sam kinison photo

The Man Who Would Be King of Metal

By Patrick Goldstein
Originally printed in The Los Angeles Times
Sunday, March 18, 1990

Could Sam Kinison be rock’s new head-banger hero?

The heavy-metal comic, who boasts “I can play guitar at least as well as (Guns N Roses guitarist) Slash, is hoping to cross-over from comedy to rock audiences with his new album, “Leader of the Banned.” Due March 27 from Warner Bros. Records, “Banned” features an entire side of thundering metal, including new versions of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen,” Cheap Trick’s “Gonna Raise Hell” and the Rolling Stone’s “Under My Thumb,” which will be the first single.

Now touring the Midwest with his comedy show, Kinison says he’s trying to put together an all-star band “who could go out with me and maybe even open for Motley Crue on their tour.” The Crue, who have cleaned up their act, would be a perfect match for Kinison, who says he has “cut out the booze” and is attending AA meetings.

It’s hard to say whether he’s more proud of his sobriety or his new album, which features such hotshots as Poison’s CC De Ville, Guns N Roses’ Slash, Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryam, Whitesnake bassist Rudy Sarzo, Dweezil Zappa and rock vet Leslie West.

“Listen, I’ve been playing guitar since I was 15,” Kinison said. “I’m not intimidated by these guys. I may not be as good as CC De Ville, but it’s not like I’m William Shatner doing ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’”

But is rock radio ready for Kinison? “I haven’t heard the record yet, but if the songs are good, we’ll play ’em,” said KLOS-FM program director Carey Curelop. “He certainly won’t be penalized because he’s a comedian. Eddie Murphy had a big hit–he wasn’t treated like a novelty artist. So if Sam’s serious about making a good rock record, we’ll treat him seriously.”

Kinison said his video for “Under My Thumb” is set in a courtroom, with a tentative cast featuring Ozzy Osbourne as the judge, Paul Williams as Kinison’s attorney, “Married With Children’s” Dave Faustino as a defendant and a jury of 12 sexy dancers. “We have a bit where I put on these special X-ray glasses so I can look at the girls and see their lingerie,” Kinison explained. “We only cast dancers who were born after the Kennedy assassination. We tried to come up with everything that would shock MTV.”

When it comes to shock, Kinison is a master (though he’s covered his bets with the video channel by having Dweezil appear in his clip playing a guitar in the shape of MTV’s logo). His last album was so incendiary that Warners put two warning stickers on the jacket–and inserted an AIDS awareness pamphlet because gay activists were so outraged by Kinison’s jokes about AIDS. This time around “Banned” is “being treated like a regular release,” said Warners publicity chief, Bob Merlis. “There’s no firestorm of controversy that I’ve heard of.”

In fact, Warners let Kinison design his own warning sticker, which will read: “Pan Am 103: The Truth Must Be Known. Explicit Language and Material: Parental Advisory.”

Kinison says Warners only added its warning stickers and AIDS pamphlet to his previous album under pressure. “I feel I really got singled out last time,” he complained. “They put so many stickers on my last album that you couldn’t even see my (expletive) face! Comedy isn’t a pack of cigarettes. It doesn’t need a surgeon general’s report on it. I always get blamed for being a (jerk). But play Andrew Dice Clay’s record and tell me who the gay-basher is.”

With arch-rival Clay now performing rock music in his concert act too, relations between the two contenders for the title of King of the Metal Comics have soured considerably.

“We get along about as well as Poison and Warrant,” said Kinison, referring to a pair of feuding rock bands. “Dice is the Morton Downey Jr. of comedy–his career is gonna burn up like Larry Storch. I think he saw me do my act and said, ‘Duh, I’ll put on the leather jacket and insult everybody,’ as if no one would notice he was ripping off my (expletive) jokes! Now he’s even closing his shows with an all-star jam, except no all-stars ever show up!

“When he reads I might do four or five songs with a rock band, he’ll probably do it too. I’m surprised I haven’t seen him come out wearing a long coat and a beret already.”