Lakes Jam returns to the Brainerd International Raceway
Lakes Jam is an annual event that takes place on the grounds of Brainerd International Raceway and includes several days of country and rock music bands. KIX, a hard rock band from the ‘80s, is one of the musical acts and the band will perform Thursday, June 23.
BRAINERD — Don’t call them a “hair band.”
KIX lead singer Steve Whiteman’s hairs on the back of his neck practically bristle at the pejorative term sometimes used to describe his band, which scored some major hits in the ‘80s
“We're a hard rock band,” he said. “When we were coming up through the clubs, our biggest things that we loved to play was AC/DC and Aerosmith and The (Rolling) Stones so we'd like bands that had some melody to their music, and we'd like just riffy stuff and high energy stuff.”
The 65-year-old frontman from Hagerstown, Maryland, and his band KIX scored some of their biggest hits in the 1980s, including the album “Blow My Fuse.” Kix will perform at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, June 23, at Lakes Jam at Brainerd International Raceway.
Lakes Jam is an annual music festival that began in 2012 and takes place on the BIR grounds on Birchdale Road. The event includes several days of country and rock music bands like KIX.
“We've always had a great time playing that festival and the people seem to be great and appreciate us being there, and it's just a nice wholesome atmosphere,” Whiteman said during a phone interview Thursday.
KIX was founded in 1978 in Hagerstown, and after slugging it out as a local band, the band was signed to Atlantic Records in 1981. The group’s self-titled debut album was released the same year and featured concert favorites like “The Itch,” “Heartache” and “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,”
Whiteman, Brian "Damage" Forsythe (guitar), Ronnie "10/10" Younkins (guitar), Jimmy "Chocolate" Chalfant (drums) and Mark Schenker (bass) continue to record and perform live.
“Well, it all started with The Beatles. I mean anybody from my generation we all say the same thing. We saw The Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and we were all hooked,” Whiteman said.
The band’s second album, "Cool Kids," yielded “Body Talk” and the ballad, “For Shame.” KIX then partnered with producer Beau Hill to create the powerhouse album "Midnite Dynamite," which was released in 1985 and yielded another concert favorite, “Cold Shower.”
“I loved The Beatles and the Monkees and all the bubblegum bands up until, like, when The Beatles broke up and then that's when I got into the harder stuff, like Alice Cooper, Grand Funk, James Gang,” Whiteman said. “All those bands in the ‘70s were a huge influence on me.”
Blow My Fuse
Upon its release in September 1988, the group's follow-up album "Blow My Fuse" outperformed its predecessors. A music video for the song “Cold Blood” dominated MTV’s popular “Dial MTV” program for so long that the network was forced to change the show’s rules to knock KIX out.
“When you have a passion for something and a love for something and it never leaves you, you don't want to stop it. And I've always loved the music,” said Whiteman, who has been with KIX since 1979.
"Blow My Fuse" was certified a gold album. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” was then released, and it peaked at No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, propelling the album to platinum status.
“It got us on big tours. It got us on the Whitesnake tour and the Great White-Tesla tour,” Whiteman said of the song “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” “It’s still all over SiriusXM radio. It’s the biggest song of our career.”
In 1991, "Hot Wire" was released, featuring the single, “Girl Money.” As a touring act, KIX had graduated to arenas and opened for other legendary musical acts like Aerosmith and KISS.
While the band's song catalog is diverse, “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” continues to resonate most with audiences for KIX.
“I think it affected people because it’s an anti-suicide song,” Whiteman said. “We got tons of letters about people saying how that song really impacted how they feel about taking their own lives, and it stopped them from taking their own lives. … And people, they still sing along with it.”
In 1995, the band released what the members thought would be their final album, "Show Business," for CMC International Records, which marked the end of an era.
Following the Seattle grunge scene, KIX eased back into the public consciousness in 2008 after reuniting for sold-out hometown gigs. The band hit the stage at Rocklahoma in front of over 20,000 people, venturing out of the mid-Atlantic for the first time in more than a dozen years.
“It's the adrenaline — the adrenaline that you get when you get up in front of a crowd, the fear of making a mistake,” Whiteman said of the reason he keeps performing and touring. “And it's the feedback from the crowd. .. It's the best feeling in the world. It's getting high without drugs.”
The members agreed to enter the studio once again for 2014’s "Rock Your Face Off," produced by Taylor Rhodes (Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne), the band’s first studio album in almost 20 years.
Whiteman also has set out on his own to produce new music.
“COVID, when we were off for, like, 14 months because nobody could perform, I hooked up with some friends and I recorded a solo album,” Whiteman said.
“And it's out and available on the KIX website right now or at live shows, so that was almost a bucket list item for me because I've never really done a solo album before. … I had the freedom to do all the songs my way.”
KIX released "Can’t Stop The Show: The Return Of KIX" in 2016. The DVD/CD set includes a 71-minute film that explores the band’s decision to record their first new album since reuniting, interviews with notable rock artists and never-before-released live tracks.
“I'm fortunate enough to have built up a legacy that we can still go out and do it and draw a nice crowd, and people know who we are and like our music, and I guess it's the people that keep coming out that keeps us coming back,” Whiteman said.