Interview: dUg Pinnick Talks Future Of King’s X, Jeff Ament & Grinder Blues

For decades by this point, I have been a major fan of King’s X. And a key component of the band’s sound has always been dUg Pinnick’s soulful vocals and super-duper-low-tuned bass riffs. With King’s X currently laying low while drummer Jerry Gaskill recovers from a heart attack, Pinnick is keeping busy with several other projects – his most recent being the self-explanatory Grinder Blues, which sees the singer/bassist team with the brother duo of Jabo and Scot Bihlman (who provide guitar and drums, respectively).

The trio issued their self-titled debut album on October 14th via Megaforce Records, and Pinnick (who is the gentleman in the center of the above photo) recently chatted with Alternative Nation about Grinder Blues, the status of King’s X, and his collaboration with Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament from a few years ago, Tres Mts.

How did Grinder Blues come together?

I met Scot Bihlman, he’s the drummer. And we were just hanging out. He asked me why did I move to LA. And I said, “I just moved out here to continue to make a living,” because nothing was going on in Texas and I was pretty much broke. Like every other musician, we need to think outside the box to make a living. So I decided to come out here and put together some side projects, with people that I knew and also maybe even get into writing for TV and movies and do voiceovers. Anything – acting, whatever I needed to do. What I’m trying to say is if the doors opened, I was going to walk through – but I had to be in LA to do it. So I moved out to here, and I ran into Scot first. I was actually at Ray Luzier’s house – he was having a party. Same situation the way I ran into George [Lynch] at Ray’s also. We just started talking about music. Scot said, “Why don’t you write with us sometime?” He said that they had a couple of Grammys with some movies that they wrote songs in. And they had a song on the show Sons of Anarchy. So I’m going, “Wow. Well, I’m ready to hook up with this!”

So I started getting together with them, and one thing led to another, and I had started to know the history and heard about him and Jabo – they’re brothers and have been playing together forever. They’d been backing up a lot of blues musicians, like they played with BB King, Ray Charles, Buddy Guy – a lot of really heavy duty blues players. And I thought, “Man, that’s cool. If these guys are veterans at playing blues…let’s do something blues. Let’s play on our own and straight up, downtuned to C, and just take every traditional beat and everything that we can find that’s traditional and old blues back in the ’50s and ’60s, and recreate our own Tres Hombres (ZZ Top’s classic 1973 album). And they got all excited about it, and one thing led to another. We got some people down that were interested in us – [producers] Miles Fulwider and Barry Mork. These guys heard the demo and said, “Let’s take you guys in the studio and we’ll produce it.” That’s how it all happened. It was a lot of fun to make the record. We wrote everything at Jabo’s house or in the studio, and we just really wanted to try to make a blues record that people would like, and maybe turn people on to the blues. I hope it works.

What are some favorite songs?

I love them all. I don’t talk like this normally, but this record for me is my comfort zone – vocally and playing-wise. I grew up on the blues and grew up in the ’50s, when the music that was really happening – the blues players like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and Chess Records, all that stuff was going on, between the age of 0 and 15, for me. And I lived right outside Chicago, so I just remember a lot of that stuff. I remember the people coming to the neighborhood and opening their trunk up and selling the records to my cousins and my aunts and uncles. So there is a traditional feeling that I relate to, and these guys, I just took a chance and believed that they understood that vibe. And as a result of it, we put this record together and for me, it’s just a fun record.

It’s hard to say what’s my favorite song, because they all have different elements. Like “Train” is a true story about my grandfather, or “Don’t Go Home,” we were just making up lyrics about “Has anybody seen my baby?” And usually in blues, they say, “Please tell her come home.” And I thought, “Well…let’s say ‘Please tell her don’t go home!” [Laughs] Just take a traditional blues and twist it as best we could. “Woke Up This Morning” is just a straight up blues song, and I was really thinking of Bobby “Blue” Bland at the time, and I was just trying to channel all these blues players that I’ve listened to growing up, into this record.

How would you compare playing in Grinder Blues to King’s X?

It’s a totally different animal, because with King’s X, everything is very…well, I pour my heart out in King’s X. I cut myself and bleed for everybody, and just tell everybody how I feel. I just throw my heart out there. With Grinder Blues, we got together for fun. Lyrically, nothing deep. Just to get up there and have some drinks and have some fun, and play the blues. And so that’s the difference for me. And with Ty and Jerry, we play a bit more complicated music and a bit more demanding music – both vocally and bass playing wise. And all three of us do that – we work really hard for the money. With Grinder Blues, this is a no-brainer for me. I can just do this and have fun – without thinking. I like that.

What are the touring plans for Grinder Blues, and will more albums be made?

We’re going to do another album for sure. We’ve already talked about it. The same thing with KXM – we’ve talked about doing a new record. Grinder Blues, it seems like the guys are more free to go out and play, so we’re booking shows all the time now. We went and played two shows – one down in San Diego and one at the Viper Room in LA. And the shows went great. I felt like a teenager in his first rock band, ready to go out and conquer the world! It was that much fun. So we just decided we’re going to play as much as we can, because we don’t have to rehearse a whole lot, and like I said before, it’s a no-brainer for me to go out and do this. We can just “throw and go.” I don’t have to have everything in the monitors, I don’t have to worry about harmonies. I guess basically, it’s a whole different animal. So it will be fun. I’ve always wanted to be part of a group that we could just say, “Hey, we’re going to play at so-and-so next week,” and just get up there and play and remember all the songs. And with King’s X, I have to rehearse. And with KXM, I can’t wait for that, because I want to play out, but I’m going to have lock myself away for a couple of weeks just to learn the songs, because there’s a lot going on.

Now that it’s been a few years since the release of your project with Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament, Tres Mts. (2011’s Three Mountains), what are your thoughts on it?

It’s incomplete to me, and it’s my fault. It has nothing to do with those guys – I held the record up, because I wasn’t happy with the vocals, and our lives started to change so much that we couldn’t get together to finish things up. So I finally got to a point where I said, “Let’s just put it out.” So we did, and we did a little tour and played for people, and it was a lot of fun. I hope maybe we can do another one. I would love to do another one, because it was a lot of fun. But it was a quick little love affair, and it’s over. We played Jimmy Fallon and it was a real treat for me to be on TV again, after so many years of not playing music on shows like that with King’s X.

How is Jerry Gaskill doing, and what is the status of King’s X?

Jerry is healing. It’s going to take him a good six months or more. It’s going to take a while for him to get back on track. But he will. My brother had two heart attacks also – the same thing that Jerry had – and he’s bouncing off the walls. So we know that Jerry will be OK too, but it’s going to take a while. I think people won’t hear anything out of King’s X for at least a year.

Band photo by Jim Steinfeldt.