Sunday Old School: King's X
The time was 1979 and the place was Evangel College in Missouri. Jerry Gaskill, enrolled in the institute for a degree in Biblical studies, met Doug (dUg) Pinnick there. Jerry was from New Jersey and Doug came down from Chicago to work with a project that Greg Volz from Petra had assembled. DUg was from a religious, Baptist background himself and had been involved in several bands in Illinois along with promoting the Christian music scene in Florida. (It was during this time in Florida that one of dUg's friends got into a car wreck, collected a settlement and bought dUg his first 'official' bass guitar). When the Petra project folded, band member Phil Keaggy invited the both of them to join his new band.
It was this act of fate that brought Mississippi native Ty Tabor to the attention of them both. Ty was in the opening act for the Phil Keaggy band, whose drummer had abruptly quit that night. Although a guitarist, Ty was determined to fill in on drums and asked Jerry if he could use his kit. DUg had seen Ty around town in other groups such as the Tracy Zinn band and was in awe of his shredding, so he looked him up in someone's Evangel College campus directory and cold called him. The three decided to form a band and the rest is history.
In the beginning, the trio was not called King's X - nor were they a trio. They were your typical college metal bar band and went by The Edge. When they found out how many other bands had that name, they changed it to Sneak Preview. They announced it at a show, and dUg remembers that the whole half dozen people in the audience got so quiet you could hear a cat piss on cotton. Yeah, the name was bad. Even worse, reminisces dUg, was the cartoony album cover on their one and only self-release. The band threw it to the audience as a token frisbee and decided to make some changes.
At first, the trio had a second guitarist. Dan McCollam played rhythm guitar and then Kirk Henderson assumed the position later. When Kirk quit, he explained to the band why - in what would become a very prophetic statement. He told them that they were always meant to be a trio and that he never truly fit in. These three men from vastly divergent backgrounds just clicked, in what was to become one of the longest standing friendships in heavy metal history.
Ty, dUg and Jerry were all what you would call precocious musicians. Jerry had a snare drum at the age of four and gradually built up his kit piece by piece. He had his first band at the age of seven with his dad and brothers. Ty similarly began playing the guitar at a very early age. His dad was also in a band just like Jerry's - a bluegrass group in Jackson, Mississippi. In his late teens, Ty was in the Christian female-fronted rock band Matthew.
DUg didn't know his dad much, since he had eight kids and traveled alot, but was raised by a Gospel-fearing Southern Baptist great-grandmother after his mother left him at the age of three. Everyone in his family sang or played a musical instrument and he played sax in grade school. His earliest influence was Motown, but later Jimi Hendrix and Sly & The Family Stone spoke more directly to his soul. In junior college, he joined a gospel band for awhile. Pinnick was almost a decade older than his bandmates and had been around the musical block a little longer. Ironically, he didn't start playing bass until he was 23. It was the only instrument he really 'heard' when listening to music.
The three jammed and toured relentlessly and along the way met with ZZ Top's production company VP Sam Taylor, who convinced them to move to Texas after their deal with Star Song Records fell through. Taylor also implored to them to change their name, and they became King's X. It was 1985 and the band had just concluded being part of the Morgan Cryar band, but now with a manager they secured a deal for their 1987 debut on Megaforce. Even before that album, people may not have realized they had a full eight years together paying their dues on the road. The band was actually quite surprised that Megaforce would sign them, since they were not a heavier edged thrash band.
With its partial Texas logo on the cover, "Out of the Silent Planet" got its name from the 1938 Clive Staples Lewis book. C.S. Lewis was a man profoundly influenced by his faith. The band cites references to a trilogy of his work on its songs and there is no denying the themes of Christianity and faith in the early King's X material. (Their third album even had a Bible insert) But over the years the band would move further away from those ideals and tags and just concentrate on the music.
As an album, "Out of the Silent Planet" was one of the most unique musical productions around and cemented their identity as introspective gods. The stepped down drop D tuning of the guitar, the killer progressive arrangements, thought provoking lyrics and the transfixing three-part vocal harmonies made their sound unusual and immediately recognizable. People would compare their vocals and melodies to The Beatles. I personally compare them to a 'metal' Crosby, Stills and Nash. DUg's soulful voice was backed up equally by the impeccable harmonizing of Ty and Jerry. Ironically, the 'title track' from this album appears on the second album. (Led Zeppelin was known for this quirk too).
1989's "Gretchen Goes to Nebraska," arguably the progressive zenith of King's X, was written around a story Jerry Gaskill penned for the concept. The title never did have any esoteric meaning, but stemmed from a joke. A bunch of guys and the band were sitting around years earlier and someone cracked "gee, why don't you name your album 'Gretchen Goes to Nebraska?" Everyone started laughing and Ty vowed that some day they would name an album of theirs that. From the progressive stylings of "Pleiades," the catchy "Summerland" and the MTV video for "Over My Head," this album spanned the gamut and got them noticed.
1990's "Faith Hope Love" was the album that put them on the radar with radio play and started the King's X tradition of quirky, congenial videos. Besides the massively groovy "We are Finding Who We Are," they put out that "It's Love" video. It's a campy clip in which they are on a Cessna, magic carpet, barber's chair and get overrun by pumas and skunks at a campground. Almost all of Kings X's official videos have a playful, goofy theme to them. This album (and also the fourth one) were the most commercially successful for the band.
That self-titled album came out in 1992 and marked their first major label release on Atlantic. They had already toured the U.S. and Europe as the opening act for AC/DC the first half of 1991 and then shared the bill with Living Colour. One of their songs appeared on "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" and the Paul Schaeffer CBS Orchestra on David Letterman used one of their tracks as a commercial bumper. Atlantic figured that this would translate into huge commercial success, moreso than the decent exposure that they were basking in with the "Black Flag" video. But, that wasn't to be.
Years later, dUg came to accept it by stating that King's X were a musician's and a journalist's band, (loved by these facets) and that musicians don't buy music like the general public. In a way, it always kept their music special and uncontaminated, unlike many sell-out artists whose names I need not mention. And as consummate musicians, they demolish live and nail every note. Ritchie Blackmore once famously said that he would not want to follow King's X on stage. Watching them live is precision personified. Jerry just owns that drum kit and wails on it with an intensity not often seen. A journalist once said that dUg's 12-string bass rumblings gave him 'delicious diarrhea," and of course Ty is the master whether with a Strat Elite or a John Guilford custom guitar.
Digressing, the real story of the fourth album? Many don't realize that on this release and on "Ear Candy," Ty laid down tracks with broken bones and electrodes in his back. See, Ty was a motocross racer in his spare time. His dad was the co-owner of a McComb, Mississippi motocross track where Ty would avidly race his bike. Ty says that if he were a better racer, he would never have learned to play guitar. So it is indeed a good thing that all of his injuries curtailed his bike career so that we got to hear his music.
In 1994, King's X took one of its many musical turns in the form of its darker and more muscled sound in "Dogman." The album was produced by Brendan O'Brien of Stone Temple Pilots/Pearl Jam fame. In this period, Jeff Ament from the aforementioned band made the unforgettable statement that 'King's X invented grunge.' I will concede that it was a grittier style than usual and got them on the bill at Woodstock '94. The record featured the cover dog in one of four different colors; red, yellow, green and blue.
With "Dogman" came the gradual metamorphosis over time of the band's style and look. The long dusters, cowboy hats and dUg's Sgt. Pepper jacket and faux-hawk gave way to an ever-evolving image. Their sound took another turn into less-progressive and more upbeat rock with 1996's "Ear Candy," but King's X always managed to craft great rock music no matter how it was classified. This album featured more vocals by Ty Tabor, whose voice is the mid-ranged of the three - holding the balance between the syrupy-soulful dUg and the higher, harmonic John Lennon-styled pitch of Jerry. The track "Mississippi Moon" from the album was no doubt a paean to Ty's heritage.
After a 'best of' compilation, the band got dropped from Atlantic and ended up with a deal on Metal Blade Records - whose CEO Brian Slagel is a die hard fan of the band. 1998's "Tape Head" was the first album of theirs to be written and recorded in the studio rather than separately. A video for the track "Fade" came out, filmed with a fish-eye lens. The lyrics to that track were almost a harbinger of what was to come. When you hear "I don't need to fit in...like I did way back then," you realize these three men as individuals have found a path that was comfortable for them and divested themselves of bowing to other's whims.
For 1998 was the year that dUg Pinnick came out as gay. When he told his bandmates Jerry and Ty, he got unconditional support. Ty said to him: "I'm not perfect, so to judge you would just be wrong." Jerry said to him: "You should talk about it and help other people struggling with it." See, these three have a very strong bond of friendship and that's what has kept them together - they stand as brothers. The manager was worried, according to dUg in an interview, that when he left the studio after the admission he was headed to a gay bar. Ty and Jerry found him at a park where he rode his bike to think.
With dUg's candor, the whole Christian community turned its back on King's X and pulled the band's material out of the stores. It didn't bother Ty or Jerry in the least. If anything, all three of them began to see organized religion in a different way. DUg, never one to be shy with an opinion, calls it all 'bullshit.' He thinks the Bible is a male chauvinist book, and that he was supposed to get 'love' when he turned to Jesus - and instead got turned away. He now talks to God in his own way, but refuses to get on a bandwagon or preach. He now calls himself an agnostic. Ty moved away from religion and from reading a bit, and now gets most of his inspiration from politics.
The dawn of the millenium began with an eighth album from King's X, "Please Come Home Mr. Bulbous," recorded at Ty's Alien Beans studio in Katy, Texas. The album features that song "Charlie Sheen," a full eleven years before said actor lost his mind. Ty decided to record at his own studio for many reasons. He has stated that the whole album/tour schedule is basically a two year process and allows for a lot of time off. This is why Ty has eight solo albums now. A confessed tekkie/geek who makes his own guitars these days, he absolutely loves the recording process more than anything.
All the videos that show the wealth of his equipment also show how Alien Beans studio is fully green. 100% of the recording studio is run by those photovoltaic solar panels and by wind generators. He, like his bandmates, cares about humanitarian causes and the environment - which was evident when he put out a single to benefit the victims of Hurricane Ike. When Ty started the studio, it was also to make some extra cash producing and mastering other bands, but turned into mainly him doing his solo work. Typical musician! Ty's other project, the Jelly Jam (once known as Platypus), has had members of the Dixie Dregs and Dream Theatre in it. Since his first solo album "Naomi's Solar Pumpkin" in 1997, he keeps cranking out that solo material. Listen to Ty's journey into his solo career in part six of this excellent documentary.
In 2001 King's X put out its shortest record, but one of its most interesting, "Manic Moonlight." This album had a jazzy feel to it an featured electronic drum loops. Some of the tracks on this album are among my favorites, especially "The Other Side." This song deals with where your loved ones go following the mystery and seeming finality of death and is nothing short of beautiful. Two years later, the band put out the retro concept of "Black Like Sunday," which revisited their old material from The Edge/Sneak Preview days. A live album followed in 2004, which proved to be the last offering of theirs on Metal Blade. That year, Jerry Gaskill also found the time to put out his solo album "Come Somewhere," which Ty produced.
Inside Out Music released King's X's eleventh album in 2007, "Ogre Tones." When watching the video "Alone," one almost feels that it is the most perfect song for the widespread epidemic of bullying that goes on. DUg pulls no punches in that one when he screams 'nobody....nobody' and the three proceed to throw their instruments down. What I didn't get was the dancing girls in the video. Somehow it didn't jive with their introspective style. But, it is truly amazing to see how youthful and energetic these guys are. Ty is now 51, Jerry is 54 and DUg tops them all at 62. How can a 62 year old man look so outrageously lively? He moves like he's in his forties and eats a very strict diet, I have heard.
In 2010, King's X put out its last release to date, "XV." (I guess it is the band's fifteenth release if you count the compilations and live ones). The songs on this one deal with pure realism, like the economical track "Broke." DUg sings about people paying their bills with credit cards and living beyond their means. An upload on YouTube shows these cheesy scenes from the Home Shopping Network, making for a nice laugh fest. An official video, "Pray," deals with their ever-evolving relationship with religion.
DUg has also been a prolific solo artist like Ty. His solo offerings most notably include Poundhound (named possibly after his Hound Pound studios). His first two albums had Jerry Gaskill on drums and his third one had Jerry's son Joey on it. He likes to keep it all in their inner sanctum most of the time. Ty's dad and brother have guested on his solo albums, hand in hand with luminaries such as Jimi Hazel from 24/7 Spyz. DUg is now on his fourth Poundhound/DUg Pinnick album, "Strum Sum Up." In the past, DUg was in Supershine with Bruce Franklin and Jeff Olson of Trouble. He gets around plenty in the metal world, singing the chorus on "Balls to the Wall" with Mark Tornillo of Accept and getting asked onstage plenty. He knows everyone from his hometown friends Cheap Trick to his deceased Texan buddy Dimebag. Once when he was on his way to Chicago for Christmas, he stopped by Darrell's house and recorded "Born Under a Bad Sign" with him. 1996 never sounded so good...
King's X was sidelined by the sad news in February of this year that Jerry Gaskill suffered a heart attack. That scare, which saw Jerry on a ventilator for over a month, brought this tight-knit trio even closer together. Gaskill posted a video two months later telling everyone that he was gradually recouping his strength and was grateful and overwhelmed by all the support. On King's X's website, the band is offering a download of the concert "Burning Down Boston" from 1991 for twenty bucks to go to Jerry's medical fund. Poor Jerry and his wife (whom he married recently in a Las Vegas ceremony) were also the victims of Hurricane Sandy, which dumped four feet of water in their Seaside, New Jersey home.
Jerry had felt well enough now to join the band on a series of concert dates with Kansas recently. Sometimes the best therapy is music, especially when you are one of the best. The members of King's X always give each other the space to do their respective solo projects and like nothing better than guesting on each other's work. That is what keeps them together and keeps any hint of creative differences nil. These three have grown together in a rare display of solidarity and they still have plenty of songs to write. Another King's X album is inevitable sometime down the road.
King's X - "In the New Age" - Out of the Silent Planet
King's X - "Over My Head" - Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
King's X - "We are Finding Who We Are" - Faith Hope Love
King's X - "Black Flag" - King's X
King's X - "Cigarettes" - Dogman
King's X - "Fade" - Tapehead
King's X - "Alone" - Ogre Tones
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