, in so doing, met many of the great “rediscovered” blues men of an earlier era, like Son House, Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt.
There were many other young musicians and potential college dropouts around Greenwich Village during this time who were as obsessed with American roots music as Steve, whether it be bluegrass or blues. Many would look for a common ground in which to play music together and some, including Steve, Stefan, Maria Muldaur, John Sebastian and David Grisman found the common denominator in jug band music – the music of Cannon’s Jug Stompers and The Memphis Jug Band. They and some other friends formed the Even Dozen Jug Band and were courted by Elektra Records for whom they recorded an album in 1964. Dwarfed by some of the finest young guitarists of the time, Steve opted to play washboard in the band. He would later use the same tactic of avoiding tough chords by mastering the harmonica.
After a brief sabbatical from college, Steve, while teaching guitar in Greenwich Village, was asked to audition for the Danny Kalb Quartet as a two-week substitute for the vacationing Artie Traum. Frightened by the power of the sound of an electric guitar and amp, Steve turned his volume to zero, thereby making no discernible mistakes. He got the job. Artie never came back, Al Kooper joined, and they had the Blues Project, a foray of young white middle-class musicians into the amplified world of Chicago blues. But they worked out of New York, and it was the mid-sixties, so the Blues Project experimented, dabbled in their own style and gave Steve an opportunity to showcase his own songs, as did Al and Danny. The Blues Project recorded three albums while together in their first incarnation. “Steve’s Song”, on the Projections album was the first original song that Steve had recorded.
The Blues Project, after two glorious years as house band at the Cafe Au Go Go and Murray the K’s last “submarine race-watching” spectacular at the the RKO 58th Street theater in New York, decided to break up, playing the Monterey Pop Festival as their last major gig. The Blues Project’s lasting contribution during its short life was to open the airwaves of radio to more album-oriented Rock. All attempts at singles failed but, like the consciousness of the era, people looked for alternatives in fashion, politics, lifestyles and musical tastes. The Blues Project gave people an alternative and, at the same time, made people aware of music that they might never have otherwise heard.
After the demise of the Blues Project, Steve, Al Kooper, Bobby Colomby and Jim Fielder decided to work up a set, mainly of Al’s new songs, for a benefit concert whereby enough money would be raised to send Al to London where he wanted to live. Joined by Fred Lipsius on alto sax, the concert raised enough money for Al to get a cab to the airport. There was no choice but to start another band. Influenced by the Electric Flag and an album by the Buckinghams entitled Time and Charges, a horn section was utilized with rock arrangements that were a touch more sophisticated than most horn arrangements in rock up to that time. Thus, the formation of Blood, Sweat & Tears, a Columbia Records contract, and the album Child is Father to the Man. Recorded and mixed in only two weeks, the album sold moderately well but was a huge critical success. Steve sang one original song (“Megan’s Gypsy Eyes”) and a song by his friend, the late Tim Buckley.
Al left Blood, Sweat & Tears after only six months and while they were reorganizing, Steve wrote record reviews for Eye Magazine, a Cosmopolitan spin-off. Getting the record company to continue with the band without Kooper was difficult. Auditions were held and David Clayton-Thomas was hired as lead singer. Columbia reluctantly agreed to go ahead with a new album. That album sold six million copies worldwide and fostered three number one singles, a major feat for 1969. Steve continued with Blood, Sweat & Tears for six years, during which time the group received a large number of accolades. They won three Grammies, were voted best band by the Playboy Jazz and Pop Poll two years in a row, and won three major Downbeat awards, to name a few. Steve wrote many songs during his tenure with BS&T, including his well-loved “Sometimes in Winter”.
In 1972 Steve met Lou Reed and they quickly became friends. After the commercial failure of Lou’s album Berlin, Steve was asked to produce his next record. Steve jumped at the opportunity to start a new career and produced Rock & Roll Animal and Sally Can’t Dance for Lou. After a number of productions during this period, including the wonderful Nightlights by Elliott Murphy, Steve wanted to return again to playing music.
Although American Flyer was not a performing band, it gave Steve another creative outlet in which to work and talented people to work with. Steve was joined by the prolific writer Eric Kaz, Craig Fuller from Pure Prairie League, and Doug Yule from The Velvet Underground. The first of their two albums was produced by George Martin who was interrogated constantly by Steve about his production techniques with The Beatles.
Steve was offered an opportunity to get closer to the business of music in 1977 with his appointment as East Coast Director of A&R and later as Vice President of Mercury Records. The highlight of the three years that Steve spent at Mercury was his being able to produce the great Irish group Horslips. Rather than sit in his office listening to 12-minute conga solos on disco demo tapes, Steve opted to spend a good deal of time in Ireland during this period and produced three albums for the group. As a New York A&R executive in Dublin, Steve had also passed on a young group by the name of U2, a decision that Steve would regret for the rest of his life.
It was during his visits to Ireland that Steve became enamored with all things Irish, especially the traditional music and Irish literature. Horslips had originally been an acoustic band that sang some of their songs in Gaelic, and the band members made Steve aware of great Irish traditional music. This awareness turned into obsession and in 1987, Steve became Managing Director of Green Linnet Records, the foremost record label of traditional Irish music in America. Steve stayed on at Green Linnet for five years, during which time he married his one true love, Alison Palmer, a ceramic artist.
As time passed, Alison’s craft achieved popularity and recognition. Alison and Steve soon found that they had a thriving small business. Steve recently released his first solo album, The Juggle. He still performs, does book talks, is a professional photographer, and has produced a memoir, published by Lyons Press. Steve and Alison live in Kent, Connecticut with their African Grey Parrots, TuTu and KuKu, their two dogs, Paco and Frankie, and the remains of their guinea pig, Sid.