"When I plugged it into the amp it was on some ridiculous number and the store literally shook when I hit that E string. I was like “yeah, I can deal with this”.
By Lea Fiega, Contributing Journalist, August 2020
Lea: Thank you guys for taking the time to interview with me. Ray, can you give me a little background on your journey to King Kuel?
Ray: Lea, We are happy to take the time with you, happy to do this and thank you for reaching out to King Kuel for Tru Rock Revival Magazine. I guess I have been at this music thing for quite a while now, haven’t I? My brother and I were always playing and jamming with the local guys in our neighborhood growing up. We both played guitar, but I switched to bass since there were not a lot of bass players around. I was in a band called DNA. We played mostly covers. My brother and I wrote some songs together and also wrote a few with the band. It was a great time. We were young without a care in the world. After a short time, we went our separate ways, giving me the opportunity to hook up with other friends to form Crystal Bishop, playing early to middle 80’s metal/rock covers, while continuing to write more originals. That also only lasted a short while and I found myself without a band. I was dating a girl at the time who introduced me to a guy named Bobby Kerr, the drummer in a band called Society’s Children. They were looking for a singer. We spent some time together, parties with mutual friends etc. One night, Bobby Kerr and I sat down at a piano with a bottle of tequila. He started playing Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” and I just started singing. We were half in the piss by then and we were having a blast, singing covers and laughing like maniacs. He then said to me, “You are going to be our next singer”! He gave me tapes of their music and I was like “Holy Shit! These are great!”. I learned them all, auditioned with the band and heard a few days later that I was in. The funny thing was, when I left my audition with Society’s Children, there was another singer waiting outside the room during my audition. When I left, I shook his hand with a hard squeeze and introduced myself to him as the singer of Society’s Children and wished him good luck! Ha, I was marking my territory. I knew I could sing, felt I had good range, but honestly I knew I needed to step it up. I took vocal training and worked hard until I felt I could do the job and it paid off. Before me, Society’s Children had been around trying to make a name for themselves. They wrote a song in the early 80’s called “Metal for Meals” for a contest for MTV’s local rock platform help raise money for the “Band Aid” telethon and won. Their singer at the time stayed with Society’s for about a year and was then replaced by a female singer named Bonnie who lasted about a year. That is when I auditioned as a “singer”. I was now the lead singer and the rest is as they say “The Children’s History”. That is where I stayed until the break-up of the band years later and King Kuel was formed.
Lea: Billy, you are one of the most energetic guitarists I have ever seen play live! You are also my most photographed guitarist from this area, with exception of Jimi Bell. Can you tell me a little about your earlier days as a musician prior to King Kuel?
Billy: Hey Lea! So, I am the only non-CT native in the band, although I have been in CT since 1999, and with Ray and Fran since 2004 or 2005. I am an upstate New Yorker- Saratoga Springs represent! As far as me and my music goes, it all started for me with my grandmother and my father. Gram used to sit me on the piano next to her and sing to me for hours. She was amazing. She is the reason I took chorus in school from kindergarten all the way through high school. My Dad had a country band for like 40 years. I started singing with his band on weekends when I was like 8 years old. I would get on stage and do my 3 songs, and then all the older ladies would swoon over me and tell me how good I did. It really got me into loving music. As I got a little older, the older boys in my neighborhood introduced me to rock and roll! KISS, Nugent, Schenker, Boston, Aerosmith, Kansas, Yes, UFO, Rush, REO, old Scorps… the list goes on! At the time I was looking to play drums, and learning by pounding on my bed with sticks. At 12 years old, the local high school rock band SNOWBLIND put on a concert at our high school. That was really my first concert, and that was it. They had a big animated video screen intro, with all the lights and sound… There was this guitar dude, a local hero named Jeff Toma. They were up there playing UFO and this guy was just nailing Schenker! It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. That was the night I abandoned drums and decided that the guitar was for me. I always said that if I were ever fortunate enough to be interviewed for anything, and this is my first one… that I would name Jeff Toma as my biggest influence. My first big band of mention that I was in was VIRGIN from the Albany area. VIRGIN was probably the biggest band in the capital region, and what a professional band they were. We had a full road crew. Hell, I had my own guitar tech! Upon the breakup of VIRGIN in the early 90’s, I had a band locally for a few years with my best friend David Rizzo on bass. After that I moved to LA to join up with ex-VIRGIN singer Tim Fitzpatrick and we formed a band called BLESS. The band has a few different members, notably my good friends Michael Carella and George Snyder, both from Saratoga, and CT native killer guitarist Glen Cruciani. I am sure that some of you reading this will recognize the name. The remaining lineup of the band were Matt Zavadil and LA native Dan Dodd. BLESS was a great band, great songs with a great look. We had the whole package. We had interest from Interscope Records, but it just never materialized. With that band, I was able to play some of the greatest and most famous rock clubs in the world, including The Roxy, The Whiskey, The Troubadour and The Viper Room. LA was a freakin blast! Life then landed me back in CT with my beautiful wife Shannon, and that is where I met Society’s Children. My wife’s brother was in Society’s Children at the time. It just so happened that the singer Ray Wheaton’s day job required him to come to my place of employment from time to time. He stopped in one day and for the hell of it I mentioned to him that I was a guitarist here from LA, and that if there were ever a need I was just sitting around doing nothing! Well, don’t ya know, one day he had a need. The rest is history. Society’s Children to King Kuel!
Lea: Fran, you are heartbeat of King Kuel. When did you start playing drums, and can you tell me about your path to the throne of King Kuel?
Fran: Aside from some musical toys as a young one at the age of 6 or 7 years old I saw Buddy Rich on the muppet show soloing with Animal. The next thing you know, I was putting cardboard boxes together with my grandfather to make a ridiculous drum kit. I really wanted to be as good as Animal one day! I beat on those boxes until there was no longer enough duct tape to fix them. For years I would bang on anything I could get my hands on. Pots, pans, pillows, you name it. Eventually, my Mom bought me my first real drum kit when I was 10 years old. My first band ever was in 1985 and was called Destruction and then later called Phalanx. The band lasted for many years, hosting some of the biggest parties our town had ever seen. I have some incredible memories of that band and the friends I made. They are still there supporting me after all these years. During my time with that band was my first experience writing original music. There were a few bands after that. Angel Wolf, Aftershock, XLRB and a few others. Some were very short lived. I always made a point to learn something from every experience, so I would have the tools necessary in my back pocket if and when the right opportunity presented itself. That opportunity came to me with Society’s Children. I walked into that audition room with all the tools I needed, and the right attitude to get the gig I wanted so bad. The rest is history, right up to now with King Kuel.
Lea: CJ, you are the newest member of King Kuel. How long have you been playing bass, and have you performed with any other bands prior to this one?
CJ: First off, I want to say thanks for taking the time to interview us. When asked how long one has been playing bass, one would usually say I started at age 15 and it is now 2020 so 38 years. Not in my case. I was introduced to the world of rock and roll at 7 when a friend of mine played me a KISS album during indoor recess at school. From that point on there was no turning back for me. I loved music. Some years later, around 12 or 13, I tried my hand at guitar, but literally my hands were not meant for traditional guitar. My fingers were on the thick side so fretting chords was challenging to say the least. Lets just say they didn’t sound very clean. I thought it may have been that particular guitar so off I went to Burnside Music, a little hole in the wall music store in town. When I was there I decided to play a bass. Lots of room between the strings I thought. When I plugged it into the amp it was on some ridiculous number and the store literally shook when I hit that E string. I was like “yeah, I can deal with this”. That is what I love about the bass. You can feel it. I did get that bass and played sporadically as a kid. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I would consider myself to be a bass player. I thought to myself about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I figured, once around the ride so lets try Rock Star! To be a rock star you have got to be in a band. Without too many hours on the neck, I hooked up with my first band Night Warrior. Through playing with Night Warrior I met other musicians and ended up with a band called Rizzo shortly thereafter. That band was my Rock n’ Roll mainstay for the majority of my early playing days. We eventually morphed into a band called Dirt Cheap, but for the most part it was Rizzo under a different label. When I left Dirt Cheap I took a hiatus from playing music. At the time I realized that I needed to re-evaluate where I was in life. The party lifestyle I was leading was taking a toll on me that I decided I didn’t want to pay anymore. I am grateful that I made the changes I did, but those changes led me away from music. I sold all of my gear with the exception of an Ovation acoustic bass I held onto. I hardly ever picked it up, and when I did it felt foreign to me. Twenty five years later, Fran Mynahan hits me up and said “Hey, we need a bass player”. He told me that I should come down and audition. No was not an option for him. I won’t say stalked, but persistent fits the bill. That was 5 years ago. So, my first go round band experiences plus King Kuel puts me in the ball park of 14 years on bass. A lot of history to get a number.
Lea: Ray, you have been part of the CT music scene for a long time. What is the biggest or most emotional time of your career, and who have been your biggest influences?
Ray: Whoa! There were many times so I will touch on one here. As Society’s Children grew in popularity, there were more demands, pressures and many factors that led to the original guys in the band leaving. We had no idea what an emotional ride it would be. That started the climb to what Society’s would become. John Lampson, Chris Parker, Bobby Kerr, Jimmy Blair and Myself as the frontman were a powerhouse. Society’s band manager at the time said after our first show together that I was the guy they were looking for, and that now THIS IS A BAND! It was nice to be recognized from someone in the biz that really knew his shit. Having a band like that behind me, I never worried about mistakes. They were so tight. I just concentrated on performing and doing the best I could. We were pretty lucky looking back. Guys like Jonny Brat, Tommy DeRail and Joe Aparo of Joined Forces and Painkiller helped push the band to new heights. The more we played and the bigger we got, the more pressure there was. As each of the original guys left, and it was hard to see them leave, we would have to audition dozens of musicians. So many awesome musicians from the CT area. During this time it had become apparent that John Lampson and I had such a connection and vision for the band. John and I had decided to clean the slate, start from scratch and put a band together tailored to our vision and we did just that. There were many changes along the way leading to 1993’s “Silhouette” band: Fran Mynahan, David Chirico, Jeff Scarfi, then Sean Roach, Marc Deschaine and John Brazil. There was an emotional aspect that continued through every line up change. We put together a huge promotion on the band. Newspaper, radio station WHCN, Cox Cable and Hartford’s Nickel Recording Studios live room to record and introduce the new line up, which brought huge hype. (We still have not reviewed that footage to this day). On the night of the event, we had massive air raid spot lights on the front of the Sting in New Britain CT. They lit up the sky for miles! The Sting was a bowling alley turned into a huge club with a massive stage. We owned the place! When I looked out at the packed house of over 2,000 people when the curtain dropped on opening night, I looked at John Lampson and we both smiled like a couple of cheshire cats! We did it.
Some of my biggest influences? There are many. Elvis, the Beatles, Stones, Bowie, KISS, Aerosmith, Bad Company, Chicago, Thin Lizzy, Joplin and Skynyrd. The list is endless. Locally here for me, I have always admired Jimi Bell. He has paved a path above most in my book. He is not only driven and incredibly talented, he is one of the funniest, nicest guys you will ever meet. I have done many shows with him with King Kuel. Jimi has played with us as our “5th KING”. I have also done Society’s Children Reunion with the “93 Silhouette line up with Jimi’s Joined Forces in 2016. Our friendship is one I treasure.
Lea: King Kuel released the EP “THE KINGS JEWELS” in 2016. Congratulations on its success. I am sure that each of you have a favorite song or two off the EP. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Fran: King Kuel has always blended original music and cover songs together when performing. That is why I love this band. I would say Breathe and Indestructible are my best and favorite of those riffs to date. An idea for a song has to morph and change to create a version that everyone can get behind. My ideas always rely on the musical talents of my fellow musicians. I guess you could say that my bucket list includes someday having my own formulas for writing a complete song from beginning to end and could one day call myself a songwriter.
Billy: My favorite song to play live is "Round and Round" from the CD because I just like that song a lot!
Ray: My favorite song from all the ones I’ve written? Wow, that’s tough! They are all like my babies. I love them all. For my current songs with King Kuel, I would say it is "Indestructible." People just love that one instantly. "Breathe" and "Lie to Me" are also favorites of mine to sing and play, because of what they mean to me.
CJ: All of the material on The Kings Jewels was written prior to me coming on board so I do not have a favorite from a written standpoint. My all time favorite KK song to perform by far is "Mother Fucker." It just kicks you in the teeth and has a raw driving rhythym that throws me back to that rumbling E note when I was a kid. You feel it in your chest musically and lyrically. For me it is more than just an anthem for someone who cuts you off, talks smack behind your back or disrespects you. It’s about all of the things in life that none of us have control over. Death is in the cards for all of us, but a friend or loved one who is terminally ill or struggles with a debilitating condition day in and day out, poverty, hatred and even COVID shows us that the only thing we have power over is ourselves. That pent up frustration you feel from those kinds of things that make you want to scream… “You Mother Fucker, Mother Fucker,” along with the haunting chants at the end of the song. "I don’t wanna be judged, you don’t wanna be judged. Don’t throw stones until you’ve walked in my shoes, you don’t know me." That's what the song "Mother Fucker" is to me, a representation of freedom.
Lea: Fran, do you have a moment in your career that means the most to you?
Fran: For me the moment that hits the top of the list is the first time the Society’s Children fans saw me as their drummer. My identity up to that point was unknown to everyone. That first night performing on the stage at The Sting in New Britain was the start of a very emotional and magical rollercoaster ride. The fans were amazing and they welcomed me to the position.
Lea: Ray, I pose the same question to you.
Ray: There have been many over the past 33 years, but there is one that stands out to me. Back in the early 90’s, we had the parents of a little girl reach out asking if we would do a benefit for their little girl with cancer. We met Heather and her whole family and we were in. She was a sweetheart. John and I got a couple of tv stations involved, the newspaper to do articles and talked to WHCN radio about the event. He and I put it all together as time was a factor. She loved one of our songs "Cryin’" so we played it for her a couple of times. This event helped to raise money for the mounting expenses. It was a sad story. That little girl fought hard until the end.
Lea: Have you been doing anything musically during this downtime?
Ray: We have done a social media upgrade. Changed our stage look. We were talking about writing new material for another release when this pandemic happened. We didn’t get together for a few months just to be safe. We had a new KK branding logo done and purchased new stage backdrop and dressings which we will use for shows going forward.We have rescheduled many of the 2020 bookings. We are posting as we get clearance on shows and are now starting on new material. We hope to get into that more in the coming months.
Lea: What is on the horizon for King Kuel?
Billy: New originals in the next year and more high profile gigs in 2021. Thanks to Jimi Bell for believing in us from the beginning and offering us some great opportunities. Also, thanks to you Lea and the other photographers out there that bring us to the world on Facebook and Instagram. You make us and me look larger than life and without you, these folks would have no idea who I am!
Ray: The horizon looks good as long as we can get back to playing and writing again. There are so many distractions. I have been asked why we haven’t written a song about the pandemic. It doesn’t interest me in the least honestly. The song would be dated in no time and it is not something that I would want to write or sing about after it is past. For me, inspiration is like a butterfly in the wind, here one minute, gone the next. I have so many pieces of songs along with many ideas. I am looking forward to making more time than I have recently to dig thru it all. We are all eager to put something new out, and that is what we are looking at from Castle Kuel.
Lea: Thank you guys for spending this time with me and letting the Tru Rock family get to know the Kings of Kuel.
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