‘Quite simply the best live album’: Legendary producer John Leckie on ‘King King’

John Leckie

There are some opinions you don’t ignore.

And when legendary producer John Leckie calls “King King” by The Red Devils one of his Top 5 albums of all time, you best pay attention.

Leckie has done it all in the studio over a 50-year career. For most people, working at Abbey Road Studios would be the ultimate dream. Leckie started out there in 1970 as a tape operator on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and John Lennon’s “Plastic Ono Band,” among others.

He continued working with artists such as Syd Barrett and Derek and the Dominoes, Mott the Hoople and Soft Machine before leaving Abbey Road in 1978.

During the 1980s, Leckie scored as a producer/engineer for acts as diverse as XTC, Public Image Ltd., Wilko Johnson, The Fall, Gene Loves Jezebel and Let’s Active.

But it was in 1988 when Leckie got on a run producing giant records that defined an era, starting with an undeniable classic, The Stone Roses’ self-titled debut album. (Much like “King King” did for its namesake club, The Stone Roses both captured and defined the “Madchester sound” of bands playing at the famous Hacienda club, and others, in Manchester, England.)

From there, Leckie produced and engineered several more recordings, many of which shaped the sound of the ’90s:

  • The Posies, “Dear 23”
  • XTC, “Explode Together”
  • The Verve, “Storm in Heaven”
  • Ride, “Carnival of Light”
  • Radiohead, “The Bends”
  • Elastica, “Elastica”
  • Kula Shaker, “K”
  • Cowboy Junkies, “Miles From Our Home”

Incredibly, John Leckie does not hold back his praise for The Red Devils’ lone album.

In a feature for Classic Album Sundays (undated, though it may have originated around 2012-13), Leckie named his Top 5 albums, including “King King”:

“Produced with Rick Rubin and Brenden O’Brien at the controls. Sounds like it’s recorded on a cassette but quite simply the best live album … as if you’re in the club…. and it’s hot!”

Leckie’s five is rounded out with “Forever Changes” by Love, “Wee Tam and The Big Huge” by The Incredible String Band, “Wicked Grin” by John Hammond, and “Trans Europe Express” by Kraftwerk.

That’s pretty heavy – and heady – company.

In a Q&A with Musosoup circa 2021, Leckie again shouts out the Devils in a tighter group of Fave 4:

Is there one particular album that you love because of its production?

John: “Live at King King” by The Red Devils, “Mule Variations” by Tom Waits, “Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop, “Kira Kira” by The Irresistible Force.

Red Devils fans can thank Leckie for turning musician and producer James Skelly on to “King King.” Skelly, best known as the frontman of indie rockers The Coral, famously touted the Devils in the British press. Repeatedly.

In the January 2011 edition of Mojo magazine Skelly called “King King” “the best thing I’ve heard all year”:

“John Leckie played me The Red Devils’ ‘King King’ album when we were in the studio and I haven’t stopped playing it since. It’s from 1992 and was recorded live in Hollywood’s King King club where the group had a Monday night residency and Rick Rubin produced it, and it’s the best thing he’s ever done and it’s the best live album I’ve ever heard.”

Quick on the heels of that blurb, Skelly came back in NME’s list of the “100 Greatest Albums You’ve Never Heard”:

“The band — all amazing players — just sound like they’re on fire. There’s something about the way Rick Rubin’s done it too, it sounds really special. He could have done it in the studio but it wouldn’t have been as good. With ‘King King’ you can hear the whole atmosphere of the club — you’re there, you’re with them, you can smell it. As for the band, Lester Butler was just one of the greatest-ever harmonica players. He sings into a bullet mic while playing the harmonica and he sounds fantastic. The guitarist Paul ‘The Kid’ Size was only 21, but he was unbelievable.

“What’s interesting about ‘King King’ too is the band took a blues sound and did something completely new with it. At the time nobody had done anything new or exciting with that sound since the ’70s. They took that sound and gave it real attitude. So it sounds more like rock ‘n’ roll, not slick blues, it’s raw. Anyone who’s into that attitude will connect with this album. I know if I was 18 and I’d heard this, I’d have loved it. They do some real heavy blues tracks which sound like The Beatles’ ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ but it also sounds like Nirvana playing Robert Johnson tunes.”

Even to the present day, Leckie continues to trumpet his love of “King King.”

On his internet radio program, “The Electric Blues Radio Show,” Leckie plays one song from The Red Devils’ “King King” on nearly every episode, alongside Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Just where they belong.

You heard the man.

Top photo of John Leckie via Twitter/Boogaloo Radio

30 years of ‘King King’

Celebrate the record that started it all with NoFightin.com coverage of #KingKingXXX.

Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

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