“Forever is a mountain we’ve yet to climb
Tears are a part of what is yet to leave behind
Strength in numbers, all you need is two
Everyone’s a winner, while still so many lose”
King’s X fans are probably sick of the thinkpieces at this point. “King’s X were the greatest unknown band in the world”! “The greatest ever cult band“! At this point, these questions might never be answered. I’d love to write another one, pleading with the world to take another look at one of the greatest bands in the world. I’d love to join the host of other writers that have taken a deeper look at some of the forces that likely contributed to their lack of fame. Of course, one can consider what’s already been said- Dug stated quite matter-of-factly that seeing a black man singing blues-infused prog metal might have made it harder for white fans to relate: “tall, striking black men with mohawks weren’t exactly common in the rock scene of the late 80s; they still aren’t today”. Their style was likely too thoughtful, too ‘smart’, too hopeful to compete with the despondency of metal music with the 90s. Then there’s the homophobia, the well known management missteps, and many more factors which surely made their path tougher than your average rock band. Yet, despite all of these ‘mountains’ they’ve had to climb, they still managed to be considered by so many to be one of the greatest rock bands ever.
Few bands are as universally respected and adored by fellow musicians as King’s X. Nearly every musician I respect is a fan of King’s X, and has declared their undying love and support. They even were among the Greatest Hard Rock Bands of All Time on VH1, with praise and adulation from Vernon Reid, Ritchie Blackmore, Nile Rodgers, and more. I’ve seen countless other musicians fanboy over King’s X- Nuno Bettencourt called them “one of the greatest bands of all time”. Glenn Hughes, Chris Cornell, Andy Summer, Billy Corgan, Devin Townsend, Paul Shaffer. Several members of Alice In Chains have claimed King’s X heavily influenced grunge. King’s X fans are everywhere. As a matter of fact, when I was in New Jersey for ProgStock 2019, I remember walking by a bar late at night wearing a Gretchen Goes to Nebraska shirt. I heard someone yell “GRETCHEN! HELL YES!”, and when I looked over, I quickly recognized the man who yelled my way, as I caught Enchant lead singer Ted Leonard throwing me the horns. Being a member of the Church of the Groove means that I’m in pretty good company.
I could talk about how important King’s X was to my family. I could find a home movie of my brothers and I playing “Summerland” and “Pleiades” in our family band. I could wrack my brain and try and think of some clever listicle: top 5 albums, top 20 songs, crossing my fingers that I’d win another convert over. But, in the end, I feel compelled to share my “testimony”.
I saw King’s X at the Alrosa Villa in 2017. For those in the know, this was the venue where Dimebag Darrell was killed. For those even more in the know, Dimebag Darrell was one of the few metal musicians that vociferously supported Dug after he mentioned his homosexuality in an interview. So, while it wasn’t directly acknowledged, there was an unspoken history, a somber recognition. As far as the show went, they were every bit as good as one could imagine. They played so many of my favorite songs, and they played them with the same ferocity, intensity, and brilliance that fans have grown to expect in their decades-spanning career. Dug sang and played his heart out. Ty’s tone was sonic perfection. Jerry rocked the kit and sang like some sort of heavy metal angel. We were even treated to a sermon by Dug about love and peace. And, as fans have grown to expect, we got a chance to be the church choir as we sang “Goldilox” tearfully and energetically.
The show went on for several hours, but still ended too soon. At the end of the concert, these 3 rock and roll legends came and sat on the edge of the stage and started talking with their fans. Not just handshakes and selfies- full conversations. More than I could ever expect of my favorite artists. I knew I had to meet them and let them know how much their music meant to me, even though I knew I would just be one more adoring fan. As I stood in line, I talked with other fans. One of them was a personal friend of the band from years ago, who worked in A&R and never understood why King’s X didn’t become the “next big thing”. Another was an older guy, who had been following the band since the late 80s. But, maybe most impactfully, I met a husband and wife who had been fans for years, but had just received word that the husband was terminally ill. Seeing King’s X play one last time was one of his final wishes. It was hard not to feel the weight of those words, and several fans around took notice.
When I finally got to Dug, I told him how much the band’s music meant to me. I told him how I cut my teeth on Jerry’s drum parts and how my family and I would sing their tunes together. I said to him, “If you knew how much you all meant to my family, the love would power you all for 100 years!” He told me that he may not know me, but he loved me, and gave me a hug. Before I went on to meet with Ty and Jerry, I told him there is someone he needs to meet, and pointed out the terminally ill fan. I told him he was recently diagnosed with an incurable illness and wanted to meet one of his favorite bands. Dug’s face became somber, and he pointed his huge hand at the fan and beckoned him over. The fans around heard about the unfortunate turn of events, and the proverbial red sea parted, as this man and his wife approached Dug. He didn’t skip a beat- he reached out and pulled this man and his wife close to his thin frame, and they all started tearing up. I stepped out of the way of this heartfelt scene, and went to get at the back of the line to meet Ty and Jerry, but looked back and Dug gave me a knowing nod. Jerry and Ty were equally as gracious, giving these fans their time and their attention, despite their visible exhaustion after a legendarily solid set. These interactions took a near-perfect concert and made it a flashbulb memory in my mind. Yes, many churchgoers rejected King’s X and their message of hope because of Dug’s honesty about his sexuality, but seeing Dug’s graciousness to this couple was a holy moment in my mind. The Church of King’s X is about love, gratitude, perseverance, and kindness- oh, and really, really kickass rock and roll.
Yes, King’s X never had their #1 album on the Billboard Charts. But neither did Bob Dylan or James Brown or Led Zeppelin. That sort of recognition doesn’t end up mattering in the end, as scores of forgettable bands with slim legacies have grabbed that spot over the years. While my desire for them to be more well known isn’t borne from anything but a wish that they could get the respect that they deserve (especially when that respect translates into cash), I believe they have more respect than most rock bands out there could ever dream of having, from all of the people who have opinions that matter. Respect that they deserve. And maybe more importantly, they have thousands upon thousands of fans, all over the world who can share stories like mine, who danced to King’s X as their wedding song, who listened to Dogman to get through hard times, who know exactly how to bang their head at the end of “We Were Born To Be Loved”, and who have King’s X branded upon their hearts.
“I know it’s been said so many times before
I once was blind, but now I see
And sometimes it just don’t make much sense
But I believe, yeah.”