Kingdom Come to 'Get It On' again with 'Outlier'

Lenny Wolf’s maturity shines on diverse new album
By Peter Lindblad

Kingdom Come's Lenny Wolf - 2013
Even now, after all these years, the furor over “Get It On,” that mysterious single leaked to radio in 1988 that was thought to be the work of the mighty Led Zeppelin, leaves Lenny Wolf with mixed feelings.

It all unraveled so fast for Kingdom Come. A year earlier, Wolf, having signed to Polydor Records, had recruited all the band’s original members. They’d hit the studio with producer Bob Rock, who would later work with the likes of Metallica and Bon Jovi, to record their debut LP.

Out of nowhere, the swaggering single “Get It On” made its way onto radio stations across the United States, but there was a great deal of uncertainty as to where it came from, even though it sounded remarkably like Zeppelin – heavy and bluesy, even Wolf’s vocals were eerily similar to those of Robert Plant.

And everybody wanted so badly to see the return of Led Zeppelin, who had been dormant since the 1980 death of John Bonham, that they seized upon the idea that it actually was Zeppelin. 

But it was somebody else that made “Get It On.” It was Kingdom Come.

At first, Wolf loved the comparisons, although he was a bit befuddled by them. And the meteoric AOR success of “Get It On” fueled sales of Kingdom Come’s self-titled debut album, which was afforded gold status upon it being shipped and eventually rose all the way to No. 12 on the U.S. album charts.

“In the beginning, it was a blessing, because people took notice who had never heard of us, and of course, we were flattered and hallelujah,” said Wolf, who has once again revived the Kingdom Come machine for his most recent album Outlier, released on May 7 via Steamhammer/SPV. “And being a big Zeppelin fan myself, I thought, ‘What the hell they were talking about.’ But hey, what do I care? Thank you very much. It’s nice to be compared to them, and it gives you a good amount of adrenaline, so I thought, ‘Okay.’”

Everything was more than just okay for Kingdom Come in the immediate aftermath. Comprised of guitarists Danny Stag and Rick Steier, drummer James Kottack, and Johnny B. Frank on keyboards and bass, Kingdom Come was tapped for the North American Monsters of Rock tour in 1988, opening for such legends as The Scorpions, Van Halen, Metallica and Dokken. Up to that point, Wolf had played guitar in all the bands he’d been in. He gave it up for Kingdom Come.

“Oh, God, it was so beautiful,” said Wolf. “It was just an unbelievably strong concentration of – not just beautiful ding-dongs – but beautiful and nice people in general – like before the show, after the show, etc. Because it was such a big production that we carried around, we very often had two or three days off before the next show. So we’d get into the town a day or two in advance, and we just hung out, and because there was some big press stuff going on – Yay! The Monsters of Rock are here for our big stadium tour – people were recognizing us and inviting us to all kinds of things.”

Wolf once got a birds-eye view of the whole Monsters of Rock experience away from the stage.

Lenny Wolf enjoyed the
Monsters of Rock experience. 
“I mean, taking a helicopter around for a tour of the town and leaving a trail of people on the ground, which was a very big f- -king concept for a guy who likes breaking all the laws in the town. That was fun,” Wolf laughed. “I mean, I wasn’t flying around with the sheriff (laughs). But he actually took us to a fairly big home and was so sweet – I mean, all over the States, whether we’re talking Pittsburgh or wherever, it was great. That’s why I can’t point out one particular thing, it was just an overall fantastic experience and one I’m very grateful for.”

Although, Wolf would have appreciated a later time slot for Kingdom Come. They usually went on a little early for his liking.

“It was almost like a secondary thing at the end, because we’d only play 45 minutes, but travel around with the whole circus for … well, I don’t know, how long did it last? I don’t know, four weeks or something?” said Wolf. “We had a lot of time on our hands, you know. So, yeah, I wasn’t too thrilled about having to sing my ass off at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I had to learn our catalog on the plane in, because I’m a night owl, and I only start functioning at 7 p.m. So that was hard, singing the blues at that time. But hey, no complaints … it is what it is, and hallelujah.” 

Up to that point, Wolf had played guitar in every band he’d been in, but he gave it up for Kingdom Come. Still, Wolf had a great deal of influence on the musical direction of Kingdom Come, as did Rock.

“The bottom line was, he was not one of those control freaks who are going to make it theirs or make it their mission,” said Wolf, referring to the acclaimed producer. “It was mainly, ‘How can I get the best out of them and finding their uniqueness, their tone – just improving it, and like I said, getting the best out of you in terms of character and just the way we got along, it was fantastic. I mean, I would love to work with him anytime again – very professional, very nice, very cool. It is like, why do you love a particular woman, rather than any other adult? It is hard to put your finger on it sometimes – one can cook and the other will give you something else, but in the end, you love her. But he was one of those guys ... I just thank God for having met him and worked with him, just like he actually made Metallica. Otherwise, they do not become as huge as they are.

Kingdom Come had its time in the sun, too, although it ended all too quicklyWhile Wolf and Kingdom Come were having the time of their lives with the Monsters of Rock, their reputations were taking a beating in the press. Critics were lining up to bash their first record as a slavish rehash of everything Led Zeppelin had already done. And one of Wolf’s heroes was adding his voice to chorus of jeers directed at Kingdom Come.

Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page was quoted in 1988 as saying, “Obviously it can get to the point where it gets past being a compliment, and it can be rather annoying, when you’ve got things like Kingdom Come, actually ripping riffs right off, that’s a different thing altogether.”

Hearing Page call out Kingdom Come and accuse them of theft was difficult for Wolf.

“What made me very sad is that one of my biggest idols, namely Jimmy Page … I was kind of disillusioned by a living legend,” Wolf said. “To even be annoyed by mentioning it, I thought that was very sad, because he should be above it all and just smile at the whole blah, blah, blah blowing up, if you know what I mean. That was what Robert Plant did when I saw Robert Plant in London. He was joking. He was just like goofing around. He didn’t care. He was like, ‘No, I’m a living legend. Who the hell is Kingdom Come?’ And it was like, ‘Okay, yeah. You’re right.’”

Had everybody in Kingdom Come taken the criticism leveled at them in stride, perhaps it all would have blown over. Understandably though, they got defensive when bombarded with questions about whether they had, indeed, stolen their sound from Led Zeppelin.

“In the end, unfortunately, [that was] due to a mistaken remark from Denny Stag, our former guitar player, who was so annoyed by being confronted with that question all the time, and at a coffee shop said, ‘Who’s Jimmy Page?’” said Wolf. “Of course, it was an ironical statement, but some writer overhead it and they made a big fuss over it. The majority of the press was jumping on the same train as he did and basically wrote the same bullshit without even knowing what was going on. But then, of course, people get like, ‘Well, holy Zeppelin … how can you?’ And blah, blah, blah … everybody who has seen Kingdom Come from long ago knows that I am one of the biggest Zeppelin fans around.”

Accused of heresy, Kingdom Come began experiencing darker times. Although their second single, the power ballad “What Love Can Be,” received a great deal of airplay and their first album reached platinum status, the growing backlash from “Get It On” was hitting them full in the face. And even though they were chosen to be the support act on The Scorpions’ “Savage Amusement” tour after their Monsters of Rock triumph, Kingdom Come was about to get a dose of reality.

Their second album, 1989’s In Your Face, didn’t even go gold. Later that year, Kingdom Come, as they
Kingdom Come - Outlier 2013
were originally configured, was no more, having disbanded due to personal reasons. Left to his own devices, Wolf kept Kingdom Come alive, releasing 11 albums in the years between In Your Face and Outlier.

The name of Kingdom Come’s latest record holds special significance for Wolf. It was a suggestion from a family member.

“I was thinking back to my childhood, and now musically, once again, taking a different route stylistically, it just made perfect sense,” said Wolf. “So I fell in love with it.”

Rather gloomy and atmospheric, Outlier is, nonetheless, a fully realized Kingdom Come record, with big, flowing melodies, well-constructed, powerful songs ensconced in a variety of sonic moods and textures, and even some rich electronic flourishes to flesh out pieces like “Rough Ryde Rally.”

“Actually, there was no master plan,” said Wolf, referring to creative process that resulted in Outlier. “When I get in the studio, I’m like a 5-year-old sitting in a candy store, like plucking at a guitar chord, hoping to get a hot line to the almighty – or the cosmos or whatever you want to call it – and just trying to pick up something more interesting or cool.”

A track like “Skip the Cover and Feel,” with its raucous, blues-driven stomp and ‘70s classic-rock architecture, wouldn’t sound out of place on Kingdom Come’s debut LP, however.

“That song, ‘Skip the Cover and Feel,’ offers something different from the rest of the songs [on Outlier],” said Wolf. “It was one of the songs I definitely could have written in ’88 or whatever, definitely. And that shows once again that I’m still attached to some of the good old vibes Kingdom Come used to offer and still do, but then at the same time, I’m trying to build a bridge [between the old Kingdom Come and the new one]. The hardest part about the two songs you mentioned was not to overproduce them, which is difficult to do when you’re in the studio and you get very creative, you know what I mean? So just leaving them alone and rocking out was the main mission, and I think we did it.”

And if the skies of Outlier don’t exactly seem sunny, that just reflects Wolf’s personality.

“I think that’s just basically me, but I’m glad you brought it up,” explained Wolf, a native of Hamburg, Germany. “It’s a big part of me. No, seriously, I’m a guy from the streets. Growing up in the big city, you get a little bit of that street-wise guy attitude. It’s hard to put into words. But certainly, I’m more into the heartfelt, dark side of moody, emotional … blah, blah, output, you know? Kingdom Come is not really a party band. There’s nothing like ‘Cherry Pie,’ let’s party, let’s all get wasted … blah, blah, blah. It’s something to do at the right time, but it’s not exactly what Kingdom Come is all about, even though we do have a few songs which simply rock out and you can have a good time. But that’s not exactly my musical fulfillment. I like the deep shit (laughs), and I’m just hoping to do enough to get at people’s emotions and their hearts, and hoping for them to enjoy the ride.”

There’s plenty of philosophical musings on Outlier, the successor to 2009’s Magnified, to placate intellectuals – “God Does Not Sing Our Song,” for one, is a sharply worded treatise on the all-too-human failings of organized religion. An epic in every sense of the word, it’s indicative of the fresh, revitalized approach Wolf took to making Outlier. With the exception of a few guitar solos by Eric Forester, Wolf recorded all the instruments himself at his Hamburg studio, dubbed the Two Square Noise Factory, and produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the new record completely on his own. For all intents and purposes, this is who Wolf is as an artist.

“I’m not stuck in the past, you want to put it that way,” said Wolf. “I do love ‘60s and ‘70s hard rock, with The Beatles, Hendrix, Zeppelin, AC/DC – of course, I love that stuff. I still listen to it a lot, but I also get like a second heart beating in me which is stuck very much in new sound elements, if you want to put it this way. I mean, our hearing habits have changed over the years. Once again, we don’t have any master plan or commercial interests or whatever. It’s just that we’re bloody kids at work hoping something cool comes out.”

Outlier is cool, and it’s different. The songwriting is mature, producing epic songs that are dark, deeply personal and gripping in ways that the old Kingdom Come could never imagine, even if some of the past seeps into Outlier and reminds everyone why “Get It On” found such a receptive audience. And it wasn’t just the Zeppelin-esque sound.

“I can’t really change my vocal cords, so the basic tone, the basic height is still there,” said Wolf. “I started realizing, about 12 years ago, that my vocal cords had gotten a bit rougher, which I actually like. We all have done some maturing. It’s called growing up, I guess. So I think you can hear that right away when compared to the old records. There are some parts where it sounds rather cute and not like rocking or whatever, but that’s just part of growing up. I think the basic emotional output, to put it this way, it still kind of remains the same, but the packaging, of course, is what makes a product different, especially when it comes to any changes in audio packaging. You know, basically, it’s just like building frequencies and like gluing them together, and it can go from very poppy to a little bit aggressive; it could be good. And I think we’ve reached a much, much more mature approach now than we had like in the early ‘80s, not like when you’re 22 and the hormones are really getting in the way.”

Having sown his wild oats a long time ago, that’s no longer a problem for Wolf. 

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