RONNIE YOUNKINS INTERVIEW:
September 19, 2008
Prior to Kix’ gig at the Rock The Bayou music festival, Jason L. had the chance to chat with guitarist Ronnie Younkins. Twenty years after the release of the group’s commercial pinnacle, Blow My Fuse, Ronnie is still going strong, playing the odd reunion gig with Kix (www.kix-band.com) and fronting his own band The Blues Vultures (bluesvultures.com). In this exclusive interview Ronnie talked about the possibility of a future Kix studio album, his work with The Blues Vultures, the reason he isn’t a member of Funny Money and the meaning of his ’10/10′ nickname.
Sleaze Roxx: Just to get us up to speed…Kix right now has 4 out of the 5 original members correct?
Ronnie Younkins: That’s right.
Sleaze Roxx: Since ’03 when you guys first started doing reunion shows it’s kind of been just that…reunion shows here and there?
Ronnie Younkins: Yeah, mostly in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Baltimore of course is in Maryland. We play down in the city. It’s been Baltimore and western Maryland, Pennsylvania around Harrisburg, and Springfield VA. We play a club there. We’ve been playing for the last few years just 4 or 5 gigs once a year. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s good to play with those guys again. I think that the fans have a lot of fun coming out. I know they do. So it works well for everyone.
Sleaze Roxx: This summer you guys played Rocklahoma. How did that go?
Ronnie Younkins: It was a lot of work but it was a lot of fun. It was very rewarding, once again, to play with the guys as the Kix band on stage in front of so many people. Those people were great. They all stayed through a rain storm. Everyone was there drenched from the down pour so we commend each and every one of them.
Sleaze Roxx: I heard it rained through the whole Kix set and then stopped?
Ronnie Younkins: I think it was still raining when we got done. I’m not quite sure. Lita Ford played after us and I noticed it was still raining some when she was playing.
Sleaze Roxx: On Monday, Labor Day, Kix is playing another big festival, “Rock The Bayou”, down in Houston?
Ronnie Younkins: Yeah I’m looking forward to it.
Sleaze Roxx: That’s two big shows close together.
Ronnie Younkins: Yeah, we’re very fortunate to have gotten on these bills. We’re really looking forward to it.
Sleaze Roxx: Being a big fan of Kix myself, I can tell you that it’s great to see bands like Kix on these bills. It’s really cool to see that you guys are out playing.
Ronnie Younkins: Yeah thanks. I feel the same way. There were many years that we did not play together. Each one of us went our separate ways. Steve Whiteman and Jimmy Chalfant play in Funny Money. I play in a group called the Blues Vultures. I also played with the Slimmer Twins which are now the Blessings in LA. I still stay in touch with those guys too. Brian Forsythe of course plays with Rhino Bucket and the Snake Handlers out in LA. We each went our separate ways but it’s been very cool to get together with these guys again and go out and play at these big shows, and locally too. The fans are great.
Sleaze Roxx: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the “Blow My Fuse” release which is probably Kix’s most successful record. Have the shows you’ve been playing this summer been a bit more significant having reached that milestone?
Ronnie Younkins: Yes that’s right it has been 20 years. It’s hard to believe but it has.
Sleaze Roxx: Can you tell me what sticks out most in your mind about recording the “Blow My Fuse” album?
Ronnie Younkins: It was very cold in the studio (laughs). Tom Werman liked it freezing in the studio. It was so cold, it made it hard to play guitar (laughs). I used to go outside and sit in the sun. It was in LA. It was recorded down on…gosh I can’t remember what street it was on. It was a very nice studio. A very expensive studio, that Tom Werman liked to have. But it was too cold in there (laughs). I remember the recording was a lot of fun. The songs were great. We actually recorded at Conway studios and then we did some overdubs at Cherokee studios in Hollywood. At that time when Guns N’ Roses had just gotten big, the time was right for that genre of rock n’ roll to be important to everyone. So we were lucky to get that out there at that time.
Sleaze Roxx: The song “Don’t Close Your Eyes” reached #11 on the billboard charts. When did you first realize that that song was going to be huge?
Ronnie Younkins: I can’t remember what month it was but it was in 1989. After touring with Whitesnake for 3 or 4 months their manager actually said “hey what’s that song you guys keep playing every night?” “You should tell Atlantic to release that as a single.” He got on the horn and spoke to the people at Atlantic for us and got the ball rolling. That’s really how that happened. Once it went to breaker and went past breaker, it got on the top 20 charts and climbed up to #11. I noticed it was becoming a hit when they were playing it on MTV. People kept saying to me “you’re on MTV again, you’re on MTV again!” That was when it went big. MTV was playing it, the radio stations were playing it, everybody at once. Then when the guys told me that it had sold 500,000 copies and went gold, and then past gold, yeah…it’s a hit song. That song touched a lot of people. We got a lot of fan mail. There were a lot of young people who were depressed and that song seemed to get them out of their depression. I think it’s great that music can do that. Music does that to me you know, it inspires me. Right now I’m listening to some Rolling Stones. I’m going to band practice, and that inspires me. It’s awesome that we got all this fan mail from fans that were down and out. They heard that song and it definitely made an impact on their lives to turn their lives around.
Sleaze Roxx: Was that song a collaboration of all the band members?
Ronnie Younkins: No, our bass player Donnie Purnell wrote that song with a guy he wrote with from New York named Bob Halligan Jr. And also I think, I’d have to look, but I think John Columbo (he’s from Baltimore) helped out on that song also. But it was our bass player who wrote the song with a collaboration of two outside songwriters who had worked with us on other songs.
Sleaze Roxx: At the beginning of the song “Blow My Fuse” there is some banter. What was that all about?
Ronnie Younkins: We had a road crew guy from Maryland. I lived in this little apartment above Steve Whiteman in Maryland. All of a sudden this guy moves in next door who’s about 10 years younger than us. He was always bugging us. He’d come over and knock on our door and say, “hey man what are you guys doing?” Well we’re practicing, we’re working on songs. We put him to work as a road crew guy. It was actually him in the studio. Dan wasn’t the most coordinated person. He came in the studio when we were recording that song. We were actually out in the recording area with the amplifiers. He came in to do something. He was on our crew at the time and was in LA. He came in and saw a music stand I believe and it just happened to be one of the takes. So it ended up on the CD. That’s all that that is. Dan Riker was his name.
Sleaze Roxx: You currently are playing lead guitar and singing for a band called the Blues Vultures. What’s the background on that band and what’s the sound like?
Ronnie Younkins: I started the band. After Kix split up I lived out in LA for a few years. I moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. I recorded a CD called the Slimmer Twins with my friend Jeremy White who is now with the Blessings. We recorded over at Gilby Clarke’s studio – Gilby being from Guns N’ Roses. We had a great drummer play on the CD his name is Brent Fitz. He plays in Econoline Crush. They’re on tour up in Canada right now. He has played with the band Union from LA and Theory of a Dead Man. He has filled in for Eric Singer and for the Alice Cooper Band. He’s a great drummer. He’s probably my favorite drummer…no he is my favorite drummer. That’s what I did from ’96 until about 2002 when I moved back to Maryland and started the Blues Vultures.
The Blues Vultures is a continuation of the style of music that I played with the Slimmer Twins. As a matter of fact Jeremy, the singer for the Slimmer Twins, still writes with me. There are a couple songs that he and I wrote together on the Blues Vultures CD. He and I were the song writers for the Slimmer Twins. He’s in his own band now in LA. He and I moved out there together back in ’97. That was after the Kix band split up. When I moved back here, he stayed. I go out to see him periodically. I’m supposed to go out in October to write some songs with him and probably play a few gigs with his band the Blessings. When he comes back here we get him to play harmonica and sing on the Blues Vultures CD’s too.
Right now I’m actually on the way to our studio to record. We’re working on a new Blues Vultures CD. The band started in 2002. I started it with the drummer Aaron Isaacs and bass player Zak Mabie. Then a couple years later we added a second guitar player. His name is Rich Moxley. We’ve been playing every weekend, wherever we can get a gig. Sometimes we get bigger gigs. We’ve opened up for Kix at Ram’s Head a few times. We’ve opened up for Kix at a couple different shows. This year we’re only playing one of the Kix shows. We’ve opened up so many of them it’s time to give somebody else a chance. We’re opening up for Kix on September 19th at the Cancun Cantina in Hagerstown Maryland. We’ve been fortunate the last couple of years to open up for Kix at the Ram’s Head Lodge in Baltimore. That did very well for us. We’ve sold CD’s online. We’ve sold CD’s at these shows. We play every week at clubs in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. We do a couple out of town gigs. We’re going out to Pittsburgh. We’ve got some gigs coming up in Brooklyn New York. We’ve also played in LA – a year ago. We traveled out to Los Angeles and played with the Blessings and we played with Brian’s band Rhino Bucket. The Blues Vultures is about playing roots rock n’ roll. Although it’s called the Blues Vultures we probably only play a couple blues songs. But all our music is blues based rock. It’s in the vein of the Rolling Stones which happens to be my favorite band. It’s that style of rock n’ roll that we play. Because it’s so hard to find lead singers, I started to sing the majority of the songs. But everybody in our band sings and they all have certain songs that they sing. It’s two guitar players, a bass player, and a drummer – roots rock n’ roll.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you say there’s an album out?
Ronnie Younkins: Yeah it’s called “Cheap Guitars & Honky Tonk Bars.” It can be found on bluesvultures.com or Blues Vultures on myspace. We’re working on our second CD right now. That’s where I’m headed as soon as I hang up this phone.
Sleaze Roxx: I don’t want to keep you too much longer then.
Ronnie Younkins: It’s OK I appreciate your interest. Thank you for asking about the Blues Vultures.
Sleaze Roxx: Each one of you has yourselves linked to your perspective non-Kix projects through the Kix website (www.kix-band.com). Three of the 5 current Kix members are playing in the band Funny Money. Is it because you wanted to go with the Rolling Stones sound and they wanted to stay with the Kix sound that you are not playing in Funny Money?
Ronnie Younkins: That’s entirely it. Steve decided to continue on with more hard rock and I wanted to go back to what I grew up listening to. I wanted to get back to playing roots rock n’ roll. I wanted to get back to playing what’s in my heart. That is what’s important to me at this stage in my life. Steve started playing that style of harder rock and of course he has a high voice that’s good for the energy of that style of music. By all means that is what he should be doing. He asked me to come play with his band a couple times and I was flattered that he asked. I told him I really appreciate you asking me, thank you so much but I’m gonna continue doing blues based rock n’ roll. He’s understood that and he’s been real cool. The Blues Vultures just opened up a show for Funny Money a few weeks ago. I always stick around after we open for them and I go up and play a couple Kix songs with him and Jimmy Chalfant and Mark Schenker.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s great that you guys can have your separate interests and still come together and play a killer Kix set.
Ronnie Younkins: Yes that’s true. Actually Jimmy played in the Blues Vultures for a year back in 2003. At that time Steve was making a change in his band with the drummer and guitar player that he had. That’s when he asked me to join. Or was it 2004…I forget…2003 or ’04. Jimmy decided he wanted to play harder rock so he went and started playing with Steve. But Jimmy played in the Blues Vultures for a year and I appreciate him doing that. That was really good. I had a great time having him in the band for that year. The reason being, Aaron Isaacs, our original drummer who is still with us, couldn’t play all the shows because of family matters. So Jimmy was playing with us. So Jimmy is in Steve’s band and he enjoys playing that harder rock. Those guys are all really good at that. I appreciate Steve asking me.
Sleaze Roxx: Funny Money seems to be doing pretty well selling their album.
Ronnie Younkins: They do very well. They have the support of the Boneyard XM Station. That helps a lot. And CD Baby online…CD Baby helps them a lot and they’ve also helped the Blues Vultures too. We don’t get played on XM. We’ve tried but there’s such a pile of music that they have to get through. At first when XM was all new it was easier to get your stuff on but now it’s harder, just like it is at the major stations, to get your stuff played. I have tried. I’ll keep trying. Someday I’ll get the Blues Vultures on Satellite Radio.
Sleaze Roxx: Is there any interest in getting together to make a new Kix record?
Ronnie Younkins: I’ve mentioned it to Brian and he’s got an open mind to it. Steve and I actually brought it up on our flight to Rocklahoma. That’s a possible beginning of it all – the fact that we’re talking about it. I’d be interested in doing that and Brian would to. I think Steve would to. It’s a matter of if we all have songs together to record. The most important thing is the music.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s your favorite Kix song to play live?
Ronnie Younkins: Oh wow…that’s a hard one. That’s a tough one. I’ll say…it’s gotta be songs off the first album. Let’s just say it’s “Kix Are For Kids” or “Atomic Bombs.” I can’t choose because I enjoy playing all of the songs.
Sleaze Roxx: What about a favorite Stones song to play?
Ronnie Younkins: “Honky Tonk Women”
Sleaze Roxx: Your nickname is “10/10.” Where did that come from?
Ronnie Younkins: We started the band in 1977. Donnie and I started the band. Donnie’s not with us now. But we used to go down to Brian’s little tiny basement. When we started the band we had a different drummer – the guys name was Donnie. Aside from our bass player whose name was Donnie. He named me 10/10 because I was so loud in Brian’s little basement. I had a Fender Super Amp at the time and the only way it would sound good is if you turned it all the way up to 10.
Thanks to Ronnie ’10/10′ Younkins and Jason L.