An Out of Control Promotional Campaign?

This article is an out-take, or take-out, from the Mass Kissteria project. When working on that project, unit price became an issue, so some things had to go… I felt it was more important to keep the overview for Peter Criss’s Out of Control — which was still rather broad — but cut the much deeper dive into the album’s promotional campaign. However, I think that the deeper dive as a standalone feature provides an interesting look into the earliest days of Peter’s post-Kiss solo career and the efforts he made, and made on his behalf, in the almost inevitably futile task of promoting his release.

Peter Criss recounted a conversation with Bill Aucoin in his 2012 autobiography, “Makeup to Breakup:” “The record isn’t going anywhere, and they made sure of that. God forbid you should come out with your first record, and it was a hit. They actually threatened to take a hike if your record did well. So, the record company buried it.” What is the reality of that assertion, one which is hardly unique in the history of the music business? It is an industry, one less interested in artistic expression and artist happiness than the bottom line — and if either of the first two are results of profit generated, then that’s simply a byproduct with little commercial value other than keeping creative waters flowing until exhausted. Failure, though, is part of the business and a line-item on an accountant’s ledger. Profitable acts offset failures and failures are, to a certain extent, leverage for creative accounting wizardry. By the terms of the April 1980 Phonogram/PolyGram contracts, Peter was given a one album solo deal worth a combined $200,000 on delivery (half from each of the contractual organizations, North America via PolyGram, and rest of world via Phonogram). His album would have earned the same favorable royalty rate adopted from the 1977 Casablanca agreement, had its sales recouped the advances paid. How those money matters paid in relation to the Kiss Partnership agreement was a different matter, for which there is currently no documentary evidence from which to attempt to draw conclusions. The only other items of note contained within the contract are Section 18 (International) & section 20 (US), which noted that Peter’s album did not count toward the Kiss minimum recording obligation (MRO), nor was there any obligation for Phonogram/PolyGram to accept further solo recordings from the remaining group members. Section 18/20(d)(vii) also noted the nebulous marketing ethos to promote the album according to the policies used for “other artists of the stature of Criss.” Deciphering the intent of that phrasing is probably beyond the scope of this work. Ringo Starr? Joey Kramer? Albert Bouchard? Phil Collins? Don Brewer? Carmine Appice? There weren’t many drummers going solo from a band like Kiss, and Phil had yet to release a solo album.

In some ways, it would have been cheaper to simply bury an unwanted release. But that didn’t happen with Peter, and Casablanca duly released the album supported by a single, “By Myself.” There could be a debate about the appropriateness of the single choice, but it was one selected by Casablanca. As Peter explained on a KJR radio appearance, it was sometimes better for the label to choose since the artist was too close to the music emotionally. Considering Peter’s connection with “Beth,” and the honesty and message of the song, it may have made sense in an office, though he did stress his love of sentimental songs in many interviews. Following the failure of Kiss’s “Shandi,” and considering the organic nature of “Beth’s” surprise 1976 success, in hindsight it may have been a poor choice. Peter and producer David Wolfert both favored the cover of The Rascals’ “You Better Run,” but Pat Benatar’s version of the same song had been released while the album was being mixed and skirted the Top 40. Funnily, Peter had wanted to cover Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” in 1978 but had been dissuaded at that time. As he recorded Out of Control, The Spinners had a massive hit with their cover of that song in May 1980.

While it may not have gained much airplay, reviews in the trades were generally receptive to the single: “When Criss turned in ‘Beth’ as the Cat Man with Kiss, many thought it to be just an experiment on the drummer’s part. But now that the whiskers are gone, the crooner has come out of the closet and proves that ‘Beth’ was more than a fluke. This autobiographical ballad is charmingly simple pop” (Cashbox, 10/11/1980). The reviewer in Billboard concurred with the “Beth” theme: “Though reminiscent of Criss’ ‘Beth’ this beautiful ballad carried a distinct hook of its own. A clever juxtaposition of instrumentation — featuring an acoustic guitar and lush strings — texture the tune with crescendos and quiet moments” (Billboard, 10/11/1980). However, some reviews were short: “The former Kiss drummer makes his solo debut with this thematically appropriate ballad. A fairytale quality for pop-A/C” (Record World, 10/11/1980). The pop-adult contemporary label was indicative of the problem the album faced, with Peter wanting to be taken more seriously and hoping for a more mature audience. While there was rock-oriented material, there was also singer-songwriter sentimentality, resulting in a somewhat uncomfortable dichotomy between the competing genres.

Regardless of single reception or chart performance, Peter Criss’s Out of Control album represented both paramount artistic success and critical commercial failure. Departing Kiss, Peter had successfully navigated the creation of the first full post-Kiss recording project and poured his heart and soul into its creation. Certainly, he had help, but there is little doubt that the resulting album touch on the many elements Peter had hoped to express musically on a solo release. Returning to the suggestion that Casablanca deliberately “tanked” the album, evidence suggests otherwise. So, let’s investigate, looking at some of the documented activities surrounding the album’s promotion. This exploration digs through an incomplete list but contains enough — with additions from print — to paint a picture. Critical reviews were admittedly a mixed bag. Some were kind: “[Peter] has a gift for writing and delivering sensitive ballads” (Billboard); “Out of Control is his chance to really spread his wings by trying some new musical avenues, and he accomplishes the feat rather respectably” (Cashbox); “while he clearly has the Chairman of the Board under his skin, Criss is better equipped to operate in the rock arena, as this album clearly suggests. He has something going on in the popular rock area, and this solo offering is worth a listen” (NY Daily News); and, “Criss has proven himself to be a man of depth, a musician of soul” ([Australia]). Some injected objectivity: “the LP is padded with too many typical rocks songs” (Billboard); and some were indeed negative (or worse). Generally, with the waning and reality of Kiss, markets where Kiss was not popular proved less so for Peter’s album, and he was used as a proxy to attack both his former band and the genre of music he was formerly primarily attached to. At least in the United States in 1980, there was little chance of Kiss’s former drumming eclipsing the group he’d quit, without a “Beth”-like miracle.

AMI retained the Howard Bloom Organization for the publicity campaign for Peter.  Senior Publicist Ida S. Langsam was assigned the task of working difficult acts. What did “difficult act” mean, suffice it to suggest that it was one that offered an abnormal level of challenge — which could apply to any artist. However, a newly solo member of a large and successful band certainly fits that criterion. Her team started seeding fluff story pieces to newspaper “people” and gossip pages in August, bringing Peter’s name as a solo artist into the public consciousness and setting the tone. It was a similar strategy that would be used the following year when she was hired to work directly for Aucoin Management’s in-house publicity department. An early piece reminded the public of his love song, “Beth” and noted how the single, which the other band members didn’t want to record, had become Kiss’s first gold single. It also noted Peter was a Frank Sinatra fan and coached on drums at one time by Gene Krupa, clearly setting the stage and strategically positioning him away from Kiss’s thunder rock. Another piece, building on the natural press of Peter’s departure from the group, was innocuous: “The kids who are Kiss’s dyed-in-the-wool fans supposedly don’t want to see their rock idols without their weird makeup. But now, former Kiss songwriter and drummer Peter Criss is embarking on his solo career, sans makeup. Peter’s first non-Kiss album, Out of Control, is being released by Casablanca any day now. It was Diana Ross who encouraged Peter to go on his own, reminding him of how she gave up the security of the Supremes. Tellingly, one of Peter’s leading songs on the album is ‘By Myself’.”

Press efforts kicked off in earnest on August 21, with Peter being interviewed for the Aquarian, 60 Second LP (providers of 30-second album commercials), WCBS, Newscript, and Rolling Stone magazine. Kiss could barely get a mention in Rolling Stone in 1980 (their Unmasked album review was combined with two other act’s albums), and it was no different for Peter. Material culled from the interview appeared in Rolling Stone’s syndicated newspaper column, “Random Notes,” though provided a couple of choice quotes: “at 40, I just didn’t want to be going up on the drums with bombs blasting off” and “I did get some really obscene phone calls. They were calling my wife the Yoko Ono of Kiss.” Peter was interviewed by David McGee on August 27 for a feature that ran in Record World on Sept. 6. He admitted his new vulnerability during that interview, explaining, “One night I’m going to be backstage and someone’s going to say, ‘Five minutes, Peter,’ and I’m going to have to walk out there without makeup on. When you had the makeup you could play games and you could fake it a lot of nights. On nights we were really tired we could fake it and make people believe we were putting so much emotion into it. Can’t fake it without makeup. So yeah, I’m scared.” As the sole interview subject, it was new territory for Peter, with no Gene or Paul to dominate the conversation. He was on his own. Other interviews included Record Report, 16 Magazine, Rock, and NBC’s The Source. Peter had a meeting with photographer Mark Ledzian scheduled for August 29, and an unspecified seven-hour block was reserved for a photoshoot on Sept. 4. Mark’s stylistic images of Peter would be used for promotional photos and the striking Japanese overlay for the album’s single.

The first major press concerning his solo career emerged in a piece by Dennis Hunt for The Los Angeles Times (Sept. 14). As a syndicated piece, it was quickly distributed in other papers from the following day. Peter was keen to start setting his version of the narrative surrounding his departure from Kiss. He’d stress remaining part of the Kiss business — too profitable to walk away from having invested eight years of his life into it. But a theme emerged, with his frustration creatively in the band built on the foundation that “Beth” had provided. He found it upsetting that his material was continuously found unsuitable for the band’s albums. Along with the other issues afflicting Kiss internally (money, egos, business, relationships), he admitted that it was making him miserable and intolerable to others, leaving him no choice but to leave. Clearly, the tone of the press was biased in Peter’s favor — Kiss was on tour in Europe and a non-entity back home — but it wasn’t without reflection and a degree of objectivity, with him admitting, “I was snotty and rude a lot… I wasn’t my real self anymore. I’m not a mean guy. I was just tired of the pressures. I was bored with Kiss, and I was losing touch with Peter Criss. I just had to get out” (Los Angeles Times, 9/14/1980).

Peter participated in the Billboard Talent Forum at the Sheraton Center in New York City on Sept. 5, where he explained his view of the importance of a manager’s role to the artist. The panel appearance was his first public engagement without makeup. The album was released on September 8, after which the volume of promotion stepped up, starting with a West Coast trip for a week’s worth of press. Interviews conducted during this time included Billboard, Cashbox, Record World, Westwood One Album Network, Copley News Service, Earth News, Tiger Beat, and others. He also had meetings with industry figures such as Casablanca’s President, Bruce Bird and VP of artistic development, Don Wasley, along with attending a Casablanca dinner on Sept. 17. An interview clip with CNN’s Los Angeles bureau correspondent Cookie Amerson, was filmed on Sept. 16 for the fledgling channel’s People Tonight program. The CNN interview segment had good potential for broad viewer availability with a reach of 343 cable systems nationally. The six-and-a-half-minute raw clip was truncated to under two minutes for its unexpected inclusion on Kissology, Vol. 2. Billboard’s Eliot Tiegel’s talent banner feature ran in the Sept. 27 issue. The piece provided a “song facts” type explanation of the material on the album, with Peter discussing the creative process with co-writer Stan Penridge. He also expressed excitement about a prospective touring jaunt with his six-piece band, which by that time had started rehearsals. He told Eliot, “I’ve drummed for 60,000 people. It’s okay if I play for 3,000 so long as they applaud,” and that he wasn’t bothered by supporting a more established act in smaller venues than he’d become accustomed to.

Marty Cetner’s piece in Cashbox ran in the same issue date as Billboard’s (interestingly, in a side piece adjacent to Peter’s, Cookie Amerson’s recruitment by People Tonight was announced). It was a more abbreviated feature contained within the Points West section where Peter admitted, “Playing 90 shows in six months’ time was so grueling that I had developed a real don’t care attitude that wasn’t fair to the band… I had become a real prima donna rock star — telling people that if they didn’t get me caviar in Amarillo, Tex. at 3:00 a.m. they were fired.” But things had changed for him once he committed to trying to make it on his own, and he professed, “The ten past years have been the greatest years of my life… but I would have hated to sit back when I’m forty and wondered if I could have made it on my own… Right now, I have an energy that is similar to the days of ‘Deuce’ and ‘Black Diamond,’ I feel like Rocky. I know I can go the distance and feel those horns blaring behind me.” A September 16th interview and photo session (which included Debra) ran in the Nov. 6 issue (#46) of the German Bravo magazine. Another syndicated column, by “Marilyn Beck,” centered on the promotional push and how much Peter was enjoying being the center of attention. He commented, “I didn’t get enough to sing on-stage. I never got interviews. Gene (Simmons) and Paul (Stanley) got all the attention, the cameras, picture interviews. And after 10 years of that, you really start to get crazy” (Louisville Courier-Journal, 10/1/1980). From the perspective of this investigation, the piece did make a salient observation: “If the new Out of Control Casablanca LP by ex-Kiss member Peter Criss doesn’t make the charts, it won’t be from a lack of promotional push on his part. And even if the disc dies, he will at least have known what it was like to be the center of attention for a while — which was the prime motivation in his leaving the group.”

Possibly the widest circulating syndication piece, with Associated Press journalist Yardena Arar, took place at the L’Ermitage (where Peter stayed during the California visit) on September 17. The feature ran in numerous papers nationwide at the end of the month and was one of the most in-depth features covering Peter’s departure from Kiss and his new solo career. Parts remained reprinted through 1981. In just 672 words, Peter exhorted the virtues of “Beth,” noted his exclusion from press and attention within Kiss, and exuded a rediscovered enthusiasm for music: “Everything’s happening to me all at once, and it’s all so exciting… I don’t believe my luck, because I’ve had such rough luck in my time” (Yardena Arar, AP, via Charlottesville Daily Progress, 9/26/1980). Benelux Hitkrant magazine scored an interview and photo session with Peter on September 18, with the piece appearing in the Oct. 16 issue (#42). Unfortunately, it included a brutally rude review of the album, but did at least include a wonderful photo of Peter wearing the Frank Sinatra T-shirt, mentioned in several other press pieces. A later Nov. 6 issue (#45), included an additional piece under the headline, “True reason for leaving Kiss: Peter Criss scared of explosions.” With press activities completed, Ida returned to New York and Peter settled down to some R&R, enjoying a weekend at Disneyland and Universal Studios. The couple visited Debra’s parents in Anaheim on Monday Sept. 22. The following day a meeting with Creative Management Agency’s Fred Lawrence was scheduled along with an interview with Creem’s Rob Patterson.

On the final day of September, Peter participated in interviews with the Japanese publication Music Life, TV Week, and Modern Drummer. For the feature in the October 11 issue of Australian TV Week Peter noted, “I was proud of the music in the old days. We were real close. We were like kids, working and struggling, but it was fun. Then all of a sudden there was tons of money, and it became a real business. It got real complicated and we started to drift apart.” The two hours allotted for Modern Drummer resulted in the most extensive coverage for Peter when published in the Feb/Mar 1981 issue. The 9-page Rick Mattingly piece covered Peter’s history, from his earliest days of learning his trade and the trials and tribulations of his pre-Kiss bands, and the genesis of Kiss. Peter’s stock stories during the period were clearly centered around the importance of “Beth,” but Rick also brought Peter’s 1978 solo album into the mix. As a more musical niche publication, the expanded scope and space allowed for the creative process to be explored in more depth. Peter was able to explain various elements that were important to him during the creation of Out of Control. He oozed joy, “I wanted to do more than just heavy metal music, and I wanted to use more instruments than 3 guitars. I was able to do love songs and ballads, and I had the horn section from the Blues Brothers, and a string section from the New York Philharmonic. It’s got everything I’ve ever wanted.” And he was able to talk about how influences such as Gene Krupa, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles or the Ronettes. And talk about the drums wasn’t ignored, with Peter emphasizing that he was downsizing his kit to fit more with his new requirements: “I won’t be using 16 drums anymore. I’ll basically be using 3 in the front, 2 on the floor, 4 concert toms, and a thinner snare drum. I’m using less drums because I don’t need to be as busy with my music as I was with Kiss.” If there’s one Out of Control era feature to own, that essentially sums up the press effort, soundbites, and more, then the magazine with its Chip Schofield photo cover, is it.

Ida scored media coups particularly with the four page People Weekly magazine feature for the Oct. 20 issue (street date 10/13), which included an exclusive for Peter’s unmasking, and an appearance on the WCBS-TV Channel 4’s Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder that first aired in the early hours of Oct. 23. Also appearing in the episode were the original Flash Gordon actor, Buster Crabbe, and Sam Jones, who was portraying the role in the Dino De Laurentiis movie. While the previous appearance on the show, a year prior, had been unrestrained, this appearance was much more in control. A nervous Peter clearly had a message, and he was eager to share the excitement and joy for his future prospects.  Tom quickly engaged with his mood to guide him through the purpose of the appearance. Peter mentioned that he was still putting a band together for the road, but that Debra was pregnant and expecting a child early the following year.

The People Weekly feature took several days to construct, starting with an interview with Fred Bernstein on Sept. 25, followed by a photoshoot at Peter’s Claridge House apartment in Manhattan (201 E. 87th) the following day. Work for the feature wrapped up with another photoshoot on Sunday, Sept. 27, this time with Peter’s parents and Grandfather at his new 22 room Colonial in Darien, Conn. (while the press suggested it was 200 years old, it was built in 1850). While Peter wasn’t completely happy with the resulting feature, it did get him into a broadly circulating magazine. Peter explained in a later interview, “They kept harping on [about] my wife’s ex-career. They made it sound like all she ever did was Playboy. She did three covers for them, but she also did Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Bazaar. She was a very high-paid model. They also put these money figures in [that] I didn’t even mention. And that stuff about how I got out of the Vietnam War. That’s none of their business” (Seattle Times, 11/2/1980). Peter’s discomfort with unmasking was used for press blurbs that teased the People issue: “I was very nervous posing for my first photo session without my makeup on. The photographer told me to just be myself — but I’d forgotten how!”

Peter wasn’t ignored by the traditional U.S. rock press either. Charlie Crespo included a column about Peter and his album in the January 1981 issue of Hit Parader magazine. Peter’s honesty may not have helped interest in his solo career: “It was time to take off the cat-mask… I’ve matured over the years, and I needed to make music that reflects my feelings… The singer I respect the most is Sinatra. Songs with real emotions are important.” An additional feature in the April 1981 issue saw Peter participating in the Hit Parader Sports Challenge for an interview and pool match (which took place at the 52nd/Broadway Pool Hall on Nov. 6). However, most of the feature focused on his past and split from Kiss. Additionally, Peter would have been included in the January 1981 issue of Circus Magazine, but two pages for his feature were replaced to provide space covering John Lennon following his murder in December 1980. All that remained was the cover hype asking, “Can the former Kiss drummer make it alone? Inside: Why the Catman really left Kiss.” The piece eventually ran in the March issue. Peter noted the last tour had been the final straw for him: “Here was a band who once played for 60,000 people now playing for 3,000. Just knowing that we had to go back and play the same halls we did eight years ago, and sometimes not even selling them out — which was so easy for us to do when we were on top — made me feel really uncomfortable. I felt the magic for me was gone, and one night after a show I just said, ‘Fuck it, I can’t drum this no more.” Unfortunately, writer Elliot Cohen included Paul Stanley rebuttals to several of Peter’s comments, gathered while Kiss was in London.

A lull in activities took place during the first half of October, though the People Weekly magazine hit the streets on the 13th. Peter and Debra were planning on completing their move from New York to Connecticut a couple of days later, and Peter also had an assortment of writing sessions with Stan, photo shoots, and band rehearsals scheduled. The Tomorrow broadcast kicked off a flurry of activity which was comprised of a five city press tour. Ida had also scored participation in five major market Halloween promotions with Peter engaged in activities at radio station sponsored “haunted house” events. Ida had spent numerous hours working local outlets in various cities in search of receptive, and appropriate partners, to present Peter. On Oct. 23, a brief interview with Sounds was scheduled, prior to Peter heading to Boston with Ric Aliberte. The Sounds interview would have been followed up with a photo session on Nov. 25, but Peter cancelled, so the Sylvie Simmons piece ran in the Dec. 13 issue with a photo taken off a TV screen from the Tom Snyder interview.

The Out of Control press tour kicked off October 25, with Washington D.C. as the first stop. Peter was scheduled to make an autograph appearance at Wilson Powell Lincoln-Mercury auto dealer’s prize giveaway in Marlow Heights. It might have been a rude awakening, having previously been living the highlife on the road, to return to the lower rung on the ladder of promotion. An on-air appearance with DJ “Geronimo” was scheduled for the evening on WPGC radio, where Scott Shannon (of “Kissin’ Time” promotion fame) was Program Director.

Peter flew to Houston on the morning of Oct. 26. There, the KRBE Radio sponsored promotion received more coverage due to Peter applying his Kiss makeup to DJ Dayna Steel, who posed in a coffin at the haunted house the following evening. Moving onwards on Oct. 28, Peter arrived in Seattle late, and following a morning of travel chaos he initially was like any other tired traveler — slightly grumpy, and afflicted by food poisoning, though he soon warmed up. He was met by the Seattle Times legend, Patrick MacDonald, and ran through a list of things that hadn’t gone right that morning, as he was driven to a doctor’s office. The resulting Nov. 2 Seattle Times piece covered much of the same ground as had become common during other press at the time, but Patrick managed to humanize Peter and give him a platform to delve into Peter’s need to leave Kiss. Peter explained, “I was the drummer (in Kiss) back there killing himself while the other three prima donnas were up front. When I used to go out and do ‘Beth,’ it was the grandest moment of the night for me. I thought I was Frank Sinatra 1980.” Peter also discussed the Billboard feature he’d written, and was clearly proud of it, and the expression of the artist’s frustrations he faced. Peter also found it hilarious that he was staying at the Washington Plaza Hotel, which had once banned Kiss after a television took flying lessons from one of the band members’ rooms. Peter’s schedule was juggled and two of the other scheduled interviews were cancelled due to the time constraints. Peter drove to Tacoma for an on-air interview at KNBQ followed by an on-air promotion with KJR at the annual Variety Club haunted house event at SoDo Park on First Avenue. As the Seattle article banner noted, it appeared Peter “likes hectic solo career,” emphasized by the closing quote, “I’m the center of attention for a change. I love it.” 13 minutes of audio from the on-air section circulates, prior to Peter being interviewed for a piece in the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

Events in New Orleans followed on Oct. 29, with a haunted house promotion sponsored by WEZB, including an on-air appearance with DJ Dan Valley. In Miami, the tour’s final stop, Peter was scheduled to attend a Y100 sponsored haunted house event and take part in some station sponsored street parties in Dade and Hollywood counties. Arriving in the late afternoon of Oct. 30, somewhat amusingly, Peter was booked into the Diplomat Hotel. Initial plans intended to change Peter’s travel home on Oct. 31 to an earlier flight, to allow him to record an appearance on the Robert Klein Radio Hour at 1 p.m. However, after arriving in Miami, he was reportedly told that Debra had fallen at home. Jon Marlow reported that the scheduled activities were adjusted with a planned private dinner being cancelled and the radio interview and haunted house visits were condensed so that Peter could catch the last flight home that night. Of note from the press coverage was an explanation for the delay in live performances. Peter told Marlow, “That’s why I’m holding off from touring, making sure everything is just right. [Laughter.] I even have somebody tutoring me on how to move onstage while I sing without tripping over the wires. At the start of the year is when I think you’ll see me going on the road. Be an opening act. Can you believe that? An opening act? [Laughter.] But I think I’m gonna’ really like it. Trying to blow the headliner off the stage all over again. You know, I like that feeling… I can see myself succeeding with what I’m doing musically, and I can also see myself failing… if I fail, if the album just doesn’t happen, doesn’t make any noise at all, well, I just have to remember that it doesn’t end here. That I pick myself up, go back into the studio, stand in front of that microphone, and pour my heart and soul out all over again” (Miami News, 11/5/1980).

The press tour was afflicted by press challenges for the Howard Bloom team. Even as Peter readied to depart on the tour, many of the interview and press engagements remained unconfirmed. Getting local press coverage interest was nearly an insurmountable challenge. Papers such as the Baltimore Sun and Washington Star begged off coverage with the excuse that it was “too far” for them to cover. The Washington Post explained they simply didn’t find Peter newsworthy. It wasn’t much different in other markets, which is partially why the promotional tour’s scope was so limited, in addition to it being new for Peter to have to shoulder all the interaction. The news world had also moved on from Kiss and weren’t interested in meeting their former drummer. But it wasn’t all popular culture landscape shifting, the U.S. Presidential election of 1980 took place on November 4, and many news desks were inundated with more important stories of the day: The Iranian hostage crisis had passed 350 days and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was heading into its first winter.

After the election the volume of promotional engagements dropped substantially. Most outlets had been engaged, Debra’s pregnancy progressed, and the album’s performance was non-existent commercially. A day’s worth of press events was scheduled on Nov. 6, with Debra being interviewed for 16 Magazine while Peter was out playing pool for Hit Parader. In the afternoon, Peter was at AMI for Australian press interviews and “Super Teen” / “Teen Machine.” Another day of predominantly Australian press was scheduled on Nov. 11, with Peter scheduled for phone interviews with Ram Magazine, 3XY radio, Countdown, the Australian News Service, and Radio 2SM. Ram Magazine’s Stuart Coupe also published a piece in the Sydney Morning-Herald, with Peter reportedly intimating, “he was also worried that many American radio announcers think it’s Kiss music and aren’t listening to it on its own merits” (11/23/1980). The Swiss Pop Magazine also had a time slot, along with Rockin’ F (Japan) which would be postponed. On Nov. 17, Peter was scheduled to fly to Nashville. This seems related to an enigmatic appearance known to have taken place during the period, a drum showcase for Pearl at the Maxwell House Hotel. It’s been non-authoritatively attributed a date in March 1981, though that seems far too close to the conclusion of Debra’s pregnancy. This date, albeit without details available, seems to make more sense. It’s certain that the hotel was more a small group meeting venue geared towards convention and business, regularly hosting music industry events in their Grand Ballroom. And photographic evidence for Peter at the event circulates. He purportedly briefly jammed with Bucky Barrett (guitar), Craig Nelson (bass), and Rick King. Peter’s calendar for the week prior to Thanksgiving shows several doctor and dentist appointments. The following week Peter was interviewed for “Good Times” magazine and Radio Syndicate International, which serviced content to international markets and Armed Forces Radio Network. Peter ended the month by attending Bruce Springsteen’s concert at Madison Square Garden. Bruce’s The River album was #1 at the time.

With the holiday season approaching, the frequency of promotional activities decreased further in December. A press day on Dec. 4 saw several interviews scheduled, but a key television appearance on NBC’s Live at 5 was postponed. It was rescheduled for January 8 at NBC’s Studio 6B in Rockefeller Plaza. A photo session was scheduled with Swiss photographer Hannes Schmid on Dec. 17, after which it appears active promotional activities slowed to a trickle. The planted gossip pieces continued to run in various press, notably the Debra Criss cameo appearance in the Superman II movie — a billboard featuring her Coppertone ad was crashed through by a car, during one of the scenes.

There were still some events filmed or recorded the previous year that kept Peter’s name in the press, even while he and Debra prepared to welcome their child. Assorted syndicated pieces from the primary thrust of the publicity efforts, in 1980, regularly showed up in an assortment of newspaper people pages. An appearance on cable channel SPN’s Celebrity was noted during March 1981. Following in the steps of Gene and Ace in April 1979, Peter’s Robert Klein appearance aired in April. Other guests included Blondie’s Deborah Harry and Chris Stein, and Columbia recording artist Billy Burnette. The episode included a fun quip about his then infamous and incorrectly quoted 1972 Rolling Stone ad. Peter joked, “It said ‘Drummer. Willing to do anything. Willing. Now I’d think about it. I was desperate, man.” With Ida moving into her new role at AMI, she had a new client to focus on in early 1981, KISS rather than Criss.

Following the birth of his daughter, Peter remained primarily focused on his new role as a parent. The couple couldn’t escape the press and were captured leaving St. Joseph hospital with the newborn on April 12 with the news of their celebrity parenthood featuring in newspaper gossip pages for the next couple of months. He invited the other members of Kiss, including Eric Carr, to her christening party on Sept. 21, with Ace, Eric, and Bill attending. Peter was also billed to perform his first post-Kiss solo concert at West Hill School in Stamford, Conn., on June 13. The appearance would have been a benefit for Gateway Communities of Stamford, an organization providing residential services “for former mental hospital patients and helping them to learn to live independent and self-supporting lives” (Stamford Daily Advocate, 5/29/1981). By that time, Peter had moved on from Out of Control and was working on ideas for his next album. Unfortunately, the show didn’t take place. Rehearsals and/or demo sessions most certainly did, with one guitarist submitting his expense account for rehearsals and two days at Electric Lady with Peter. Clearly work was being done with the guitarist noting on July 29, “please contact me when you have the schedule for Peter’s vocal dubs and mixing.” A radio jingle for Budweiser beer was recorded in August, and with its Out of Control sonic signature, it provides a solid bookend to the period.

Returning to that quote in “Makeup to Breakup,” mentioned long ago at the beginning of this investigation, is the first part where Bill suggested, “They [Casablanca] black-balled you.” That assertion of deliberate sabotage by the record label rings hollow, considering the evidence available, though it certainly is not wholly refutable. A print campaign was clearly lacking. There weren’t full page ads in the U.S. music trades. There appear to be few consumer magazines leveraging the visually striking album art to scream the fact that Peter’s album had been released. It’s questionable how much of the press placed in newspaper gossip or people sections reached the targeted fans. That’s no slight on Ida or her team, who did a more than admirable job of getting Peter exposure. That Aucoin hired her directly immediately afterward speaks volumes to the business side’s evaluation of her work. And then there were the fans and the small matter of reality. When Peter suggested in one interview that he hoped for more mature fans, it’s not clear if he was being tongue-in-cheek, when he suggested 10-year-olds for the younger age group. It certainly would have been a step up from the age of many following Kiss at the time.

In 1980 Kiss’s popularity was waning in the U.S., with them focusing on new markets. The publicity campaign at home, prior to essentially disappearing for the second half of the year, provides proof enough. They’d been overtaken by the musical competition and become a large money burning monolithic corporation seemingly more interested in licensing the logo to kiddie products and crossing-over into saccharine AOR musical territory. To varying degrees, it wasn’t too far separated from what Colonel Tom Parker or Brian Epstein had done with their respective initially dangerous counter-culture acts. But Bill Aucoin had taken it to new levels, and that lofty perch simply provided a greater height from which to fall. Peter had left a group whose better days, unbeknown but perhaps hinted at, were behind them as PolyGram’s ingestion of Casablanca and its business activities took place. The business and its dynamics were evolving rapidly during consolidation. PolyGram were already tightening their artist roster following absorption of Casablanca in the spring. Peter’s solo deal was simply a convenience of re-signing the revenue generating, keyman clause holding, Kiss to the label at a time when they had few acts with commercial prospects. Yet, Peter clearly wasn’t willing to surrender and picked himself up and got to work on a second album. This time, his producer of choice would be available, and he’d shift the balance slightly more in favor of the rock material expected of him — without totally abandoning the sentimental songs that resonated within him. And at least for the international market, his timing fit nicely with Phonogram’s need for Kiss-related music for release, and they picked up the option for the album. PolyGram in the U.S. clearly had given up and declined to release Let Me Rock You, going one step further than simply burying it.

© — no publication or reproduction without written permission.

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Freely Miserable: European Promo Tour 1982 Stop 1

Here’s a translated (and edited) feature by Jan-Olov Andersson from the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet (11/23/1982) published following the group’s first stop on the European promotional tour for “Creatures of the Night.” Ace was interviewed…

I am tired of putting on make-up: Kiss guitarist speaks out

Yesterday, Gene Simmons of Kiss was interviewed on TV’s rock program Casablanca. Aftonbladet instead met guitarist Ace Frehley — a guy who has grown tired of the Kiss image — “I’m damn tired of putting on makeup. But I have to. At least it’s better than a boring nine-to-five job,” he said. Kiss has been one of the world’s most popular rock bands for about ten years. Not because the group’s hard rock is particularly remarkable, it is neither particularly good nor bad. No, the reason is Kiss’ image — they always perform with makeup on their faces and have a “cool” stage show with lots of smoke, fire, blood, and other scary effects. Gene Simmons is often considered the leader of the group. He is intelligent and friendly, and it is hardly a coincidence that he was the one TV’s Heléne Benno got to talk to.

No one should be seen without makeup

If she had interviewed Ace Frehley instead, the risk of many Kiss fans losing faith in their idols would have been quite high. I meet him at the Sheraton Hotel. There is a guard outside his room; no one with a camera is allowed in. They say it’s important for Kiss’ image that fans can’t see what they look like without their facial makeup. In the case of Ace Frehley, I understand why. Few rock stars I’ve met have had faces where ‘the rock ‘n’ roll way of life,’ with all that entails, has left such a clear mark. But he is nice and friendly and giggles happily when he greets you and opens a beer, certainly not the first of the day.

What have you done since you were last here two years ago?

“Was it that long ago? Yes, we haven’t done anything special except this LP. We don’t have a tour because we calculated that it wouldn’t even break even financially. “

Missing the small clubs

The guys in Kiss have never been hypocrites, and Ace admits that he’s tired of constantly putting on makeup. When it comes to music, he’s happiest when he can bang away in his own 24-channel studio in his Connecticut mansion outside New York. Or jamming with his friends at a small rock club. “There’s a certain feeling of playing in a small club, I miss it. Kiss have always played big venues since their breakthrough about ten years ago.”

The new LP Creatures of the Night, which Kiss is here to promote, is not much to talk about.

– “No, as you can see I haven’t written a single song. I was in hospital for most of the recording, I had a big crash with my Porsche, there were only crumbs left of it.”

– “Now I have bought a sports car, a DeLorean. After the owner of the car factory went bankrupt and got busted for drug smuggling, the value of the car went up, now I’d probably get 40,000 dollars for it, that’s almost twice what I paid, ha, ha.”

Typical laugh.

His laugh is whiny and hysterical, much like Gösta Ekman sounds when he exaggerates at his worst in a movie, and Frehley prefers to laugh at his own stories. Such as the one about the stuntman in Kiss’s feature film (which never made it to Sweden).

– “The whole movie was a fiasco. But the best part was that the guy who replaced me in the dangerous scenes was a black guy. Can you imagine that, ha, ha!”

– “By the way, do you know what happened the first time my daughter Monique, who is two years old, saw me with makeup on my face? She started crying! My wife calmed her down but when Gene came into the room it got even worse, ha, ha!”

Ace Frehley was 23 years old when he joined Kiss. By then he had worked as a postman and a taxi driver in New York. Today he is 31 and when I ask him if he is satisfied with how life has turned out, he says in short:

– “Sure, I’ve earned a hell of a lot of money, I never have to stand in line to get into a restaurant. And this makeup thing is good in a way, if I want to be anonymous I can be, only the worst Kiss fans will recognize me.”

My interview time is over. When I leave, he turns to Annika from the Swedish record company and says:

“Attica! Wasn’t that your name? Give me another beer!”

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Kiss 1975 Casablanca Contract

Kiss signed a new contract directly with Casablanca in May 1975.

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Glickman/Marks Casablanca Contract Proposal, 1976

Glickman/Marks Management Corporation, namely Carl D. Glickman and Howard L. Marks, formally became Kiss’s business managers in May 1976, with the members of the group and assigning them general power of attorney to act on behalf of themselves and the Kiss partnership. Specifically, they were granted control on behalf of the group, investments and banking, insurance, record keeping, and business operating transactions. They were permitted unrestrained financial activity for transactions up to $100,000 (equivalent to more than $500,000 in 2023) but were to communicate accounts to the partnership’s legal representation.

By that time, the members of Kiss had signed directly with Casablanca Records, Inc., per a renegotiated contract dated May 1, 1975. Since it pre-dated the explosion of the band’s success following Alive!, it was an opportune time for the partnership to look at professionalizing many aspects of their business. One of the earliest steps taken was the wholesale reorganization of staging for the Destroyer tour. Many of the old crew were jettisoned, as Kiss moved on from the homebrew ethos which they’d hitherto deployed on the road. The Destroyer tour was also analyzed to determine savings and avenues of revenue exploitation, which generally defined the model for the group’s touring for the remainder of the ’70s.

The contract with Casablanca was the most pressing item, though it would remain under negotiation before the new agreement was signed Jan. 1, 1977. The first section of the June 21 memo suggests G/M wanted a five-year deal. The term of the 1975 contract had been 1 year, with three additional one-year options following the conclusion of the initial period. The group agreed to deliver 2 albums comprised of 25-50 minutes of studio recordings during the initial period, with two albums per first two option years, and one album in the final option year, thus a four-year, seven album deal. The 1977 contract was for 30 months with a single 30-month option, giving the group at least half the period of security they were looking for (more so in a sense, considering the solo album definition). The group agreed to deliver 5 studio albums of the same length as the 1975 agreement during the initial period. The agreement was also in line with the two albums per year they wanted, but Casablanca scotched the idea that the number could include live releases. The label also explicitly defined the release of any compilation, should Kiss miss defined delivery dates. Where G/M wanted a $250,000 signing bonus and non-refundable advances of $1,000,000 and rising from the first year, Casablanca instead agreed to $500,000 advance per album payable via $15,000 weekly payments. Either way, it was a staggering increase on the $15,000 per album for the first two releases under the 1975 contract.

Glickman/Marks recommended Casablanca be responsible for recording costs of up to $50,000 per album, or $5,000 per single, cash, linked with a cost-of-living increase), an increase from the $40,000 defined in 1975. While not explicitly defined in the 1977 contract, the figure was agreed (validated through the 1977 agreement that Casablanca and the group split the difference when Love Gun went over budget). G/M also wanted a $1,000,000 guarantee for advertising and promotion plus a yearly fee of $36,000 for PR. The PR fee was negotiated down by a third and advertising demand was split into $350,000 per album for group’s advertising designee and guarantee that Casablanca would also expend an additional $150,000 per album. Critically, these payments were not deemed recoupable against royalties, whereas the advance paid for each album was. As a result, G/M received what they wanted but only had direct control of 70% of the funds.

Notable changes to the 1975 contract start with the royalty rate, which was 12% on 1-249,999 units, and 13% for full royalty-bearing status. G/M wanted the full royalty-bearing sales level reduced to 199,999 units and the base royalty raised 2%. From that sales level, the royalty would increase according to performance, reaching 20% for 1,000,000 and above sales. A negotiated rate of 17%, backdated to Nov. 1, 1976, would be agreed. G/M also wanted defined for packaging deductions at $0.55 per single-fold album, $1 for a gatefold, and $0.85 per tape. The 1977 contract generally agreed with these container charges though adjusted to $0.50 per single-fold, $0.75 for a double-fold with single LP or $0.85 with two, and the tape deduction. The interest in this charge was that the sum was deducted from the suggested retail rate of an album prior to artist royalty calculation. G/M didn’t get what they wanted for LPs and the 1975 levels remained, with tapes lowered by $0.15.

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Mexican Kiss Catalog Sales Figures 1981

This memo from Aug. 6, 1981, details that AMI had received from the Mexican distributor PolyGram Discos S.A., providing an accounting for sales of the Kiss catalog as of that date. Particularly the strength of Dynasty and Unmasked helps explain the interest in having the group visit the country in 1980 and 1983. PoylGram had taken over distribution for Casablanca in 1977, so those earlier album sales are not included.

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The “lost” Australian Kiss “Best Of…”

As 1981 dawned, the members of Kiss would have probably been exhausted. 1980 had been an emotional roller-coaster, though there would have been a sense of satisfaction with the completion of touring duties in early December. Peter Criss had departed but Eric Carr had successfully been integrated into the band’s lineup. The delayed tour of Europe had been navigated and Australia visited in a kissteric whirlwind. But there would have been a sense of trepidation. The contract signed with Phonogram in April 1980 specified in section 2(b)ii, “During the term, if any LP of the Minimum Recording Obligation shall not be delivered within thirteen (13) months following delivery of the prior LP of the Minimum Recording Obligation, Company shall have the right to compile and release in the Territory a ‘Best Of’ LP prior to delivery of the next LP of the Minimum Recording Obligation.” It was straight forward math for the Australian affiliate when they broached the topic of new product in January 1981. The completed “Unmasked” album had been delivered to Phonogram on May 16, 1980, and the clock for the next album had started ticking immediately — band member drama and whatnot be damned. Phonogram had gone out on a financial limb to sign Kiss following the implosion at Casablanca, though they’d had a year to discover the full horror of the true situation at the label. Australian PolyGram wasn’t the only affiliate clamoring for new product in early 1981, though it seems to be the only one waving the 1980 contract in Aucoin’s face just a month after a tour had concluded. PolyStar in Japan enquired more politely asking the same question on January 27 followed by Phonogram in the UK two days later, at which time Kiss were only just preparing to start recording some ideas at Ace’s studio. Initial anticipation for completion of the new Kiss album was tentatively targeted for April/May, keeping with the Minimum Recording Obligation deadline.

However, a multitude of complicating factors soon arose. Phonogram wasn’t happy with the amount of time they’d had for the marketing campaign for the “Unmasked” album. It seems that marketing was one avenue explored for the apathetic response it received in most markets, rather than the music or shifting demographics. In early February 1981, Phonogram requested that the group allow them 45 days lead time, particularly with major markets such as the United States and Australia, or face losing record sales. Two weeks later, after Glickman/Marks had triggered the recording clauses requesting the album’s advance payment, they expanded the request to 60-days, to better plan the coordinated release on a worldwide basis. That was a timeframe favored by the Japanese affiliate but didn’t affect the requirements of the delivery date. Once Kiss had spent a couple of weeks at Ace-in-the-Hole, it was clear they had a problem creatively. It is easy for fans to hear the Penny Lane, or even the later pre-Elder Phase I studio, demos and wonder what the problem was. It’s less easy to see or feel the music that was being created from the band member’s perspective or understand the dynamics of their internal situation. Simply put, the band weren’t feeling it. Australian threats, or pressure from other Phonogram affiliates be damned, the music wasn’t happening. They decided they needed help. Enter Bob Ezrin, seen as the most viable candidate to deliver what the band had been promising during 1980: a return to the hard rock form expected by fans. By the end of February, he had signed on, contingent on finishing up other projects that he was pre-committed to or already working on. Delivery date of the new album slipped to May/June/July by March 2, placing it on a knife-edge for compliance with the MRO. Kiss reset and restarted writing before heading to Toronto for their first recording sessions with Bob at the end of May. The plan was simple, akin to “Destroyer,” an album constructed despite the mixed bag of initial quality presented through the Magna Graphic demos.

By June 12, the fiasco had metamorphosed into the absurd, and Aucoin negotiated a delay to October 1, stressing the complexity of the group and Ezrin composing for a conceptual record. He stressed the risks taken, commenting to the band members and Bob, “The repercussions for not delivering by this date is the possible loss of our contractual deal with Polygram, and/or at best, a re-negotiation of our contract which obviously would not benefit us. I doubt PolyGram would give us an extension without wanting to re-negotiate some points in the contract” (Aucoin Memo, 6/12/1981). The risk they were taking was manifest.

However, for Australian PolyGram, the game had ended on June 16 when new product wasn’t delivered. The buzzer sounded, the MRO would be missed, and Kiss were in violation of their contract. PolyGram in Australia again threatened to release a “Best Of” album. Of all markets, they had seen the most action in sales during 1980 and had based sales plans on the availability of new Kiss product during the first half of 1981. They contacted the band’s management to start moving forward with a “Best Of,” resulting in Glickman/Marks being forced to negotiate a side deal to prevent a competing album that could sap sales from the studio album once it was released. They were a most vocally unhappy affiliate in their reaction to “The Elder” when the masters were eventually delivered in October (following further delays, including damaged masters that resulted in Australia being the final major market affiliate to release the album). However, PolyGram never did release that Australian “Best Of,” though they did release the worldwide “KISS Killers” in mid-1982 and license material for the Concept Records “The Singles” release in 1985. At the end of July, PolyGram Australia had relented and agreed to not release a “Best Of” before the end of 1981, if the new album was delivered by September. They also retained their contractual right suggesting they might release one at any time after that, during the remaining term of the contract. The proposed track-listing was nothing spectacular, and per the 1980 contract, would have been open to negotiation with the group.

© — no publication or reproduction without written permission.

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Happy 35th Birthday Smashes!

Happy birthday Smashes! Thirty-five years… Wow, where has the time gone. Celebrating the release of Smashes, Thrashes & Hits seems strange. Afterall, it was a seeming stopgap following Crazy Nights and preceded a break in the group’s visibility while Paul Stanley headed out on his first solo outing. I was nowhere near any of that action, having moved to Singapore during the summer of 1988. It was neither a happy place nor happy time, adjusting to that environment following my raucous teen years in Binghamton with guns, dirt bikes, and … But I was still a Kiss fan. The music vendors, both in stalls at shopping centers and even the odd few “proper” record stores across Singapore, Kuala Lumper, Jakarta, and lesser cities in the region provided fertile hunting ground for the avid novice record collector. From my perspective, rock magazines were in short supply. In addition to a ban on chewing gum (a non-issue personally), Singapore’s censorship was hit and miss with that sort of printed material. Gotta protect the youth and all, but porn and drugs were more serious target for the authorities. So, I was surprised when I found the new LP in a store.

My initial reaction was, “wow. NEW KISS MUSIC.” And in my misery I wallowed in the magnificence of “Let’s Put the ‘X’ in Sex” and “(You Make Me) Rock Hard.” I decline to defend my tastes at the time. It was NEW KISS MUISIC. They were sickeningly catchy up-beat songs that had me table drumming after a pitcher or two of Tiger beer. They were singable, hummable, and got stuck in the brain. They were total crap, but a palette cleanser following the sugary pap of the previous album. And Paul had thankfully dialed down the vocals somewhat. I was fortunate to not see the supporting videos for some years, but they probably would have had little negative impact on me. In December, I was in England for Christmas, and between falling down drunk in every pub in Liverpool, I remembered to hit all the music joints that the good folk at Liverpool Uni knew. Same in Southport. My suitcase bulged with vinyl for my return flight. I added the British CD and cassette versions since it included a slightly different track-listing (“Crazy Crazy Nights” and “Reason to Live” replace “Deuce”). And the compilation remained in regular play for most of 1989.

It was a more simple time. I didn’t equate the album as a “Double Platinum” for my fan generation. I didn’t notice the “updating” done to some of the older songs, any more than, “that sounds good.” It was just a collection of Kiss songs that arrived at the right time. I didn’t think much of the album cover, literally or figuratively. I didn’t care much for Eric Carr’s take on “Beth.” I didn’t know how much he’d wanted an album lead. I didn’t know how far/close he’d come in the previous years. I only knew the original, and the new version didn’t do anything for me to remove the original’s sonic etching on my brain. I didn’t think anything was missing, I didn’t create lists of what I felt would have been a better sequence. I simply enjoyed it for what it was. Now in hindsight, I can pick it apart, dissect, and critique, but it is probably better just to get a pitcher of Tiger and table drum for an hour in ignorant enjoyment. Yet, 2X Platinum certified by the RIAA, it is officially the best selling album of the “unmasked” era.

You want to read an excellent dissection? Check this out!

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Paul Stanley / KISS “Guitar Player” Holiday 2023 Issue

It’s an amazing honor to see Paul Stanley featured solo on a special cover of the Holiday 2023 issue of Guitar Player magazine. As a backbone to Kiss’ sound and the legendary MC of Kiss ceremonies, live and on vinyl, his lead guitar work has too often been overlooked. There’s 25+ pages in this issue of Kiss content, which should be available soon wherever you purchase magazines.

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War Machine: The Treads Come off the Tank…

April 13, 1984

According to a statement of fact in one of Vinnie’s Kiss-related lawsuits, “Plaintiff Vincent Cusano was a lead guitarist in the band Kiss from an unspecified date in 1982 until April 13, 1984” (Cusano v. Klein No. 97CV4914 AHM), providing a neat final bookend date to his Kiss tenure. From Vinnie Vincent’s perspective, there had been business problems with Kiss from the day he met them, and the situation had steadily deteriorated. He was adamant that he wouldn’t sign the employee contract he’d been presented. He didn’t find it acceptable either as a player or an artist. He also felt it didn’t reflect a reasonable value for his undeniable contributions, and that its terms were insulting and illustrative of his perception of how the band treated him. It didn’t represent his value to the organization, though he would not have been privy to the details of the financial issues afflicting the organization at the time. After having his salary cut in half in March 1983, it’s more surprising that he lasted as long as he did, particularly following the initial lodging offered to him for his stay in New York during the recording of Lick It Up. He’d also initially departed the group following the end of the European tour, and whether he quit or was fired is irrelevant. Kiss’s precarious financial position was hardly improving as quickly as was needed, following the previous year’s renegotiation of their contract with Phonogram, the business was operating according to a new reality. In essence, they were literally and financially half the band they’d been a couple years earlier, and that wasn’t saying much in 1984. Gene and Paul were still Kiss, and hired guitar slingers were a dime a dozen in the 1980s, though getting the right one as illustrated by the trials and tribulations in 1982 proved that not all nice shoes fit comfortably. Finding the player that fit that mode, who could also write the sort of material that appealed to Paul and Gene was an additional challenge.

During the break following the end of the tour, Vinnie nearly immediately connected with former Warrior cohort, Hirsh Gardner, in New England, essentially showing up on his doorstep. Hirsh was running the Sound Design Recording Studios in Burlington, Mass., and the pair started working up new demos. During that time, according to Hirsh (most likely early April), Vinnie had numerous phone call conversations with Gene. It was clear that Kiss — or at least Gene Simmons — initially wanted him to return to the group for the next album, or at least provide material. Gene faced a personal dilemma, having signed on for a supporting role in the Tom Selleck movie Runaway. Principal filming was scheduled to take place in Vancouver from late-May through August. The $8 million Michael Crichton directed film’s schedule was very much tied to Tom’s availability, due to a break from Magnum P.I., rather than Gene Simmons’. And it’s clear, from Gene’s eventual contributions to Animalize, that he had a vested interest in Vinnie’s material and creativity. However, Vinnie’s demos outside Kiss’s constraints were rapidly progressing and opening doors to new possibilities. He certainly had no interest in signing an agreement with Kiss that surrendered his royalties and art, a fatted cow sacrificed after pulling the plough. He was unchained, both creatively and from the bonds of Kiss’s precarious financial position. Gene, admitting failure, did what he had to do. Paul Stanley recalled, “After informing me without any warning or discussion that he wouldn’t be around for the album, Gene went into a studio and crapped out some demos as fast as he could. Then he was off to do a movie. He left me with a pile of mostly unusable junk ” (“Face The Music”). Gene’s outside distractions weren’t limited to acting and were increasing. He’d formed Monster Management, a management company, signing Liza Minnelli as one of his first clients. The solo album he’d produced for Wendy O. Williams, following the previous year’s tour, was released via Passport Records in mid-June, and he was scheduled to produce Keel’s second album.

Kiss had no choice but to further tighten their belt. While Vinnie had provided a musical foundation for their musical rehabilitation, it didn’t make inroads into alleviating their financial predicament. With a string of unrecouped albums, the group were forced to essentially take a bridge loan with advances from PolyGram tapped out and the trickle of other revenue streams quickly consumed. Glickman/Marks were playing a financial shell game to keep Kiss afloat, while Gene sought his own life raft leaving Paul at the helm. Another victim of the cost-cutting was producer Michael James Jackson. While Gene had come to find his image very un-rock ‘n’ roll, the fact that he didn’t cost much to retain (but did take points on the albums) meant that it was more than convenient that he was working with Armored Saint on their debut. As Kiss came off the road in March, Michael was at Ocean Way with the group, and was also preparing to work with Chequered Past. As a result, Michael’s contributions to a fourth Kiss album were limited to producing the drums when financial terms couldn’t be agreed. Paul Stanley defended the decision, suggesting, “At the moment, there really isn’t a need for anybody else… When we’ve worked with other people in the past it’s often been just to have an extra pair of ears; we haven’t used a producer as a producer for quite a while now. We’ve reached a level where we want to accept our failures and accept the praise and success” (Kerrang! #78). By mid-May 1984, the news of Vinnie’s departure from Kiss was made public (Kerrang! #68), as was the next studio album’s title and the replacement guitarist’s name. Clearly, by that time, Vinnie was long gone. The group had returned to work in April to begin pre-production and with the dates of the rough mixes they clearly would have started recording soon after, a rapid turnaround. To fill the cowriting void, Paul reconnected with songsmith Desmond Child. In the years following their collaboration on “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” and “The Fight,” Desmond had worked with Billy Squier and Cher following the demise of his group with Rouge, but neither had been commercially successful. The reconnection with Paul provided Desmond with the catalyst that soon exploded into collaborations with other artists that far exceeded his successes with Kiss (Bon Jovi). Yet, his work with Paul on the critical center mass of Animalize was enough to keep the ship afloat and prevent it from capsizing from the top-heavy Simmons contributions. Paul also worked with former Plasmatics bassist Jean Beauvoir and Gene’s friend, Mitch Weissman, deploying the skills of the latter to better effect than Gene had managed.

By the middle of May there were already rough mixes for “Heaven’s on Fire,” “Under the Gun,” and “Thrills in the Night.” With material such as that, the mindset may have been “No Vinnie, No Problem.” Or perhaps it was simply a matter of no Vinnie, no Vinnie problems… After two and a half months working in Boston, Vinnie and Hirsh had come up with at least an album’s worth of material with Vinnie also handling bass duties (Kerrang! #73). While many lyrics had been written, final vocals were not recorded, and the arrangements may not have been locked in, Vinnie had instrumental demos for “Street Rockers” (later recorded by Hirsh as “Bad Cowboy”), “Boys Are Gonna Rock,” “Shoot U Full of Love,” “Twisted,” “Animal,” and a revamped “Gypsy in Her Eye.” But Hirsh’s hopes of a continuing relationship with Vinnie disappeared in early July as unexpectedly as his reappearance — Vinnie upped and relocated to Los Angeles, taking the master tapes with him, where he’d continue the process of putting his solo project together. The unpaid studio bills (458 hours) with Hirsh resulted in him having the Invasion’s equipment seized during their Alice Cooper tour visit to the area in 1986. He also sued Vinnie for a purported interest in four of the songs on the Invasion album he alleged to have cowritten.

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Inside the War Machine, 1982-84: Michael James Jackson

In 2018, I conducted a series of interviews with the late Michael James Jackson. During that year I was also blessed to spend time with him on the KISS Kruise. This feature is the long-procrastinated print version constructed from those interviews.

Read the full piece at

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