PETER CRISS’s drums definitive on FREHLEY’s 1977 KISS classic “Rocket Ride”

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.

 

 

BRUCE KULICK saved KISS on MTV

UNKNOWN - BRUCE KULICK 1984 - 3Okay… Kiss fans are gonna freak on me one way or another but, when your a fan like I am, sometimes things in your KISS universe boil up on one topic or another and we feel the need to reach out to the Kiss Army;  I now believe this to be normal. The web has its victims.

I was watching Animalize Live & Uncensored  the other night for no other reason than, well… it was time to do so (again). Any way, I had an epiphany in Kiss / Bruce Kulick terms. Contrary to many a Kiss fans insistence that Revenge is the high tide mark for the humble shredder, I believe Kulick’s finest hour (minus the Blazefest in Chicago in which I heard him settle in a way that I wish happened more often) may just be this very hyper piece of Kisstory. Talk about a fuckin’ pro, Bruce Kulick stands tall like a redwood on this classic 80’s concert vid.

Bruce’s Achilles heel to me, and Gene & Paul might admit it if we were on a stuck together on the ‘Kiss Clipper’ headed for the eastern rim,  is that he’s not a true “closer’. Maybe just ‘cuz he’s a mellow guy and not an type-A personality. Often the most important thing you say isn’t actually the first,  especially in show biz and rock & roll. All the greats from Page on have asked, “but how do I get out” when they’ve got something going but know it’s all about how you end it. Guitar solos that is. Closing was Ace Frehley‘s forte = big space boots. This was the first time we were seeing Kiss on tv live, without make-up, without Ace and Bruce kicked ass.

For my buck, Bruce is better in the studio than live ….not on this Animalize evening in Detroit in 1984. Ironically, he almost seems more comfortable with the idea of being a random gunslinger than he was after being handed the lead duties full-on w/ Asylum (even though, yes I know… take it easy, Bruce was already in the fold on Animalize the disc and played on a couple cuts, the best stuff on the disc too lead wise (see “Lonely is The Hunter”)).

imagesAt this stage of the game, Bruce had not a lot of time to think about it and played it straight from the heart — the result is Kiss at their 80’s finest on a particularly “hot nite for rock & roll!”.  It’s so cool to watch now ‘cuz Bruce was  literally “Under The Gun” on that Animalize tour: For outsiders, ‘BK’ was originally a fill-in for the late Mark St. John who, in a strange twist of fate, acquired a rare disease that affected his hands to the extent that he could no longer play guitar …just after having learned to play Kiss music on the bitchn’ Stanley-fueled Animalize. Go figure. I think most of us were excited about Mark at that point and figured Gene & Paul had done their homework and we were all systems go, then another Kiss-hiccup It took a while for that news to get out and so it was kinda like… uh, is that Mark St. John?  

Bruce’s tone on the show isn’t my fave but at least he wasn’t overriding a chorus as he was later prone, practically a vocation for guitarists in the 80’s. At times though he sears and showcases some impeccable timing and picking. He’s super fucking well-versed in all things rock guitar, old school to the tapping that ruled the day MTV in the mid-80’s.

bruce_kulick_grammyBut know why he shines on this show most? Because he is playing the very role he was born to play – the underdog. Ace was similar in that regard,  ultimately becoming a rock god “spacing out and having fun” in the role and big shadows of mega front-men Gene Simmons & Paul Stanley.  Fans were always generally rooting for Ace,  still are. Similarly, Bruce had nothing to lose and a sincerity about him that comes off his fretboard, especially here as he walked the “Kiss gauntlet” (Gene’s words) . To the KISS ARmy , Bruce was just some dude we didn’t even know, and thus Animailze Live & Uncensored a very cool live introduction, one in which he both rocked and didn’t suck; hard to do in ’84 when you think about it. Though it’s over simplifying things a bit, this is the day he won the gig for all intents and purposes. KISStory indeed!

In some ways Bruce Kulick saved Kiss when he became the lead player. He was the team player us Kiss fans could love and still miss Ace because, above all, it was clear Bruce ‘got it’ on every level.  The storm was over and we felt secure again as fans. The ‘who-the-fuck-is-going-to-be-our-lead-guitarist’ crisis finally averted, Kiss would get back on an even keel with set line up until the loss of Eric Carr to a brain tumor in 1991. With Bruce now in place, Kiss was a true ‘band’ again for the first time since the original line-up really. In the wings, current guitarist Tommy Thayer must have observed Bruce’s low-key approach and used it to his benefit in filling in for the Space Ace.

Not one damn misstep best I can tell on this whole concert which was “GOIN’ OUT LIVE ON THE RADIO / BEING FILMED FOR AN MTV CONCERT!”.  Best solo’s on it?  Well, a few were semi-mimicked in one way or another but, over all (always gotta qualify shit with Kiss fans) Bruce does whatever the hell he wants to Kiss classics one after another, basically kicking the shit out of the material. I recommend “I Still Love You, “War Machine”, “Under The Gun”, “Thrills In The Night” and perhaps his laser tare on “Love Gun”?  His playing “Black Diamond” is interesting too if not downright blasphemous: maybe his best ever solo w/ Kiss save “Hell or High Water” or “Tears Are Falling”.  “Turn On The Night” and “Rise To It” are other Kulick favs of mine.

It’s clear on this show that Kulick locks in with the band seamlessly and, given the circumstances, never looks nervous or like he’s unsure he fits in. Not an easy gig to pick up. In modern terms, he really owned it. There must have been high fives all around backstage that night and later when they watched the show, Bruce made the grade in spades. Go ahead >>> log off and Animalize! back to ’84 for the best Kiss non-make-up era concert money can buy. Kiss fans owe a debt to Bruce …raise your glasses, people.