James Kottak has been on a cathartic journey since exiting The Scorpions in 2016. Having spent two decades with the Germans, the well-publicised split was followed by a spell in rehab. With his personal problems behind him, in one of the more surprising reunions of the year, the drummer returned to one of his earliest bands, reassembling Kingdom Come. With four out of the five original members on board, only singer Lenny Wolf is missing. We sat down with James for an in-depth chat about his time in the Scorpions, his recovery, and the return of Kingdom Come. In your face; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi James, how are you today?
I’m alive, I’m six feet above ground, which is better than six feet below. It’s a beautiful sunny day in Southern California, and it’s a wonderful day.
The last time we spoke was at Ronnie Montrose Remembered in Santa Ana.
That was in January, right? I did this one, and I did the one the year before, and I’ll tell you what; Montrose was my favourite since I was 10 years old, and to have so many people come together and celebrate him and his life, and his music, I love nights like that. It’s just a wonderful vibe, and I stayed for the entire thing.
A lot has happened since then; I’m referring of course to the reformation of Kingdom Come.
Oh yeah! And you know, the funny thing about it is, Lenny [Wolf], the original singer decided not to do it in early January, and here we were in late January doing Ronnie Montrose Remembered, and I’m sitting there looking at Keith [St John, later day Montrose singer who was also on the bill] going; “Hmm, HMM!” And about a month later I asked him, I go; “Man, would you be interested in doing this Kingdom Come thing?”, and he goes; “Are you KIDDING?! Absolutely!” I love Keith, he’s an incredible singer, and his whole aura, his vibe, and he looks great.
You and he Keith go back, don’t you?
I originally wanted him in my band Wild Horses back in 1991, and I got out-voted for another guy. So, we always remained friends over the years, and as big as it is, it’s a very small rock community, and we’ve always kind of hit it off. I jammed with him the one time I’ve played with Montrose. I played one song, I sat in, and Keith was the singer. But I’ve always saw Keith and just thought he was just magnificent.
Although Lenny Wolf is missing, you do have four of the five original guys back; was it difficult to assemble even that many?
No, actually. I originally started talking to Lenny in 2008. I knew the Scorpions farewell tour was coming, and we got everything together in about 2012 / 2013. We had all five here in L.A., went to rehearsals, had conversations, we had shows, offers on the table, things were good, and then I got a call from the Scorpion camp saying; “You know what? We decided not to say farewell; we’re going to do the album, another world tour, and can you not play with Kingdom Come and your other projects?” And I was like; “Well, okay”, because my allegiance was always with Scorpions. I love those guys, I love the band, so I pulled the plug. I had to put everything on the back burner. And here we are now; I had this opportunity, and everything kind of fell into place, so it’s wonderful to be where we are now.
Were you at all close to securing Lenny; I’d imagine a lot of effort was made to secure him in the line-up as well?
Of course. I was talking with him, off and on, since about last year at this time, Things move really slow sometimes, then suddenly in January he just called and said; “You know what?” – because he announced his retirement about a year ago and didn’t want anything to do with Kingdom Come – but he said; “I just really don’t want to deal with all the chaos and the manic, crazy rock and roll”. He just wants to quietly retire and live in Hamburg, and I respect him, and he can do that. However, he has given us his blessing. I wish he was here, but it is what it is, and we’ll make the best out of it. It’s still going to be phenomenal.
That must have offered its own challenge, as in; “Will people accept this without Lenny Wolf”; did that cross your mind?
Absolutely, and when we first put the word out to promoters and buyers, at first they were going; “Oh yeah! Kingdom Come!” Then we had to go back a few weeks later and say; “Sorry, unfortunately there will be no Lenny Wolf”. So, out of the twenty or so offers we had from different buyers, only three actually pulled out. I was surprised; I thought we’d get a little more backlash. But so many bands, especially bands with longevity, they change members; look at Thin Lizzy, how they changed, or name any band that’s been around for twenty-five / thirty years, and there’s very few that have all the original members.
Going back to the beginnings of the band, what was it like working with producer Bob Rock on Kingdom Come’s debut?
Well, at the time, this was Bob Rock before he had done Metallica and Mötley Crüe. Kingdom was sort of his first big solo flight, so to speak. He was always Bruce Fairbairn’s right-hand guy, but he was flying solo on this, and I’ll tell you what, he came down here to L.A., we hung out, we did our thing, then we went up to Vancouver, and we went in this little small room and just hashed the rest of the songs out. And he just had a way of saying things to you that just brought out the very best of you, and his ideas were like; “Wow, I never thought of that”. I learned so much from that debut album. Thank you Bob Rock! It was just a dream come true. He took good songs and a good vibe, and he turned it into a great set of songs, and it turned out a great album.
Bob Rock supposedly got the Metallica gig because of the drum sound on Motley Crue’s ‘Dr.Feelgood’…
Stop right there! They got Bob Rock because Tommy [Lee, Mötley Crüe drummer] came and told me at an L.A. Coliseum gig, he goes; “Man, who did your album - your drums sound incredible!” And he goes; “We’re getting Bob Rock for the next album”, and that was ‘Dr. Feelgood’.
Kingdom Come played on the infamous 1988 ‘Monsters Of Rock’ tour that included Metallica, The Scorpions and Van Halen; What was it like to be on that bill?
Well, first of all, it really didn’t sink in until we had got back to America, because we had been on like a fifty city tour of Europe. We got off the plane when we got back to America, they gave us all gold records, and then our manager goes; “We’re doing this tour this summer, it’s called the ‘Monsters Of Rock’ tour”. We got out there, and it was overwhelming. The first three shows were 40,000, sold out in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, and then the rest, it was just one stadium after another. Of course, it was only like, three days a week, because the set and the production was so massive that it took several days to set up, but it was just like; “Wow!” I mean, it’s really difficult to just put it into words; it was just overwhelming and something I’ll never, ever forget.
Was it on that tour that you first connected with The Scorpions?
Yes. Kingdom Come and The Scorpions were label mates. We were both on Polygram, so we always stayed in the same hotel as The Scorpions, and we’d go out to dinner and we’d end up hanging out, and we became best friends. Then we did an indoor arena tour with Scorpions, about twenty dates, and that was wonderful. Then maybe a couple of years after that, I did that Michael Schenker and Robin McAuley MSG album [‘MSG’, 1992], so I had another Schenker in my life!
So how did you come to join the Scorpions?
They came to L.A. to do ‘Crazy World’ [1990’]. At that time, Kingdom Come was long gone, and I had my own project called Wild Horses, and we were signed to Atlantic with Keith Olsen, and he was the producer of the Scorpions’ ‘Wind Of Change’ album [‘Crazy World’]. Keith had signed my band to Atlantic, so I popped by the studio while they were recording, and visited the guys, so we became even more friends. And time goes by, and then one day the phone rings and it’s somebody saying; “James, would you be interested in going to have a play with The Scorpions?” I go; “Of Course!”
You eventually joined the band in 1996.
That was in ’96, but in ’95 I played on a few of the tracks for ‘Pure Instinct’, and I guess that was kind of like an audition. It’s kind of funny; Keith, the producer, he wouldn’t tell me who it was, because there was no vocals on it. I was listening and I go; “I know that Rudolph Schenker guitar anywhere!” I don’t know if the tracks were ever used - I don’t think they were - but that started it, and jeez, from ’96 on. And I’m so thankful and grateful for my time. Those are just some of the greatest guys you’ll ever want to meet.
One album that sticks out from your time in the band was ‘Humanity: Hour I’, which had a much more serious presentation.
You know, that was a little bit of a left turn. We did that with [producers] Desmond Child and James Michael. It was a little bit of a departure, but it took the band in a little bit of a different direction, which is refreshing. For a lot of people, that’s their favourite Scorpions album; for a lot of people, it’s their least. It showed a whole other side to the band and it goes a little deeper; there’s not so much party there in those songs. But, I really like that album, and everybody goes; “Oh, ‘Humanity: Hour I”; is there going to be an “Hour II?” – No!
Back to the present day, and have you been in rehearsals yet, all five band members, for the Kingdom Come tour?
Oh, absolutely. They were out here maybe three weeks ago. Myself, and Rick Steier the guitarist, and Keith St John, we all live within three or four miles of each other. What’s wonderful is that me, Johnny [Frank, bass], Danny [Stag, guitar], Rick, the guys arrived, and we’re such great friends. We just click, and just take up right where we left off. I’m sure everybody has friends like that, where you don’t talk to them for like a year and it just clicks. We started playing in Rick’s living room, and then we moved to a rehearsal room, and then a bigger rehearsal room, and we’re loud and we’ve got our set list, and we’re up and running, and Keith’s fitted in just perfectly!
Does this mark a new beginning for you, after your well-publicised personal problems?
Absolutely. For thirty-five years, I’ve been touring, and it’s a totally new chapter. After Scorpions, I really owed it to myself to chill out, take a year off, focus on James, and get James’s ass together. There’s been a lot of taking care of myself, and getting my ass in gear, because I really burned out about seven years ago, and I didn’t want to admit it. And then also, chronic pain in my foot and my left hand and my back; you know, the body gets a lot of wear and tear with this rock and roll! So, it was great to back up and also acknowledge my addiction, alcoholism, and try to work on that. It’s a daily process; it’s progress, not perfection. It does not go away, and I struggle a little, the last year and a half or so. But you know, I’m very proud to say that I’m 90% in. I’ve had my 10% of not good, but it is what it is, and if you’re not honest; you’re only as safe as your secrets. I never have a problem talking about it because maybe there’s one person who’s reading this who’ll start to look at their own selves. I’m not preaching to anybody; do whatever you want, however, this programme works for me.
Finally, looking forward, what lies ahead for Kingdom Come; is it a long term project?
We have a six week U.S. tour starting September 27th in Seattle, and we’re focusing just on this right now. Our goal is to reconnect with journalists like yourself, a lot of radio in America, but most importantly, once we get to the shows, to reconnect with our friends and families and fans that we have all over America, to get feedback from them. You can get the vibe when you’re playing these places, the smaller concert clubs, and then we’ll know what the next step is. In the meantime, we have had some promoters from Japan, Germany and South America reach out to us, and we have a few things already set up for 2019, and we’re just taking it slow.
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Kingdom Come 2017 Tour Dates:
Sep. 27 - Seattle, WA - Club Sur Rocks
Sep. 28 - Vancouver, WA - Cascade Bar & Grill
Sep. 29 - Sacramento, CA - Holy Diver
Oct. 03 - West Hollywood, CA - Whisky A Go Go
Oct. 05 - Las Vegas, NV - Vamp'd
Oct. 06 - Ramona, CA - Ramona Mainstage
Oct. 07 - Scottsdale, AZ - Blk Live
Oct. 08 - Santa Fe, NM - Camel Rock Casino
Oct. 11 - St. Charles, IL - Arcada Theatre (with special guests KILLER DWARFS)
Oct. 12 - Westland, MI - The Token Lounge
Oct. 13 - Versailles, OH - BMI Speedway (co-headlining with AUTOGRAPH; special guests are KILLER DWARFS)
Oct. 14 - Louisville, KY - The Bourbon Hall
Oct. 17 - Pittsburgh, PA - Jergel's Rhythm Grille
Oct. 18 - Sellersville, PA - Sellersville Theater
Oct. 19 - Halethorpe, MD - Fish Head Cantina
Oct. 20 - Poughkeepsie, NY - The Chance (supporting ZEBRA)
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 KC Rock Bar