A founding member of 1960s rock outfit Blood Sweat and Tears, Steve Katz is the owner of three gold records, one platinum record and three Grammys. The influential Jewish guitarist performed at the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, and he has sold close to 29 million records.
Despite his sterling résumé, Katz spent his entire career at the edge of the spotlight, never becoming a solo star. As a result, his memoir, “Blood, Sweat, and My Rock ’n’ Roll Years,” is an authentic and personal look into one of the most interesting times and places in American history: the counterculture and folk/rock scene of the 1960s.
On Nov. 18, Katz will appear at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center with a mix of stories and songs.
AJT: What was your inspiration for sitting down and writing this book?
Katz: Being 70 years old, I think all of us older people that went through the ’60s in rock are writing books now. Of course, my friends and relatives all told me to write a book because I have all these great stories. I did meet some amazing people and did some amazing things, like playing at Woodstock and Monterey and winning Grammy Awards, so I thought maybe it’s time to write something.
AJT: As you say in the book, you’ve played at Woodstock, and you have so many accomplishments in music, but your neighbors don’t even know who you are.
Katz: When you’re part of a band of eight or nine people, the good part about it is that you can be sort of anonymous. The bad part is that you’re not really considered a solo celebrity. To me, actually, there’s no bad part about it. It was nice to be anonymous within the band. The band was the star in those days.
AJT: Is that how you always envisioned it would be?
Katz: I always looked at it like I was on the outside looking in. I would think, “Wow, this is really strange what’s happening” — the fact that I just got off the phone with Martin Luther King or Tennessee Williams. I never looked at it as anything but fun. It was always, “Why me?”
AJT: I noticed that your book is filled with Jewish terminology and language. I think the words schlepping and minyan were used multiple times. What’s your Jewish background like, and were you always using those kind of words?
Katz: Oh, no, those were words that I grew up with. These were terms that my parents used all the time.
AJT: What’s your favorite story that you ended up getting into the book?
Katz: There’s so many that I think are very funny. The first Lou Reed album that I produced, “Rock ’n’ Roll Animal,” the fact that I ran out of an applause track and we used John Denver’s from one of his concerts is very funny. Also, when we took Lou to the Anne Frank house, as sick as that is, it was a funny experience.
AJT: Who were some of the bands that you think Blood Sweat and Tears influenced the most?
Katz: I think in a way we influenced Chicago because it was sort of Electric Flag and then Blood Sweat and Tears and Chicago. They were like our kid brothers.
AJT: Once you finally had a hit record in 1968 with Blood Sweat and Tears, how did your life change?
Katz: Well, it went from low rent to high mortgage payments (laughs). I lost a lot of friends because most of my friends were leftist and purists. I was having hit records at a time when commercialism and materialism were frowned upon. On one hand I had success, but on the other hand I’m losing my friends because it’s not cool to have a hit single.
AJT: If you could go back, is there anything you would do differently?
Katz: Yeah, I would probably get rid of a few people in the band who took us in a jazz direction. That was never really where I wanted to go and was ultimately the downfall of the band. Al Kooper and I started the group as a rock ’n’ roll band with horns. If I could change anything in my career, I probably would have pushed at that rock ’n’ roll part of Blood Sweat and Tears more.
AJT: You’ll be presenting your book Nov. 18 at the JCC. What can people look forward to?
Katz: It’s interesting because most people at this festival are doing a talk about their book, but my talk is really part of my concert. So it’ll be story then song, and it will be in chronological order. I love doing it, and the audience seems to love it. I’m having a great time, and I’m really looking forward to coming to Atlanta.