WHAS-TV, a television station in Louisville, Kentucky, has uploaded a three-minute video report on the passing of former SCORPIONS and KINGDOM COME drummer James Kottak, who was born and lived in the city until 1987.

Kottak died on January 9 in Louisville. He was 61 years old. No cause of death has been revealed.

According to his obituary, Kottak attended the University of Louisville on a music scholarship and was in the marching band. At the age of 14, he started playing drums professionally in local and regional rock bands until his mid-20s when he moved to Los Angeles. In 1987, he joined KINGDOM COME and performed with them from 1987 to 1989 and again from 2018 to his death in 2024. He joined SCORPIONS in 1996 and played with the legendary German hard rock band for over 20 years.

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 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, MÖTLEY CRÜE drummer Tommy Lee‘s sister and acclaimed drummer in her own right], 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.”

In a June 2022 interview with “This That & The Other With Troy Patrick Farrell”, Kottak 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.”

Six years ago, SCORPIONS guitarist Matthias Jabs said that he and his bandmates “had to make” the decision to fire Kottak, explaining that they gave the drummer “all the chances” to get better. During an appearance on “Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon”, the guitarist said: “James was a real good friend — and he still is — but we couldn’t continue with him. We gave him all the chances, and 10 more. And it was something that developed over the years — the drinking habit. It came in waves — sometimes it was good for four weeks, and then [there] was drama, and if you know him, you know what that’s like. Then if it affects the show, you have to go, ‘Hmmm…’ Because our drum riser goes up 21 feet, or 24 feet sometimes, if the venue allows it, and the production manager, or stage manager, goes, ‘I can’t have him go up there. It’s too risky.’ If you can’t really walk down the stairs straight, you can’t have that. So that affects your intro of the show, and that’s not good — it’s not professional.”

He continued: “We were helping him — we were sending him to [the island of] Antigua [to Eric Clapton‘s Crossroads drug and alcohol treatment center], and we paid for it, and we did everything we could, because we are extremely loyal. It’s always hard if you work with somebody for almost 20 years to say, ‘Okay, you’ve gotta go.’ We’d rather do the opposite and try to keep him and help him. But we reached the point — or he reached the point — where it was just not worth it. After three months or four months even — they gave him an extra month in Antigua, the rehab — he’d come home, we’d start again, and you can’t even talk to him. So we had to make that decision. We had Mikkey on the road, so [James] didn’t notice. So I rehearsed with [Mikkey] and Paweł [Mąciwoda, bass] in the afternoon, just a backup; that was the original plan. But then there was no way we could continue with James, so we started with Mikkey.”

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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