AN INTERVIEW WITH KINGDOM COME DRUMMER, JAMES KOTTAK
By David Iozzia / September 2018
Back in 2001, the German Rock band Scorpions were doing a tour supporting their CD “Acoustica” in southeast Asia. Their touring keyboard player was John Young, a friend of mine from England. He e-mailed me that he spoke to Scorpions drummer James Kottak about my drumstick collection and that James was looking forward to chatting with me. When we connected the next day, I told James that I was a big fan of the late, great guitarist Ronnie Montrose and that I loved James’ drumming on Ronnie’s “Mean” record. James told me about his punk side project, KrunK, which was later renamed Kottak. I became a big fan of that band. We also talked a bit, as you can imagine, about Scorpions. I would attend many Scorps shows over the next decade. I was saddened to hear about James’ departure from Scorpions, yet I wondered what he had planned to do next. When I heard he was reviving the hard rock band Kingdom Come, I couldn’t wait to schedule this interview and talk rock and roll with an old friend.
Dave: Long time no speak James. Thanks for the opportunity to chat about Kingdom Come and the upcoming 30-year anniversary tour.
James: Of course Dave. Great to hear from you. Thanks for the interest.
Dave: Back in 1988, Kingdom Come got off to a quick start. Their first single, “Get It On,” was on rock radio and MTV embraced their power ballad “What Love Can Be.” What do you think made Kingdom Come stand out from the crowd?
James: At that time Dave, there were a lot of hair metal bands. There were some really good bands. But Kingdom Come was more hard rock and blues-based. We liked to look good and wear great clothes. But listening to our first album, you could hear that Kingdom Come was blues-based. No double bass drum stuff, no screaming. It was actual music. And Lenny Wolf’s vocals were insane. I’m super proud of that album, beyond belief. That’s why we’re here doing a 30-year anniversary tour.
Dave: That was in a musical era when people actually purchased albums.
Dave: It shipped gold if I have my facts correct.
James: It shipped at 600,000 copies, which is still a record today for a debut band. I’m so proud of that. That won’t happen again anytime soon because of all the Internet stuff.
Dave: How much of those record sales do you attribute to AOR radio and MTV?
James: Without radio playing Kingdom Come forget it. Then MTV takes you another notch up. The timing was incredible. It just worked.
Dave: Kingdom Come’s quick start and early success led to the band landing the opening slot on 1988’s Monsters of Rock tour. Kingdom Come supported Dokken, Scorpions, Metallica, and Van Halen. Did the crowds get there early enough to see you play?
James: You have to remember that those shows were played in stadiums. It was a big music event. So many high-calibre bands were playing. The first three shows were in East Troy, Wisconsin, in front of 40,000 people each show. When Kingdom Come went on, the place was jam-packed.
Dave: What type of treatment did Kingdom Come, relative newcomers, receive from the established bands?
James: They were really cool to us. Everybody was like an equal.
Dave: What is your favorite memory from the Monsters of Rock tour?
James: Even though it was near the end of the tour, playing Los Angeles Coliseum. It was the first time Kingdom Come played Los Angeles. 70,000 people attended and we went on in front of probably 50,000. It was an event like I said earlier Dave. It wasn’t just some festival date. I was totally blown away, walking out and seeing that many people.
Dave: That tour led to Kingdom Come’s direct support slot opening Scorpions on their “Savage Amusement” tour.
James: That’s right Dave. The Scorpions’ indoor arena tour immediately followed Monsters of Rock in 1988. Then we took some time off before going back into the studio in 1989 to record “In Your Face.”
Dave: That record had okay sales and radio airplay. What happened?
James: Something bad came along; they were called Guns N’ Roses. Everybody and everything was about Guns N’ Roses. And rightfully so. They changed everything! In a good way. People weren’t so interested in Kingdom Come’s stuff. They wanted stuff that sounded like Guns N’ Roses. That’s how music trends change so fast. It’s so difficult to keep up. A few short years later, here comes Nirvana. Who saw that coming?
Dave: Things worked out okay for you though. You hooked up with Scorpions a few years later.
James: Before that, I was working on a side project called Wild Horses. We got a record deal with Atlantic. Rather than trying to push Kingdom Come and make everybody happy, I walked and went to Wild Horses. We did a record with producer Keith Olsen in the same studio where he was recording “Crazy World” for the Scorpions. I would go over to hang out with the Scorpions and we became closer friends. Then my phone rang one day and the Scorpions asked me to come over and have a play with them.
Dave: That led to a 20-year run for you with Scorpions that I saw a lot of. You toured with them on all four corners of Planet Earth.
James: A lot can happen over 21+ years. I had my personal up and down struggles, and those guys stood behind me every step of the way. I had a few bad times with my sobriety, and things started to add up. I went down to Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Rehab in Antigua for 30 days in April 2016. The band encouraged me to stay longer and get even better. I stayed 90 days and it was the best thing I ever did. They had a few scheduled dates where Mikkey Dee sat in for me. We had a few conference calls, Dave, but it’s hard to describe. When you’re in a band, it’s like you’re in a marriage. You just know when it’s time to move on. One can say I was fired or dismissed. But to be quite honest, I was right along with them. I lost the drive and desire. I was burnt out the last five years and I was dealing with a lot of chronic pain. During 10 years of chronic pain, a few drinks and a few Alleve made everything go away. I’m in tip top shape now, better shape than I was in 15 years ago. I’m a work in progress; I’m working on it every day.
Dave: Let’s put the past behind us here and jump to current day, 2018. You’re reviving Kingdom Come for a 30-year anniversary tour.
James: It didn’t just happen like let’s do this. In 2008, I was in Hamburg, Germany, and I visited with Lenny Wolf, the founder and father of Kingdom Come. We decided to talk about doing something as Kingdom Come. Two years go by and Scorpions say they are going out on a farewell tour. They felt they’d be done by 2012. So I worked on my side band Kottak. We have four albums out and another half done. I formed a band with guitarist Keri Kelli, bass guitarist Rudy Sarzo, and vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens. We toured in Europe, Russia a few times and recorded an album. That’s coming out in February 2019 under the name A New Revenge. In 2013, Kingdom Come got together in L.A. We played a few times; we thought everything would be great.
James: Scorpions camp called and said they decided not to say farewell. They wanted to do another album and another world tour. On one hand, I was saying that’s awesome. On the other hand, I was thinking about the almost three years I was putting into other projects. So KC went back on the back burner because my allegiance was to the Scorpions. They are my family. I loved those guys. I still do. I started plugging away at Kingdom Come full time in November 2017, and this February Lenny called and said he didn’t want to do it. He’s retired and I tried but couldn’t talk him out of it.
Dave: Having four out of the original five Kingdom Come members is good math.
James: But we needed a singer Dave, and I thought of Keith St. John. I wanted him for Wild Horses back in 1991. He agreed around May. Then we got a manager and we got an agent. As you said, four out of the original five. Myself on drums, Johnny B. Frank on bass, Danny Stag on guitar, and Rick Steier on guitar. Other bands have come back out without any original members.
Dave: Keith blew me away years back when he fronted a band for Ronnie Montrose at B.B. King’s in New York City. I had no idea who was singing when I arrived. I knew his name, didn’t know much of his work, but left there very impressed with his performance.
James: I’ve said this before. I can’t believe some huge name act has not swooped him up. Keith is belting it out with Kingdom Come. I’m astounded when I hear what comes out of his voice during rehearsals. We’ve all stayed in touch over the years. When we get together, everything just clicks. We’re like four brothers who just added a fifth brother with Keith St. John.
Dave: Is the setlist a secret?
James: No. We’ll play the whole first record, but not in sequence or anything like that. We’ll play a handful of “In Your Face,” which is a very underrated album. A couple surprises here or there. We’ll see what happens. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. We have a solid running order for the setlist, but it seems to be changing daily.
Dave: What merchandise can fans expect to be sold at the shows?
James: We’re trying to keep the merchandise really simple. We’re going to sell a t-shirt because we only want to have one t-shirt. It’s about the 30th anniversary of Kingdom Come. Maybe a signed photo. We’re selling a V.I.P. package that will include the t-shirt, photo, and a laminate. Anyone buying the V.I.P. gets to come in and visit with us, maybe see the sound check, maybe not. We want to spend some one-on-one time with everybody and not rush through it. We made a point to keep prices as low as possible. That was important to me and the rest of the band. We’ll see what goes on. We’re there to meet and greet and hang out.
Dave: You are revisiting Kingdom Come material that you haven’t played live in 30 years? Was anything really surprising?
James: I’m been listening to those records on and off over the years. Surprisingly, playing the songs was like riding a bike. Everything felt great. No real problems.
Dave: What was the biggest challenge?
James: Mostly the feel. With Scorpions, that feel was catered to all things Scorpions. With Kingdom Come, it is hard rock and blues based. It’s a different feel from the Scorpions. It’s looser. It swings more. There is room for movement. The fills and all the drumming were the hardest part. I had to revisit the albums and really listen to the drums. When I listen to music casually, I don’t listen to the drums. I listen to the songs because I’m a songwriter. Bob Rock, who produced that first album, brought out the best in me. He kicked my ass all over the place. He got me playing things that I did not know how to play.
Dave: As a drummer, you’ve been playing stadiums and arenas for the past 20 years. What changes for you approach-wise as you shift into clubs and theaters.
James: Quite honestly, not much. I’m going back to my Kingdom Come drum kit, which is a single bass drum with a few less cymbals. I pounded with Scorpions. With Kingdom Come, it’s a little more finesse and a little less animal.
Dave: I guess it’s safe to say that you’ll be leaving the gong home?
James: I’d love to bring a gong to be honest, but there probably won’t be enough room. This tour is just a start. It’s to get up, get out, and get running. It’s to touch base with journalists like yourself. I want to reconnect with family, friends, and fans to get honest feedback from them. I want to know what people really think and feel. I don’t want anybody to kiss my ass, I want total honesty. After the first week or two of touring, we’ll know what 2019 is going to be about.
Dave: What music venue are you most looking forward to playing in?
James: Bourbon Hall in Louisville, Kentucky. My hometown. I haven’t played there in so long. Scorpions never played in Louisville.
Dave: You mentioned your other band Kottak earlier and you know I’m a big fan. Heck, I was even your driver and roadie for a show in New York City at Don Hill’s a bunch of years back. Is Kottak dormant or dead?
James: I started the fifth record, and Rick Steier also plays in Kottak with me. I have a ton of songs, and we recorded a half dozen good ones. Kingdom Come came along and it’s taking so much more time than I thought it would. Kottak is on the back burner for a while. Kingdom Come is like a new baby for me. It’s an all-day, every day operation for me. My phone still rings but I tell people that at this time, I’m devoting myself 100% to Kingdom Come.
Dave: That’s all I have as far as questions James. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
James: To anybody out there who’s coming out, we’ll look forward to seeing you. Our website is www.kingdomcomeband.com. We are at all of the social media sites. Feel free to hit me up.
|2018 Kingdom Come 30-Year Anniversary Tour|
|Sept 27||Seattle, WA||Club Sur Rocks|
|Sept 28||Vancouver, WA||Cascade Bar & Grill|
|Sept 29||Sacramento, CA||Holy Diver|
|Oct 3||West Hollywood, CA||Whisky A Go-Go|
|Oct 5||Las Vegas, NV||Vamp'd|
|Oct 6||Ramona, CA||Ramona Mainstage|
|Oct 7||Scottsdale, AZ||BLK Live|
|Oct 8||Santa Fe, NM||Camel Rock Casino|
|Oct 11||St. Charles, IL||The Arcada Theatre|
|Oct 12||Westland, MI||The Token Lounge|
|Oct 13||Versailles, OH||BMI Indoor Speedway|
|Oct 14||Louisville, KY||Bourbon Hall|
|Oct 17||Warrendale, PA||Jergel's|
|Oct 18||Sellersville, PA||Sellersville Theatre|
|Oct 19||Baltimore, MD||Fish Head Cantina|
|Oct 20||Poughkeepsie, NY||The Chance|
|Oct 21||Derry, NH||Tupelo Music Hall|
|Oct 23||New Bedford, MA||Greasy Luck Brewpub|
|Oct 26||Granite City, IL||Eddie's Bar & Grill|
|Oct 27||Kansas City, MO||The Scene K.C. Rock Bar|