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.