An Interview with Jerry Gaskill of King’s X

Header image credit: Louder Than Sound

Image credit: Daily Express

Always pushing boundaries, never confirming, and perpetually setting the trend, as opposed to following it. When we look back on the long, and storied career of one of the truly underexposed bands of their era, King’s X, these are just a few of the taglines one might adhere.

For drummer, Jerry Gaskill, meeting Doug Pinnick (bass/vocals), and Ty Tabor (guitar/vocals) was a stroke of destiny, and the trio would go on to form King’s X, a genre-bending band, whose refusal to conform to the mainstream, pension for lush, dynamic instrumentation, and deep-thinking lyrics, manifested in three progressive metal masterstrokes in Out of the Silent Planet (1988), Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989), and Faith Hope Love (1990), for Megaforce Records.

After garnering mainstream attention through their track, “It’s Love,” King’s X signed on with major label, Atlantic Records. What followed were three more inspired records, King’s X (1992), Dogman (1994), and Ear Candy (1996), before the band moved on to Metal Blade Records for 1998’s Tape Head.

Though the band’s experimental nature left them impervious to shifting sonic tides, major, watershed success still eluded them. For Gaskill, King’s X, and his solo works, Come Somewhere (2004), and Love and Scars (2015) have served to continually put the world on notice, that while King’s X and its fearsome trio may still be underexposed, success and influence cannot always be measured in albums sold.

To this day, King’s X remains a steady concert draw, and the droves of progressive and alternative bands which came after them, such as the Smashing Pumpkins, and Dream Theater, only serve to better prove King’s X’s enduring influence.

Due to a myriad of reasons, King’s X has been silent as a studio entity since the reason of XV (2008), but as you’ll find out in this chat with Gaskill, that is about to change. In Gaskill’s own words, read on to learn more about the history, evolution, and influence of King’s X, as well as information regarding the band’s new record deal, and upcoming new studio outing. Cheers.

Andrew:
Jerry, thank you for taking the time. Let’s dig in. As a young musician, what first drew you toward the drums?

Jerry:
I’ve been playing drums for as long as I can remember. I can’t really think of what first drew me to the drums. It’s as if I’ve just always played. I got my first real drum, a snare, at the age of four. It’s what I wanted more than anything in the world. 

Ringo Starr was probably the first drummer that sealed the deal for me. I was playing before The Beatles came to America, but after seeing them on Ed Sullivan there was no turning back.

Andrew:
You alluded to Ringo Starr, aside from him, who were some of your early influences which shaped your style? How has your style shifted as you’ve moved forward?

Jerry:
Ringo sealed the deal. From there, John Bonham became a tremendous influence on me. Buddy Rich was also a great influence. Not that I play like Buddy Rich or John Bonham for that matter. They are just two big influences. I always feel that if we could meld John Bonham and Buddy Rich into one drummer then that would be perfect drumming.

There have been many others who have inspired me over the years as well. One local drummer as I was growing up was a big inspiration. His name is Ed Supernavage. He played in a band called Frog Ocean Road. I would go see them often at the local pool parties. They were like gods to me. At the age of fourteen, I actually ended up becoming their drummer. It was like a dream. Don Brewer and Carmine Appice are two more that played a big role in my love for playing drums. 

I think as time moves on we learn from everything around us. New music comes out, new visions of music. All of that helps to shape where I am now. I think we are all learning each day if we allow ourselves to.

Andrew:
What were some of your early gigs where you first cut your teeth
leading up to the formation of King’s X?

Jerry:
I believe my first live gig was a party for Miss New Jersey when I was seven years old. It was a band with my dad and my brother, who was eleven at the time. We had no name, so we decided to call ourselves The Question Marks. From there, we adopted the name Jerry and the Knights. For the next five years or so we played wedding receptions, lodges, floats in parades, talent contests, fairgrounds, etc. 

I also played in a band called The Bat Boys with some local friends, Jackie Neff on bass, my brother Herb on guitar, Robbie Neff on vocals, and me on drums. We auditioned for a Kool-Aid commercial in New York City in 1966. I also played around town with other local bands during that period from 1970 -1976.

I moved to Springfield, MO in 1978, and met a guitar player named Dave Gouty, who introduced me to Greg Volz, and through Greg, I met Doug Pinnick. We ended up playing with Phil Keaggy and I met Ty Tabor on tour with Phil. Doug, Ty, and I started a band with Dan McCollam called The Edge. After one gig, Dan left and Kirk Henderson joined. He left after a year or so, and we decided to be a three-piece. The rest is history.

Image credit: Joe Giron/Corbis Sygma

Andrew:
What were your first impressions of Ty Tabor and Doug Pinnick whom you’ve been with now for over thirty years as bandmates in King’s X?

Jerry:
I first met Doug when we were joining the same band. It was gonna be a pretty big deal for both of us, I believe, but it never happened. So, instead we ended up joining the Phil Keaggy Band. I felt comfortable with Doug. Here we are joining a band with one of our heroes, and I felt we were on the same level. It was comforting. And of course, Doug was obviously a great singer.

I first met Ty when he was the drummer for a band called the Tracy Zinn Band, and they were opening for the Phil Keaggy Band. He came up to me and asked me if he could use my drums. I said, “Yes.” Then later, I was recording a demo for the Tracy Zinn Band, and Ty happened to be the guitar player this time. He was sitting on the floor,r and playing these licks, and I remember thinking, “This guy can really play the guitar!” Those are sort of my first impressions.

Andrew:
The band hooked on with Megaforce Records for the recording of its debut. Take me through the writing, recording, and reception of Out of the Silent Planet

Jerry:
Well, it was exciting to actually be making a record that would be released to the world. We had been working very hard to get these songs to where we could be happy with them. Of course, that is a process that never ends. At some point, you just have to let it go. The reception in England was incredible. We were on the cover of their biggest rock magazine hailing us as the new messiahs of metal, or something like that, but we would be playing to as little as two people sometimes here in the states. Then we went to England, not really knowing what to expect, and we played to a sold-out crowd at the Marquee Club in London, with the crowd jumping, and singing every word. That was incredible!

Andrew:
How did King’s X first gain the attention of major label, Atlantic Records, and subsequently, sign on with them? Was it a hard decision to leave Megaforce?

Jerry:
When we signed with Megaforce, the record was distributed through Atlantic Records. So, we had that connection right from the start. I don’t really remember the exact way it all took place, but it seemed a natural transition.

Image credit: Brian Rasic

Andrew:
King’s X was dropped right smack in the middle of the glam and thrash metal eras but chose a markedly different path. What are your thoughts on coming into the era as a band which wasn’t exactly mainstream?

Jerry:
I feel like we have never fit in anywhere. We have always just done what we do. No labels were interested in us. Maybe because they thought we would be too hard to market, I don’t know. But Megaforce believed in us and gave us a chance. They were a metal label and that was their expertise. So, we kind of got lumped in with that scene even though we weren’t really that. We were just thankful to be able to make a record that people might hear.

Andrew:
King’s X did get a taste of commercial success with the release of 1990s Faith Hope Love. What do you attribute to the uptick in commercial viability the band experienced around this time?

Jerry:
For some reason, MTV was playing “It’s Love” on constant rotation every day during this period. I think that helped a lot. Also, we toured with ACϟDC, which probably didn’t hurt things. But if I actually knew what it would take to be very successful, then we would have been a lot bigger than we were. [Laughs].

Andrew:
Ironically, in our opinion, King’s X’s unique style left them less vulnerable to the ever-shifting 1990s rock scene. Would you agree? 

Jerry:
King’s X is just King’s X. We don’t necessarily fit comfortably into any one genre. I think that has been both to our advantage and our disadvantage. But when it gets right down to it, I’m very thankful that we stuck to our guns. Not that we really had any choice. But I’m thankful that we have at least been able to achieve what we have.

Image credit: Ticketmaster

Andrew:
The trio of albums, which includes Dog Man, Ear Candy, and Tape Head remains some of King’s X’s most underrated work. Dog Man was the first to not be produced by Sam Taylor. And Tape Head was the beginning of the Metal Blade Records era. Expand on that for us. 

Jerry:
Dogman was the beginning of a new era for us. As you mentioned, it was our first record without Sam Taylor. We were excited to work with Brendan O’Brien, and the potential of a sound that we felt might be truer to who we were. It was a great experience. Then the same with Ear Candy. This time we worked with Arnold Lanni as producer. I think it was, again, a bit of a different sound for us, but it was still King’s X, just like everything we do is. Ultimately, we can only be ourselves. If it doesn’t feel right, or real, we don’t do it. And then with Tapehead, another era began. It was our first record with Metal Blade, and it was also the first in a series of records that we recorded, and produced with just the three of us. So, all three of those records were in a sense a new beginning for us.

Andrew:
King’s X was one of a select few to have taken the stage for Woodstock ‘94. Take us through your recollection of that watershed event in music history.

Jerry:
To say the least, it was amazing to be a part of such a monumental event. To me, it felt like Woodstock. It was great to meet and hang out with some new people, as well as meet some of our heroes as we were growing up. Playing in front of three-hundred-thousand people was definitely a new experience. It was a literal sea of people. I believe our show went over well, at least with the press, and media. We were being touted as the highlight of Friday night. Yet, the funny thing is, like it seems throughout our career, nothing happened. We didn’t sell records, and still, the world at large knew nothing about King’s X. Oh well.

Andrew:
As a studio band, King’s X has tapered off over the years. Why has the band become less prolific?

Jerry:
I don’t think I would say we have become less prolific. We have all been writing songs and releasing records. We just haven’t got together as King’s X to make a record until now. In 2019 we recorded what will be the soon-to-be-released new record. I think we just needed to all be on the same page before we made our next record. We all wanted it to be the best we could do, and until we were all ready for that, it would have been useless in my opinion. We didn’t just want to throw out another King’s X record. And I think we may have accomplished that with this new one. I know I had a great time making it, and it felt like we were all there for the same purpose. That was the goal.

Image credit: Barry Knain

Andrew:
The spiritual nature of King’s X’s lyrics has led to some labeling the band as “Christian Rock.” What are your feelings on that moniker? How big of a role has spirituality played in the history and music of King’s X?

Jerry:
Christianity has definitely had a place in King’s X. When Doug and I were at the height of the Christian world, we realized that this was not the world we were to be a part of. When we started the band, we never wanted to present ourselves as a Christian band. No matter what our beliefs were at that time, we were not a Christian band. Once we formed, we all three found ourselves again at the top of the Christian world, as were the touring band for a Christian artist named Morgan Cryar. Once again, it was strongly confirmed that we are not a part of the Christian world. As time moved on, Christianity was no longer a thing that I believe any of us felt comfortable associating ourselves with. I am thankful for all that I have learned from the Christian world, but I cannot call myself a Christian, or anything for that matter. Life is filled with too much unknown for me to define what it could be. I think the key is to find peace with and in ourselves.

Andrew:
King’s X, as a band, is historically underexposed, and yet bands such as Dream Theater, and Smashing Pumpkins perhaps don’t exist as they are without King’s X. In retrospect, why do you feel King’s X never quite broke the mainstream?

Jerry:
If I knew the answer to that question, then we would probably be the biggest band in the world. But I don’t know that answer other than possibly others have taken something from us, and somehow, made it palatable for the world.

Andrew:
From the outside looking in, King’s X seems a band that consistently stuck to its guns and maintained its musical integrity in a scene that was severely lacking in those areas. How do you view the legacy of King’s X?

Jerry:
I’d like to believe that we are what we are. We have definitely made a mark, however small or large that is in rock and roll history. I’m very thankful for that. We have never backed down from who we are, and I think that is the power that we have. I hear from others all the time how we have inspired or influenced them. I’m ok with that. But it’s not over yet.

Image credit: Ticketmaster

Andrew:
The band signed with Golden Robot Records in 2018, and as you mentioned, a new studio album is on the way, which will be the band’s first since 2008. Who will be handling the release this time around?

Jerry:
We are signed to Sony/Insideout Records and are no longer with Golden Robot. As to the album – it’s finished and coming. Stay tuned there.

Andrew:
Your latest solo effort was the outstanding Love and Scars in 2015. How did you feel you progressed from your first solo album, 2004’s Come Somewhere

Jerry:
Those are the types of things I don’t really think too much about. I hope that I’m always learning, and somehow getting better at what I do. Those two albums are completely different from each other. Come Somewhere was just me and Ty making a record of songs that I wrote pretty much exactly as I wrote them. Ty added himself and brought the songs to life. Love and Scars was a total collaboration with my good friend D.A. Karkos. I would bring songs to D.A. – I call him Dan – and he would put himself into them, and they might stay as I wrote them, or he would add parts that to me always made the songs better. I loved making both of those records, and they wouldn’t be what they are without Ty and Dan.

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next for yourself, and for King’s X, Jerry?
 

Jerry:
I’m still waiting to find that out myself. It’s a new and crazy world we’re all living in. I’m hoping for the best.

Image credit: Dixon Drums/Fuson Photo

Interested in learning more about Kings X? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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