The interview below (in italics) appeared in the September 1989 issue of Guitar World. It was written by Brad Tolinski.
Kingdom Come lead guitarist Danny Stag speaks with the humility of a man who knows he’s been blessed. ‘”It was a mind blower” he says, describing last summers’ Monsters Of Rock tour. “Our U.S. debut was in front of 40,000 people. Some bands only get to do that a couple of times in their whole careers, and many never get that chance at all. We did a whole tour to those numbers.”
We got short changed in Australia. We never got these mega bills of super star bands. I remember buying Circus, Metal Edge and Hit Parader and reading about the Monsters of Rock tour. It had Kingdom Come opening, followed by Metallica, then Dokken, then Scorpions and the mighty Van Halen headlining. Kingdom Come formed in 1987, taking musicians from various other rock groups that were paying their dues on the club circuit. By 1988 they had gone multi-platinum with their debut and are playing to 40,000 people. It was this kind of ride to the top, that a lot of kids expected to happen to them once they formed bands. When it didn’t happen within one to two years, they would call it quits.
On the tour with Stag were some of rock s most lauded guitarists, including the legendary Edward Van Halen. When asked whether he found such fast company intimidating, Stag launches into an illuminating examination of his roots. “I realized that I was the only a blues based player,” he says. “Rather than competing, I was playing in my own ball game. My tastes run more towards Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Jimi Hendrix. People don’t usually think of Hendrix as a blues traditionalist, but I feel he was one of the masters, maybe the ultimate.”
As an aspiring guitarist, this is what I wanted to read. Who influenced the people that are influencing me? Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Willie Dixon. Back in 1989, I had never heard of those players. There is that name again Jimi Hendrix. His name just kept on popping up in interviews from the Eighties.
Although one wouldn’t immediately detect the Mississippi Delta in the arena rock anthems of Kingdom Come, interludes like the funky acoustic intro to “Highway 6,” off their latest, In Your Face, suggest a refreshing depth and sense of history. Stag is pleasantly forthright and even passionate about his music and his influences. However, he makes only brief mention of the band Kingdom Come is most often compared to Led Zeppelin. How valid does Stag see those comparisons to be?
“I must admit, I used to scratch my head in disbelief when people compared me to Page. He was an influence, but not a big one. I really liked Zeppelin’s first two albums, but I didn’t care that much for what followed. I think younger people are missing the Hendrix part of my playing because they aren’t as familiar with him as they are with Page.”
“This Led Zeppelin/Kingdom Come comparison has been blown way out of proportion. Some of it comes from the way Lenny (Wolf, Kingdom Come’s vocalist) sings, but if you listen to Lenny and Robert Plant back-to-back you’ll find they don’t sound anything a like. Plant’s voice has completely different tonal qualities. Maybe we come out sounding like Zeppelin when everything is mixed with our drummer, who plays a monster back beat. It’s hard to escape the fact that Zeppelin created certain hard-rock conventions that every band uses.”
“But you could accuse Hendrix of ripping off Muddy Waters,” says Stag with increasing irritation. “Voodoo Chile is a lot like Water’s (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man. The Beatles were influenced by Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. The difference is, the Beatles and Hendrix did variations on the music they loved and their influences were more like tributes. Paying respect to your musical forefathers is part of a long tradition. Ex-Zepsters Page, Plant and John Paul Jones, who’ve been openly hostile to bands like Kingdom Come and Whitesnake, should perhaps re-examine the condition of their glass houses. It’s fairly common knowledge that Led Zeppelin brazenly borrowed, almost note-for-note, several Chess-label classics.”
“Whole Lotta Love, one of their biggest hits, was proven in a court of law to have been taken directly—without permission or subsequent knowledge—from a Willie Dixon tune. After I read an interview with Page where he accused me of stealing from him, I wanted to do a solo album and call it Houses of The Bitter. I’d record Whole Lotta Love, I Can’t Quit You and You Shook Me and write in huge letters who really wrote those tunes. To be influenced like we’ve been is one thing, but to steal songs without acknowledgement is another.”
“I don’t know. Maybe some of the bad blood started when a journalist misquoted me. This guy told Page that I claimed to never having heard Led Zeppelin. That’s obviously absurd and Jimmy would have a right to feel ticked off.”
Back in September 1989, this was a shock to read. Led Zeppelin borrowing songs from other artists and passing it off as their own. These days, I am older and wiser, but back then I was green. They even stole the intro riff to Stairway To Heaven and failed to acknowledge it. I have said it many times, musicians are the sum of their influences. No music is created in a vacuum. Kingdom Come is very similar to the hard rock version of Led Zeppelin and they hit pay dirt with that similarity. The audience wanted Led Zeppelin to be around. Since Led Zep was not around, other bands stepped up like Whitesnake and Kingdom Come to fill the void. The audience lapped it up, sending these bands to the top of the charts.
Stag sounds defensive but he doesn’t need to be. His manic, hormonally charged soloing, aggressive pick attack and tightly would vibrato remain distinctive whether filtered through a single coil Strat pick up, a fat sounding Les Paul or a plain old acoustic Martin.
“I never work out solos,” says Stag. “I just wait til I’m inspired. Then I have the engineers crank the music real loud in the control room and I go for it. I just shut my eyes and improvise. It’s like a short burst of emotion. When you want to comment on something, you use the words available to you in your vocabulary. Soloing is like that with me. I’m commenting on what’s happening musically by reaching into my built up musical vocabulary of licks and scales and use whatever is relevant. I don’t worry about how it’s going to work, it’s just a feel thing.”
I used to read the comments from guitarists who said they never worked their solos out with a grain of salt. My idol Randy Rhoads worked his solo’s out and he created masterpieces, Vito Bratta the same. Solos are meant to add to the song. This is what guitarists forgot towards the late eighties. In saying that, Stag’s leads where good on the ear. By having a musical vocabulary, he had that knowledge to work out the solos on the fly.
To translate that feeling in the studio, Stag uses a 1962 Stratocaster with a bridge-position humbucker, in tandem with a 50-watt Marshall head. All of Stag’s Stage effects are by T.C. Electronics. “My system is pretty simple. The 2290 has five effects loops, and they’re completely programmable. Most of the time I just use a little delay panned so that two of my cabinets are dry and two are wet. I keep the dry cabinets so I never lose punch. I have some parametric eq’s, but I only use them on one song and a couple of solos. They help emphasize my single-coil sound.”
How minimal the set up? That is what Rock N Roll is all about. Plug the guitar into the amp, turn it up and bash away. These days, the guitar rigs are a plethora of schematics.
Now that Kingdom Come has comfortably settled into star status, what does the future hold for Stag?
“I’d like to experiment more with sound, like the weird stuff Hendrix was doing on Axis: Bold As Love. I don’t really think you lose your identity when you change tone or pickups; it’s what ‘s under the fingers. You could tell it was Hendrix whether he was playing clean or whether his sound was balls-to-the wall. Having sound is everything, but having a sound is not. Kingdom Come is close to taking its place alongside the great bands. We’re like a Deep Purple, a Rainbow or a Led Zeppelin. We might not be as original as those guys were in their time, but we have that kind of musicianship. We’ve got the depth.”
The interview appeared in the September 1989 Guitar World issue. It was obviously done around April / May 1989 when the In Your Face album was released. Kingdom Come called it quits in August 1989. So by the time the magazine hit the newsstands, Kingdom Come was no more. They left us with two magical albums. In Your Face is a very under rated album and it deserves more attention than what it got. However that is for another day.