By Greg Haymes
Steve Katz ended up with a long, illustrious and very successful musical career – including a Grammy Award for Album of the Year – but it was almost derailed before it got started.
Back in the 1950s, Schenectady’s Steve Katz was just another local 12 or 13-year-old kid when he began performing on WRGB-TV’s “The Teenage Barn,” a live, half-hour music and variety show that featured the talents of Capital Region teens. Katz sang the hits of the day – songs by the likes of Pat Boone and Frank Sinatra – and he soon became a regular on the show, which aired from 1948-1966.
When the WRGB-TV studios moved from Scotia to Niskayuna in 1957, the producers wanted to make the first “Teenage Barn” from the new studio an extra special event. Katz was invited to perform, and the producers assigned him “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” from the movie “State Fair.”
His penchant for procrastination made that night less than grand, however…
“Now, I’m a musician and for all of my life, whenever I’ve had to do homework, I never did it until the hour before the class when it was due,” he admits somewhat sheepishly. “So I came to the studio on the day of the show, and I told them that I just couldn’t memorize the lyrics to the song.”So someone on the staff typed out the lyrics for him, and the show went on the air. Katz sang the first verse, the first chorus and then… he blanked out.
“So I looked down at the lyrics that they had typed out for me, and it was all single-spaced. I just couldn’t see a thing. I couldn’t find my place. So what was supposed to be a live 30-minute TV program turned out to be 35 minutes long,” Katz recalls with lingering embarrassment. “And I got fired that night.”
That kind of humiliation might send any sensitive youngster into long-term therapy or at least dash his show-business dreams. But not Katz, who returns to Nippertown to play a solo show at WAMC-FM’s The Linda on Saturday night.
After a year at Niskayuna High School, Katz moved to New York City in 1960 and eventually launched a stellar musical career that included co-founding three ground-breaking bands of the ’60s – the Even Dozen Jug Band (with John Sebastian, Maria Muldaur, David Grisman and others), the Blues Project (with Al Kooper, Danny Kalb and others) and Blood, Sweat & Tears (again with Kooper and later David Clayton-Thomas), who scored an Album of the Year Grammy Award for their self-titled sophomore album – as well as the ’70s all-star group American Flyer.
He also launched a behind-the-scenes music career as a producer (Celtic rockers Horslips, folk-rocker Elliot Murphy and classic albums Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, Sally Can’t Dance and Live for Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Lou Reed. In addition, he spent three years as the head of A&R for Mercury Records East Coast office and five years as the managing director of the Irish folk music label, Green Linnet Records.
Steve Katz’s performance at The Linda at 8pm on Saturday (September 7) promises to be a memoir in music, with plenty of inside stories only he can tell… Ramblin Jug Stompers will play a short opening set. Tickets are $18.
ALSO READ: Five Firsts: Steve Katz