Today I want to spend a few minutes talking about a guy called Kevin K – who in my humble opinion is pretty much the definitive rock n roller – I want to give you a brief precis of Kevin K’s discography and also point out what makes his music so good – and by doing so – will hopefully give you the impetus to go and check him out and discover the great rock n roll that has bought so much enjoyment to me and music lovers like me all over the world for many many years.
So, who is Kevin K? Kevin K is a Florida based musician who for 40 years has been playing inspired rock n roll. He counted Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan and Syl Sylvain from the New York Dolls as his peers and friends, as well as just about every other New York based rocker from the late 70s onwards. Sure, he hasn’t sold hundreds of thousands of albums, no he has never played Madison Square Garden – no he is not a household name …but he should be because the guy has written literally hundreds and hundreds of way underappreciated songs since the late 70s, recorded 40 odd albums, and tenaciously niched out a career for himself by creating distinct, melodic and catchy rock n roll.
I have been a fan of Kevin K’s music since the early 1990s……but let me give some context. I’ve often said that in 1991, after Johnny Thunders passed away – there was very much a musical void in my life, I really didn’t relate to the sounds emanating from Seattle, and unless you were Angus Young, there was no place for shorts in rock n roll, so I found myself listening more and more to US punk great Jeff Dahl, who at that time had released a couple of killer albums called Ultra Under and Wicked. In the days before the internet, the days when you actually used to put pen to paper and write to your favourite artists – I wrote away to Jeff and got on his mailing list. Jeff used to put out a great newsletter called the Dahlhouse where he would give an update about all his doings but he would also write about and review his favourite artists, and that’s where I heard about the Road Vultures, the NYC based band that Kevin and his brother Alan fronted. So in those days, again, pre internet you had to write away to stores like Midnight Records in NYC or whoever – and send an international money order and away you went….. what a great world of discovery. I soon learnt – mainly from fanzines, that there were a bunch of guys around the world who were plying a style of rock n roll that was directly inspired or related to the late great Johnny Thunders, and I’m talking about bands like the Jet Boys from Paris who featured Freddy Lynxx, there was also Rick Blaze, Jeff Crane, and Dave Cuneo – the Ballbuster guys from Massachusetts, there was Jeff Dahl of course and bands like the American Ruse, there was the Remains and Hiroshi Nakagome from Tokyo, so you had all these guys, creating their own little scene playing great Johnny Thunders inspired rock n roll – and there was none better – than the Road Vultures – Kevin and Alan K’s band – but before we look at the Road Vultures and Kevin’s solo material you have to go back a little bit.
Kevin K grew up in Pendleton, a town on the southern edge of Niagara County, in New York state, and before relocating to NYC in the early 80s, Kevin and his older brother Alan were part of the Buffalo punk scene. First band – Aunt Helen, then the Toys, then the New Toys. In the early 80s he relocated to NYC with his brother Alan and by the mid part of that decade they were in band called the Lone Cowboys who released a couple of great singles and a terrific LP called ‘Voodoo Dolls and Cadillac Finns. By the late 80s they formed another band called Road Vultures who released two killer albums on Circumstantial Records called ‘Fire It Up’ and ‘Ride’. If you dig melodic trashy rock n roll – both of these are essential. The band relocated to Hollywood and came close to signing with Gene Simmons label, Simmons records. Kevin began a solo career in 1995 with his first album called ‘Nightlife’ and since then – over the last 20 plus years has released many consistently strong rock albums on different record labels and in different countries throughout the world, including the USA, Australia, Poland, Italy, Germany, Japan and France. Over the past 20 years he has also performed in many different European countries as well as Japan. He has played over 1000 gigs in his time.
Kevin has been in bands that have supported Romantics, Dirty Looks, Ramones, Pat Benatar, Sylvain Sylvain, The Fast, Talas, Johnny Thunders, Sylvain Sylvain, Jerry Nolan, Dee Dee Ramone, The Waldos and Cheetah Chrome to name but a few. Kevin is the last of the original ‘CBGB’ musicians who are still out there performing and releasing new music. He has two new albums out that are out and about and worthy of your attention these are The CBGB Years (Live) and Too Much Too Soon. So this all serves as a brief introduction and why am I telling you all this ? Here’s a few reasons why I think that Kevin K rock n roll is so good.
1) Kevin has a knack of being able to write catchy, hook laden rock n roll that is infectious – it puts you in a good mood.
2) His songs are memorable, his songs are durable – they still sound great 20, 30 years after they were written.
3) No one has a better penchant for melody, no one writes songs with a better hook.
4) He wears his US punk influences on his sleeve but after all these years he has his own distinct and unique style. No one sounds like Kevin K.
5) He is a story teller – and often a social commentator for the oppressed and downtrodden. Many of his albums contain songs that reflect his experiences of touring throughout Europe, and Germany in particular. For example, ‘Allies’ ‘Deutschland’ and ‘Firestorm’ gave the listener strong thematic images of cold war Europe and post war Germany. The Berlin Wall, D- Day, the Manhattan Project. These albums were full of consistently strong, original and evocative material, these albums took Kevin K’s music to a new level whilst not forsaking his Johnny Thunders / Dead Boys / Iggy roots .
6) He uses a formulae that is heavy on the melody, Sweet harmonies, killer guitar riffs, has a super catchy sing along chorus, and always has a great hook – the Kevin K formulae for crafting archetypal power pop/punk – and often, with a clever sense of humour.
7) Aside from being a great song writer, he is a ripping guitar player, a terrific drummer and has a very appealing voice.
In 2010 a DVD was released called “Kevin K – The Successful Loser”, that chronicled his life in rock n roll, from NY to Europe. This video was distributed worldwide by MVD Entertainment Group and is still available. I have talked only very briefly about Kevin K’s life but if you want to get the whole story, I strongly encourage you to buy his book that was released a few years back called “How to Become a Successful Loser “ – where he chronicles his entire life in rock n roll. If you are a fan of Johnny Thunders, The New York Dolls, The Dead Boys, Ramones, Iggy or punk rock in general, you will no doubt enjoy reading this book as its littered with great, real life stories that features all those guys. Yet this is more than a rock n roll book. This is a human interest story about a life well-travelled. It details Kevin’s life as a boy and his youth growing up in Buffalo, high school, getting into rock n roll, living in NYC in the 1980s and 90s as a musician struggling to make it with all the craziness that city had to offer at that time. There are many interesting stories in here. He came so close to making the big time that he could almost taste it, yet he never signed that major label deal or had a video on MTV. He just kept plugging away, year after year, making new albums and touring in support of them. NYC, Detroit, LA, Japan, Germany, Poland, France, Spain. There’s great stories of the road from all those countries. There are stories about living in NYC next to Iggy Pop, encounters with GG Allin and The Ramones, playing the clubs and moving to Hollywood. There are stories about the death of his brother Alan, hanging out with Johnny Thunders and Cheetah Chrome, drugs, St. Marks Place, Jennifer Love Hewitt and much much more. Its 2018 – the Ramones are long gone. CBGBs has gone. Rock ‘n’ rolls glory days are gone. In spite of it all, Kevin K has just kept on keeping on. As I said at the outset – The music of Kevin K has been the musical sound track to my life for 25 odd years now and it just endures.
His music has always been special. In an age when rock n roll is manufactured, contrived, disposable and lacking in authenticity, the need for Kevin K rock n roll is greater than ever. This guy has more rock n roll credential than anyone you care to name and has more than paid his dues. If you dig any of the aforementioned artists, if you dig Westerberg or Bowie or Iggy or forget comparisons……. I am yet to find another artist on the planet who can write guitar heavy, infectious pop songs as consistently well as Kevin K. Get his book –get the DVD – in fact you can throw a dart at any of his CD’s and you are guaranteed to hit a bullseye – go and discover what I have known for a long time now – Kevin K rock n roll is the best there is! Get his albums here.