From out of nowhere in 1987, Kingdom Come was formed and quickly signed to Polydor Records. German singer Lenny Wolf, along with drummer James Kottak, lead guitarist Danny Stag, rhythm guitarist Rick Steier, and bassist Johnny B. Frank, delivered the first debut album in U.S. history to ship gold, based primarily on the hype generated by the advance single “Get It On.”
By the time the third single was put to radio and MTV, the album had reached platinum status in the United States, Germany, and Canada. After a 52-city sold-out tour of Europe, the band was chosen to open for the North American Monsters of Rock Tour in 1988 supporting Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken, and Metallica. Further touring included more dates with Scorpions, Black Sabbath, Bon Jovi, Ratt, and Warrant.
In 1989, Kingdom Come went on to release their second album In Your Face using producer Keith Olson (Whitesnake, Foreigner). They released three singles from the recording and toured with Black Sabbath and Warrant. While out on tour supporting In Your Face, the band abruptly broke up due to personal reasons.
Lenny Wolf carried on with the Kingdom Come name for years afterward, but none of the original members were involved. In 2014, there was talk of a full reunion, but James Kottak’s responsibilities with Scorpions threw a wrench into those plans. In 2016, Lenny Wolf, and original members Danny Stag, and Johnny B. Frank performed on the Monsters of Rock Cruise, giving the band a partial reunion. Shortly afterward, Wolf declared the band finished.
2018 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the band’s classic debut, which is by far their most popular release internationally. James Kottak has revived Kingdom Come along with original members Danny Stag, Rick Steier, and Johnny B. Frank. The members reached out to Lenny Wolf several times to participate in the reunion, but he respectfully declined the offer. He does, however, fully support the members moving forward without him. The current version of Kingdom Come includes singer Keith St. John (Montrose, Lynch Mob) and will tour in 2018 – 2019 performing their debut album in its entirety along with music from their second album In Your Face.
James Kottak took some time out of his rehearsal schedule to talk a bit about the reunion and upcoming tour dates with PureGrainAudio. That interview is presented here along with the unabridged audio via SoundCloud.
You have not booked a date up in Toronto yet, and I hope you’re not gonna forget us here in good Toronto!
James Kottak: We haven’t, and there’s a couple offers, but it just wasn’t enough to make the trip. If we do come up, we wanna go Toronto all the way over and hit eight cities. We played Canada with Scorpions so many times, and with Kingdom Come, and it’s such a great place to play, everybody loves rock n’ roll so much. If we’re gonna go in, we’re gonna spend some time and stay there.
Cool. I figured it’d be 2019.
Kottak: Yeah, there’s a lot being offered so we’re pretty excited.
Do you want to take us back about 30 years? We’ll talk a bit about 1987 and 1988, how Kingdom Come came together originally?
Kottak: Well before, in 1986, I did an album with Ronnie Montrose, the Montrose Mean album. I’d been trying to get to LA because I knew the scene was exploding, and he invited me to San Francisco to do the album. Once I got to San Francisco, I just went, “Oh my God! What am I missing?” I got it together and moved to LA, and believe it or not, I answered an ad in Music Connection magazine, which was pretty big for the time. It’s everything to do with the music industry, blah blah.
And I went to this audition. There was a lot of drummers, they ended up auditioning something like 60 drummers. I just went myself, and me and Lenny (Wolf) kinda hit it off. And then we got Danny (Stag), and Johnny (Frank) who’s the guitar and bass player, and then Rick Steier came in. At the time, we were kinda like, “Uh, what’s gonna go on?” but we did our first demo with Bob Rock, who as you know did Mötley Crüe, Metallica, etc.
And the pieces just came together, and we started this, and then somebody leaked a track, and then everyone thought it was Led Zeppelin, and I’m goin’, “Right on! I’ll take that!” Then, the album came out, and it was just, wow, it was whirlwind. It was everything I had ever wanted in my entire life. We hit it, and it was so awesome and I’m so grateful and thankful for that time, ‘cuz it set a precedent for everything else. Plus, that’s when I met the Scorpions.
I’d forgotten that was a Bob Rock record until I was looking up for some information to chat today, and it was like, “Oh my God, he produced that thing!” That’s awesome!
Kottak: That was one of his first productions. He was always Bruce Fairbairn’s right-hand guy, which producers often share, so it worked out really cool, and Bob Rock, there you go.
Let Kingdom Come show you “What Love Can Be” with the classic live video.
So, how did you go about getting signed? You must have had a number of labels interested in your material, once it went out for tender.
Kottak: Well, Lenny had a manager and the manager was already shopping the tape around, ‘cuz he’d been in the business for a long time, and there was already interest, but it came down to Polygram. Derek Shulman came down over to our rehearsal, and everything just fell into place. He goes, “Let’s go!” Next thing you know, three months later we’re in the studio in Vancouver with Bob Rock.
I remember buying that album back in the day. Pardon me… the cassette tape. Because that’s what I was listening to back then, right? It just came out of nowhere. It was one of the first albums where I remember thinking, “This is a debut album that has so much power and strength behind it. There was not really a lot that I could compare it to. Maybe Van Halen’s first album?” It was pretty wild.
Kottak: Thank you. Well, also at the time, there was so much hair metal and great metal bands… we were not that. We were more like rock-blues. And not in that order but it had hard rock in it. We were hard rock with a blues feel, and it was different from everybody else, and maybe that’s what helped. A little bit of this and that, and I’m still super proud of it.
Is there anything you remember that Bob Rock brought to that album, while you were working with him? Something that strikes you as being different or interesting that helped the music along?
Kottak: I don’t wanna be cliché, but man, he brought something magical out when we were up there rehearsing. We were in LA rehearsing in this huge warehouse, rockstar type place. We go to Vancouver, we looked at the room, and I’m not kidding, it was like 14×14, we were in each other’s face, and every nuance. He just kicked our ass. He took it from, “Oh, we’ve got some songs,” to, “Now we REALLY got some songs.” His production work on that album was phenomenal. He also knows how to talk to bands; he knew how to talk to Lenny one way, talk to me one way. That’s what a producer does, he guides you through making an album, that he puts on the icing on the cake. He killed it.
Were Danny, Rick, and Johnny a part of any Kingdom Come inceptions after you left?
Kottak: Well, we did the second album In Your Face, we were all on that. And we all co-wrote quite a bit on it, but when it imploded, it was kinda like, it all happened, and the writing was on the wall. It was one of those things. When you’re in a band, you know it. You don’t want it to end, but there was no alternative. We took some months off, but in the meantime, I’d already been working on the Wild Horses project with a friend of mine, even though I had Kingdom Come, I was just like, “Well, let’s do an album on the side.” That turned into my main thing, so Wild Horses then got a deal with Atlantic, and I said “Hasta la vista,” and we did our album, and it went ten! (laughs) Or nickel.
In Your Face was the band’s sophomore record, released in 1989.
So, how is it stepping back into Kingdom Come territory for you now? Is it kinda surreal for you? Are you embracing this material again whole-heartedly?
Kottak: Well, it’s awesome. Like I said, me and Rick just feel a lot of love from each other. He played all of my Kottak solo albums, Johnny and Danny, we all just fit like a glove. There’s a great bond there, we’ve never not talked to each other over the years. And they are very sincere. It just works! And we brought in Keith St. John, he sang with Montrose, of course, and Lynch Mob, and gosh, everybody else. He came in and fit right in, he was like one of our brothers immediately. Everything happens for a reason.
This is an anecdote – right now I’m listening to Nikki Sixx’s Heroin Diaries book in my car on audio, he’s narrating it. And I didn’t know about any of the debaucheries that were going on back in the day. I was pretty naïve I guess. Was there anything like that for Kingdom Come? Were you snowballed in with a whole bunch of bands, and exposed to women and drugs and shenanigans?
Kottak: Of course, well it was a different time then. Of course, we all drank, we were drinking like fish, and especially if you were hanging out with Metallica in a hotel, and it’s midnight. Me and James Hetfield runnin’ down to buy a couple of cases of beer. And then there goes the hotel room. (laughs) Everything was around, but we were always able to keep it under control and stay on the straight and narrow as much as we could. Plus our manager kicked our ass, which was really a good thing.
So what’re you thinking now? It’s not gonna be alcohol and wild parties on this tour, it’s gonna be Voltaren and fruit smoothies, right? Everybody’s sorta pushin’ fifty now.
Kottak: Well, not to sound like a stick in the mud, but we do have a no alcohol policy backstage. We tell the club in advance, don’t be sending up pitchers of beer or shots of vodka or anything, we’re not drinking it. Y’know, we’re all the better for it. I’ve struggled over the years, I’ve been up and down, I’ve been in and out, but mostly I’ve been IN for the last eight years, and I’ve done really well. But then you struggle, and you fall off, and then new problems come up. We’re way past that, we enjoy life and rock n’ roll and people and talking and all those types of things.
Tell me about right now, then. You’ve got four of your five original members together, have you done rehearsals? Have you gamed-up on all these songs?
Kottak: I’m at rehearsal now! We’ve been hitting it man, we started pre-production at Rick’s studio, and then we’re actually moving into my place tonight, I have a studio as well with my partner Bruce, and we were in there quite a bit. Just for reference, I’ve recorded the drums over so the guys can play along with it and practice. It is a labor of love, and practice is never really fun, but we make it fun ‘cuz we’re all friends. That’s something about the Scorpions that a lot of people don’t realize, what makes it works is everybody’s friends. We have our differences, and I got 21 years out of that. That really helped. It was awesome, are you kidding?! I got to roam around the world with some friends of mine.
Ready to “Get It On?” Check out the video for this Kingdom Come classic.
Have you talked at all about what it’s gonna look like, two or three years down the road? Do you think you might go into the studio, are you gonna record some of the stuff for a live album?
Kottak: Y’know, all that stuff has been brought up, especially during interviews. But for the moment, we’re focusing on getting up and running, getting out there, checking in with fans and friends, what they think and want us to do. You never know how this is gonna go, we could get out there and it could flop. I doubt it, but it could. We’re just testing the waters, but it’s not a whim, we’re not just gonna go away. Unless we’re playing to the crickets. (laughs)
Well I can tell you in all honesty, that I know about ten people who are pretty stoked about this 30-year announcement, that tour dates are coming and they are talking about traveling. So what’s close? Do we go to Detroit?
Kottak: Well, I dunno how close Poughkeepsie is, Poughkeepsie’s on the list. But we only get to play 50 minutes, ‘cuz Zebra’s on the bill, they play second that night for some reason. Even though I like those guys, they’re very good.
So, do you think that you’ve got a book in you? You’ve been immersed in rock n’ roll for over thirty years now. Do you have anything in your lifetime that you think you could put pen to paper and tell a story?
Kottak: Believe it or not, when I was on holiday in Dubai, every day I wrote front and back pages, handwritten. I have about 190 pages of a book. The story stops at around 2017, so there’s more catching up to do. But you know what? I’d love to get it out, find the right publisher, the right people who do that. Some of the ghostwriters want a lot of money, and a lot of publishing companies now don’t want to pay it anymore.
What are your plans for merchandising on this tour? Are we gonna be seeing some retro designs? I don’t even know if the first album is still in print, it certainly isn’t available for streaming.
Kottak: No, but it will be. That one and they just put the second one up digitally, Universal did. I’m sure, depending on the success of this, there will be a re-release I’m sure, and that’s good for everybody. We’ll see, it’s yet to be seen right now.
I also noticed you’re offering VIP meet-and-greets on the tour. Are there any details you want to include about how they’re gonna be different? I noticed the soundcheck…
Kottak: Well, I’ll tell you what, it’s not very expensive. (laughs) I don’t know where the soundcheck thing ever came from, I don’t think we ever agreed to that, but we’ll probably do something where we also let the VIPs come up onstage and feel what it’s like. And, you know, really take the time and spend a good time talking. All the things that you want to do. I’ve done hundreds of them with Scorpions and with a lot of bands like that, where they just get you in, and they get out. You get your photo and your gift bag, and you’re out. But we’ll have the time to actually communicate and talk one-on-one.