On Monday, a San Francisco guitarist died in relative obscurity one day shy of his 63rd birthday. The man could play the hell out of a Telecaster, and his name was Robbie Hoddinott. His name may not ring a bell, but in his prime, Robbie was a musical force to be reckoned with. He founded a band called Kingfish and he should have received more recognition during his lifetime.
Considered by some to be “Bob Weir’s backup band,” Kingfish was never exactly that. Granted, Weir was an active member of Kingfish for the same two years that Hoddinott played in the band, and that affiliation did much to boost the band’s recording regimen. Add to this the fact that Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Keith and Donna Godchaux performed or recorded with various incarnations of Kingfish, and one can clearly see how the threads of the Dead and Kingfish became woven together.
The eponymous Kingfish debut album was released on the Grateful Dead-associated Round Records label in 1976. Since that time, 17 additional versions of Kingfish have been released.
Pulled together in 1973 by Bay Area harmonica player Matthew Kelly, the original Kingfish lineup comprised Robbie Hoddinott on lead guitar, Kelly on harp and rhythm guitar, and Mick Ward on piano. Drummer Chris Herold and erstwhile New Riders of the Purple Sage bassist Dave Torbert made up the rhythm section. The same year the band was formed, Mick Ward was killed in an traffic accident and replaced by Barry Flast.
Matthew Kelly told Vermont Review how his childhood friend, Bob Weir, got involved with Kingfish.
“Bobby and I have known each other basically all of our lives. Since we the time we were seven or eight. We lived right down the street from each other. We went to the same prep school. I did not run into Bobby until years later. I was in Palo Alto in the 1960’s in my old Volkswagen. On the freeway off-ramp, I picked up a hitchhiker – a gentleman by the name of Robert Hunter, who was on his way up to San Francisco to what was later to become famous Grateful Dead house at 710 Ashbury. Bobby and I reconnected then. When the Grateful Dead took a break from 1974-1975, it was very helpful for Kingfish. Bobby started sitting in with the band in 1974. He basically took the place of the keyboard player. Bobby’s style of guitar playing is so perfect for that because he picks up a lot of stuff listening to pianists. His phrasing and just the way he approaches the guitar. That really worked for Kingfish.”
In 1975, Kingfish played a now-nostalgic concert at Winterland. Despite many minutes of “stage ambiance and tuning,” the following YouTube video still gives readers a tasty bite of a Kingfish show featuring Bobby and Robbie.
In 1976, Weir went back to work with the Grateful Dead and Robbie Hoddinott pretty much disappeared from the local music scene. Nineteen years later, Hoddinott’s companion, Joyce Koller, told readers on a GearPage forum that she was “fattening him up” and assisting him with a Facebook page. Koller noted that Hoddinott was doing well on a methadone maintenance program.
“If anyone here wants to know about Robbie Hoddinott, he now has a Facebook page, which we started for him about 3 weeks ago. You can send a FR to either him or myself and I’ll see that it goes thru. Weekends are the only time that Robbie is online, but I run the page for him the rest of the week. His health isn’t so hot, but his life has stabilized considerably and his spirits are up, especially since we’ve been hearing from people who we haven’t seen in decades.”
Hoddinott’s final tracks to be released later this month
Just last year, it looked as if Robbie Hoddinott was poised to make a musical comeback. In 2016, he recorded four tracks for a soon-to-be-released CD by Santa Cruz band Eric Morrison & The Mysteries. Morrison explained on his band page how the founding member of Kingfish came to be involved.
“Mike Lewis, one of the bass players for the Mysteries, was a childhood friend and former bandmate of Robbie and had reconnected with him and brought him in for a couple sessions that led to these tracks being used on the record. Robbie had been out of the scene for over a decade before these very rare sessions.”
Due to drop on March 11, 2017, No Wolves was recorded at House of Faith studio in Oakland, California. The 10-track album features Hoddinott’s guitar mastery on the songs “Mountain,” “Something Going On Down Below,” “Bad Girl,” and “Things Are Gonna Change.”
Hoddinott passed away at home, according to his long-time girlfriend. This was confirmed by Jambands.
Today would have been Robbie Hoddinott’s 63rd birthday.
[Featured Image by David Gans/Wikimedia Commons/Cropped and resized/CC by 2.0]