Whether it’s racing, rocking or styling, Kenny Kallam has lived the life of a star.
Enjoying all the perks and thrills, scaling perilous hills along the way, he has driven through life with his personal demons in tow.
A Reidsville native, Kallam is a man of many talents, but he’s never been one to consciously seek out the spotlight.
In his case however, a celebratory glow has always followed his multi-faceted life.
On most weekends, from spring through the fall, you will likely find him behind the wheel of the No. 23 Open Wheel Modified race car, trading paint at 311 Motor Speedway in Pine Hall.
Known to locals as the Daytona of Dirt, the track where Kallam competes, it’s a place where he has raced for more than 20 years.
Most dirt track racers are blue-collar to the bone, and although he’s considered just one of the guys when the checkered flag drops, in many ways, Kallam doesn’t fit the typical driver-mold.
By day, Kallam is a master stylist at Hatori Hanzo, and owner of Boho Salon in Greensboro. A veteran in the beauty industry with more than 30 years of experience, he is known as one of the best in the business. When he’s not juggling responsibilities in North Carolina, he’s often jet-setting to New York or Los Angeles as a much-sought-after guest instructor to teach the next generation of professionals.
For Kallam, the career that has taken him all over the world, starting right here in his own backyard. He received his degree in cosmetology at Rockingham Community College in 1989.
“After high school, I really had no idea what I wanted to do,” he said. “I had worked some odd jobs, mostly dig-a-ditch manual labor-type stuff — and I knew I didn’t want to do that. But I thought to myself, I like being around women, and I heard you can make good money doing hair, so let’s give this a shot.”
Born to entertain
Kallam was also making a name for himself on stage.
A vocalist with an impressive five-octave range, Kallam is a veteran of several local bands including Vandal, Haize Rail, Suicide King, Motorfinger and Magazyne.
He got his start behind the microphone belting out cover songs in the late 1980s as a teenager and has never really stopped.
Singing hard rock and classic metal music ranging from Judas Priest and Metallica to Pantera, he has wowed audiences up and down the east coast for decades.
For years, Kallam split time between the salon and the stage, touring on the weekends with Suicide King, arguably the most successful of the outfits he was a member of.
At first, the band primarily did covers, but eventually the group started writing its own music and gathered a strong local following.
The group thought it was only a matter of time before they got a major record deal, but things didn’t work out that way.
Kallam said a variety of factors led to the lack of mainstream success for Suicide King.
Their original music was akin to bands like Queensryche — with sophisticated themes, complex arrangements and twisted thought-provoking lyrics, but it was kind of a hard-sell for the mainstream audiences getting caught up in a new movement.
Hair metal was on the way out, grunge was the new fad, and Kallam’s band was neither, so they got lost in the shuffle. After years of toiling and touring on the local circuit while waiting on a big break, the guys eventually disbanded.
Kallam went back to doing cover songs and took a turn to acting, landing the lead role of the stage production in “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Carolina Theater in 1995. That led to more gigs with the North Carolina Theater in Raleigh and some other projects in Washington D.C., but ultimately, he was getting pulled in too many directions and had to make a decision to pursue one career or the other.
Juggling the stage, salon and music, he ultimately decided acting wasn’t the right way to go.
Rock and roll lifestyle takes its toll
Between racing, rocking and his career, Kallam was living an exciting life, but he admitted he was burning the candle at both ends too.
The rebellious nature of being a heavy metal singer, combined with his local fame, made him an exciting guy to be around. That popularity led to rounds of free drinks.
For decades, he battled the bottle, but it was something he was able to disguise to a degree for most of his adult life.
On the outside, he seemed to have it all — a thriving career, beautiful wife Melissa Clark Kallam, tons of friends and adoring fans to boot.
At some point, he said, the party stopped being fun. He became a blackout drunk. Over the years, there were many nights completely lost, wiped from his memory.
“I’d have people come up to me and tell me about some shows and the crazy things we did together, and I would just smile and try to play it off because I had no memory of it at all,” he said.
“It’s a scary thing, and I was turning into a person I just didn’t like or respect anymore,” he said. “Here I am — I’ve got this beautiful, smart, loving wife, a successful career, and I felt like I was on the verge of throwing it all away. I am getting drunk and disrespecting and hurting her and the people around me. For me, that was it. It was at that moment that I realized, first of all, I’m really lucky, and two — she could leave me and then who would I be? She’s my life. She’s my love, and I want her to know that she is more important to me than anything.”
A life and gift
With the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, his Christian faith, and the support of Melissa, he quit drinking cold turkey in 2017 and he said life is better than ever.
He tries to stay away from the bar scene as much as possible, and he’s cut back on the number of rock shows he does. But music was his first love, and every now and again, he is coaxed back on stage.
“In many ways, music saved my life,” he said. “My parents split up when I was a kid, and music kind of became my salvation. It was my way to understand how to make it through tough times, and it was something that made me feel good about myself. I have always liked to entertain people and make them enjoy themselves. It’s kind of like that with my job and racing too.”
Kallam said he likes to stay busy, and he’s never been one to let all of the attention or recognition go to his head.
“Hey, I’m just a regular guy that likes to do a lot of things,” Kallam said. “I’ve been very blessed to be able to do the entertainment thing and if you would have looked into a crystal ball and told me when I was a kid that I would have this kind of success in my life and career, I would have said you are crazy. I’m a lucky man.”