"At almost 72, I’m realising that there are things I won’t be able to do forever, such as singing Over My Head." The return of King's X with Three Sides Of One

King's X
(Image credit: Mark Weiss)

With drummer Jerry Gaskill suffering a pair of near-fatal heart attacks and guitarist Ty Tabor developing an unspecified illness that required “vigilant monitoring”, causing the second axing of a visit to Europe and the UK, the past few years represented a tumultuous era in the history of King’s X. Bassist and frontman Dug Pinnick, too, was twice hospitalised. On top of everything else, the idiosyncratic Texas-based trio were forced to delay entering the studio after a big fall-out with a record label. Don’t forget to throw in a pandemic that devastated the world of music. However, despite their previous album, XV, being released as long ago as 2008, Dug Pinnick insists that there was never any possibility of King’s X dropping quietly off the map.

“No,” he scoffs affably. “My issue was just a hernia. Jerry had two heart attacks but they didn’t cause him to be disabled. He’s probably healthier than any of us right now. Ty has an immune problem that the doctors are trying to deal with. So we didn’t think about throwing in the towel just yet, but it’s going to happen sooner or later. At almost 72, I’m realising that there are things I won’t be able to do forever, such as singing Over My Head, or something.”

Since settling upon the name back in 1985 (though the trio had worked together for longer), King’s X have carved a defiant though less than meteoric path, despite the magazine covers and ticker tape welcome that greeted their fabulous debut, Out Of The Silent Planet, in ’88. Their 13th album, Three Sides Of One is a statement of solidarity from a group that continues to wield a massive influence without reaping the financial rewards. This is something King’s X have had to learn to live with.

KIng's X

(Image credit: InsideOut Music)

A lifelong fan of the genre, Pinnick – who cites Close To The Edge by Yes as a record that changed his life – is very pleased to be talking to Prog once again.

“As a musician I love the time changes and the space for ideas that progressive rock opens up,” he grins. “There was something about Yes: the way that Jon Anderson and Chris Squire came up with those amazing, beautiful harmonies and beneath all of that they would be playing such complicated music. Those key elements never detracted from the other. For some bands that was too much of a battle, but Yes had a knack of making it work. Close To The Edge… what an amazing 18 minutes of music that was; and you never got bored. I would play it to my friends and they would say, 'Oh my God, that is so great.’ And these were people that didn’t listen to music a lot. to me, Roundabout is still one of my all-time favourite pieces of music. It’s a template for the way I write my own songs.”

Does Pinnick consider King’s X a prog band?

“No,” he fires back, smiling. “King’s X is a rock band. We dabble in all sorts of avenues, from gospel to blues, rock and prog. From show tunes to classical. We’ve never been able to add a label to our name and I don’t think we ever will. One of our songs could be based on two chords and the next is a magnum opus. It all depends upon how we are feeling.”

Some might suggest that the very uniqueness of King’s X renders them progressive? Pinnock considers the question for a moment before replying: “Yeaaaah. It’s really nice to be in a band that doesn’t just sound like another band. It has its drawbacks, of course, but overall we’ve been pretty lucky.”

All the same, the bass player is proud of his belief that nobody successfully cloned King’s X. 

“I’ve heard similarities – but subtle ones,” he laughs. “When we began drop D tuning back in ’88, nobody else was doing that,” he explains. “Van Halen and Killing Joke did songs in that tuning but their bass players never did. Eighty per cent of our first album, Out Of The Silent Planet, was drop D and it led to a whole different approach on the guitar. After we did that, the grunge generation followed suit – in fact, the whole world did. Alice In Chains were doing the same thing as us, but in a more primitive way that really appealed to the masses.

“You know, somebody from another band once told me: ‘You can take one chorus from a King’s X song and make it into a whole new genre’,” he adds with a chuckle. “I thought that was very cool.

“But answering your question, even when others try [to sound like us], they don’t [manage it],” Pinnick adds. “There’s something about the three of us. We play on each other’s nuances. It’s not just notes; it’s about how we blend our emotions. When people hear that, it’s special.”

Despite the inclusion of lyrics such as, ‘Is this the end of the world/Or a new beginning’ (from its opening track Let It Rain), Three Sides Of One was written and recorded though not mixed before the pandemic. The band used the Emmy Award-winning Michael Parnin, who had previously worked with Pinnick on his 2007 solo set Strum Sum Up and also on a Jimi Hendrix tribute album, as producer.

“I’ve known Michael for more than 20 years and asking him to do the record was a great marriage from the very start,” Pinnick enthuses. “He got us, and we liked him.”

King's X

(Image credit: Mark Weiss)

Pinnick alone brought 27 songs to the session, with Tabor and Gaskill submitting their own compositions, before whittling them down to the final dozen. “Our prognosis was that every song had to be recorded to make it sound like a single,” the bassist explains. “People don’t listen to albums like they once did, so some songs have a lot of bass, others drums, and Take The Time was mixed for Top 40 radio.”

Pinnick’s Give It Up, in which mentions the making of a will, is highly autobiographical. “I had just turned 70 when we started to make this record and those lyrics were an awakening for me,” he explains. “That realisation now causes me to live in the moment.”

Destined to become a stage favourite, All God’s Children is a quintessentially King’s X-stylised song written by Tabor about the puzzling duality of Christians with less than evangelical beliefs. As a gay man and an individual of faith, that hypocrisy is something Pinnick knows all about.

“Here in the US we’ve got the Christian nationalists, everything has split apart and it’s become political,” he sighs. “It’s getting scary. It’s all a big mess and I don’t want anything to do with it other than to tell folks to wake up.”

Elsewhere, Gaskill addresses his own advancing years with She Called Me Home, inspired by the drummer’s multiple heart attacks. “For a while, Jerry thought that
maybe he couldn’t do this anymore,” Pinnick confides. “And then his brother came along and told him, ‘Get your shit together, go and make music’ – and he did. We’re a band that sometimes needs a kick in the ass.”

Which brings us to the subject of taking 14 years between albums. If Pinnick and company are counting out time, do they feel bad about wasting so many precious moments?

“Not at all,” he fires right back. “In that time, I did Tres Mts with Jeff Ament and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, three KXM albums with [ex-Dokken guitarist] George Lynch and Ray Luzier of Korn, two albums with Grinder Blues, my Hendrix tribute album [Tribute To Jimi: Often Imitated But Never Duplicated] and two solo albums. I’ve been busy, busy, busy. It’s not my fault the other guys didn’t want to make music.”

So what has changed?

“The guys felt it was time. After making Gretchen Goes to Nebraska [1989], Dogman [1994] and all the rest, they were reluctant to make a record just for the sake of making a record. The last thing we wanted was to shit out crappy music for people to be disappointed.”

Despite the announcement of a deal with the Australian label Golden Robot back in 2018, King’s X have returned to their old home of InsideOut for Three Sides Of One. Pinnick isn’t keen on raking over the details, commenting: “Some things happened, and they broke the contract in a way that made us say: ‘This is not cool. We’ve got to go.’ And we left.” He adds: “We’ve known Thomas [Waber] at InsideOut for so long, they had signed us for two previous records, so it’s like going back to family again.”

A social media post from July 26 showed King’s X rehearsing for the first time in two and a half years ahead of a trio of US shows. In it, Pinnick admitted to having a “panic attack”, but the group’s shared joy was obvious. 

“Each of us was having panic attacks,” he laughs. “The type where your stomach knots up and you wake up in the middle of the night afraid of not remembering the songs.”

Getting back onstage was “horrifying”, he laughs. “After all that had gone on we had no idea of whether we could do this individually, let alone as a band. I had had Covid, which forced me to rehearse at home alone. All of us were thinking about our age. It was like running a marathon after 15 years… without training. As a band, we have always played inside each other’s heads and suddenly I was having to think about things like notes and timing, but it was like riding a bike and I’m happy to say that those days are over. We did three shows and after the second we said, ‘Okay, we are starting to get warmed up. We can do this again. Now we’re excited.’”

However, when asked how soon King’s X might return to Europe, Pinnick can’t be sure.

“I don’t want to even make a prediction because we’ve let people down twice now,” he replies. “When Ty’s doctor gives the all-clear, that’s when everything gets re-booked and not before. Individual gigs are okay, but going on tour is the problem. After flying, Ty needs a couple of days to recuperate. A tour of Europe is night after night and his immune system wouldn’t hold up to that. Right now, we don’t know when that situation might change. It’s possible that he could have immune problems for the rest of his life, which would mean that we could only play at weekends every month.”

With a shrug of the shoulders he concludes: “But you never know.” 

This article originally appeared in issue 134 of Prog Magazine.

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.