Gary James' Interview With
Steve Katz

He was a member of The Blues Project and Blood, Sweat And Tears, not to mention a record producer for Lou Reed, Horslips and Elliot Murphy. He's also a professional photographer. His name is Steve Katz. Steve has written his autobiography titled Blood, Sweat And My Rock 'n' Roll Years: Is Steve Katz A Rock Star?. You better believe it.

Q - What's this, you're going overseas for three months?

A - No. I'm going to Mexico.

Q - What will you be doing in Mexico for three months?

A - Well, my wife is an artist and she has some commissions there and I do a couple of concerts there and vacation. We swim, drink margaritas.

Q - So it's a working vacation as well.

A - Yeah.

Q - Will you be promoting your autobiography?

A - No, not in Mexico. I've been doing that since May (2015) actually. When I come back I'll be doing more concerts around the country.

Q - You're a professional photographer?

A - Yes. I do craft photography 'cause I shoot my wife's work. She's a ceramic artist and there are other craft people that we know that have hired me to do their photography.

Q - Where you taking pictures of other musicians during the time you were in Blood, Sweat And Tears?

A - Oh, yeah. Tons on the road. We all had cameras. Most of us had photography as our hobby.

Q - There's a book there!

A - Could be. I've got like thousands of pictures.

Q - You started out as a musician, but at one point you were working as a road manager. How did you make that transition?

A - Well, I had two guitar teachers. One was Dave Van Ronk and the other was Reverend Gary Davis. I mainly took lessons from Dave. I took a few from Reverend Davis, but I also wound up driving him around and basically road managing him for a bunch of gigs.

Q - Did he tell you what he wanted you to do? Today they have schools for how to be a road manager.

A - (laughs) Reverend Davis was blind and he needed somebody to help him get to places. Those days were very different from what road management is these days. I'm sure they have schools for road management, but I never carried equipment. All I carried was a guitar.

Q - Did you have to make hotel reservations or plane reservations?

A - We usually stayed at the places he was staying. I never got into that. I was never really a road manager. I just drove him around. I was seventeen years old.

Q - In Greenwich Village you were playing Jug Band music. That's a variation of Folk music, isn't it?

A - It's a variation of Folk music, yeah. It's basically, Jug Band started in the '20s in the South. My jug band, The Even Dozen Jug Band, were a bunch of Folk musicians living in the Village or around the Village. Half of us kids were playing Bluegrass or old-time music and the other half, like me, were playing Country / Blues and we wanted to play music together. The Jug Band music is like the common denominator between the two.

Q - You recorded an album for Elektra Records. Did they get behind that record and promote it to your satisfaction?

A - Yeah, they did a pretty good job. We were all in college except for John Sebastian. John wasn't in school. They wanted us to quit school and do this professionally, make another album, but we just said, "No, sorry guys. We're going to go back to school," and that was the end of that band.

Q - When you were with The Blues Project you performed at Murray The K's last Submarine Race-Watching spectacular at RKO 58th Street Theatre in New York. What was that all about?

A - I played Woodstock and Monterey and that show was probably one of the most memorable I've ever done. It was the first time The Who was in America, and Cream. The headliners were Wilson Pickett and Mitch Ryder. It was just a very funny, interesting show. It lasted for nine days. We did five shows a day. There are a lot of great stories. Pete Townshend tells some stories in my book. I tell stories. It was a lot of fun. We shared the dressing room with Cream for those days.

Q - The Blues Project also played this place, the Cafe au Go Go in New York.

A - We were kind of like the house band.

Q - I'm guessing that everybody who was anybody passed through those doors.

A - Everybody. In fact, there's a paragraph in my book where I list everybody who played there, from all the San Francisco bands to all the British bands. B.B. King. We used to open a lot for Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker. Everybody played there.

Q - How about the people coming through the door?

A - Oh, every celebrity, star, would come down there. If you came to New York City you'd have to go to the Cafe au Go Go.

Q - How did Blood, Sweat And Tears get a record deal with Columbia Records?

A - Well, Al Kooper and I came out of The Blues Project. The music scene was not as big as it is now, spread out. New York, L.A., San Francisco were the centers of the music business. We were a very popular band, The Blues Project, in the City. When Columbia found out that Al and I were putting together a band with horns, in fact, everybody was interested. Jac Holzman at Elektra. Mo Ostin at Warner Brothers and Clive (Davis) at Columbia. Clive gave us the best deal. It was the same Elektra was offering except they threw in some free amps. They had just bought Fender at the time.

Q - Is it true that Al Kooper left Blood, Sweat And Tears because he didn't like the direction the band was going in? I'm thinking if you're in a band and you step out of the basement, you're commercial.

A - Actually, what you said is not right. Al left the band because we wanted a better singer. Al didn't want to move aside and get a different singer, so he left the band. It had nothing to do with being a commercial band. Al wanted it to be as commercial as any of us.

Q - When David Clayton Thomas came into the band, did you think the band was really going to take off?

A - Yeah. David had that commercial voice. We felt it was going to work.

Q - The success of the band was also due to the arrangements of the horns as well?

A - Yeah. A lot of it came from when Al was with the band, but we continued some of the songs, like "You Made Me So Very Happy". We were doing that when Al was with the band, but David really sang it great, so it made it into a commercial hit.

Q - You were the East Coast Director Of A&R at Mercury Records.

A - Vice-President actually.

Q - Why would a record company sign so many acts and then not get behind those acts? Do you know the reason for that?

A - No, I don't know the reason. It's a little bit strange to me. Sometimes they throw out an act, but it's the same thing with the publishing world. They'll throw out books and not get behind it. They'll throw out albums and not get behind it because they'll say let's see if it get air play. On the other hand, they get behind it so much. For instance, years ago Moby Grape, when they put out their first album, Columbia Records loved it so much they decided to do something really stupid and put out six singles at the same time, so they all died. They never got one hit single. So that was like overdoing it. Especially with budgets coming down, what they do is wait to see if there is air play, if any of the distributors want to carry your record before they actually commit to advertising. In the case of Blood, Sweat And Tears, they didn't even have to. We had so much air play they didn't have to commit to it that much. It just sort of happened on its own.

Q - Would it have been impossible for a band without any industry connections to get a demo tape to Steve Katz when you were at Mercury Records?

A - I didn't solicit tapes. They just came to me. Usually managers and lawyers.

Q - Could someone off the street have gotten a tape to you?

A - They could have at first. It took me about a week to realize that was really crazy, so they went to my secretary. I think I listened to every tape. I started producing an Irish band called Horslips and I wound up spending most of my time in Ireland because I didn't like listening to tapes with ten minute long conga breaks during the Disco days.

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