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Still Getting It On: An Exclusive Interview With JAMES KOTTAK Of KINGDOM COME

By Ruben Mosqueda, Contributor
Friday, September 21, 2018 @ 12:33 AM

“I remember when we released “Get It On”, KNAC were quick to support and play that single....Those were the days, man. The days of The Sunset Strip ruled! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!”

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“I remember when we released “Get It On”, KNAC were quick to support and play that single,” recalls KINGDOM COME drummer James Kottak. He goes on to say, ”Those were the days, man. The days of The Sunset Strip ruled! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!” Kottak spent 20+ years as a member of SCORPIONS, but he’s been out of the band for a couple of years. In that time, Kottak got sober and has taken the first step toward taking care of some unfinished business with KINGDOM COME. Kottak and the classic line-up, sans singer Lenny Wolf, have reunited for a fall tour to reintroduce the band. Fronting the band is Keith St. John, who has worked with Ronnie Montrose and Doug Aldrich in BURNING RAIN. Kottak spoke with KNAC.COM via phone on September 11th, 2018 in between rehearsals for the fall tour.

KNAC.COM: How did you get involved with KINGDOM COME?

KOTTAK: This was in ‘87. I had this agent that would pair musicians up with bands. She mentioned that KINGDOM COME were looking for a drummer. I had moved to L.A. and she had asked me what work I had done recently. I mentioned that I had just done an album with Ronnie Montrose. I mentioned that there were songs on full rotation on KNAC! I auditioned and there was what appeared to be a parking lot full of drummers out there! [laughs] In the end Lenny [Wolf] and I really hit it off.

That’s how it got started, then we added guitarist Danny Stag and then bassist Johnny B. Frank. Derek Shulman from Polygram Records came out to see us play and he offered us a deal on the spot! Two months after that, we were in the studio in Vancouver [B.C.] with Bob Rock, who everyone knows from his work with MOTLEY CRUE and METALLICA, but his first production job was KINGDOM COME.

KNAC.COM: What was your recollection of working with Bob Rock?

KOTTAK: Bob Rock was incredible to work with, he was Bruce Fairbairn's ‘right hand man’ for years. Bob was his engineer and he learned a lot while working with Bruce. He’s such a down to earth guy and I learned so much about recording from making that album.

KNAC.COM: KINGDOM COME received a lot of flak for being heavily influenced by LED ZEPPELIN. How fair was that?

KOTTAK: It was unfair, but when a journalist asked about the influence, I’d take it! And if I was asked about the John Bonham influence? I'd say, “Hell yeah! Of course he's an influence! That's a huge compliment!” [laughs] Listen, I embraced the LED ZEPPELIN comparison anytime it came up. There were a couple of guys in the band that frowned on it, but I was like “Guys, you're missing the point here! We’re being compared to the biggest rock band in the history of rock ‘n' roll!” I remember in an interview for one of the magazines, one of our guys was quoted as saying sarcastically, “I've never heard of LED ZEPPELIN.” Of course he was kidding, but sarcasm doesn't translate well to print. I remember that quote was used as the headline and most people would see that and didn't bother reading the article.

KNAC.COM: Which bands sounds more like ZEPPELIN, KINGDOM COME or GRETA VAN FLEET?

KOTTAK: I would say GRETA VAN FLEET! [laughs] I remember the first time I heard them I thought it was LED ZEPPELIN until I realized I wasn't familiar with the song! [laughs] Those kids are going through the exact thing that we went through. I have heard and read interviews where they mentioned KINGDOM COME, so they really know their classic rock history!

KNAC.COM: “Get It On” launched KINGDOM COME. Was that intro drum part also in early versions of the song?

KOTTAK: Thanks for asking that. It wasn't in the early versions or in anything we had rehearsed. That’s where the producer comes in. Bob was like, “This sounds great but we have to make it even better.” So, Bob and I went through the song in the studio. I ran through it with Bob and did a click track and he’d be like, “Hey, add a fill here or there.” I recall we might have only done 3, maybe 4 takes max.

Bob did this on several other songs on the album. If you listen closely you’ll be able to pick those out. I was glad to do it because it was a chance to ‘show off’! [laughs] KINGDOM COME is a hard rock band with a ‘blues infusion’ added to it. We weren't a ‘hair band’, we didn't fit into that scene because of our sound. We just happen to come out at the time and we were lumped up into that whole scene. Nothing wrong with that, I have a lot of great friends from the scene that were in some excellent bands. We didn't fit in, yet we played with everybody! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: In Your Face didn’t get it's due like the first album, but it’s still a solid album. “Do You Like It” is a killer tune. What’s your thoughts on that album?

KOTTAK: Thanks for saying that. Our debut album for the first 6 months of 1988 was the best selling album of all albums. It shipped gold [500,000 copies], which was just phenomenal. Then this band came along, GUNS N’ ROSES, who had released their debut the year before. When they caught fire, they exploded! The tide had already started to shift by that point. GUNS N' ROSES aren't a ‘hair band’, they're GUNS N' ROSES! They raised the bar and in a matter of a year or two here comes NIRVANA, then Jesus… There was less of a promotion budget from the label, which didn't help, but I’m still very proud of those records.

KNAC.COM: KINGDOM COME worked with Keith Olsen on In Your Face, but did you reach out to Bob Rock at all?

KOTTAK: We would have loved to have worked with Bob again, but he was unavailable as he was working with MOTLEY CRUE on Dr. Feelgood. The story behind that is kinda funny, we had finished the Monsters of Rock Tour and my tech says “Hey man, Tommy Lee wants to see you!” I'm like, “Like wow, okay!” Tommy is like, “Dude, you sound huge on that album! It sounds fucking great, man! Who did you use on that album?!” I said, “Bob Rock.” He says, “You watch dude, we’re going to get him for our next record!” [laughs]

Someone from the label brought up Keith Olsen and it really is something when it’s someone at the label who you respect asks you to work with Keith Olsen. If you say ‘no’ and we use who we want and the album gets released and tanks? Who gets the last laugh?

KNAC.COM: Lenny Wolf isn’t part of the 30th Anniversary Tour. I assume he owns the name? How did you strike up a deal to use the name for this tour?

KOTTAK: I started talking to Lenny as far back as 2008 about doing KINGDOM COME again. SCORPIONS were winding down and I began to plan for what happened after the tour ended. So we released Sting In The Tail shortly thereafter, we announced a ‘farewell tour’ and we were going to go around the world and say goodbye to all our fans. And we did for a close to three years! [laughs] So fast forward a few years and Lenny, the rest of the guys and I get back together, we talk, we rehearse, we had dinner together, things are going great! Then I get a call from SCORPIONS’ management saying, “James, We know you’re doing PLANET ROCK, KOTTAK and KINGDOM COME. Can you not do that? We have decided not to say farewell and SCORPIONS will be doing another album and tour.” The good news was that we went into the studio and we did Return To Forever and another three years of touring. My allegiance was to SCORPIONS and I pulled the plug on everything else that I was working on, including KINGDOM COME. I wasn’t happy about that, but that’s how it goes. In that time, Lenny decided to retire from music and he’s living in Hamburg, Germany and enjoying life. We’re friends, we still talk and we’ll see each other again soon, I’m sure.

KNAC.COM: Were there auditions for the gig or did you feel that Keith was the guy for the gig? You and Keith both worked with Ronnie Montrose.

KOTTAK: Funny enough, when I got the deal with WILD HORSES on Atlantic Records, this was right after KINGDOM COME ended. WILD HORSES auditioned something like 50 singers, my pick to front the band was Keith St. John by the rest of the guys and our producer. I have always liked Keith St. John. I performed a song with Ronnie Montrose live once and Keith St. John was the singer! I’ve seen him doing stuff with LYNCH MOB and that’s no easy gig! He can sing just about anything, you will see that with KINGDOM COME. I can’t wait for the fans to see this band!

KNAC.COM: Moving forward would you like to record new music with the guys or will this end once the anniversary dates are over?

KOTTAK: You asked earlier about ‘the deal’ with Lenny and the ownership of the name. I can’t disclose details, but he gave us his blessing to move forward. We would like to and will do new music, but there is a wait period for us to be able to do that. I’m totally okay with that for the time being. Right now we’re going out, doing some shows, we’re testing the waters, we’re reconnecting with fans and guys like you.

KNAC.COM: Going back MONTROSE, you were featured on the Mean album, which also featured Johnny Edwards. How did you meet Ronnie and what was it like working with him?

KOTTAK: I’m originally from Louisville, Kentucky and my band had opened for Ronnie Montrose. My manager setup like 15 dates supporting Ronnie and being that I was such a huge fan it was like a dream come true.

About a month after the tour ended, I received a phone call. I answered and the person on the other line said, “James?! This is Ronnie!” I said, “Ronnie, who?” He answered, “Ronnie Montrose, numbnuts!” [laughs] He went on to say that he wanted me to play on his upcoming album, which was MONTROSE Mean. A month later I had tapes of the songs, then he flew me out to San Francisco to record the album.

KNAC.COM: Johnny Edwards was also in WILD HORSES with you and [guitarist] Rick Steier. He left before you cut the Bareback album. How much was he missed on the end product? He went off to work with Mick Jones in FOREIGNER, I believe.

KOTTAK: Yeah, Mick needed a singer and he snatched Johnny from us. The Bareback album turned out a bit too ‘commercial’ than I would have liked. I was envisioning a ‘heavier’ version of THE BLACK CROWES. I would have liked to have been a bit ‘bluesier’. I’m still pretty proud of that album.

KNAC.COM: You came on board with SCORPIONS, I believe in 1996 when they went out to support the Pure Instinct album. How did you get the call? I know there was some history with the guys, since KINGDOM COME and SCORPIONS were on the Monsters of Rock Tour in 1988.

KOTTAK: While, I wasn’t featured on Pure Instinct, I was sent some tapes and cut some tracks in 1995, but they were on a deadline and they went with a session drummer for that album. Keith Olsen had worked with SCORPIONS [Crazy World], right before he did the WILD HORSES album and like you said I knew the guys from ‘The Monsters’ tour we did. I also worked with MCCAULEY SCHENKER GROUP [1992] and also did some work with WARRANT

KNAC.COM: That’s right!

KOTTAK: Yeah, I did the Ultraphobic [1995] album. That’s still one of my favorite albums that I have ever worked on. Rick [Steier], Jani [Lane] and I wrote a lot of songs together for that album. Where I’m going with this is that I finished my time with WARRANT and was concentrating on my solo band KOTTAK. I received a call from a guy with an English accent who stated that he represented SCORPIONS and said “SCORPIONS are looking for a drummer and I’m calling you to find out of you’re interested in coming to meet with them and checking things out?” I said, “Of course!” I went there and they were checking out a lot of drummers, they had witnessed my playing multiple times from ‘The Monsters’ shows and Keith [Olsen] highly recommended me. It just happened so fast, I was there for 21 years! Those guys are still friends, I saw them a week ago, it was great to catch up with all of them. They’re just awesome people.

KNAC.COM: A number of years back, there was a trailer for a James Kottak documentary. It has the running title of Rock ‘N’ Roll Forever. Was that ever completed? How much footage was shot for that?

KOTTAK: There’s a lot of footage that was shot for that. It was meant to be a behind the scenes look at my life and where I was at that point in time. Unfortunately, I had a falling out with the producer and the thing never materialized. About a year into shooting my documentary, SCORPIONS began to shoot the documentary Forever And A Day. So, then it really didn’t make sense. What was I going to do? Release mine to compete with theirs? It didn’t make sense.

KNAC.COM: If James Kottak decided to write a biography what would it be titled?

KOTTAK: Funny you should mention this, I have written stuff for a book. That’s a project for another day. What would I call it? I would like to call it 33 Days. I could simply call it Rock & Roll Forever! It’s already across my back! [bursts into laughter]


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