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(I was requested to interview & write this article on Steve Kozak by a magazine overseas. It has been published internationally with a circulation of over 500,000 unites)

Steve Kozak – The Making of a Canadian Icon

The way we experience things depends largely on the way we expect to experience them.

When you first see Steve Kozak take the stage, you expect the usual blues tunes presented in the customary manner. Into the first four bars, there is a distinct energy, a rockabilly sound, and a realization that this is different. Here is a spellbinding way of bending the notes that grabs your attention, and pulls you toward that stage.

There is an easy-going manner with such an assured polish that has matured over the years. Good humour and chuckles pepper the dialogue with audiences, as well as interviews. That instinctually disarms any doubts as to why Steve was chosen for the prestigious Maple Blues Award for New Artist or Group of the Year 2012 by the Toronto Blues Society.  He was also awarded The Ambassador of the Blues Award by the Blues Underground Network for the same year.  

Kozak’s attitude when he won the Maple Blues Award from the Toronto Blues Society was, “Isn’t nice to be new again”, he chuckles.

In 2017, Steve received a nomination for a Western Canadian Music Award as Blues Artist of the Year.  

The fourth released album It’s Time (2017) has received good reviews and has been talked about worldwide. He has released three previous albums -- Steve Kozak – Westcoast Blues Revue (2003); Hoot ‘N Holler (2007), and Steve Kozak’s Westcoast Blues Revue - Lookin’ at Lucky (2012).

Kozak’s previous self-promoted album Lookin’ at Lucky featuring long-time friend and Blues legend, James Harman, has been very well received. It charted well on radio, twice reaching #1 spots on Blues and Roots radio stations, 20 charts in Canada, and hitting #10 in the top 50 Blues albums, getting radio play in the USA.

When Steve was in high school, his cousin in Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada, exposed him to Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, and many the British blues and contemporary recordings of that time.  He met and hung out with Muddy Waters in 1977 when Waters performed in North Vancouver, B.C. That meeting left a huge impression on the young musician.

His diligence in listening to all these recordings made such an impact that he picked up the patterns, the 1-4-5’s that have developed into easily playing anything he listens to and composing his own music.

There are great memories of Big Joe Duskin; Sonny Rhodes, who he played with at one time; vocal lessons from  Pee Wee Crayton; playing with Jack Lavin from the Powder Blues Band. Jamming with some of our iconic Blues masters has been a thrill, James Harman at the Edmonton Blues Festival, Duke Robillard at the Winnipeg Blues Festival, Mitch Wood at the old Yale Hotel, and Kenny Blues Boss Wayne at the Pender Harbour Blues Festival.  At one point, Kozak initiated the Powell River Blues Festival. The location, weather, and downturn in the economy necessitated a one-off only festival.

Steve Kozak has also opened shows in Vancouver for the late Nick Curran and the Low-Life’s, Rick Estrin and the Night Cats, Maria Muldaur, The Lee Boys, Matt & Nikki Hill and ‘Super Harp’ James Cotton.

Another passion runs deep. Fly-fishing has given him another outlet for his energy. He regularly travels to the British Columbia interior to Loon Lake and other secluded lakes for the relaxing atmosphere of clear waters where he can cast his rod. He has even recorded the song “Goin’ Fishin”, on his latest CD. When talking about his enthusiasm for fishing he mentioned that he was looking forward to two weeks in the fall of nothing but fishing and enjoying his surroundings.

With the help of a Factor Fund, a private non-profit organization dedicated to providing assistance toward the growth and development of the Canadian music industry, Kozak was able to enlist the services of Matthew Rogers, as producer, and Shawn Hall, of the acclaimed The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer Canadian duo for his latest album. Along with his band members, Roger Brant, bass, Chris Nordquist, Dave Webb, “It’s Time” more than satisfies.

Although he has been a Vancouver fixture for many years the band has been successful with performances at the 2016 Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival; the 2014 Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival; Big Blues Bender All-Star Jam at the Riviera Casino lounge in Las Vegas; The El Macombo in Toronto, 2012; The Pender Harbour Blues Festival, 2010, 2013, 2014; Hwy 101 Music Festival; The Nanaimo Summertime Blues Festival, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2016: The Calgary Mid-Winter Blues Festival 2013; The Edmonton International Blues Festival 2010, 2012; Powell River Blues Festival, 2011, 2012 Rare Earth Music Festival 2011 (Vernon BC); The Maple Ridge Blues Festival, The Gastown Chili and Blues Festival in Vancouver. This certainly speaks well for Kozak’s popularity with music lovers.

Naturally, the conversation got around to preferred gear. Although he owns nine guitars there are favorites. His first axe was a Bill Nash Telecaster from Olympia, Washington. Now on the road and for home gigs he plays a 1962 ES-330 Gibson Thinline Fully Hollow Electric ArchTop. His strings are the new D’Addario NYZL 10/46 that come coated so that they do not corrode. Laughing, he highly recommends these strings, as they do not require changing that often.

Quilter Amps endorses a solid-state lightweight amp that he really enjoys taking to gigs. Roger Brant, bass player, sold him on the idea of using Quilter as Brant uses an 800-Watt amp that is lightweight.

The need for lighter weight gear came about because of his 2006 serious life-threatening surgery. This was right when his “Hoot n’ Holler” CD was being worked on.  The surgery put his career on hold until the matter was resolved.

In January 2016, Kozak had a total hip replacement. He has worked hard at rehabilitation. He was back sitting, playing at his gigs three months later. Workouts in the swimming pool continue to make sure all strength returns to normal. He advised that it really requires a good year to get over this particular surgical procedure.

The very interesting backstory of Vancouver born Kozak is that he has always loved being around horses.  He and his wife, Sue, have ridden for decades.

At one time, he was a certified registered farrier shoeing horses. With working at local racing stables, farms, and other areas in the province of British Columbia who needed this particular service it gave him great satisfaction to be with the animals he loves. His conversation is fully of interesting stories of working with horses, including self-effacing laughter about some of his experiences. His favorite possession, from the years working with horses is a handsome custom-made saddle that sits proudly in his living room. A current goal is to get back riding again when all the healing from the hip replacement has taken place. He misses being in the saddle.

When asked the proverbial question of what comes first, instrumental or vocal, the response is a hearty laugh. He loves to walk. During these daily constitutionals, lyrics seem to flow easily in creating new ideas for a tune.  More stories and low chuckles fill the conversation when talking about the original tunes on It’s Time. He is proud of the work he has done and grateful to have so many friends in the music industry that have helped him along the way.  Special acknowledgements go to Holger Petersen, of Stony Plain Records and CBC Radio’s Saturday Night Blues, Duke Robillard, James Harman, Cam Hayden, Brent Zwicker, and Paul Norton.

Here is a musician who has learned his craft exceptionally well.

By Suzanne Swanson©