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Decades later, Kix still uplifts rock fans

For years, Steve Whiteman considered his old band, Kix, a forgotten relic of the '80s hair-metal scene. Even when the quintet began playing one-off reunion shows about a decade ago, the Hagerstown native viewed the gigs as cashing in on nostalgia. The “stupid money” offered, he said, did not hurt either.

It took a trip to the Midwest in 2008 to unexpectedly change the singer's mind. The band was in the small town of Pryor Creek, Okla., for the multiday rock 'n' roll festival Rocklahoma, and Whiteman arrived unsure of what to expect.

“I went there kind of reluctantly, thinking, 'These people don't care about us. They're not going to know who the hell we are,’” Whiteman, 58, said recently. The thousands of screaming fans in attendance quickly told him he was wrong.

“It really opened all of our eyes,” Whiteman said. “Like, this thing really has some legs again.”

Hair metal is not flirting with the zeitgeist, but there are many rock fans still invested in it. Rocklahoma set Kix, a band that released its self-titled debut album in 1981 on Atlantic Records, back in motion. But unlike other rock reunions, Whiteman and the group — which includes original members Jimmy Chalfant, Brian Forsythe, Ronnie Younkins and new member Mark Schenker — have kept the momentum going. Last month, the band released its first new studio album, “Rock Your Face Off,” in 19 years, and on Saturday, Kix headlines Rams Head Live.

For Whiteman, who also sings in the band Funny Money, a new Kix album was not about reinvention. Instead, the band — with the help of songwriter Taylor Rhodes, who previously worked with Kix on 1991's "Hot Wire" — doubled down on what old fans would expect: “non-political, non-preachy, fun, uplifting” music.

“That's always been our intention, from our live shows to our records — give people a lift for a day,” Whiteman said. “If they're stuck in traffic and [angry], stick in a Kix album. You won't care about the traffic anymore.”

The sound of Kix has stayed relatively the same, while the music industry has not. Whiteman does not mind, though. He said he enjoys playing festivals and casinos over extended tours. Sending new music parts over email, rather than getting the band in a room, makes life simpler, too.

“Everything is just different from back in the day,” he said. “No more getting in a bus or a van and going for eight, nine, 10 days in a row and coming home exhausted. ... It's much more enjoyable.”

Kix's future is up in the air, he said. The band has lined up “10 to 15” more shows until the end of the year. Then, the group will take a break and ask, “Is it worth doing again?”

“If it is, then we'll put our heads together and try to do it again,” Whiteman said.

Whether or not Kix releases another album has no bearing on the band's reputation, especially in the area. Whiteman, who also teaches vocal training at the Musicians Institute of Baltimore in Perry Hall, proudly said Kix has played “every little nook and cranny” of the city, and over time, developed a strong, inseparable bond with Baltimore's rock community.

On the day of “Rock Your Face Off's” release, the band followed an appearance on 98 Rock's “Morning Show” with a well-attended in-store signing at the Sound Garden record store in Fells Point. The attention made it feel like 1988 — the year Kix released its only platinum album, “Blow My Fuse” — but, in actuality, it was simply a hometown showing appreciation for one of its own.

“Baltimore and Kix will forever be tied together, and we wouldn't have it any other way,” Whiteman said. “Those fans are the most rabid, the most loyal and the band fans in the world. Whenever we play there, it is always the best shows that we have.” 

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