October 5, 2017 Interview – Greg Kihn
Love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life. So goes the story of accomplished Rock Musician Greg Kihn who has been following his passion most of his life. A colorful, friendly, and passionate man, Kihn is vividly remembered by Rock-n-Roll fans topping charts in the late ’70s into the late ’80s with The Greg Kihn Band. Earning top 10 hit singles with 1981’s “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)” and 1983’s “Jeopardy,” Kihn has etched his name in the halls of Rock-n-Roll history.
Still going strong, the creative mind has not stopped with just music; he spent an extended span of time as a successful radio host on KFOX-FM out in San Francisco, California as well as written a list of novels. Inspired, Kihn revisits music after some time away with the 2017 album Rekindled. Rocking and rolling with new music, some touring, and yes, more writing, Kihn is a man on a mission. Take a closer look at Kihn within a conversation talking his begins in Rock-n-Roll, his love for the Horror genre, writing, and so much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in entertainment for over four decades now in Rock-n-Roll, radio, and writing. First, briefly tell us what has this ride been like?
Greg Kihn – Well, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ll tell you the truth, I’m easily bored and I need constant creative outlets for my stuff. I’m always writing. This is the curse of being a writer – you’re always either getting a song idea, getting a novel idea, or just getting a story idea. Getting the idea is the easy part, but then you’ve got to sit down and write it. Sometimes that can be a little bit more dicey. I love it, I love being able to work in the creative world!
CrypticRock.com – It is exciting, and it is exciting that you have various outlets to do that.
Greg Kihn – Well, yeah. For instance, I’ve always loved Horror movies. I loved them when I was a kid, loved the old Universals. When I was growing up, I loved Creature Features, and I think, between the ages of 9 and 18, I saw every Creature Feature in the universe, even really bad ones. I’ve always loved it. My first novel was Horror Show (1996), which was based loosely on Ed Wood and Roger Corman.
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting. Obviously, you started in music. Your career in Rock began about 40 years when you released a solo debut, and you grew from there as a musician. Your style changed a little bit. Tell us a little bit about that shift in style that you went through.
Greg Kihn – I was always a singer-songwriter, so I was always trying to write songs at the same times I was trying to put them over as a singer. I remember when I was writing the early songs. I think the early Paleozoic era is when we started, but it was a lot of fun. Writing songs was always fun for me. When we started getting the hits, that was really because—in today’s world this could never happen—but in the olden days that was our seventh album before we had a Top 10 hit record with “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em).” That’s unheard of, you couldn’t do that today. Back in the day, that was par for the course.
It seemed like once I started to write the songs that I was involved in, the scene, everything moved forward at the same time. For instance, when I wrote “Jeopardy” and I get a call three months later from “Weird Al” Yankovic saying he wants to do a parody on “Jeopardy” called “I Lost on Jeopardy,” about this guy that was losing on Jeopardy. I thought, “That’s brilliant!.” Weird Al’s gotta call you if he’s doing a parody of your song. He has to get permission. When he called me, I said, “Weird Al, I love you. You’re my guy. I’m very flattered that you would choose my song to parody. That means it’s well enough to be parodied,” and number two, the guy’s a brilliant lyricist and his parody is really funny.
It was a hit record all that summer, it took us to early spring until around October, and then here comes Weird Al and he’s got the hit with it! He rides it until way after January of the year. It was an all year long hit thanks to Weird Al. He was a great guy and he had me come down to LA and do a cameo in his video for “I Lost on Jeopardy.” I got to meet Don Pardo. That’s really cool. At the end of the thing, Don Pardo goes, “Weird Al, let me tell you what you didn’t win!” It’s really cool!
CrypticRock.com – Those are some really fun memories to have. As you said, it really is unheard of nowadays to attain commercial success that late in the game. A band will be dropped right away because of the way things are now, if they do not have a hit right away. People do not buy records and there is no artist development anymore.
Greg Kihn – I think you’re right. Things have changed. The formatting, just look at that, for instance, me and my career right now, we’re putting out CDs and singles off the CDs. Just in my lifetime, I’ve seen cassettes, 8-track tapes…I still have an 8 track tape from my first album. There were reel-to-reel and records which were always very fragile. You couldn’t keep them too hot or they would warp, they would crack, they would scratch. If your little sister borrowed your Steve Miller album, chances are she’d probably scratch the damn thing for you!
Early in the day, you had to respect the music. If you love the music, you respected it. If you had a record collection, you made sure those records didn’t get warped, chipped, scratched, or anything like that. It forced people that had records to really respect the music, respect the albums, and treat them really nicely. All those years leading up to this year, it was always an eye opener. I always thought we were very privileged to be at this time in the music business. When I first started making albums, it was like we were recording on a 4-track machine. Of course, now they have 72-track machines, so what are you gonna do?
CrypticRock.com – Things have definitely changed. That is a good point you bring up about respecting the music. Consumers had to respect the music in that fashion because of the fact that you need to take care of the vinyl. You just released your new record in March. This is your first studio record in 21 years. What was the writing and recording like for this new album?
Greg Kihn – This was really a breeze. I’ve made a lot of albums. Probably 20 albums in my time. This was the most breezy, easy album that we’ve ever put together. For one thing, we recorded it right here in Campbell, CA right down the street in a place that’s owned by my bass player, Robert Barry. Robert has a really nice recording studio that we all just meet at, every day or every couple of days, and rehearse as well as work on songs.
I’m really glad I got a great band. My son, Rye, is on lead guitar and he was a former student of Joe Satriani, who was in my band. Rye went on to go to Berkeley School of Music in Boston and then Cal Arts in Valencia, CA. He was a Jazz guitar major. He can play anything, he’s an amazing guitar player, so he’s my guitar player. We got a new drummer—Sammy Hagar’s drummer. I ran into Sammy about six months ago and I said, “Hey Sammy, my drummer can’t go on the road.” He says, “Well take my guy. I’m busy with Chickenfoot all the way until the end of the year and I’ve got another project after that. Why don’t you just take my guy?” The guy’s name is Dave Lauser. So we had a rehearsal with Dave and it turns out he’s the reincarnation of Keith Moon! I remember saying, “Well, this is the band. Stop here.” It’s a four-piece band. We’re very tight. Obviously, we’re tight, I’ve got my son in the band, and we’re all best friends.
When we went into the studio to do this new album, it was really fun because I remember sitting down to write songs. For instance, the first song that was written on the new album was “Big Pink Flamingoes.” I told Rye, “Let’s write a song kind of like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ where it stops and then it starts.” He said, “You mean something like ‘Black Dog’ from Led Zeppelin.” He comes back, after having done his homework, and he’s got this guitar riff that would become “Big Pink Flamingoes.” He starts playing it to me and the other two guys. Out of the clear blue sky I started singing “Big Pink Flamingoes.” I don’t know where it came from. It was floating around in the air in front of me and I snatched the lyrics out, wrote them down, and it was like I channeled the song. That was a really fun song to write. It had a sense of humor and stuff like that. That was the first song we wrote for the album, so the whole album had that same attitude.
We were just loving it. It was a labor of love. It was something new and fresh. It had been over 20 years since I made an album, so it was really liberating I would say. The reason I didn’t make an album for 20 years is I was on KFOX Radio in San Francisco, California. When you’re doing a morning show… I had to get up at 4 AM in the morning every day, I was too pooped to write. So, we didn’t go on the road, we didn’t go on tour. Years went by and the Greg Kihn Band basically stayed at home because I had a radio gig. When that ended about three years ago, boom, I had nothing but time on my hands, and I started working on Rekindled. Next thing you know, it was history. In the three years since I left KFOX, I’ve written two novels, and one and a half CDs of music. We’re about halfway through the next CD right now!
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like you have been quite busy. Rekindled is a lot of fun. It has a fun vibe to it. Also, these are rocking songs, they are definitely not soft songs. Did you have any song ideas in your time away from music, or was that all put on the back burner?
Greg Kihn – It really was kind of put on the back burner because I just didn’t have any time. I’d written one novel during that period, but you really need to sit down to really write an album. A novel takes about a year to write.
I grew up in Baltimore, and my parents knew Joan Jett when she was young—like Runaways young. My mother used to go to all of my gigs that we would play within a hundred miles of Baltimore. I remember Joan Jett used to open our shows all the time. I remember playing in Cherry Hill, NJ and my mother walking up to Joan Jett right after we walked off the stage and she goes, “Honey, you’re such a lovely girl. Smile, honey. Let the world see you smile.” I go, “Mom, Joan Jett doesn’t smile. She’s not a smiler. Forget that!” My mom and dad were famous at gigs for saying really weird things, but it was wonderful. I loved them.
CrypticRock.com – Those are some pretty cool memories!
Greg Kihn – I remember when we played in Baltimore, my aunt Julia, with my entire family, maybe 40 or 50 strong… my mother and aunt had made 100 crab cakes. She brought it to the gig and my mother had folding chairs and folding tables. She put out a whole spread and was feeding the roadies and the people that were standing around in the hotel lobby. It was unbelievable!
CrypticRock.com – These are the things you take with you for the rest of your life.
Greg Kihn – It’s amazing the kind of stuff that sticks in your memory banks.
CrypticRock.com – Since you have written a few Horror novels, have you thought of doing a screenplay?
Greg Kihn – Yeah, I really have. I grew up with all the classic TV shows like The Twilight Zone and stuff like that. I was into what they call “the Rod Serling endings,” because there would always be a twist at the end of a The Twilight Zone episode. I remember thinking when I was writing the Horror stuff that it was really hard to come up with new kinds of monsters in Horror novels. I remember the second novel I wrote, I was already running out of ideas. The first one about a guy that was kind of an Ed Wood filmmaker, and he was the worst filmmaker of all time. Back in the ’50s, he used real corpses when they were using the LA morgue, he figured out how to get the sliding drawers open, and they used real dead corpses in the movie because they were scarier than actors made-up as zombies. It was a lot scarier. Of course, bad stuff is going to happen to a guy that does that. That’s what happens! That was a fun thing to do because you’re talking about a guy really making bad movies.
When the second novel rolled around, I didn’t have any ideas. I had one idea about a monster that didn’t get any publicity, but I wanted to write a song about the Banshee, the Irish folklore banshee. There was only one banshee in my entire life in one movie I saw when I was a kid. It was Darby O’Gill and the Little People – a 1959 Disney movie. It’s about Irish nationalists that captured the banshee. I had to make up my own mythos about the banshee, so I came up with this thing about how she was the avenging angel of womanhood and that she killed guys that abused women. I thought, “Wow, that’s a great idea!” I remember sitting down to write that novel and thinking, “Damn, this sucker just writes itself.” Maybe six to ten months went by and I was finished. I remember turning it into the book company and they’re thinking, “Wow, nice work, man. You put this one out really quickly. Get another one going.”
Then there was Mojo Hand, which was about Robert Johnson and how he didn’t die in 1934 as everybody thought. He had lived as a zombie for 20 years. I kept coming up with different ideas. A lot of times they would be accompanied with song ideas, so it was really kind of fun to write songs and be writing a novel at the same time.
CrypticRock.com – Those are some compelling Horror stories. Do you have any new novels coming up?
Greg Kihn – I just finished two novels, there is a third one, it’s going to be a trilogy. They’re about a guy named Dust Bin Bob, and Dust Bin Bob grows up in Liverpool with the Beatles. He’s a young man when the Beatles are young and he becomes their best friend.
During my time on the radio I got to interview several of the Beatles. I talked to Ringo Starr a couple times, and Paul McCartney a couple of times, and even the original Drummer Pete Best before Ringo. I asked all these guys, “Where did the Beatles get their records? You guys were doing covers of ‘Twist and Shout’ by the Osley Brothers…Where’d you get it?” Ringo said, “Well, we got it from merchant marines that would be returning from The States into Liverpool and they’d bring little stacks of records with them. You would trade the records at the flea market.”
One day they’re walking through the flea market and they see that this guy’s got the Holy Grail—he’s got Chuck Berry, he’s got Bo Diddley, he’s got it all. They become fast friends with Dust Bin Bob because he’s got the records. They become friends and they stay friends throughout their entire career of Beatlemania. Then, in the end, he saves their lives from an assassination attempt in Manila, Philippines in 1968. That actually did happen. There was an attempt against the Beatles’ lives by Marcos Loyalists and I researched all of that. By the way, the name of the novel is Rubber Soul, and everything in that novel I had researched and I’d written the Beatles into it. It was all there.
I knew things from interviewing the Beatles that nobody ever knew. For instance…there was a guy named Stuart Sutcliffe who was the original bass player of the Beatles, and one day, after a gig, he got into a fight with some Teddy boys outside of the gig and they kicked him in the head… He died six months later from a brain hemorrhage. I think a lot of people could connect the kick in the head to the brain hemorrhage, but either way, the guy died. When I talked to Pete Best, he was apparently a good friend of Stuart Sutcliffe and he told me all these wonderful things about him, like how he was a great artist, he used to draw, how he came up with the Beatles haircut, and all this really cool stuff. I had to put it into the novel! By the way, Dust Bin Bob’s name refers to the way British people refer to the garbage can, so his name is Garbage Can Bob, basically.
The second book is Painted Black. It was the same thing except now he was hanging out with the Rolling Stones and it was all about the supposed murder of Brian Jones, the original guitar player. Now I’ve got a new one which I’m calling Anarchy, and it takes place during the Punk era. When I was in England during the ’70s and the early ’80s, we were right there at ground zero for the Punk era. I got to observe it right there in front of me. That is what the third book is about and it is about halfway finished right now. My editor is saying she really likes it, and we’re hoping to get that released by the springtime of 2018.
CrypticRock.com – These sound like really fascinating stories. They sound interesting because they mix real facts with fiction. Now, with all these stories that you have, it is obvious that you are inspired by what you grew up with. That in mind, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Greg Kihn – That’s a great question. First of all, when I was a kid, I used to go down to the local theater. I loved the Ray Harryhausen stuff. When I was a kid, that was top of the pops, you know The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), and all those. Plus, I loved the Ray Harryhausen regular movies like First Men in the Moon (1964) and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957). I love the monsters, and the stop-action photography he was doing with Cyclops captured my imagination, it really did.
Of course, the first movie I ever saw in my life—my father took me to see 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Disney and I think it was 1954. I would have been like 7 or 8 years old, and my dad took me to see that and I remember the scene with the giant squid and the nautilus, it really stayed with me. I loved everything, I don’t think I ever missed a Horror movie.
Then, when I started getting into high school, all the great directors were out there. William Castle—I loved all the William Castle movies. I loved The Tingler (1959), House on Haunted Hill (1959), and 13 Ghosts (1960). Of course, Roger Corman and all of his really bad movies. I loved all that stuff. Even if they were bad movies I still liked them. If there was a good monster, I was in. Over the years, I loved the early Universal stuff you used to see, Creature Features, like Frankenstein (1931) and The Wolf Man (1941). I loved them!
The same thing with Horror writers when I was growing up. Obviously now I am an adult and I love Stephen King. In fact, I’m reading Stephen King’s Finders Keepers, it’s really good. Dean Koontz is another friend of mine and a lot of other guys that wrote for Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone like George Clayton Thomas and Ray Bradbury. Guys like that wound up writing episodic TV for The Twilight Zone, they were great writers!
In Baltimore, the movie theater was only two blocks from my house, so on those Saturday afternoons all the kids would go. We’d all go together so nothing bad would happen to us. I loved everything. I loved the Victorian stuff. Steampunk and all the early Vincent Price movies. There was nothing that did not escape my eye. To this day, I think I got a pretty good, well-rounded history of the Horror movie in my brain because I saw them all.
CrypticRock.com – Those are some classic Horror films and great selections. What did you think about the more graphic films in the ’70s and ’80s?
Greg Kihn – I always liked the more Psychological Thrillers rather than the Slasher movies, but they were good as well. If you went back and looked at The Haunting (1963). Stuff like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973), which are like modern-day Horror movies that were much, much scarier than when I was a kid, but I still liked them anyway. They kept making great Horror movies, and to this day, they still make them. It’s always a kick for me to see where they’re gonna go next. You know, the Alien franchise is great. You can’t miss any of those. They’re too good.
I guess I was just lucky I grew up in an era where you could go down to the drugstore and they had a rack of paperbacks and comic books. I was big into comic books, all the DC and the Marvel, all that stuff. They would have a rack of books with incredible, eye-bending covers. There were the Tarzan books and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series.
Alfred Hitchcock, I loved. He used to put out these books called Stories They Wouldn’t Let me Do on TV (laughs). That was the name of the book and he had like five or six volumes. All stories that were a little bit too scary, a little bit too gritty for TV, so they ended up getting tossed out with the wash water. They were some great stories and I had a whole series of those!
CrypticRock.com – What a great reflection of the history of Horror literature. Were you also a fan of the EC comics like Tales from the Crypt?
Greg Kihn – Oh man, I loved those ECs! When I was a young kid…they used to give me nightmares. I remember The Thing from the Grave and stuff like that. I had a friend that was an EC fanatic and he would get posters made up from the front of the comics. They were all over his house. It was really cool… I love that stuff!
CrypticRock.com – It is certainly classic stuff. They modernized it for the HBO series in the ’80s, they also took stories from those comics.
Greg Kihn – Yeah, they did. It was really pretty cool, too. A lot of those stories were pretty heinous. They were pretty scary. We lived in the golden era of comics, writing, novel writing, and of course, the movies were the best. For instance, my favorite magazine right now is Film Facts. Every month, another Film Facts shows up at my door. They were putting out the EC stuff reissued for a while and that was really cool because you could go out and get stuff for $3 or $4 if it was reissued. It would probably be about $50 to get the originals. It was a good time.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. Seeing your passion for Horror, what hooked you into it?
Greg Kihn – I had a pretty good childhood. My cousins were really into Horror movies. It’s always like that, isn’t it? It’s always your cousin, or this guy, or that guy. I remember watching the original of The Thing from Another World from 1951 by Howard Hawks. My mom had left us at my cousin’s house… we were stuck at my cousin’s house but his mom went out, so for about four hour’s there’s nobody watching us. So what do we do? We turn on the TV and guess what was on? The Thing. I watched the entire thing top to bottom and it scared the crap out of me. It was just great. That’s probably still one of my all-time favorite movies. You know, lets face it, once you’re bitten by that bug, you’re going to be like that forever.
12/2/2017 The Back Bar Sofa San Jose, CA
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