|The interior of Palo Alto's Stanford Theater as it looks in this century|
|An ad for the Osiris/Kingfish show at the Stanford Music Hall on New Year's Eve 1974, courtesy of Scott Bell.|
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.|
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|
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.
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 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|