I was a timid 15 year old kid. I didn’t seek out the spotlight, even though I’d been playing guitar for three years by the summer of 1989. I was the introverted guitar player. I was inclined to stay in my practice room my dad had built for me in the basement for the majority of a summer afternoon practicing scales, learning Tesla and Extreme songs from transcriptions, and playing along to Dio’s Holy Diver….at least until Degrassi Junior High was on. 1989 was the summer I was introduced to the Texas band King’s X.
I’d been taking guitar lessons from a guy named Tim Bushong for about 6 or 7 months at that point. I was introduced to Tim by my uncle John. My uncle was in a local band in the 70s called Magi. They were pretty popular around Northeast Indiana and Southwest Michigan. They were a five-piece that looked a lot like Aerosmith but sounded like the Midwest. And by that I mean working dude’s rock ‘n roll. Duel guitars, boogie woogie rock. Anyways, my uncle met Tim at a Magi reunion in the 80s. Tim was in some regional bands as well in the early 80s that were more along the lines of British heavy metal. Rox Sedan, Victrola,… Judas Priest and early heavy blues stuff from the late 60s and early 70s kinda defined their sound. Google ’em if you’re interested. Well Tim and my uncle both dropped the rock,cleaned up their acts and found God. Between the reunion and possibly church they met. One cold winter evening my uncle drove my older brother and I over to Tim’s house to meet him and possibly start taking guitar lessons from him. He’d been giving lessons out of his house for awhile at that point. Tim was smart, funny, was a huge fan of Woody Allen movies, and was an immense guitarist. He plugged in and played some lightning fast licks and I was smitten.
Pretty soon both my brother and I were heading over to Tim’s every Thursday evening and taking lessons. I’d taken lessons for two years prior to Tim, but this was my brother’s first foray into guitar lessons. I lasted while my brother showed up and watched Tim play. He learned some but eventually quit going. Not only did I learn about the Mixolydian, Phrygian, and proper hammer-on techniques, but I also learned about Fellini, Woody Allen, and a band called King’s X.
King’s X were a band out of Texas that were signed to Atlantic Records. They were also considered a “Christian” rock band. I think when one is newly reborn they give up all those old, sinful bands that were enjoyed before Christ moved into your heart. You don’t just immediately forget about rock ‘n roll. So you look in the Christian music community for something you can enjoy and not feel guilty about enjoying, much like committing to a diet and looking for sugarless, tasteless substitutes for those foods that you once loved but were bad for you(yes, I just compared Christian rock to tasteless food.) Well King’s X were one of the very few Christian rock bands that were making truly cool music. And sure, while they were three guys that were Christians and they played in a band, their music wasn’t overtly religious or preachy. Singing about faith in God, love, humanity, and fellow humans is something even those horrible secular artists do occasionally. Besides, these cats even wrote about C.S. Lewis books. They were readers.
Their music was tight, progressive in nature, and filled with killer grooves. Doug Pinnick, their bassist and lead singer, had a soulful howl and played an 8-string bass which added a whole other sonic layer to their music. Guitarist Ty Tabor had the most sought-after guitar tone in all the land and could sing like half the Beatles. The songs he sang were always rich in Fab Four harmonies and 60s Paisley vibes. He was also a hell of a guitarist. He could shred with the best of ’em. I could actually hear a lot of his influence in Tim’s sound. His playing was also an influence on me and my playing, pushing me to explore the world of the “drop-D tuning”, even before I’d ever heard a note of Soundgarden’s Louder Than Love. Drummer Jerry Gaskill was just a hell of drummer. Very intricate time signatures and could change things up on a dime. He gave the band a very mechanical, metallic sound. He was good.
The albums. Their first four major albums, Out Of The Silent Planet, Gretchen Goes To Nebraska, Faith, Hope, Love, and King’s X were all pretty much classic metal records. Each one was bullet proof to my ears. And each one was a progression. Not until Dogman(and the absence of longtime producer Sam Taylor) did it ever feel that things might be slipping. In all fairness, Dogman is a hell of a record as well. Just a different animal with a more “modern” production sound thanks to Brendan O’Brien. Tabor’s guitar sound went from intricate and razor sharp to grungy and overdriven. Sign of the times, I suppose. But those first four albums? Man, they were on point.
I recently read that the band is remastering those classic albums and re-releasing them in 2015 on vinyl and CD. That geeky 15-year old kid came out in me and I got all excited. Palms sweating and heart racing I immediately began revisiting those King’s X records. They all still hold that magic for me. They all still take me back to being 15 and hearing them for the first time. I think having time away from the band for so long has helped me to appreciate them all over again. Faith, Hope, Love is still my favorite. For a pop/prog/metal album to be released in the fall of 1990 that clocks in over an hour and has Christian overones is a feat in of itself. But for it to be so damn good is another thing all together. From the funk of “We Are Finding Who We Are”, to the Beatles-esque pop of “It’s Love”, to the near speed metal wallup of “Moanjam” and “Talk To Me”, there was something for everyone. That psychedelia reappeared in the beautiful and strange “Six Broken Soldiers”. “I Can’t Help It” even brings to mind Presto-era Rush, or what would’ve happened if George Harrison had gone prog. They even close the album on a pro-life note with “Legal Kill”.
King’s X weren’t writing songs to be cool or to fit into some pre fab mold that popularity offers up. They wrote from their hearts and made music that at times punched me right in the gut. Regardless of whether my moral meter or belief system lined up with theirs, that was never the point. I dug King’s X music and still do. I wasn’t listening to Slayer because I was a fan of their lyrical content. I was a fan of breakneck speed metal and the aggression that came with it.
Pure and simple.
I will be getting all of these albums on vinyl this year, and I will be geeking out in my basement. Maybe I’ll even finds some old Guitar World magazines and learn some songs. Who knows?