Interview with guitarist Kenny Powell
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: January 5, 2019
Los Angeles-based powerhouse Omen, formed in 1983, became known for their aggressive Heavy/Power Metal during the eighties. The band signed to Metal Blade Records in 1983 for their debut album, Battle Cry, and released four more well-received albums between 1984 and 1988. Since the band came from the LA area where glam/hair metal bands were popular, Omen chose to play gigs mostly outside of their home city, the cradle of "wimps and posers".
Sadly, the band broke up in 1988 and waited until the time was favorable to reform. That year was 1996 when they signed to Massacre Records and released their fifth studio album, titled Reopening the Gates, in June 1997. The band's sixth studio album, Eternal Black Dawn, followed in 2003, was released by legendary Belgian heavy metal label Mausoleum Records. It took nearly 13 years to get their next album out, titled Hammer Damage, which featured Omen's original drummer Steve Wittig.
Omen is planning to get their next album released in early 2020, but hey, let original Omen guitarist Kenny Powell be our guide through many other matters that he wanted to share in the following interview...
Luxi: How's life in Dallas, Texas these days?
Kenny: Things are fine in Dallas. Just working on new songs and waiting for time to tour!
Luxi: Right off the bat, I need to confess that when I was just a 16-year-old teenager, growing his hair, I was buying lots of albums based on the covers, making so-called blind purchases so to speak. I still remember the day I bought Omen's debut album, Battle Cry, back in 1984. A very cool thing for me was, besides the great looking cover, I also got almost 37 minutes of great sounding heavy metal music. This was my personal introduction to Omen, some 36 years ago. My question out of all this is, have you ever bought any albums because a cover looked so cool and tempting?
Kenny: Yes, when I first started playing back in the '70s and it was the height of the disco era. I saw the first Van Halen LP in a small retail store and considering what was happening at the time it looked like a real band. Money well spent!
Luxi: Before you formed Omen in 1983 with Steve Wittig, your first official band was Rapid Fire. I take it you took the band name from the Priest song, "Rapid Fire" from the British Steel album, correct?
Kenny: Rapid Fire started out as a cover band but we quickly started writing our own music and released a single. Actually, our current bass player Roger Sisson was the bass player in all of my early bands. I don't recall naming the band after a Judas Priest song, I think we just thought it was a cool name...
Luxi: You also played guitar on LA-based Savage Grace's five-song EP, The Dominatress, in 1983. What made you leave this band? Was the musical direction the main reason or did different egos clash?
Kenny: Actually, I informed Savage Grace from the start that I would be forming my own band at some point. I was supposed to be able to write at least two songs per record and that didn't happen, so I moved on, no hard feelings. What do you mean egos, I have no ego, haha!
Luxi: What was it like making the first Omen album and how well do you think the album has withstood the test of time?
Kenny: Honestly, recording Battle Cry was one of the most exciting times of my life. I had four or five years of song ideas that Steve, Roger, Jody and myself had worked on and I knew they were good. I had been missing two things, a bass player after Roger chose to stay behind when we moved to LA and a good singer. Steve actually found J.D. (aka John David) and after much persuasion, I got Jody to play bass, even though he never claimed to be a bass player. He always said he was a four-string guitar player! He was originally going to be the rhythm guitar player. We probably pushed the recording a bit early, not a lot of rehearsal time but we wanted to get the music out. No question it has stood the test of time, otherwise there would be no way I would still be doing this at 64 years old!
Luxi: In June 1997, Omen released their comeback album, titled Reopening the Gates, which also featured your son Greg Powell on vocals and guitar. How did this father-and-son relationship work in the songwriting process? Did you get to play any shows together live?
Kenny: I thought the direction of the music on that record was not right. It was a good lineup, especially live when we concentrated on the older material and we played a good number of shows including a long European tour with Fates Warning. It was a blast playing with my son, the only other guitar player I have enjoyed playing with. He left to form his own band and that was pretty much the end of that. That is one situation I wish would've gone farther. With a proper Omen record, it could have gone somewhere.
Luxi: How do you remember the date October 3, 2003, which undoubtedly was a crushing and obviously very sad date for many people (R.I.P. John David)?
Kenny: Yes, that was an extremely disappointing day for me. I had been searching for J.D. for a couple of years. I had hoped we could do something together again because we wrote some magical songs together. I had no idea that he was sick. The whole thing came as a shock to me.
Luxi: You are the only original member left carrying the flag of the band. Do you believe that you will carry on with Omen as long as it's still fun to do music and play in front of Omen fans worldwide as long as there's demand?
Kenny: I have been the only original member since 1987 and I don't think people realize that. Other than a couple of times Steve has joined the band for a tour, it's been only me and I'm proud to still keep this thing going. I started it and I will certainly finish it. I don't want ex-members trying to put together some kind of "Omen" after I'm gone!
Luxi: How did you find Roger, Reece, and Nikos for Omen's current lineup? Did you arrange auditions to make sure you'd find the best possible candidates to fill the Omen lineup?
Kenny: As I said earlier, Roger and I grew up playing together and it came to the point in his life where he had time to play again. He has an extensive family, something like 13 grandkids and has dedicated his life to taking care of this family. Reese came from the last singer who had been trying to get me to let him try out for the band for a while, something I had fought because I was trying to keep Steve from retiring. Steve no longer wanted to tour. Reese has turned out to be an asset, a great guy, a great drummer and a pleasure to be around. I didn't find Nikos, he found me! He heard I was looking for a singer and contacted me, telling me he was my savior! I'll be damned if he wasn't right! He is, by far, the best singer since J.D. and completely dedicated to the band. We hit it off right away and speak almost every day even though we're a world apart. I am extremely happy to have him. I generally don't do the audition thing. I usually choose someone that I'm pretty sure has the ability to perform the songs and go with that. That is not always a very good decision because personality is as important, or maybe more important than the music side of things. You have to be able to live with someone 24 hours a day when you're on tour and right now touring has become really fun.
Luxi: The band released a special two-song EP on Greece's No Remorse Records in September 2018. Was the main purpose to let people know that you are still out there and making new music with Omen?
Kenny: Releasing the two songs which will be on the next Omen record was to let people know that I'm certainly not done. In fact, the band is the best it's been in the last 20+ years. It's a hell of a lot easier writing good songs when you have good people around you that are not constantly trying to bring the thing down. We will start recording the next record later this year after we finish some touring and I'm very excited about it.
Luxi: How are things looking regarding this forthcoming album?
Kenny: Right now, I am writing new songs full speed and more inspired than I've been in years. Look for a full-length record by early 2020!!
Luxi: In 2017 you did the Hammer Damage European tour, playing 14 shows in 9 different countries. Is Europe very receptive to Omen? Do you feel like Europe has treated Omen well compared to some other territories in the world?
Kenny: Europe has always been good to Omen. It's too bad that we had no idea of our popularity in Europe with the original lineup. I haven't really concentrated on the US in years, but we're doing a few shows this year and intend to put some real effort into it after the new record is out.
Luxi: How's 2019 looking for Omen gigging wise? I see that you have started booking gigs for the band like festival appearances at Hell's Heroes 2nd edition festival coming up in Houston, TX, on April 13th, and Pyrenean Warriors Open Air V in Torreilles, France, on September 14th. What else do you have on the table as far as playing live is concerned?
Kenny: We also have about 10 days in April for South America. It is becoming a great place for Omen to tour. I have great memories from the last couple of tours down there, some amazing audiences, especially Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, and Brazil. I'm really looking forward to it, we might do a few more shows next year but getting a new record out it is high on the priority list.
Luxi: Speaking of playing live, I just saw this old live footage of Omen on YouTube (your old gig at the Country Club in Los Angeles, on September 11, 1984) and that made me wonder if you ever considered releasing a DVD that would basically feature all semi-decent and decent quality live shows that you have in your archives?
Kenny: Yes! Somewhere there is a 24-track recording and six-camera video of that show, but I can't seem to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, there are no other shows that were videoed ... well, as far as I know. I am constantly getting offers to release a DVD of the original lineup, but I have nothing to give them. You have to remember it was quite a ways back and people were not recording every show on their phone.
Luxi: When you think of those old days, what kind of impact did LA's glam rock/hair metal scene have on bands like Omen that tried to keep their heads above the surface when this glam rock/hair metal thing fully exploded in the Sun Strip area in LA? Do you see those times as the times of struggle and survival for bands like Omen, Savage Grace, Spectre, Bitch, Abattoir and such, that were heavy/speed metal bands from the same area?
Kenny: From the standpoint of playing in LA, there was some impact, but we did not play LA a lot, we were usually in Arizona, Texas or up the coast somewhere. I didn't really see it as a struggle, I had a good time living there.
Luxi: Did Omen share the stage with some of these glam rock/hair metal bands during the eighties? If so, how were these concerts with very mixed crowds and stuff?
Kenny: Yeah, we played several shows with so-called glam rock/hair bands and from what I remember, the shows went fine. It was when we played with bands like Slayer and Exodus that the crowds were a little dicey, as far as warming up to the band.
Luxi: What is your best memory with Omen, be it a personal achievement, a single successful gig or whatever? I suppose signing a deal with Metal Blade Records back in the early days of the band, simply said, must be one of the most memorable experiences in your whole career with Omen, right?
Kenny: Signing with Metal Blade was cool. However, I think my best memory was recording The Curse. It was our first time with a decent budget, a little more time for recording and working every day with the great Bill Metoyer. The first time we played at the Keep It True festival, in Germany. The show we played in Athens, Greece, was just incredible! I remember tearing up leaving Athens the first time, I had never been treated so well or given that much respect in my entire life.
Luxi: Thanks so much for your time Kenny for accepting my interview invitation, and in the very same breath, I want to wish you all the best with any future endeavors with the band. And last words ... they are all yours, so spit them out!
Kenny: Hey, never count this old fucker out! I still have a plenty of gas in the tank! See you soon!
|Other information about Omen on this site|
|Review: Warning of Danger|
|Review: Teeth of the Hydra|
|Review: Eternal Black Dawn|
|Review: Battle Cry|
|Review: Battle Cry|
|Review: Hammer Damage|
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