Interview: Lenny Wolf of Kingdom Come
From their debut self-titled release in 1988 Kingdom Come burst on to the scene with their blues infused rock riffs. Now, over twenty years later, Lenny Wolf and the latest incarnation of Kingdom Come are back with Rendered Waters – a collection of new songs and modern re-works of old classics.
I recently had a chance to talk to Lenny about the new album, the band’s history and the ups and downs alogn the way.
Interviewed by: Roger Scales
Your new album Rendered Waters features remakes of some early Kingdom Come classics such as “The Wind”, “Should I”, “Pushing Hard” and others. There is an even a remake of the Stone Fury classic “Tear Down The Walls” which I think sounds even better than the original version. Was this a way to resurrect these early tracks by having the current lineup give them some new life?
That was basically what this ambitious project was all about. After thinking about this concept over the past 3 or 4 years one of the things that stood out for me in playing a lot of these songs live was how different they sound from the original versions. Some of the songs are slower and heavier and the guitar sound has changed the most I think from the earlier records. I think people’s listening habits have changed a lot over the past few years. Some people really like the older 80’s versions and that’s fine. For me personally when I listen to the 80’s style guitar sounds (for the most part) I get a toothache. I wanted to be able to produce a record now in 2011 so when I put it on and listen to it in my car I get a stiffy. Also for our younger fans and basically anyone who has seen the band live or been buying our past few albums we wanted to give them a different take on some classic Kingdom Come tracks with this newer band. What’s really the hardest part about rerecording older tracks is not to change the song so much that you don’t recognize it at all or change the basic structure of it so it’s completely ruined. This was much harder than writing the new tracks that appear on “Rendered Waters” by far.
Speaking of those 3 new tracks “Blue Trees”, “Is It Fair Enough?” and “Don’t Remember” – were these tracks written specifically for this project or were they left over from an older recording session?
Those songs were all written in 2010. I never have a plan to create anything new but when the inspiration strikes me I write. I’m not a guy that listens to what everybody is doing now or what’s popular and use that as motivation to create new music. I don’t think in terms of maybe I should sound this way. Writing songs is a very pure natural progression for me in terms of the nature of the subject matter in the songs and basically I just create based on the events in the world around me. Basically if anyone wants to find out anything about me just listen to my songs. They are the most brutal and honest statements about myself I could possible give you. I write out of the spirit of the moment. Those songs were written during a period in which I was jamming with Michael Schenker (Scorpions, UFO, MSG) and Herman Rarebell (Scorpions) in the UK preparing for a music convention in Frankfort last year. The ideas and riffs for the new tracks stemmed from these jam sessions. I basically just finished them up in my studio when I returned and they did morph into the three new tracks on Rendered Waters.
Are there any touring plans for 2011 in support of Rendered Waters?
We were talking with Magnum and Kings X but that bill was already set and the dates were already booked so it was too soon to jump on that tour. We would love to tour again but nothing is set in stone at this time. We have a new touring manager based out of Tennessee (although he is from Germany) and we are looking to go out this summer but no definitive plans at this time. We really want to play the States again. After all I did live there for 10 years and feel very connected to my fans there that have supported me over the years. I would love to make some noise there again.
Going back to 1987 when your band Stone Fury broke up you were able to assemble what became Kingdom Come rather quickly and subsequently releasing the first record in early 1988. Talk a little bit about that period and how much did Mercury/Polygram influence whom was ultimately chosen for the band?
I was living in LA at the time and had a good working relationship with Bruce Gowdy, my partner in Stone Fury, it was like a paid education into the music business. I had lots of fun working with Andy Johns who produced the first Stone Fury record. I used to love to listen to his stories about his work with Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie, Free, The Rolling Stones. It was after the second Stone Fury record during which MCA asked me to work with Richard Landers and it was a nightmare. Up to that point he had not worked with a lot of rock acts and knew nothing about the direction Bruce and I wanted to take. We had written some very good songs that had potential and then all of a sudden he turned our direction into something neither of us recognized. It got to the point where I was asked to stay out of the studio because of fear of a physical confrontation. Stone Fury failed from this point on. I then just started to write songs. I wrote a lot of stuff and my then manager Mart Wolff started to shop my demos from material that ended up on the first Kingdom Come record. Every label passed on me because Stone Fury didn’t do well and they didn’t feel I was very marketable. Derek Shulman who was at Mercury/Polygram at the time did see some potential in me and after listening to the demos said listen Lenny the demos are not good but did hear something in my vocal style and told me to get a band together. Since I was based in LA there was a lady named Lucy Forbes who was running an agency that was connecting musicians looking for their next project. She put together a group of players and that’s how I found James, Johnny, Rick and Danny. Danny was a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix and he had the tone I was looking for in a guitar player at the time. Rick was different but enjoyed his playing style as well Johnny B. Frank was a not a great bass player but we had two things in common: fast woman and fast cars so I thought he’d be a good fit. James – I knew after ten minutes he was the drummer for me.
So do you think Bob Rock was a big reason why that first self titled record was such a huge hit coming right out of the gate?
Working with Bob Rock and co-producing the record with him was one of the best experiences I have ever had in this business. Bob up to that point was really only an engineer on various Canadian music projects. Great guy. Very talented . Knew exactly how to get the most out of you without changing you. We did the record in Vancouver and the record blew up and here we were one of the hottest new bands on the scene and the fun was only just beginning.
I don’t think any new band in the late 1980’s on its first ever tour got a better opening slot on a bill than you did opening for Metallica, Dokken, Scorpions and Van Halen on the US Monsters of Rock tour in 1988. Was there a lot of pressure felt by you and the rest of the band having such a coveted spot so early in your career?
I’m very grateful having been able to experience those dates during that summer. It’s one of the highlights of my career which no one can ever take away from me. Despite what you may have read in the past or that has been erroneously reported previously it was wonderful. But I don’t think it was the healthiest situation for a musician to be in because we did not have the time to gel as a band and family or as a functioning creative team because we were just thrust into the limelight rather quickly. There was so much subconscious pressure coming from so many different avenues which then led me in many situations to behave in a way which I do regret. I never meant any harm but I was perceived at the time to be an asshole. I’m a perfectionist who’s very impatient and did not speak English very well so it got the best of me. Take any huge band like Bon Jovi, AC/DC, The Beatles they went through years of playing clubs, working to get to the next level step by step and I look at that was a healthier way to do things and to be able to line up everything the way you want it to go. Kingdom Come really never got that chance. This was a huge reason that led to the breakup of the band. The other being of course the shift in the early 90’s to grunge and all of those bands coming out of Seattle.
Kingdom Come then opened for The Scorpions on their own headlining tour in the fall in support of Savage Amusement. Being a German born musician that must have been a huge thrill for you personally?
Honestly it didn’t affect me one way or the other. A great band is a great band regardless of the country of origin. We were so remote control at that point by managers I really didn’t have time to think about it much. I really enjoyed a lot of early Scorpions material but most of the mid to late 80’s material did not tickle me that much. Don’t get me wrong I truly enjoyed staying on the road with a big established band and playing in front of big audiences. We had offers from AC/DC and Def Leppard at the time whether or not it would have been better or not to go out with one of them who knows. To tell you the truth the reason I didn’t want to go out with AC/DC is because I was scared we would not be accepted by their core fan base. You don’t want to open for them because fans come to see only them. I think I saw Don Dokken solo open for them and it was like a nightmare because the audience just was not receptive to his sound.
When you went back into the studio to record In Your Face did you feel pressure again from Mercury to follow up with any other hit album and what was it like working with Keith Olsen as a producer?
You can blame my over aggressive nature at the time to ruin the day. Keith Olsen did a great job working with Whitesnake but not as good a job working with us. It just didn’t click. The chemistry between people is so important and we had met a few times and had coffee and shook hands and went right into the studio but it was not a good mesh. I wanted to use Bob Rock again and he really wanted to do the follow up record but was busy recording with Metallica on their mega huge album which sold millions of copies. I think what he did with that band by cleaning up their sound so that they could break through as a mainstream artist was the main reason that record sold so well. We were getting a very significant amount of backlash from the rock press at that time with so many comparisons to Led Zeppelin and stealing their sound, we really wanted to get out butts back in the studio and refocus. We wanted to prove a point that we were not a flash in the pan and an overnight sensation. I should have waited for Bob Rock. The band broke up shortly after this tour.
How ironic is that you toured with both the Scorpions and Warrant in support of your first two records and James Kottack ended up playing in both Warrant and has been a member of The Scorpions since 1996. I guess Kingdom Come really showcased his talents and he was able to be recognized as the great drummer that he is..something you saw in him early on.
James is a very very loveable guy. I still to this day love him like a brother. In 2009 Kingdom Come opened for Alice Cooper and The Scorpions and James came up and played drums on “Do You Like It?” He’s a good hearted type of guy and plays drums harder than anybody I know. I could not be happier for someone. Any band that plays hard rock music would love to work with James, that’s a fact. We do talk every so often and I know his heart is still with Kingdom Come but the Scorpions gig..how can you ever pass up that opportunity?
Have you ever considered a Kingdom Come DVD compilation with all of your music videos, tv appearances and how much vintage live footage exists from the first two tours?
Another aspect that early on I blame myself for not being more proactive in making sure we documented studio sessions, live shows and just capturing day to day touring on the road with video cameras. Sitting at a bar with James and Lars just hanging out talking about the future, jams with the Scorpions and Dokken at different shows, playing New Years Eve in Japan with Bon Jovi and Cinderella and RATT in 88/89. I regret it very much. Not just because we could have sold a few dvd’s but because those memories would be around for all of the band members to enjoy as well. We fucked up.
Do you get a lot of requests from fans to re-release the first two Stone Fury albums and also the first three Kingdom Come records as well?
Back in the day you signed away your rights for life to those albums. MCA owns the rights to the Stone Fury material and Polygram (which is now owned by Universal ) own the rights to the first three Kingdom Come records and I can only hope that they get released and maybe remastered for the fans to enjoy. I can rerecord the tracks as often as I want to which is what I have done with Rendered Waters but otherwise it’s out of my hands.
Any final message Lenny to your Kingdom Come fan base regarding your immediate future?
There will not be any final message because Kingdom Come will continue!! Music is a universal language and if I have moved you in such a way that you enjoy my material then I will continue to put more of it out. If you get goose bumps by the new stuff then go tell your friends and let them decide for themselves if it’s their cup of tea. Otherwise stay happy, healthy and keep waving the flag for rock n roll. Hope to see you on the road in 2011!