When 14 year old Keith Kozacik first heard a Son House record in the mid '70s he said, "I was scared to death at what I heard." He couldn't believe there was music like this. That listening experience pretty much set his musical career choice. "When I learned my second chord," he laughs, "it was all over," he wanted to play Delta blues guitar. While the rest of his classmates were wearing bell-bottom pants and dancing to disco, Keith was scrounging the used-record bins looking for his country blues heroes and teachers.
Whether Keith is playing his acoustic, his National Delphi, or his National Baritone Guitar, he is one talented musician. One of the better deep-Delta blues purveyors playing today, Catfish Keith is an innovative slide guitarist taking his instrument to areas not often broached by other players. With a repertoire that features clever originals and songs from some of his influences (people like Son House, Robert Johnson, Lonnie Johnson, Skip James, Bukka White, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bo Carter and Blind Blake, among others), Catfish displays a driving, percussive, string-snapping technique, punctuated by his pounding left leg. As a one-man-band, he is able to produce a multi-guitar sound with his playing, reminiscent of some of the country blues greats.
Catfish has a large collection and variety of tunes in this song bag and he likes to mix the material up during both his live shows and on his CDs. As he says about his music, its "some acoustic blues, gospel moans, slippery slide and swinging scat-o-logical party pieces." His vocals also vary to fit the mood and tone of the song he is playing--from guttural growl to high-end wail. With his ever present smile, dry-wit, and almost shy demeanor, Catfish Keith is a solo-acoustic performer to be reckoned with. Here's hoping we can see him perform in the Twin Cities again soon.
Born in the working-class, steel mill town of East Chicago, Indiana, Keith Daniel Kozacik graduated from high school in Davenport, Iowa, where his family had moved, and soon hit the road on a quest to play Delta blues and other American roots music. Keith said he remembers hearing the blues of Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Buddy Guy on the radio as a child and after picking up the guitar as a teen and hearing that Son House record he never looked back.
One of Keith's travels took him to the Caribbean, where he spent a brief time crewing on a sailboat and gaining exposure to the rich rhythms of jazz, Calypso, reggae and other Island sounds that inspired him to reach new musical heights. It was here that he also got his nickname. A West Indian lobster diving partner of Keith's commented, after seeing him swim, that Keith was like a "catfish-swimmin'-around," and called him "Catfish-Steel-Guitar-Man." The stage name, Catfish Keith, stuck.
In 1985 he released the first of more than half a dozen solo albums, Catfish Blues. This "debut established him as a new force in acoustic blues, reaching Number One on independent worldwide radio charts. [And] enabled Catfish to play and tour continually, learning directly from legends such as Johnny Shines, David Honeyboy Edwards, Jesse Mae Hemphill and Henry Townsend."
Catfish Keith's performance at the Coffee Grounds was part of a National Resophonic Night-Out featuring more than a dozen national and acoustic guitar players from the Twin Cities. Unfortunately the small room was so packed they couldn't fit everyone in--but that didn't affect the performances. The night had two sets featuring: Bobby E., Molly Maher, Loren Larson & Rob Paulson, Andy Kozak & Cal Hand, Dave Lambert, Dakota Dave Hull & Kari Larson, Dan Mackerman, Jerry Kozak, Einer & Gunnar (Two Norwegians in a Woodpile), Dan Abbene, Mike Williams, Leo Whitebird & the Butternotes and event coordinator, Gabriela Sweet. Each musician played 2 to 4 songs during two sets with Catfish Keith playing a special longer set between the two. Since I arrived late I was not able to get in to see the first set (other than what I could catch listening from just outside the door where I did catch some of Cal Hands exceptional dobro playing), but during the break I was able to get a seat near the front for the rest of the evening's fine performances.
This was really a wonderful idea and I hope similar acoustic musical experiences occur in the future around the Twin Cities. Hats off to the Coffee Grounds!
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