It was a relative who got Steve Kozak hooked on the blues.
“I had an older cousin that got me listening to Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter and stuff like that,” Kozak told the News Bulletin.
Eventually, Kozak began going to live blues performances in Vancouver and decided to become a performer himself.
“I got to meet Muddy Waters one time and I got to see Willie Dixon and all those guys and it just seemed like a real magical kind of thing,” Kozak said. “I had the good fortune to see those guys and hear them and that’s when I decided that is what I wanted to do.”
Since then Kozak has become a mainstay within the Vancouver blues scene and on Sunday (Aug. 24) he will be performing at the Nanaimo Summertime Blues Festival, which features a number of artists including Canned Heat, The Distributors, Jayden Holman, Ian Perry, The Soul Shakers and Jim Brynes.
“It is a great festival,” said Kozak, who has performed at the festival before. “It’s really nice that they invited me back. It’s a great location and a good bunch of folks over there and so I am really happy to be involved again.”
Kozak, who has been performing regularly since the 1980s, has released albums, Hoot ‘N Holler and Lookin’ At Lucky, and is getting ready to begin working on a new album.
“I am still fairly new at the songwriting thing,” Kozak said. “I am working on it and I hope to get back into that mode soon and start working on another album. I’ve been very busy with playing and getting things organized that way the last little awhile, but now it is time.”
For Kozak and other West Coast blues artists, the live music scene has been feeling a bit of the blues lately, which can be attributed to a number of factors including an aging demographic and economic hardship.
“The hard part is getting younger people to be exposed to it and hear it and come out and enjoy it and when they do come out they enjoy it.” Kozak explained. “The overall crowd is getting older and sort of more settled … a lot of the people have moved out of the suburbs and are not so close to downtown anymore.”
Another factor has also been a lack of venues and increased touring costs.
“Bands used to be able to jump in a van and go out for a couple months and there were lots of places you could play,” Kozak said.
He suggests that because of Vancouver’s geographical location there are fewer places to play than there are in places such as Alberta.
“For us here, you can play the Lower Mainland or we can go to the Island. Then it is basically like one or two venues from here to the Rocky Mountains,” Kozak explained.
Given Vancouver’s close proximity to Washington and Oregon, it would make more sense to tour those states. However, it isn’t as simple as getting in a van and driving across the border.
“That really is a challenge too because of the whole work permit issue,” Kozak said. “If you go down to play a festival then it is not so difficult but you still have to jump through a lot of hoops and there is a lot of paperwork and money that you have put up.”
In fact, Canadian musicians wanting to perform in the U.S. must apply for a visa through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which can cost upwards of $325.
“As far going down and legally trying to play clubs it is really a challenge,” Kozak said.
Fortunately, Kozak has noticed an recent increase in people attending live blues shows in the Vancouver area.
“Just when I thought things were on the downturn, it seems since the new year that things are really starting to pick up,” he said.
Steve Kozak performs at the Nanaimo Summertime Blues Festival on Sunday. For more information on the festival, please visit www.nanaimobluesfestival.com.