On December 31, 1989, just over a month and a half after the Berlin Wall fell, American singer David Hasselhoff famously sang to a massive throng of German New Year’s Eve revelers while perched on a crane, hovering over what was left of the iconic symbol months before the political reunification of East and West Germany was completed.
Making headlines stateside, the performance exposed the television star as a singer to an American audience. But his music had already begun achieving massive success in Europe, with his 1989 album Looking For Freedom going platinum in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.
The timing was perfect. On the album, released that June, Hasselhoff covered German producer Jack White’s 1978 song “Looking For Freedom,” and as thoughts of reunification swelled, the song quickly became an anthem in the run up to fall of the Wall a mere five months later.
“I’ve been behind the Berlin Wall. I’ve seen the stuff that the people have gone through over there. I did a special called National Geographic’s David Hasselhoff vs. The Berlin Wall. I know what the atrocities were like,” said Hasselhoff, looking back at his German experiences prior to the fall. “It showed me what the intensity was like. And it made me realize what these people had gone through. I was blown away,” he continued. “So my song had something of hope. It’s given a lot of hope to a lot of people and changed people’s lives. I get asked this question: ‘Why are you so popular in Germany?’ It’s because everybody has a childhood. And everybody relates to their childhood dreams.”
A generation of European kids raised on American television shows like Knight Rider and Baywatch grew to embrace Hasselhoff as not just an actor and singer but as a significant figure thanks to the unforgettable role his music played during a pivotal moment in history.
“For a lot of guys my age, he was a father figure. I guess because of his car and his presence,” said Martin Kames, concert tour lighting designer and keyboard player for Austrian rock duo CueStack, referencing Hasselhoff’s mid-80s role as Michael Knight on the hit NBC sitcom Knight Rider. “For me, as a kid, he was my big idol.”
“Exactly like in Guardians of the Galaxy, where he’s also this kind of father figure and this kind of idol,” confirmed CueStack guitarist Bernth Brodträger, observing Hasselhoff’s cameo in the 2017 sequel to the Marvel Comics superhero film during a recent look back. “My mom actually dug up a couple of pictures that I can still remember from kindergarten – where I was sitting in KITT, the actual Knight Rider car. And I had a Knight Rider backpack for kindergarten,” said the guitarist.
Growing up as fans in Austria, Kames and Brodträger have now collaborated with Hasselhoff on a new single and EP entitled Through the Night, which sees The Hoff make his metal vocal debut on a melodic track that combines electronic elements and the incisive guitar work of Brodträger, a guitar player schooled in jazz theory.
It follows Hasselhoff’s foray into rock on the 2019 album Open Your Eyes, where he worked with members of groups like industrial metal vets Ministry and punk legends The Stooges.
“‘Through the Night’ came because it was in front of me. And I thought, ‘Why not?’ It was done out of respect for Martin Kames – Martin Kames being a real good friend. And the song was good! The song is great. Bernth is an incredible guitarist. He’s incredible,” said Hasselhoff of the partnership. “And because heavy metal guys came to me. I wasn’t really a heavy metal fan. But I became a heavy metal fan. It’s weird. I saw Metallica at the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, Germany. And I was going, ‘Good grief! These people are killing themselves in the audience…’ But the guys on stage were so cool. But I found out that I had a heavy metal audience. I went, ‘There’s no way…’ But I looked out in the audience and there were heavy metal guys. And I was going, ‘What the heck?’”
“For some reason, he’s very big in the metal scene. Bernth and I knew that already. So we thought it would be a fun idea to do a song with him,” said Kames.
“The really cool thing he mentioned in the very first meeting that we had together is that he actually likes and listens to bands like Ghost. He mentioned Killswitch Engage as well,” said Brodträger, referencing the dramatic Swedish hard rockers and American metalcore act. “Iron Maiden, Metallica, Ghost and Killswitch Engage. I think those were the four names. And that was great for me to hear for the song. To actually know that, ‘OK. It’s not off limits,’” he said, noting the process of writing “Through the Night” with a Hasselhoff lead vocal in mind.
The collaboration between Hasselhoff and CueStack is the result of a partnership with Kames, whose lighting design company has worked to stage Hasselhoff’s recent European tours.
The idea for the song was planted in April of 2018. Hasselhoff cut his vocals and the song’s video, now ready for viewing on YouTube, was finished just about one year later during a trip to Vienna.
A successful Kickstarter was launched this past October and the new EP, featuring the original song, an acoustic version and a remix by Caleb Shomo of midwest punks Beartooth, is now available on streaming outlets and via the CueStack website alongside limited edition and signed merchandise.
CueStack’s music has been described as dystopian. The key to getting Hasselhoff on board was an agreement to rework the song’s lyrics to more accurately present the positive message the singer hoped to portray during turbulent times.
“It needed to have lyrics that were appropriate to the world. If you do those lyrics and you fix the song, so that it is coming from me, then I’d be happy to do it,” said Hasselhoff. “And that took a while to get me to agree to do it. Because I knew I was going to take a lot of flack from the heavy metal community. Because I’m not a heavy metal guy! I’m just an entertainer. But I try to do the best I can at whatever I do. And I get heavy metal now. I do. I didn’t get it for a long time. I was going, ‘This is crazy. It’s just loud and nuts.’ But I got the message and I get the entertainment quality of it. I got Martin and I got Bernth. And I said, ‘Let’s go, man!’”
“We tried to make it as heavy as possible but still in an area where it works for him. But he really liked the music. The only thing he mentioned was the lyrics. Because we have a really kind of cryptic lyric style – maybe a bit dark and the message is not always clear with the lyrics I like to write. Kind of complex stuff. And that’s not what he likes. He likes a clear message for the song,” Brodträger explained. “I redid everything except for the chorus. He really liked that. The chorus is exactly the same. But for the verses, he wanted something more, I guess, sticking to the metal theme of having a bit of darkness in there but where it should be more about hope – the light at the end of the tunnel. And I think it still works pretty good.”
While his success in music hasn’t translated in America quite the way it has abroad, Hasselhoff has nevertheless sung for American audiences.
He performed his 2006 song “Jump in My Car” on NBC’s America’s Got Talent and the video for “True Survivor,” from his film Kung Fury, went viral in 2015, amassing over 44 million views to date on YouTube.
But “Through the Night” presents Hasselhoff in a bit less satirical light, introducing anyone willing to give the song a chance to the fact that The Hoff can sing.
“It’s great how impressively good his voice fits actually to this style of music. I’m used to it. Because I’m on tour with him. So I know what he’s able to do,” said Kames. “For us, it’s not a big secret that he’s a very good singer. But, in the studio, it was even more overwhelming. Because Bernth always says what a great musical singer he is. And we definitely heard that in the studio on the very first day that we started.”
“The crazy thing is, we didn’t get a chance to get a pre production [vocal track] from him. So we only had the instrumental. And I sang a really bad pre production, just kind of mimicking how it could maybe sound with him. So we had no idea if this was going to work until the moment that he stepped into the vocal booth and we actually heard it for the first time,” said Brodträger. “We weren’t sure of the vocal range. It’s really difficult to write something for another singer. I think he read the lyrics a couple of times on the flight and that was it. But he did it in just a couple of takes without a lot of preparation.”
As a singer, Broadway has always loomed large for The Hoff.
Making his Broadway debut during a 2000 run of Jekyll & Hyde, he went onto portray Roger DeBris during a Las Vegas installment of the Mel Brooks musical The Producers six years later.
Hasselhoff also appeared on London’s West End, cast in a 2004 production of Chicago, and kicked off 2020 as part of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5: The Musical.
But his vocal influences go beyond Broadway.
“The main singer was Sammy Davis Jr. Sammy Davis Jr. in the Rat Pack but also Sammy’s song ‘What Kind of Fool Am I?’ He came to see me when I played Snapper Foster on The Young and the Restless. He said, ‘You wear the hat of success well, Snapper. It could be taken away. Don’t let it be taken away…’” recalled Hasselhoff. “Then I read his book Yes I Can and it resonated with me. Because I didn’t believe in myself. I never bought into why I was successful. I just was a young kid trying everything,” said the singer and actor. “I also ended up singing on stage with Lou Rawls in Reno. And he was just an amazing man. So was Sammy. They were amazing people.”
As Hasselhoff prepares for the January 23 launch of a “Hoff Auction,” featuring the online sale of memorabilia from his personal collection (with a portion of proceeds going to charity), CueStack is gearing up for the 2021 release of their latest studio album, the first single “Transhuman Generation” now available.
As for the partnership on “Through the Night,” Hasselhoff sees the new track as a success.
“I’m an entertainer. The three words that mean something to me are empathy, respect and passion. If I do that in my work, then I’m successful. If you have respect, empathy and passion, you’re OK,” said The Hoff. “The song stands on its own. The fact that we did something positive? It makes me feel really good. And then, when they find out that it’s David Hasselhoff and it’s good, that makes me feel even better.”