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  • Writer's pictureErin McCallum

Behind The Curtain: Steve Kozak


Steve Kozak

First-time readers of Behind The Curtain are always introduced with an explanation of its purpose; this column sets out to provide enterprising insight about the artists at the core of the Canadian Blues Collective.  This is achieved by having a direct conversation with the featured artist, and looking within their biography to find something worthwhile that cannot be found elsewhere. To explain further, the artists featured here have accessible, recognizable, and established careers/biographies – this allows for an in-depth investigation that cuts straight to answering questions that remain after knowing what is documented already. It is always encouraged for readers to seek information about the featured artists via other resources; the content that is put ‘on the record’ in Behind The Curtain stands alone, however, there is much more to learn about the artists of mention.  It’s also a fair expectation that in learning more about the featured artist via this article, readers will also gain further insight into the Canadian Blues Collective, as a whole. For this edition of Behind The Curtain, there’s merit in uncovering more about singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Steve Kozak.

 

         Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Steve Kozak has been an independent artist, immersed in the Canadian Blues music scene, for over three decades. He has been stationed on the west coast of Canada for the majority of his career, however, his music has garnered attention outside of his locale; perhaps the fairest proof is provided in noting his Maple Blues Award (2012) and his Ambassador of the Blues recognition issued by the Blues Underground Network.  He has four albums to his credit, which have made it to the Roots Music Report top 50 (album, Soul Blues charts), and his original works have been featured on radio playlists in Canada, Europe, and the United States.  In addition, Kozak has shared the stage with artists such as Duke Robillard, David Vest (who is also a BTC alumni), and Lee Oskar, to name a few.  The list of achievements is more extensive, however, the information provided here offers enough to justify an objective investigation. 

 

         Given the length and attributes of his career, it is reasonable to think that Kozak can offer readers a glimpse behind the scenes by sharing his own experience, process and/or thoughts.  In knowing that Kozak is an independent artist, the first curiosity was to find out what he thinks are some key elements to staying on the Blues scene as an independent artist.  When asked, Kozak offers:

 

         Being a bandleader is key for me. Releasing new material is also a way of staying relevant.  We have social media now, so keeping people informed and letting people know about things that are happening is also useful. In being able to advocate for yourself through promotions and a self-directed approach, there’s ultimately more control over your career. I’m someone who believes in the idea that you’ve got to be the one who ‘drives the bus’.  Networking is also a great way to interact with other musicians and people who are on the scene; it’s important to know what the scene looks like, and important to know people who are part of it.”

 

          In learning some of Kozak’s principles and practices that keep him immersed and active as an independent artist, it is fair to find out what he thinks is challenging in today’s Blue’s scene in Canada as a performing artist. His answer highlights some issues that have been shared by musicians across the country, and Kozak offers something that examines the industry in a broader way:

 

           “We all lost so much momentum, with the covid-19 pandemic, across the entire music scene.  Another thing that can be challenging in Canada is travel; Canada is a big country, and the cost of travel is something that can present quite a challenge as well.  When I think about the Blues in general, getting new listeners and retaining a younger audience is also an ongoing challenge; Blues is a niche market. It’s not that new or younger listeners don’t like it – they do; it’s a matter of getting a new audience exposed to it effectively.”  

 

            In this particular conversation with Kozak, the complete content that’s been put on the record is enterprising, however; there is still opportunity to look within his biography to gain more insight about him as an artist. Although his career is documented, the remaining curiosity is in knowing how Steve Kozak initially arrived at the Blues. Kozak’s story is what validates the question:

 

            “When I was like seventeen, a cousin of mine introduced me to Johnny Winter, and Willie Dixon and the old Fleetwood Mac stuff – and I started to play guitar shortly after.  I saw Muddy Waters in 1977. He ended up playing a five-night stint, and we (Kozak and the person he attended the concert with) ended up talking to him on the first night. He invited us to be his special guests backstage, and we spent the next four nights talking and hanging out with him. I don’t want to sound cliché, but Muddy basically encouraged the idea of keeping the Blues alive.  The truth is that there were not a lot of players like Muddy out on the scene at that time, and he was so encouraging about the idea of keeping this music alive – that is one of the things that sealed the deal for me.”

 

            It is noteworthy to acknowledge that during the course of Kozak’s time as a Blues player, an entire generation has passed. By writer/researcher account, the last living Blues artist that was part of what is known as The Great Migration (the northward exodus of black Southerners) is Buddy Guy (who boarded a train to Chicago from Louisiana in the fall of 1957).  To offer readers context, Muddy Waters brought his Delta Blues style to Chicago in 1943 during The Great Migration, and modified his Delta sound; he is aptly credited by many as one of the artists who had a major influence in transforming the Blues genre during that period of time. In present times, the idea that a young or emerging artist might have access to Kozak’s experience is impossible.  In addition to that generation of artists being virtually gone, the live music landscape itself has changed – the most obvious example is the fact that five night residencies in Canada are also a thing of the past.  

 

            While objectively quelling the curiosities that remain, after understanding a 30-plus year professional record, Steve Kozak offered reader’s insight that has not been found from him elsewhere.  In taking people ‘behind the curtain’, by putting his own thoughts and experiences on record, he has, perhaps, shone a spotlight on some broader issues in the Canadian Blues Collective worth reflecting on. All of his answers are reasonably threaded with the awareness that keeping the Blues alive is a responsibility that’s greater than ‘getting the next gig’. 

 

As this edition of “Behind the Curtain” draws to a close, I trust that readers of all varieties have gained something more about the artist of mention, and it inspires further independent investigation. Every artist featured in this column has a professional record that cannot be covered here, so it is always encouraged to find out about the music and career that substantiates these conversations. In Steve Kozak’s case, there is a direct connection to his own experiences and challenges, and, by observation, the Canadian Blues landscape, as a whole.  This article is a regular monthly contribution, published exclusively in the Sound Café magazine with the intention of providing a deeper insight about the Canadian Blues artists who are at the core of the Blues music Collective.    


Steve Kozak

Photo Credit: Sue Kozak.



Erin McCallum

Touring blues musician, Erin McCallum's formal post-secondary education was in media studies (news, radio), graduating from Humber College in Ontario, she went on to be mentored by Canadian News Hall of Fame inductee, Robert Holiday, and she is a regularly published writer in music and investigative journalism, having focused on music for the last six years. Erin has an exclusive monthly column in The Sound Cafe featuring musicians and industry professionals from across Canada who work predominantly in the Blues & Roots genres. 


Photo Credit: Nick Harding.


Erin McCallum. Big Voice. Big Sound.


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