Life as a rock legend in Kent: Steve Katz reflects on career, life in Litchfield County

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

KENT — It was 2 a.m. on a rainy night in the middle of August 1969, in Bethel, N.Y. and rock legend Steve Katz was on stage in front of tens of thousands of people.

“It was the last night of Woodstock. It was pouring and humid and we had to be in L.A. the next day,” said Katz, from his home in Kent.

On that night, he said he recalled playing the songs “Spinning Wheel,” “Sometimes in Winter,” “Smiling Phases,” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.”

Katz, who is now 76, is a founding member of the hit music group Blood, Sweat & Tears, part of the group Blues Project and winner of three Grammy Awards. He sold nearly 29 million records throughout his music career.

Katz spent the first five years of his life in Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y., and later lived in Schenectady and Patterson, N.Y. He has lived in Kent since 1998.

Katz has played guitar since he was 15, and prior to that, he loved to sing.

“I would go out to the record store when I was 8 years old and buy 45s. My first albums were Harry Belafonte’s ‘Calypso’ and Hugo Winterhalter’s ‘Greatest Themes of Television’ — and that got me hooked,” he said.

In 1962, after being part of the Greenwich Village music scene, he joined Blues Project, a band which he said he loved.

“I was still in college but I was having such a great time that I just said to myself, ‘I can stay here and be a history major or I can have a great time and go on the road and smoke pot and meet girls and be a musician’ — so I decided to do that instead.”

He said while Blues Project never had a hit single, it helped, as far as “being a cult band.”

“We never made any money,” he said, adding “today, the band is as popular as it was then — in a cult kind of way.”

He later formed “Blood Sweat & Tears,” which he said propelled him to fame.

“We had No. 1 albums, we won (the Grammy for album) of the year in 1970,” he said.

Katz said what made Blood Sweat & Tears unique at the time is the “jazz rock” craze he and fellow bandmates started, which was “reminiscent of Big Band Charts in the ’40s and ’50s.”

“It was a new sound at the time because we combined jazz horn parts and solos with a rock-rhythm section,” he said.

He credits his overall career success to the wide demographics of people he said were drawn to his music.

“Our demographic was kids and older people — kids can relate to the rock part of it and older people related to the traditional Big Band music,” he said.

While he said he has enjoyed being able to fill up a 10,000 seat arena with his music, these days, he prefers playing for small groups, of 50 to 100 people.

“It’s more intimate,” he said. “It’s more gratifying to me to know you are having a conversation with people — that you can crack a joke and people can laugh.”

When performing to a massive audience, “you can’t even look into people’s eyes because they’re so many of them and they’re so far away,” he added.

Katz said the one main difference between music of his generation and today’s music “is live music music versus computerized music.”

In the 1960s, he said, “everyone was experimenting and it was an amazing feeling when all the people in the band are playing together. It’s not predictable.”

However, he said music changed with MTV in the 1980s, and “it now has no soul to it.”

With computerized music, “you lose humanity. No matter how often each program is done, it never changes. There is no surprise. You are always going to sound the same, day after day after day. There are no bad days but also no really good days.”

Life in Kent

Katz lives with his wife of 34 years, Alison Palmer, and helps her with her ceramics business. They have two “street” dogs, Frankie and Paco, whom they brought home from Mexico; and two African gray parrots named Kuku and Tutu.

He isn’t working on any new projects at the moment — just performing a few times a month.

“I’m noodling on my guitar and I’m writing on Logic Pro,” he said.

On Oct. 9 at 5 p.m., Katz will share songs and stories in the Parish House at St. Andrews Church, 1 North Main St., Kent. Admission is $10 and free for those under 18. For more information, call 860-927-3482 or visit standrewskentct.org/.

In November, he will perform in a reunion with Blues Project.

“We’re going to play in a bunch of gigs around the Northeast,” Katz said. “It will be for about two weeks.”

At the reunion, he said he hopes his music will make people happy and bring back memories for them.

These days, he said, his performances tend to draw older folks.

“When I do my concert, I get a lot of people who are my age — who lived through the ’60s,” Katz said. “I’ve had people in tears at some of my concerts because I brought back so many memories for them.”

He said he plans to stay in Kent for the foreseeable future.

“We love where we live,” he said. “We are surrounded by rural and yet we go into town. Kent has great restaurants and great art galleries and great people and it’s our home.”

sfox@milfordmirror.com