So true …From Ziggys lightning bolt live backdrop logo adopted by ‘the Ace’, to Bowie’s face paint, to Spiders From Mars guitarist Mick Ronson‘s over-driven Les Paul, early DB is a glowing strand in KISS’s DNA, both visually and musically. Bowie made being ‘out there’ cool and KISS got the message.
At least a couple KISS fans (me and my brother) were introduced to Ziggy & KISS on the very same day. In fact it was back to back in real-time when our whole family tuned in for the ABC Friday Night At The Movies special feature ‘Heroes Of Rock & Roll’hosted by Jeff Bridges. Still have the VHS …it’s a whirlwind tour that takes us from the inception in the 50’s to 1979, when it aired. It has the coolest segue I have ever seen in my life … Ziggy pointing to the rafters with a peace sign, grimacing at the end of a hairy live version “Ziggy Stardust” when the scene cuts to Gene Simmons breathing fire as the riff to “Rockin’ In The USA” off Alive II kicks in. It may have been that very moment that I realized ‘I Wanna Rock’ (thanks Dee).
KISS has overtly tipped the collective glam rock chapeaus Bowie’s way at least a couple times over the years (if the unabashed commitment to theatrics wasn’t a big enough dot to connect).
Paul’s singing (and the band’s overall delivery) on the original 1973 demo of “Strutter” is Bowie all the way. Stanley cops a whiney, quasi-British, Ziggy vibe on the “She gets her waa-aay, like a child” doubled vocal line, going intentionally out of phase to create what me and my bro have always called ‘the Bowie effect!!’. This early demo by the furry four reveals Ziggy was one of their Gods, no question. Just check Gene and Paul’s Tweets when the news hit of Bowie’s passing yesterday.
The most obvious parallel for me though is Bowie’s pre-occupation with fantasy and ultimate decision to really go for it by creating Ziggy, just as the boys did with the Spaceman (Ziggy take a bow), the Catman, the Demon and the Starchild (uh .. Stardust). His focus was always on creating a new image of himself and on pushing boundries, forcing audiences to either except or reject (him).
Ironically, it’s long been joked by Gene that, had KISS been shorter or skinnier, they would have dressed in semi-drag like the New York Dolls, or Bowie as was en vogue at time. Their early photo sessions without face paint show a bunch of ‘lovely lads’ looking a little fey for, say, Detroit or Terre Haute where the KISS Army started. But even when they put the make up on Paul dabbled with adrogyny, playing the role like Jagger, or Bowie being Ziggy.
With the rock news of the past few weeks, my KISS-vision has been gaining clarity …KISS is a bastard step child of, Alice aside, both waves of the British Invasion: from the first with the Beatles, Kinks & Who to the second with Ziggy, Lemmy, Zep, Slade & Sabbath. Without Bolan, The Who & The Beatles, there’s no Bowie. Without Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground, there’s no Alice Cooper. Without Alice or Bolan, there’s no Bowie. It’s fuzzy rock math but any way you slice it, without Ziggy, there’s probably no KISS as we know them.
RIP David Bowie, the atomic punk …he came and met us, he blew our minds.
KISStorian takes a 70’s deep dive with renown rock & roll radio dj & musician BOB RICE: >>>> How did you end up going to the KISS show in Spokane in May of ’74? I’m glad you asked this question as I love telling the story. I was 14 years of age and playing bass in my first rock band, Angel Painted Lady. Boasting two guitarists, with one of them doubling on trombone, we also had a trumpet player and a flutist. Our drummer doubled on vibraphone, and I doubled on percussion. This was my first dream band. We performed a mixture of rock, fusion, funk, and jazz, covering the music of David Bowie, Jethro Tull, Alice Cooper, The James Gang, Chicago Transit Authority, Maynard Ferguson, and Chase, as well as playing our own original music. Our lead guitarist/vocalist often wore make up, when we performed. We always played to packed rooms, which I thought was odd at the time, not that I complained. I am pinching myself, as I write this, as all of the members of Angel Painted Lady went on to create professional, if not satisfying musical careers. It was the lead guitarist, the one who wore the make up, that told me that I NEEDED to see this band, KISS, because he believed that they were going to be “the next big thing”.
What are your most enduring impressions from the night? I arrived at the concert early, which was normal for me, as I always liked to scope out all of the gear on the stage and possibly catch the eye of one of the musicians who might still be on or near the stage. There were very few people in the venue, with the majority being employees and stage and sound crew, and hardly any concert goers. While I was eyeballing how the venue was set up, one of the crew struck up a conversation with me. After inviting me to check out the house mix, we made our way to the stage … talk about an instant high!
Did you have any pre-show expectations? Yes, it was their first appearance in Spokane and their first official tour. Going into the concert I knew very little about the band aside for the fact that they wore make up and dressed in costume portraying individual characters. In fact I have to admit that I had not heard any of their music before seeing them. In respect to their show, I did have very high expectations based on my guitarist’s adamant recommendation that I see them. They did not disappoint me … they fucking blew me away! When they hit the stage it was like a bomb dropping. I looked around me and everyone was wide eyed and picking their jaws up from off of the floor. Within 20 min. of their set I realized that Ace was the true glue in the band. His ability to create bedrock guitar riffs while seamlessly lacing his lead lines around the other player’s parts, and his riffs, found me standing stupefied, laughing and shaking my head in awe.
Was there already a KISS Army to speak or did the band have to win the crowd over? There was not a KISS Army, in fact it was very apparent that most of those who were there had come to see Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. By the end of KISS’s set they had won over everyone who was in The Kennedy Pavilion. I heard later that The Earth Band was a little reluctant to take the stage after KISS’s set. The last time this had happened was when Led Zepplin opened for The Vanilla Fudge 4-1/2 years earlier in the same venue. I feel as though I personally witnessed history being made in Spokane that night.
As you re-listen to the show today anything that strikes you in terms of the tunes? There are two things that struck me, about that night’s performance: The first was that the songs were very fresh, with a beautiful raw and spontaneous feel to them. There was true interplay happening between all four members. If you are a musician you’ll be able to relate to what I am about to say. There were many times, as an example, when Gene would emphasize a certain bass note, or series of notes, with Peter being lock step with him, punching his drum beats just a little bit harder, and with more authority. Or Ace suddenly ripping into a lead to counter point a particular vocal flourish that Paul is laying out. It is these moments and intuitive exchanges which allow the music to breath. There was a lot of naturally, spontaneous breathing going on that night. The second was that their stage show was loosely choreographed, compared to what it has become. Since their first tour I have seen the band more than a few times. Their stage show has become a major component to their overall concert presentation but not without consequences, being, having that space for spontaneous musical interplay considerably narrowed. When I saw them in 1974 they were playing together with pure joy, as a unit, but also with individual freedom.
Did any of the four seem to be the band leader ….or did KISS come off more as a unit? Paul did most of the talking, with Gene close on his heels, when announcing in-between songs. Ace was generally tuning his guitar between songs (no surprise with 70’s era Gibson guitars). When they were performing they were united as a band, as I said previously. At the same time they displayed their individual personal made up character persona. In direct answer to your question, they performed like a band of brothers, although the under pinning of Paul and Gene’s ultimate leadership roles were well in place.
Do you think that may be part of their early fan appeal, someone to root for like with a favorite sports team? Absolutely! If you were not a fan going in, you were one when you came out. They embraced the audience and drew them into their rock n’ roll party, with them being the host.
I was in the front row pressed against the stage. There were moments during the show when you could feel the pressure of the bodies behind you building, sometimes near crushing. Spokane had no idea what this band was about but Spokane’s first KISS Army was born that night. I auditioned a guitarist 6 years after that concert who had KISS tattooed across the knuckles of his right hand, upside down and backwards, and KISS tattooed across the knuckles of his left hand in normal orientation. Hence, if you are a right handed guitarist, your picking hand, (right), clearly shows KISS, and your fretting hand, (left), does as well, to an audience in front of you. During our conversations I asked him what his connection to KISS was, with his first answer being … I saw them at The Kennedy Pavilion in 1974 … he was one of Spokane’s first to enlist and support The KISS Army!
Did you think they would make it big after seeing them live? Absolutely, and without a doubt … my guitarist was dead on!
You’ve seen perhaps more shows in Spokane than any other single human: who else did you see of note in the 70’s and how does KISS in ’74 rank on your 70’s ‘Best Of Live Spokane’ menu? This is a very tough question… wow! In reflection there were many shows, some which I played a role in presenting in Spokane in the 70’s. One of my most memorable series of shows was watching the band Heart develop, beginning in 1975. My best friend, at that time, was related to the Wilson family. His older brother, Ray, was the editor of the newspaper at what was then Eastern Washington State College, now Eastern Washington University. He was also a huge music fan who possessed, what I thought was, the largest record collection in the city. In fact he turned me on to Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention as well as introduce me to the world of record retail a few years later. Late fall of 1975 Heart released what would become their ground breaking debut album “Dreamboat Annie”, originally released in Canada. The band was living in Vancouver, British Columbia at the time but had roots in the Seattle area. One day Ray received a phone call from his aunt, Ann and Nancy’s mother, asking him if he thought that he could arrange a concert for his cousins at the college. He coordinated two shows for the band beginning with an afternoon show followed by an evening show. During the coarse of the day he also created an interview, which he shared with the Spokane newspapers. He needed a couple of gophers for the day with his brother and I raising our hands without hesitation. On February 14, 1976 “Dreamboat Annie” was released in the US and the band soon skyrocketed. Following the success of that first album the band routinely made Spokane a necessary part of their tours with me being treated as family when ever they were in Spokane.
I mentioned earlier that Ray introduced me to record retail. Working from the ground up I positioned myself in management with a chain of stores called Eucalyptus Records & Tapes, which was originally based out of Fairfield, CA. Part of the companies expansion was into Spokane, and at it’s peak having 4 locations in the city. We would often host touring bands with in-store appearances prior to their show which found me working directly with concert promoters and media entity’s. There were a number of band’s which we routed through Spokane on an annual basis with Heart, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Blue Oyster Cult, Kansas, The Pat Travers Band, Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Sammy Hagar and Van Halen being core bands. I have fond memories of shooting hoops with the REO boys, talking with Robin Zander about working with George Martin on the bands album “The Dream Police”, getting drunk with David Lee Roth, jamming with Pat Thrall prior to a Pat Travers Band sound check, playing poker with Emmylou Harris and losing $100, leading Ted Nugent through the cities underground stream tunnels for seven blocks, the only way to get him into the store as the fans had circled the entire city block and were stopping traffic … and yes, seeing KISS for the first time in 1974. That concert was, and continues to be a memorable rock n’ roll highlight for me.
How did you originally catch the rock & roll bug? Well if The Beatles were the definition of Rock and Roll in 1964 then there it was! But I think that the real heavy rock for me was Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Humble Pie. I learned a lot about melodies, harmonies and song construction from the Beatles and kept within those guidelines right into my ‘heavier’ introductions.
Who are your favorite 5 rock singers of all time? Good one, as it depends on one’s definition again, of a ‘rock’ singer! I was influenced by singers over the years but perhaps didn’t realize what would become my favorites until later – realizing how they in fact shaped my own style (even though I don’t sound like many of them) ….John Lennon, Steve Marriott, John Waite, Steve Walsh, Layne Staley.
Can you describe your first time meeting Ace Frehley? It took place in New York on my first audition. I was flying out to do another leg of a tour withCheap Trick then and I combined the trip to meet up with the future Comet band. I walked in, saw John Reganof course, Eddie Trunk was there (however I had no idea who he was) and then there was Ace. I truly would not have known him sans makeup because I had never ‘looked’ him up through the pages of countless rock magazine articles – I seldom read those and never gravitated to KISS photos and articles because my personal musical interests were elsewhere.
Ace shook my hand as we were introduced and he was very pleasant, enthusiastic about the project and I imagine thrilled to be completing the group to really get out there and tour. I do remember that the impression that I got was, ‘Wow, cool guy, he’s happy to be here and play and very positive about what he’s doing and where’s he’s going’
This in itself was very refreshing as I had been through a few projects with tons of negativity and that was a drain on me over time. Ace looked good and he had a tremendous presence about him at that time.
He let you play a number of leads or record and live, was that something you had to fight for? Not one bit. In fact I had told him that I wasn’t a jammin’ lead player nor a spontaneous one as I’ve always considered myself to be a singer/songwriter that played solid rhythm guitar/keys. I believe that he was disappointed to a degree that I wasn’t asking to play more leads so as to bounce things off each other. I can play lead (obviously) but my compositions are melodies and notes that I hear in my head and then have to learn them.
I did want to play the lead on “It’s Over Now” after I tracked it because, well I thought that it suited the song. He had no problem with that at all. That’s when I gained HUGE respect for him as he was very confident in his guitar talent (had every right to be) and let me have that one.
Of your Frehley’s Comet song contributions, which track are happiest with today? (mine may be “Calling To You”) Ha! Cool that you like the old ‘MEGAFORCE‘ title “Calling To You”! Mine would be a toss up, somewhere between “Time Ain’t Runnin’ Out”’ and “It’s Over Now”.
How was it working with legendary producer Eddie Kramer?Eddie at that time was a great guy, big resume and I learned more about him as we worked together, again, I really didn’t know that much about him either! He was very diplomatic about his ideas and brought great humor and results in the studio all at the same time. I don’t have any recollections that stand out about the times in the studio…besides the personal banter and jokes that we had between all of us.
Guitarists often say no two drummers are alike: how would you describe the feel difference between playing with legends Anton Fig and Jamie Oldaker behind the kit? Well that saying is so very true. I think that perhaps in the past I may have eluded to the opinion that Anton was better suited for the Comet initially, but then Jamie was so very instrumental in the feel in at (the very) least the track “It’s Over Now” …. he became the stellar standard. So it really becomes the definition of the ear listening. Anton was flat out powerful, rocking, pounding and wild and the proverbial mosh pit for the ears – full of raw energy. Jamie was moreover rock solid with the depth of a feel the escapes many drummers from track interpretation. The way he laid the snare down…..monumental.
What is your 2013 solo release Opposite Gods about? (its pretty fucking heavy dude … and I heard you sing like Bowie!?) This solo effort has a plethora of inspirations that are all real life with exception to “Dancing Through The Pain” which was a dream. I have songs on here about my adult children, and their trials in life, a song about one of my very best friend’s Harley accident, which paralyzed him from the waist down, a tune about the shallowness of today’s ‘talents’ One about my dog! And just one political tune – of which I don’t do normally but could not help to sing about what I see here in America.
Cool that you can hear ‘Bowie’ in my voice! I can imitate him dead on!
Yes. it’s very heavy, but I’ve always been heavy – until I start to sing! Ha! I love deep dark material but I also write in an adult contemporary style like my Winter CD When I record my heavy stuff it’s just that to me, heavy… but my voice really isn’t a ‘heavy’ type timbre so it becomes a little less threatening!
You highlight your adrenaline junkie hobbies nicely on your website: is that what drew you to rock & roll originally, the rush of it all? No, the draw was – reflecting and understanding what I went through back then in the ‘60s now – acceptance and acknowledgement. My early life was a little rough, nothing too traumatizing but enough for me to search out some attention – and then of course a lot of that would evolve to women! The Beatles had that, well …. Hell, I wanted that too!
How did your recent appearance on the TV show Wipe-Out come about and was it fun? I got my ass kicked! I ‘trained’ for about three weeks swimming (which I ended up using a lot of) and general biking, weights, but no where near as much as I would need.
I had been watching the show for a while and being that ‘adrenaline junkie’ that you saw on my website I thought, ‘Man, I wanna do this!’ So at 53 years of age then, I decide to drive up to Los Angeles and audition. I wrote to them first of course and was immediately accepted to do as such and they loved me.
Upon arrival to the set in the mountain area of the northern Hollywood area I noticed that they had just recently cut all the weeds around the course – deadly for me as I’ve huge allergies which affect my breathing. This was not the entire reason for me getting my ass kicked but it surely didn’t help. I qualified I believe the 8th fastest time out of the final 22 or so but there was no chance that I could compete after the first real round (the one filmed for TV) because they were to film the second round only a few hours after my initial ass kicking. I had no second wind to give.
I had fun though, but realized that I was in fact, 53 years old then. I’m now 56!
What’s the new project Four By Fate about? Four By Fate is a brand new project / band that is the result of a few key industry players. John Regan and I have kept in touch over the years, more so in the last few trying to get Ace back into the fold to do a 25 year re-union show/tour/concert for the 2012 (or around this time) year.
While having trouble getting through to him on a direct questions, it was posed to him by third parties where he expressed no interest. He had his solo band and was happy rightfully so, doing that and other events. In the mean time John and I were asked to collaborate with a Canadian KISS aficionado named Mitch Lafon on contributing tracks, re-recordings to his project; KISS 40 year anniversary tribute A World Without Heroes CD that would benefit a cancer hospice. A great cause. We did so and while doing this we were hooked up with some fantastic musicians via the internet style of recording.
Meanwhile, John had struck up a great business relationship with Danny Stanton of Coallier Entertainment and through a quickly morphed idea of getting John and I plus perhaps some musicians from the KISS project together to do a few quick shows, it whittled down to an actual band that would power on as a heavy melodic rock band using a few songs from Frehley’s Comet as a jump off point.
The line up is as follows: John Regan, bass guitar, backing vocals, Sean Kelly, lead guitar and lead/backing vocals, Stet Howland, drums, lead and backing vocals and me on lead vocals, guitar and keys.
With John’s and my extensive resume, Sean Kelly’s and Stet Howlands credits (Nelly Furtado & W.A.S.P respectively) we felt that we could initially pull from the big bands we’ve played with material wise while quickly developing our own which would be ‘Heavy Melodic’.
The new band was announced this last Tuesday and has it’s now website already, www.fourbyfate.comWe are all doing homework at this very moment in preparation for the up and coming events that will unfold soon! – TOD HOWARTH