Great Rock Bible


+ {Matt Kelly}

San Francisco breathed new life into country-rock in the mid-70s when KINGFISH surfaced out of the blue; their GRATEFUL DEAD connection (at least in its teething few years) granted to them by way of guitarist BOB WEIR. But it was not he that instigated KINGFISH, but singers Matt Kelly (harmonica/guitar) and Dave Torbert (bass), who, together, with drummer Chris Herold, had formed Los Angeles-based quintet, HORSES; Scott Quigley played second guitar, while Rich Fifield was their main singer until he was superseded by 18-year-old Don Johnson – no, not that one.
The eponymous set from spring ’69 was actually the brainchild of songsmiths John Carter and Tim Gilbert (plus producer/manager/DJ, David Diamond), who were attempting to extend their achievements on from the fruits of their STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK chart-topper, “Incense And Peppermints”.
Bolting off to pastures new, blues harmonica-player Kelly to Gospel Oak and Torbert succeeding Phil Lesh in NEW RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE, the pair reunited with Herold in 1973 as KINGFISH; alongside guitarists Robby Hoddinott and “Deadhead” BOB WEIR. The self-named KINGFISH (1976) {*5} was hardly ground-breaking stuff, mostly rootsy country-rock in the vein of POCO, STEELY DAN or The BAND. Still, it did fill a gap for conventional ‘Dead fans who bought enough copies to squeeze it into the Top 50. `Lazy Lightnin’’, the funky `Supplication’ and a cover of MARTY ROBBINS’ `Big Iron’ were arguably the highlights.
Commitments with his first love, GRATEFUL DEAD, led WEIR to sit out on some of KINGFISH’s next effort, LIVE N KICKIN’ (1977) {*6}, an interesting record that re-introduced an old HORSES cut, `Overnight Bag’ and a selection of R&B covers: `Around And Around’ (CHUCK BERRY), `Jump Back’ (RUFUS THOMAS), `I Hear You Knockin’’ (a hit for SMILEY LEWIS), `Mule Skinner Blues’ (JIMMIE RODGERS) and the traditional `Juke’.
Out of the main founding members, only writers Torbert and Kelly would re-appear, as they enlisted Michael O’Neill (guitars), Bob Hogins (keyboards) and ex-WINGS man Joe English (drums) – plus backing vocal auxiliaries David Perper and John Hug – for studio album number two, TRIDENT (1978) {*5}. At a time when new wave and punk were the big fish, songs like `Hard To Love Somebody’, `Magic Eyes’ and `Hawaii’, went virtually unnoticed.
For personage looking for the WEIR/Kelly connection once more, they could find it in the former’s BOBBY & THE MIDNITES early-80s combo; Torbert had sadly died of a heart attack on December 7, 1982. With only Kelly, Hoddinott and Perper from KINGFISH past, ALIVE IN EIGHTY FIVE (1985) {*4} was hardly worth the wait; recorded at Sweetwater in California’s Mill Valley, with Barry Flast (vocals/piano), Steve Evans (bass) and Garth Webber (guitar), one couldn’t really get excited about the covers set, `Money Honey’, `Dancing’ In The Streets’ `Big Boss Man’, `Statesboro Blues’, et al.
In 1987, MATT KELLY would resurface on a solo album, A WING AND A PRAYER {*5}, a 80s production value-styled record that delivered several punchy renditions, along with augmentation from GARCIA, JOHN CIPOLLINA and servings from the day’s KINGFISH; four covers stick out: BO DIDDLEY’s `Mona’, LONG JOHN BALDRY’s `It Ain’t Easy’ and Sammy Davis Jr.’s `I Got To Be Me’.
KINGFISH were on the menu again toward the end of the millennium, SUNDOWN ON THE FOREST (1999) {*4}, reunited old buddies Kelly and Weir (plus the late GARCIA – recorded in ’73! – and a host of other “Fishheads”, singer Anna Rizzo included) on honky-tonk re-vamps of DYLAN’s `It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’, BILL MONROE’s `Tennessee Blues’ and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s `My Baby Left Me’.
© MCS Nov2012

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