For those in denial or worse, I wanted to write a short piece here on why the drummer on Ace Frehley’s “Rocket Ride” off the studio side of 1977’s KISS ALIVE II is indeed, 100% zero doubt, PETER CRISS.
Over the years many have shared their foggily diluted memories of who played what on the other 4 tracks off the studio side of the 2-record set. The Demon has asserted that at the very least it’s “absolutely PETER CRISS on “Larger Than Life”” even if it is the ever-proud Bob Kulick on lead in Ace Frehley‘s stead on that and perhaps all the others on side 4 (save “Rocket Ride” of course) ….but then again even Eddie Kramer can’t quite pin it down when trying to reel in the years.
Without the benefit of a time machine, we’re left with one option — to analyze the drumming on the track. When I do that, I have no doubt it’s PETER CRISS. A relief too because, for years, if anyone has told me KISS sucks, I’ve popped on “Rocket Ride” and watched their eyes widen, often declaring “Jeez .. I had no idea!!”.
Here’s why we know it’s PETER CRISS on “Rocket Ride”:
ACROBAT > It’s really good and, with the benefit / first-time-in-KISStory anomaly of no Simmons/Stanley on the track, stands as a KISStoric kick in the teeth in that it foreshadows the revelation that would be Ace Frehley’s solo debut under the KISS banner a year later.
BETRAYED > Peter’s snare roll style matches. On all of his recordings with KISS (esp. those with Kramer) his snare work is definitively his own and what I dig the most. It has flourishes of jazz in attack, ghost notes, ebbs ‘n flow and a snare sound that mirrors Motown as well as the big band drummers like Gene Krupa he grew up idolizing.
CRAZY KNIGHTS > Peter’s ride cymbal style & treatment is loose, softer and has more interplay with his snare and bass drum than most hard rock or metal drummers. It compliments the song nicely with fun stops n’ starts that typify Peter’s playing on all of his recordings with KISS. Same can be said of his hi-hat use on this; it’s singular in style and, as always, playful yet always the complimentary back beat a song requires to ‘happen’. I’ve noticed, when Peters’ on the hi-hat, there’s a slight skip in his beat as he pulls off the hi-hat a skosh early before the snare tap, similar to Charlie Watts who usually entirely skips the beat on the hi-hat when hitting his snare. But as Peter does it, he drags a quiet few snare notes with his left hand as his right returns to the hi-hat. It’s subtle but is on “Hard Luck Woman”, “Dr. Love”, Mr. Speed” and tons of others as he got better and better with Eddie at the helm. He also has a couple fills he loves: One is a simultaneous bass drum & cymbal crash, a ‘tag’ as some folks call it, after a quick snare roll and an other he loves to pepper in is the one in which he leads with a tom smack in to the snare riff, and back again, like on the intro to “Shock Me” or “Got Love For Sale”. It’s a Ringo Starr fill that informs Peter’s approach to his verse-chorus transitions in general over the years …and I dig it.
DONTCHA HESITATE > Peters notoriously inconsistent drum ‘parts’ (a constant refrain from Simmons/Stanley) are in evidence here too verse-to-chorus as they aren’t quite flushed out per se. Perhaps because they were binging on blow at the time, but the drum parts never quite duplicate themselves. Probably because it doesn’t matter in a certain school of thought where the take with the vibe wins the day. See, studio drummers / musicians pride themselves on that seamlessness, often at the expense of a take with energy or feel. Rockers and ”studio cats’ are always at odds. Sometimes they are the answer. They can do it the same each time, like robots, or like Eric Singer, but Peter Criss thrives on giving it a feeling, catching the moment, just like Ace. He reportedly couldn’t play the same thing twice if he tried but that’s what makes him an authentic feel musician, interacting with the music and the other players, verses learning it for perfections sake – the enemy of all great rock & roll. That’s why KISS always recorded live in the studio, to catch Peter’s best take. Later, when the band splintered and were desperate for hits, that changed: que Unmasked & Dynasty and everything that came after.
EASY AS IT SEEMS > The outro full-kit-in-use rapid-fire attack is pure jazz exploding into a rock arena, and echoes the ‘end of song’ flurries Peter was doing on the road with KISS at the time. To this day, Peters’ drum volley and Ace’s Page-inspired solo guitar on RR’s coda is not only the coolest KISS moment on analog tape but one of most explosive few seconds in the history of rock. Incredibly, KISS never played the song live and, although Ace does it almost every show, he’s never even tried to make the songs ending part of its live presentation, because (wild guess) he can’t seem (or bother) to relearn it and, more centrally, nobody else can pull off that drum break! Well, Anton Fig might, but had he played on the track, I believe it would have been completely different. The ideas are Peters, not Antons, that’s clear to this KISStorian. If you wanna hear how different Anton is from Peter, listen to Dynasty or any of Ace’s solo stuff he’s on. He’s a monster. Prolific click-track-like precision with genius flare and an uncanny knack for adapting to any artist or musical style. That’s why they brought him when Peter was going mad, and he did a damn good job of pretending to be Peter Criss on Unmasked. Anton is more versatile and obviously easier to direct given the dynamic, but he’s not Peter Criss and his feel is way more buttoned down. Dynasty proves that, and Peter dots the ‘i’ on “Dirty Livin'” which, as I revisit, was a more viable single than “Hard Times”. As much as I love the latter, man would I like to hear the radio edit for a “Dirty Livin'” joint push, or for that matter an EDM version today? I think it’s Paul’s falsetto on IWMFLY that might have pushed some fans over the cliff to exodus. “Dirty Livin'” seems as I hear it now to perhaps bridge the disco gap without a full KISS sell-out, thanks largely to Ace’s bitchin’ guitar work throughout and the stellar Vini Poncia mix, with Criss on the drums.
FANFARE > Finally, I gotta tell you people, when you then listen to the drums on the other 4 cuts on side 4, they too are absolutely Peter Criss on drums as all of the aforementioned tenants of his playing are on full display. Sound, attack, feel, pocket, and the flams, I forgot to mention then ever-present dynamite Peter Criss flams!
GIMME MORE > Put it to you this way, having done KISS’s original demo, Love Gun, Rock & Roll Over and both live albums, on which it must be noted Kramer has commented “the only stuff we didn’t have to touch at all on the live recordings were Peter’s drums and his vocal mic”, why would he have brought in another drummer for the studio tracks? He didn’t. Peter plays amazing drums on all of the Kramer produced KISS albums and, on another score, is hands down the best natural singer in the band. Plus, Eddie’s too cool to have let it play out that way. KISS was a band he helped mold into shape and I sense Eddies too much a purist, and probably more loyal as a dude than most. He would have endeavored to make it work with Peter and that story simply doesn’t exist. Sure, Eddie knows Peter went off the rails at some point, but it wasn’t on his watch.
HOOLIGAN > All I ever wanted to be was Peter Criss. Over the years I’ve realized it wasn’t just the the voice and the drumming, it was an attitude we all picked up on early, just from the photos of the band, regardless the ballad. That detached yet inspired “I wanna rock & roll!” bravado that defines defiance. Who the F else could dress up like a cat and still be cool? The guy who believed in it and became it. The Catman .. or ‘Cat’ as Ace calls him. Peter, like Ace, provided the built-in, hyper social, legit street aura ballast KISS needed for folks to buy in out of the box. Without their vibe, talent and attitudes, I get the sense it would have never gotten off the ground. Vision and drive is one thing, but authenticity always rules. Finding Ace & Peter was a shrewd masterstroke that Gene & Paul ought to embrace more often, and will in coming years.
Heck, “Rock & Roll All Nite” has got more to do with Peter & Ace than the guys who actually wrote it. Go figure, or pop on “Rocket Ride”, the definitive Peter Criss & Ace Frehley KISS track.
KISStorians, I appeared on Easter on COLLECTORS CALL starring Lisa Whelchel, which airs Sunday nights at 9pm Central on MeTV nationwide, please check your local listings. I played an expert at KISS fanatic Zach & Melanie Vege’s home to help evaluate the total value of his hard-core KISS collection, a real treat for any KISStorian! WATCH KISSTORIAN / COLLECTORS CALL EPISODE
Zach had just about everything I don’t, I was transfixed by the scope of the presentation; a full basement dedicated to the history of the band. My favorite part of the day was when Zach unveiled his custom made KISS road case in which he cherishes all of KISS’s albums, on vinyl. Though not a fan per se, Lisa was struck by the fact that the guys had done 4 solo albums at the zenith of their true heyday in 1978, remarking “wow … so that had to have caused some friction in the band … whose sold best? Ahh… from the mouths of babes. Zach was quick to explain the situation.
I really hope the show is a huge success because Lisa and everyone involved in the production are awesome, please share with your friends!
Now that the gloves are off, I thought it a good time to finally weigh in on the ever-rocking Ace Frehley‘s latest voyage, the self-produced Entertainment One release Spaceman, yet another aural sortie that finds the celestial one in a good place making vibrant new rock.
If you’ve been hiding under a rock, or have given up on new rock & roll altogether, you may need a wake up call — Ace Frehley is one of the few old school true hard rock cats left carrying the torch with any efficiency. In the past decade, Frehley has put out (countem’) four albums, all with stellar cuts & euphoric rock moments worthy of his ever-ascending pedigree and any playlist.
Reality is, a lot of folks sold out, gave up or can’t quite give a fuck enough to figure out how to get their fans new music. Ace …you know, the notoriously lazy drunken lay-about, decided when he got truly sober years ago to take over the main command deck, learn the new tech cold and bring it on home ….to his home studio. He’s cut out the flack and has been doing what he loves to do most, and you can feel it in his records; Ace is in his element. With what he’s endured, it’s a miracle he’s alive, not jaded and is still in love with rock & roll.
Spaceman may not be the very best of the four, but it’s f-close at moments and is as endearing as anything he’s ever released. In fact, when the final chapters of KISStory are written, I believe there a number of songs, sentiments & performances on Spaceman that will end up as major notches on the time capsule.
Relistening to it here today, a smile came over my face as I found myself breaking on through the turbulent atmosphere to the other side …kinda like the gravity that used to hold me down somehow just didn’t exist no more?!
The album features long-time, par-excellence Ace Frehley Band member Scot Coogan on drums on most of the record with the exception of the re-appearance of Anton Fig on “Pursuit of Rock & Roll” and guest jams by Matt Starr on “Rockin’ With The Boys’, “I Wanna Go Back” & “Quantum Flux”. Ace plays most of the guitars and bass, minus Gene SImmons’ singular playing on “Without You I’m Nothing” …count down’s comin’ on, here we go:
WITHOUT YOU I’M NOTHING > A ballsy, earnest rocker co-written with former band mate Gene Simmons that wouldn’t have worked (ie – been convincing) coming from Simmons or KISS. Frehley though knocks it out of the park with a great lead vocal, edgy semi-autobiographical verse lyrics and a bitchin’ solo that quickly re-affirms why you developed a taste for the Blue Koolaid way back.
“Now through the years, I’ve hit some walls, with no regrets .. when we’re apart I get the blues””
ROCKIN’ WITH THE BOYS > More straight talk from Ace delivered with customary ‘don’t sweat it’ chill. This one grows on you like a new pair of favorite jeans and the comfy feel continues into the solo as Ace eases back on the throttle, laying in behind the beat to get ‘back’ in NY groove.
“We’ve had our differences, now don’t make a fuss, we’ve had the best of times”
YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND > Co-written also with Simmons, ‘Wish’ features a similarly luke-warm Simmons chorus / title benefiting again significantly from Ace’s well-honed pop sensibility on the verse melody & lyric. An ill-fated reunion of sorts, no surprise this is the only tune on the album that feels a little forced. Like with most old flames, you often find once is enough.
“Seen many miracles, don’t be concerned, so few are chosen”
BRONX BOY > More street cred and a great P&L statement from Ace that takes us back to the ‘hard times’ as a teenage gangbanger that he may not have escaped were it not for his guitar & considerable swagger, drunk or sober!
“I’m just a street kid, we seek and destroy, I lived so much of it, I’m just a Bronx Boy.”
PURSUIT OF ROCK & ROLL > A rock anthem to rival KISS’s many arena driven-forays over the years. Ace’s ‘State Of The Union’ is a rocket ride with Anton Fig burnin’ up the drum kit and Frehley high on the fumes, literally shouting out to The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and even The Beatles.
“Don’t want no strife, ‘cuz it’s the enemy, that gets into your soul”
I WANNA GO BACK > It’s almost impossible not to love this cover of the Eddie Money hit. The choice, and Ace’s delivery of the bitter-sweet Money lament, is flat-out charming, further illuminating Ace’s range and deep love for a great hook, regardless the artist or era. It wasn’t a guitar tune until now, and it’s a fucking cool departure.
“I wanna go back, and do it all over, but I can’t go back I know”
MISSION TO MARS > Were I Ace’s manager I would have tapped the glorious “Mission To Mars” as the lead single (or “I Wanna Go Back”?) as it’s perhaps Ace’s best vocal since “Rip It Out” and tracks us on radar somewhere between ’74’s “Parasite”, ’89’s “Lost In Limbo”, 2009’s “Outer Space” and Elon Musk’s flying Tesla. Wonder how many times Frehley left the pavement in his DeLorean?
“My ships off course, by some unknown force ….Between heaven and earth, you know we’ll always be first, and that’s why”
OFF MY BACK > Even if it’s now clear Ace never heard Spinal Taps’ “Bitch School”, this tune is super catchy and boasts the hottest solo on the album. If not Ace’s rawest Frehley fret attack ever from the get-go, the solo outro shifts to urgent blues phrasing reminiscent of Leslie West of Mountain or Rory Gallagher!
“We go in circles with no end in sight”
QUANTUM FLUX > The closer is, as is tradition for Ace, a continuation of the instrumental epics that started in ’78 with the haunting powerhouse that is ‘Fractured Mirror’. No exception to the fleet, ‘Flux’ is transcendent and takes Ace and us out of orbit into emotional time-scapes, reverberating key influences Jeff Beck & Jimmy Page while remaining pure Ace Frehley through and through.
The crazy thing is that, with Ace, you can go back. He still gives me that feeling. There’s ‘Space’ on board …Ace’s got you.
I was @ Buck Lake Ranch in Angola, IN this weekend helping my pals out with their ‘Blessing Of The Bikes’ festival and met this mom and her son whose name escapes me … but his middle name was truly ‘ACE”, on the birth certificate! He and his mom shared pix with me of them on stage with Gene and the ‘Gene Simmons Band’ (did I get that right Mr. Make Believe?) the other day in in Cleveland or Indy or … they were rocking out and the Demon was all smiles.
Anyway, young ‘ACE” is the son of the lead guitarist of the band MAGPIE who rocked that day. In fact, Bon Scot may have been revived briefly when he took lead vocals That’s dad in the back ground setting up for the gig. Hope the young Jendel candidate knows Dad is about as cool as the planet offers, only just ‘A Little Below The Angels’.
Funny how KISS still amazes even me sometimes …. young ‘ACE’ is in 5th grade, the same age I was when my buddy started singing “Larger Than Life” on the way out to the play ground one day and I said “what’s that?!?!?!” … the rest is personal KISStory … ah the sudden clarity over the weekend that I don’t know a world without KISS?!
How do you rank the studio albums by the original four? I’d give them all 10’s!!
What’s your review from the Chicago Open Air show this summer at Toyota Park? I think they need to really quit — I had to say but they need to quit or do a one year reunion tour with everyone whose alive and just call it a day.
You have a weekly feature on KISStorian in your Jason‘s Kisstoric Flashback — how do you decide each week what video to pick? It’s not very hard, I just go with how I feel that week, whatever song I feel like throwing up there.
What is your favorite moment in KISStory? Gene’s appearance on the Mike Douglass Show or the Tom Snyder Show interview.
What would you call the next KISS studio album, please give us three working titles Jason? Maniacs, Tear It Up or Worlds Apart.
#1 > LOVE GUN – Eddie Kramers KISStoric sonic masterpiece, the punchy Love Gun boasts Ace’s first vocal, some of his best leads and the original line-up’s finest studio hour. Best snare sound found on any KISS studio recording save the non-live side 4 of Alive II, compliments again of Kramer.
#2 > ROCK & ROLL OVER – Meaty, beaty, big & bouncy, and again with Kramer at the wheel, Rock & Roll Over is a bombastic rock record that captures the band getting back to what they do best, rock. The debut EP should probably have this spot but the band is so much more developed by ’76’s RRO .
#3 > KISS – Almost as pristine as “Christeen Sixteen” herself in sheer simplicity, KISS is loaded with more of the bands live staples than any other and, If you don’t like “Kissin’ Time”, you’re probably in the band because Ace’s solo on it is fierce, capturing on his frets the bands frustration in being forced to record the number.
#4 > DRESSED TO KILL – Shortish but tight, Dressed To Kill is a surprisingly crisp sounding album given it was practically self-produced …DTK features a notably improved Peter Criss and a number of now classic KISS rockers for the subsequent tour and Alive!. Turns out that giving the band more control, at least at this juncture, enabled them to produce something that represented them better than the debut and HTH, employing acoustic guitars to add texture for the first time.
#5 > DETROYER – The bar and the band raised to the high ‘n mighty Bob Ezrin standard, Destroyer is KISS’s first successful foray into mainstream pop hot on the heels of the radio explosion of the Alive! version of “Rock & Roll All Nite”. Although many argue it’s KISS’s best studio effort because of their expanded scope with Ezrin producing, the overblown fascism that is “Great Expectations” gives us their first truly cringeworthy moment and a snapshot of the shape of things to come.
#6 > HOTTER THAN HELL – A delightfully dark ‘n dirgy, balls-to-the-wall album that includes a number of my all-time favorite KISS deep cuts, HTH is a major cornerstone of the KISS cannon. Were it not for its muddy production and dead drums, I could even put it above Destroyer because its definitive stuff. No place else would the sludge blues-rock of “Mainline” have made the cut nor “Goin’ Blind” & ” Strange Ways” fit in so well with classics like “Parasite”, “Got to Chose” and the title cut.
(( KISStorians note: I have left off Dynasty & Unmasked because they, by & large, feature Anton Fig as ghost drummer. Had I included them, Unmasked would have come in last place, Dynasty somewhere in the middle ‘cuz its state-of-the-art KISS! ))