The American music underground is having what you might call a Kings Go Forth moment. Need proof? Over the past year, their seven inch singles set the soul blogs swooning and became instant collectors items. Legendary producer Tom Moulton called them to remix one of their songs. DJ Shadow’s playing them too. “Imaginary soul superstar” Mingering Mike is doing their album cover – the first time he has ever created art for a recording that actually exists! And the documentary ‘Super Noble Brothers’ about KGF founder Andy Noble and his brothers Davey and Tommy that was eight years in the making.
Kings Go Forth are based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and until April 2010 hadn't played a gig further away than Indiana. Their Luaka Bop debut album The Outsiders Are Back changed some things for the band. Everyone's eyes opened a bit wider when Danger Mouse, The Black Keys, and James Mercer showed up for one of the band's gigs at SXSW. Glowing press piled in from all over the world. The record was listed on both NPR and Amazon's 'Best Records of the Year So Far' lists, and the band has seen features in the New Yorker, on All Things Considered, and on French television. They've been invited to play the Austin City Limits festival, London's Barbican, and in Australia. The few shows they've played in support of the record (Brooklyn, DC, Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee) have been sweat-packed capacity affairs.
Who are these guys, anyway?
The story of Kings Go Forth starts with the afore mentioned Andy Noble. He was born, raised and still lives in Milwaukee, and probably knows more about classic soul, funk, and R&B than anyone you’ve ever met. He’s a dedicated record collector, an independent label entrepreneur, and the proprietor of the fabled Lotus Land record shop. If you’re looking for someone to provide discographical details of, say, the Magic Hat label or to sing the praises of some long-vanished vocalist from Memphis or Birmingham or Cleveland, then Andy’s your man. He’s that into it.
Andy co-founded KGF with Black Wolf, an immensely talented singer and writer who has performed around Milwaukee since the 1970s. The two met in Andy’s record shop circa 2004, and since then have assembled a powerhouse ten-piece soul unit consisting of seven players and three singers that is simply one of the most thrillingly creative new bands to be heard, in any genre, in the U.S.A. today.
Here at last is a band creating its own immediately identifiable sound from a broad palette of classic R&B (mid-Sixties Chicago, early-Seventies Philadelphia, and other sources far more obscure); setting that sound to Black Wolf’s timeless lyrics of love and loss, despair and hope, and delivering it all with fierce urgency and undeniable emotional commitment. There is power in KGF’s multi-ethnic makeup, in their 25 year age span, and in their unforced command of the soul music idiom. And to date, the soul revival has not produced another band with a vocal blend so rich in tone and feeling.
Andy Noble had decades of music under his belt when he formed Kings Go Forth in early 2007. “My parents were scenesters who both owned art galleries in Milwaukee,” he recalls. “They didn’t want to give up aspects of their life just because they had kids, so they were taking us to shows when we were five and six years old”
“My mom was pretty involved in the Black music scene here. When I was 12 or 13, I was getting into punk and metal pretty much what you’d expect of any white kid of that age in that time but I was also exposed to other sounds through my mom, like reggae and jazz.” Andy played bass and guitar in various Midwest rock and ska bands while his record habit eventually led to an increasing number of DJ gigs and the opening of Lotus Land.
Black Wolf aka Jesse Bilal was born in 1953 in Port Huron, Michigan. His earliest musical influences came from the Pentecostal Church and from the blues played at home by his singer/guitarist father.
“My grandmother was a full-blood Cherokee and my father was a dark-skinned 340-lb. dude. He was one angry Black Indian but he taught me a lot. It was my dad who encouraged the music part and my mom who kept me writing poems that later became song lyrics.”
Black Wolf was twelve when his family moved to Milwaukee, and within a few years he was singing and writing for the Essentials, a local group that later recorded a couple of (unreleased) tracks in Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom studio. “The Essentials could sound very much like the Stylistics, with that high tenor, or we could sing in a hard gospel style like the Mighty Clouds of Joy. We still sound like that whenever we get together,” says Wolf.
The KGF rhythm section is comprised of Andy Noble on bass, Dave Wake on keyboards, guitarist Dan Flynn, percussionist Cecilio Negron, Jr. (whose parents were high school classmates of Black Wolf), and the explosive drummer Jeremy Kuzniar (who also engineered the group’s first recordings). Also on the album are vocalist Dan Fernandez and rhythm guitarist/vocalist Matt Norberg. Trombonist Dave Cusma and trumpeter Jed Groser are the mainstays of the KGF horn section.
With their personnel in place, new songs came quickly for KGF. Noble found that his prolific partner didn’t need much more than the central idea to be inspired: “I had a few words and a bass line for ‘One Day’ when I brought it to Black Wolf and said, ‘This is a song about hope.’ And he wrote a lot of different verses that I could edit down to the ones on the record.”
“I may listen mostly to older music but I allow new sounds to come into my consciousness I don’t censor myself,” says Andy Noble. “Our idea was to be inspired by that music in order to create songs that sounded good to us, that were exciting to us, now. We had no idea if anyone else would like it or not.”
They do, and you will.
Upcoming US Tour Dates
11/18 - The Mint - Los Angeles, CA
11/19 - Elbo Room - San Francisco, CA
11/20 - The New Parish - Oakland, CA
1/14/11 - Double Door - Chicago, IL
1/15/11 - Cedar Cultural Center - Minneapolis, MN