Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Kitten on the Keys's musician dad was born with crossed-eyes.
In Part 1, Kitten, a musician in her own right, traces her story back to her parents. Both were born and raised in southeastern Missouri. Her dad made his way out as a traveling musician when he was 14. Her mom took a job after college in Washington, DC.
Eventually, the two made their ways back to their shared hometown: East Prairie, MO. They got married and came to the Bay Area because her dad wanted to become a music teacher. Then they moved to Lafayette, where Kitten (née Suzanne) was born. She says her dad worked hard during the week and then gigged hard on the weekends. "He was always gone."
Thanks mostly to her mom, Kitten grew up singing in the Lutheran church. In her teen years, she went with the church on several trips to Mexico. She shares a pretty out-there story from those journeys south.
She was in a Christian dance troupe called "The Earthen Angels." But the group eventually got shut down because, with the A/C in the church cranked, their leotards were allegedly too revealing.
Kitten and her siblings all took music lessons, but she says she was never good at any instruments when she was young. In fact, she says, she's shocked that she's a musician today. Once she able to start choosing her own music (you gotta hear a great story about a switcheroo involving "Bohemian Rhapsody"), she enjoyed playing.
We end Part 1 with Kitten sharing stories of her earliest and fondest memories of visiting San Francisco, including taking classes at ACT and meeting all sort of punk kids and seeing some legendary bands.
In 1981, Kitten started going to school at SF State. It was her official move to The City.
She talks about dorm life, which involved lots of music and stereo wars. She kept going to see live shows, something she began doing as a teenager when she lived in the East Bay. Kitten catalogs bands she was in during her time in college, including one with someone who became a pretty infamous rocker.
After college, Kitten floated a bit. She looks back on a comparatively inexpensive city. She lived on Ninth Avenue in the Sunset and worked at Esprit as a phone operator until the young company shut down that department. Then she started working in vintage clothing and met many artists through that.
After a short time working in the world of "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" at a club in South of Market, she got a job on Divisadero at a place called The Thirdhand Store, where she stayed for 17 years. Members of The Cockettes worked there and bought stuff from the store. Kitten lived above the store.
"Kitten on the Keys" was born in the late-90s inspired by her time working at The Thirdhand Store. The shop played vintage music and she became enamored with tunes from the 1920s. A neighbor gave her some vintage sheet music, and everything aligned.
We chat about how Kitten has navigated the pandemic, which for a long time, meant no live performances. And we end the podcast with her response to the idea of what it means to still be here in San Francisco.
Follow Kitten on Twitter, Instagram, or her website, and book her for your next event! She'll be playing at The Rite Spot next Tuesday, Dec. 14.
We recorded this podcast at Royal Cuckoo Market in the Mission District in December 2021.