KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout


Ex-KISS Rocker Is Drumming Up A New Audience

(Interview, November 1994)

The Times Leader
November 13, 1994

By Alan K. Stout
Times Leader Staff Writer

click to enlargeIn 1976, KISS scored the biggest hit of its illustrious career with a beautiful ballad called "Beth." The Grammy-nominated song — which won the People's Choice Award — was written and sung by Peter Criss.

In 1977, KISS broke the top-40 again with "Hard Luck Woman," a hit which was covered by Garth Brooks on the recent KISS tribute album. That song, too, was originally sung by Peter Criss.

And for many years, the highlight of KISS' live shows came during the performance of "Black Diamond," where pyrotechnical theatrics ran rampant and Criss' drum set rose high over the stage. "Black Diamond" was also sung by Peter Criss.

Thus, in the history of one of rock's most celebrated bands, Peter Criss' role is significant. Now, 14 years after he left what many call "The Hottest Band in the World," Criss has released a new album and is hitting the road. On Wednesday, Nov. 23, the former "Catman" of KISS will come prowling into The Woodlands' Grand Ballroom in Plains Township.

Since Criss left the group, KISS has remained one of rock's top acts, yet it's the mystique of the band's grand '70s heyday for which it'll always be most renowned. From the famous drum intro of "Rock 'n' Roll All Nite" to the thunder of "Detroit Rock City," Criss' drumming influenced a generation. And although years may have passed, the make-up may be gone and the line-up may have changed, the power of Criss' drumming on those early KISS records remains at the core of the group's continuing success.

In a recent Times Leader interview, Criss candidly reminisced about his days with KISS, and spoke with enthusiasm for his new solo project: CRISS.

KISS-ed BY FAME

"Having people carry my luggage," laughs Criss, when asked of his fondest memory of his days with the legendary band. "Being spoiled. Being pampered. It's a true luxury to have some guy carry your luggage out of your jet and set up your gear ... make life really easy for you. It's an unbelievable feeling to have your own Lear jet and have 85 guys working for you. All you really have to do is go up and create the great gift that God gave us — and that's music."

But besides frequently receiving the royal treatment, there were other highlights of being the drummer of a group a 1977 Gallup poll tapped as the most popular band in the world.

"Playing for 100,000, 200,000 people at a pop — almost every other night sometimes ... is really ... God, talk about a rush," he says. "Being on top of the ladder — being number one — is the greatest feeling in the world."

Yet despite fortune and fame, it wasn't all a bed of roses. Criss cites the loneliness of being on the road, false friendships and growing egos within the band — each member coveting more creative control — as the biggest downside of his tenure with KISS.

"When it's all over and the lights go out at the end of the night, you're alone in your hotel room," he says. "It's just you and reality. It's you and God. You're on your own. You had your lights, you had your fame, you had people screaming they love you — you're the greatest in the world. If you go to bed believing all of that, you're going to lose your mind. Everybody started getting these really big ego problems and I just couldn't really take that anymore."

DRUMMING UP A BAND

"Drummer willing to do anything to make it," said Criss' ad in Rolling Stone, which first put him in contact with KISS founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. The three rehearsed as a trio for several months, with guitarist Ace Frehley eventually rounding out the band. The rest, as they say, is "KISSTORY" (the title of a 400-plus page book coming out next year).

In the years following Criss' departure from KISS, kind words between past and current members were few and far between. In recent interviews, however — including one with The Times Leader this summer — Simmons and Stanley offered softened opinions of former members Frehley and Criss.

"It's nice to know that Gene and Paul are talking nice about me," he says. "I have no malice about them guys. They're OK. We buried the hammer a long time ago about our indifferences of what we saw or disliked in our music. We were also very young. We're all now a little older, we all have kids, we know what's going down. We get along just fine right now — that's why I had Ace play on my new album."

'WHEN YOU HEAR THAT APPLAUSE ...'

Now Criss is back on the road and, while he cites time spent away from loved ones as the biggest drawback to touring, a few years out of the limelight have rejuvenated his love for performing live.

"I like being on the road," he says. "It's what I do for a living — I come home at the end of my day and lay in my hotel after playing drums on the stage. You learn to live out of a suitcase and you learn to eat maybe not everything you love, but when you hear that applause, it sure makes it worth while."

Criss' new album, titled "Cat #1" was recently released on Tony Nicole Tony Records. Fans who attend The Woodlands show may recognize a few of the LP's tracks, as Criss showcased some of the songs at his 1992 show at Wilkes-Barre's Market Street Square. Included is an acoustic remake of "Beth," "Full Moon Over Brooklyn," a track about Criss' late mother, and "Bad Reputation." The latter song deals with Criss' feud with The Star magazine, which ran a false story claiming Criss was a homeless bum living under a bridge in California. Shortly thereafter, a peeved Criss appeared on the "Donahue" show to discredit the ridiculous fabrication.

"It was a very bad time in my life," he says. "My mother just died... my uncle just died, my best friend died. My whole life was turned around for this crazy paper. They were wrong. I went to court with them ... the truth went to its proper place."

Although KISS was, and essentially still is, a party band, Criss wants his new band's songs to show concern for more serious topics.

"There's a lot of political overtones," he says of the new album. "We are a political band. We do — and we will — start putting our two cents in at what we think the government's about."

A KISS-OFF

While KISS carries on successfully, Frehley and Criss also continue to draw crowds, playing new material as well as their KISS classics. Still, there are frequent calls from fans for the original four to reunite, slap on the greasepaint and rock the world once again.

The KISS reunion.

It is the rock rumor that will not die.

When word got out that Criss shared a plane flight with Stanley and Simmons last summer — shortly after the release of both Criss' LP and the KISS tribute album — fuel was added to the fire. But Criss says all the talk is just that: rumor.

"I was at a KISS convention — just making kids happy signing autographs," he says. "Gene and Paul happened to be there. They happened to be flying my same plane. We just thought it would be fun to sit together and talk about the old (days). That was it — nothing about a reunion — no talk about it. If, whenever it happens — great — but right now, CRISS is happening."

So while Criss fondly recalls his days with the caped crusaders of rock, he — like the cat he once portrayed — appears to have several rock 'n' roll lives and is determined to land on his feet.

"The '70s are over," he says. "It's time for a new beginning."