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Steve Katz

by Kathryn Boughton

“What goes up must come down
Spinnin' wheel, got to go round”

So begins one of the most popular songs recorded by the late-’60s jazz-rock band, Blood, Sweat & Tears. It also defines the current stage of life for Steve Katz, 70, a BS&T co-founder, who recently took up his guitar after a decades-long hiatus.

His return to the stage coincides with the release of his book, Blood, Sweat, and My Rock 'n' Roll Years: Is Steve Katz a Rock Star?, a memoir of the halcyon days of 1960s music. Katz will sign his books July 31 from 6- 8PM. at the Hotchkiss Library annual book signing on Sharon Green and at the House of Books in Kent August 1 from 3-4PM.

During his performances he plays his songs in chronological order. “I play my songs and tell stories about my career,” he said. “I love talking to people, sharing my memories. It makes people of my age really happy—they will say, ‘Oh, wow, I went to the Village in the early ‘60s.’ And younger people enjoy it, too.

As Katz recounts it, he always wanted to be a singer. “I grew up in Queens and back in the early ‘50s, I would go out on the sidewalk in my underwear and sing Eddie Fisher songs. People would throw change at me and I would take it and run to the music store. I guess you could say I am still doing that, except not in my underwear.”

By his teens, Katz was making serious inroads into the music world, spending time in Greenwich Village, and studying with Dave van Ronk, who introduced him to old Blues greats such as Mississippi John Hurt and guitar genius Rev. Gary Davis. “It was really root music,” he said. “I was lucky enough to meet some of the old Blues guys who were then being rediscovered. Then Dylan played with an electric guitar at Newport and all my friends hung up their acoustic guitars.”

His growing involvement with music morphed into membership in The Blues Project, which played the Monterey Pop Festival and, after that group disbanded, into founding BS&T with former Blues Project member Al Kooper. The group achieved instant critical success with its first album, followed by a second collection that skyrocketed to popular acclaim after Kooper was replaced by David Clayton-Thomas.

Katz’ relationship with both collaborators was contentious. “Al never liked my guitar playing and I never liked his voice,” he reveals, and he refers to Clayton-Thomas’ “transformation from soul singer to slinger of schmaltz.” BS&T shot to the top of the charts, but the worm of discontent was in the apple as Clayton-Thomas took the spotlight. Within four years BS&T had lost its way, its following and its recording contract.

Katz went on to produce albums for the likes of Lou Reed and the Elliott Murphy before marrying Alison Palmer, a ceramic artist, and marketing her work over the past two-and-a-half decades.

“I never performed much alone,” he said. “But my friends kept saying I should write down all my stories, so I did and I am enjoying performing again. I was very lucky to have (had my career) during a creative time when it was possible to get your music out there.”

It is not the same for young musicians today, he asserts. “In my day, the music business was very small. If you played half decently you could get a record contract. Kids who would like to be musicians today can’t make a living, so a lot don’t go into the music industry. The Paul McCartneys and John Lennons out there are going to be lawyers.”

He treasures the memory of the celebrities he met—people such as Elizabeth Taylor, Groucho Marx, Jimi Hendrix, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Mitchum - and of the experiences he had performing in venues such as the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. “Monterey was beautiful,” he said, “but I didn’t like Woodstock. It was very uncomfortable - we went on at 2 a.m. and an hour later I was out of there, on a plane to our next gig.” But his greatest thrill, he said, was shaking the hand of “Satchmo” Louis Armstrong when he presented BS&T with a Grammy.