At 21, Keith Kozacik recorded his first song about smoking dope, and three decades later, he’s still going strong. Reefer Hound collects 16 cuts from his back catalog, ranging from Cab Calloway (“Walk Across the Ocean”) to Kansas Joe McCoy (“Weed Smoker’s Dream”), Trixie Smith (“Jack, I’m Mellow”), Jack Teagarden (“Texas Tea Party”), and Catfish Keith himself. That’s a helluva lot of ground to cover on acoustic guitar, and Keith does it all in high style.
He’s a master of technique, playing with bucketloads of bends, slaps, slides, stomps, pops, chimes, growls, and moans to give these songs a special kind of been-there-smoked-that slyness. That sense of drama really brings the guitars to life, especially his 1930 National Duolian and his 12-string Ralph S. Bown Stella, lending a surprising subtlety to these 1930s and ’40s novelty numbers.
Best of all, no two songs here sound alike, and no matter how spare the tunes, Keith leaves plenty of room for blues, with darker harmonies, lingering minors, and lonely, rumbling basses that conjure up memories of one too many early mornings. There’s the slow bending “Why Don’t You Do Right,” the only one of these songs with mainstream cred, followed by the up-tempo scatting of “Nagasaki,” covered 80 years ago by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. And there are Keith’s own songs, like “Blotted Out My Mind,” “Put on a Buzz,” and the Blind Blake-inspired “Getting Away with Something,” which party perfectly with these period pieces, sometimes jazzy, sometimes syncopated, and always smoking.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.