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No Stones Left Unturned in Catfish's Passway

Article by Jessica Fischoff - The Daily Iowan
Published: Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Photo by Hattie MilesCatfish Keith sings the blues. And the 42-year-old acoustic-guitar-playing singer is quite happy about it. In fact, he is ecstatic that he has been able to turn his childhood dream and love of blues into a successful musical career.

Catfish Keith, formally known to the world as Keith Daniel Kozacik, was born in East Chicago, Ind., before moving with his family to Davenport when he was 5.

There, Kozacik fell in love with folk music and picked up the guitar when he was a teen, hoping to learn how to play it. He immediately turned his attentions toward the acoustic fingerpicking tradition of blues guitar after hearing a recording of blues legend Son House.

He attended the UI for a year and then determined that his destiny did not lie in academics - he wanted to become a guitar player.

"I was interested in how the fingerpicking sounds like two or three guitars, and when it's done right, it plays all the music," he said. "The Delta blues style was so direct to the soul. I wanted to soak up some of that."

He began to travel the country, performing gigs where he could get them, meeting many famous blues musicians along the way. He moved as far away as the Virgin Islands, where he worked as a lobster diver on a sailboat. It was there that he earned the nickname "Catfish" - one of his co-workers commented after seeing him swim that he was nothing but a "catfish swimming around."

When he returned to the United States and began to play more shows, announcers had difficulty pronouncing his Slovak last name, so he took the name Catfish Keith, and the name stuck with him as much as his music has with his fans.

He doesn't fit the stereotype of the classical blues guitarist and singer. A small-framed, pale, curly-haired man with a youthful face and a laid-back demeanor, the rich twang in his voice and his mastery of the bottleneck slide are quite unexpected.

Instantly after hearing one of his songs, one loses all doubt on his ability to master the blues - he is a virtuoso of the music he has been creating for more than 20 years. 

Catfish Keith, who has played with such famed musicians as B.B. King, the Everly Brothers, and Z.Z. Top, cites more than merely his musical ability for his success; he has developed a unique style that sets him apart from many other blues musicians.

"I would always take an old song and make my own version," he said about his foot-stomping, get-up-and-dance, bottleneck slide guitar. "Back then, I only had old scratchy records to listen to. I had to use my imagination to fill in the blanks and make my own sound."

His ability to deliver this distinctive style has secured him a place in the hearts of blues fans.

He is not just a fish in a small pond. The musician has recorded nine albums, and he has an incredible number of tours behind him, including 29 throughout the United Kingdom.

This local celebrity's stardom extends to other parts of the world; he has large fan bases all over Europe and Asia. He has even had a racehorse named after him in England, but Catfish Keith loves returning to the sea of support he has in his home of Iowa City.

"I love coming home. It's a great place to live," said Catfish Keith, who will perform at a rare local show today.

Shortly after this performance, he will again depart for England to promote the release of his first DVD as well as the release of his album Tadpole Blues.

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