I love live music. Live music done even half-good is good to me. And when it comes to live tunes in KTown, there is The Orphan Band and then there is everyone else. They are the “Hattori Hanzo Sword” of local bands. The first time I ever heard the name Orphan was when my brother Pete came home from his Junior homecoming dance in 1976…which means I was 13. My first exposure to them was at the Newman Park Block Party the following summer. Jeff Kemen looked, acted and most definitely played like a rock star. And I really got hooked in during one of the Orphan “rebirths” that took place at Legends Sports Bar in the late summer of 1987. It was the second date they played and I believe it was the weekend of the City Softball Tournament. The place was obviously breaking all of the Fire Codes for attendance, but man it was off-the-chain excellent. The group at that time was Jeff Kemen, lead guitar, vocals and talk box. His sister Kathy Mehalco, vocals, Carol Weiss, vocals, Roger Ciotti, bass and vocals and Steve Grisham, drums. Essentially the Fleetwood Mac of our lives.
I remember my buddy Gerbs saying, “Orphan is back…we saw them last night and they are playing again tonight”. The one slight issue that this early to mid-August of ’87 and our first child would arrive September 6th. It really wasn’t a wise decision to take a very pregnant wife into that mixture of sweat and tunes and booze but for the Orphan Band, no sacrifice was too great. The band was packed into the corner of the upper tier of the bar and the place was beyond jammed. I literally stood up against the wall and my wife stood in front of me with the walkway in front of her and then another layer of 2 or 3 rows of people before you even considered getting to the tables where people sat. That night was the first shot of a family joke that remains today. A young lady just couldn’t stand still and was kinda causing us some issues with traffic with her dancing in the walk-way and it redirected people towards my pregnant wife. The dancing queen was wearing white painter’s pants. I said something to the effect that she has an ass you could show an outdoor movie on. It has remained a family shaming staple for years.
Jeff Kemen was our Peter Frampton. If you were to poll 100 people who really know local music and you asked the question, “name one song you can see a local band do live just one more time”. My bet is, the winner in a walk would be “Do You Feel Like We Do”….and we did. Breaking out the talk box was simply the best. Between Do You Feel and Rocky Mountain Way by Joe Walsh, Jeff Kemen established himself as the Gold Standard of local musicians. And he is such a mellow cat. I actually played softball against Kemen and his Legends teams a boatload of times and trust me, his buddies were some of his biggest fans. His range vocally and from a lead guitar standpoint meant almost no song was undoable for this group of locals. Their songs went from the B-52s to The Who and from Pat Benatar to AC/DC. The ladies and Roger Ciotti blended in with their own song-leads and back round harmony and vocals that made for a night of great song after great song….and that included songs that maybe you didn’t even like all that much as originals.
It is safe to say I’ve seen Orphan over 50 times. Loved every one of em. Legends, Brewmasters, Midnight Hour, church festivals, Newman Park…pick a venue…they were there and they were fantastic. I honestly couldn’t tell you who all was in Orphan through the years so I won’t even try. I know a young lady named Erin MeKeon was the female singer when Gerbs got married…which may have been my personal favorite Orphan evening. I believe the original drummer was a gent named Tom VanCaster. I know my old football coach Paul Pulera played some bass later in the process and I know there were several other quality musicians that added to this legacy. It took an Orphan Village to entertain several generations of local music fans. At the aforementioned Gerb’s wedding, Orphan did an amazing version of White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane. And even though I am very loud and confident behind this keyboard or behind a mic, I’m generally the last person to bring attention to myself outside my comfort zone. White Rabbit is not an easy song to dance to. More like impossible. So when several people left the dance floor, it was just me and my wife. I had enough of the music (and booze) in me that I grabbed my wife and did the fricken Tango (which neither of us have a clue how to do) to White Rabbit…just us two, with over 200 people watching. The place came apart as we finished. My wife is still pissed at me to this day for that out of character spectacle I put her through that evening.
If there was a Kenosha Band Hall of Fame, The Orphan Band, led by the great Jeff Kemen, would be the very first band inducted in my opinion. I KNOW that a ton of the people that will read this will have their own great Orphan stories, and that is a beautiful thing. These are just a few of my memories…imagine doing it for over 30 years and then consider just how many locals have their own hundred stories and great memories to share. If I had a lighter in my hand right now, I’d light it up to The Orphan Band….in my opinion the greatest local KTown band there has ever been. In honor of this, I give you my “album” of Orphan songs.
Rocky Mountain Way by Joe Walsh
Roam by the B52’s
Behind Blue Eyes by The Who (always dedicated to the late great “Bads”)
You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC
Would I Lie To You by Eurythmics
Do You Feel by Peter Frampton
White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane
Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie
We Gotta Get Out of This Place by The Animals (sang by Jeff’s brother-in-law)
Goodbye To You by Patty Smythe and Scandal (always the last song of the night)