Such skills probably serve Kiefer equally well in his nocturnal ventures as guitarist/vocalist/leader of the Rock Bottom Blues Band, which performs Friday at Houck's Grill in Marietta. For, as any good bandleader should, Kiefer aims for just the right blend of musical flavors to please his patrons.
As the name implies, Rock Bottom's repertoire is comprised of plenty of blues -- roughly two-thirds of the show -- but Kiefer watches the crowd and adds other stylistic ingredients as the situation dictates.
"We love the blues; we love what it's about. But the fact of the matter is, it's a lot of 'one-four-fives' [a reference to the structure of blues songs, which typically are a 12-bar cycle built around the first, fourth and fifth notes of the major scale]. If we read an audience and see that there's an opportunity to go in a little different direction, we do."
For Rock Bottom, such digressions might include the Dave Mason chestnut "Feelin' Alright," the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues," the Rolling Stones' "Can't Always Get What You Want," and tunes by Jackson Browne, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, to name a few. The Dylan and Young material recalls the earliest days of the band, which formed in 1995 as an acoustic trio featuring Kiefer, harmonica/saxman David West and bassist Jack Kaplan.
"We worked the coffeehouse circuit," Kiefer recalls. "We'd play Keb Mo', acoustic Allman Brothers. We'd also take a lot of different [electric] songs -- like B.B. King's 'How Blue Can You Get' -- and convert them into an acoustic style."
The East Cobb resident formed the band after moving to the Atlanta area from Florida. His father was a jazz guitar player in the U.S. Navy band during World War II. "He played a lot at the house when I was growing up, and had a lot of cool friends who would come over and jam. I was taken with it," says Kiefer.
With some initial instruction from his father, Kiefer began learning jazz guitar but soon became more attracted to blues. "I gradually came around to the blues as a writer and a reader. I was fascinated with the history of the blues and with the lyrics," he says. "I liked a lot of the arrangements that some of the Brits were doing with American blues, and at the same time, I was influenced by the folk and folk-rock music that was going on at the time."
So it seems logical that the original trio eventually would move past its acoustic roots. After a year-and-a-half, they added drummer Towson Engsberg and, later, keyboardist Doc Lundquist, enabling them to tackle the full-blown electric feel of Chicago and Texas blues. But if the moment is right, the group will still play a full or partial acoustic set. Spontaneity is a key ingredient, Kiefer says.
Blues standards like Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do," (best known by its lyric, "You got me runnin'...") are fair game in this setting, as the band often will rework tempos or arrangements to give a familiar tune a new twist.
"We're definitely an improvisational jam band. We don't have a road map," Kiefer explains. "We'll write a set list and inevitably, every time, it just goes away and we just play what we play. The solos are never the same twice, and we never do copies verbatim."
Such uncertainty probably wouldn't fly in the restaurant business. But for a band that performs frequently on a local level -- at the One Star Ranch, Hemingway's and other locales -- the mix is one Kiefer hopes will keep 'em coming back.
The Rock Bottom Blues Band performs Fri., Jan. 18, at Houck's Grill, 305 Village Parkway in Marietta. Show time is 9 p.m. $4. 770-859-0041. www.houcksrestaurant.com.
This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.