During the 1980s, the music scene was exploding with an abundance of great rock bands – including multi-platinum sellers such as Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot and Ratt – but there was always room for talented new contenders.  For King Kobra, this was an invitation from heaven, launching onto a landscape that was primed for killer hard rock, enormous sales, and unlimited airplay.   

King Kobra was formed in California in 1983 and led by seasoned drummer Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Bogart & Appice, Ozzy Osbourne Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart) when he approached Mark Free (Unruly Child) to add his vocals to some tracks he had previously written and recorded with guitarist Earl Slick (John Lennon, David Bowie). Three songs – “Overnite Love Affair,” “Fool In The Rain” and “You Are My Life” – were strong enough to secure King Kobra a deal with Capitol Records. Producer Spencer Proffer (Quiet Riot, WASP, Cheap Trickhowever, insisted on all new material for the band’s major label debut, and the demos were scrapped, never to be released.

With an album to make, Appice and Free started auditioning players and writing songs. Guitarist Mike Wolfe came aboard and immediately kicked in some song ideas of his own. Keel’s guitarist David Michael Phillips was then brought in, followed by wild-man bassist Johnny Rod. Before he was able to record a single note, Wolfe bailed out to open a recording studio, and was quickly replaced by Mick Sweda (Bulletboys). The line-up of Free, Phillips, Rod, Sweda and Appice won instant attention for their unique look (four blondes and one brunette) and would go on to record two solid albums for Capitol – Ready To Strike and Thrill of a Lifetime.   

The album ‘Ready To Strike’ won them the attention of fans and critics alike by delivering one of the year’s best records. Tracks such as ‘Hunger’, ‘Tough Guys’, ‘Piece Of The Rock’ and the title track itself are pivotal examples of some of the best mid 80’s hard rock.  ‘Thrill Of A Lifetime’, their sophomore album, originally issued in 1986, saw the band shift gear, modernising their sound and focussing on more accessible songs, perhaps modelled on the chart success of artists like Bon Jovi and Cinderella. The material was spearheaded by the hugely infectious ‘Iron Eagle (Never Say Die)’, a track that was included on the hit movie ‘Iron Eagle’.  Elsewhere there’s ‘Feel The Heat’, ‘Raise Your Hands To Rock’ and ‘Dream On’ for further proof of their hard rocking credentials. 

For the next three years, King Kobra toured the world over, barnstorming North and South America – as well as parts of Europe and Japan – supporting such formidable headliners as KISS, Iron Maiden and Queensryche. During this time, the band attempted to re-introduce their original demos into the fold, adding Rod’s basslines, but sidelining them again before they were able to include Phillips and Sweda.

In 1986, Rod accepted an invitation to join W.A.S.P., and was replaced by Lonnie Vincent. Two new songs were cut – “Lonely Nites” and “Young Hearts Survive” – but were abruptly haulted when Free became dissatisfied with the direction of King Kobra was going. Stepping in for Free, vocalist Marq Torien, Appice, Phillips, Sweda and Vincent wrote and recorded six fresh tracks, including “Your Love Is A Sin.” Unfortunately, the combination was short-lived as Torien, Sweda and Vincent went on to form Bulletboys, taking along tunes like “Kissin” and “For The Love Of Money” for their own major label debut.

Undeterred, Appice and Phillips pressed forward and initiated vocalist Johnny Edwards (who would later migrate to Foreigner), bassist Larry Hart and guitarist Jeff Northrup – core members of a group called Northrup. Combining their ideas and talents, they recorded King Kobra III for Appice’s own Rocker Records label. Songs like “Perfect Crime,” “Mean Street Machine,” “#1,” “Red Line” and “Walls Of Silence” exhibited a new maturity and growth in the band’s sound. But it was not to last.  This time, Appice received a call from John Sykes and Tony Franklin in 1989 to join Blue Murder, and after five years, King Kobra was solemnly laid to rest.

In 1995 Mark Free called it quits from the music biz and in the same year he had a sex change operation and became Marcie Free.

In 2010, a new King Kobra emerged, with Carmine Appice on drums, Paul Shortino taking over vocal duties, Mick Sweda on guitar, David Henzerling (a.k.a. David Michael-Philips) on guitar, and Johnny Rod on bass. 

King Kobra’s long-awaited reunion album “King Kobra” (s/t) released on Frontiers Records in 2011, left no doubt that this was a band to be reckoned with. Even though nearly 25 years had passed since the original line-up recorded the landmark “Ready To Strike” and “Thrill Of A Lifetime” albums, the energy and immediacy of the bands lightning attack had not diminished one iota and fans responded in kind.

For 2013’s King Kobra II album “We chose to name this album “II” because it is both the second album of our reformation with Frontiers Records as well as the second generation of the band with Paul Shortino as lead vocalist,” says guitarist David Michael-Philips. “Paul’s unique style gives the band a new feel apart from what we were in the 80s with original singer Mark/Marcie Free. I think the “re-boot” naming gives Paul the credit he deserves while paying homage to our original singer and sound”.

When recording the King Kobra II album on May 8, 2013 guitarist David Michael-Phillips stated “We’ve got a high-energy combination of the classic King Kobra sound mixed with some of our favorite (heavy) influences: Led Zeppelin, Whitesnake, Blue Murder. Cool, heavy grooves, great melodies, soulful lead vocals by Paul Shortino, infectious harmonies and hooks…blazing guitars by yours truly and the thundering rhythm section of Johnny Rod and the legendary Carmine Appice! This is the next natural progression of Ready To Strike and our last, self-titled album King Kobra”. 

The thick, soulful vocals of Paul Shortino, dual guitarists Mick Sweda and David Michael-Philips, and the thundering bass and drums of Johnny Rod and Carmine Appice delivered an album that, while easily carrying on the tradition of the first two releases, brought a contemporary twist to a signature melodic, hard rock style. “The “70’s” flavour of this new album was a conscious move to incorporate our influences into the music,” says David Michael-Philips, while Carmine Appice adds “King Kobra was a band in the ‘80s with great players…and had roots in the ‘70s also.. We tried to make a cool combination of both, which I think we achieved with this new album”.

Produced by David Henzerling with Carmine Appice and Paul Shortino, “II” digs into King Kobra hard rock roots to create an album that has all the swagger and swing of the classic 70’s albums (think Montrose, Bad Company, Deep Purple and even Carmine’s own legendary Cactus) with a crystal clear sound that combines the best of both analogue and digital recording techniques. From the tight and punchy “Have A Good Time” to the 8-minute epic “Deep River”, “II” shows a more mature band confident of its songwriting ability performing with the technical prowess garnered over years of experience.

The band went on hiatus following the release of their 2013 album, largely due to the other commitments of the individual band members. They did, however, play live gigs in 2016 sans Mick Sweda. 

On July 27, 2018 King Kobra released their first ever live album “Sweden Rock Live” which was originally recorded in 2016.

When you think of King Kobra, a vision of four bleached blondes out in front with one of rock’s preeminent drummers in the driver’s seat may come to mind. Beneath the hype and heady days of the 80’s hard rock scene, however, there were true, inherent surges of brilliance from bands like King Kobra who boasted strong songs, precision chops and exuberant performances.

Former Members:
Mike Wolf – guitar (1983)
Mark Free – vocals (1983-1987, 2001)
Marq Torien – vocals (1987)
Lonnie Vencent – bass guitar (1986-1987)
Larry Hart – bass guitar (1987-1989)
Jeff Northrup – guitar (1987-1989)
Johnny Edwards – vocals (1987-1989)
Kelly Keeling – vocals, bass guitar (2000-2001)
Steve Fisher – guitar (2000-2001)