catfishkeith.com - String-Twanging Home of Catfish Keith
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How did you get named Catfish?
A: Way back in the old days, in the dawn of the 1980’s, I lived for a time in the Virgin Islands, crewing on a sailboat. There was a fellow I used to go lobster-diving with who used to pull my leg, saying, “You ain’t nothin’ but a catfish swimmin’ around!” and “Hey Catfish-Steel-Guitar-Man!” I guess maybe he thought I swam funny, but the name Catfish stuck. My given name is Keith Kozacik, pronounced Ko-zah-chick, which is a Slovak name that I’m proud of, but, when doing gigs back then my name got butchered in every way imaginable. The defining moment in my name-changing decision was when I lived in Santa Cruz, California. I had a gig one time opening for Robert Cray there. When I got to the gig, on the billboard in front of the club it said “Tonight: Robert Cray with Special Guest Keith Kozyzylaczjyszlykyczylicik.” At that point I knew my given name wouldn’t work, at least in this country! So, remembering my island fishing partner, and with heroes like Howlin’ Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor and Madcat Ruth, I became a card-carrying member of the blues animal kingdom. I’ve gone by Catfish Keith ever since.
Q: How long have you been playing?
A: I started playing guitar in my early teens, in the mid-1970’s. So, over 30 years now. I always sang in school and church choirs growing up, so my understanding of melody, harmony, rhythm, and counterpoint started there, and those years of experience have informed what I do today as a solo artist.
Q: How did you get into country blues and solo guitar?
A: Ever since I was a little kid in East Chicago in the 1960’s the sounds of blues and folk music were ringing out. My folks both enjoyed many types of music and we always had LPs around the house. We had a Leadbelly record, a Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee record, Odetta, Johnny Cash, and others. When I got into solo fingerpicking guitar Leo Kottke fueled my imagination considerably. The startling discovery of Son House disturbed and haunted me, so much conviction and power; it was life-altering. I’ve never been the same since!
Q: What kind of guitars do you play?
My favorite guitars for slide and open tunings are the new Nationals. Particularly, the Baritone National. I have a Polychrome Tricone Baritone from National Reso-Phonic Guitars that I tune down to an Open B or B-flat tuning, what would normally be Open D on a regular National. I also use E or E-flat tuning on it for the Spanish, or normally Open G-type tuning. That’s the main one you’ll hear on my last four albums and on tour. The depth of tone and river-flow sustain is astounding.
Now I have a custom Baritone wood-bodied single-coned Estralita that is National’s very first! It’s a doozy, all lassoed in “cowboy rope” binding, it’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen, oh boy and the zound!!
Another new National that I’ve started playing in my shows is a 12-String Style 1 Tricone with a brass body and brass plated finish. That’s a real hummer and I’m over the moon with the brave new world of 12-string resophonic sound. I made my first recordings with it on my Sweet Pea CD.
Before I got into modern Nationals I had a 1930 steel-bodied National Duolian, which I loved. It developed a serious rust problem after accidently dropping it in the ocean, to the point where when you strummed it little tinkly bits of rusty dust would cascade to the ground.
For my acoustic, bare-fingered fingerstyle approach I use a fantastic guitar built by David Flammang. This guitar is called an EL 12-Fret Guitar, and has the cute, curvy lines very similar to my 1926 Gibson Nick Lucas Special. I'm using it on tour these days, and it has a depth of tone and sparkly brightness that has been a pure pleasure to play. David Flammang is a world-class luthier, and a great fellow, and I'm honored to play this wonderful guitar!
Q: How would I get ahold of guitars like this?
Vintage guitars are great, but I think for a hands-on guitarist (as opposed to a collector) that the new guitars are much better. You’ll have more than a lifetime of musical enjoyment ahead of you with new vintage-style guitars, and they have modern conveniences like truss rods, which makes life so much easier. In terms of sound and playability, Nationals, right out of the case, are cannons. I love ‘em! And, if you have quality pickups installed in a new National, that alteration only increases the value of your new guitar. I also offer the best deals and custom options, which you can't get in a music store.
Q: How are you amplifying your guitars onstage?
A: I use a combination of external mic and pickup. All of my guitars, as well as my foot-stomping board, have Highlander pickups installed. These seem to be the most “guitar-like” sounding pickups I’ve ever played, and when I started using them my life was improved considerably. Before that, for 20 years or so I was just using an external mic, which can get a fabulous sound in the right conditions, but often can be disastrous on windy festival stages, hard-surfaced rooms and other mic-only nightmare situations, where feedback rules. Now, using both, we get the best of both worlds, and since I’m always getting a good monitor sound, it has saved my body from over-playing, breaking tons of strings, tendonitis, etc.
Q: Do you always play solo? Why no band?
A: Usually I do play solo. Ever since I first heard solo fingerstyle guitar I was captivated with one person making the “whole band” sound. Before I knew one person could do all that, I thought it was two or three guitarists together! When I discovered at 15 years old that I could make all the music myself, and take it in any direction, man, that was for me. I had found it.
I do love to jam and record with others, but that solo vision remains to this day. It’s the purity and deep individual quirky expression, like Blind Willie Johnson sang, “What is the Soul of a Man” (or Woman). Plus, it’s so nice and easy for me and my wife and manager Penny to tour together, see the world and have a great life together. I truly love my job and I still feel like I’m getting away with something!
catfishkeith.com - String-Twanging Home of Catfish Keith