KISStorian’s ten best PETER CRISS drum tracks

Peter Criss76.33Actual drummers know: Peter’s playing early on is the KISS feel and memorable because it fit so well. Criss was raunchy & raw and yet grounded in rhythm & blues, Motown and the Big Band era as well as the 60’s pop rock scene. Like Ringo, Peter Criss had a knack for playing what was called for and a spacious, natural old school ‘pocket’ that none of his replacements had or have, great as they may be in other ways.

Every band is defined by their drummer, that’s why Gene once said “when the drummer sucks, even the fat girls know”. A band never gets off the ground until they have nailed down ‘the drummer’. First came Peter, then came Ace.

I’ll assume you are well-versed in the rest for the point of conversation but over the years, as the veil of 70’s-hyper-KISS secrecy has been pulled back some, plenty of shit has been flung Criss’s way for his infamous temper and general carrying on.  In a Kiss family feud that won’t quit, Criss recently returned a ‘no-holds-barred’ volley with his own biography, PETER CRISS, Makeup to Breakup in response to 20 or so years of sniping in the press from Simmons / Stanley.

Say what you will about ‘Reunion’ era Kiss and Peter’s at times uninspired playing, the chip on the ‘Catman’s’ shoulder is sealed in solid rock gold and on display on Kiss’s first 8 offerings. Bottom line, it all stands up.  Were I to hold a Kiss drum symposium I would choose these ten cuts as my favorites with Criss on the throne. For all the fucking slagging, I wish once in a while Gene & Paul, and Ace for that matter, would tip the hat and give some credit to Peter’s classic rock & roll feel and phenomenal studio & live takes, no matter how painstaking the proceedings with the roadie-dubbed ‘Ayatollah Criss’ may have been.

It is my contention (and I can prove it when provoked) that listening to Peter Criss’s drumming is a really good template for learning how to make strong parts that flow together and informed fills/tags of all variety that only come from a broad knowledge of music and innate sense of what fits. For musician’s, it’s called “feel”.

Everything else after Criss left is closer to metal by and large and so, when they try to cop the old grooves on the classic stuff in his absence, I hear a pale imitation simply because you can’t change DNA (yet).  See, metal is a more structured ritualistic sort of music, not that Kiss isn’t based on pagan principles, but rock & roll, and especially Peter’s approach to it, was more organic and about improvisation and living in the moment. You can hear it and it is what is lacking on all the post-Criss, that classic Kiss ‘feel’.

petecrissericcarrThe band were ultimately able to evolve after he left with the smart choice of the bombastic more Zep-styled Eric Carr as worthy replacement, completely re-defining the band’s overall feel and attack. And as with the choice of Carr and later Eric Singer, it’s evident Gene & Paul are notoriously shrewd so there is no way Criss gets the gig originally if he wasn’t ‘the man’ to them then, even if they miss-fired later w/ Mark St. John and, before him, with Vinnie Vincent on guitar. Drums are more central to the nervous system of a band ….history says they lead the charge; Starr, Bonham, Moon, Fleetwood and on and on. Even G&R sucked after they lost Adler.

I feel it’s a pity the game is on in the Kiss camp to obscure his playing and impact on their overall sound. Maybe that will change a bit as we find out how the band will celebrate their 40th anniversary this year.

LARGER THAN LIFE – This track off Alive II ironic (rare for Kiss) studio side of the double LP set. The groove and drum sound finally achieve the Bonham sound Paul, and Peter for that matter, had felt had lacked on Kiss’s prior releases. Everything about the song kills: Gene’s growl, the Beatlesque turnaround. Criss’s flam repeat part going into the solo breaks captures what he had above all, a great primal back beat feel, powerful in its timing, never rushed (at least not on record).

I WANT YOU – Off Rock & Roll Over, “I Want You” is cool because it probably is the only spot Peter could have added a jazz feeling in some way with his ride cymbal part in the choruses, instead of quarter n’ eighth notes everywhere as in most Kiss music. With Paul’s great rhythm line playing off him it’s about as close to funky as Kiss has ever gotten, real good on Alive II as well.

Peter Criss76.21SHOCK ME – Pete’s fills throughout the Love Gun version give this song movement it has never had live for Ace, with Kiss or his other solo bands for that matter. It shows Peter’s his versatility and a willingness to pull back off the beat. It’s all in the pocket too; tasteful, slick, and a million miles from heavy metal drumming. Great snare work, syncopated stops and starts and real loose. Very hep shit to most drummers I have engaged on the matter. It seems in ways that Ace’s stuff allowed Peter more freedom, Shock Me’s that proof — bet Gene & Paul weren’t around and ‘the boys’ were left to their devices. Oh the majesty .. no supervision?!

TOMORROW & TONIGHT – Again, the live version off Alive II, which isn’t actually live but a sound check cut tarted up for prime time with canned audience as a convincing canvas.  He’s just so fucking on on in it, even when he misses a beat with what sounds like a dropped stick… they left it, because it’s ‘the take’. That’s why it’s on the record, it was the albums “Rock & Roll All Nite” moment without having it on both live albums. It’s so good in fact it should have put it on side 3 as the closer after “Shout It Loud” but Gene never listens.

DETROIT ROCK CITY – Again, I’ll point to the live version on Kiss Alive II because it’s so hot. Sure, Ezrin probably wrote the part but it’s how Peter delivers it, like no other drummer can. Musicians all know this — when it’s a singular performance it can never quite be duplicated by anyone else but the cat who played it and sometimes not even by him/her!!  Very snappy version: the machine gun snare tag at the very end is a rapid-fire ass kicking Bun E. Carlos loved to tag on to songs live w/ Cheap Trick (not sure who did it first?).

Peter Criss75.29ROCK & ROLL ALL NITE – The studio version is pretty buttoned down but, as good as it is, the live version on Alive is pure Peter Criss, amped-up and happening all over the place. Loose, crazy, gutsy, groovy, altered, inspired, in a word, ALIVE!! It’s just plain fun, especially during Ace’s solo mid-way through. I am yet to hear a live version of the tune without Peter worth hearing, save the confetti. (Footnote: as a kid in 4th grade I wrote to the Kiss fan club to ask Peter why he changed the beat in the breaks from the album version? … no reply)

GOT LOVE FOR SALE – Off Love Gun, this lovely Gene confession features a great Eddie Kramer mix and amazing sounding drums and Peter Criss laying it down  …..pre-chorus when he goes to the toms, and alternates the snare / bass pattern a bit a’ la the cha-cha, it showcases Peter’s knack for the right part at the right time to make it all keep moving and build anticipation like all the best pop songs do.

DR. LOVE  – Off Rock & Roll Over is another fave of mine. At first listen it’s so simple but when you zoom in on the snare and hi-hat play, Peter does a lovely soft stick drag on the snare and always pulls the right feel on the open hi-hat tag and close. You can’t teach that shit; you have it, or you don’t. Next drummer please. Peter put personality of his own in ever track without over playing. The fills at the end of the cut during the fade are urgent, pure Criss (and no two alike either). It’s also the biggest cowbell part in the history of rock, or at least the loudest! In fact, to try and ape that classic Kiss sound, Kiss threw more cowbell on their latest album Monster than any other in bands history, and I’m not for getting Dressed To Kill so off my back!!

peter Criss74.7

100,000 YEARS – Again the Alive version, which I am told is completely un-doctored drum-wise, is a crowning achievement in rock history on a lot of levels. But I won’t bore with that — listen to it. Neil Peart aside, it’s the standard for the live 70’s drum solo. The toms and flange effect sound great and It’s not  John Bonham or Peart but it could be no other than Peter Criss, his blend of Krupa and a jungle cat . Man it rocks.

ROCKET RIDE – Hell, again, the studio side of Alive II, but it’s so Peter. Ace’s is all rigid like dumb punk and Peter is slapping the snare with his little -da-da-da-dat snare roll breaks and real mellow on the ride in the chorus’. Everyone else who has ever played the song live with Ace completely misses it, over muscling the thing. But the kicker is the Gene Krupa inspired drum solo blitz that is the coda on Frehley’s spacey Pagey bit at the end of the number. Hard to deny its one of the hottest drum breaks from anyone, on anything, anywhere in the annals of rock history.  It’s rock n’ roll explosion that stops on a dime as if to say ‘take that’ mo-fo. It kills.

627So many others I failed to mention: PARASITE, HOOLIGAN, LOVE GUN, ANYTHING FOR MY BABY, CHRISTINE SIXTEEN, LET ME GO ROCK & ROLL, TWO TIMER, ROOM SERVICE, SHE. Hell, BLACK DIAMOND, STRUTTER. GOD OF THUNDER live …..they’re all A1 because a great song with the right drums is hard to beat, then add a gimmick. Just ask the Beatles! 

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22 thoughts on “KISStorian’s ten best PETER CRISS drum tracks

  1. Peters Alive 100,000 years drum solo is my favorite of all I have heard . I always wondered , but with amazement how good it was , thinking maybe it was dual tracks . If it was not by comfirmation of this artical … I am even more amazed .

  2. Anthon Fig played on larger than life from alive 2-but i agree-criss drumming was definetly excellent,and was best around 77/78,alive2 captured it fine,the reunion tours just showed a bleak shadow and he was very dissapointing in my opnion..

    1. Dead wrong that Anton Fig played on any of the tracks on Alive II. That is all Peter Criss and the albums that Anton played on are Dynasty and Unmasked minus the track Dirty livin. Check your facts Frank666.

      1. Thanks Jim for backing me up here. I don’t wanna harsh on Frank, and I am a HUGE Anton Fig fan, but Peter is a flam master in my opinion. Flams are everywhere in his playing, like the drum breaks in “Larger Than Life”, rife with anticipation and, thus, power. It’s funny because Peter often commented he wanted a more Bonham drum sound on their early records but somehow they couldn’t “find the sound”. Paul said in his biography that they (or he) later realized they couldn’t get it because in essence “Bonham was the sound” but they did indeed ‘get it’ on “larger Than Life”. Maybe thats why you can’t believe it Frank? Anyway, there’s an interview where Gene where states that it is in fact “all Peter on side 4 of Alive II”. The next step is getting on a conference call with Peter and he’s not returning my calls!! All in fun, Dave

  3. Nice “musings” on Peter’s unique, integral-to-the-classic-KISS sound drumming that actually elevated the whole affair! I think KISS fans today have gotten caught up in debate (abetted by the “classiness” of Gene and especially Paul) and have lost having a clear mind on what exactly made up the original KISS sound. Peter’s contributions – like Ace’s – cannot and should not be underestimated!

    1. Thanks for the kind words Ron! Just listen to the jazz inspired snare fills on something like “See You In Your Dreams”, they roll, they aren’t straight or linear…he got better from 73 to 78 and then came off the rails personally it appears and that affected his ability
      to be ‘on’ day to day, though he was on fire on the Dynasty tour if haphazard …heavy heavy fuel no doubt… plus he always got a nice snare sound (except on HTH of course) … big fan, he’s the reason I started playing, I wanted to be Peter Criss!!

  4. I’m glad you’re out there saying this because you are so on point with everything man, listen to the recent 2 albums and what is missing is the edge and pocket Peters drumming brought the chemistry

  5. You are so on point with this, simply listen tot he staleness of the new albums recently, all bombast and simplicity and lacking in the creative skill that was Peter’s swing.

  6. Off Hotter than Hell: Parasite, strange ways, Got to choose… is my fav drumming from PC. Seems like his drumming really stood out on HTH. But love any recordings/playing he did!

  7. Great write up. My personal faves are Let Me Go Rock and Roll and 100,000 years. His jazzy feel really brought an art style to the KISS songs. Many people underestimate his chops back in the day. His rolls, singles, doubles, triplets, and his feel in the shuffle is really good. Lots of ghost notes. I am still finding those to this day! Chemistry, they had it in the old days!

    1. Thanks Tim … that early KISS groove is tough to beat, those first 6 studio albums are the Holy Grail(s) of KISStory. Interesting to note, for all the bullshit Pete bashing goes on in and out of KISS, that Ed Kramer is on record as saying that the drums on ALIVE! were left “as is” and, if you believe Sean Delaney, may be the only thing ‘live’ about that record. Yours KISSfully, Dave

  8. what about “love em and leave em”? not only one of my favorite kiss songs of all time, but peter at his best! great snare fills and a driving beat. check out the snare fill into the 2nd chorus at the end of the song.

  9. I almost cried when I read this….I have been saying this stuff, though not with your precision, forever….God love you man, you seriously made my whole freaking day…..Peter Criss is flat out my favorite rock drummer, he is the least boring drummer I’ve ever heard, and one of the most musical…Peter really listens to the music, to what’s going on around him, .you see these drummers who are just all arms and legs…Peter uses his whole body…that’s why he swings like crazy….Peter Criss IS KISS. And can you believe these people? “that’s Anton Fig…” lol…I really suspect Peter did play on “2000 Man” off of Dynasty, and note that it is the one song on the record that really has that natural Kiss feel to it.

    1. thanks Shannon!! there are times when even KISSTory can be emotional … like when when Ace & Pete walked on to the Unplugged stage to join Gene & Paul.
      I love all the early board tapes of KISS, especially because listening to them now the original line-up is like fine rock & roll wine. A big part of that is Peter’s unique take on rock & roll …he had his own thing. Those who knock him in totality should be cast off, Amen.

  10. With Pete, it’s never “look at how clever I am..” or, “look at this cool trick I learned…” in other words, Peter never separates himself from the whole, from the composition itself….even when he’s doing an all out blitz, as you so astutely mentioned in your analysis of “Rocket Ride”..i.e. it’s an orchestral component….Not to mention that bounce, that original rock’n’roll hop, which IS KISS.

  11. Well said ” Bounce” and “Bop” and my word for what Peter brought to the sound “Lift” all describe an essential element of the classic KISS sound that they have not had since he left. The key thing is: Peter is not a heavy metal drummer, he is a rock n’ roll drummer. It was always Paul’s wet dream to have a Bonham clone in the band and all his griping about Peter’s playing stems from that. Peter is the “Anti-Bohnam” While JB had this plodding brick-laying heavy handed lumbering feel that later became known a s heavy metal drumming, Peter Shucked and Jived, danced like a butterfly and stung like a bee, his drumming almost reminds me of a finesse boxer with great footwork, weaving around the ring keeping you off balance , stinging you with jabs and setting you up for the knockout. Peter was not a human metronome which drumming has become these days, what Peter did back then is really a lost art and totally ab sent from music today.

  12. peter Criss was in my opinion very talented and very smart on drums.Ask anyone playing Jazz music like Krupa is harder then Rock drumming> peter Criss could and can in my opinion play with anyone and fit in. I bet he could play a mean jazz or blues drum session.

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