K ingdom Clone.
That may be the cleverest slur aimed at Kingdom Come, this year's most ballyhooed new heavy-metal band. But it's not the nastiest.
Some critics have been positively brutal in their criticism of the Los Angeles-based band that opens the "Monsters of Rock" marathon concert that lumbers into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. The other monsters are Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken and Metallica.
Detractors accuse Kingdom Come of ripping off early Led Zeppelin. They insist that West German lead singer Lenny Wolf is merely copying young Robert Plant, while guitarist Danny Stag is simply reprinting a page from Jimmy Page's illustrious book of blues-rock guitar.
Despite the drubbing, the musicians in Kingdom Come seem to be taking the response in stride. In fact, these guys, as the old saying goes, are crying all the way to the bank. The group's self-titled debut album on PolyGram Records has sold more than 1 million copies.
Kingdom Come's similarity to Zeppelin may be a turn-off to critics, but it has been to turn-on to lots of fans. Many of today's metalmaniacs were too young to celebrate Zeppelin in its early '70s heyday, but the constant exposure of the band's oldies on rock radio has whetted the appetite of a whole new generation for this sound.
Though many bands--like Whitesnake, for instance--have emulated the Zeppelin style, nobody does it better than Kingdom Come.
The promoters of the heavily hyped "Monsters of Rock" stadium tour were so impressed by the album sales that Kingdom Come earned a spot on the bill--a spot most metal bands would have killed for. Despite disappointing sales in several cities, the tour, which ends July 30 in Denver, is still giving Kingdom Come a chance to play before 25,000 to 60,000 fans a night. In August, Kingdom Come--which has mistakenly been called a West German band because of Wolf's origins--will start touring America indoors with Scorpions, its Monsters mates, who are West Germans.
The fast-talking, outgoing Wolf recalled attending a Robert Plant concert recently in London: "He knew people from Kingdom Come were in the audience, so he dedicated a couple of songs to us. He doesn't hate us. He has mixed feelings. He told Derek Shulman (who signed the band to PolyGram Records) that he got cold chills on his neck when he heard our album."
Wolf, however, didn't go backstage to meet Plant. "I didn't want to press my luck," he said. "I don't want to chase after him. He probably didn't want to talk to me. Maybe in a year or two, after things settle down, I can shake his hand. I wanted to escape the whole thing then."
But Wolf, 26, can't escape those Led-Zeppelin cloning charges. "We didn't set out to copy them," said Wolf, who could probably counter these accusations in his sleep by now. "When Kingdom Come started, there was no master plan. When I was sitting in my room writing these songs I had no idea the album would sound like this."
He doesn't, however, deny the Zeppelin similarity. His point, which critics have regarded with great skepticism, is that the album, co-produced by Bob Rock, just happened to turn out this way.
In his previous band, Stone Fury, no one accused him of ripping off Plant because hardly anybody heard those two MCA albums. "That band had bluesy Zeppelin stuff in it too--also some Plant stuff," he said. "Kingdom Come continues what I was doing in that band.
"Stone Fury just wasn't a good band. That second album was horrible. It had a sterile sound--too much drum machine, too much keyboards and not enough guitar. The only good thing about Stone Fury is that it taught me what not to do in a band."
Influenced by the Beatles, Wolf started singing at 14 in Hamburg, West Germany. By his late teens he had graduated to a harder sound. After migrating to America at 21, Wolf, with the aid of the current Kingdom Come manager Marty Wolff, formed Stone Fury, which was signed to MCA Records in 1984.
Last year, free of Stone Fury, Wolf organized Kingdom Come and switched to PolyGram Records. "This time I had all the freedom I didn't have in Stone Fury," he said.
Wolf hired bass player J. B. Frank, drummer James Kottak, guitarist Rick Steier and lead guitarist Stag after auditioning many musicians. "He heard about 30 guitarists before he heard me," said Stag, 27, who had spent years developing his skills in minor-league local bands.
"I liked the fact that Lenny didn't want me to sound like anyone else. A lot of L.A. bands want a guitarist who sounds like this person or that person. Lenny said he wanted a bluesy, emotional guitar player. He didn't want me to be anybody else but me."
Still, many of the Zeppelin clone charges revolve around a comparison of Stag and Page. "This one guitarist told me: 'I hate you man, you're so Pagey,' " Stag said. "People magazine said I fell short of capturing the something-or-other of Jimmy Page. It didn't occur to them that I wasn't trying to capture Jimmy Page's something-or-other."
Stag said he was mainly influenced by Jimi Hendrix and, to a lesser degree, by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter and Page. "When hard-rock guitarists hear me play, they think of Page," Stag said. "That's their frame-of-reference. If they knew anything, they could really hear Hendrix in my style. Some people are just ignorant."
So far, the "Monsters of Rock" tour, supposedly the most expensive ever mounted, has been a major disappointment at the box office. Crowds have been far below capacity in some cities and only one show is being held in Los Angeles, instead of the two that had been originally envisioned.
"They over-projected badly," Stag said. "There wasn't as much interest in this kind of show as they thought. There have been big crowds but not nearly as big as expected." (An estimated 70,000 are expected at the Coliseum).
Wolf cited some other factors. "One problem is that the weekday shows start too early," he said. "People are still at work when the show starts. Another thing is that there are a lot of different musical styles in the show. Maybe kids don't want to spend all that money and all that time just to see one or two of their favorites."
As opening act, Kingdom Come has to play before most of the crowd shows up. "It's a real drag looking at all those empty seats," Stag said. "It doesn't inspire you."
Wolf has a particular problem with doing early afternoon shows. "I'm a night owl," he complained. "But I have to get up at 9:30 in the morning, have breakfast and be ready to scream my lungs out at 1:30. I'm not at my peak then. Rock 'n' roll is night music, not afternoon music.
"I'll be glad when this tour is over. Things can get back to normal. I can go back to nighttime rock 'n' roll."