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The A to Z of KISS
Here it is! The basic information anyone would ever want or need to know about the rock group KISS. It is listed out for you from “A,” all the way to the letter “Z.” Enjoy.
A: Is for Ace Frehley. Ace Frehley (born Paul Daniel Frehley) was the original guitarist for the band KISS from 1973 until 1982. He rejoined the band again from 1996 until 2002 for their reunion and “farewell” tours. As with his original stint with the band, he left the group on ill terms again. Ace ( Space Ace/Spaceman) wowed audiences around the world with his guitar work, as well as his stage theatrics that included guitars that were spark-spraying, smoke emitting, and even rocket launching. According to Gene Simmons’ book “Kiss and Make-Up,” Frehley designed all of these components, and was quite an avid electronics tinkerer. Eventually Ace’s other hobby of drugs and alcohol caused deterioration in his playing and attitude, until he was dismissed by the band in 1982. Even though he in on the cover of the album “Creatures of the Night,” he did not perform on it, or tour in support of the album. He embarked on a moderately successful solo career with an act called “Frehley’s Comet.” He now performs solo from time to time and is still regarded one of the great heavy metal guitarist of all time.
B: Is for Bruce Kulick. Bruce Kulick was the lead guitarist for KISS from 1984 until the reunion of the original line up in 1996. Bruce holds 3 honors in KISS history: 1) He is one of only 2 members to have used their real name professionally. 2) He is one of two members to have never worn the KISS make up. And )3 He was the longest continuous member of the band other than Gene and Paul. To this day Gene speaks highly of Bruce’s professionalism and talents in and out of the band, which is something to be said knowing how frank Gene can be. After Bruce’s departure from KISS, he embarked on stints with a group called “Union,” and performed on albums with Eric Singer, and Paul Stanley. Currently, he is the lead guitarist for the classic rock group “Grand Funk Railroad.”
C: Is for Peter Criss. Peter Criss (born George Peter John Criscuola) was the original drummer for KISS from late 1972 until early 1980. As his contribution to the KISS make up theme, he was known as the “Catman.” Peter’s most notable contribution to KISS was song “Beth” in which he co-wrote, and sang. It is the highest charting single released by KISS (#7). Peter’s tenure and history within KISS is reported as being turbulent. When he left the band officially in 1980, he said he quit. Reports and interviews with Paul and Gene say he was fired. It was later reported that he only played on one song for the album “Dynasty,” and did not play at all on “Unmasked,” even though he is credited on the album. In matters similar to that of Ace Frehley, Peter’s problems with drugs and alcohol also fueled his departure. He rejoined the band in 1996 for the reunion of the original line up and farewell tour, only to leave the band again amidst contract tension in 2000. He briefly re-joined in 2002, but was again out in 2004 after Gene and Paul decided not to renew his contract for an upcoming tour. When not with KISS, Peter embarked on solo ventures that were met with uneven reviews and record sales. Recently Peter has released 2 books about his time in KISS, and enjoys meeting with KISS fans.
D: Is for Detroit Rock City. The song “Detroit Rock City” is from the 1974 KISS album “Destroyer. When the song was originally released, it was not a tremendously popular song. Ironically, the B-side to the single was a song called “Beth,” which radio picked up and eventually became KISS’ highest charting single. Eventually Detroit Rock City became a fan favorite, and is a staple of KISS’ live performances, often serving as the opening number. It also serves as the title of the 1999 film (produced by Gene Simmons) that features a group of haphazard kids trying to get to a KISS concert.
E: Is for Eric Carr. Eric Carr (born Paul Charles Caravello) was the drummer for KISS after Peter Criss’ departure in 1980 until Carr’s death in 1991. In trying to fit into KISS’ make-up theme, but yet not duplicate the “Catman” persona created by Peter Criss, he became known as “The Fox.” Eric performed on all KISS albums during his tenure with the band, right up to his death in 1991. In early 1991, Eric was diagnosed with a rare form of heart cancer. Several treatments and surgeries later, it appeared he would recover. Later in the year, he was hospitalized for an aneurysm, and then died a few days later due to a brain hemorrhage caused by cancer cells. To this day, Eric Carr is recognized as one of the nicest and most professional drummers in rock and roll. To honor Eric, KISS dedicated their 1992 album “Revenge” to him. The album also features the only solo he had ever recorded with KISS.
F: is for Farewell Tour. In 2000, the reformed KISS set out on what was supposed to be their “Farewell Tour, and stated that they would be retiring at the conclusion. The tour took them across the United States and around the world for almost two years. Then in true rock and roll fashion, at the conclusion of the tour, the band (Gene and Paul) decided they weren’t going to retire after all. Ace and Peter eventually did not continue with the band, and Gene and Peter continue on with the band today with Eric Singer on drums and Tommy Thayer on guitar. So unless hell freezes over again, it was probably the “farewell” for the entire original line up in make-up.
G: Is for Gene Simmons. Gene Simmons (born Chaim Weitz, and then later went by Gene Klein) was born in Israel in 1949, and is a founding member, bassist and vocalist for KISS. Raised by his mother, Gene grew up poor in New York City. He decided at an early age that he was not going to be like that his entire life. He started playing in bands during his teen years and throughout high school. In the early 1970’s Gene helped form the band “Wicked Lester” which also consisted of a guy that eventually became Paul Stanley. Paul and Gene eventually became dissatisfied with the direction Wicked Lester was going and quit. They then put together another band, which eventually came to be known as KISS. In his stage make-up and over the top theatrics, he became known as “The Demon.” History was made and it’s a wild and crazy story from there. Gene is notoriously known as a self-professed “skirt chaser,” and allegedly has bedded approximately “4600 women.” (1) Rumor is that he has photographs of many of these women. In 2011 Gene FINALLY married his long-time partner of 28 years, Shannon Tweed. When it comes to business and money, Gene is one of the most serious people you will ever meet. Thanks to him, there is hardly a product that has not had the KISS logo or The Demon face paint on it. It goes without saying he has more money that a person should. His personal life has been featured in recent years on the reality TV show “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” formally on the A&E cable channel (with repeats now on the AXS cable channel). It shows the humorous (and sometimes not at all humorous) lives of his wife Shannon Tweed, and their kids Nick and Sophie.
H: is for Hall of Fame. After having worldwide sales of over 100 million albums and sold out concerts all over the globe, FINALLY KISS received their due at the end of 2013 when it was announced that they were going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. Fans everywhere rejoiced at the news.
I: is for Israel. Gene was born in Israel in 1949. His father remained in Israel and had 4 other children. Gene did not know he had a half-brother and 3 half-sisters until 2011 when he went to Israel with his wife Shannon and son Nick. This was featured on Gene’s reality TV show “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” on the A&E cable channel.
J: is for Just What The Heck Is This? In 1981, KISS released the album “Music from The Elder.” The album was originally touted to be a return to their hard rock origins, but fans were served up a concept album that no one really understood or got. The album serves as a “soundtrack” to a movie that was never made. The songs on the album allegedly tell the story of a mythical boy training to fight evil, but no one really understood or got that concept. Adding to the confusion, some editions of the album had the song lists altered so that it featured the songs that did get some radio time, such as “A World Without Heroes,” thus further confusing the record’s “message.” The record company and the fans largely ignored the record and it failed to receive the success that their previous albums did. The album serves as the last hurrah for Ace Frehley, who had become frustrated with the band’s direction. His input was minimal, and enthusiasm was certainly lacking towards the project. While Frehley’s face appears on their next album, 1982’s “Creatures of the Night,” “The Elder” was Frehley’s last performance with the band in the 1980’s. Additionally, this was Eric Carr’s first album with the band, which I’m sure caused him some personal despair having this be his entry into KISS.
K: is for Kerosene. One of the Demon’s (Gene) best on-stage gimmicks is the breathing fire act. He will fill his mouth off-stage with kerosene, and appear on stage with a sword where the handle is on fire. The music will swell to a suspenseful flurry and then he will bring the sword close to his face and blow the fuel from his mouth at the flame. It never fails to entertain. Kids, it should go without saying - don’t try this at home.
L: is for Lick it Up. In a huge game changer, the band decided to change their look completely by taking off their signature makeup in 1983. The album that followed this event was called “Lick It Up.” The title track was arguably the biggest hit off the record, and also served as Vinnie Vincent’s first credited work with KISS as lead guitarist. The album proved more successful than the previous efforts and eventually went platinum. Unfortunately it also served as Vincent’s only credited album in the lead guitarist slot. While he would later provide further song/lyric contributions to the band, he was definitely “out” from being a member of KISS.
M: Is for Mark St. John. Mark St. John (born Mark Leslie Norton) became the lead guitarist for KISS after Vinnie Vincent was fired at the end of the “Lick it Up” tour. St. John’s time in KISS was short. He came onboard in early 1984 to record the album “Animalize,” and attempted to embark on the subsequent tour. However, issues between him and Gene and Paul caused tensions to arise. To make matters worse, St. John was diagnosed with Reiter’s Syndrome, and became unable to play due to painful swelling in his hands. He was out of the band by the end of 1984, and replaced by Bruce Kulick. His time after KISS included working with various artists and groups to varying success, and also taught guitar. Sadly, St. John died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 5th 2007.
N: is for New Material. KISS has surprised fans in recent years by putting out new material, after saying for years that they were done making records. In 2009, KISS returned with the album “Sonic Boom,” marking the first album of original material featuring guitarist Tommy Thayer. The album and subsequent tour were so much fun and such a huge success, that the band said they would do it again. A new album titled "Monster" was released in 2012 that also featured the members listed above.
O: is for Opinions. If you want Gene Simmons’ opinion on something, you can rest assured he will give it to you. While Gene has many opinions, he also appears to not care what others think of him. He is quick to defend what he believes in, and will let you know it. Thankfully, in the last few years his brash persona has softened a bit, and has changed a lot of ideas he has about life. Namely: marriage.
P: is for Paul Stanley. Paul Stanley (born Stanley Harvey Eisen) is a founding member, guitarist, and vocalist for KISS. When he is in his KISS makeup, he is known as the “Starchild.” In addition to being the writer of many of KISS’ hit records, he also has served as producer for several of the albums as well. When he is not rocking the world in KISS, he can be found showing his paintings at art shows around the U.S. He has also put out two solo efforts outside of KISS that have had moderate success. He and Gene Simmons are the only original members of the current incarnation of KISS, and are primary owners of all KISS trademarks and products. In other words, he’s loaded. After years of saying the band no longer wanted to record albums of new material, they changed their minds and released the album “Sonic Boom” in 2009. The album was exclusively produced by Stanley, and he is reportedly the producer of their upcoming 2012 album “Monster.
Q: is for Questions. The Kiss Army is often full of questions, and at times the members of the band are willing to answer them. In the early 1990’s, the band held “KISS Konventions” where the band the band appeared in front of a small crowd of people, played songs, and answered questions. It was from these that the band reformed for the “Psycho Circus” and “Farewell” tours. The last few years have seen “KISS Kruise” events where the band hosts a cruise ship where they play 3 concerts, and meet with fans all while sailing around the Caribbean. Not a bad deal.
R: is for Rock and Roll All Nite. ”Rock and Roll All Nite” is easily KISS’ most popular and well-known song. Oddly, when it was released on the “Dressed to Kill” album in 1975, it was not terribly popular. It wasn’t until it was featured on the follow up album, the classic “Alive” album, that it became the band’s signature song. Since then, the song has largely stood as the “closing” song of most of their live shows. Notably, when KISS performed the song at the Closing Ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics, it was Ace Frehley’s last performance with the band.
S: Is For Eric Singer. Eric Singer (born Eric Doyle Mensinger) is the current drummer for KISS. After spending years as a session drummer, and playing with many different artists (including Lita Ford, Alice Cooper, and Black Sabbath) Singer toured with Paul Stanley in 1989 in support of Stanley’s solo album. When KISS drummer Eric Carr passed away in late 1991, Gene and Paul, impressed with Singer’s drumming chops and general work ethic, they asked Singer to fill the drum seat for KISS. A noted difference in Singer’s look was his naturally blond hair, a far cry from the normal black hair color of the KISS members. The first album that featured Singer on the drums was “Revenge” in 1992. He was with the band through 1996 when the band reunited with all its original members. While a reunited KISS toured the world, Eric started the “Eric Singer Project,” (or E.S.P.) that featured KISS band mate Bruce Kulick, and Motley Crue’s former lead singer, John Corabi. However in 2001 towards the end of the Farewell Tour, original drummer Peter Criss departed the band again. Simmons and Stanley called upon their trusted friend Singer, and he donned “The Cat-Man” makeup and helped KISS complete the Farewell Tour and a few other select dates. In 2003, Criss briefly returned to the band but was out again in 2004. Singer has sat in the drum seat ever since and wears the “Cat-Man” make up on tour.
T: is for Tommy Thayer. Tommy Cunningham Thayer has crossed paths many times with KISS throughout his musical career. Thayer was the lead guitarist for a group called “Black and Blue” in the 1980’s. Gene Simmons produced the band’s last two studio albums, and remained a friend of Thayer’s. Together they co-wrote a few songs for KISS’ “Hot in the Shade” album, and eventually began working for Gene and Paul. Thayer helped the band write the book “KISStory” and actually ended up doing lots of odd jobs for Gene and Paul (including house painting and yard work believe it or not). He also helped manage the KISS Conventions and the MTV Unplugged production. He also helped Ace Frehley “re-learn” his guitar parts when he and Peter Criss reunited with the band in 1996. Eventually, Tommy’s work ethic and dependability paid off when he was asked to don the “Spaceman” make up in 2002 for a live concert in Jamaica where Frehley was not under contract to the band. Since then, Thayer has been an official member of KISS, and has been featured on “Alive IV,” and the 2009 album “Sonic Boom where wrote several songs, and sings lead on “When Lightning Strikes.” He has reportedly been very involved with the recording of their soon-to-be released 2012 album “Monster.”
U: is for Unplugged. In 1995, KISS was featured on the MTV show “Unplugged,” that featured rock bands in a “stripped down” environment playing acoustic instruments instead of their electric guitars. In preparation of the show, Gene and Paul asked Ace Frehley and Peter Criss to join them for a few songs and have some fun. The result provided a response they did not expect, and the fans loved it. The end result of course was the return of the original line up in 1996. The “Unplugged” show was also released as an album that featured the song “Rock and Roll All Nite” that had all KISS members performing, and had Ace, Gene, Paul, and Peter trading singing verses.
V: is for Vinnie Vincent. Vinnie Vincent (born Vincent John Cusano) was the lead guitarist and member of KISS from 1983 to 1984. Vincent was one of several guitarist brought in during the “Creatures of the Night” sessions to fill in for the departed Ace Frehley. Vincent was named the lead guitarist in time for the “Creatures” tour. To fit into the band’s make-up persona, Vincent was called “The Wiz” and given make-up similar to what was said to be an “Egyptian Ankh Warrior.” “The Wiz” was said to be in reference to his guitar skills. It was reported that the band wanted to dismiss Vincent at the end of the “Creatures” tour due personality issues between Vincent and the rest of the band. However, the band was unable to find a replacement in short notice and retained Vincent for the “Lick it Up” album and tour. Vincent was terminated at the end of the “Lick it Up” tour due to continued conflict and “unethical behavior.” Fences were briefly mended in 1992 when Vincent was asked to help write and contribute material for the 1992 KISS album “Revenge,” but he once again fell out of favor with the band due to personality conflict. In his time out of KISS, Vincent recorded and toured with his group “Vinnie Vincent Invasion.”
W: is for Wicked Lester. Formed in 1970, the band “Wicked Lester” recorded only one album that was never released. What the band did do was bring together the collective talent of Gene Klein and Stanley Eisen – who later became known as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Wicked Lester started out as a group called “Rainbow,” but changed their name after hearing there was already a band called “Rainbow.” After securing a one-record deal from Epic Records, the band recorded an album the company hated. Gene and Paul decided they needed to go in another direction musically, and began auditioning drummers and guitarists for a new band. That band’s name was “KISS.”
X: is for X-Rated. One thing that is common at a KISS show, the ladies like to take off their tops. Add to that the seductive persona of Paul Stanley, and Gene Simmons’ long tongue that he shows constantly, you have yourself a sexually-charged show. The image is further stoked by their appearances on the cover of Playboy magazine, and the God-like presence they often project. As previously mentioned, Gene has reportedly been with over 4,600 women, and has the Polaroid photos to prove it.
Y: is for You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best. At almost every KISS show, just before the band takes the stage, the arena goes dark. Then in a loud booming voice, you hear “Ladies and Gentleman! You wanted the best! You got the best! The hottest band in the world! KISSSSSSSSSS!” It never fails to be awesome. This was also the title of a live compilation album released by KISS in 1996.
Z: is for Zero. Despite the multiple Gold and Platinum albums, worldwide record sales of over 100 million, and a rabid fan base, KISS has never won a Grammy or MTV Video Award. Their only notable award win was a “Favorite New Song” People’s Choice Award in 1977 for “Beth.”
Well, there you have it! The A to Z of KISS. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I do. While many may argue they aren’t the most talented musicians out there, there is no doubt that KISS has endured and been adored mainly due to their originality and showmanship. If you don’t believe me, I ask that you witness in person the band performing “Rock and Roll All Nite” in front of 10,000 people. It is truly a sight to be seen and heard.
KISS home page: www.kissonline.com