Friday, July 8, 2011

December 31, 1974: Stanford Music Hall, Palo Alto, CA: Kingfish/Osiris

The interior of Palo Alto's Stanford Theater as it looks in this century
When the Grateful Dead went on a performing hiatus after October, 1974, Deadheads were left in limbo. Although Jerry Garcia continued to perform regularly, there was little coverage of the band in the local papers, so no one had any idea of the band members plans or expectations. By the same token, even Jerry Garcia's performances rarely received any coverage at all, so many events occurred in a sort of vacuum limited to whoever attended them. If no account of an event can be found or recalled, they remain largely a mystery. One such event took place on New Year's Eve, 1974, when Kingfish and Osiris played the Stanford Music Hall in Palo Alto. This post will contemplate what little can be recalled or determined about this event.

An ad for the Osiris/Kingfish show at the Stanford Music Hall on New Year's Eve 1974, courtesy of Scott Bell.
Kingfish
Prior to the Grateful Dead's hiatus, Bob Weir was all but completely unseen in Bay Area nightclubs. Jerry Garcia performed regularly, of course, and Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh had performed occasionally with him. Even Pigpen was booked at a nightclub once, although I have no idea if he actually played. Weir, however, had not even made casual guest appearances around the Bay Area prior to 1974. Nonetheless, at the end of 1974 he began sitting in with the group Kingfish, and by year's end he had become a regular member of the band.

I have detailed Weir's performance history with Kingfish at some length, so I will only briefly summarize it here. Weir's childhood friend Matthew Kelly had formed the group in early 1974 along with former New Riders bassist Dave Torbert. Torbert and Kelly had played together in various groups prior to Torbert's joining the New Riders in 1970. The other members were drummer Chris Herold (a fellow traveler in various late 60s bands with Torbert and Kelly), guitarist Robbie Hoddinott and pianist Mick Ward. Ward died in an unfortunate auto accident and Kingfish was left wanting, but when Weir became available, his unique guitar style filled the hole created by Ward's piano playing. By the end of 1974, Kingfish had begun to play regularly around the Bay Area, with Weir and Torbert's name recognition as a draw.

The Stanford Music Hall
The Stanford Theater, at 221 University Avenue in Palo Alto (between Ramona and Emerson), had been downtown Palo Alto's oldest movie theater. Built in 1925, it had fallen prey to competition from numerous other theaters and a sort of rundown feel that one associates with 40 year old buildings. I had been there many times as a child to see one thing or another, but as the 70s wore on it increasingly showed second run films or other lesser features. Sometime in late 1974, some operators got the idea that Palo Alto needed a rock concert venue, and the Stanford Theater was renamed The Stanford Music Hall. Although the curtain was lifted on the stage, and no doubt some modern electronics were installed, there was otherwise very little changed in the building. I did see a show at the Stanford Music Hall in September 1975, but I believe the '74 New Year's Eve show was the first rock concert there, and the first time that the name "Music Hall" was assigned to the building.

For a reason I have not been able to determine, advertisements for the Stanford Music Hall used the address of 167 University. This address would have been half a block away (on the Emerson side of University), so it must have been a mailing address. I am a Palo Alto native, and recall the theater clearly, so there is no chance I am mistaking the Stanford Music Hall for something other than the renamed Stanford Theater. As I recall, the "Music Hall" intermittently showed movies during the period it was a rock venue, anyway--I distinctly recall seeing a rare theatrical showing of Neil Young's movie Journey Thru The Past there (don't rent it, really), and it was preceded by a short feature of Grand Funk Railroad playing their hit "We're An American Band," complete with a brief appearance by producer Todd Rundgren.

Kevin "Micky" McKernan, on stage in the mid-70s, possibly at the Keystone Berkeley. Photo thanks to and courtesy of Osiris guitarist Scott Bell.
Osiris
Around December of 1974, I recall seeing flyers for the Kingfish/Osiris show on telephone poles and the like around Palo Alto. I distinctly remember being nonplussed at the idea that the sleepy old Stanford Theater being renamed as a Music Hall, but I was in favor of any new rock venues that weren't bars. The flyers weren't anything special, but I wish I had one today. I do recall, however, that the flyers said that the opening act, Osiris, feaured Kevin McKernan. Locals knew that Kevin McKernan was Pigpen's considerably younger brother. This was kind of a Palo Alto thing--once Kevin rode by me on his ten-speed bike, and a friend said "look, it's Pigpen's younger brother," and it was like somebody from the cover of Live/Dead was going by.

Flyer for the October 31, 1974 show at USF Gym
Very recently I have been in touch with someone who was a childhood friend of Kevin McKernan. Among many other interesting insights, this correspondent said that Jerry Garcia in particular took a proprietary interest in Kevin's career. Garcia had invited Kevin (and my correspondent) to the Old And In The Way show at Homer's Warehouse in Palo Alto on July 8, 1973, and made a point of including Kevin in the backstage scene, such as it was. Kevin McKernan was the lead singer of Osiris, and the other members were Scott Bell, Kevin Moore, Sam Sheets and Al Day. Who played what isn't clear to me, but they had a conventional rock band set up (lead guitar, bass, drums and either another guitar or a keyboard (update: thanks to Scott Bell, I now have it clear: "Kevin Moore- lead, Keith Moore-Bass, Scott Bell-Rhythm guitar, Alan Day and John Handy Jr. on drums, and Kevin McKernan on B3 ( known as Micky to band members)...Soon after Keith and John Handy Jr. left and Sam Sheats came on bass bringing Paul Costa with him on drums").

According to my correspondent, Garcia made sure that Kevin McKernan's band Osiris had good equipment, apparently including some PA Cabinets that the Dead were no longer using. Garcia also made sure that Osiris got some gigs with various Dead spinoff bands that were playing around the Bay Area in late 1974. Osiris opened for the Garcia/Saunders group at USF Gym on Halloween, 1974, and they also opened for the Keith And Donna band at the Keystone Berkeley on June 14, 1975. Apparently, however, despite a level of talent and access to good equipment and some music connections, Kevin McKernan's downward spiral into too many excesses did not allow Osiris to capitalize on those possibilities. Kevin McKernan died too soon, apparently in the early 90s.


December 31, 1974
I would have loved to see Kingfish on New Year's Eve, and indeed I could have walked there. For all I know my parents would have let me go. Of course, I was of the age where it was more important to do whatever my friends were doing, so I did that instead, whatever it was, rather than see Bob Weir. I don't recall New Year's Eve 1974-75, and I certainly didn't meet a future or even prospective girlfriend that night, so in retrospect I should have gone to see Bob Weir, but my mind didn't work that way at the time.

Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia had played The Tangent in downtown Palo Alto in the 1964-65 period, at 117 University, and then moved on to greater things. The Grateful Dead had played a free Be-In near downtown, at El Camino Park, on June 24, 1967. However, while Garcia had played a few shows in downtown Palo Alto with the New Riders Of The Purple Sage in 1969, at The Poppycock (at 135 University), Weir had not had a paying gig in downtown Palo Alto since Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band Champions had played two blocks away at The Top Of The Tangent. Weir had grown up nearby, and he had probably been to the Stanford Theater at least once as a child. However, since I didn't go and didn't know anyone who did, I have no idea if Weir made any reference to his own past, or if he even noticed that he was a block from where he first met Jerry Garcia, at Dana Morgan Music, on Ramona Street.

I asked around school, however, and one person (the same guy who had recognized Kevin McKernan on his bike) knew someone who had gone . I was dying to know what Kingfish sounded like and what they had played--they had never been reviewed in the paper, and I had no idea whether they played original material, blues songs or samba music--but no such hearsay was forthcoming. My friend's one third or fourth hand insight was that seeing Osiris was eerie because Kevin McKernan seemed to be an absolute clone of his older brother. Whoever the original source of that story was, keep in mind that in 1974 there were still plenty of people around Palo Alto who had seen the Dead back in the day, and indeed may have known Pigpen personally, so this was not necessarily a subjective judgement.  Since Osiris faded away before I ever got a chance to see them, I was left with only this tantalizing bit of reflected analysis, never to be subjected to direct assessment.

Aftermath
I finally saw Kingfish, some months later. In fact, I saw them at the Stanford Music Hall, in September 1975 (probably Saturday, September 6). They were great. While some Deadheads sniff at the sameness of Kingfish live tapes, they were a terrific live rock band if you were there in person.

Hayward Daily Review, January 23, 1976
The Stanford Music Hall struggled on intermittently as a venue. Shows were put on as late as January 1976 (misdated in the Art Of Rock book as 1975), but by that time I was in college at Berkeley and didn't care about sleepy little Palo Alto. The rock venue venture soon died out, and the theater went into a further decline. Remarkably, in 1987 it was purchased by David Packard (of Hewlett Packard fame), himself a Palo Alto native, and restored to its former glory, a nice fate that we should all aspire to.

The New Year's Eve Kingfish/Osiris show remains largely a mystery. It definitely occurred, but I can find out nothing about it, particularly in relation to any uniquely Palo Alto features that it may have had. Like many events in the Grateful Dead universe, it shines just beyond visual range, with only the tiniest light beyond the horizon to mark its presence.
The Stanford Theater (nee Music Hall) at 221 University Avenue in Palo Alto, in June 2011

23 comments:

  1. I went to this show - one of about a dozen early Kingfish shows I
    caught in '74 and '75. Nothing out of the ordinary in the Kingfish
    set, but the highlight of the Osiris set was a stunning version of
    "Hard to Handle" sung by Kevin, looking and sounding for all the world like a younger, healthier version of his brother. I never saw them booked anywhere after this, or I would have gone to see them again.

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  2. I knew that someone had to have gone! Thanks for commenting. Do you recall if the show was sold out, and if there were any "Stanford Music Hall" shows prior to this one?

    Osiris is a curious case, indeed. They only seemed to have played shows headlined by Dead related bands, and very few of those. It's very interesting to hear your confirmation of a 4th hand Palo Alto rumor from long ago.

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  3. I think this may be right but I am embarrassed to say that my memory of the event is pretty thin! Not only was it 36 years ago, but the evening as I remember it was clouded in both some pretty strong smoke and two half pint bottles of Bacardi 151 rum that I had bought for the occasion and smuggled into the theater in my back pockets! I was back in Palo Alto for a visit shortly after I had left the town after High School, and my friend and former next door neighbor Kevin McKernan had invited me to the concert with a back stage pass. To be honest, this is about all I remember other than it did occur at the Stanford Theater which was in general disrepair at the time. I don't remember who else played. As they say, if you remember those days, you weren't there!!

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  4. Anon, thanks for the authentic concert memory. As I recall, the liquor stores in Whisky Gulch (East Palo Alto) were surprisingly flexible about IDs. Didn;t the McKernans live over on Santa Rita, near Embarcadero and Highway 101, or do I have that wrong?

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    1. McKernan family lived on Santa Catalina. You can Google it.

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  5. You are close..Santa Catalina. Last time I saw their parents was around 78 after Ron had died.

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  6. whoops, yes, Santa Catalina, Santa Rita is miles away. I later knew someone from that street (Byfield family), which is how I had an inkling of the location.

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  7. I think I was at the Halloween show at USF, at least I know I was at a show where Osiris opened for Merle Saunders.

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  8. I was at the Kingfish New Year's Eve show. It rocked, I can tell you that. I was right up front by the stage, and at one point a stagehand, or somebody, announced there was an after party at some location following the concert. I have periodically wondered about that invitation, to what I am sure would have been a pretty crazed scene.

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    1. Scott Bell here...rhythm guitar for Osisis...line up was Kevin Moore lead, Keith Moore Bass, Scott Bell Rhythm guitar, Alan Day and John Handy Jr. on drums, and Kevin McKernan on B3 ( known as Micky to band members...and his mom Esther)...It was a fun show...we made a bit of a name for ourselves in the Dead circle because our bass player Keith Moore got into a tussle with Rex Jackson over a 6pack of Heinnekin and he tossed Rex down a flight of stairs...what was noteworthy was that Rex gave Keith a pass(whew.
      Soon after Keith and John Handy Jr. left and Sam Sheats came on bass bringing Paul Costa with him on drums.

      Sam is still quite ubiquitous around the Bay Area...check out Sizemo.

      Osisis broke up typically...You know the old saying: "Sex, drugs, and rock and roll"...
      Well there just wasn't enough rock and roll.


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  9. Scott, thanks for the interesting inside perspective. Was John Handy Jr the son of the saxophone playing John Handy?

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    1. Yes.
      He only played a short while with us.
      Both the Stanford and USF shows were produced by our manager Paul Currier who just recently passed on.
      There was striking contrast between the Kingfish vibe and the Garcia/Saunders vibe.
      The Garcia/Saunders backstage scene was very uptight...there was an invisible line dividing the backroom... no chit-chat. The Kingfish show was super friendly and happy.
      This is telling...we were waiting in the alley at noon that day for the Stanford owner to open up. A nice Volvo pulled up...thinking it was the owner I went up to the window to greet him and there was Bob Weir. He was there to meet the Kingfish crew to set up the sound system which they were providing.
      When the truck showed up he popped open his trunk and pulled out and put on a carpenters belt and proceeded to pound nails and rig the sound with the crew.
      With the exception of the Heineken Tussle the show was like one big happy family reunion.

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  10. Kevin Moore here. Scott's memory is amazing. I didn't remember we had two drummers at that show, and although brother Keith was definitely wild at times, I don't remember him throwing anyone down the stairs. I remember that we had a blast opening for Kingfish, but I don't think we made any money; I don't recall there being a lot of people there. Ditto for the SF Halloween show we opened for Garcia/Saunders. I really liked Robbie's guitar playing.

    Another interesting Osiris tidbit: Scott plays the guitar left-handed and upside down. He did an amazing job of doing Weir-influenced rhythm guitar playing to my Garcia-influenced leads.

    We were basically a Grateful Dead wannabe band, and did mostly original material.

    Also, Kevin McKernan was a later addition to the band; I wouldn't say he was "featured", but I guess from a Deadhead perspective you could say that. Kevin and I wrote a song or two together, and he wrote a few others; one I really liked was called "Hook, Line and Sinker"; it sounded like a classic PigPen song. I think I wrote most of the songs, and Scott Bell wrote a few too. Scott can correct me if I'm remembering this incorrectly.

    Another well-known, Bay Area band we opened for was The Sons of Champlin at Frost Amphitheatre; I think in 1975. I think I had just heard Jeff Beck live in SF a night or two before this show (he was amazing), so my playing that day was heavier rock than usual.

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  11. Kevin, thanks so much for fleshing out these long lost details. Jeff Beck played Winterland (with Mahavishnu Orchestra) on Saturday, May 31 975, so I suspect the Sons/Osiris show was Sunday June 1.

    As far as saying Kevin McKernan was 'featured,' it was intended in the sense that he was a regular member of the band, and not just a guest. Did any tapes of Osiris survive?

    I have gathered from other conversations around this show that the promoter for the Stanford show was the late Paul Currier (my sister was friends with his sister), who was apparently Osiris' manager. Do you know if Paul was one of the promoters of the Stanford Music Hall going forward? Kingfish played there in September '75 (with Link Wray and Barry Melton), and great as that show was, I don't think it was sold out either.

    Thanks again for chiming in and adding to the record.

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  12. Cory, thanks for the date of the Jeff Beck show. I couldn't find any info on the Sons show, but your conjecture sounds right.

    Incidentally, it was very cool running across this blog post. I think I was actually trying to find the dates of the Jeff Beck show and the show we did with the Sons, and happened to find your post.

    By "not featured", I just meant that Kevin M. wasn't featured any more than you would say "The Grateful Dead, featuring Pigpen". He was basically the Pigpen of our band. He played keyboards and sang a few tunes. I don't recall ever putting his name on a poster, but I could be wrong.

    We practiced for awhile in Kevin M's garage in the Santa Catalina house. The only equipment I remember getting from the Dead were some speakers for our sound system.


    I remember Kevin M. introducing me to Bob Weir while he was warming up backstage at the Palo Alto show. Kevin introduced me to Jerry at the SF show, but we didn't really talk much. I remember Jerry warming up on some weird-ass scales, and I remember Jerry, Merle, and the rest of their band sitting in a circle smoking a ton of weed before they went onstage (I don't think they invited us to join them).

    A few people do have some live Osiris recordings, but nothing of very good quality. I think Jim Sullivan has some. He is on Facebook, and lives in Half Moon Bay. Jim or someone gave me a tape or CD a few years ago, I think I may still have it somewhere. My recordings were all on old cassette tapes, which may or may not be around. We did a show on KQED which was taped, but unfortunately we never got the video.

    Yes, as Scott said above, Paul was our manager for awhile. I didn't know he had died until I read it here today! I had been good friends with Paul since high school. I don't recall him doing any other promoting. He went on to be a big acid dealer, and ended up getting busted and going to federal prison for awhile. According to his post on our Paly 40th reunion site (class of 1970), he went on to be quite successful at various things after that. However, he seems to have been less successful in later years, since he told me he couldn't afford the $100 or whatever it was to go to the reunion. He was into San Francisco city politics, and I believe he ran for mayor, probably on a radical platform based on some of his YouTube posts.

    Osiris went through several incarnations, and one of them included Kevin M. Osiris didn't fade away because of Kevin's excesses, but mostly because we just couldn't make any money. The last band with the name "Osiris" was a trio in which I was the only member of the previous incarnations. We got "hired" by a front man to go on the road and play the hotel bar circuit, but I ended up being the only one that followed through with it, and that was the end of Osiris. After a few months of living in hotels, I decided that being a professional musician wasn't the life for me.

    I still play guitar and sing, and jam with brother Keith and a friend or two now and then. Keith has remained quite active in bands, and is in one now, up in Sonora. Scott Bell told me that he played lots of gigs with bands in Washington state, but now plays and composes mostly for his own enjoyment.

    Kevin

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  13. Kevin, glad to hear you are still doing well. I am in touch with Jim Sullivan (I allude to him various times in the post), who has been very helpful all along. Osiris isn't forgotten, as the Palo Alto Facebook page has some recent fond memories of Osiris and the Stanford Music Hall.

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  14. Well, my involvement w the gig was helping Steve Hogle w Osiris Equipment before+after the gig.
    During the event I was assigned (somehow, don't exactly remember by whom) to making sure the emergency doors weren't breached by the non paying members of the herd.
    Suffice to say that , like most venue's of the day, mine was a losing proposition,and pretty much anyone could+did get in at some point of the evening.
    As far as the music of the show, memories have faded, but best recollection is Keith+JP rippin it up on their respective Bass guitars at intermission.Dueling banjo's was a regularly playing on the radio, and this conversion of bassists,I affectionately refer to as "Dueling Basses"(dueling asses)
    And best memory was knowing these were(are) my tribe,and we swung from tree to tree as one....
    Ungawa..

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  15. I was wondering if any of you had more memories of Kevin McKernan... He's a complete blank in Dead history (most folks don't know Pigpen had a younger brother, let alone that he was in a band). So it would be interesting to know things like - what kind of song repertoire did he have with Osiris? how did he get into the music scene? what were his relations with the Dead? what did he think of his older brother? did he have similar habits? Those kinds of things...

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  16. I went to elementary school (Crescent Park) with Kevin. I remember spending time at his house. But that was when he was 12 or so. I seem to remember him as kind of an awkward kid (but I suppose we all were). Sad to learn he died young.

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    1. Barbara, you've brought up a peculiar point that hadn't occurred to me. I went to Crescent Park, too (65-69), so maybe Kevin McKernan was there at the same time, albeit a few years ahead.

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  17. Was there! I went to as many Kingfish shows as possible, and was thrilled to be able to see them on NYE while the GD were on hiatus.
    I can't say my memories of the show are particularly crisp after all these years- in fact, id forgotten all about it until I saw the show mentioned on the Cryptial Development site- but I DO remember it ROCKED!

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  18. I hung out at Damien House during 1970; I remember seeing Kevin there; someone pointed him out to me, saying "that's Pigpen's younger brother". I wasn't much of a Dead head so that didn't mean much to me.

    Something I remember about him is that he always wore his leather jacket -- even when it was hot out. I felt sad about that; I think it was when he'd gained weight and felt self-conscious, so the jacket was an attempt to hide the girth.

    He looks good in those later pictures. I am sorry to hear he died too soon.

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  19. Both Kevin and PigPen died of a congenital autoimmune disease causing critical cirrhosis of liver...ironically a condition unrelated to the heavy drinking.
    Arthur Currier, Paul's father taught at Paly High for years and his mother Helen worked at Cobbs Books on University Avenue. During the short life as Stanford Music Hall there was no real inhouse mgt. The theaters concerts were produced/promoted independently. I believe Pauls involvement was limited to Osiris.

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