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King's X consists of Doug Pinnick (born c. 1950 in Joliet, IL), bass and lead vocals; Ty Tabor (born c. 1960 in Pearl, MS), guitar and vocals; and Jerry Gaskill (born c. 1958 in New Jersey), drums and vocals. Addresses: Record company-- Megaforce Worldwide, 210 Bridge Plaza Dr., Manalapan, NJ 07726.
After the release of their first album in 1988, the hard-rock power trio King's X gathered a loyal cult following with their mixture of riff-heavy guitar, unusual song structures, rich vocal harmonies, and upbeat semi-evangelical messages. For several years, however, the band struggled to reach a wider audience; many critics who admired their sound had reservations about the preachiness of the lyrics, and few of the band's songs seemed appropriate for Top 40 radio. In 1991 they broke through with their single "It's Love," and joined a handful of other bands, in the words of CD Review' s Edward Murray, in "attempting to transform hard rock from its consistently stale glam/pop leanings."
Lead singer and bassist Doug Pinnick, whose vocals combine the wail of hard rock with the soulful croon of vintage rhythm and blues, is one of a handful of black heavy metal musicians; the biracial makeup of the band is yet another challenge to hard rock convention. Pinnick's influences serve to remind metal fans that this music developed out of several predominantly black musical traditions--gospel has always been present in rock, perhaps the primary source of its uplift. According to Rolling Stone' s David Fricke, the group, which also features Ty Tabor on guitar and Jerry Gaskill on drums, thinks of itself less as a Christian band than "a band of Christians, less interested in parroting dogma than in celebrating life and blowing minds." It hasn't been an easy road for a band with as much interest in the New Testament as the metal blast of bands like Black Sabbath. Unlike such easy-to-identify Christian metal acts as Stryper, King's X has always refused to play an evangelical version of commercial hard rock. The band has nothing but disdain for the Christian rock world's derivative nature, its tendency to seize on images from pop culture and "Christianize" them. In fact, Pinnick's vision crystallized when he heard "Gloria" by Irish rockers U2, a song that incorporates the words of a Latin hymn. "Here [U2 lead singer] Bono was singing in Latin this beautiful text," Pinnick recalled to Fricke. "And I thought, ' That dog! He got away with it.' He did it in an artistic way. That was the day U2 changed my mind about a lot of things and encouraged me. Because if they could do it, we could do it."
Pinnick was born in the early 1950s in Joliet, Illinois, and was raised by his great-grandmother, a solemnly religious woman. He listened as a teenager to the classic rhythm and blues and soul records put out by Detroit's Motown label, but while attending college fell in love with the thunderous sounds of the legendary British hard rock group Led Zeppelin. It took many years of searching before he brought together his vision of a band that rocked as hard as Zeppelin but put across an upbeat spiritual message. Pinnick spent some years in a Christian community in Florida, arranging concerts that rarely drew crowds; finally he moved back to Joliet and put together a Christian rock band that gathered a large following. Soon the group and its followers formed a church called the Shiloh Fellowship, which Pinnick described to Fricke as "a hippie-community thing" that quickly wearied him with its inability to grow and change. "I had to move on, because these people weren't. So I said a prayer: 'Lord, open the doors and I am out of here.'"
The bassist found his opportunity as the 1970s drew to a close: He moved to Springfield, Missouri, to join the noted Christian rock band Petra. The group's drummer, Jerry Gaskill, had moved to Springfield from New Jersey, and though Petra disbanded within a month of Pinnick's arrival, Gaskill and Pinnick decided to continue working together. They worked for about a year as the rhythm section for Christian rocker Phil Keaggy, and then in 1980 set about forming their own band.
Pinnick heard guitarist and Pearl, Mississippi, native Ty Tabor--who had played with Gaskill in the past--playing at a local college and enlisted him in the project alongside guitarist Dan McCollom, who left the band shortly thereafter. Tabor, like Gaskill, had dropped out of Springfield's Evangel College, frustrated with the narrowness of the Christian university's environment. The new ensemble called themselves the Edge and embarked on the gritty road of rock and roll dues-paying, performing long nights in little clubs. Five years and many gigs later, the group relocated to Houston, Texas, because two promoters promised to finance them. Although the original offer fell through, the band had the good fortune to hook up with Sam Taylor, a fellow Christian and rock manager who had worked with the likes of Southern boogie masters ZZ Top. Taylor became something of a guru for the musicians, encouraging them to adopt the name King's X and taking on record producing, management, and video directing duties. "I'm a four-way partner. That's the way they wanted it," Taylor informed Fricke. He remarked that the band's name was "the name of the cool band in town when I was in high school.... I guess I was waxing philosophical at the time, too, thinking about the relationship between God and Christianity, and that we have a mark on us." Pinnick told Rolling Stone' s Kim Neely that Taylor helped the band "to see that our art was more important than commercial success."
Commercial success would prove elusive indeed. After honing their chops for a while longer, King's X went into the studio to record their first LP, Out of the Silent Planet, which they released on Megaforce Worldwide records and distributed through Atlantic in 1988. Despite forceful jams like "Power of Love," they failed to convey to a large audience the promise they felt the band represented. The album generated a buzz among adventurous metal fans and a few critics, but King's X remained little-known, admired by other musicians--rock stars like Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid and Mr. Big bassist Billy Sheehan have long spoken highly of them--but unfamiliar to the record-buying public.
The second album, 1989's Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, widened their popularity a bit more, garnering some impressive reviews and more publicity. Rolling Stone called Gretchen "a dizzying tapestry of smoldering guitar, ragged, soulful vocals and tight three-part harmonies ... a feast for the senses." Something of a concept album, the record tells the tale of a young girl's adventures in a landscape the review described as "a sort of musical Alice in Oz." Pinnick characterized the band's lyrics to Neely as "psychedelic spiritual," and reviewers tended to question the point of some of the words. Even so, tracks like "Mission," with its soaring harmonies and crunch guitar, couldn't fail to convey their message: "What's the vision of the preacher man?/Some are true, some do lie," roars Pinnick, asking if churchgoing means anything more than "a social get-together." This criticism of conventional religion recalls Pinnick's description, in his interview with Fricke, of his grandmother's "Pentecostal holiness attitude, where everything was wrong. Except sitting at home and reading your Bible all day and going to prayer meetings." Alongside the occasional sermon, however, King's X emphasized the sheer spiritual power of the sound, which Pinnick labeled "the Pound." The song "Over My Head" outlines a surrender to the force of rock: "Music, music/I hear music," soars the vocal, "Music over my head."
Though Gretchen won over some new fans, as did the group's impressive live shows, they still stood outside the sphere of Top 40 radio and MTV. At the time Pinnick told Neely, "Either people like us or they just don't get it, and that's the way it's always gonna be. We'd be stupid to think everybody's gonna like us." The band's tour in support of Gretchen pointed out not only their popularity abroad but their relative obscurity at home: "I enjoyed playing England better," Pinnick told Mean Street magazine. "Everywhere we played we sold out. When we come to America we can maybe pack a club out in maybe Chicago, New York, and L.A., but everywhere else it's like, 'King's X? Who?'"
The band's recognition factor, however, was about to increase sharply. In 1990 they released Faith Hope Love by King's X, their most ambitious record, and the single "It's Love" became a hit, appearing frequently on Top 40 radio stations and MTV. Stylistically, Faith Hope Love has a lush feel, and its songs showcase the musicians' wildly diverse influences. "I'll Never Get Tired of You" has the richly melodic feel of folk-rock and psychedelia, while "We Are Finding Who We Are" is a churning mixture of funk and soul that displays Pinnick's affection for the vocal stylings of R&B master Sly Stone. Both Gaskill and Tabor took some lead vocals this time out, underlining the group's ensemble approach.
The group's newfound success did not translate into critical raves; many reviewers compared Faith Hope Love unfavorably to Gretchen. Even so, the most critical reviews had a few nice things to say. Janiss Garza of Entertainment Weekly referred to King's X as "A thinking man's metal band," applauding the sonic mixture of the trio's sound but taking issue with the album's "split personality," presumably divided between sixties nostalgia and nineties relevance. Murray spoke highly of the group's "soaring Beatlesque vocal harmonizing" as well as Pinnick's lead vocals and Tabor's riffing. "The problem here is ideas--or lack of them," the reviewer concluded, bemoaning the tendency of much of the material "to feel like a sermon." Musician was more positive, approving of the band's musical eclecticism: "Idiosyncratic? Sure, but irresistible, combining Def Leppard's pop smarts with Queensryche's ambitious invention. Prepare to be converted!" Rolling Stone reviewer Erik Davis, though irked by the album's "art-rock bloat" and the antiabortion stance of the songs "Legal Kill" and "Mr. Wilson," admired the band's singlemindedness: "Driven by conviction and fired by their music, the members of King's X wield the moldy art-rock sword and, despite some false moves, hone it to a hard, straight edge."
King's X continued honing their edge on tour, participating in the short-lived Gathering of the Tribes festival with EPMD, Fishbone, Primus, X, and others. In 1991 they contributed the song "Junior's Gone Wild" to the soundtrack of the film Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. The days of obscurity have ended, and the band now confronts the issue that has daunted many an ambitious and thoughtful rock band: whether it should restrain its ideals for the sake of greater success. Pinnick, who has spent much of his life negotiating a path between the True Believers and the Devil Rockers, offered a humble summary of his artistic and spiritual mission in his interview with Fricke: "Rock & roll is very important in my life. But the most important thing is to give people things they need, like love and attention. We all need that friendly handshake or hug. That's what keeps us going, and that's what I want King's X to represent. I want people to be able to put one of our records on and feel like 'Yeah, I can deal with today.'"
by Simon Glickman
King's X's Career
Band members worked as backing musicians for Christian rock artists and performed with various groups before forming in 1980 in Springfield, MO. They moved to Houston, TX, in 1985, took the name King's X, and played the club circuit before releasing their first LP in 1988. Pinnick attended college briefly; Tabor and Gaskill attended Evangel College, Springfield, MO.
- Selective Works
- Out of the Silent Planet (includes "Power of Love"), Megaforce Worldwide/Atlantic, 1988.
- Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (includes "Mission" and "Over My Head"), Megaforce Worldwide/Atlantic, 1989.
- Faith Hope Love By King's X (includes "It's Love," "I'll Never Get Tired of You," "We Are Finding Who We Are," "Legal Kill," and "Mr. Wilson"), Megaforce Worldwide/Atlantic, 1990.
- King's X Atlantic, 1992.
- With other artists Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey: Music from the Motion Picture (contains "Junior's Gone Wild"), Interscope/Atlantic, 1991.
August 2, 2005: Group member Doug Pinnick's third solo album, Emotional Animal, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_1/index.jsp, August 9, 2005.
- CD Review, April 1991.
- Entertainment Weekly, October 26, 1990.
- Guitar Player, February 1991.
- Hijinx, August 1991.
- Mean Street, December 1990.
- Musician, February 1991.
- Rolling Stone, November 30, 1989; January 10, 1991; February 21, 1991.
King's X Lyrics
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