Swiss Heavy Metal Rockers "KROKUS"



KROKUS - "Out Of Control" from Bob Ketchum on Vimeo.

Way back in the 80's I had the opportunity to work with Swiss metal rockers

KROKUS

(The following excepts are from Bob's book "Face The Music")

They were a great bunch of guys and had a good attitude, although they really got down to business in the studio for pre-production. Many hours were spent on a single riff or even in a discussion on "why we should do it this way". Fernando knew what he wanted and kept the band's direction steady on at all times. Spirits were always high and there were lots of smiles and practical jokes to keep things from bogging down. The walls of the studio were adorned with Playboy foldouts (just to keep their spirits up, y'know)... I was always treated as a professional by the boys and I felt I could add my two cents worth anytime. The line-up in August of 1982 was: Fernando von Arb (Lead guitar), Mark Kohler (Rhythm guitar), Steve Pace (Drums), Chris von Rohr (Bass), and Mark Storace (Vocals). Original drummer Freddy Steady had just left the band and Steve was the "new guy". To this day I still have the "official KROKUS drum riser" that Steve's drums were set up on.

I received two Gold Records for studio pre-production work on the "Headhunter" and "Blitz" albums. Both albums were on Arista Records. I think about 95% of all the songs from the "Headhunter" and "Blitz" albums were crafted right here in the studio. We worked on basic rhythm sections for a particular track or couple of tracks, while Marc would sit in the control room and fashion lyrics. Then we would add another guitar track by Fernando which would also be the main solo guitar track. I only had eight tracks so we needed to consider the technical restraints for each arrangement when recording the pre-production versions of the songs. Marc rarely had more than two tracks for all the vocals, and the drums were a single stereo mix. When it came time to do his vocals he'd schedule it for late at night after everyone had gone to bed. I would turn out all the studio lights and light candles around the microphone boom. Marc was usually very particular about requesting that it would be just he and I doing vocal tracks. He relied heavily on my opinions as to which takes were the best. Sometimes it was hard to decide because he was so consistent, a real perfectionist.

I also attended and played on the 24-track sessions at Bee Jay Recording Studio in Orlando later that year. But I think the "spartan" recording situations, compared to what they were used to recording in, and along with being placed in a very rural area (imagine putting a Swiss Metal rock band in the deep south of the US!), the combination of the grit of the studio and the remote locale gave the guys an extra edge in their music from that period in time. This was also about the time of the upcoming Headhunter Tour, which was complete with stage antics like when Little Dave (7 foot tall road manager) would don a leather vest and covered skull mask, and would at some point during the show, amble out on stage menacingly while wielding a huge hand-forged battle axe. Fernando would then take the axe from him and completely destroy an electric guitar and offer the remains to the by then screaming mob of a crowd. I recall the day the delivery truck pulled up to the studio and announced to me: "I've got this here order for you for the band KROKUS". I signed the paper and he began unloading box after box of guitars. There was a Stratocaster copy guitar for each and every date of the upcoming tour. So an electric guitar was destroyed in every concert of that summer tour.

I spent many hours with the guys in the studio. Since we didn't have a control room window I used a camera and monitor to see what was going on. I ran it through a VCR and have some pretty funny moments to remember from those times. The cameras seemed sort of natural to the band after a while and eventually they began to use the cameras themselves in creative ways. Sometimes I'd be looking down at the console for a moment and when I'd look back there would be no one in the picture. Then a pair of hands would appear out of no where and suddenly Marc's face would be jammed into the lens. On another occasion, I remember the day that Mark Kohler was using the facilities during a break in recording. Apparently, one of our "studio cats" named Tammy had managed to get up in the false ceiling overhead in the bathroom. As Mark was calmly sitting there doing his business, the cat stepped on the translucent ceiling tile (where the lightbulb is located) and stepped on a false corner. In one fell swoop, the cat fell straight down into Mark's lap. Fortunately he was reading a magazine at the time and the cat simply fell right into his open hands as he held the magazine. I don't which was the more startled, Mark or poor Tammy!

As good as KROKUS was on stage - and they were GOOD - it was difficult to capture that live feel in the studio. I think we managed so well doing pre-production because the conditions were so spartan. Basic tracks. No air conditioning. It could be a real sweat box in that old studio in the prime of that Arkansas summer. We once rented giant fans mounted on steel poles and strategically placed them around the studio just to keep the boys cool during rehearsal or pre-production recording. As the summer days got more unbearable during July and August of 1982, we began to restrict rehearsal and recording to evening sessions. But it was still pretty hot inside at night, even with the fans blowing. I think part of the reason we captured that "live funk" on tape during pre-production was due to the conditions in the studio at the time. As I recall the band had a very difficult time duplicating the "sound" we somehow attained when it came time to record the "real" album in Florida. Even with 24 tracks I remember listening to the rough mixes and thinking to myself that they all seemed so clean and sterile. What was missing was the hot, sweaty feel from the original recordings. They really wanted the full production album to have that live grit they were accustomed to listening to on our pre-production session tapes. Producer Tom Allom had to resort to overdubbing LOTS of extra guitar tracks to bring back that live feel we captured here in Arkansas.


Bob Ketchum in front of tour bus in St. Louis - 1982

I always tried to attend their nearby concerts when my schedule permitted it. I have lots of pictures and video, and of course song clips and will get some more placed here in the near future. For a rare treat for all you KROKUS fans out there, just click HERE to hear "Midnight Maniac" like you've never heard it before! I will always cherish those years I spent working with them. Not because they were rock stars or any of that crap, but because they were professional musicians who treated me as an equal, and because they were all just really good people. I forged special friendships with Marc and Fern that for me still last to this day. Every once in a while I will drag out one of my old videotapes and watch and laugh until I have tears streaming down my face. It's a good feeling.

My involvement with the band happened during the following timeline:

(taken from the official KROKUS website)

Summer 1980
First USA tour - two months with Sammy Hagar, Cheap Trick, AC/DC & others. This is when I was first introduced to the band.

1981
The USA manager, Butch Stone, takes the band over. A new record deal with Arista is signed in the USA. Every year, 6-9 months touring in the USA, Canada, South America & Europe. Halls & arenas up to 20,000 people are sold out. Supporting acts of Krokus include artists like Gary Moore, Michael Bolton & Metallica. Millions of dollars flow & melt away during these big years.

1982
The Hallenstadion, in Zurich, is sold out weeks before the concert (over 10,000 people). Krokus is still the one & only Swiss band to sell out this legendary rock stadium in their home country. Another gold album is released: "One Vice At A Time." After the following long & successful USA tour with Rainbow, Rush, Ted Nugent, amongst others, the drummer, Freddy Steady, has to leave the band.

1983
The album, "Headhunter," sells over one million units in the USA alone, platinum!" A mega-tour with Def Leppard, & afterwards Judas Priest, helps to make them really big now. Unfortunately, at the height of Krokus' career, internal fighting & mistakes by the management start to destroy the band. Chris von Rohr, the media-man, has to go.

1984
Krokus work with famous producers like Bruce Fairburn or Bob Rock. "The Blitz" goes gold in the USA & the band are invited to play an open-air concert in Chile to almost 100,000 fans.

1986
Another highlight in their history: The "Texas Jam" in Dallas. The Cotton Bowl is packed & Krokus is co-headlining with Van Halen.

1987
Increase of internal fighting. Break with the USA management. Krokus is burnt out! They change personnel almost every day & Fernando von Arb, the musical brain, leaves the band just after a last USA tour.

And that's about where my association with the band stopped. Since Butch Stone wanted the band close to his home base, the decision to keep the band working on pre-production here in Arkansas was upheld until the group had a falling out with their US manager.

But what of KROKUS these days?

Well, they are still going full force with Fernando still at the helm. They have no less that 24 albums released, and their latest album, Dirty Dynamite is now available and the band is currently on tour. An excellent documentary, titled "As Long As We Live", directed by Reto Caduff has recently been produced.

"Krokus" movie clip from Bob Ketchum on Vimeo.

For the very latest KROKUS information, please visit their official website HERE.

For more pictures of KROKUS in the studio, go HERE.



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