Guitarist Brian “Damage” Forsythe can still clearly remember the day in 1977 that he joined the band that would eventually be known as Kix.

The Hagerstown musician, then 19, stopped at the local 7-Eleven one night and ran into another local guitarist, Ronnie Younkins, who extended an invite to join his new band with bassist Donnie Purnell.

“I remember the first song we jammed on that Donnie showed us was [eventual Kix original] ‘Atomic Bombs,’ even before we did any cover songs,” Forsythe said over the phone from Nashville, where he lives now. “Usually when a [cover] band does an original, it’s the worst song of the set. And this was a cool song, and I just remember at that point going, ‘Wow, maybe this is a good idea.’”

After spending a few years honing their sound with AC/DC and Aerosmith covers in clubs like the storied Baltimore venue Hammerjacks, Kix created their own catalog of bombastic anthems, recording seven studio albums, including 1988′s platinum-selling “Blow My Fuse.”

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Forsythe’s 46-year journey with Kix came to an end in 2023, when the band played a blowout farewell show at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia in September. And in an appropriate full-circle moment, the band opened their set with the song that started it all: “Atomic Bombs.”

The band played Merriweather many times, often as part of the ’80s-themed annual M3 Rock Festival that they’ve been a fixture of since its inception in 2009. But Forsythe was a little blown away by the excitement and turnout from longtime Kix fans who came out to see the band one last time. “We usually don’t have that big of a production, but it’s kinda like they went all-out at the end,” he said. “When I looked out there, I couldn’t believe the amount of people.”

Kix’s classic lineup, including singer Steve Whiteman and drummer Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant, initially broke up in 1996 after grunge and heavier metal bands pushed groups like theirs out of the rock mainstream. But they reunited in 2003, playing several shows a year that usually included festivals, brief tours and annual “Kixmas” holiday shows at Rams Head Live.

Mark Schenker became the reunited Kix’s bassist, replacing Purnell, who was the band’s primary songwriter in its ‘80s heyday. In 2018, Whiteman explained on the “Cobras & Fire” podcast that it was a consensus decision to leave Purnell out of the band’s second chapter: “There was no need to bring in the headache, the iron fist, the guy that’s gonna rule and control everything.” (Purnell did not respond to requests for comment from The Baltimore Banner.)

In 2022, Chalfant suffered a heart attack onstage in Leesburg, Virginia, which led to the decision that it was time for Kix to pack it in for good. “He decided that he didn’t wanna do it anymore, just because he didn’t think he could, and Steve decided to follow Jimmy,” Forsythe said. The fall show was a celebratory night that included guests like Brad Divens, who played guitar on Kix’s 1983 album “Cool Kids.” But Purnell was once again not invited to participate as the band performed many of the songs he wrote one last time. “I don’t think he would’ve done it anyway,” Forsythe said.

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In the early years, the band went by various names, including The Shooze and, very briefly, The Baltimore Cocks. “That lasted maybe a week,” Forsythe laughed. “Our manager suggested that name — he even got us jackets with that on the back — but there was no way that we were doing that.”

The band recorded its 1981 debut album for Atlantic Records under the name The Generators, when a label rep informed them at the last minute that they’d have to change it again because of a band in Cleveland with the same name. “He said, ‘We gotta know before 5, because that’s the cutoff point, it’ll delay the release of the record.’ So we all just looked like deer in headlights trying to think of something,” Forsythe remembered. The name they chose came from a song on the album, “Kix Are For Kids.” Thankfully, General Mills, manufacturer of Kix cereal, never troubled the band about the name.

With the mix of hard rock and new wave covers in Kix’s early repertoire, the band came up with a distinctive mix of styles for its original material. And while Forsythe lived in California for 20 years after Kix’s initial breakup, the band distinguished itself from West Coast “hair bands” in the ‘80s by staying in Maryland, building a regional following and resisting the glam look of their contemporaries.

“We borrowed our image from The Ramones but we didn’t sound like the Ramones. We had leather jackets and Converse [sneakers],” Forsythe said. “We referred to the California scene as ‘The K-Mart version.’”

In Baltimore, Kix have always been celebrated as hometown heroes, and you can still occasionally hear songs like “The Itch” and “Girl Money” (an ode to “long-legged Rosie from Baltimore”) on 98 Rock.

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Outside of Maryland, however, Kix are largely remembered for their hit power ballad, “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” That song, one of only three ballads on Kix’s first four albums, probably would never have been a hit if not for the intervention of Alan Niven, who managed some of the top bands of the era, including Guns N’ Roses and Kix’s tourmates, Great White.

“He just happened to be [backstage] one night. He goes, ‘How come that song’s not a single?’ And we told him that Atlantic was done with the record; they weren’t planning on putting it out,” Forsythe remembered. “He goes, ‘You mind if I ask them?’”

Over a year after the “Blow My Fuse” album had been released, “Don’t Close Your Eyes” reached a peak of No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

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One of the million or so Americans who bought “Blow My Fuse,” rock critic Chuck Eddy, would become a vocal champion of Kix’s music. “I think I just happened to listen to the record, and then I pretty quickly went back to the previous ones. I probably found them in dollar bins,” said Eddy, who appreciated the humorous brand of innuendo that Kix picked up from influences like AC/DC. “It seems like Kix’s favorite topic was writing about sex as if it’s a machine exploding. I think every album has songs about bombs going off, which is good. It’s good to have themes to refer back to.”

In 1991, Eddy published “Stairway To Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe,” an irreverent but passionately enthusiastic book that made room for surprising artists like Teena Marie and The Osmonds in the heavy metal canon. All four of the albums Kix had released at that point were included in the top 100 of Eddy’s list, putting the Maryland underdogs in the same league as Led Zeppelin, with 1981′s “Kix” right up at No. 5.

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“People always think I was just trying to pull a fast one or trying to troll,” Eddy said over the phone from his home in Austin, Texas. “I just really liked those Kix albums. I still like them.”

In recent years, Kix’s music has continued to reverberate through pop culture. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” was one of many hair metal hits featured in the Max streaming series “Peacemaker,” in which John Cena plays a comic book antihero with an affection for ‘80s hard rock. And in the 2017 horror comedy “Dead Ant,” multiple Kix songs stood in as the catalog of a fictional metal band reuniting for a festival performance (and fighting giant ants in the desert).

Even if Kix’s days of playing together are over, some of the band members may remain active in the rock world: Forsythe still occasionally tours with another ‘80s band, Rhino Bucket, which he joined in 2001, and Whiteman released his first solo album in 2021.

“I’m sort of relaxing now, and just taking time to breathe and wait for the next thing to come along,” Forsythe said. “I’ll never step away from music.”