Steve Katz has lived more than nine lives in the music industry.
He’s a founding member of Blood, Sweat & Tears and The Blues Project. He was a “folkie” in Greenwich Village. He once backed up both Chuck Berry and Frank Zappa live. And he helped other bands get their start during his time as a record executive at Mercury Records in the early ‘80s.
On Saturday, April 8, Katz’s illustrious musical legacy will be on full display in two events at Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse.
Katz will perform a solo set at 8 p.m. with a setlist spanning his decades in the music business. Earlier in the day, at 3 p.m., Zoetropolis will host a screening of “What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?” a new documentary highlighting a relatively unknown chapter in the Grammy-winning band’s history that involves the U.S. government and, of course, the funky horn stabs of BS&T.
Katz will also host a post-film Q&A with audience members.
The story goes that Blood, Sweat & Tears, fresh off the success of two high-selling albums and a headlining slot at Woodstock, found themselves in a standoff with the U.S. government due to then-lead singer David Clayton-Thomas’s Canadian criminal record. In exchange for a residency visa for Clayton-Thomas, the band embarked on a state-sponsored tour to countries such as Poland, Yugoslavia and Romania to promote democracy abroad.
“Nobody really cared, so we never even really talked about it,” says Katz, 77, on the phone recently about the documentary. “It was us against the White House and the Justice department and the State department. John [Scheinfeld] the director came along and said, ‘There’s a story here. The government really screwed this up bad, and I’m going to get to the bottom of it,’ and he did.”
Katz said the tour played a large part in killing the band’s popularity. Blood, Sweat & Tears won an “Album of the Year” Grammy in 1970 for the bands’ self-titled album, beating the likes of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and Johnny Cash’s “At San Quentin.”
“The fact is that it really hurt us, and we sort of forgot about it after that,” Katz says. “Our popularity went downhill. We lost our base audience, which a lot of was counter-culture people, maybe a third of our audience. We were sworn to secrecy for a while, but then when we weren’t, nobody cared.”
Katz’s notable musical journey is chronicled in his 2019 autobiography “Blood, Sweat and My Rock ‘n’ Roll Years: Is Steve Katz a Rock Star?” Naturally, he’s got stories galore – and isn’t afraid to intersperse them into his live show.
In conversation, Katz can just as easily recall a weeklong Murray the K residency in 1965 or hanging out backstage with members of Cream and Wilson Pickett’s band as he does producing Lou Reed in the ‘70s.
Katz’s solo concert will show his lifetime passion for music, supplemented by pictures on a slideshow behind Katz as he performs. He says that these pictures range from the obvious, like a picture of a specific kettle of fish from the titular song “Kettle of Fish,” which recounts his early days in music, to more fun, like one of his mom hanging out with Alice Cooper.
“A lot of my show is kind of funny,” Katz says. “I look back on my time in the music business with a sense of humor. A quarter of the show is stand up … well … sitting-down stand up.”
With hundreds, if not thousands of concerts under his belt, it is understandable that one might slip from memory after 54 years.
“Well, people, I am really looking forward to returning to Lancaster,” Katz says with a laugh. “Now that I know that I played there before.”