Steve Khan: 13 Questions

[1]    What was the first record you bought with your own money?
[SK]  That's going back a LOT of years - way too many years!!! But, by the time that I earned some of my own money from working with my first professional band, I believe that I bought LPs like "TOUGH TALK" by the Jazz Crusaders, two Freddy King LPs; B.B. King; "LIVE AT THE REGAL"; and two Rolling Stones LPs. But, one must remember that, in those days, an LP was $2!!! And so, a $20 bill went a long, long ways! As a kid, with my allowance, I think that the first single I bought was "Out of Sight" by James Brown.

[2]    What was the last record you bought with your own money?
[SK]  Believe it or not, I had to buy another copy of the soundtrack for the Coen Brothers film, "O BROTHER, WHERE ARE THOU?" Somehow, the song "I'll Fly Away" sung by Alison Krauss was playing somewhere, perhaps I heard it on the Web? And I was reminded about all those wonderful songs in the film. So, thinking that I had this recording, I went searching through my iTunes library, and found nothing. Then, I went searching through all my CDs, and found nothing. And then, it all came back to me, I had given my CD of that recording to a great love of mine in Venezuela. So, I ordered a new copy from, and when it arrived, I must have listened to "Down to the River to Pray" by Alison Krauss 200 times - almost without stopping.
    I can't explain why I find that song so moving, I want to view it as a 'spiritual' song, and not a 'religious' song - because such things are completely antithetical to everything that makes up my personal belief system. But, I just find that song to be deeply, deeply moving!

[3]    What was the first solo you learned from a record - and can you still play it?
[SK]  Probably something by Freddy King. I always loved "Heads Up" and "Sen-sa-shun" - I know them both - but, I'd have to practice them now to remember them. "Heads Up" is a little easier to remember, I think that I could do it now!

[4]    Which recording of your own (or as a sideman) are you most proud of, and why?
[SK]  As the years have come and gone, and my good fortune in having recorded so many times as an artist becomes more clear, I too see it all as one 'body of work' - an elongated process of struggle and growth - slow though it might have been. When I can get past the painful aspects of each recording - sometimes the process is just too much for me!
    However, I have very special feelings for "EYEWITNESS"(1981), because it was the first recording with Anthony Jackson; Steve Jordan; and Manolo Badrena. It marked a pivotal moment in my development and I owe those three players so much!!! I have very warm feelings for "CROSSINGS"(1994) as well - the overall sound is just so beautiful to me. That was with Anthony Jackson; Dennis Chambers; Manolo Badrena; and Michael Brecker appeared on three tunes. Finally, "THE SUITCASE"(2008), a double-live CD, recorded in May of 1994 with Anthony Jackson & Dennis Chambers. It is perhaps the best representation of how we went about making music together - and the "together" aspect means more to me than anything else!!!

[5]    What's the difference between playing live and playing in a studio?
[SK]  One can be beautiful, inspiring, and exhilarating because of the immediacy. The other, even with the very same rhythm section, is almost always, for me, an exercise in self-torture. I don't enjoy listening to myself, and at times, it's very painful to be so confronted with your very own mediocrity, to have it right there, in your face! But somehow, one gets past that, and just does the work, and recordings get done.

[6]    What's the difference between a good gig and a bad gig?
[SK]  A bad gig is anything that you did for the money. A good gig is one that you would have done for nothing. When you're playing for the love of the music, for the joy of making that particular music with your bandmates - there is no better gig, no better feeling than that.

[7]    What's the difference between a good guitar and a bad guitar?
[SK]  Bad guitars?!?! I simply avoid them like the plague!!! A good guitar is one that you have chosen to play and, after having done that, you have had some work done on it, to make certain that it is properly set-up for YOUR touch, and what feels natural for you! Everyone's touch on their instrument is so personal, so individual - as one continues to grow as a player, you realize just how personal it really is. So, a bad guitar is simply one that has not been set-up properly for me, or can't be adjusted at all.

[8]    You play electric and acoustic. Do you approach the two differently?
[SK]  In a sense, yes. But, I try to make all my instruments FEEL the same. They are all strung-up very light - and people are often shocked by just how 'easy' they are to play. And, they can be shocked by how I can produce a warm tone, and a big, round sound with such light strings. But, I've been adjusting my touch my whole professional life in order to be able to do this - it's always a work in progress for me. On my acoustic steel-string, I use a plain G-string. Most times a .016 or a .017. I like to have that kind of twangy, elastic feeling to the G-string. I feel 'at home' that way.
    I would hope that I sound like I am approaching the 3 instruments: electric; acoustic steel-string; nylon-string differently - but I don't know. I play the songs that I choose to play with the same love, commitment, or intensity, no matter what the instrument might be.

[9]    Do you sound more like yourself on acoustic or electric?
[SK]  I think that I have come to sound like 'myself' - whatever others hear that as - on both instruments, but it certainly did not happen overnight!

[10]    Do you sound like yourself on other people's guitars?
[SK]    No!!! Absolutely not!!! I would never even attempt to play someone else's guitar. They always feel terrible to me, impossible to play. No matter how much I might respect and admire that person's playing. Heavier strings, higher action? This becomes impossible for me.

[11]    Which living artist (music, or other arts) would you like to collaborate with?
[SK]    Well, when you use a word like "collaborate" I take that to mean a joint effort to create something together - as equals. It's much easier to conceive of, or think of such a thing than to actually execute it, unless there is an intense desire on the part of both artists. Honestly, I rarely if ever even think about such things now. When I was younger, much younger, I constantly dreamed of working together with countless artists, all the usual heroes, the obvious, and the obscure.
    That said, I have often thought that it would be wonderful to do something together with Paul Franklin, the fantastic pedal steel player from Nashville. I love his playing, and the fact that he seems to have an excellent feel for textures. That would be huge for me.
    On a completely different note, I did everything within my humble powers to try to get Brasilian vocalist, Gracinha Leporace to sing a couple of the vocalese sections that appear on my forthcoming recording. But, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how noble my effort might have been, I could not get this to happen. It will always remain a great, great personal disappointment for me. No one sings like her!

[12]    What dead artist would you like to have collaborated with?
[SK]    Again, my perspective from this latter stage of life is very, very different than from my youth. In the past, I could have easily inserted myself(with the help of my imagination), my vision of how I might have played, in any of the recordings that changed my life. That includes: Jazz; R&B; Rock; Folk; World, etc.!!! But now? I see those recordings, those moments, as perfect, perfect in time, and I would change nothing about any of them.
    If I could have been Steve Cropper and played all those fantastic guitar parts on my favorite R&B songs - how great would that have been? If I could have been Jimmy Nolen and played on all the great James Brown songs - how great would that have been? If I could have played with Larry Young around the time of "UNITY" - I suppose, if I had been ready for that, I would have given anything to have been part of that vibe.

[13]    What's your latest project about?
[SK]    The new recording, "PARTING SHOT"(Golpe de Partida) reunites me with 5 of my favorite musicians on this planet: Anthony Jackson(contrabass guitar); Dennis Chambers(drums); Manolo Badrena(percussion & voice); Marc Quiñones(timbal; bongo; & percussion); Bobby Allende(conga). Guest Artists include: Rob Mounsey(keyboard & orchestrations) and Tatiana Parra(voice) and Andrés Beeuwsaert(voice).
    This is the kind of Latin Jazz recording that I have always dreamed about making, but, I just wasn't prepared enough to have done it before. It's an attempt to combine the looseness, the spaciness of the way we made music as Eyewitness, with many of the traditional rhythms that make-up the glorious genre of Latin music.
    In all honesty, I don't know that I'll ever be able to record again. So, the joy of just being able to do this recording now is tempered and tinged with a great sadness over the realities that I face, that all artists face, within the current climate of the "business of music." I am, in no way, speaking of the state of my health, I'm fine - as far as I know.

[Photos: Top left: Mark Wohlrab('03) | Middle right: Paul Aresu('02)]