Greg Kihn has been a singer, a songwriter, a DJ in a major radio market and an author.
Actually, he still is all of those things, minus the lengthy DJ career that ended in 2012.
But Kihn, 69, is such a chipper guy — and a grateful one — that every career turn is viewed positively. No more 3 a.m. wake-up calls for morning radio meant more time for the guy who penned ‘80s classics “Jeopardy” and “The Breakup Song” to work on his first new album in more than two decades (“ReKihndled”) and a new music-based historical fiction novel (“Southern Gothic”) and the freedom to hit the road this summer with Rick Springfield, Loverboy and Tommy Tutone.
That “Best in Show” tour hits State Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park on Sunday.
Recently, Kihn called from the Northern California home he shares with his wife of 30-plus years for a fun, lengthy chat about his history and the future.
Q: What is your history with Rick?
A: I go back to the beginning. We did our first tour together in 1981. He had just come out with “Jessie’s Girl” and I had “The Breakup Song” and I remember him saying at the time, “You guys are the first big tour we’ve ever done,” and I said, “YOU guys are the first big tour WE’VE ever done!” We really got close and it was a wonderful time. We’ve been friends (for decades) and done three or four tours (together). He’s a really nice guy and he looks great. We were just comparing our mugs backstage and we were like, we’re no longer spring chickens, but we’re not ready to retire yet, either!
Q: And the other guys on the tour?
A: I’ve known Tommy (Tutone) since “8675309/Jenny.” He’s a funny guy, a great guy. And also Loverboy … (singer) Mike Reno has not lost a step. I talk to Mike after a sound check and say, “How can you sing so high?” They go out and do Loverboy like you wouldn’t believe. I usually stick around and see what happens (onstage). I always enjoy watching Rick. I look out in the audience and there are no guys out there, all women. And they love him.
Q: You played City Winery here earlier this year, but before that, it doesn’t look like you were here since 1981?
A: I remember playing there with the Babys. We had a great time. Atlanta is a great city. Good food, a good all-around stop on the gravy train. I enjoy going to places like Atlanta. It’s fun. I’ve got something to do every day.
Q: You just released your first new album in 21 years (“ReKihndled”). What took you so long?
A: (Laughs) I was doing the morning show at KFOX in San Francisco, and I had been doing it for 16 years. You never really quite get used to that, that 3 a.m. (waking up) stuff. I loved it and I loved talking to people in the morning, but I didn’t go on tour for 21 years.
Q: Are you playing any new material in your set?
A: When I go play a gig, I’ve got to do the hits. There are probably five or six in that category, but I always do a couple of new songs, and then there’s catalog items that I do occasionally, like “For You” by Springsteen. I have such a large catalog; I don’t repeat a show sometimes for weeks. I like that problem.
Q: Your son is in the band, right?
A: Yes, Ry is lead guitarist. Robert Barry is on bass and also produces the band and plays piano and guitar. (I also have) Sammy Hagar’s drummer, Dave Lauser; he’s the new reincarnation of Keith Moon. There’s four guys making all that music, all that noise. But Ry, he breathes music, he sight reads. He’s got three or four bands. I gotta tell you, I look over there and I’m so proud of him. He’s a great musician. I have two fine grandsons from my daughter, who is a nurse. I love them. They’re already into strumming the guitar. I tell them another 10 years, and there will be three generations of Kihn in the Greg Kihn Band.
Q: All of your album titles manage to work your name into them. How long do you spend coming up with those titles?
A: When I made my first album, it was just called “Greg Kihn.” By the third album, I said “Next of Kihn.” At that point, I created a monster. How many albums do we make? 22 or 23? And we’re STILL doing it? I hope this one “rekindles” my career (laughs). The next one, maybe we’ll do “Kihnetic Energy.” People come up to me and give me great ideas. AND people always know it’s Greg Kihn. It was an early form of branding.
Q: People might know about your years on the radio, but I’m not sure they know about your other career as an author.
A: I wrote my first novel in the modern era because I asked the Beatles – I had the opportunity to talk to Paul and Ringo - where did the Beatles get their music to listen to? There were no import shops. They told me they had friends in the Merchant Marines who were coming back once a month from Baltimore or New York and would bring back the 45s. I was like wow, I could imagine an entire novel around the guy who was friends with the Beatles and got them all their music. So I wrote “Rubber Soul” about and Dust Bin Bob - that’s what they called the guy - and (three years ago) wrote the sequel, “Painted Black,” about (Rolling Stones guitarist) Brian Jones and his mysterious death. They’re all historical fiction. I took events of the lives of the Beatles and wove them into my stories, like death threats, people stalking them on tour. I loved that kind of stuff. I’d always be fishing for a story and people would tell me stories and I would make notes. When I would get off the radio at noon, we’d have a little lunch and I’d go right to my office and start typing. I’d do some writing each and every day. When you’re a writer you don’t really think about it, you just do it.
Q: Are you still writing?
A: Oh yeah. I’m working on “Southern Gothic.” I’m in the home stretch. It takes place in 1952 in the rural South and it has Hank Williams in it. It’s about) the way Hank died, on his way to a gig that he never made it to on New Year’s Day in 1953. I like to skip from genre to genre (writing music to writing books). I’ve written songs my entire life. I look at it like it’s a body of work and you’re leaving something for your next of kin. Ha, that was a pun! But I was always involved in creative endeavors. I’ve learned a couple of things about writing songs – the best ones write themselves. When you look over your catalog, I look at “Jeopardy” and “The Breakup Song” - they were written in five or 10 minutes and just popped into my head. I remember we’d do “The Breakup Song” around the world and play it and they loved it in every country. “Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh” translates to every language.
Q: Surely people remember you for more than just that?
A: I go out there (on stage) and I’ll do one or two songs they’re like, “You do this song? I love that song!” A lot of these people, they’ll glom onto it. They DO remember it, they just don’t remember that I was the guy who did it. I’m very approachable and a normal guy. I like people and whenever I’m at a gig, I’m more than happy because I look back on this life and my mom told me many years ago, worry about (fame) when it DOESN’T happen. You just love life and love your life. I was in a great place in a great time and had great opportunities. I look back on my career and it’s been a stunning success and it I love that it was varied. I’ve been very blessed.
With Loverboy, Greg Kihn and Tommy Tutone. 7 p.m. Sunday.Aug. 26. $35-$55. State Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park, 4469 Stella Drive NW, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com.
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