As I listen to it now, seemingly 100,00 years from 1979, it dawns on me that KISS‘s controversial release, Dynasty, is a direct result of the 4 solo albums, damn good and in many ways the band’s ‘White Album’; disjunct yet many splendored. Strong as it is, turns out that selling out is a ‘Dirty Livin’.
For all it’s detracting elements, Dynasty is time piece worth revisiting on so many levels, a pivotal moment in KISStory that sees the band at their apex staring into the abyss. In a mere 5 years, KISS had gone from a dirty underground leathered shock rock band with a demonic tinge, largely thanks to Simmons early incarnations, to the biggest fucking band in the world. ‘The Return of KISS’ in ’79 with Dynasty is mega-KISS fully mechanized for world domination, with a sure-fire disco hit for radio as the ace up their sleeves. ‘Beth’ lit the radio lamp, and others kept it afloat (‘Hard Luck Woman’, ‘Dr. Love’) but ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ signaled that KISS had no choice but to compete, something ironically no one believed they’d be able to do beyond the initial buzz. Dynasty proved all the early critics wrong and yet proved them all right: KISS was more a ‘business’ than a band, as they had suspected. By 1979, KISS had over-saturated the market with product and, ironically, become almost too good, and certainly too well packaged. In modern terms, KISS had been on an amazing run but were ‘played out’.
But backing up, and without the hindsight of KISStory, Dynasty truly benefits musically from the reality that, with the solo records behind them, they were now a four headed monster with distinct styles, voices and proclivities. It must have been all Bill Aucoin could handle, knowing surely it could not go on at this clip forever; he had created four madmen by enabling each as true stars.
Yes, Dynasty — the proof maybe right there in the title? The fact that they would consider such a title while they still had the sour taste left by the over pressing of the 4-solo albums, seems a little too boastful for (even) KISS, especially on the heels of the Double Platinum hits package. Then add the heightened competition the solo album endeavor created between the band members. The fact that rock producer legends Eddie Kramer & Bob Ezrin had both extracted hits from Peter Criss, and the fact that Ace outflanked all his bandmates with his Kramer produced version of ‘New York Groove’, makes ’79 an interesting time for Simmons & Stanley, the founders and true architects of the bands ultimate survival.
It was Paul Stanley’s time for a hit, and disco had so much in common with his Motown roots, it just fit like a glove. If ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ hadn’t have made it, ‘Sure Know Something’ might have in its stead? Certainly, no way though that Gene, no matter how wonderfully he modernized his growl on Dynasty, was going to fit in a disco suit, musically speaking. Gene’s megalomania by ’79 was not focused on music per se, it was ‘Super KISS” and any way you slice it, he was having another piece. Over satiated, and likely a shrewd decision, Gene let Paul take the lead, and it worked. Crafty move also to placate Ace simultaneously by giving the Spacemen, for the first time on any KISS record, more songs on it than the Bat-Demon himself!
But to the music — this is great KISS record, and the best song on it is Criss’s ‘Dirty Livin” followed by Stanley’s ‘Magic Touch’ and Gene’s cartoonishly brilliant ‘X-Ray Eyes’. Produced by Vinnie Poncia with Criss M.I.A. and Anton Fig on the skins, Dynasty is a snapshot of four stars shifting orbits, about to combust. As fucked up as they were, and however separate they were in recording various tracks on it, Dynasty is a singular powerhouse that hangs tough today. Unfortunately though in ’79 the face shock value of “I Was Made For Loving You” was too much for US hard rock fans to endorse, regardless of Frehley’s stellar and oft overlooked contributions to the party. And. even though Criss was practically persona non-grata at this stage of the game, one can’t help but wonder how KISStory’s path may have changed had KISS lead with the compelling, dark disco soul of ‘Dirty Livin’ as the single? or if they had nixed “I Was Made For Loving You” altogether?!
While the Beatles asked you to not judge a book by it’s cover with their famously blank ‘White Album’ cover, KISS instead forces us to follow the ever-evolving plot with Dynasty. Blatantly no longer street, KISS had become elite and had no choice but to embrace their celebrity, hence the biggest mistake on the album, the self-absorbed title.
What a treat to get to not only talk to Richie Scarlet about his new single “The Catman & The Emperor” featuring Peter Criss on drums but to get to stream it with you here with you KISStorians! Richie kindly shares his heartfelt ‘Rock Soldiers’ inspiration for the tune, info on pre-orders of the green & purple vinyl “The Catman & The Emperor” single, news of Scarlet’s forth-coming full-length album and announcement of his ‘Show Of Shows’ virtual concert, streaming live from the Bowery Electric on January 30th!
I first met Richie on the Trouble Walkin’ Tour in Rochester, NY and again a couple times in Chicago at Ace shows. Always cool, always chill and, on stage, always the consummate ‘Rock Soldier’ and sympathetic player. I’ve always dug his voice and vibe. Wish Frehley’s Comet had launched with Scarlet in the line-up as I have the tape of the bands very first show @ Club L’Amour in Brooklyn and it’s a glorious ‘shot full of rock’!!
Stay thirsty my friends, KISStory
>> SPACE TRUCKIN’ – hard, heavy, foxy ‘n free spaced Deep Purple (slight return), ample G-forces to take your breath away just long enough to ascertain the Space Bear is M.I.A. again, riding’ high in the saddle with Blackmore’s gang
Bob was a monster player, producer, talent & personality that, from where I am sitting, typified what rock & roll is really all about — speaking your truth, following your heart, living your passion, helping other artists and telling the dream killers to fuck off!
Our deepest condolences to brother Bruce, the Kulick family and the KISS Army who, like me, are realizing what an incredible loss this is to the music community at large.
God bless you Bob, thanks for all the great music man, Rock & Roll!
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!