Blowin’ Wind With Lenny Wolf of Kingdom Come, March 2011
Kingdom Come might be a name you remember from the past. They put out two albums in the US that charted well for them and spawned hit singles like “Get It On”, “What Love Can Be” and “Do You Like It?” Very few may know that For well over 20 years, Lenny Wolf has been releasing music with his band Kingdom Come for well over 20 years. Lenny Wolf still manages to bring his creative vision to life releasing some amazing albums such as “Hands of Time”, “Twilight Cruiser” and “Master Seven” just to name a few. This week Kingdom Come will release it’s 13th album “Rendered Waters” and it is destined to be another Kingdom Come classic full of great songwriting, performances and Lenny’s outstanding vocals.
I was lucky enough to have a great talk with Lenny where we talked about re-recording some classic Kingdom Come songs for the new album, his memories of the legendary 1988 Monsters of Rock tour and his feelings on being pegged a Led Zeppelin clone. This was such a pleasant interview and one of my most enjoyable ones yet. I hope you all dig this one!
Lenny, it’s a real pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for taking the time out to talk today.
No, the pleasure is all mine. This is very cool. Where are you based out of Don?I’m in Atlanta, GA. Are you in Germany as we speak?
Yes, I am in Hamburg. Think of a cheeseburger without cheese and that’s where I’m at [laughs].I have to tell you. When the debut Kingdom Come album came out, my friends and I were so pumped and into that record.
Oh, you mean the one that sounded just like Madonna right? [laughs]
[Laughs]. Yes, THAT album. Lenny, I love the fact that you have continued to put out album after album of amazing music. You never seemed to lose inspiration or drive. What keeps you going over 20 years later to keep doing this?
Throughout 90’s and into 2000 Kingdom Come did not make very much noise so we didn’t really have a strong fan base that we could hold on to like the bigger bands. In the meantime, if you’re a musician you have to write and you have to create. That is my mission. Kingdom Come is my baby so I basically continued my calling and continued to put out music never worrying about trends or what I should be doing or trying to look like somebody from the grunge scene. I just minded my own business and did my thing. I’m a full blooded musician. I need to hide in my creative bubble and write and create. It’s what I do. I’m able to do that whenever and wherever so everything is good. I’ve taught myself not to have any expectations where you can be disappointed.Kingdom Come is about to release it’s new album “Rendered Waters” which is fantastic. I just want to know, why go back and re-record some of the older songs like “Pushing Hard” and “Seventeen.”
This time I thought after 22 years that I wanted to give some of the older songs a chance to see the light of day again. Especially songs that we’ve been playing throughout all the years that started to sound a little different. I like the songs from the old days but our hearing habits have changed so I just tried to record them in the way that I hear them today. Whether that’s good or bad is up to the people to decided but it’s just something that I wanted to do.Ok Lenny, let’s take a step back in time. In 1988, Kingdom Come released their debut album. How did a young singer from Germany end up with 4 Americans to form Kingdom Come?
I was working with a German band called Funhouse and the guitar player was an older guy who was dealing with German microphones called Neumann. He had been collecting them here in Germany and was selling them to his partner who was based in Los Angeles who then sold all the microphones to different studios. We had been doing some demo songs and we sent those demos to my guitarist’s partner in LA. He submitted those demos to Marty Wolff who became our manager. He then passed on the tapes to several record companies. One of the guys from Elektra records, Roy Thomas Baker, liked the stuff so much that he actually flew to Hamburg with Marty Wolff and they checked us out. They liked us and we all got excited talking about the bright future. In the end, nothing worked out and nothing happened. Marty Wolff then called me and asked me to come out to LA for three weeks. I was 21 or 22 and found myself on a plane to LA and it was very exciting. I ended up living in LA with this wonderful family for the first 2, 2 ½ years. Please stop me if this story goes on for too long [laughs].Lenny, please continue! This is great.
[laughs] Ok. While in LA, Marty introduced me to Bruce Gowdy and we just started to bang out some songs and then Marty got us some studio time. The guy who produced the songs was Andy Johns who was the engineer for some of the Zeppelin songs. We did two songs and afterward I flew back to Hamburg and started biting my nails and getting excited. In the end, lots of labels were interested and they flew me back to LA. That’s when I formed Stone Fury which ended up being a flop but was a great experience nonetheless. Once Stone Fury failed I just hid out in my own apartment writing songs but the whole record industry passed on me because Stone Fury had failed. The only guy that gave me a break was Derek Schulman at Polydor Records. He told me that he really liked my vocals but that I needed to put a band together. I contacted Lucy Forbes who I had met at the Rainbow (Bar & Grill) which was basically my 2nd living room in LA. She was running a connection agency that hooked up musicians who were looking for gigs and jobs and whatnot. I rented this rehearsal place for a couple of days and that’s how I met James (Kotak; drums) and Johnny (B. Frank; bass) and Rick (Stier; rhythm guitar). That’s how it all started for us!That’s a killer story Lenny. You must have felt a really strong musical connection with these guys when you met them because you can really hear it in the songs.
Yes. There were lots of drummers coming in. Some of them sucked and some of them were OK but when James [Kottak] came in it was like a love affair [laughs]. He was charming and a great guy to work with and played the drums great. Danny Stag came in and he was this major Jimi Hendrix fan and brought in this Hendrix tone which I was a huge fan of in those days. I had been looking for that kind of tone and Danny delivered that exact kind of tone. His best friend was Johnny B. Frank (bass) and while his bass playing was ok, I just really dug him as a person. His personality really completed mine and we just started banging out songs. I never thought it was fair that KC got so much backlash for sounding like Zeppelin. Did the criticism you received sometimes make it hard on you?
I was a young man, a singer who hardly spoke English and our band just exploded. We were excited and at first the press celebrated us. I remember Kerrang said, “Finally, there’s a band like ‘the big magic Z’!” and we were all very happy. I must admit that there were some similarities but in no way did we even get close. Every band, especially young bands, are influenced by somebody and those influences will surface when you start writing your own stuff. In the beginning, we took it as a compliment then all of the sudden some press person overheard Danny (Stag; guitarist) saying, “Who’s Jimmy Page.” He was saying it out of context like, “Oh no, not this question again.” so he printed that one line: “Kingdom Come guitarist announces he’s never heard of Jimmy Page.” This is so far out and ridiculous but the way the media works. The press loves victims. They love kicking you when you on the ground and they’ll kick you even more. That’s just the way it is. We also learned that bad press is better than no press and once I realized that, I just ignored it and I didn’t care any more. Fortunately, the music does all the talking and if the music gives you goosebumps and the music moves you than don’t worry about it.I’d much rather have somebody say I sounded like Led Zeppelin than some crappy band.
[laughs] Exactly! Like I said, we took it as a compliment and were excited. We were playing in London the night before Robert Plant was playing and we went down to see him. He was goofing with us, having fun and he was so relaxed. Robert Plant is like above all. He’s really above everything. He was joking with us and it was really great. It really made me sad when I noticed Jimmy Page, who was one of my heroes, starting to whine about little Kingdom Come who was never really a threat at all. I’m very happy and very grateful that whatever happened happened because I could be driving a truck here in Germany delivering washing machines or whatever so who am I to complain [laughs]?
Of all the tours Kingdom Come has been part of over the years (from Black Sabbath to Monsters of Rock), which ones stand out as the best experiences?
Obviously the Monsters of Rock tour. For a young band who had just started out to all of the sudden be on some of the worlds biggest stages was a major rush for us. It was amazing. That was a once in a lifetime experience that I’ll never forget. We went to Japan with Bon Jovi, we toured with The Scorpions and so on but the Monsters of Rock tour was definitely something very very special. Not just because we were playing in front of so many people but the whole surrounding. We had a lot of time on our hands because we were only playing for 45 minutes and we had a lot of spare days. We spent a lot of time hanging out with locals and it was just like the holiday of our lives. Playing in Russia was also an amazing experience. They are very passionate people and full of love. Many times it was very overwhelming. It was very emotional and a wonderful experience. There’s nothing like playing for people that came to see us.I remember hearing that Kingdom Come were offered some other tours but you passed them up to do the Monsters of Rock tour. Are you glad you did?
We were offered an opening slot with AC/DC or Def Leppard but our manager said to go with the Monsters of Rock because we would be able to reach so many people in a small amount of time. We were talking about on average 50-60,000 people per show. It was so exciting and it was a fantastic tour for us. What I really hated though was having to play early [laughs]. I’m a night owl and I usually don’t go to bed before 2 or 3 in the morning. When I get up I need time to get my brain in gear. On that tour I would get up, have my coffee and an hour later I had to go on stage screaming my ass off [laughs]. My vocals need at least a ½ a day to warm up. Everything else about that tour was a fantastic experience and I’m very grateful to have been a part of that and nobody can take that away from me. It was great.The classic line up from the first two albums is the one that most are familiar with. Why did you guys disband after only two albums?
I think back on those times now and I wishing things would have started a little bit slower and that we had connected more closely. Bands like AC/DC and Aerosmith were living together for many years through all the ups and downs and fighting periods. Kingdom Come never had that. The bonding wasn’t as strong. We just hooked up, did a record and all the sudden we were #12 on Billboard and we didn’t know what hit us. There was a subconscious pressure all of the sudden which we did not handle very well. I’m sure in many aspects I fucked up too. We were young and things happened too fast. It is what it is and I have no regrets. Sometimes I feel a slower pace would have been healthier than the success and then all of the sudden Seattle came around the corner in the 90’s and all the bands from the 70’s and 80’s were all out of work [laughs].I heard that a couple of summers ago your reunited with ? of the classic Kingdom Come lineup. How did that come about?
Actually we had a show at the Rocklahoma festival in 1998. My production manager had moved out to Tennessee and is working out of there now. He lined up this Rocklahoma festival and we knew we wouldn’t make any money but we just wanted to say hello to the American fans again. It was so hot it nearly knocked me out [laughs]. I’m not used to that it was so hot and humid. Great people and great audience that day. My bass player, my manager Martina and I continued on to LA to see some friends and hang out. James (Kottak) happened to be around so we hooked up. Rick (Stier) and Johnny B. (Frank) was around so we all hooked up except for Danny (Stag) who is living Pittsburgh now. We all got something to eat and then went to this club where James knew someone and ended up jamming a couple of songs. It was nice to see the boys again. There were never any hard feelings. Actually a couple of years ago Kingdom Come played Russia with the Scorpions and it was great to see James again. He ended up jamming on “Do You Like It” on stage with us.Is there any chance that Kingdom Come will ever come over to the states for a tour?
That would be wonderful. I’m still emotionally connected to America since I spent 10 years of my life there. It just has to make sense. I don’t care about making money but it has to be sensible. We just need to find the right promoter who’s willing to take a risk and say “OK” and just get us enough money to take care of travel issues, production and make sure the boys can get something to eat and maybe take a buck or two back home [laughs]. If that can happen we’ll get right on the plane.I’ve been asking this question a lot because I get some fun answers. Are you into collecting anything crazy like music memorabilia, tattoos, etc?
I’m not into collecting anything really. Sorry to disappoint you. I’m very boring [laughs]. Kingdom Come is so unspectacular. We are so boring. I mean, we are not even drug addicts [laughs]. I know it’s not very smart to say when you wanna be a cool rock band but we are so un-fucking-believably sober that it’s disgusting. [laughs] I think I am the last singer on this planet without a tattoo. I’ve got to do something about that [laughs]. I just don’t know what to put no my arms! Maybe the orange 76 gas station logo. I kinda like that one [laughs].Lenny, thank you so much for talking to me today! This has really been a real treat for this long time fan!
Don, you’ve made my day. Thank you so much for spreading the word. Thank you so very much. Best to you and rock n’ roll!
*This interview belongs to the great southern brainfart