Friday, August 25, 2023

Lonesome Janet: The Kingfish Origin Story--1974 (Kingfish Part Zero)

Matthew Kelly and Bob Weir performing with Kingfish at Alpine Meadows in Lake Tahoe, CA on August 31, 1975

At the end of 1974, with the Grateful Dead on hiatus and apparently retired from performing, Bob Weir joined the local band Kingfish. A few fans who read the entertainment listings very carefully might have recognized the band's name, but otherwise they had been obscure up until Weir joined. Kingfish's only "known" member was bassist and singer Dave Torbert, who had left the New Riders of The Purple Sage at the end of 1973, after five albums. Weir would play full-time with Kingfish until the Grateful Dead returned to action in the Summer of 1976. He briefly played with them that Summer, too, but Kingfish kept going on throughout the 1980s. Weir, in fact, would periodically drop in and play with Kingfish, particularly from 1984 through '87. Although Torbert had passed away, Kingfish co-founder Matthew Kelly continued to lead the band throughout the 1980s. 

I have already documented Weir's introduction to Kingfish in the Fall of 1974, all of his known performances in 1975 (so many that is has taken two posts, for Jan-June '75 and July-Dec '75) and a separate post for Kingfish up until Weir's departure in August '76. I have even documented Weir's assorted guest appearances with Kingfish from 1984 onwards.

This post will close the loop on the last scaffold of the structure, the various Bay Area bands that led to the formation of Kingfish. Weir went to see Kingfish at a moment in his career and that of the band where they all needed each other, and it led to a musical partnership that would thrive for a dozen years.

Summary: Kingfish Pre-History
Since Dave Torbert was a critical part of New Riders history, I have done extensive research on his 60s backstory, mainly with the New Delhi River Band. The New Delhi River Band, Palo Alto's other psychedelic blues band, with Torbert and Dave Nelson, was formed in the Summer of 1966, found its identity in the Fall, almost thrived in 1967 and finally faded by early 1968. Dave Torbert teamed up with Matt Kelly in a variety of 60s bands (Shango, Wind Wind and Horses), and finally moved to Hawaii. Kelly had his own complicated career, playing with blues musicians on the "Chitlin Circuit" while also playing in bands in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Kingfish had formed as a quartet in Palo Alto in Spring 1974. After a few local gigs, they had spent the entire Summer in Juneau, AK, playing lucrative gigs for oil workers. Kingfish returned to the Bay Area in October 1974. After October,  the Grateful Dead had decided to stop performing live, and Bob Weir apparently missed the action. In any case, he had no source of day-to-day income. Weir was old friends with Matthew Kelly, and knew Torbert from the New Riders, so he attended a Kingfish show in San Mateo and offered to join the band. The surprised band members were delighted to have Weir's unique guitar playing, and the band immediately became a popular club attraction around the Bay.

Although Dead fans understandably associate Kingfish with Bob Weir, in fact the band had a history before him. Yet the origins of Kingfish have only been addressed in the vaguest of fashions, since Weir does not enter the story until the story is well along. I have looked into the musical history of Dave Torbert and Matt Kelly in great detail, thanks in particular to the contribution of Matthew Kelly himself. 

I'm me, however, and my attention to microscopic historical details has somewhat obscured the arc of the founding of Kingfish, and how Bob Weir came to intersect with them. Matthew Kelly was kind enough to take the time to talk to me in February 2022--from Thailand, no less-- and unraveled some of the critical details of Kingfish’s history, so I can present a picture of the entire saga. This post will take a broader view of the background of the various ensembles of Kelly and Torbert from 1966 through 1973, showing how they all led to Bob Weir's 1974 integration into Kingfish. I will link to my prior posts for those who need to visit the rabbit holes themselves.

Menlo School and College, 50 Valparaiso Ave, Atherton, CA, ca 2011
Genesis, 1962: Menlo School
Bob Weir and Matthew Kelly both grew up in the well-to-do suburb of Atherton,  just North of Palo Alto. Atherton is astonishingly rich today, but in the 1960s it was merely well-off. Kelly and Weir knew each other from a prep academy called Menlo School. Menlo School, also associated with a Junior College called Menlo College, had been designed as a boys feeder school for Stanford University (the girls were routed through Palo Alto's Castilleja School). Menlo School was founded in 1924, and is still active today (albeit co-ed and separate from the College). Kelly and Weir were both on the football team in 9th grade,  which is how they became friends. Both had a nascent interest in music, but neither shared it with the other. 

As to the other future members of Kingfish, Dave Torbert had grown up in Redwood City, the next town North of Atherton. His parents were both music teachers. Drummer Chris Herold grew up in Los Altos, two towns South of Atherton (with Palo Alto in between). Robbie Hoddinott was from Los Altos, too, although he was much younger than the others (Hoddinott was class of '70, and Weir would have been class of '65, had he graduated). 

The 1962 Menlo School Yearbook JV Football Team photo. Members of the team included Bob Weir (5th-L) and Matthew Kelly (4th-R)

Weir would get kicked out of Menlo School. Weir, dyslexic and a charming troublemaker, would actually get tossed out of a number of prep schools, finally ending up in the nearby public Menlo-Atherton High School before dropping out to "join the circus," as he described the Grateful Dead. Kelly finished High School at another Prep School. He graduated (class of '65) and was a freshman at the University of Pacific in Stockton.

Matthew Kelly's band played a gig at the tiny Fremont, CA psychedelic outpost The Yellow Brick Road

First Blood, 1965-67: The Good News, St. Mathews Blues Band and The Grateful Dead
Bob Weir joined the Warlocks when they formed in the Spring of 1965, out of the ashes of Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band Champions. New information indicates that their first show was at a Menlo School dance in April 1965. By year's end, the Warlocks had evolved into the Grateful Dead. 

Dave Torbert's band The Good News rocking out at Bob Weir's sister's Debutante Party at the SFO Airport Lounge on June 24, 1966 (note guitarist Tim Abbott's Day-Glo pants)

Dave Torbert had played in a Redwood City folk group called The Sit-Ins when he was in High School, but I don't think he was a founding member. Torbert would go on to play guitar and sing in The Good News, Redwood City's first blues band. The Good News stood out because they wore "Day-Glo" clothes and brought a strobe light to their concerts, a precursor to the light shows that would become standard in the 60s. They were a popular local band, playing in the style of the Butterfield Blues Band. The Good News played Wendy Weir's debutante ball at the SFO Airport lounge on June 24, 1966 (brother Bob's band was otherwise engaged). I have discussed the history of the Good News at length. The band did play the Fillmore, but broke up soon afterwards. Both Torbert and drummer Chris Herold would join Palo Alto's New Delhi River Band.

Matthew Kelly had gone to the University of The Pacific in Stockton. He formed his own band, the St. Matthews Blues Band, and they played around Stockton and San Francisco. The St. Matthews Blues Band opened for Jefferson Airplane at UOP sometime during the 1965-66 academic year. Kelly dropped out of UOP, but the St. Matthews Blues Band played around throughout 1967. Sometime in 1967, Kelly picked up a hitchhiker in Palo Alto on his way to San Francisco. The hitcher, one Robert Hunter, asked to be dropped off at 710 Ashbury, and invited Kelly in. Kelly bumped into his old football chum Weir, so they both found out the other was a musician. Still, they would not cross paths again for another 5 years. 

The Horses album was released on White Whale in 1968. It was co-produced by John Carter (and Tim Gilbert). Dave Torbert, Matt Kelly and Chris Herold were in the band (with guitarist Scotty Quik and singer Don Johnson--no, not that one). Tim Hovey co-wrote some songs.

1968: Shango and Horses
The New Delhi River Band had featured David Nelson and Dave Torbert on guitar and bass, Herold on drums, and singer John Tomasi (along with lead guitarist Peter Schultzbach). The New Delhi River Band was popular in the Santa Cruz and Santa Clara County underground scene, but never found traction anywhere else (I have discussed their history in great detail). The NDRB finally ground to a halt around February 1968. Kelly's band had also folded, so he formed Shango with Torbert and Herold. Guitarists Tim Abbott and Ryan Brandenburg filled out the band. Brandenburg departed, and ultimately Shango used the name Wind Wind for a short while in late 1968. 

The July 6, 1956 Palo Alto Times advertised a movie starring "that lovable little boy" Tim Hovey. Hovey would end up attending Menlo School, where he was close friends with Matt Kelly. Hovey would write songs with Dave Torbert, and was Kingfish's sound man

In between, however, Torbert, Kelly and Herold had reconfigured Shango as a band called Horses. Horses even released an album on White Whale Records, produced by the team of John Carter and Tim Gilbert. The pair had produced a surprise 1967 hit called "Acupulco Gold" with a Colorado band called the Rainy Daze. Carter had deep connections with Kelly from Menlo School. While Kelly had been a day student, since he lived nearby, Carter had been a boarder, where he had become friendly with another boarder, the former child actor Tim Hovey. Hovey and Kelly were very close, so Kelly knew Carter as well. Hovey was part of the Shango crew, writing songs with Torbert and probably acting as a roadie. Carter and Gilbert made some changes to Shango (adding future Sammy Hagar guitarist Scott Quigley [aka Scotty Quik] and singer Don Johnson (no, not that one). The forgettable album did include two songs that would become part of the Kingfish repertoire ("Asia Minor" and "Jump For Joy"). 

By mid-69, Wind Wind had ground to a halt. Kelly formed a somewhat casual group called Mountain Current (today we would call it a "Jam Band") with flexible membership. Chris Herold drummed when he could on weekends, otherwise performing alternative service (alternative to going to Vietnam) as an ambulance driver. Torbert wasn't doing much either, and he would move to Hawaii at the end Summer '69.

Matthew Kelly played on Mel Brown's I'd Rather Suck My Thumb album. It was recorded in LA in Summer '69, and released on the jazz label Impulse in 1970.

1969: Mel Brown
Matt Kelly's harmonica playing had been inspired by groups like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who in turn had been directly influenced by Chicago blues musicians. Kelly knew the music, but he had learned about it from the outside--typical for most young white musicians at the time who had discovered the blues via records. Rather unexpectedly, this changed when Kelly went to an after hours club in East Palo Alto and impulsively jumped up on stage to blow some blues with the house band. Guitarist Mel Brown, well established in the African-American community, was in the audience. He chatted with Kelly afterwards, and invited him to come to LA and record (Kelly played on Brown's 1970 Impulse album I'd Rather Suck My Thumb). After spending time with Mel Brown in Watts, Kelly got hooked up with many of the established blues musicians on the (so-called) "Chitlin Circuit," and this would pay dividends for him in coming years.

Gospel Oak's sole album, recorded in England, was released by Kapp Records in 1970

Fall 1969: England and Gospel Oak
There were a couple of centers of rock music in the Western World. One of them was London, home of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and Kelly was one of many aspiring American musicians who wanted to make music there. In late '69, Kelly and his friend Tim Hovey drove across country on their way to London. Hovey was going to be involved in some kind of movie called "The Hashish Trail," about the hippies who went to the Far East in search of enlightenment, adventure and possible commerce. Hovey was a true world traveler, so he traveled on. But Kelly wanted to play music in London. 

Kelly hooked up with a band from Indiana called Gospel Oak (Gospel Oak was a decommissioned tube station in North London). They had a deal with MCA, and recorded an album on Kapp Records (for more details, such as they are remembered, see my post here). The bass player left the group, however, so Kelly reached out to his old buddy Dave Torbert, sending him a plane ticket to go from Hawaii to London via San Francisco and join the band. As it happened, when Torbert dropped in at his parents house to get some (presumably warmer) clothes in April, he got a "coincidental" phone call from the New Riders, asking if he wanted to join a new band with Jerry Garcia. Torbert contacted Kelly, who told him to take the offer. Gospel Oak subsequently broke up. Kelly was going to tour the UK and Europe with Champion Jack Dupree, then based in Europe, but he couldn't get a work permit, so he returned to the Bay Area. Tim Hovey, meanwhile, was still following the "Hashish Trail," even though the promised movie was never made. 

Matthew Kelly and his 33 band backed T-Bone Walker at Berkeley's New Orleans House on Saturday, April 18, 1971 (from the Apr 17 Berkeley Barb--note the Doobie Brothers for $2)

1970-71: Johnny Carswell and The Chitlin Circuit

Kelly returned to the Bay Area by the middle of 1970. He had several ongoing bands. He toured with organist Johnny Carswell, whom he had met through Mel Brown, playing authentic blues on the remnants of the Chitlin Circuit. The Chitlin Circuit booked shows in old theaters and venues that catered to African American audiences who liked blues and R&B. As a result, Kelly got to hear and meet many veteran (and legendary) blues performers, and got a chance to learn about the music he loved from the source. 

In the Bay Area, Kelly put together the band "33", who backed visiting blues performers for their Northern California bookings. Although the membership of the band wasn't fixed, one of the regular performers was singer Patti Cathcart, who would later be better known as part of the duo Tuck & Patti. I think 33 would typically play an opening set at a club, and then be joined by the headliner. Kelly and 33 did some touring with guitarist T-Bone Walker, perhaps the greatest blues guitarist ever (certainly according to BB King). 

Also during this period, Kelly continued to play with Mountain Current. Mostly they played at an infamous joint in the Santa Cruz Mountains called Chateau Liberte. The membership of Mountain Current continued to float, although it was built around former NDRB singer John Tomasi. On occasion it would include South Bay guitarist Billy Dean Andrus (from Weird Herald), or young Robbie Hoddinott, then still underage. Chris Herold drummed on occasion, Patti Cathcart would sometimes sing, and different players sat in as needed.

1972: New Orleans and The Soul Majestics
Kelly continued to tour around the country with Johnny Carswell, but finally it ground to a halt in early 1972. Kelly found himself in New Orleans. With no other options, he got a job on an oil rig, doing heavy labor under hot, difficult conditions. One day, one of his co-workers nearly lost his life until Kelly took a huge risk to save him. The grateful worker invited Kelly home to meet his family. The African-American family became good friends with him, and through them Kelly met and joined an R&B band called The Soul Majestics. Who knows? Matthew Kelly could have made final landfall in New Orleans, working in the oil industry and playing in an R&B band in a music capital.

But  he didn't. Somehow, Kelly's old buddy Tim Hovey found out that Kelly was in New Orleans and came to visit him there. As you'll recall, Hovey had left Kelly in London in late '69, heading out to the Hashish Trail in Asia Minor. Hovey, a perpetual adventurer, had indeed gone on the fabled Hashish Trail, and even drove across Africa in 1971. In Spring 1972, Hovey followed the Grateful Dead across Europe, apparently catching the last three weeks of the Europe '72 tour. So Hovey hit New Orleans around June 1972, and Kelly decided to return to San Francisco with him. Kelly and Hovey had made it there by the Fall.

1973: David Rea and Slewfoot
With his return to the Bay Area, Kelly got re-integrated back into the music scene.  Old buddy Dave Torbert was flying high with the New Riders of The Purple Sage, and Kelly played a little harmonica on their third album, Gypsy Cowboy, which was released in December of '72. Kelly also sat in with the New Riders for two songs on New Year's Eve ‘72 at Winterland. The Torbert connection paid a much more important dividend, however, since it ignited the career-spanning musical partnership between Kelly and Bob Weir. The two had been friends since junior high, of course, but they never played music together until early '73.

Columbia Records had signed Canadian guitarist David Rea, and somewhat peculiarly hired Bob Weir to produce his solo album in San Francisco. I have written about Rea's album Slewfoot, and what appears to be an odd only-in-the-70s story of how Weir came to produce the album. The sessions for the album were organized by New Riders guitarist Buddy Cage, not only a studio veteran himself but very likely an old Toronto pal of Rea's. Thus it is no surprise that most of the New Riders and their friends played sessions on the album (including Nelson, Torbert, drummer Spencer Dryden, Keith and Donna Godchaux, John Kahn and so on). 

Matt Kelly (2-r) on the back cover of David Rea's Slewfoot album

In early '73, in anticipation of the album's release, Rea held auditions for his touring band. Kelly was invited to audition, no doubt through the Torbert connection. Weir--remember, he was the producer--re-connected with his old football pal. Sessions carried on for some time, and so Kelly and the other prospective band members actually played on Rea's Slewfooot album, released in Spring '73. When Rea started to tour around, he named his band Slewfoot. The band's lineup was

 David Rea-guitar, vocals
 Bill Cutler-lead guitar
 Matt Kelly-harmonica, guitar
 James Ackroyd-bass
 Chris Herold-drums

Bill Cutler was a studio engineer and songwriter transplanted from New York City (his brother John would play a big role for the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia in ensuing years). James Ackroyd had been the lead guitarist in the band James And The Good Brothers. He had remained in California when his partners (Bruce and Brian Good) had returned to Ontario. Old pal Chris Herold was on drums, another Torbert connection. Slewfoot played around the Bay Area for a few months, but David Rea was dropped by Columbia, probably because Clive Davis was pushed out of his position as President of Columbia Records. 

Mid-1973: Lonesome Janet
After July 1973, Kelly, Cutler and Herold seem to have left Slewfoot. Columbia had dropped Rea, but Slewfoot continued on as a trio (with Ackroyd on bass and Jay David on drums). In the meantime, Kelly formed a band called Lonesome Janet (don't google "Lonesome Janet" at work).  Lonesome Janet mostly played the Santa Cruz Mountains, and seemed to have played a peculiar mixture of Top 40 and improvised jazz-rock. They played local hippie hangouts, and probably started out an evening playing familiar songs, while jamming them out longer and longer as the night wore on. Today we would probably call them a "Jam Band," but the term hadn't been invented. This formula was an extension of Kelly's band Mountain Current, from a few years earlier, but with a jazzier feel. The one song surviving from the Lonesome Janet repertoire is the Matt Kelly tune "Hypnotized," which was an instrumental in those days (Torbert added lyrics for Kingfish). Lonesome Janet's lineup was:

Patti Cathcart-vocals
Robbie Hoddinott-lead guitar
Matt Kelly-harmonica, guitar
Mick Woods-electric piano
Michael Lewis-bass
Chris Herold-drums
Pablo Green-percussion

Mick Woods was a black Englishman, as far as I know, and recalled by Kelly and Herold as an excellent musician. He would die in an auto accident in early 1974. Hoddinott (Mar 7 1954-Mar 6 2017) was only 19 when Lonesome Janet formed. I don't have any performance dates, but Chris Herold recalled playing a gay and lesbian bar in Santa Cruz called Mona's Gorilla Lounge when a biker fight broke out and the band had to hide in a walk-in freezer. 

Lonesome Janet probably played most of the Santa Cruz County clubs at the time. Other Santa Cruz Mountains clubs at the time included The Catalyst (then still at the George Hotel on 833 Pacific Avenue), Mountain Charlie's in Los Gatos, the Chateau Liberte, the Town and Country in Ben Lomond, the Interlude (on Pacific Ave.), The Country Store, Original Sam’s, the Wooden Nickel, Andy Capp's, Chuck’s Cellar (in Los Gatos), The Crow’s Nest, the O.C. Inn, Margarita’s (now Moe’s Alley) and Dave’s Wintergarden. If any readers recall any specific Lonesome Janet gigs, please note them in the Comments.

Thanks to Rea and the Slewfoot sessions, however, Kelly had gotten into Bob Weir's orbit. In August 1973, the Grateful Dead were recording Wake Of The Flood at the Record Plant, and Kelly overdubbed a little harmonica on "Weather Report Suite." Kelly also sat in with the New Riders of The Purple Sage on occasion. In those days, the Riders shared management and a booking agency with the Dead, so they were very much part of the Dead scene. 

Kelly also sat in at least twice with Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders, once at the Great American Music Hall (on July 19, 1973) and another time at Berkeley Community Theater (October 2, 1973).

Wing And A Prayer, Matt Kelly's 1985 Relix LP, based in part on his unfinished 1973 Harmonica Instruction album

Late 1973: The Harmonica Instruction Album
In late 1973, while performing live with Lonesome Janet, Kelly embarked on the idea of recording a harmonica instruction album. The details are now kind of lost, but I think it was an album designed to illustrate different blues licks. I presume it would have had a companion instruction book, as well as standing on its own as a blues-styled album. Some of the material ultimately came out on Kelly's 1985 solo album on Relix Records, Wing And A Prayer.

In 1973, a lot of aspiring musicians wanted to play blues harmonica. Certainly, if you were the lead singer or rhythm guitarist in a band, and you could "blow some harp," popular songs like the Rolling Stones' "Midnight Rambler" or Canned Heat's "On The Road Again" could be added to your band's set. Yet while it wasn't hard to get a sound out of a harmonica, it was hard to play well, and there wasn't really anywhere to learn. So if there had been a good instruction book with some how-to examples on a record, it could have been a perpetual seller. Remember, music stores would have sold it, not just record stores--it could have been a unique opportunity. 

Kelly found a budget somehow, and started recording some tracks. I think the idea was to demonstrate different styles and techniques, but Kelly never indicated what the plan was for the "instruction" piece. The material was released in 1985 by Relix Records as a Matthew Kelly album called Wing And A Prayer. As is typical with Relix albums, the credits are detailed but confusing (see the Appendix below). Some of the tracks were recorded in 1973 at the Record Plant in Sausalito, as part of the Instruction album,  and other tracks were recorded in 1980. Overdubs seem to have been done throughout the 1980s. High profile guests on the album include guitarists Mel Brown, John Cippolina and  Bob Weir, keyboardists Nicky Hopkins and Brent Mydland, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, and many other names familiar to Bay Area music fans.

The Wing And A Prayer credits do indicate that the two tracks Jerry Garcia recorded were done in 1973. Mike Bloomfield was also recorded in '73, as was pianist Mick Woods (whose only known recorded appearance was on the two tracks on the Relix release). Chris Herold's drum parts were almost certainly recorded in 1973, but overdubs were done on every track for the next dozen years. Dave Torbert played bass on ten of the twelve tracks, but he surely recorded in both '73 and '80.

The "harmonica instruction" album was recorded in late 1973, when the New Riders were off the road after touring behind Panama Red. The Adventures of Panama Red was the Riders' fourth and most successful album (ultimately going Gold), and Torbert had written and sung many of the songs on the album. When Kelly told Torbert that he was planning to form a blues-oriented combo, he was very surprised to find out that Torbert wanted to join him.

Kelly told me that he actively tried to talk Torbert out of leaving the New Riders. Success can be fleeting in the music industry, and the New Riders had a big hit on their hands. The band had toured hard the previous few years, and had built up a good following in the Northeast and the Midwest. Torbert was willing to leave all that and throw in his lot with Kelly, who had really had no success as a recording artist. Now, sure, Kelly and Torbert were old pals, and Torbert's opportunity with the New Riders had only come because Kelly had graciously let him out of his agreement to join Gospel Oak, but Kelly still thought Torbert was foolish. Torbert was adamant, however. He was tired of the New Riders' country sound, and he wanted to play some bluesy rock and roll. So Kelly and Torbert started Kingfish.

Tim Hovey's crash pad was near Palo Alto City Hall at 250 Hamilton Ave

1974: Kingfish

Dave Torbert and Matthew Kelly started Kingfish in early 1974. Dave Torbert had given notice to the New Riders at the end of 1973, and the band knew that their concerts at Winterland on December 14-15, 1973 would be his last shows with the band. Torbert was replaced by ex-Byrds bassist Skip Battin, who was recommended by booking agent Ron Rainey. The initial lineup of Kingfish was

Robbie Hoddinott-lead guitar
Matthew Kelly-harmonica, guitar
Dave Torbert-bass, vocals
Chris Herold-drums

Mick Woods would have been a member of Kingfish--he may even have rehearsed with them--but he died in an auto accident in early 1974. Kingfish would spend the next year trying to find a fifth member to fill out the band. Old pal Tim Hovey had a "crash pad" in downtown Palo Alto, and Kingfish rehearsed in a the warehouse next door, near Hamilton Avenue. Hovey was Kingfish's soundman. Besides being Kelly's buddy from Menlo School, Hovey and Torbert had written songs for the Horses album in 1968. Herold, of course, went all the way back with Torbert to the Good News in Redwood City, and then the New Delhi River Band, Shango, Horses and Wind Wind. Hoddinott had played with Kelly and Herold in Mountain Current prior to playing with them in Lonesome Janet. 

Old Peninsula hands will recognize the passage of time by the location of rehearsal hall downtown. Palo Alto had just built its new city hall 250 Hamilton Avenue, but Silicon Valley money hadn't yet really come into town. So there were still empty warehouses downtown, and cheap rentals in sprawling old Edwardian houses. The dynamics that had allowed Jerry Garcia and his pals to live hand-to-mouth downtown in the early 60s were still intact in the early 70s. Kingfish, however, was probably the last band to actually get started in Palo Alto outside of their parents' houses. 

June 7, 1974 gym, Foothill College, Los Altos, CA: The Sons of Champlin/Kingfish (Friday) Benefit for KFJC-fm
Kingfish's concert debut was at Foothill College Gym in Los Altos on Friday, June 7, 1974, opening for the Sons Of Champlin. Foothill was the Junior College for the Palo Alto area. All the band members had played Foothill before in various prior bands. Ace researcher David Kramer-Smyth confirmed this with drummer Chris Herold.

Summer 1974: The Tides, Juneau, AK
Soon after their debut, Kingfish were booked in Alaska. This seemingly odd booking had to do with the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS), which shipped oil from Prudhoe Bay, above the Arctic Circle, down to Valdez, near Anchorage. TAPS was constructed to reduce dependence on Middle Eastern oil. The unexpected result, however, was that numerous construction workers were making serious money in Northern Alaska, where they couldn't spend it. When they had time off in the Summer, they came to the warmer parts of Alaska with their pockets full and ready to party. As an added Summer bonus, daytime in places like Juneau lasted about 18 hours.

Kingfish were booked for two weeks at a club in Juneau, Alaska's capital city. They were a hit, however, and immediately received an offer to play the rest of the Summer, at a Juneau club called The Tides, in the Anchor Room. Kingfish played The Anchor Room for about six weeks. They played six sets a night, six days a week. They had some songs rehearsed, but they had to learn new ones as they went. According to Kelly, the band members would just ask each other if they knew a song (like a Beatles song), and if more than one knew it they would just start it up. After six weeks, Kingfish were a tight, swinging band. 

We actually have a taste of the Kingfish sound from The Tides. In September, they tried out pianist Barry Flast, who had flown up from California. Flast recorded some tapes of his performances, our only record of the pre-Weir Kingfish sound. Some of the later Kingfish material is in place, but there are some interesting covers, too, like Dave Torbert singing the Beatles "Get Back." The Flast tapes are dated September, 1974, so presumably that was near the end of Kingfish's residency in Juneau

Flast (1950-2013) himself had an interesting history. While in college in Boston, he had formed the Tom Swift Electric Band with guitarist Billy Squier. The band became the "house band" at the Psychedelic Supermarket, opening for many of the famous bands who played the venue, including the Grateful Dead. Flast had ended up in San Francisco, and played in various groups. Flast had a lengthy music career in the Bay Area. Despite his failure to lock in a gig with Kingfish in 1974, he ended up in the band around 10 years later.

Kingfish returned to the Bay Area at the end of September. Kelly stayed on in Juneau another two weeks, backing a Nashville singer (whose name he has forgotten), but the band reconvened around October. Around this time, Kelly invited Bill Cutler to join Kingfish. Cutler was not as interested in focusing on the blues sound of Kingfish, however, so he passed and formed his own group, Heroes. Heroes included lead guitarist Scott Quigley (aka Scotty Quik) who had played in Horses, and who would later work with Sammy Hagar (the other Heroes were Austin DeLone, bassist Pat Campbell and drummer Carl Tassi).

Fall 1974: Enter Bob Weir
Kingfish started to play around the Bay Area in October of 1974. Kelly recalled having been booked at a lounge in San Mateo, on or near El Camino Real and the San Francisco Airport (he has forgotten the name of the lounge). Unexpectedly, Bob Weir came to see them perform. As all Deadheads know, after their October 20, 1974 performance at Winterland, the Grateful Dead had "retired" from live performances. This left band members with no opportunities to perform live, nor any real source of income. Only Jerry Garcia had already put together a regular ensemble to play local clubs. It appeared Weir had similar ideas. Weir suggested to Kelly that he join Kingfish. 

Kelly and Kingfish were surprised, flattered and pleased. Weir and Kelly had played together on David Rea's Slewfoot album, notwithstanding their old friendship, so the relationship wasn't out of thin air. Torbert and Weir had shared a stage many times. Torbert, in fact, had played on Weir's Ace album, as well as "Box Of Rain." Of course, Weir was an even bigger "name" than Torbert and would attract immediate attention. 

A listing in the Friday, November 8, 1974 Palo Alto Times for a concert with Santa Cruz band Timbercreek and Kingfish at the Boots And Saddle bar in La Honda. Bob Weir sat in with Kingfish at this show, beginning his long association with the band

November 8, 1974 Boots And Saddle, La Honda, CA: Timbercreek/Kingfish (Friday)
Kingfish had a Friday night booking at the legendary Boots And Saddle bar, at 8129 La Honda Road in La Honda. A general store had been founded in La Honda in 1868, and then a post office in 1873. There had been a bar, hotel and boarding house since 1877. It had changed owners, burned down or blown up (for insurance, apparently) over the decades. Of course it was a transit point for whiskey during Prohibition, as were most bars in the Santa Cruz Mountains in that era.

In 1945, the new owners re-named it Boots And Saddle. From the late 40s onward, there were Saturday afternoon jazz concerts. Boots And Saddle remained a weekend music bar into the 1980s. Mostly local bands played there. If you were lucky, nearby resident Neil Young might turn up, and maybe even bring his band, as he was as local as anybody. The bar finally burned down in 1984, under mysterious circumstances (it was at least the third time this had happened).

Timbercreek recorded and released their own debut album, Hellbound Highway, in 1975, on Saddle Records. Formerly called Mose, they played original material in the style of Workingman's Dead.

Local band Timbercreek had recently changed their name from Mose. Note that they are on equal footing with Kingfish, since more locals had probably heard of Timbercreek. Note also that Kingfish is not advertised as "featuring Dave Torbert of the New Riders."

Weir sat in with Kingfish, but apparently didn't sing any songs. Weir's unique style of guitar playing was more like a pianist than a rhythm guitarist, but that actually fit Kingfish's sound very well. 

November 17 and 19, 1974 Lion's Share, San Anselmo, CA: Kingfish (Sunday and Tuesday)
There are tapes from both these shows. Weir sings a few songs. The Lion's Share, at 60 Red Hill Avenue in San Anselmo, just 10 minutes from downtown San Rafael, was the principal Marin County musician's hangout. The club usually wasn't open on Mondays, and Kingfish and Weir probably just invited themselves to play there on Sunday and Tuesday. Other bands probably played, too. Sunday was usually "jam night," and Tuesday was usually "audition night. 

November 29, 1974 Chateau Liberte, Los Gatos, CA: Timbercreek/Kingfish (Friday)
The Chateau Liberte was going through a period of booking more established rock bands. The Kingfish booking there was the first time Bob Weir was advertised as a member of the band. The Chateau, a notorious and unique hideaway in the Santa Cruz Mountains, held about 200 people and mostly appealed to locals. Timbercreek had been a regular band there under the name Mose. We also have a Kingfish tape from the Chateau. Weir sang several songs.


The Dec 29 '74 Oakland Tribune ad for the Keystone Berkeley

December 29, 1974 Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Kingfish/James And The Mercedes (Sunday)
The Keystone Berkeley was the Bay Area's most prominent rock club. Jerry Garcia played there regularly. The Kingfish booking noting that Weir and Torbert were members of the band was advertised in the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Tribune and other major papers. To most Bay Area rock fans, the Keystone booking was the public notice that Weir had a new band.  

James And The Mercedes featured guitarist James Ackroyd, from James And The Good Brothers, and included Frankie Weir, Bob's girlfriend, on backing vocals.

December 31, 1974 Stanford Music Hall, Palo Alto, CA: Kingfish/Osiris (Tuesday)
Kingfish played a New Year's Eve concert at a Movie Theater in Palo Alto, built in 1925 as the Stanford Theater, and then called The Stanford Music Hall. Mostly it booked stage musicals, but it had occasional concerts. The concert was promoted by an old Palo Alto friend named Paul Currier. Osiris was a Palo Alto band that included Kevin "Mickey" McKernan, Pigpen's younger brother, on organ and vocals. I have written about this concert at some length, so I needn't recap it all here. Suffice to say, from this point onwards Kingfish was booked regularly in nightclubs all over the Bay Area, and the Kingfish saga began in earnest.

Aftermath: Kingfish with Bob Weir, 1975-1987

    Kingfish Performance History January-June 1975

    Kingfish Performance History July-December 1975

    Kingfish Performance History January-August 1976

    Kingfish with Bob Weir, 1984-1987

Weir and Matt Kelly would remain partners in Kingfish until the band faded away in 1987--not counting an 1989 reunion. In between, Kelly and Weir worked together in Bobby And The Midnites and Ratdog, until Kelly moved to Hawaii. Nonetheless, they remained friends. In October 2022, Kelly joined Bob Weir and The Wolf Brothers for some of the Bob Weir 75th Birthday Celebration concerts at the Warfield Theater, extending the connection that had gone back to their junior high football team at Menlo School.

Appendix: Wing And A Prayer-Matt Kelly Relix Records RRLP 2010 released 1985 (CD release in 1987)
Five members of the Grateful Dead play on tracks on this album which is a collection of tracks recorded over a long period of time by a various groups of musicians. Bob Weir plays on three tracks, Jerry Garcia on two, Bill Kreutzmann on one, Brent Mydland on four and Keith Godchaux on one.


    Eyes Of The Night (Barry Flast)
    Mona (Bo Diddley)
    Dangerous Relations (Matt Kelly)
    Over And Over (Matt Kelly)
    Shining Dawn (Matt Kelly)
    I Got To Be Me (Sammy Davis Jnr)
    It Ain't Easy (Long John Baldry)
    Riding High (Bill Cutler)
    Next Time You See Me (Junior Parker / Sam Philips)
    Mess Around (Armet Ertugun)
    Harpoon Magic (Matt Kelly)
    If That's The Way (Matt Kelly)

The tracks on this album were recorded at different times with a wide range of musicians. The musicians on each of the tracks are as follows.

Eyes Of The Night;

    Stan Coley - guitar
    Barry Flast - vocals
    Chris Herold - drums
    Matt Kelly - guitar, vocals
    Brent Mydland - vocals
    Colby Pollard - bass
    Rahni Rains - vocals
    J.D. & Red - synthesizer
    Bob Weir - guitar, vocals


    Patti Cathcart - vocals
    John Cipollina - guitar
    Robbie Hoddinot - guitar
    Matt Kelly - guitar, percussion, vocals
    Dave Torbert - bass, vocals

Dangerous Relations;

    Ron Eglit - pedal steel
    Jerry Garcia - guitar
    Chris Herold - drums
    Matt Kelly - guitar
    Rahni Rains - vocals
    Dave Torbert - bass
    Bob Weir - guitar, vocals

Over and Over;

    Sam Clayton - congas
    Stan Coley - synthesizer
    Robbie Hoddinot - guitar
    Nicky Hopkins - piano
    Matt Kelly - guitar
    Brent Mydland - vocals
    Mark Nielsen - drums
    Dave Torbert - bass
    Bob Wright - organ

Shining Down;

    Fred Campbell - bass
    Patti Cathcart - vocals
    Stan Coley - synthesizer
    Barry Flast - vocals
    Robbie Hoddinot - guitar
    Nicky Hopkins - piano
    Matt Kelly - guitar, harmonica, vocals
    Bill Kreutzmann - drums
    Brent Mydland - vocals

I Got To Be Me;

    Patti Cathcart - vocals
    Dave Fogal - piano
    Robbie Hoddinot - guitar
    Matt Kelly - guitar, slide guitar
    San Mateo Baptist Church Choir - vocals
    Jerry Miller - guitar
    Scotty Quick - guitar
    Dave Torbert - bass
    Bob Wright - organ

It Ain't Easy;

    Michael Bloomfield - guitar
    Patti Cathcart - vocals
    Dave Fogal - piano
    Matt Kelly - harmonica
    Jerry Martini - horns
    Jerry Miller - guitar
    Scotty Quick - guitar
    Rahni Rains - vocals
    Dave Torbert - bass
    Bob Wright - organ

Riding High;

    Patti Cathcart - vocals
    Bill Cutler - vocals
    Ron Eglit - pedal steel
    Jerry Garcia - guitar
    Matt Kelly - guitar, harp, vocals
    Rahni Rains - vocals
    Dave Torbert - bass
    Mick Ward - piano
    Bob Weir - guitar, vocals
    Bob Wright - organ

Next Time You See Me;

    Mel Brown - guitar
    Michael Bloomfield - guitar
    Robbie Hoddinot - guitar
    Matt Kelly - vocals
    Jerry Martini - horns
    Jerry Miller - guitar
    Mark Naftalin - piano
    Mike O'Neil - slide guitar
    Dave Torbert - bass

Mess Around;

    Patti Cathcart - vocals
    Bobby Cochran - guitar
    Chris Herold - drums
    Matt Kelly - guitar, harmonica, vocals
    Dave Torbert - bass, vocals
    Mick Ward - piano

Harpoon Magic;

    Buddy Cage - pedal steel
    Patti Cathcart - vocals
    Keith Godchaux - piano
    Matt Kelly - harmonica
    David Nelson - guitar
    Rahni Rains - vocals
    Dave Torbert - bass, vocals

If That's The Way;

    Stan Coley - guitar
    Nicky Hopkins - piano
    Matt Kelly - guitar, harmonica, vocals
    Brent Mydland - vocals
    Dave Torbert - bass, vocals
    Bob Wright - organ


    Producer - Matt Kelly
    Cover art - Karkruff/Canavan
    Back cover design - Toni A. Brown
    Layout - Brooklyn Bridge Publications
    Part recorded at the Record Plant, Sausalito, 1973


  • Many of the tracks on this release, including the two which include Garcia, were recorded in 1973. Further tracks were recorded in 1980.
  • "Riding High" is titled as such on the track list of the CD but is called "Ridin' High" in the liner notes.





Friday, May 26, 2023

The In Room, Swiss Chalet, 635 Old County Road, Belmont, CA 1965

Warlocks, In Room, Belmont, Fall 1965 (photo probably by Paul Ryan)

The Warlocks made themselves into a real band with a two-month stint at a Belmont, CA, "Lounge" called The In Room. The In Room was a bar attached to a Steak House restaurant called The Swiss Chalet, at 635 Old County Road. Old County Road was a frontage road across the railroad tracks from El Camino Real. El Camino Real ran from San Jose to Daly City (where it would turn into Mission Street), and was the main commercial district for all the towns in between. During the 60s, there was a general trend to make El Camino a center of entertainment like the Las Vegas Strip, so there were hotels, bars and restaurants in each Peninsula city. By the 1970s, the Peninsula had quieted down, and El Camino nightlife faded away.

The Warlocks' time at the In Room has been immortalized by Dennis McNally and others, and all the band members have told stories about how it was where they really became a band. Playing five sets a night, six nights a week for eight weeks, maybe sometimes backing touring singers or burlesque dancers, the Warlocks got a crash course in the 60s music biz, most of which they promptly set out to blow up as the Grateful Dead. The In Room, tacky name and all, was a seminal experience in the Grateful Dead zeitgeist. 

The only actual artefacts of the Warlocks' performance at the In Room, however, are some posed photographs (one of them is above). These were clearly done for promotional purposes, probably by the club itself, as the Warlocks couldn't have afforded it. Note the bright lighting, a clear indication that these were not real "performance" shots with the dark lights of a night club. Still, we can see the band's gear, their clothes, and at least a whiff of their on-stage demeanor. The only hint of things to come is the not-standardized lettering of the "Warlocks" band name. The drum head was painted by roommate, future banjo legend and artist Rick Shubb.

Further non-standardization would follow shortly. Given the importance of the In Room, let's figure out what we can about the brief history of the lounge.

A rare outdoor shot of The Chalet and The In Room marquee, from 1965 (source unknown)

The Warlocks at The In Room
The Warlocks were booked at the In Room for an 8-week stint in September and October of 1965. Deadcast host Jesse Jarnow and I looked in vain for any advertisement of the Warlocks. We are certain of the timeline, but neither Jesse nor I have never found an ad for the Warlocks at the In Room (and we tried). Per Dennis McNally, they earned at most $800 a week, but that was real money back then.

Their first week, the Warlocks backed the Coasters. It's not impossible they backed other singers during that time--it was common practice for a "house band" to back up a local singer--and they apparently backed some burlesque dancers. They probably weren't topless, but no one exactly knows. By the end of their 8-week shift, the Warlocks were a real band. Not exactly tight, maybe, but they had a groove.

Dennis McNally interviewed Dale O'Keefe, one of the managers of The In Room, so his description reflects the reality rather than the legend:

The Warlocks had found a home at a club halfway between Palo Alto and San Francisco in the town of Belmont. The In Room was a heavy-hitting divorcee's pickup joint, the sort of swinging bar where real-estate salesmen chased stewardesses and single women got plenty of free drinks. Dark, with red and black as the color scheme, it was the kind of place that sold almost nothing but hard liquor. The Warlocks' agent at the time, Al King, booked the headliners, like the Coasters, Jackie DeShannon and Marvin Gaye. Managed by Donald Johnson, also known as Whitey North, and Dale O'Keefe, it was a hot room, with bouncers escorting the waitresses through the crowd. 

At first the Warlocks seemed a mistake, playing too loud and too strangely. As O'Keefe saw it, the band would be okay for the first two of their fifty-minute sets, but by the third they'd be high, and by the fifth they'd be "barbaric." But in some sort of mysterious transference, they began to develop their own audience, and held their own, avoiding the management of the bar, except for Larry, their favorite bartender. Each night they'd show up with their equipment stuffed into Kreutzmann's Pontiac station wagon, set up, and get to work. One of the complications to their lives was that Kreutzmann and Weir were not only considerably but obviously underage. [Band friend] Bobby Petersen stole some draft cards that somehow passed muster, and the cops would look at the ID, chuckle and warn them not to drink. O'Keefe swore that he did not pay off the cops, so such tolerances could only be ascribed to providence.

Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)
McNally: "The In Room was located quite near the railroad tracks that run up the Peninsula to San Francisco, and as the band grew more and more attuned to the schedule, they learned to play with, instead of going against, the sound of the trains as they rumbled by."  [p92]

Between sets at the In Room, the band would cross the street and smoke (something) next to the railroad tracks. According to legend, there was a large sign that said "Caution: Do Not Stop On Tracks." The Warlocks heard Them's single "Mystic Eyes," took the chord changes and stapled them to their chugga-chugga train rhythm, and named it after the sign. Versions of "Caution" would appear in Grateful Dead performances at least as late as 1981, a legacy of the In Room. 

Kentucky writer (and Kesey pal) Ed McClanahan

Writer Ed McClanahan, a friend of Ken Kesey and the Pranksters, dropped by the In Room to see the band. In an infamous August 1972 article in Playboy magazine called "Grateful Dead I Have Known." McNally excerpted McClanahan's description of the Warlocks at the In Room (p. 89)

Even though the Warlocks bohemian pals were hardly In Room material, a few friends did drop by. Tom Constanten, who had been friends with Phil Lesh since meeting him at UC Berkeley in 1962, was now in the US Air Force, stationed at Las Vegas. Constanten was also friendly with Garcia and the others, and had hung out a little at the Chateau. TC did find an opportunity to see the Warlocks at the In Room, however.

Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson, later of Moby Grape, were in The Frantics in 1965. They released the "Human Monkey" single on local Action Records in 1966, with lead vocals from bassist Bob Mosley.

Another late-night visitor at the In Room, was guitarist Jerry Miller, then leading a group called The Frantics. The Frantics had moved from Tacoma, WA, and were currently living in the mountains of San Bruno, not far from the In Room. The members of the Frantics (Miller, organist Chuck Schoning and drummer Don Stevenson) and their wives had gone to the Steak Pit to eat, only to find out there was a band playing. Miller loved hearing the Warlocks, and hung out a little with Garcia and the others. The Frantics would become regulars on the El Camino Real in early 1966, and would later evolve into the band Luminous Marsh Gas. By the end of '66, Miller and Stevenson would be in a rising band called Moby Grape, jamming with Garcia at The Ark in Sausalito and playing gigs at the Fillmore and Avalon.

The first ad for The In-Room was in the San Mateo Times on February 12, 1965

The In Room, 635 Old County Road, Belmont, CA (Opened February 1965)
The first notice of the In Room was an (in the San Mateo Times) for the weekend of February 12, 1965. The Furys were advertised as "Young America's Top Entertainment," along with "Leslie, Demonstrating Bay Area's Leading Dance Craze." It adds: Your Hosts: "Rich Romanello and Ralph Silva." Although Romanello and Silva had surely left by the time the Warlocks were booked in September, Romanello's career, at least, is worth noting in the context of 1965 Bay Area Rock and Roll. 

A San Mateo Times ad (June 19 1964) for the Beau Brummels at the Morocco Room, on 2010 El Camino Real in San Mateo (near W. 20th Avenue). The hosts were Jimmie and Rich Romanello (father and son).

Rich Romanello
Rich Romanello is actually an important name in Bay Area rock and roll, and I did not realize until recently that he had any connection to the In Room, and hence by extension to the Grateful Dead story. Since Romanello has been interviewed various times (for good reason) about his rock and roll history, and never mentioned the Warlocks, we can be confident he had no part in booking the Warlocks. Nonetheless he seems to have co-founded the In Room, which made the band, so it only adds to his interesting saga.

In 1964, Romanello's father James ran a club called The Morocco Room on El Camino Real in San Mateo. The address was at 2010 S. El Camino Real, near W. 20th Avenue. San Mateo is halfway up the Peninsula, midway between Stanford University and San Francisco, and near San Francisco Airport (SFO). The name and pitch of the Morocco Room had a Vegas slant, a cocktail lounge with entertainment and dancing all night long. Rich Romanello had discovered a new San Francisco rock band called The Beau Brummels, who performed original songs in a kind of Beatles-style, and the Morocco Room packed them in. 

Word about The Beau Brummels filtered up the line to KYA dj Tom Donahue, one of the biggest disc jockeys in the Bay Area. KYA (1260) and KFRC (610) were the two big rock stations in town. Donahue, transplanted from Philadelphia, was partners with another Eastern transplant, Bobby Mitchell. The two of them held down the afternoon and evening shifts at KYA, so everyone heard them. They also promoted concerts at the Cow Palace, ran a radio "tip sheet" and also race horses. Donahue and Mitchell had also started Autumn Records, and they had scored a big hit with Bobby Freeman's "C'mon And Swim" in 1964, produced by KSOL dj Sylvester Stewart, later better known as Sly Stone. 

Donahue later claimed to have heard about the Beau Brummels gig in the Morocco Room from a prostitute ("I always listen to prostitutes," he would say). In any case, El Camino Real and San Mateo was not a likely place to find a hit act, but find them he did. Rich Romanello acted as manager for the Beau Brummels, and Donahue and Mitchell knew hit songs when they heard them. Their song "Laugh, Laugh" would reach #15 after it was released on Autumn Records in December, 1964. The Beau Brummels went on to have other hits in 1965. Romanello would later lament that it was too bad that neither he, nor the Brummels nor Donahue and Mitchell knew anything about running an actual business. 

The February 17, 1965 Redwood City Tribune had an ad for the Grand Opening of The 'In' Room, describing The Furys as "The NEW ENGLISH SOUND by America's Top Entertainers DANCING 7 NIGHTS." The small print explains how to cross the tracks from either Freeway exit--there was no GPS.  Note the "FURYS", not FURIES, and no "Lesley."

In December 1964, a notice in the San Mateo Times indicated that James Romanello had sold the Morocco Room. But in early '65, Rich Romanello would have been right in the center of the action, and that action appeared to be on El Camino Real. The suburban Peninsula might seem an unlikely place for a rock and roll explosion, but it was happening on the El Camino just as it was everywhere else. After the Morocco Room and the Beau Brummels, The In Room would have been the second rock joint on the boulevard, and it was started by the proprietor of the first one. Fall '65 saw the Cinammon Tree in San Carlos, and the Tiger A-Go-Go in Burlingame, near SFO. By 1966, it was followed by the Big Beat in Palo Alto, the Nu Beat in Redwood City (which was later the Spectrum) and The Trip in San Mateo.

The Tiger A-Go-Go lounge at the SFO Hilton in Burlingame was a hopping scene, with future Fillmore players (Joel Scott Hill was later in Canned Heat, and his band included Lee Michaels, Bob Mosely [Moby Grape] and John Barbata [Turtles, CSNY, Starship]. This ad is from the Nov 12 '65 San Mateo Times.

The El Camino Real clubs were rising in exact parallel with the Family Dog, Fillmore and Avalon underground scene in San Francisco. The El Camino clubs tried different angles: the In Room and the Tiger A-Go-Go were bars for adults, primarily pickup joints (the Tiger A Go Go pointedly emphasized that stewardesses hung out there. In the 60s, stewardesses were understood to be glamorous unmarried party girls, fairly or not), The Cinnamon Tree was a "teen club," no liqour. The Big Beat and its sister club, The Trip, were pizza-and-beer places that allowed 18 year olds. There isn't any doubt that they were competing with the Fillmore. The Trip ads offered "LSD: Lights, Sounds, Delicious Pizza."

New Year's Eve 1966-67 at Winchester Cathedral, 3033 El Camino Real in Redwood City, with Sly and The Family Stone

The last of the important El Camino Real nightspots was also a "Teen Club," called Winchester Cathedral. Winchester Cathedral was at 3033 El Camino Real in Redwood City. It opened around December 1966, managed by Rich Romanello. Lots of fine band played there, including the Chocolate Watch Band and the Santana Blues Band. One of the first acts booked at Winchester Cathedral, however, was Sly And The Family Stone, who first played on December 16, 1966, and shortly after headlined New Year's Eve. They were an instant sensation. Sly and The Family Stone played all over the Bay Area, but at the beginning of 1967 they also played "Breakfast Shows" at Winchester from 2-5am every Friday and Saturday night (Saturday and Sunday morning). All of the local musicians showed up, including Mickey Hart, and were totally knocked out.

Romanello had an early management role with Sly And The Family Stone, too, but he lacked the clout to move them up the entertainment ladder. Joel Selvin's oral history of the band goes into this in some detail, but the short version of the story is that Columbia Records swooped in and made the band into huge stars. Winchester Cathedral didn't last until Summer '67, as far as I know, and El Camino Real more or less gave up on rock and roll. The Fillmore and Avalon won decisively. Since suburban kids would have to get into their (parents) cars to go to El Camino, driving another 30 minutes to the city seemed more enticing.

An ad for Tom Donahue and Bobby Mitchell's club Mother's, at 430 Broadway (from the Dec 19 '65 Chronicle). Reputedly the first "psychedelic" nightclub, Mother's generally booked standard Broadway nightclub acts rather than hip rock bands

Tom Donahue and Bobby Mitchell were still thriving when the Warlocks left the In Room in Fall '65. They had signed numerous local bands, such as the Great Society with Grace Slick, and seemed very tapped in to local happenings. They also opened a club at 430 Broadway in San Francisco, amongst the local topless joints. Mother's has been recognized as the first "psychedelic" nightclub, but I think it was mainly for the decor. The usual Broadway lounge acts were booked there, along with a few rock bands, including the Lovin Spoonful. Rhoney Stanley describes going to Mother's in her book, but the context is a bit fuzzy. 

Donahue and Mitchell must have heard about the In Room, since they recorded a Warlocks demo in San Francisco on November 3. The tape is now legendary, of course, but while The Warlocks showed promise, they were still an inexperienced rock band somewhere in between the style of the Beatles and the Stones. Autumn Records passed on the band. Within a few months, Autumn would go bankrupt, and their master recordings would be sold off to Warner Brothers.


The last sign of the In Room was an ad for a New Year's Eve party, with the band Group Therapy.  The Chalet itself closed shortly afterwards. In January, the San Mateo Times reported that Chalet owner Phil Martinelli was going to start a "Teen Club" at the site selling memberships and putting on dances on weekends. In fact, versions of this business model were tried out up and down El Camino throughout 1966, but this one failed pretty quickly.

April 11, 1966 Redwood City Tribune

A headline in the April 11, 1966 Redwood City Tribune exclaimed "Teen Club Closing Asked By Neighbors." The owners and tenants of the two office buildings next to the Chalet petitioned the Belmont City Council to revoke the permit of the Chalet Teen Club due to vandalism. It must have happened, since the club was closed shortly afterwards.

August 13, 1966 San Mateo Times

By August, a headline in the San Mateo Times said "Debris-Ridden Chalet 'Filthy,'" with a picture of the derelict club. At this point, 635 Old County Road truly was on the wrong side of the tracks. Soon there was no sign of the Chalet building. The Madison Apartments, at 649 Old County Road, first appears in listings in 1968. The Madison Apartments remain on the site.

The railroad has changed hands over the decades as well. I do not know if the Caution: Do Not Stop On Tracks sign is original.

April 21, 1965 San Mateo Times, listing the marriage license issued to Ralph N. Silva, 23, of Millbrae, and Leslie J. Renta, 20 of San Mateo.
Appendix 1: Ralph Silva
I know almost nothing about Ralph Silva, but searching "Ralph Silva" gave me some links, so I'm assuming the "Ralph Silva" from Peninsula newspapers is the same one. If anyone knows better, please hit up the Comments and I will add to or change anything I've written here. 

The April 21, 1965 San Mateo Times lists marriage licenses, and includes "Silva-Renta--Ralph N. Silva, 23, of Millbrae and Leslie J. Renta, 20 of San Mateo." Millbrae was two towns North of Belmont, and up the hill a little bit. One has to wonder if Leslie Renta was the same Leslie who had demonstrated the Bay Area's leading dance crazes when the In Room opened. I am going with "pretty likely."

The February 21, 1964 San Mateo Times also includes a notice for the wedding of Thomas Coster of San Bruno, and Ralph Silva is listed as an usher. Those who know too much will recognize the organist later made famous in Santana (who also played with Loading Zone, Larry Coryell, Steve Kimock and many other fine artists). San Bruno is the next town North of Millbrae, so this suggests that young Ralph Silva was a music guy early on. 

January 7, 1966 San Mateo Times

The January 7, 1966 San Mateo Times has a brief note that "Bob Mitchell and Ralph Silva, former owners of "Mother's" in San Francisco, have opened up a new night club in Redwood City called The Nu Beat." Bobby Mitchell and Tom Donahue's "Mother's" club was at 430 Broadway, and history has marked it as the City's first "psychedelic" night club. If Silva was a co-owner, it seems logical that as a young man partnering with two busy radio station djs, Silva probably actually ran the club for Mitchell and Donahue. The Nu Beat was 1836 El Camino Real in Redwood City (between Belmont and Palo Alto). The address was near "Five-Points," where Woodside Road intersected with El Camino Real.

Starting with the Morocco Room and the Beau Brummels, El Camino Real seemed like a ripe location for a rock and roll explosion. The In Room would have been the second rock joint on the boulevard, started by the proprietor of the first one. Fall '65 saw the Cinammon Tree in San Carlos (at 900 American Way, near El Camino), and the Tiger A-Go-Go in Burlingame, near SFO. By 1966, it was followed by the Big Beat in Palo Alto (on San Antonio Road), the Nu Beat in Redwood City (which was later the Spectrum) and The Trip in San Mateo (at 4301 El Camino). Note that the Nu Beat opening features acts from Autumn Records, including the Mojo Men and the Beau Brummels, and "Leslie, Our Go-Go Girl," most likely Mrs. Silva. 

When Mitchell and Donahue's businesses went bankrupt, the Nu-Beat seems to have become The Spectrum, and probably changed owners. One of the bands that played The Spectrum was Luminous Marsh Gas, a somewhat more psychedelic version of The Frantics. Ken Kesey gave them their name. Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson were in the band, along with organist Chuck Schoning, joined by singer Denise Kaufmann, soon to lead The Ace Of Cups.

Appendix 2: 635 Old County Road, Belmont, CA
The Belmont Casino, 635 Old County Road, Belmont, CA (circa 1959)
As near as I can figure out, the Chalet was originally called the Belmont Casino, and seems to have opened about 1959. I don't know if the building was new or remodeled. Presumably, no gambling was allowed. I believe the "Casino" name invoked Las Vegas, however. I'm not sure if there was initially entertainment or not. Old County Road was the former main road, on the opposite side of the train tracks from El Camino Real. Thus the location was broadly part of the El Camino Real "strip," but not on the boulevard itself (as noted above, the train tracks would turn out to play a role in the conversion of the Warlocks to the Grateful Dead).

San Mateo Times, October 27, 1954

[update 20230529] Exceptional researcher and friend-of-the-blog David Kramer-Smyth found that the Belmont Casino opened on October 27, 1954. The featured act was The Pratt Brothers Quartet.

From 1959 onwards, there were various mentions of events at the Chalet such as Singles Club dances. For example "The Peninsula Guys And Dolls Club," a club exclusively for divorced people, announced that it had expanded its membership to include widows and widowers (bonus points if you figure out the connection). The Peninsula Guys And Dolls Club held a private dance on a Tuesday night, when the Casino was closed. The Casino's draw on the El Camino was thus established early on.

The March 8, 1963 San Mateo Times announced the opening of Phil Martinelli's Steak Pit restaurant at the historic Chalet, 635 County Road, Belmont (San Mateo was one town South of Belmont)

The Swiss Chalet, 635 Old County Road, Belmont, CA (circa 1962)
The Belmont Casino was re-named to The Swiss Chalet, or sometimes just The Chalet, around 1962. By 1963, it principally advertised as a Steak restaurant, with a heavy emphasis of the "steak pit" on the premises. Steaks were the height of luxury dining in 1963 California, and the "Steak Pit" presumably allowed diners to see their dinner being cooked, instead of just kept in a freezer somewhere. The Chalet advertised itself as a family restaurant, and encouraged diners to bring their kids. By 1964, The Chalet advertised "Phil Martinelli's Steak Pit." Martinelli also had Steak Pit restaurants in other cities on the Peninsula. 

The Chalet continued to hold various private dances, presumably in an adjacent room. I assume the financial draw was that many of the attendees had dinner or drinks at the Steak Pit. I also assume that the adjunct building was later converted into the In Room.