Way back in the 80s I was listening to my go-to hard rock radio station when a simple but glorious song popped up, “Over My Head”. It was a track off of American Hard Rock band KING’S X’s second album ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska’. I instantly became a fan.
The other single off that seminal album was the infectious groove monster “Summerland”. However, being tight on funds I didn’t acquire a copy of ‘Gretchen’ until after I’d already won a copy of their follow-up release ‘Faith, Hope, Love’ off a radio call-in contest (remember those?, “caller number 9 wins…”)
‘Faith’ had the classic radio tracks “It’s Love” and “Mr. Wilson”. It would grow to be the highest charting album of King’s X career. And the official start of my 30+ year appreciation of all things KING’S X.
Many people back in the 80s and 90s considered KING’S X a Christian Rock band, a claim that the band never really denied. As the years rolled by their lyrics and music would depart from the Christian overtones, but their trademark optimism and hope would survive. And even though lead vocalist Doug Pinnick (now openly gay) has admitted to being agnostic, many still consider them a part of that often lamented sub-genre of pop/rock music.
How to describe their sound. Well think Beatles type vocal harmonies mixed with a little ZZ TOP power-trio groove, solid 80s style hard rock and some funk/blues thrown in for good measure. Later material would incorporate progressive elements into the mix. While serving up optimistic personal, emotional, and, at times, political lyrics and themes.
The band’s origins trace back to 1979 Missouri with Vocalist/Bassist Doug Pinnick and Drummer Jerry Gaskill. Eventually Gaskill would meet guitarist Ty Tabor and the band THE EDGE was formed with the added member Dan McCollam on rhythm guitar. Under a new band name, SNEAK PREVIEW, Kirk Henderson briefly replaced McCollam before they left for Houston, Texas.
Upon meeting Sam Taylor, the V.P. of ZZ TOP’s production company, the power-trio KING’S X was officially born. Now just Pinnick, Tabor, and Gaskill–a line-up that still exists today, three decades later.
- Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
- Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
- Faith, Hope, Love (1990)
- King’s X (1992)
- Dogman (1994)
- Ear Candy (1996)
- Tape Head (1998)
- Please Come Home… Mr. Bulbous (2000)
- Manic Moonlight (2001)
- Black Like Sunday (2003)
- Ogre Tones (2005)
- XV (2008)
Under Taylor’s management, production, and mentoring the band would get a deal with Megaforce Records. Taylor is oft considered the unofficial fourth member of KING’S X during this period. Their first album ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ was released in 1988. A critical success but commercially they didn’t break through until…
‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska’ from 1989 was a different story. Commercially it was still less than stellar, but word of mouth and MTV exposure from the video of “Over My Head” spurned big interest in their 1990 follow-up ‘Faith, Hope, Love’. The song “It’s Love” was to be their most successful radio single ever.
Interestingly, of all the periods of KING’S X, I consider this early work from 80s to early 90s to be a growth period. Although commercially the most successful, the songs had yet to reach this band’s true potential.
The self-titled ‘King’s X’ in 1992 is probably their most unfocused work. Only a couple of memorable tracks, the lone-single “Black Flag” and “Lost in Germany”. After a falling out with Sam Taylor the band then struck out on their own.
Abandoning the Beatle-esque harmonies for a heftier sound with producer Brendan O’Brien they made 1994’s ‘Dogman’. An experiment with Metal that ultimately falls short. It is definitely heavier. But, by abandoning much of their trademark vocal harmonizing we end up with a drearier and distant alt-version of the band I’d come to love. Not a bad album, just not a good “KING’S X album”…and extremely depressing:(
As a power-trio KING’S X
uses needs all three members contributing vocals. Pinnick is the primary vocalist with his gospel/soul hard rock vibe. Ty Tabor’s nasally voice works better on more introspective, folksy/country tracks. And Gaskill provides a Simon/Garfunkel style to his backgrounds and occasional leads. Three voices harmonizing together that elevate KING’S X music to almost gospel level Hard Rock.
The surge of Grunge and Alternative in the mid 90s would kill KING’S X’s Atlantic Records deal. Their last Atlantic release 1996’s ‘Ear Candy’ got next to no label support and was quickly pulled from record shelves. My copy was rescued from a discount cut-out bin only a couple of months after the album came out. Back in the mid-90s bands still needed trade magazines to promote albums, as the internet was still in its infancy. And unless you were grunge or alternative you almost never got any radio play.
Upon finding ‘Ear Candy’ in a dump bin and with ‘Dogman’ still haunting me, I held expectations low for this Lanni Arnold produced effort. What an incalculable mistake in judgment. As ‘Ear Candy’ is one helluva great KING’S X album. An awesome Melodic Hard Rock collection.
It is a return to the melody rich work of their early albums, but now more fully matured and realized. Classic tracks of joy, loss, forgiveness, and hope. “Sometime”, “Looking for Love”, “Fathers”, “Picture”, and “Life Going By” are just some of the examples of greatness. On a car ride into Canada in late summer 1996 my friend would comment that this album’s songs belong on the radio. Alas…
Thinking the band had all but broken apart after the Atlantic Records dismissal I was confident that at least they’d gone out with a bang. Again, w/o internet I had virtually no idea what KING’S X were doing, if anything.
In 1998, after finding Ty Tabor’s solo album ‘Moonflower Lane’ (an exceptional album, btw) and then Doug Pinnick’s first solo album, under the moniker POUNDHOUND, ‘Massive Groves’ (another great album), I figured that was it–the end of an era.
However, one late October afternoon I entered my favored CD
dealer shop to find sitting unceremoniously on the shelf, ‘Tape Head’. Being a Metal Blade Records release, I figured KING’S X had re-grouped with a tougher sound. Maybe even de-evolving back to the ‘Dogman’ era, all stripped-back and soulless.
What another colossal lack of faith. 1998’s ‘Tape Head’ was not only the best album KING’S X had yet done, it remains their absolute best work. An impassioned, almost angry, call to arms. Full of rich melodies, emotion, and all of their trademark vocal harmonies and soul. Standouts include “Fade”, “Over and Over”, “Little Bit of Soul”, “Hate You”, and “Higher Than God”.
This album marks a turning point for the band. From here on they would play want they want, however they want–record sales be damned. Producing most future albums themselves at Tabor’s Alien Beans Studios and/or Pinnick’s Hound Pound.
Follow up albums 2000’s ‘Please Come Home… Mr. Bulbous’ and 2001’s ‘Manic Moonlight’ were created the same way. Unfortunately, the experimentation and the progressive elements would now come to the forefront. And the results, although mixed, were disappointing. Standouts include “Fish Bowl Man” and “She’s Gone Away” from ‘Bulbous’ and “False Alarm” from ‘Moonlight’. Too much electronics, too much weirdness, too much everything.
Thankfully, 2003’s ‘Black Like Sunday’ once again returned them to form, using songs culled from their early pre-record 80s years. A great collection of highly divergent tracks. All over the place stylistically, but still very much classic KING’S X. Highlights include “Black Like Sunday” (which actually received limited radio play), “Danger Zone”, “Won’t Turn Back”, and “You’re the Only One”. Probably my second favorite KING’S X album.
With all three members now cemented in side projects and solo material their output as a band was getting scaled back. Tabor was in not one, not two, but three side projects–PLATYPUS, THE JELLY JAM, and the exceptional one-off Pop Rock band JUGHEAD. Pinnick joined with TROUBLE guitarist Bruce Franklin on SUPERSHINE and sang in the rock supergroup THE MOB. While Tabor, Pinnick, and Gaskill all released solo albums.
With Inside-Out Music they made 2005’s ‘Ogre Tones’ produced by Michael Wagener. Returning to a 80’s KING’S X sound, yet still a little too wanky for my tastes. However, 2008’s ‘XV’ would prove a great swan-song (at least so-far, it’s been 6! years). ‘XV’ is more song oriented and emotionally charged. Eclectic like ‘Sunday’ with standouts being the gospel inspired “Pray”, the Gaskill sung “Julie”, and Tabor’s “I Don’t Know”.
Lots of new projects, including Pinnick’s blues supergroup PINNICK GALES PRIDGEN, the Pinnock/George Lynch/Ray Luzier project KXM, Tabor’s contributions to THE JELLY JAM and the Farkas collaboration XENUPHOBE. Jerry Gaskill had a heart attack in early 2012 but has since recovered. And Pinnock (now calling himself “dUg”) recently recovered from hernia surgery. On the Tabor/Wally Farkas (ex-GALACTIC COWBOYS) label Molten Music KING’S X has released a few live recordings.
Once in a while we each encounter art/artist that really resonates: a movie, a novelist, an album, an actor, a director. Back in the early 1990s, KING’S X became that for me. Every album may not be an example of absolute perfection. But their optimism and seemingly unflinching drive to create personal and emotional Rock songs that are both friendly and meaningful remains a constant.
Can’t get too much info regarding their future. With Pinnock now in his mid-60s (the other members are only in their 50s) it is possible they are simply winding down. Whatever the future may bring, their existing body of work has left an indelible impression upon me and a great many others. KING’S X is, and always will be, one of my all-time favorite Rock Bands.
(This article originally appeared on www.chadrschulz.com)