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King Kobra

King Kobra interview 

King Kobra
Submitted by Criss Sexx on 2017-02-26
To come along with the reissues of the two classic first King Kobra albums, “Ready To Strike” (1985) and “Thrill Of A Lifetime” (1986), out on February 10, 2017, on Rock Candy Records, I was fortunate enough to get exclusive interviews with two of the original band members, guitarists David Michael-Phillips (now, David Henzerling) and Mick Sweda. They gave us at Melodic Net their own view on the first King Kobra era, when these albums were first released. I want to thank both of them, also on the behalf of the complete Melodic Net Staff, for being so kind agreeing to do these interviews. I’m sure the King Kobra fans all over the world will be thrilled!!!

Rock On,

Criss Sexx
David Henzerling interview


01 - Hi there, David! First, I would like to thank you for your time to talk to Melodic Net!!! Can we start with your telling us how and when you first got started in music?
 

I started playing guitar when I was nine. My mother made me take lessons but I didn’t really enjoy it at first.
 

02 - What were your main influences when you first started? How do they differ from what you listen to these days?

 
The first record album I ever owned was “The Partridge Family Album” made for the popular 70’s TV show. But when heard “Smoke On The Water” on the radio the first time, I was hooked on rock music. I immediately went out and bought “Machine Head” by Deep Purple. Kiss was also a big influence.
 

03 - What can you say about your years in music before you joined King Kobra?
 

I played in lots of bands in my hometown of Phoenix, AZ. An early group called “The Schoolboys” that I played in when I was 19 would later become Icon.

 
04 - How did you get to join them? How did you and Carmine Appice meet? Also, how did the other members come into the scene?

 
I had just moved to Los Angeles in 1984 to play in Ron Keel’s new band Keel. On a whim, I sent a tape to Carmine based on his ad in the newspaper looking for a blonde guitar player and got the gig.
 

05 - Carmine Appice once said he put King Kobra together after seeing Mötley Crüe play on tour with Ozzy Osbourne. He said he was so impressed by The Crüe having three black-haired guys and one blonde member, that he came up with the idea of creating a band that would be the exact opposite of Mötley Crüe - he would be the black-haired one, with four blonde musicians onboard. Is this story true? If so, how did you feel about the band image when you guys started?

 
That’s the story Carmine keeps telling, so it’s got to be true.
 

06 - Did all the people in the band agree with the image?
 

Music at the time was ALL image, so most guys did whatever it took to get noticed.

 
07 - How hard was to get King Kobra a record deal? There are some early demos of the band on the "Lost Years" album...
 

We got a deal really fast. Carmine had worked with Spencer Proffer, the producer responsible for Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health” mega-platinum debut. Spencer loved the idea of King Kobra and didn’t have too much trouble finding a label that was interested.

 
08 - "Ready To Strike", King Kobra's debut album was first released in 1985. What can you tell us about the making of that album? What about its production? How do you feel about it now after so many years?
 

It’s a great album, I think. We all played live together in the studio, so there is an organic feel to the performances. We spent a lot of time in pre-production making sure the songs were just right.
 

09 - Being the amazing guitarist you are, what did you think back then of playing synth guitars? Were you OK with that?
 

On the first album, the guitar synth was a brand new piece of technology we were excited to try out. It was mostly used to augment the traditional guitar parts, but it added a new dimension to the sound. We used it more like a keyboard on the second album, “Thrill Of A Lifetime”.
 

10 - "Hunger" was then chosen as the album's single and video. Why this song, since it wasn't written by anyone in the band? How did you like its promo video then and how do you like it now?
 

The producer, Spencer Proffer wanted us to record “Hunger” because he had just discovered the Canadian band Kick Axe who had written the song and wanted to get it on a record as quick as possible. He had even considered having Black Sabbath demo the song at the time, but that never panned out.
 

11 - Why weren't there any other singles off "Ready To Strike"? I've always thought the album was so good that all its ten songs could have been put out as singles...
 

We did a radio mix of “Tough Guys”, but the record company decided not to release any more singles off our first album. To this day, I think it was a mistake on their part – we were just on the cusp of starting to break through.
 

12 - "Ready To Strike" became a classic album years after its release. Why do you think It took music fans and critics so long to really understand what King Kobra was about? I never saw the band as only a Glam Rock outfit just like hundreds from your era, but as a band who had really impressive musicians like you, Carmine Appice, Mick Sweda, Johnny Rod and, of course, Mark Free. King Kobra could have been as big as Bon Jovi... What are your favorite songs off that album and why?
 

I honestly like the entire “Ready To Strike” album - it was a joy and privilege to have played with such a great group of musicians. I think we were in the right place at the right time, but we didn’t have the backing and support of our label and that’s what really made all the difference.
 

13 - Was the famous Acapulco show the highlight of that tour? What were your best moments on the road?
 

That was a fun show, to be sure – but we had a great time playing all our shows. We were pretty consistent and professional, so there weren’t too many bad gigs.
 

14 - In 1986, the music scene had changed a little by the time King Kobra released the "Thrill Of A Lifetime" album, which had an even more commercial, radio-friendly feel than the band's debut. Was that change something concious? How did you and the other guys in the band feel about putting out a more "pop" album?
 

The “radio-friendly” album was the record company’s idea – not ours. I think Mark (now Marcie) really liked the new direction, but the rest of us mostly hated it and those songs did not translate at all to a live rock audience.
 

15 - What do you have to say about the making and the production of the "Thrill Of A Lifetime" album? How do you feel about it?
 

Not a fan of that one.
 

16 - "Thrill Of A Lifetime" being a much more commercial album than "Ready To Strike" must have been hard on you and Mick, two superb guitarists, for not being a guitar-oriented album. Did the keyboards and synths cause any tension back then?
 

There was a lot of tension. For us it was “make-it-or-break-it” at that point and when the album didn’t sell, we were summarily dropped by the label.
 

17 - "Never Say Die" was on the Iron Eagle II Movie Soundtrack, and it was obviously the right first single off the album. What can you say about this song, its promo video and anything else that has to do with it?
 

The song was written by outside writers specifically for the movie.
 

18 - What were your favorite songs off the "Thrill Of A Lifetime" album and why?
 

I liked the rockers at the end of side two – “Party Animal”, “Overnight Sensation” and “Raise Your Hands To Rock”. These songs are the only ones Carmine actually played real drums on. The rest were drum machines and sequencers.
 

19 - Mark Free left the band soon after "Thrill Of A Lifetime" and then Johnny Rod left King Kobra to join W.A.S.P.. What can you tell us about this transition period? What can you say about Johnny, who you worked with again in Geronimo and in the new King Kobra, and Mark Free. What do you have to say about them?
 

We’re all friends now. Everybody has their own dreams, goals and aspirations both personal and career-wise. I think Johnny and Marcie did the right thing to move on to other projects.
 

20 - A brand new King Kobra came out with singer Marq Torién and bassist Lonnie Vencent. The six-track demo you guys recorded sounded awesome. Why didn't this line-up work in your opinion?
 

Carmine was starting to look for other opportunities and found one with Blue Murder. Since he owned the name, we couldn’t really continue on without his participation.

 
21 - How hard was it to see Mick Sweda go and form The Bullet Boys with the then new members Marq Torién and Lonnie Vencent?
 

King Kobra basically WAS the Bulletboys after Carmine left. I played with Mick, Marq and Lonnie for a while, but my heart wasn’t in it any more. I was really happy with what they ended up doing – their first album was great (although there are more than a few left over KK ideas in there).
 

22 - Another version of King Kobra with JK Northrup, Johnny Edwards and Lea Hart, along with you and Carmine were on another Movie Soundtrack, Black Roses, with the great song "Take It Off". You had a solo song on it yourself, the awesome "King Of Kool". What can you say about these songs?
 

I played a few songs with Northrup, but don’t really consider it be King Kobra. Super nice guys and great players.
 

23 - The album "King Kobra III" was released but little was said about it. The next things people knew of were that the band had called its quits and that Carmine Appice had left to form Blue Murder with former Whitesnake guitarist John Sykes. What can you say about this period and how hard was it seeing King Kobra fade away?
 

King Kobra was already dead by that time. There was no band and no shows planned.
 

24 - You had a few projects after the King Kobra break up, one of them being the great band Big Cock who released three amazing albums with singer Robert Mason, now in Warrant. What can you say about those days?
 

BC was my idea and with the help of Robert Mason and longtime friend John Covington, we made it a reality. It was honestly the most fun I ever had playing music.
 

25 - King Kobra's return was a blast! The reunion of you, Carmine Appice, Mick Sweda and Johnny Rod, plus singer Paul Shortino from Rough Cutt and Quiet Riot really surprised the fans, and the two albums you guys released are pretty good. One question about it - was Mark Free approached when you were talking about the King Kobra reunion?
 

I don’t think Carmine and Marcie get along. Even though it is quite a different sounding band, the music we made with Paul Shortino is some of our best. What a great singer and friend.
 

26 - King Kobra has been pretty quiet lately. All that we all know is that Paul Shortino has been doing pretty well with Raiding The Rock Vault, bassist Johnny Rod disappeared from the media and that guitarist Mick Sweda quit again. Any plans of releasing new King Kobra music sometime soon?
 

We recorded a live album at our Sweden Rock Fest appearance last summer. I think that will probably get released sometime in 2017. There are no plans for any new KK material right now.
 

27 - The two epic albums "Ready To Strike" and "Thrill Of A Lifetime" are being reissued now. How do you see a whole new generation having access to physical copies of them after more than thirty years? There were some reissues in the past, but these new ones seem to be special...
 

Well, if anybody new discovers and likes the band and the music – I’m all for it!
 

28 - Any last words to the fans and Melodic Net readers?
 

Thanks to all the rock and metal fans over the years that have listened to our music. Playing music has been a great joy for me my whole life and it has been so satisfying to see people enjoy it as much as I do. The fact that we are talking about this 35 years down the road speaks to the power of music and I hope to continue to play, write and perform as long as I can.
 

29 - Thanks a million for your time, David!!! You ROCK!!!

 
Thanks, Criss.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Mick Sweda Interview
 

01 - Hi, Mick, what's up? Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to Melodic Net!!! Could you tell us how and when you first got started in music?
 

There’s a lot going on right now, do you have a couple days? I suppose I’ve been hooked from a very early age. I’ve been exposed to music as long as I can remember and it’s all affected me in positive ways. My Dad always had Tommy Roe, Tommy James and other really cool pop records going when I was very young and I was forevermore attracted to those gorgeous hooks. After that, I saw a guy playing guitar down the street and went out and got one myself.
 

02 - Who were your influences when you first started? Do you still listen to them now or are you listening to different stuff?
 

I was drawn to guys that played more outside the box in rock: Erik Braunn from Iron Butterfly, Kim Mitchell from Max Webster, Alex Lifeson from Rush. And Keith Emerson from ELP, as he gave me a ton of ideas with his keys.
 

03 - What can you tell us about what you had done prior to your joining King Kobra?
 

I was slumming around Hollywood in a few different bands and ready to move back east to play in a cover group.
 

04 - How did you get to join them? How did you meet Carmine Appice and the three other guys from the original line-up? 
 

Carmine got word of me from his manager and came into Tower Records where I worked. I went to the audition and, evidently, passed it. That was where we met and became forever bonded in blood.
 

05 - Carmine Appice once said he put King Kobra together after seeing Mötley Crüe play on tour with Ozzy Osbourne. He said he was so impressed by The Crüe having three black-haired guys and one blonde member, that he came up with the idea of creating a band that would be the exact opposite of Mötley Crüe - he would be the black-haired one, with four blonde musicians onboard. Is this story true? If so, how did you feel about the band image when you guys started?
 

I have no doubt that’s exactly how he came up with the idea. I probably wouldn’t have dyed my hair and put pink in it of my own volition but I’ve always felt comfortable with my feminine side so I embraced it.
 

06 - Did all the people in the band agree with the image?
 

Yes, all the guys that didn’t were fired. Just kidding.
 

07 - How hard was to get King Kobra a record deal? When you guys did, what do you remember about the creative process?
 

By the time I joined the band, the deal was done, the songs were written and we virtually went right into pre-production. I just played my parts and worked on "Dancing with Desire" a bit. The real creative part for me was playing a few solos. It was a bit different for me to play with Dave as I had been the only guitar player in my other bands. I enjoyed the process completely.
 

08 - "Ready To Strike", King Kobra's debut album was first released in 1985. What can you tell us about the making of that album? What about its production? How do you feel about it now after so many years?
 

My impression was that some of the songs were ideas that Dave had either played or had been incubating for some time and brought to the band. There was always collaboration but my view is that Dave’s writing was the impetus behind that record. Other people were brought in and contributed lyrically and melodically and I wasn’t happy about that. It became a pie that more and more people were eating and I cast a jaundiced eye upon the process as I saw it leave our control. As I said, my input was minimal as far as the writing goes so it’s not as sentimental as much as it’s an historical document for me.
 

09 - You are surely a great guitar player. What did you think back then of playing synth guitars? Was it a problem in your opinion at any time?
 

I was never a fan of it. I embrace new technology when it’s useful and works to serve the purpose I have in mind. When it’s a novelty or a fad, I have no heart for it. And that’s what those synth guitars were to me.
 

10 - "Hunger" was then chosen as the album's single and video. Why this song, since it wasn't written by anyone in the band? How did you like its promo video then and how do you like it now?
 

The producer had fiscal control of that song and that’s why it was on the album and why it was a single. Is it a fun song and right for our purposes? Yes, but he was looking for a vehicle to profit from the song and we provided it. I don’t care much for “performance” music videos because it sucks to make them if you like to actually play music rather than mime it. And, again, my input was limited to being there so it’s more historical for me. 
 

11 - Why weren't there any other singles off "Ready To Strike"? King Kobra surely had nine more potential singles since the album was so good…
 

Many people feel that way but, sadly, not enough back then. I think Capitol had burned out the thrust rockets and we hadn’t reached space yet so we were just stranded and the support waned. No one was more disappointed than we were and it certainly felt like more should have been done at the time.
 

12 - "Ready To Strike" became a classic album years after its release. Why do you think It took music fans and critics so long to really understand what King Kobra was about? I never saw the band as only a Glam Rock outfit just like hundreds from your era, but as a band who had really impressive musicians like you, Carmine Appice, David Michael-Phillips, Johnny Rod and, of course, Mark Free. King Kobra could have been as big as Bon Jovi…
 

Frankly, the decision making was impulse driven and not geared toward a long term, career oriented end game. The label had little interest in creating a foundation upon which a solid, multi-record catalog could be built. They wanted the same success that the producer had had with a prior band and when it didn’t come to fruition, panic ensued.
 

13 - What are your favorite songs off that album and why?
 

I like "Ready to Strike" - fun to play, "Breakin’ Out" - fun to play, "Hunger" - fun to play. Just trying to keep it simple here.
 

14 - Was the famous Acapulco show the highlight of that tour? What about some other highlights?
 

That was such a whirlwind I barely remember anything other than all the automatic weapons “security” had. I don’t think it sounded very good onstage but other than that, yeah…good times!
 

15 - In 1986, the music scene had changed a little by the time King Kobra released the "Thrill Of A Lifetime" album, which had an even more commercial, radio-friendly feel than the band's debut. Was that change something concious? How did you and the other guys in the band feel about putting out a more "pop" album?
 

It was not only conscious, it was mandated by the label. I’m a pop guy from way back so it was right in my wheelhouse. It could have been even more pop for me but the addition of keyboards was not welcome and took it in a direction I disapproved of. I wanted it to remain heavy while being more of a power pop record. It would have been more cohesive with the first album because “Ready to Strike” also had power pop undertones.
 

16 - What do you have to say about the making and the production of the "Thrill Of A Lifetime" album? How do you like that album and what is your favorite song on it? Why this one?
 

It was more fulfilling for me as my input is more prominent. I am always surprised when I hear it because it’s been almost universally lambasted but it sounds good to me, all the keyboards excepted. I was most proud of a critic from the LA Weekly pointing out that he really loved a song I wrote. I like "Second Time Around", "Feel the Heat" and "Thrill". They could have been even better if I could have produced though! Sorry Duane. "Overnight Sensation" is cool too. 
 

17 - "Thrill Of A Lifetime" being a much more commercial album than "Ready To Strike" must have been hard on you and David, two superb guitarists, for not being a guitar-oriented album. Did the keyboards and synths cause any tension back then?
 

I know Dave was very uncomfortable with the musical shift in focus. He believed, as I did, that it was a very dangerous approach to what we hoped would be a long and productive career. The keys and synths did nothing to improve the mood around the record which was indisputably desperate.
 

18 - "Never Say Die" was on the Iron Eagle II Movie Soundtrack, and it was obviously the right first single off the album. What can you say about this song, its promo video and anything else that has to do with it?
 

Not much, really. Two people I know nothing about wrote it and it was another desperate attempt to generate opportunities. In some ways, I dreaded it’s success because it didn’t represent me in any way. But it was indicative of the situation at the time and I worried for no good reason at all. The video was another idea not of our making and it was becoming obvious that we were forever going to be a product of someone else's design.
 

19 - Mark Free left the band soon after "Thrill Of A Lifetime" and then Johnny Rod left King Kobra to join W.A.S.P. What can you say about this transition period?
 

It was depressing and, because I’m not a quitter, made me feel trapped. At this point, Carmine was even more desperate to cling to anything that would keep his dream alive and this included a liaison with Gene Simmons that foretold more of the same for us. Meaning other people foisting unrepresentative songs on us.
 

20 - What can you say about Mark Free? How did you both get along?
 

I loved Mark’s professionalism, his candor and integrity and, most of all, his voice. We never became close friends but I like to think there was a mutual respect that remains to this day.
 

21 - A brand new King Kobra came out with singer Marq Torién and bassist Lonnie Vencent. The six-track demo you guys recorded sounded awesome. Was that the reason why you left the band along with them to form The Bullet Boys? Why not simply stay in King Kobra?
 

I didn’t like the direction Carmine was going in and I was coming into my own as a writer. I wanted to explore my possibilities and was very confident that I could create a better situation for myself, which I did.
 

22 - Was it hard to let go of being in a band with a famous and respected musician like Carmine Appice to try your own thing with The Bullet Boys?
 

It wasn’t at all for me but it was for Marq and Lonnie. They were very upset and wanted to see the KK path through. They’d reached a new height with the band and didn’t want to leave it. I told them I was going anyway and was already auditioning players when they soon followed suit and jumped on board. Dave also played with us for a week or so but it didn’t work out.
 

23 - After leaving King Kobra you were very successful with The Bullet Boys. How do you compare being with them to being in King Kobra earlier?
 

There really isn’t any comparison as I was a central figure in Bullet Boys and Carmine was always going to be that for King Kobra. I was much more comfortable in Bullet Boys.

 
24 - What did you do musically between the original Bullet Boys break up and the King Kobra comeback?
 

I’ve recorded a number of albums that haven’t been released, a kid’s record that really rocks and played a lot of hockey. Oh, that’s not musical… sorry.
 

25 - King Kobra's return was a blast! The reunion of you, Carmine Appice, David Michael-Phillips and Johnny Rod, plus singer Paul Shortino from Rough Cutt and Quiet Riot really surprised the fans, and the two albums you guys released are pretty good. One question about it - was Mark Free approached when you were talking about the King Kobra reunion?
 

I can’t answer that because I wasn’t a part of the deal. See how some things stay the same?
 

26 - I guess this story has never been told... Why did you quit King Kobra again? Also, your fans would love to know what you're doing right now!
 

I wanted to pursue my power pop ideas. They never really came to fruition with Bullet Boys as the band took on a different sound but they are coming to life right now with The Hot Summers. I’m working with a wonderful singer named Shane Tassart and we will have a record out by summer 2017. And it rocks!
 
27 - The two epic albums "Ready To Strike" and "Thrill Of A Lifetime" are being reissued now. How do you see a whole new generation having access to physical copies of them after more than thirty years? There were some reissues in the past, but these new ones seem to be special…
 

I’m very pleased and excited. Especially since I don’t own either CD myself. It would be nice to have them, certainly.
 

28 - Do you want to leave the fans and Melodic Net readers a final message?
 

Thank you very much for reading this and all the wonderful support you’ve shown me in my endeavors. I look forward to meeting you one loud, hot and sunny day.
 

29 - I would really like to thank you for your time, Mick!!! Wishing you the best of luck!!! Rock On!!!
 

Thank you, Criss. And be safe out there!!

---------------------------------------------------------
https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif
 

If you want to read a detailed review of the “Ready To Strike” album, please check this link out:
http://melodic.net/?page=review&id=12101
 
If you want to read a detailed review of the “Thrill Of A Lifetime” album, please check this link out:
http://melodic.net/?page=review&id=12102


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