Greg Kihn Interview
Greg Kihn has been in the music business since the mid 1970s. He’s had a couple of big hits and has always put out great rock and roll records. However, for the past twenty years Greg has been, to use his play on spelling, “in’kihn’spicuous.”
After spending the last 18 years as the morning drive time DJ in San Jose, California and authoring a few horror novels, Greg Kihn is back to his rock and roll roots with the release of his latest album Rekihndled, his first full rock album in twenty-one years! If you like straight forward rock and roll, you'll love this new record.
We recently spoke with Greg Kihn to discuss his career, his new album and his memories of Cleveland.
Greg Drugan: I wanted to congratulate you on your new album Rekihndled. I think it’s a great throwback rock and roll record. What made you decide that it was time to put out a new record? It’s been awhile since you put out new music.
Greg Kihn: Yeah, it’s been over 10 years, it’s actually been over 20 years! We did a couple of live albums but it’s my first studio album in a long time. People say “Where were you Greg?” Well, I was on the radio. I was on KFOX radio in San Francisco and I was doing the morning show. I had to get up at four in the morning and that’s where I’ve been for the last eighteen years.
When you do the morning show, you really don’t have a life and when the weekend came around, I was too pooped to play any gigs! Bottom line is that I didn’t play for a long, long time. Then me and the station parted ways a couple of years ago and I started to reform the band. My son Ry is on guitar and he’s fabulous. He’s a former Joe Satriani student. Robert Berry on bass and keyboards and everything else in the band. I got a new drummer Dave Lauser from Sammy Hagar. My other guy, Dave Danza couldn’t go on the road this summer and I needed a drummer so Sammy said, “Take my guy! I’m gonna be busy this summer.” So I got Dave on drums and he’s like Keith Moon! I got a really kicking band and low and behold I we started writing songs.
We were in the studio and I said I wanted to write a song like “Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac. Then my son starting thinking about it and he said, “You mean something like 'Black Dog' by Zeppelin where it starts and stops.” The next day he comes in the studio with the riff that would become “Pink Flamingos.” I started singing “Big pink flamingos” and I just kinda snatched it out of the air and we wrote the song in fifteen minutes! It was so fun! Then the next day we came back and started writing again. We didn’t set out to make an album, it just kinda happened organically.
GD: What is your favorite track on the album? I really like “The Life I Got” and “Anthem.”
GK: My favorite is “The Life I Got.” That was the second song we recorded for the album. That was totally autobiographical. I basically write three types of songs, I write songs that are autobiographical, I write songs that are fiction like “Big Pink Flamingos” and I write songs that art topical like “Tell Me Something Good” or “Brain Police.” When I was working on “The Life I Got” I got to the essence of what I was trying to say. Those are two of the new songs that we are doing live. We can only do five new songs because we have songs we have to play. We are a heritage band because we’ve been around forever.
Here’s the real kicker: of the five guys that recorded “The Breakup Song” back in 1981, of those five guys only two guys are left standing, me and the drummer, Larry Lynch. He always drank milk and never took drugs. You would have thought I would have been the first to go because I was doing blow and drinking Jack Daniels and smoking doobies. I was burning the candle at both ends and you would have thought that I would have gone first. Ironically, here I am and I feel like a survivor.
GD: Looking back on your career, what first got you interested in playing music?
GK: That’s a real easy question. We were watching The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night at my parents house when I was 13 years old back in Baltimore. It was a real bad picture but the Beatles came on and by the third or fourth song, I turned to my parents and said, “That’s what I want to do!” They were like, “Oh, god please. You’re not gonna do that.” I had already had gotten a guitar and I knew two or three chords. Probably the same two or three chords that I’m still using! (laughs)
You could take those two or three chords and play most of those Beatles songs with the chords that you already knew! So it was real easy for me to jump right into it. I was also a songwriter and my idol was Bob Dylan. Right before the Beatles, I remember buying a copy of Freewheeling and falling in love with that record. So I started writing some really bad songs. But one Christmas I got a tape recorder and I used to record stuff. I went into the bathroom because it had great acoustics, and I cut demo’s. Unbeknownst to me, my mother sent one of those demo’s to a local radio station and they were having a talent contest. Lo and behold I won that talent contest, it must have been a bad year for talent! (laughs)
I won three things (from that contest) that affected my life. I won a Vox electric guitar, that I still have. I won an electric typewriter, and I got a stack of records that I would end up playing on the radio. I wound up playing the guitar, having a musician’s career, having a writer's career and having a DJ’s career. It’s been a wild ride!
GD: That’s pretty crazy. When did you end up moving to San Francisco?
GK: That was in 1971. I first went out to LA, I knew a couple of guys out there and stayed there for about six months. Then I went up to Berkeley. There was a real good scene when I first went up to Berkley and I started busking. Busking is when you are playing in the street. I was playing on Telegraph Avenue for spare change. I used to make like 40 to 50 bucks a day, I was doing pretty good for a spare change artist. I had my guitar and I would play all day. A guy comes up to me and says “Too bad you don’t have a band because I need a house band at my night club.” That was The Longbranch in Berkeley. I lied and said “I have a band and they’re really good.” He said “Show up Sunday night, you start immediately!” I only had a bass player, Steve Wright, and the two of us put together a band in one week! That band stayed together for 20 years and made 18 albums. That band came together in one week.
GD: Do you remember what it was like hearing “The Break Up Song” on the radio for the first time?
GK: Oh I do! “The Breakup Song” was in ‘83. We started recording in ‘76 and we didn’t have a hit record, a Top 10 record until my seventh album! That’s outrageous and you couldn’t do that today because everything has to be instantaneous. Everybody thought it was going to be a hit record, but you never know. I remember driving to rehearsal and it came on the radio. I had to pull over because I was so pumped up! When I got there, the other guys had been listening to the radio and they said “Did you hear it?” That was just the beginning and from that point forward, we got a lot of good air play.
GD: Do you have any specific memories of playing in Cleveland? Did you ever stay at the legendary Swingo’s?
GK: Yes! Swingo’s was the legendary place! I stayed there three or four times. Unbelievable, what a spot! I remember we played the Agora and we were lumped in with a lot of new wave bands, it must have been our hair cuts. I remember we opened for the New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders and people like that. I remember the fans really liked us a lot and we got a lot of airplay on ‘MMS. Was it Kid Leo? Wow, I haven’t thought of this stuff in years and it’s all coming back to me! Kid Leo was a big supporter and we would play two times a year. Cleveland was a great town for us. We would always do a back to back with Cincinnati.
I’ve been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame several times. It’s not like it’s in the Dakotas or in the middle of nowhere. We love playing Cleveland but we haven’t been there in a few years because we haven’t been playing in a few years.
GD: Actually you aren’t scheduled to play here yet, I believe the closest that you are coming is outside of Pittsburgh. Maybe you could swing by on the second leg of your tour. We would love to have you!
GK: Yeah, I’ve got the booking agent working on that right now! We just started adding the dates and we will be adding more all the time.
GD: I was actually out in California in February for the Grammys. My buddy and I went out to the Sunset Strip and saw that you were playing at the Rainbow or one of those bars. We were excited to see your name on the marquee because we hadn’t seen it in a while. We couldn’t make the show because you were going on at midnight and we were kinda jet lagged, but it was cool to know you were playing.
GK: I think it was the Whisky. That was such a trip because it’s such a historical club and we did really well there! People said “Oh the Grammys are in town, this won’t sell.” But we sold the place out and the crowd was great!
GD: That’s awesome. Looking back to the MTV era, what were your thoughts on Weird Al’s take on “Our Love’s in Jeopardy?” Some artists see it as a compliment while others take it as an insult.
GK: I was very flattered that he chose me to parody. I remember the day he called me, because you have to get permission if you want to do a parody. I remember he gave me the lyrics over the phone and it sounded brilliant! I said go for it. He’s a brilliant parody guy and I was flattered. It was a hit in the spring, and I toured all summer. Then it was a hit in the fall for Weird Al and he went on tour. All I did was sit back and collect mailbox money! It was great! Plus I got to be in the video which was a lot of fun.
GD: In the mid eighties, Joe Satriani ended up becoming a part of your band; how did that come about?
GK: Joe was in a band called The Squares and he’s a Berkeley boy. The Squares used to open for us at The Keystone and The Longbranch and places like that. I asked Joe when I first started the band if he wanted to join. He said, “No, I’m in the Squares.” He’s a loyal guy and he turned me down. Three or four years later, I called him again and he said, “No, I’m still in the Squares!” So a couple of more years go by and I remember he said, “Ok, it’s time.” I think he was in the band maybe a year and a half to two years. We played a lot of gigs. Joe is fantastic and I said, “Come on Joe, you're too good for this band!” I’m a three chord guy and you’re a three million chord guy.
We would go to a sound check for maybe a half an hour, leave and go to the hotel and check in and have dinner, hang out then go back to the club. When we would go back four hours later, he was still there sound-checking! He was unbelievable. Every song he played on for us was magical. As a matter of fact, I got him to be my son’s guitar teacher. My son was taking lessons from Joe when he was in my band. Ry went on to be a guitar major at the Berklee School of Music. He’s just as good as Satriani.
GD: You are out on the road supporting your new album, what can fans expect from your show?
GK: We gotta do the old stuff. If we don’t do “Breakup Song” and “Jeopardy” they’re gonna kill me. I also like to go through the catalog and sprinkle some things in like “For You” by Springsteen which I still do live. Springsteen actually put me on his Spotify list. How cool is that? He’s always been a big fan and he loved my version of “For You.” So I do that and some of the early songs like “Madison Avenue Man” and “Roadrunner” plus we do a lot of rave-up kinda fun songs that we’ve recorded over the years. Plus four or five new songs. So you’ve got the early Greg Kihn, the middle Greg Kihn and the new Greg Kihn.
GD: Greg thank you so much for your time today, I will get the word out about your new record, I didn’t realize you had a new one out. You have to make a stop in Cleveland so we can see you live.
GK: Everyone has said that. That’s so cool because we are getting the word out. Being off the radar for 18 years has really kinda helped me. Everybody forgot everything and now they’re like “Greg Kihn, I love Greg Kihn.” It’s pretty amazing how all the old fans have flocked back to us.
GD: We will let fans know that you have a new album out and we look forward to seeing you in Cleveland soon!
GK: Well, thanks a bunch man!
Check out Greg Kihn’s new album Rekihndled. For tour dates and more information go to www.gregkihn.com