KINGDOM COME’s JAMES KOTTAK – “It’s A Celebration Of The Debut Album”
October 16, 2018, a month ago
Rarely has everything fallen into place so perfectly immediately after the formation of a rock band. But that was certainly the case with Kingdom Come, circa 1988 - a gold-certified self-titled debut album, an MTV/radio hit with “Get It On,” and a spot on one of the decade’s top U.S. stadium tours, Monsters of Rock. But seemingly endless comparisons to Led Zeppelin and changing musical tastes resulted in their success being fleeting, and after one more album, 1989’s In Your Face, the original KC line-up was kaput (although singer Lenny Wolf would carry on with replacements). But this year, the original line-up - sans Wolf - has reunited for live work, with an eye on continuing long-term. Drummer James Kottak spoke with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato about the band’s past, present, and future.
BraveWords: How did this reunion happen?
James Kottak: “Actually, I started talking to Lenny in about 2008, because I knew the Scorpions’ farewell tour was coming in 2010, and we were going to have an album and a world tour, and it could last about two-and-a-half years. So, we talked. And then we got together - Lenny came over in early 2013. We all got together, we rehearsed, we had some shows booked...and then I got a call from the Scorpions camp, saying, ‘Y’know James, we decided not to say farewell. We’re going to do another album and world tour.’ So, the Scorpions went on for another three-and-a-half years. So, I put Kingdom Come on the backburner, as well as my Kottak solo project. Fast-forward to November of last year, I got itching, because I had taken a year-and-a-half off. I got a hold of Lenny, and said, ‘Come on! We’ve got to do this!’ And I got an agent and manager lined up. But then in January of 2018, Lenny gave me a call, and said, ‘I’m burnt out. I just don’t want to do it. I’m retired.’ So, here we are though, we’ve got the original four ‘Kingdom Comes’ - myself, Rick Steier and Danny Stag on guitars, and Johnny ‘JB’ Frank on bass. Dude, it’s up and running, and it’s bitching. With Keith St. John - the singer from Montrose, Lynch Mob, etcetera. It’s blazing. It’s killer.”
BraveWords: How did you find Keith?
James Kottak: “I originally met Keith in ’90 or ’91. I was putting together Wild Horses, which was a side project I was doing during Kingdom Come, and we auditioned about 50 guys, and he was one of them. He got my vote, but I got out-voted, and we got someone else. And that happens. But I saw him around LA for the next 28/29 years, and we did a few things together - we played on a couple of albums and jammed here and there. He put together a ‘Ronnie Montrose Remembered’ show about two years ago, and I did it that year, and I just did it this past January. And I went, ’Oh my God...KEITH!’ He’s a natural fit, because the original four, we’re super-tight, we’re friends for years. We actually like each other - we have a blast. Keith walked in to dinner with all of us, and it just fit like a glove. Not to mention that he’s a phenomenal singer, he’s an incredible presence, and he brings so much positivity and vibe to the table. And he can sing his ass off.”
BraveWords: Are you still in contact with Lenny, and did he give you his blessing to continue as Kingdom Come?
James Kottak: “Lenny did give us his blessing, and he was very forthright in doing so. He was like, ‘I just don’t want to do it, but whatever you want to do James, go for it.’ And I said, ‘Well...we’re going to go.’ We put this together with some legal mumbo jumbo, so we’re up and running, and things are good.”
BraveWords: This year is the 30 year anniversary of Kingdom Come’s debut album.
James Kottak: “Funny enough, I auditioned with Lenny, and there were probably 50/60 drummers. And Lenny and I hit it off - we clicked right from the minute we met. And then along comes Danny, Johnny, and Rick, and the next thing you know, Derek Shulman from Polygram came to a rehearsal, listened to three songs, and said, ‘Let’s go make an album.’ The next thing you know, we’re in Vancouver with Bob Rock - from Mötley Crüe and Metallica. This was kind of his first big solo venture, because he was Bruce Fairbairn’s right-hand guy. We did that album, and honestly, without sounding corny or dorky, it was really magic. The next thing you know, the single ‘Get It On’ is hitting, and the following February of 1988, we’re on tour in Europe, and we had no idea what was going on in America - because back then, news moved much slower. The next thing you know, we ship 600,000 units - we shipped gold. It was surreal.”
BraveWords: What do you recall about filming the video for “Get It On”?
James Kottak: “We went to the warehouse to do it, and it was this massive set-up - trees, like we were out in a forest. It was unbelievable. It cost like, $110,000! I was going, ‘What?!’ That’s what videos cost to do back then. It was a surreal experience. And that day, we took a break somewhere during the shooting, and we had a convertible - a Cadillac - and we went for a cruise down Sunset, and that was the first time we heard ‘Get It On’ on the radio - on KLOS. We freaked out. That was a banner day.”
BraveWords: And what about the Monsters of Rock Tour, in the summer of 1988?
James Kottak: “We got back from our Europe tour sometime in early May. We got off the plane and we went to get in the cars, and there was our manager and two assistants - standing there with gold albums. They presented it to us, and we were going, ‘What?!’ And our manager had been going, ‘When you guys get back, I’ve got to tell you about this tour you’re going to be on. You’re not going to believe it.’ And we were going, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ And he then told us, ‘It’s going to be Kingdom Come, Metallica, Dokken, Scorpions, and Van Halen. It’s going to be a stadium tour. 33 cities. It’s going to be the biggest thing ever.’ And we go, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Sure enough, the first three shows were Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. Three days, 40,000 people, sold out each day. We freaked. We went on at 2:00, and there were at least 20-30,000 people there. And every show was phenomenal. It was an event. I’ll never forget it - I’m so grateful and thankful that it happened.”
BraveWords: Why do you think the band could not sustain its early success?
James Kottak: “The first album was what it was. And then, this other little band called Guns N’ Roses came along. When Guns N’ Roses exploded in the summer of 1988, it was kind of like, ‘Kingdom who?’ Guns N’ Roses just swept everybody under the rug. And then fast-forward to our second album, In Your Face, by then, the musical climate had changed, and the labels were trying to sign anybody that was like, sleaze rock or whatever you want to call Guns N’ Roses. But it was phenomenon. There hadn’t been anything like that - other than Nirvana - since, that I can recall. They changed the landscape. Kingdom Come was always ‘the odd band out.’ We were kind of like, hard rock with a bluesy edge - at a time when hair metal was ruling. There were so many great hair metal bands - if you want to call it that. We were the odd band out. And the next thing you know, along comes Nirvana - geez, talk about another change. So, it’s evolution. Things happen. But now it seems to be the right time to come back and do this.”
BraveWords: What can fans expect at these upcoming shows?
James Kottak: “It’s a celebration of the debut album of Kingdom Come, so we’re playing basically the entire album. Not in sequence - we’re skipping around. And we’re playing four or five songs off In Your Face, and we may have a few surprises up our sleeve. This tour is meant to reconnect with journalists and radio, but most importantly, it is to reconnect with our family, friends, and fans - all over the country. We’re hitting 16 states and 22 shows I think. We want to cover as much geographical ground as possible, so we can get a taste and a feel for the climate that is out there, and get feedback from our friends, of what we think we should do next. We’re taking this slow and being methodical about it, as opposed to normally, James Kottak is going, ‘Let’s do that! Yes, yes, yes!’ This time, I’m pausing a little and we’re going to see what’s going on out there. So, we’ll see.”
BraveWords: Beyond this tour, do you think the band will remain together and work on new music?
James Kottak: “Absolutely. Contractually, we’re not allowed to release anything at this point in time, but of course, we all have ideas. We already have some shows booked for 2019. We’re in this for the long run. We have plans to do this and we have plans to do that. So, we’ll see. It’s a work in progress, and we’ll see what happens.”
BraveWords: What happened between you and the Scorpions?
James Kottak: “It’s no secret that over the years, I’ve had my problems with alcohol. But quite honestly, over the last ten years, 90% of the time, I was abstaining - I was working my program, and not drinking. However, as any addict knows, part of the recovery process is you’re going to relapse. Not that I’m proud of it, but that was a little bit of a factor. But also, after 21 years, a lot can happen with a band, and it’s kind of like a marriage. It just felt like it was time to move on. It was kind of like a mutual thing. The Scorpions gave me chances, however, the disease got me. But I did go down to Crossroads - Eric Clapton’s Crossroads, in Antigua. I spent like, 90 days there. It was the best thing that ever happened. It was in April of 2016. And then I came back, and spent a good year-and-a-half getting my act together. And I struggled, man. I was in and out. But now, it’s great. Again, it’s one day at a time. I’m working my program, and for those who have the gene like I do, it’s work. You can’t let your guard down. But if you want to sit in front of me and drink a bottle of Jack Daniels, go for it - I’m not going to tell you not to. I’ll watch. When it comes to addiction, if I am honest and forthright about my story, maybe it helps somebody out there, so they don’t feel alone. But I’m not out to save the world - if you’re going to drink, go drink, I don’t care. But even if one person reads about my struggle and the things I’ve been through, it might encourage them to get their act together.”
BraveWords: Why do you think Kingdom Come was so criticized for sounding like Led Zeppelin at the time, yet modern day bands like Greta Van Fleet are more accepted?
James Kottak: “The musical climate has changed. Things are much different now. Everybody is much more open. I’m just so excited for it, Greta Van Fleet - they’re great. I love it because they’re like, fourteen or fifteen years old, and they actually mentioned us in a couple of interviews, because we went through it. But I’ll tell you what, when you’re doing interviews - especially in 1988/1989 - there wasn’t internet, and there wasn’t a lot of video. It was mostly print. So, one or two of our guys said something in passing, sarcastically, ‘I’ve never heard of Led Zeppelin.’ Well, unfortunately, sarcasm does not come across in print. You don’t get the inflection like you hear in my voice now. So, whoever was doing that interview ran that as a quote in the headline or whatever, and from that, in a way, we were doomed. Whenever a journalist brought up Led Zeppelin, I was like, ‘Are you kidding? Thank you! To be compared to the greatest rock band in the history of the world...thank you! Say it again!’ I always embraced it. I still do. I had the Led Zeppelin IV 8-track - I used to play that thing over and over in my basement in ’72 or whenever it was. It is what it is. But now, everybody is a little more accepting.”