Matt Kelly - harmonica, guitar, vocals; Robbie Hoddinott - lead guitar; Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, lead vocals; Dave Torbert - bass, lead vocals; Chris Herold - drums
Multi-instrumentalist Matthew Kelly and ex-New Riders bass player Dave Torbert, the primary songwriters in the group, fronted the original Kingfish lineup. Fleshed out with the impressive instrumental skills of Robbie Hoddinott, Chris Herold, and Mick Ward, the band became a popular club act in the Bay Area. Following the death of Mick Ward in a car accident, the group soldiered on as a quartet. When the Grateful Dead officially retired from the road in late 1974, all the musicians were free to pursue outside projects, so Bob Weir, a long-time friend of Matthew Kelly, began sitting in, officially joining the group by the end of the year. Weir's arrival had two major impacts on the band, which can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. The Dead's organization ran their own label, Round Records, so the musicians could essentially produce and release albums free of record industry interference. The upside was that Kingfish got a contract with the Dead's label, recording an impressive debut album, which considerably raised their profile. However, to the existing band member's eventual dismay, the vast contingency of Deadheads now perceived the group as Bob Weir's backing band. Regardless, the group became a very popular touring band and delivered many a great performance.
This un-aired King Biscuit Flower Hour recording is sourced from two live Kingfish performances at Los Angeles' Roxy Theatre on March 11, 1976. Performing selections from their debut album as well as several choice covers, this set captures Kingfish during the peak performing months of Bob Weir's tenure with the group.
With an arrangement that recalls the undulating flow of Jerry Garcia's "The Wheel," the recording kicks off with an infectious cover of "The Battle Of New Orleans." A true rarity is next as Bob Weir fronts the band for a country-flavored cover of Dolly Parton's "My Blue Tears." Matthew Kelly gets an opportunity to cut loose on the following number, "Juke," a high-energy harmonica fueled instrumental in the tradition of James Cotton.
Two classic songs from the debut Kingfish album are up next. Torbert's "Jump For Joy" is one of the band's finest originals, featuring tight interplay between the musicians and the breezy vocals that defined the group's root sound. The storytelling "Big Iron" again lets Weir explore his country aspirations before the group tackles a few more covers. "Sea Cruise" is a classic up-tempo rock and roll romp and Weir's take on Willie Dixon's "Hidden Charms" follows in an arrangement that owes a heavy nod to Elvis Presley.
"Jump Back" builds the energy level up even further, but it is the following "Hypnotize" that is the pinnacle of this recording. Torbert's most perfectly realized composition; this performance grabs the listener immediately and doesn't let go. This song has it all, including scorching solo breaks from Hoddinott and a propulsive rhythmic backing from Torbert, Weir, and Herold. The program ends with a delightful take on "Muleskinner Blues." Originally a bluegrass standard, Kingfish's electrified shuffle treatment is another impressive example of the band's interpretive abilities.