Steve Klingaman is a guitarist/singer/songwriter with an ear for American roots. Born in Chicago, his credits include a solo stint in New Orleans, the mid-70”s folk band Harlequin in Montreal, the San Diego-based alt band Streetlife, and the Beat Freaks and Body Politic in San Francisco. His personal approach to songwriting is influenced by the study of poetics with poets like Diane DiPrima and Robert Duncan. He currently writes and records in his own NoName Studio in Minneapolis and operates Humuncules Music, a boutique music production and publishing company.
Raised in the Chicago area, his first band in the sixth grade learned the ropes with classic garage fare like “Hey Joe,” “House of the Rising Sun,” and “I’ve Got My Mojo Working.” At 19, went to New Orleans with his acoustic guitar and the intention to work as a musician. He landed a 2 a.m. gig at the Wrong Place Saloon in the French Quarter and within a year was a weekend headliner with after-hours gigs on Bourbon Street. His style was anything acoustic, from Hank Williams to Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.
Steve moved to Montreal to attend McGill University, where he met violinist Joel Zifkin and co-founded the band Harlequin. The band got its start performing early English ballads and played its first gig at Redpath Hall in 1974. The trademark sound of the band was built around acoustic guitars and harmony vocals, complemented by Joel’s stunning violin work, on originals and traditional folk songs and covers. Harlequin was known for extended, intricate instrumental passages that featured Joel’s violin over Steve’s fingerpicked acoustic guitar.
Over time, the band was home to more than a dozen members including Ellen Shizgal, Linda Morrison, Howard Engel, Jim Dobbins, Suzanne Unger, Liz Tanzey and Gilles Bernard.
The band performed regularly at the Yellow Door, Golem Coffeehouse, Rainbow Bar & Grill, and throughout Quebec. During the summers, Steve and Joel sometimes street-sang on Ste. Catherine Street. Twenty-five years later, Joel and Steve recaptured some of that vibe on Steve’s CD “Packwood” in Morris Apelbaum’s Silent Sound Studio in Montreal. Morris was Harlequin’s sound engineer and problem-solver-in-chief. He later owned Silent Sound Studio where his work received three Juno nominations and one Juno Award.
Steve left the band in 1977 and put together The Hard Times Review before moving to San Diego to form a band with John Kargacos, his oldest friend and bandmate from that first mojo-working band. Streetlife was prolific, powerful, and it rocked. Somewhat out of place in San Diego, with the city’s fixation on a devolving disco scene, the band had a good run and Steve and John wrote a noteworthy catalogue of music that never saw vinyl, though they did release one single, “Lucky’s Cafe.”
After Streetlife, Steve moved to San Francisco to attend the graduate program in Poetics at New College of California, where he studied with a group of poets including Robert Duncan, David Meltzer, Michael Palmer, Duncan MacNaughton, Diane DiPrima, and others. After grad school, Steve rejoined the S.F. music scene as lead guitarist for a world beat band known as the Beat Freaks. When the Beat Freaks broke up, Steve formed Body Politic as a vehicle for his own songs. The band, a trio not unlike the Police in concept, was never intended to be such, but, as Steve put it, “We just couldn’t find anyone else who fit.”
Steve quit playing live after Body Politic folded in 1991. He taught himself recording engineering, set up a studio, wrote song demos, and cultivated a rootsier, singer-songwriter groove. In 1994, he began writing “Packwood.”
Drawing on his folk roots from New Orleans and Montreal, he constructed Packwood as a unified contemporary folk album, where the songs addressed a single, larger, theme—the disappearing family farms of the American Midwest. He released the album in 2001. His follow-up album, “Vanishing Point” (2003) addresses the unsolvable problems of romantic entanglements. It showcases his electric side and features Lenne Klingaman on duet and backup vocals.
Today, Steve is primarily a producer, engineer, and songwriter. His songwriting features a strong lyrical thrust and an increasingly eclectic approach to composing and arranging. He has written music reviews for the webzine Minor7th.com since 2002. His four releases—two CDs (at CDBaby), a cassette EP, and a 45 rpm single are available from Humuncules Music. In 2015 Humuncules Music released “The Heart Is the Hunter,” the debut album by his daughter, Lenne Klingaman, a marvelously talented singer and actress.