“I don’t remember saying I’d never heard Led Zeppelin. It’s beyond stupidity to say that!”: did Kingdom Come really sound like Zeppelin? Not according to singer Lenny Wolf

The cover of Kingdom Come’s debut album with an inset of singer Lenny Wolf
(Image credit: SPV/Steamhammer/Press)

When they emerged in 1988 with debut single Get It On, Kingdom Come instantly became one of the most-talked about rock bands around – mostly because they sounded uncannily like Led Zeppelin. But original singer Lenny Wolf, who left the band in 2016, was still denying the accusations when he sat down with Classic Rock Presents AOR magazine in 2013.

In 1988, a funny thing happened when several American radio stations began playing a new rock song with a heavy riff and a high vocal. Listeners thought they were hearing a previously unreleased Led Zeppelin track. In reality, it was the debut single from a new band – Get It On by Kingdom Come. And it made them the most controversial and maligned rock band in the world.

Led by German singer Lenny Wolf, Kingdom Come were not the first band to sound like Zeppelin. But they sounded more like Zeppelin than any other band had ever done. And they took a lot of shit for it – not least from Led Zeppelin’s former members.

Although Kingdom Come’s first album sold a million units in the US, they could never escape the shadow of Led Zeppelin. The controversy dragged them down and resulted in the band breaking up in 1989 after a second album In Your Face – a classic of the hair metal era. But Lenny Wolf is not a quitter. For him, Kingdom Come is “a mission”.  

After the original line up split in 1991, he continued to make music under the Kingdom Come name, almost entirely on his own, and little of that music could be mistaken for Led Zeppelin. He’s is a lively interviewee, happy to talk about his life and career with no holds barred. And while his English occasionally falters, his dry wit loses nothing in translation – something that is apparent when he says in the first few minutes of our conversation: “In the beginning, Kingdom Come were accused of sounding too much like Madonna. I’m not sure you remember?”


At what age did you start dreaming of being a rock star?

I was very young. I don’t want to start whining about a difficult childhood, like so many rock musicians do, but when I was three years old I was put into a home for so-called difficult children. My mother had me when she was very young, and some young mothers just don’t know how to handle that situation. But it turned out good, because the people at the home realised that the only way to keep me happy was to let me play guitar. So that’s how I became a musician.

What music had the biggest influence on you as a child?

The first band I fell immensely in love with was The Beatles. I didn’t know one word of English – I was singing, ‘She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!’ and I didn’t know what it meant. But I loved them. And that made me start writing my own songs.

How old were you when you joined your first rock’n’roll band?

Fifteen. One of my roommates at the home played guitar and loved The Beatles as much as I did. So we tried to look like them and sound like them – with a heavy German accent (laughs). It was a trio, with a guy on tambourine adding a little rhythm. Very minimalistic! We were called The Beginners. And from day one, I was the lead singer.

What did you look like back then?

Orange socks, purple jackets, brown pants – terrible. But, you know, that was the 70s!

When did you get into heavier rock?

For many years I was so focused on The Beatles that I didn’t like hard rock at all. All those endless guitar solos. I was like, “Why is this guy Hendrix noodling all day long? Where is the melody?” So I discovered rock music very late, when I was around 18. I got into Led Zeppelin when John Bonham was already dead. Same with AC/DC – I found them after Bon Scott had died.

How did you develop as a songwriter?

When I came out of that home, I rented a room in a bunker – one of those buildings left over from World War II. The walls were four-feet thick, so you could just jam all day and night and nobody could hear. I stayed for many years and developed my music. When other guys were out partying, I was in the bunker playing, playing, playing…

What did you do for work?

I trained as a waiter in a high–class restaurant. I learned how to flambé the dessert and fillet the fish at the table. I did it for two years. Then the owner’s lady liked me a little too much, so I left.

It’s also said that you were a hairdresser.

No. I have no idea where that rumour came from. But hey, that’s rock’n’roll!

Maybe it’s because your hair has always been so impressive?

Well, I know that in the 80s I looked very funky. I look back now and think, what camel was I riding back then?

You got your first real break in the music business with a band called Funhouse in the early 80s.

Funhouse was a German version of the Rolling Stones. They were very serious and I liked that.

For a brief period, Funhouse worked with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker. How did that happen?

The guitar player knew Marty Wolff, who was a lighting guy for the Doobie Brothers. And Marty knew Roy Thomas Baker, who at the time was head of A&R at Elektra Records. Marty and Roy flew over to Hamburg to check us out. We played our songs for them. Then Marty became the band’s manager. I liked Roy. He was the most beer-drinking person I’ve ever known. But a few weeks after he saw us, he pulled the plug. 


Marty never told me. But right after that, he called me and said, “Lenny, you wanna come to LA?” I was ecstatic.

You went to LA alone?

Yes. I was done with Funhouse. With rock music, the whole planet is always looking to England and the States. It’s hard for the rest of the world, hoping to get a break outside their own country. And all of a sudden I was in LA – hallelujah! Being in that place in the mid 80s was like a heaven-sent gift. The record industry had lots of money. The climate was perfect. I spoke good enough English to appeal to the mothering instincts in all the young ladies. I was living with Marty and his family, eating his wife’s strawberry pie and driving a $2,000 Cadillac. Life was good!

In 1983 you hooked up with American guitarist Bruce Gowdy to form the band Stone Fury. And you recorded demos with another famous producer, Andy Johns, who had worked with the Rolling Stones, Free… and Led Zeppelin!

Working with Andy Johns was amazing. But while Marty was shopping the demo tape to record companies, I went back to Germany. I was biting my fingernails, waiting for the phone to ring. After six weeks, Marty brought me back to LA. We had a deal with MCA.

The first Stone Fury album, Burns Like A Star, was released in 1984. And the album bombed.

MCA thought it was going to be the next big thing and it wasn’t. That record had some great riffs and melodies, but it sold 10,000 records, a major flop.

As was the follow–up, Let Them Talk.

Making that album was, to put it mildly, a nightmare. We had a producer, Richard Landis, who did country music. He didn’t even know how to spell the word ‘rock’. And with my English being limited, I was not able to express myself in a polite way. I told him, “This sucks! Fuck you!” I was a hot-headed guy and I was close to killing him because he was fucking up my songs, fucking with my soul. The head of MCA asked me to stay out of the studio so at least they could finish the record. And we all know what happened. The record did suck. It was a second flop. And then we were freed from our contract.

Kingdom Come onstage at the US Monsters Of Rock tour in 1988

Lenny Wolf (second left) with Kingdom Come during the US Monsters Of Rock tour in 1988 (Image credit: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Stone Fury was over. You must have feared the worst.

Oh yeah. I could see myself on the plane back to Germany. But Marty still believed in me – and I will always love him for that. He gave me money to rent an apartment, a little dive, and to buy an eight-track recorder. And I hid away for six months, just writing. That’s when I wrote Get It On and Living Out Of Touch.

Both songs would be included on the first Kingdom Come album. When you wrote them, did you feel that you were on to something big?

Well, when Marty shopped those demos to record companies, all of them passed. But at Polygram in New York, the head of A&R was Derek Shulman, who was a singer himself many years before in Gentle Giant. And he heard something in it.

Shulman signed you as a solo artist?

Yes. But he said, “I want you to put a band together and I want you to meet a producer I have in mind.” I said, “Whatever – I’m ready!” So he introduced me to Bob Rock. We got along instantly. Bob just listened to what I did, got the vibe, and suddenly I was so calm and so happy because there was no pressure, nobody trying to bend me. Thank you God! It was meant to be.

How did you put the band together?

Even though Stone Fury was a flop, a lot of people knew about me. When James Kottak played the drums it took me about nine seconds to go, “He’s my guy!” It was the same with Danny Stag – just the tone he had with his guitar playing. He had that heavy, bluesy feel that I loved. Rick Steier was another cool guitar player. And Danny brought in Johnny B. Frank, who wasn’t a great bass player but a great guy to hang out with – that’s why I ended up playing the bass on the first two records.

Who came up with the band name?

‘Kingdom’ was Marty’s idea, and I expanded it to Kingdom Come. There was no deep message, no cosmic thought behind it. We just liked the sound of it.

What do you remember about making that first Kingdom Come album?

We recorded at Little Mountain Studios in Vancouver. In that city they have the best strip joints in the world. I fell in love every 15 minutes! And when Bob and I were mixing the record in New York, I met John Kalodner (A&R man for Whitesnake, Aerosmith and others). He asked Bob if he could take a tape of the album. I didn’t know about it, but Bob allowed it. Kalodner played the tape to people he knew, and suddenly half the country is playing Get It On.

When Get It On was played on US radio, people thought it was Led Zeppelin.

That was very flattering, but it was something I could never really understand.

Are you joking?

No! The riff in Get It On had a very strong Zep feel. I’m not trying to hide it. I was heavily into the band back then. But when you hear Robert Plant’s voice and then you hear my voice… I mean, “Hello? Is anybody home?” Those are two different worlds. But it could have been worse. They could have compared us with Poison!

So why did you and Danny Stag both tell the media that you’d never heard Led Zeppelin?

Those remarks were misunderstood. Danny got so tired of hearing about the Zeppelin issue that he just blurted out: “Who’s Jimmy Page? Never heard of him.” Which of course was meant ironically, it’s so obvious. But some writer picked up on it, and then other idiots jumped on the bandwagon, writing the same bullshit. And that’s when the shit started.

You also said in an interview that you’d never heard Zeppelin. Was that also a case of misunderstood irony?

I don’t remember saying that. But if I did, it was meant in the most ironic and funny way. It’s beyond stupidity to say you’ve never heard Led Zeppelin!

Nevertheless, the Kingdom Come album was a huge hit.

Yes, the vibe in the beginning was very positive. I remember we opened for Magnum in the UK. We were in the motherland of The Beatles, and of course when we played in Liverpool I had to check out every corner where George Harrison bought an ice cream or whatever.

In the summer of ’88, Kingdom Come starred in one of the biggest events in rock history – the Monsters Of Rock tour, which played in 23 stadiums across the US with a bill headlined by Van Halen and also featuring Scorpions, Metallica and Dokken. What are your memories of that tour?

It was an amazing experience. We had the best weather on planet Earth and it was the best possible position to discover a country from. We had so many off days between the shows, so that’s when I met the American people, hanging out at barbecues, going jet-skiing, doing the bar routines. All I had to worry about was getting my ass out of bed to sing the blues at two in the afternoon every day or so.

It was the 80s. You were in a big rock band on a massive tour. Were drugs a part of your life?

Sometimes I wonder if I should have gone through that so-called ‘experimental’ phase of being totally fucked up, like so many of the big rock stars did. But I’m sorry, I have to bore you now – I’ve never tried drugs. Maybe I should have done some LSD. Maybe I would have written more cosmic songs and been more famous. I mean, look at Ozzy Osbourne. He’s a legend and it’s definitely not only because of the songs, it’s because of what he did.

The second Kingdom Come album, In Your Face, sounded less like Zeppelin and had some great songs: Do You Like It, Gotta Go (Can’t Wage A War), Who Do You Love, Overrated

The record is good, but I regret that we didn’t wait for Bob Rock. We were anxious to get a second record out, to prove that we were not just a one-hit wonder. Keith Olsen had just produced Whitesnake. He did a great job for them. But he wasn’t the right match for us. Do You Like It is great, but the album didn’t have the warmth I was looking for.

Kingdom Come’s Lenny Wolf in sunglasses and a suit

A post-split Wolf in the early 1990s (Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

On that album, the CD and LP spine read: ‘Kingdom Come In Your Face.’ That was rather cheeky of you, Lenny!

Ha-ha! That kind of proves the innocence and the purity of my modest self! Honestly, from the bottom of my little German heart, I didn’t think about it until some religious people were demonstrating in San Francisco: “This record should be banned!” That’s when I realised, oops!

Why did the band split after that album?

We hadn’t grown up together like AC/DC had. It was not a solid unit. So it was a fragile situation among us, and when the pressure became really big, the arguments between us blew up uncontrolled. James and I are now best friends, and every time we see each other we ask, “Why exactly did we break up?” We have no fucking idea.

The third album, 1991’s Hands Of Time, featured different musicians, including guitarist Blues Saraceno, who later joined your heroes Poison. But at that point, was Kingdom Come already essentially your solo project?

Yes. Being the young egomaniac that I was in the old days, I had my vision and I wanted it done my way. I could have called it ‘Lenny’ or ‘German Schnitzel’, but I continued as Kingdom Come because that’s my mission, my calling.

What is the best music you’ve made since the 80s?

Twilight Cruiser from 1995 is a special song, very simple and groovy. And one of the most important songs is Mother, on the album Independent from 2002. That was when I became very attracted to industrial sounds. I was always heavily into David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Depeche Mode, and they always used a lot of unusual elements in their music, not just drums, bass and guitar. That fascinated me, and since then I’ve been experimenting with sounds. People who liked the first two Kingdom Come records, many of them didn’t grow with me. But I don’t write songs with dollar signs in my eyes. Music to me is very pure. It comes from the deepest part of my soul.

The original version of this interview was published in Classic Rock Presents AOR issue 7


Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”