On Saturday night, I was fortunate enough to attend The BamBoo Room's first ever Halloween Costume Party, featuring the slide guitar magic of Catfish Keith. It seemed only appropriate to be seeing a performer whose first inspiration to play the blues came from listening to the song "Death Letter" by Son House.
At the age of 37, Catfish Keith (a.k.a., Keith Daniel Kozacik) has become a celebrated performer of the deep Delta blues. In the 1970's, while his teenage companions were gorging themselves on disco and heavy metal, Keith was burying himself in the music of Delta blues masters like Son House, Charlie Patton and Mississippi Fred McDowell. His influences were numerous and he has had the opportunity to learn directly from such blues giants as Johnny Shines, Honeyboy Edwards and Jesse Mae Hemphill, among others.
In 1984, the 22 year old Catfish Keith recorded his first album on Kicking Mule Records, Catfish Blues. Since then, Keith has recorded six more albums, all on his own label (Fish Tail Records), including his latest recording, Pony Run (FTRCD006). Two of his recordings, Jitterbug Swing (FTRCD002) and Fresh Catfish (FTRCD004), were nominated for W.C. Handy Awards in the "BEST ACOUSTIC BLUES ALBUM" category in 1992 and 1995 respectively.
Catfish Keith (he got his nickname because of his unusual swimming style), performed a nice mix of original and cover material at The BamBoo Room in front of a large crowd, decked out in a wide array of Halloween costumes. With many of the songs, Keith seemed to embellish the names as he introduced them. For instance, "Way Out West" from his 1995 recording, Fresh Catfish, suddenly became, "Goin' Way Out West, Where The Eagle Builds A Nest." Even better was his renaming of the song "Nineteen Bird Dogs," from the 1991 recording Pepper In My Shoe! (FTRCD001) which was magically transformed into, "I Got Nineteen Bird Dogs And One Sloppy Hound; It Takes All Them Puppies to Run My Baby Down." His description of these songs was humorous and helped him to build a rapport with the audience.
Keith opened the show on his National Steel-bodied guitar with an original tune called "Cool Can Of Beer." Unlike many of the acoustic performers that I have seen at The BamBoo Room, Keith plays standing up, constantly maintaining a rhythmic foot stomping during each song. His guitar style is amazing; at times sounding as if he is playing two guitars simultaneously. His vocals are strong and varied, ranging from a gravely growl to a rich deep baritone depending on the tune.
Prior to playing "Blues At Midnight," Keith took a few moments to talk about Jesse Mae Hemphill and how her hypnotic musical style inspired him to write the song. Later, he used the song "Nineteen Bird Dogs" to reference his opportunity to play briefly with the late Johnny Shines in the 1980's, indicating the tremendous impact that Shines had on his music.
The evening's entertainment was not strictly limited to Delta musicians and Delta songs. With songs like Blind Willie Johnson's, "By and By, I'm Going To See The King" and Clifton Chenier's, "Pepper In My Shoe!" Keith introduced elements of gospel and zydeco into his performance, offering "Delta-fied" arrangements of these two songs.
It is amazing how quickly time goes by when the music is so captivating and the performer so personable. Catfish Keith is a truly amazing guitarist and a quiet man with a genuine love for roots blues. He has a subtle sense of humor that is conveyed both in his talk and his music. It was definitely another great night at The BamBoo Room with Catfish Keith's special brand of Delta sounds.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.