JAMES KOTTAK Had Just Been Through 48-Day Stint In Rehab Facility Before His Death, Says KINGDOM COME Singer

January 10, 2024

KINGDOM COME singer Keith St. John, who joined the band in 2018 as the replacement for original frontman Lenny Wolf, spoke to SiriusXM's "Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk" about the passing of the group's drummer, James Kottak. Kottak, who was open about his battle with alcoholism, died Tuesday morning (January 9) in Louisville, Kentucky. He was 61. No cause of death has been given.

"He went through his ups and downs, obviously," Keith said. "And in the end, it seemed like he was really trying to pull it back together. I know he was just through a 48-day program, trying to do the rehab thing. And I don't really have all the grisly details of the last day. They're still kind of coming in. I haven't talked to his sister yet, 'cause everybody's just too out of it right now."

St. John also reflected on the fact that KINGDOM COME was forced to use a different drummer, SLAUGHTER's Blas Elias, instead of James for most of the band's shows in the last year and a half due to Kottak's deteriorating health.

"After a certain level of [James's] playing going away, which was just heartbreaking, 'cause really when he came out, he was like the second coming of [John] Bonham or something, in the '80s," Keith said. "And it was just heartbreaking to see him struggling to play. I mean, of all things, this is James Kotak; he was right on top. And the decision to — I can't say — just part ways with him, put it that way, until he got better and get another guy was tough — probably tougher for the other guys, 'cause they had a really long history with him, especially one of the guitar players, Rick Steier, who grew up with James down near Louisville, Kentucky, which is where he's from. This is a guy that was his partner in crime, quote-unquote, for all these years, even off the stage and off the road. But finally, we just had to do it, man. It just got to that point where we didn't wanna see him embarrass himself, and it just wasn't good for the band, promoters weren't liking it. So, yeah, we had to bail."

KINGDOM COME's most recent touring lineup consisted of St. John and Elias alongside guitarists Danny Stag and Rick Steier and bassist Johnny B. Frank.

Kottak's daughter Tobi told TMZ her father passed away in Louisville, where he lived until 1987, although further details about the exact circumstances weren't immediately available.

In addition to SCORPIONS and KINGDOM COME, Kottak had toured with such bands as WARRANT and even DIO for a short run. James was also involved in various other projects, including the 1990s band KRUNK in which he sang lead vocals and played guitar.

Kottak was married to Athena Lee, the sister of MÖTLEY CRÜE drummer Tommy Lee, from 1996 to 2010.

GREAT WHITE guitarist Mark Kendall, who quit drinking more than 15 years ago and is now a proudly sober recovery advocate, posted on social media that he "reached out to James Kottak a month ago offering support and help with his alcoholism but he wasn't ready.

"I could have gotten him into rehab free through connections and I told him that," Kendall added. "I'm so sad to hear of his passing. I feel bad for everyone who loved him and he had a grandchild. RIP."

Kottak spoke about his alcohol issues in an April 2023 interview with Tulsa Music Stream. He said in part: "I've had a few bouts with booze over the years. But what people don't know is all the years that I was sober. 2008 to 2011. And here a year, and there a year. And when our kids [with his ex-wife Athena Lee], were in the oven. I spent a lot of time not drinking. And then I had my moments when I did drink. And that doesn't mean I'm falling down drunk, walking around with a bottle around the house."

James, who said in a separate interview that he had been sober since October 2022, added that he hadn't been able to completely give up drinking. "Well, I'm not gonna say I haven't drank anything," he said. "When I go out [and] I see some guys playing, I'm standing there and everybody wants to buy me a drink. And I go, 'No, no,' and finally I take it and I have a couple of glasses of white wine. And then I'm pissed at myself. And so there you go."

He added: "I wish I could say, 'Oh, yeah, I've been sober for six years.' It hasn't worked like that for me. I've been in and out and in and out and in and out — and mostly 'in', meaning not drinking. But I've had my moments. And it's an ongoing process. It's progress, not perfection, as we say."

A year ago, the musician told Artists On Record Starring ADIKA Live! that he "fell out of bed" in his sleep in July 2022 and "cracked, like, three or four ribs". He also said that he "cracked" his hip in the fall of 2022 after when he "tripped and fell on the pavement" in a completely separate incident.

In March 2023, St. John spoke to Italy's Poisoned Rock about KINGDOM COME's now-infamous appearance in June 2022 at Sweden Rock Festival, which was described by the popular Swedish site Rocknytt as the event's "biggest fuckup." Writer Peter Johansson singled out Kottak, saying that the drummer played "really badly, sluggishly" and at times failed to keep the tempo "worryingly throughout the concert". At the end of the show, Kottak "stumbled to the edge of the stage to bow with his bandmates," according to Rocknytt. Also critical of KINGDOM COME's performance was renowned Swedish music journalist and guitar player Janne Stark, who took to his Facebook page to share a photo of the gig and he wrote in an accompanying caption: "I've never seen a drummer fall asleep on stage before but James Kottak is pretty damn close. Drunk? He slows down every song to half tempo. KINGDOM COME, sorry guys but this is SHIT!"

Keith said: "That was the show… I hate to say this, but it's in the best interest of James and the band… I think James should have started working on his health and what was happening with him earlier than that, earlier in the year, 'cause he was already… But James, he has a youthful spirit, and he wants to keep on going. He's one of those guys that at the last breath of life is gonna be clawing and climbing up the cliff and playing drums and going out there and doing it. It was a hard situation, but at Sweden Rock the band wound up getting some negative reviews in the press, and it was largely because of the performance on the drums, I hate to [say it]," the singer admitted.

KINGDOM COME played its first two shows with Elias in September 2022 in Texas. That same month, Kottak announced that he wouldn't play with his KINGDOM COME bandmates at their concerts in Texas. In the early hours of August 21, 2022, James took to his Twitter to write: "I will not be at the Kingdom Come Plano or San Antonio shows so don't waste your time thanks jams k [sic]".

Kottak publicly discussed KINGDOM COME's performance at Sweden Rock for the first time in an interview with "This That & The Other With Troy Patrick Farrell" conducted just days after the concert. Regarding what caused the show to fall short of expectations, James said: "I wanna say about eight or nine days ago, maybe 10 days ago, in the middle of the night, like four o'clock in the morning, I was in a dead sleep and I just rolled off the bed and I cracked three ribs on my left side. And I went to my chiropractor guy and he says, 'Oh, you have hairline fractures.' And I'm, like, 'Oh, great.' And dude, it's just been non-stop pain. It's not just my ribs; it's head to toe. That's why things were a little bit slower. 'Cause I took ibuprofen and the usual, Aleve or whatever, but, man, it was an uphill battle from the time we started. And it was just — I mean, not pain; I'm talking pain-pain, big-time stuff. That's no excuse, because the show must go on. But, yeah, I was a little slower than usual. But also we [usually] have a click track, of course, 'cause we might have a little bit of playback. Something was up with that, so we were flying solo… And [when] you don't have it, you go, 'Oh-oh. Okay. We'll do this.' It was just an off day, and there's nothing you can do about it."

According to James, there was "definitely no drinking" involved prior to the KINGDOM COME mishap at Sweden Rock. "Because that with the medication, it doesn't go good together," he explained. "And it was just an off day, man. I did everything to [make it better] — tons of tea, this and that, and all the usual things that I do — but, man, it was just too soon after falling that we went to play this gig. But it's Sweden Rock, and you don't wanna bail out on that."

Asked if alcohol contributed to him falling out of bed prior to the Sweden Rock performance, Kottak said: "I always sleep on the left side of the bed, and I just somehow, in my sleep, rolled off the bed and landed on my left side. I mean, that's really it. I wasn't drinking — nothing like that. Yeah, I have a few white wines here and there, but nothing like that. I just rolled off the bed. And that's the first time in my life that's ever happened where I actually fell off. I woke up and saw stars. It took me 15 minutes to get off the floor. These things happen sometimes, and there's nothing you can do. With SCORPIONS, going up my riser to get to my drums, there were, like, 14 steps, and I fell down those stairs at least five times, if not six times. Because I was like a dummy — I was always spitting this water. And I'd finish a song and I'd come down not thinking, and, just, 'Whoop', right on my ass."

James also denied that his battle with alcoholism was the primary reason he was fired from the SCORPIONS in 2016. He has since been replaced by former MOTÖRHEAD drummer Mikkey Dee.

"I hate to say it, but Blabbermouth's kind of been the worst James basher," Kottak said. "They always say — any article about SCORPIONS, they say, 'Yeah, ever since James Kottak was released for alcohol abuse.' So I e-mailed them one day and said, 'Man, stop saying that.' We parted ways. It wasn't just from alcohol, dude. We went through five years of negotiations, 'cause the manager and tour manager both died within six months of each other. Then the band decided to self-manage, which is cool. But I'll tell you what, man — that's when it was a super-bumpy road and we were just not on the same page anymore. And that happens with bands."

Four years ago, Kottak, who joined the SCORPIONS in 1996, told the SCORPIONS official fan club Crazyscorps about the circumstances that led to his departure from the legendary German hard rock band: "I always liked a drink here and there. And then I always also take a pain medication called Aleve. It's what all the baseball players take, all the footballers, and it works like a charm. You take those of those and you don't feel anything. But on top of that, I'm a rock drummer in a rock band, and you've got the green light to drink.

"From 2008 to 2011, I didn't drink," he explained. "I just woke up one day and said, 'I just don't wanna drink anymore.' I didn't go to rehab; I didn't do any of that stuff. I just didn't wanna drink anymore.

"If you have any knowledge of A.A. [Alcoholics Anonymous] or any type of program or rehab, it only lasts so long and then you have what we call in recovery a relapse. I would go through these phases of a year or maybe two years of no drinking, and then you gradually…

"SCORPIONS, we play our show, we go back to the hotel, [and] 45 minutes later, we're all downstairs having dinner," he continued. "And everything's just the right price — free. All these flights back and forth from Europe, from L.A. — I was just flying constantly. Which I'm not complaining about, but it's always business or first class, and once again, all the booze is at the right price. I'm going, 'I've got the next two days off. I might as well have a drink.' And that's what triggered me to start drinking again sometimes. It's a typical alcoholic way of thinking: 'Well, I may as well have a drink. Why not?' And that's typical alcoholic disease thinking. 'Cause it is a disease."

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