stuart kimball

biography

Stu Kimball isn’t a jack of all musical trades. He’s a master.

Most fans know Stu from his high profile gig as Bob Dylan’s guitarist, but a coterie of A-list artists — rock legend Peter Wolf, pop diva Carly Simon, über producers Jimmy Iovine and Arthur Baker, and many more — know him as a rare combination of session player, producer, arranger, and live firebrand. Think of Stu as the music world’s John Wayne: a tall quiet man whom others depend on to get the job done.
Exceptionally well.
Every time.

“What’s really exciting for me is when things come together and you know you’re making music that’s special,” Stu says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in the studio or on stage, or if I’m supporting somebody or producing a session. I love it all.”

Although he too rarely takes the spotlight, Stu is also the voice and vision behind One Last Wish, a solo collection of smartly crafted and deeply soulful pop and rock tunes.

“Originally I was just planning to record some demos, but then we decided to keep going and finish an album,” Stu modestly relates. Modestly, because the self-produced One Last Wish is absolutely stellar. Its songs, like the title track and “Anybody Can Make Mistakes,” shimmer with unvarnished perfection. Every guitar note, every harmony, every twist of Stu’s burnished singing rings true. No wonder he’s so adept at helping other artists realize their dreams.

Stu’s own rock ‘n’ roll dreams began in the ’60s. “When I saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, that was it for me,” he says. “I loved everything about them: the music, the haircuts, the suits, the screaming girls. I knew I had to be a musician.” 

Stu’s parents, who were huge folk music fans, knew it, too. At age eight Stu started picking out tunes he heard in their record collection by the Kingston Trio and Pete Seegar on his father’s baritone ukulele. So they bought Stu his first acoustic guitar and he switched to the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

“What really got me was Hendrix,” Stu says. “I first heard Are You Experienced when I was 11 and I couldn’t believe what he did with the electric guitar. Then the first Led Zeppelin album came out. Hendrix and Led Zeppelin opened up the whole world of electric guitar for me.”

Today Kimball’s known for his own earthy, flexible brand of six-string. He’s played on sessions for Al Green, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Wolf, Debbie Harry, Carly Simon, Clarence Clemons, Diana Ross, Kate Taylor, Nona Hendrix, Stevie Nicks, Laurie Sargent, Robbie Williams, indie rockers Twinemen and Bob Dylan. Although Stu joined Dylan’s band in 2004, their history together dates back to 1985, when Stu played on Empire Burlesque.

The variety of talents on that list speaks to Stu’s wide stylistic embrace. At a moment’s notice he can dial up stinging blues licks, salty rock riffs, R&B boogie, or textural acoustic or electric lines — all with spare, soulful perfection.

“I’m planted in the ‘less is more’ school as a guitarist,” Stu offers, “but when somebody needs me to step up I’m there."

“My feeling is, I’m on a lifelong journey in music,” he continues. “I like to be taken to new places, and if it’s always about me, then I’m reducing my chances to learn and experience new things. Giving all of myself to somebody else’s music gives me a chance to use my imagination and stretch my chops in ways I might not have thought of. In a sense, you have to remake yourself every time.”

Even as a teenager Stu was in demand for his skills. His first paid gig was at a Manchester, New Hampshire, Knights of Columbus Hall, where he was brought in as a ringer on guitar — the only minor in the band and in the bar.

For a time he attended the St. Thomas Choir School in New York City, where he developed his ear for harmony and vocal performance. But the core of his education began after high school, when a band he formed with some friends from New Hampshire, Face To Face, got signed to Epic Records. In 1984 the group’s eponymous debut spawned a Top 40 single, the sweet and catchy “10, 9, 8.”

Face to Face would travel across the U.S. and to Japan and make two more albums, literally introducing Stu to both the world and the music industry. “It was a real learning experience,” he says, “but a very important part, looking back, was Jimmy Iovine and, later, Arthur Baker, who worked on Empire Burlesque, taking me under wing.”

Iovine, one of the decade’s hottest producers, admired Stu’s playing and was the first to hire him as a session guitarist. He also recruited the band for the soundtrack for Streets of Fire, and Face to Face sans lead singer Laurie Sargent, who provided the voice for actress Diane Lane, appeared in the film.

“Watching how producers approached their jobs got me more and more interested in producing,” Stu recounts. “It was great to see how deeply they got involved with their artists — helping to make songs better and making it possible for them to give their best performances. I decided I wanted to do that.”

Although most of Stu’s session work was in New York City, he began producing bands in Boston, where he lived at the time, and then on Martha’s Vineyard, where he relocated and became co-owner of a studio with Carly Simon. Stu produced a slew of local bands and began to expand his credits, working with roots outfit Black Number Nine, ska legends Bop Harvey, and New England blues group Fatwall Jack as well as co-producing Carly Simon’s The Bedroom Tapes and Peter Wolf’s Long Line.

He also played on an album for folksinger Kate Taylor with Dylan bassist Tony Garnier, a collaboration that would ultimately play a role in Stu joining Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour.”

Stu’s most recent production is Keep You Guessing by Neil Carswell, who co-founded the southern rock outfit Copperhead. They recorded the album in Nashville, where Stu moved with his fiancé Michelle Keegan in 2006.

Along the way Stu played in Simon’s band and formed a few groups of his own, including Drawn Butter, a union of New England club all-stars. But in the mid-’90s he began a new level of musical education when he joined former J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf’s group the Legendary Sleepless Travelers.

“Peter has been a huge influence,” says Stu. “He taught me a lot about what it means to be an artist, in every way. He’s one of the greatest performers to ever walk the stage — a great song and dance man who almost single-handedly brought old school R&B entertainment into the ’70s and ’80s mainstream, and then reinvented himself as an amazing songwriter and solo artist.”

In addition to sharing the stage with Wolf, Stu worked with Peter on two compilation tracks, co-produced 1996’s Long Line, and played on Wolf’s intimate, masterful Sleepless in 2002.

“What I took away from my time with Peter,” Stu observes, “was an understanding of how to define the difference between being good and being great, and a greater knowledge of how to listen.”

Stu’s friendships with Wolf, who was a teenager when he befriended Dylan after the icon moved to Greenwich Village, and with Garnier ultimately opened the door for Stu’s audition for the Never Ending Tour in 2004.

Besides performing with the greatest songwriter of the rock ‘n’ roll era, Stu played on Dylan’s Grammy winning 2006 hit Modern Times. He is also featured on six tracks on Tell Tale Signs, the latest release in the Bootleg Series.

“My job has had a big impact on my life,” Stu relates. “The words honored, humbled, and grateful come to mind.”

During the roughly six months each year when Stu’s off the road in Nashville he spends his time between production, playing on sessions, and writing songs.

“What’s exciting to me,” says Stu, “is the idea of making music as much as possible in as many ways as possible. Creating a great song or helping somebody else create a great song is bigger than yourself. It’s for everyone.”

© 2006 Stu Kimball. All Rights Reserved.