Kix: '80s East Coast Hair Metal Band

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Album Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic

Even before the group took on its familiar name and began its long, slow ascent to pop metal success, Baltimore-area band Kix harbored some stark distinctions from the rest of 1980s commercial hard rock's crowded field. 

Owing to a blue-collar East Coast origin and an AC/DC-inspired focus on crunchy riffs instead of style and glitz, the band naturally struggled to gain MTV attention and a hair metal niche for the bulk of the decade.

Favoring playful, ragged chops and a hardscrabble, unpolished style honed through years playing under-the-radar clubs, Kix often wore its rock and roll authenticity as a badge of honor. That's not to say the band didn't want to achieve mainstream success; it's just that Kix was one of the few hair metal bands unwilling to do just about anything to get it.

Early Years

Formed in 1977 in Hagerstown, Maryland as The Shooze and later The Generators before calling themselves Kix, the early lineup of Kix — which didn't immediately feature Whiteman — spent the late 1970s honing its skills as a popular, tireless cover band.

Eventually, the professional band's naturally resulting restlessness led to a cementing of the lineup and a desire to compose and play original songs for an increasingly loyal and fervent local fan base. The band finalized itself with Steve Whiteman (Lead vocals, harmonica, saxophone and songwriting), Donnie Purnell (Bass guitar, keyboards, backing vocals and primary songwriting), Ronnie "10/10" Younkins (Guitar, talkbox and backing vocals), Brian "Damage" Forsythe (Guitar and guitar synthesizer), and Jimmy "Chocolate" Chalfant (drums, percussion and backing vocals).

After earning a hard-won contract with Atlantic, Kix produced its debut self-titled 1981 LP. Though still in development, the band's sound clearly indicated that it refused to take itself too seriously, which is another way Kix set itself apart from many better-known contemporaries. "Cool Kids" followed in 1983, but at that point, Kix proved unable to make a dent in the emerging, revived American hard rock market.

Moving Toward Commercial Peak

Rather than getting bogged down by what seemed like a failure to connect with national audiences, Kix re-entered the studio as determined as ever to stick to its no-nonsense, fun-loving, unpredictable style. The result was 1985's "Midnight Dynamite," a record that fared even worse on Billboard's album charts at the same time giving the quintet confidence that it had something unique to offer the hard rock soundscape.

After three long years, Kix worked with famed producer Tom Werman to produce the hit record it had always hoped for —1988's "Blow My Fuse." Even more importantly, the group sacrificed very little of its winking, mischievous signature style in order to find massive success.

Instead, the record went platinum on the strength of Purnell's punchy, rambunctious songwriting, the ensemble's tight but untamed playing, and Whiteman's exuberant frontman appeal.

Post-Grunge Decline & New-Millennium Reunion

Like many 1980s metal bands, Kix was unable to sustain momentum beyond 1991 — the year of Nirvana. However, that year's "Hot Wire" performed fairly well, but in the years immediately after that LP, the climate for straightforward, commercial mainstream hard rock dried up substantially.

So for more than a decade the members of Kix scattered and went to work on less lucrative musical projects. However, as nostalgia for 1980s hair bands gained steam in the new millennium, Kix joined many of the group's peers in reuniting.

Unfortunately, Purnell did not return for this attempted revival, which may have forced Kix into a necessary role as a touring outfit rather than an ongoing recording threat. However, the original lineup minus Purnell continues to press on, even releasing the band's first original LP in nearly 20 years, 2014's "Rock Your Face Off."