One story about two songs by Kenneth B. Higney
This is the story – maybe truth, maybe fiction – about two songs I wrote and recorded, “I Wanna Be The King” and “Funky Kinky”. Both were released as a “double A side” seven inch vinyl single in 1980. In my mind it was a double A side because I knew both songs were going to be hits. In that dream state I gave the release catalog numbers which matched my fevered mind – “I Wanna Be The King” was KBH-516ras (the “r” meaning “rock” with the “as” standing for “a side”) and “Funky Kinky” was KBH-516fas with the “f” for Funky. Yep, it was the funky a side of the record. I told ya, “fevered mind”.
While writing this, I am assuming if you are reading it that you know something about the album “Attic Demonstration”, which I released before the two sided “hit” single. Yes, “A.Demo” was just that – a compilation of nine demo versions of songs I had written. Never intended to be an actual release but, as history knows, I decided to put it out after pressing five hundred copies so that I would have a handier way – instead of cassette tapes – to pitch the songs to artists I hoped would record them.
“I Wanna Be The King” and “Funky Kinky”, on the other hand, were written and recorded with the full intention of being released.
Not to get too deep into the “meaning” of each song, but I would like to say that “King” was a sort of ode to the NYC punk scene at the time and the “king” mentioned is Johnny Thunders. I loved that guy. I first saw him when he and the rest of The New York Dolls opened for Mott The Hoople at Radio City Music Hall. Todd Rundgren, who had produced the first Dolls album, came out and introduced the band and from the moment they hit the stage, I was hooked. They were great – GREAT. When the Dolls fell apart, Johnny formed The Heartbreakers (whose LAMF, in my mind, without a doubt, is the best album to come out of that time). Of course we all know that Johnny got heavy into heroine but I used to go see him in the heyday of The Heartbreakers and loved every show I saw. I have great memories of him and the band playing the NYC downtown clubs. I also have to point out – as I always do when the opportunity arises – the line “I don’t wanna be a nigger knocking at your door” refers to a band of the time, The New York Niggers. The entire song references bands at the time – “The Dead Boys”, “The Heartbreakers”, “The Rolling Stones” as in “I wanna roll away some stones”, and on and on. Never believe that “nigger” was used for any reason other than that it referenced the band and worked well in the lyric line. Lately, I’ve been playing the song and have changed “nigger” to “sinner” and “Polish” to “foolish” simply to avoid any late night hassles.
As to “Funky Kinky”: in a very vague way it is another “ode”. This one to my younger brother’s girlfriend at the time. She was a great and funky dancer and she had great long curly hair. I just happened to think she was funky and kinky and used the title as a jumping off point. The song, in fact, was written with Grace Jones in mind. It is a very s&m song lyrically and I thought it would be perfect for the Empress Jones to cover it. Fit perfectly with her image. Alas, never happened, but I still love it.
After the songs were written, I decided it was time to record them with a band in a “real” studio. Gordon Gaines, being the genius he was, decided he wanted to play drums and so we enlisted Mark Volpe on lead guitar and John Lynch for bass – both friends from Jersey City and both, like Gordon, amazing guitarists. John was to be the bass man while Mark was the lead guitarist and I was to play rhythm on “I Wanna Be The King”. I figured it would be a good idea to rehearse the songs but, if memory serves me correctly, we only did so with “King”. I rented space in Jersey City and the band and I took to it. I taught “King” to the guys and, as soon as I counted it down, we were locked in. It was the first time I felt the power of a full band behind me and I was flying. It was amazing to have these three great musicians playing my song, all together, with me being in front. Talk about “high” – very few days in my life ever matched that moment for the amount of sky I was able to grab. It was truly an earth moving experience. It was pure ecstasy.
After the first and only rehearsal, I knew we were ready – it was the so called “magic” that bands sometimes find and we had, for that song, found it. I think I had already booked studio time at Fox Recording in Rutherford, New Jersey and, so, when the scheduled time came, we were wired to create a masterpiece.
After we did the first studio take of “King”, setting levels and etc., I asked the engineer, Mark Adams (who, I learned later on, when we were recoding Jerry Rooth’s single of “But You Loved Me Anyway” and “But You’ll Try… Again”, was an absolutely brilliant jazz influenced guitarist) what he thought and his response was, simply, “It sounds a million times better than anything on “Attic Demonstration”. Yep, the power of the band.
So I counted it down, rode the bottom E string, screamed, Gordon hit the snare and we were off. Again, if I remember correctly, it was a one take recording and, on another day, I later tripled my vocal. Brilliant playing by the other guys, with me just being me. When you hear the recording, or if you already have, you will notice, before the bridge, I scream and then ask “Did it sound like it came in right?” This happened because, during the playback, with just Mark Adams and I in the studio, I felt the break down (which I had arranged to be a drum solo) before the bridge, just slowed the entire song down. Since I was the only one from the recording at this particular session, I could not redo the drum solo and so, as is my way, I screamed over the drums and the “happy accident” of my question to Mark brought it all home on time. To this day, “I Wanna Be The King” is still one of my favorite recordings.
Two quick and short quotes regarding the song/recording:
Someone asked Gordon why I counted off the song, as it wasn’t necessary since I then screamed and the snare was hit – which actually started the song – and the very dry humored Mr. Gains simply replied “You don’t get the joke, do ya?”. Gordon got it and always did.
About two days after I had given the pressed recording out to some people, I was walking along West Side Avenue in Jersey City and John Lynch was driving by with some friends and spotted me. All he did was lean out the window and scream “Hey king” but it made me feel so cool that I laughed. By simply calling out to me with that phrase, he let me know he was proud and happy to have been a part of the recording.
As to “Funky Kinky” – I taught the song to the band while we were in the studio. It is a one chord thing and we decided to just let Mark play the “funky” rhythm and I would do only the vocals on the initial take. It worked out well when we tried it out and so we went with it. We did the take – again, one time – and listened. I had arranged the song to have two lead solos and Gordon suggested that Mark Volpe do the first solo and John Lynch do the second. Brilliant! It was done.
Upon listening to a playback, I didn’t like the way the recording of “Funky” had started. It was simply the band – guitar, bass and drums – starting with the rhythm guitar leading the others and I just thought it sounded too pedestrian. I asked Mark Volpe (I keep writing “Volpe” so as not to confuse the man with Mark Adams, the engineer) if he would simply do a great “heavy” riff and we would tack it onto the beginning of the the recording. “Genius at work” was his reply and he did it. A perfect opening for the rest of the song. After we listened again, I decided to add, what has been referred to in more than one publication, the “tacky” synthesizer. “Tacky” it may be but it makes me smile. We all then gathered around the mics and played the percussion – each one of us deciding what percussive toy to play and how to play it. Yep, there is some strange percussion going on under all the other things. One final thing you may or may not have noticed, all of the vocals on both recordings are mine, including the falsetto on “Funky Kinky”. The only voice other than mine on either of the recordings is Gordon Gaines’ when he echoes my “funky” and “kinky” as the vocal is going out. As mentioned above, he was playing drums and during my singing of “Funky Kinky” at the end of the song he decided to bend down and sing into one of the drum mics the words “funky” and “kinky”. We all thought it was so cool and kept it in. Not too hard to hear him, so enjoy it when you do.
I could go on and on about the single. It has not reached the cult status of “Attic Demonstration” but there are so many stories in my head about things which happened after the release of the 45 rpm monster. Offers from cool indie labels which fell through, world tours which were offered but never materialized and much more. Maybe truth, maybe fiction.
© 2012 – Kenneth B. Higney – All Rights Reserved
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