You’re either here because you’re a new fan reading up on my past to get some insight, a stalker trying to decipher a code that instructs you on what to do next, an old fan seeing if there’s finally anything new to be known, or you’re a journalist who doesn’t rely on Wikipedia for your background. Good for you. No matter what brought you here, welcome.
So I suppose I should tell you where I’ve been and who I am. I mean, I’ve been doing this music thing for many many moon now, but I know I’m still “new” to lots of you. That’s the good part of not being a mega star. I still get to be new. I remember once I won the Best New Artist in a Los Angeles music magazine TWO years in a row. When the 3rd year came around, I was terrified that I might win it again, which wouldn’t look so good, I mean, how long can you be “new”? Well, actually…quite a long time apparently. Luckily I lost.
My story began in the melting pot of melting pots, Berkeley, CA. It was a very strange upbringing in many ways, so much so that I’ve been writing a book about that, but let’s not distract you. Berkeley was and is arguably the most culturally diverse city in the world, and so I was exposed to so many different types of music from a very young age. I was fortunate enough to have attended an elementary school that had a ground breaking jazz program, with equal emphasis on music theory and improvisation. When I was 8 I took up the alto saxophone, actually I wanted to play trombone, but when I got to the auditorium, the only instruments left were triangle and alto sax—I often wonder how my life would’ve been different had I chosen the triangle. So for the next several years I practiced my horn constantly, hours every day. I played so much jazz I became jazzed out.
So I went in the opposite direction and bought a royal blue Rickenbacker bass guitar and started a punk pop band. I also began to take voice lessons from a renowned Bay Area opera singer and coach. I was incredibly too shy to sing publically, but she eventually brought the voice out and there was no putting it back in. Concurrently I was taking bass lessons from Joe Satriani, yes, that Joe. He even asked me to be the singer in a band he was forming, no lie, but being terrified to sing on stage, I turned him down—just the first in a long list of brilliant career decisions. Shockingly, Joe did fairly well for himself without me.
I slowly got over the stage fright and moved to L.A. to become the lead singer of teen pop band Candy. Actually there was another band called Candy, but we wrote a bogus letter from an “attorney” telling them they had to change their name, they did. I still feel guilty about that, but all is fair in love, war, and teen pop bands. I often wonder how my life would’ve been different had they not changed their name, I may have joined Motley Crue. You know, I once lived just a few doors down from them off the Sunset strip, but we don’t have the bandwidth to go into all of that. While doing the Candy thing, my day job was being Kim Fowley’s personal assistant. Now THOSE experiences could fill a book. If you don’t know Kim, google or wiki him. Kim was a huge Candy supporter and recorded our first demos that, in my opinion, blew away the eventual big budget big label album. Kim actually set us up with an audition for the legendary Clive Davis. I had just picked up the guitar a few days prior to the big showcase, and we were definitely not ready for prime time. Clive politely listened, then called us over and said, “Boys, you’re only 3 minutes away from being stars”, meaning we just needed that one hit song. At first I thought that meant he was ready to sign us up, then I realized this was his usual gracious rejection spiel. I mean, my grandmother was also only 3 minutes away from being a star.
Candy soon signed to Curb/MCA, and then our deal was bought out by Mercury/Polygram. We were managed by the same guy who was managing KISS, who were up for renegotiation with the same label. So we either got our record deal because we were undeniably great, or because our manager had KISS leverage. I like to think it was the former. We put out one album and toured the U.S. with Rick Springfield. Incidentally, on one of those tour stops I challenged Rick to a tennis match at the hotel. This was proof that we were poppers and not rockers. If we were rockers the challenge certainly wouldn’t have involved tennis. Anyway, I’m fairly certain he would deny this, but I beat him in straight sets.
Our A&R man at Polygram was fired right before the album came out, so the record stood little chance for success. The video we shot was lots of fun, and made some noise on MTV, and even without any label support, Candy did fairly well. Seems we actually influenced a few bands and garnered a dedicated following in the U.S. and Japan, but soon enough I left the band to become a farmer. Oh no, wait, not yet, I decided I wanted to just write and record my own songs, so that’s what I did, every single day for the next couple of years.
I wrote many songs with S.F. Bay Area legend Tommy Dunbar, who didn’t drive, (to this date the only known human to ever live in L.A. who didn’t drive), so I would go in my blue Plymouth Valiant and pick him up in Pasadena, bring him back to my Hollywood apartment where I had a studio, then drive him home at night. After all those trips in L.A. traffic, the car finally blew up one night on the 134 freeway. I often wonder how my life would’ve been different had the Valiant survived.
After a few years of writing for others and shopping for deals, I decided to book a “final” show at the Roxy in L.A. I saw it as my do or die gig, and seeing it as such, during the soundcheck I cold-called Barry Manilow’s manager and begged him to come see my show on his way home. He had no idea who I was, but I figured I had nothing to lose. Well, he actually showed up and became my manager the next day. We secured a new solo deal on MCA and soon I was opening Manilow’s Greatest Hits tour all over the U.S.
At the rehearsals for the tour, which were held at the now imploded Desert Inn in Vegas, Barry would sit in the front row and critique my performance. It was quite daunting, but also incredibly cool. These critiques continued for the entire tour. I’d be sitting next to Barry on the plane to the next gig and he’d blurt out, “Kyle, you need to walk on stage bigger, with your arms opened wide”. Here’s a shot of us at Graceland. Barry is still the coolest.
Months of release dates came and went for the “Trust” album, and I’d hear the funniest excuses. The prez of MCA once said, “I can’t figure out if he’s Bryan Adams or George Michael”– I love this biz! The album’s release date was pushed and pushed until it was finally pushed over the cliff and never came out, actually a very common occurrence in the industry. So I regrouped, went back into songwriting/recording mode and tried to survive.
Again, I decided I would give it one final shot. I gathered up my pennies and flew to the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas and snuck into an industry party. I went up to a young publishing scout and asked him what he was looking for. He said, “good pop songs”. I said, “those I got”. I left the party, dropped off a demo at his hotel room door, and left Texas. A week later I had a publishing deal, a management deal, and a new record deal on Hollywood Records. The first single was “Wake Me Up (When The World’s Worth Waking Up For)”, a song I had written with that monolith of power pop, Parthenon Huxley, who also co-produced the album with me.
The song quickly began to hit the charts on radio stations all over the U.S. It entered the Billboard “Bubbling Under” chart and sat there for several weeks before stalling at an almost unbearable #101, just missing entering the Hot 100. In retrospect, I think that was a very good thing, for if the song had entered the Hot 100, I probably would’ve just retired happy and satiated. Nevertheless, the tune did crack the top 20 on the Adult, Alternative, and Adult Contemporary charts in several industry trades, and went top 10 in many cities. It even appeared in a movie, “The Other Sister”. Perhaps that’s because the song was such an infectious pop ditty, or perhaps that because Garry Marshall was on my Burbank softball team. Let’s go with the former.
For a stretch they were having a Battle of the Songs contest on a big L.A. Top 40 station. ‘Wake’ was up against Hanson’s “Mmm Bop”, which was ironic because many people had just assumed I was the fourth Hanson brother. I beat my brothers. Now either I won because I had all my friends flood the phone lines, or because my song was such an undeniable smash. Let’s go with the latter. One night when the contest was going on, I called up the station and talked with the late night DJ. telling him I lived just blocks away from the studio. He invited me down to hang out. I ended up staying for his entire show. Turns out my new DJ pal was a young Ryan Seacrest.
But even the soon-to-be omnipresent Seacrest couldn’t save the day. The follow-up single, “Arianne”, didn’t bubble under anything, but it does still gets loads of airplay in the strangest of places, like restaurants, gyms, and the local Stop n’ Shop where it’s currently bubbling under the organic bok choi.
In a cruel deja vu, literally 5 days before the album was released, the president of Hollywood Records was fired, or arrested, I forgot which, and all his acts were let go. Time to regroup, yet again. This time I put out the next album on my own label, before it was signed up to Varese-Sarabande/Universal. Are you counting the labels here?? I think we’re approaching a record. I put out the next couple of CDs on my own, then had another quickie label deal with Ume, a digital download-only arm of Universal. You know, I think that puts the total label count at…holy moly, SIX?! I must hold the record label record. Let’s just say I do, it makes for a better story, and the sympathy it elicits might coerce label #7 to pony up the big bucks for this next album!
I’ve had stints as the new lead singer in a reformed version of the Bay City Rollers, and Bo “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” Donaldson & The Heywoods. Since I’ve been a Roller and a Heywood, I’m now awaiting a call from the Temptations or the O’Jays.
I’ve recently expanded my empire to include running for, and actually winning, public office in Western Massachusetts. I either won because I had such an engaging and inspiring message for the voters, or because I ran unopposed. I’d like to think it was the former.
So that’s how we got here, and really, when you start out looking like this guy on the left, what choice do you have but to be a pop singer? Over the past few years I’ve been fortunate to travel the world playing for some of the best, most dedicated fans a guy could ask for, and sharing the stage with some of my biggest childhood idols. To have fans meet me at an airport in Manila or Japan or England or Akron with their KV albums and Candy t-shirts, is a pretty great feeling. I’m ever so grateful that you’ve come here with me.
Currently I’m finishing off a new recording project that I’m giddy for all of you to hear. More on that very soon. Check this bio often as I’m sure different anecdotes and photos may be added or changed on a whim.