Yo HK!
An Interview With
Henry Kaiser: Experimental Guitarist
Part 3


PZ: You mentioned that you were working on an instructional video with Steve?

Yo Miles! Fillmore SF 3-4-00HK: Right Ė Steve and I are going to make an instructional video for Homespun Tapes in Woodstock, NY on getting good guitar tone together. Weíre both people who are fascinated by guitar tone and weíve studied up on it and have a lot of information to share.

PZ: Will you do it in Ďlaymanís termsí?

HK: Well, you know, in guitar lay persons terms. We want to make people understand how to think about pure sound and the concept of tone is in the widest sense. Tone color is a really beautiful part of music and people donít talk about it enough or think about it enough. You know the great guitar players Ė whether itís Steve, or Cippolina, or Billy Gibbons, or Carlos Santana, or Garcia Ė you can recognize them with one note from their tone and thatís a magic part of a personís sound. Each person has the potential to develop their own personal expression where they can be recognized that way and I donít think many people realize how easy it is to find the path to do that. We want to make it easier for people to express themselves uniquely as themselves Ė you know, say whatever they have to say.

PZ: You mentioned Bralove before briefly. Have you been collaborating on anything else with him recently?

HK: Well I played on one of his Dose Hermanos [HK also appears on this live album] albums just recently and heís making a new one and I guess Iíll put something on that. Weíre always trying to think of something new to do. Heís got a private concert coming up in April and Iíll go and play with him at that. Weíre good friends and we love working together. Heís been doing sound with us on Yo Miles!. We are happy to have him as a part of that new family. Itís great to have the big team with people we trust in things.

PZ: Do you two work together, I noticed a lot of your material is on the Shanachie label?

HK: I had a bunch of records since the success of David Lindleyís and my A World Out of Time on Shanachie. Iíve been able to con them into a number of other projects like Yo Miles! and I got them to put out Bob Braloveís Second Sight CD. [Sample some Second Sight here].

PZ: So, how often do you pick up a guitar?

HK: Rarely. To be selfĖmanaged, Iíll pick it up while Iím on the phone or while Iím walking around the house, but unless Iím recording in the studio or playing with people on stage itís not often Iíll play guitar. I donít have the temperament to practice.

(hear the following in RealAudio)

I wish I had the temperament that my friend Steve Kimock has to practice eight or ten hour a day, which he does do. Yo Miles! Fillmore SF 3-4-00He has incredible fluidity and gorgeous technique because of that, but I try to get by on my expressionistic abilities Ė like Steveís the great painter with an incredible brush technique while I try to throw a bucket of paint at the wall and make it land in some interesting way. You know there are two different approaches and thatís why we like working together. I noticed it disturbs Kimock fans if I get weirder when Iím playing with Steve but Iíll tend to try to get as far away from Steve as I can in what Iím doing Ė my ideas Ė so that weíre both covering and doing the different things that we do best. While I could play much more melodically as I do in other contexts and stuff, if Steveís there, then Iíll play less melodically Ė always. Who wants to hear both of us doing the same kind of stuff?

PZ: Do you use MIDI much anymore?

HK: I havenít done that much stuff with MIDI. Prior to ten years ago, I use to do a lot of TV film scoring; I had a synclaver and I would use the keyboard and that to do that kind of stuff. I made a couple of records where I would use the guitar to trigger the synclaver in the studio Ė like a record called Popular Science with Sergio Kuriokhin where we use the synclaver in the studio Ė and my solo CD, Devil in the Drain, but live I really only ever used it with a little piano module or once with an organ module and I never used it that much.

(hear the following in RealAudio)

Iím kind of interested in taking the analog sound from the guitar and processing it through digital processors to get strange sounds and things rather than triggering samples. MIDI is more about sequences of notes, one note following another in time, and Iím more interested in big shapes and space that turn inside out and break into different colors and explode. Thatís not really Western musical language so it doesnít really work so well for me. I could twist it to work for that but itís easier for me to do it the other way. You know, thatís what Iíve tried to add to psychedelic guitar myself Ė to add more of this kind of weird alien language from outer space, ideas from contemporary music, ideas from other world music cultures like Korean or Indian music that had psychedelic guitar Ė but I tried to drag the Korean music and Burmese music and all these other sounds that people arenít really familiar with into it as my way of pushing the boundaries.

Yo Miles! Fillmore SF 3-4-00If I identify myself as anything, I identify myself as an experimental guitarist Ėsomeone who tries something that has not been done before to see what happens and try to get new results. I think of that in the mad scientist way where you put the antenna up on the roof and connect up to something and see what happens. You know in the old psychedelic days they thought about that in the drug taking way where they would take psychedelic drugs to make that happen; but thereís many different kinds of antennae Ė thereís intellectual antennae, thereís scientific antennae. Then I also sometimes feel shamanistic Ė like Iím the person who stands between the audience and the other world and I can let the lightning hit me. Because of the way Iíve lived, the lightening can hit me okay and doesnít kill me and the audience can touch my hand and feel the lightning whereas it might kill them if the lightning hit them. I do feel that way Ė I feel it in both the experimentalist, mad scientist way and a shamanistic kind of way. Thatís how I see my job definition Ė experimental guitarist.

PZ: It was great to see you sit in with Phil for the SEVA Benefit (archived RealVideo of the 11/30/99 here).

(hear the following in RealAudio)

HK: Thatís kind of interesting because rather than being one of "Philís Friends," Iím technically a "Philís SEVA 11-30-99Acquaintance" because Phil didnít ask for me. Wavy Gravy was running the SEVA Benefit and he was the person who asked for me. So while Iíve known Phil over the years, I think Iím technically not a "Friend." I think Iím technically an "Acquaintance" Ė or I donít know if you can think of a better term (laughs) Ė but it was a great honor to do that because he is one of my favorite bass players in the world. My favorites who Iíve played with would have to be Phil, Michael Manring, Andy West, Jack Cassidy, and Mark Boston (who was Rockette Morton in SEVA 11-30-99Captain Beefheartís band), and Anthony Jackson Ė those are my favorite bass players in the world. Iím just in total awe of what Phil does on the bass and I always have been. Anytime in the Grateful Dead, Iíve always felt total awe and delight for his bass playing, whatever else may be happening.

PZ: How about the David Nelson Band guys? You played with them too. How was that?

HK: That was really fun, I got to meet the Nelson guys and play with them at SEVA too, and they were great. Barry Sless is a great guitar player and David Nelson is a fantastically subtle player and a fantastic rhythm player Ė the way he leads the band with his playing and improvisation Ė heís great. Heís a good songwriter too. Iíd heard his CDís and thought, "Oh, thatís nice." But then when Iíd learned the songs and listened to them I said, "Wow! These are really good songs. This guyís doing really interesting and creative work." That was a really nice experience through the SEVA Benefit. Incidentally Iíve heard that the Nelson Band wants to put out a live CD as a SEVA benefit with the whole show with Phil and their own set from that night. [Editorís note: DNB will try to make available the entire show for release sometime hopefully later this year, and we can hope for at least portions of it as a SEVA release. Things don't always go as planned so this is no promise, but stay tuned to for any developments.] So that may be documented as an accessible release. I wish we'd had time to rehearse with all of us Ė but there is still some good music from that show.

PZ: Thatíll be great! The fans would love it. So, there wasnít any significant rehearsal before the show?

HK: I got together one evening with the guys in the David Nelson Band. There was no rehearsal with Phil Ė that was just cold on stage.

PZ: You also sat in with the David Nelson Band again for Bill Grahamís Menorah Lighting?

HK: I did sit in with them and Merl Saunders was there too. Yeah, that was the same week and that was fun too. I played at the Menorah Lighting once before and I enjoyed that before too.

PZ: What was that all about?

HK: Thereís this one particular rabbi who likes that sort of music who organizes this big event of lighting the menorah there with music all afternoon and evening and it seems to be a really good event. Donít know much else about it.

PZ: Youíve been really popular in Japan. It seems like they really like your playing. Thereís a lot of Deadheads there but it seems that they really like you in particular.

HK: Well Iíve been playing a lot in Japan since 1978 Ė before there were Deadheads in Japan or anything like that. So itís just a place Iím comfortable going to. I speak a little Japanese, so I know how to get along and I have connections over the years so I do like going there a lot. I was just there with my friend Mike Keneally and we had a real nice show there.

PZ: What is it like to play to a crowd over there?

HK: Itís fine. Itís just like anywhere really Ė yeah, theyíre great. Iíve been really blessed that I usually end up in front of really enthusiastic audiences and that makes it pretty easy to play anywhere. You know, like the other night at the Fillmore, the audience did half the work for us.

PZ: At the Fillmore, did you feel something similar to what would happen at Grateful Dead scenes Ė you know the energy from the crowd "playiní the band"?

Yo Miles! Fillmore SF 3-4-00HK: Yeah, we definitely felt that. One thing I like that generally happens thatís different from the way the Grateful Dead scene was is an enthusiasm for the band as a whole. In the Grateful Dead scene, later on in the eighties and nineties, there was much more energy focused on individual people like Garcia, or Weir, or Lesh Ė people would focus huge amounts of energy on individual people Ė I donít know if thatís a healthy thing. I mean, when I saw the Grateful Dead in the very beginning, Pigpen could seem like the leader, that is what you felt from the house, but it was treated up through the seventies as really a very kind of cooperative thing. You related to the band and to the music as this funny animal with all these different parts like this misĖmash thing pasted together. I really like the way that the audience related then but it changed later on.

I could see how it was tough for Garcia in the last years Ė you know, "Jerry youíre God. Youíre the best" and to get up there when youíre having health problems and life problems and you might not play very well on a particular night and everybodyís still telling you that youíre God Ė itís not a healthy relationship with the audience. Thatís a challenge to guys in the Grateful Dead who continue to work with the scene to establish healthy things with the audience which I think Philís been doing with the Phil & Friends things. Heís not concentrating the energy unduly on himself Ė and he's varying the context to get the audience to really focus on the music and interactions.

PZ: It seems like heís definitely trying to spread it out. Heís anxious to get other peopleís takes on the music rather than recreate the Deadís sound and arrangements.

HK: You know I donít think there was something the Grateful Dead tried to do before Ė itís just the way it evolved. Through the glorious, beautiful and sometimes ugly and complex way the Grateful Dead is a giant organism including everybody who worked for it behaved.

(hear the following in RealAudio)

Itís been a really interesting phenomenon to watch from the outside. Iíve been lucky to get the close-up view of a few things. I was lucky and it was tough (here Iím being emotional) Ė it was tough to sit onstage next to Bralove on the side of the stage and look at Garcia on those gigs where heíd face the amp most of the time and see the expression on his face that you guys wouldnít see from the house, when he was having a hard time. That was a tough thing and I tried to learn something from that and it was hard to see your hero like that. Iíd often get more intimate views than a lot of fans would get and that was a good thing to have, but a tough thing to have too.

PZ: That probably changes your perception of the music scene in a way....

HK: As I was saying, itís such a complex thing. Itís hard to know. When you love someone as much as I loved Jerry, it could be tough... Everybody out there knows what it's like to love the guy because of his music and because of what you saw of his personality, but to seem him down and unhappy, that was a tough thing to watch, wasn't it?

PZ: Yes. Many focused much attention on him, but to know who the man really was Ė it kind of changes the myth...

HK: Yeah, and people can be wise or unwise with what they do with that attention. Itís a responsibility to the audience what they do with that attention too. You know, Iíd sure never want to be in the spotlight that much, no thanks. No thanks!

PZ: Yeah, thatís a real tough position to be in and it can rob you of your personal life. So what do you like to do in your spare time?

Yo Miles! Fillmore SF 3-4-00HK: I love to scuba dive. I taught underwater research for 17 years at UC Berkeley and I love to spend a lot of time in the ocean and I get really great ideas from scuba diving. I love nature. I spend a lot of time hiking or going to different places in nature Ė I really love that. I like to read a lot Ė Iím kind of an information junkie. I read a lot of books Ė a lot of fiction, a lot of science. I like to see movies a lot Ė I use to be a film and TV director a long time ago before I played guitar professionally. I like to do things that are experimental. You know, if I try to do something artistic Ė in my own pathetic way Ė like if I try to do ceramics or glass bowling for a while Ė I try to do it experimentally Ė try something crazy that nobodyís done to see what happens. (laughs)

PZ: Thatís a great approach! Keep surprising us and thanks for your time. It was a pleasure.


For more info on Henry Kaiser, check out - The Official Site

Henry recommends specific CDs here
And other video picks here

You can sample some of Henry's albums at
Buy HK's Shanachie releases at
Buy other CDs at

See the setlist and more photos from the 11/30/99 SEVA Benefit show here (thanks to Stan Russell and DNB).

Special thanks to Henry Kaiser
and the rest of the Yo Miles! family.

Yo HK! An Interview with Henry Kaiser: Experimental Guitarist
conducted March 7th, 2000 San Francisco Bay Area, CA

by Bret Heisler and Rob Lucente
©2000 and

All photos ©2000 Schnee (Kristen Schneeloch) and Rob Lucente, and All rights reserved.

This interview or any photos included may not be reprinted anywhere in
any form -- online or offline -- without the express written consent of However, we certainly encourage you to link here.