Californian Ken Tamplin is perhaps best known for two things: a vocal range of a phenomenal four octaves (that's the same range as a six-string guitar) and the fact that he is Sammy Hagar's cousin. In spite of the fact that Ken is known for working with a huge variety of musicians, from Kiss (he has written songs for them and they returned the favour when Mark St. John, then the lead guitarist in Kiss, played on Tamplin's An Axe to Grind) to Megadeth (Marty Friedman has guested both on Tamplin albums and albums Ken has been producer of). He has had a prolific career, first appearing with Joshua before taking the rhythm section from that band and the guitarist from Idle Cure to form his own band, Shout.
After Shout, Tamplin teamed up with former House of Lords/ Giuffria guitarist Lanny Cordola for a new band, Magdallan. Magdallan's sole album, Big Bang took so long to be released that in the meantime Ken was able to release two solo albums, An Axe to Grind and Soul Survivor. Again he was in illustrious company, including Cordola, Impellitteri/ Alice Cooper drummer Ken Mary, and former Jag Panzer, Alice Cooper, and Michael Sweet (Stryper) guitarist Joey Tafolla. In 1995, he released In the Witness Box, but Tamplin doesn't see this as his finest hour:
"I've never said this anywhere before but the album In The Witness Box was the worst record I've ever made. It was an album I made out of duress and TOTALLY did not want to make. I was forced to by the label so for me, I wish the whole thing was demos that I reused instead of putting me through the misery that record was to make," Ken explained. That said, In the Witness Box is far from a bad album; "Death By Inches" was nominated for a Dove award, the Gospel Music Association's most prestigious prize. Other recipients of Dove awards have included Stryper, POD, DC Talk, and Petra. I say this with no disrespect to Ken Tamplin, one of the few Christian artists truly deserving of awards and recognition for the quality of his output, but I've always thought the concept of awards for Christian rock music is a bit absurd. Christian bands should be treated no differently from any other band. If a Christian band deserves an award, they should win over any band of any lyrical persuasion; if they can't win outright, they don't deserve an award at all. The Dove awards are a bit like awards for also-rans then.
Tamplin disagrees: "I don't see any reason the Gospel/Christian music industry can't have their own awards. Everyone else does: Black American Music Awards, MTV Awards, Academy Awards, NAACP Awards, Global Music Awards, Grammy Awards, OneNess Awards, Emmy Awards, BET Entertainment Awards, Latin American Awards, Country Music Awards, Classical Music Awards, the list goes on and on and on. People love to worship themselves. For me, the coolest award is for a fan to e-mail or write me to let me how much I've inspired them positively. Awards don't get any better than that." He's not been short of Dove awards though, winning three and being nominated for no less than fourteen. I can add myself to the list of fans though; both Shout and Tamplin albums have been consistently excellent, with fantastic vocal harmonies, infectious hooks, big riffs, and firey solos.
One thing puzzled me about Tamplin, though, and that was the similarities between some of his songs. "Little Liar (Luci)" appeared on the 1992 Shout/ Tamplin best-of At the Top of Their Lungs , and the next year's Tamplin album featured "Testify". Both songs shared the same mid-section. "(I'm Gonna) Live Forever" from Soul Survivor has the same intro as "Just a Little Bit" from Magdallan's Big Bang, while "I Believe in Freedom" from Shout Back and "Star Chamber" from In the Witness Box use a common riff. Most artists wouldn't have the class to respond to a question like this but it shows just how cool Ken Tamplin is that he gave a detailed response:
"First off I'd like to say that I have written over 500 songs that have been commercially published. That is the equivalent of 50 records at 10 songs per record if you work the numbers, so I guess I'm bound to repeat something," Ken started defensively. It turned out that he had reasons for everything I pointed out though, so he could have been confident throughout his answer.
"On 'Live Forever', if you notice the release date of that album it is before the first Magdallan release; however, it was recorded almost two years after Magdallan. For quiet a while it looked like Magdallan was never going to be released. I liked the intro so much I didn't 'repeat' myself; I used the EXACT same into I had written for Magdallan, which I thought would never see the light of day."
Well that's fair enough; the intro in question is a massively layered a cappella vocal intro which must have taken ages to record. It's understandable that he would want to make good use of it.
"Second, you mentioned 'Star Chamber'. I'm busted. No excuse. I liked the riff and thought that since In The Witness box didn't sell much, I could use the same lick in a different setting. "
More coolness from down-to-earth Tamplin. He actually could have defended himself much better. "Star Chamber" and "I Believe in Freedom" could, riff aside, scarcely be more different. The feel of the drums is completely different; one is upbeat and acoustic, the other a hard rocker. He takes the idea and doesn't so much adapt it as revolutionise it. It's quite creative.
"Testify was actually written before Little Liar and was at a time that I was struggling VERY hard to get out of my contract with Frontline Records. I had already had a decent offer with Benson Records that originally had interest because of the song Testify. However, I still had one more record to fulfil my contract with Frontline. The song Little Liar was actually a song I wrote for the group KISS and was only a demo. This is also true for When Secrets Cry Out Loud. They were both "demos". When Frontline gave me the chance to get out of my contract and wanted to use the demos on At The Top Of Their Lungs, I jumped with joy at that chance. I never thought about it being an issue especially if one knew the circumstances behind why it was done."
Ken also neglects to mention that "Testify" really develops the idea from the demo "Little Liar". The mid-section riff in "Little Liar" is a diversion from the song, whereas "Testify" really integrates that riff into the song, using it in the chorus as well.
And with that, Tamplin completely satisfied any queries I had. What's more, at the forum at his official website, he answers any questions his fans may have. Unlike other artists with so called "Ask the Band" forums which never get even visited by the band, Ken really does answer. He deserves credit for thatů as well as a bunch of kickin' records!
www.kentamplin.com Official website
www.mp3.com/ken_tamplin Download songs from his entire career and order CDs that are now out of print elsewhere.
www.makemeyourvoice.com Find out about Ken's high-profile charity records to benefit victims of persecution in the Sudan and around the world.
Tamplin interview Ken kindly gave this website a full telephone interview. Here you can read the Rock Hole story on Ken's Wake the Nations album amongst other things. The full transcript is also well worth reading as it goes into more detail and touches more subjects than the story does.
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