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.

 

 

FREHLEY still celestial on “Spaceman” (E-One)

Now that the gloves are off, I thought it a good time to finally weigh in on the ever-rocking Ace Frehley‘s latest voyage, the self-produced Entertainment One release Spaceman, yet another aural sortie that finds the celestial one in a good place making vibrant new rock.

If you’ve been hiding under a rock, or have given up on new rock & roll altogether, you may need a wake up call — Ace Frehley is one of the few old school true hard rock cats left carrying the torch with any efficiency. In the past decade, Frehley has put out (countem’) four albums, all with stellar cuts & euphoric rock moments worthy of his ever-ascending pedigree and any playlist.

Reality is, a lot of folks sold out, gave up or can’t quite give a fuck enough to figure out how to get their fans new music. Ace …you know, the notoriously lazy drunken lay-about, decided when he got truly sober years ago to take over the main command deck, learn the new tech cold and bring it on home ….to his home studio. He’s cut out the flack and has been doing what he loves to do most, and you can feel it in his records; Ace is in his element. With what he’s endured, it’s a miracle he’s alive, not jaded and is still in love with rock & roll.

Spaceman may not be the very best of the four, but it’s f-close at moments and is as endearing as anything he’s ever released. In fact, when the final chapters of KISStory are written, I believe there a number of songs, sentiments & performances on Spaceman that will end up as major notches on the time capsule.

Relistening to it here today, a smile came over my face as I found myself breaking on through the turbulent atmosphere to the other side …kinda like the gravity that used to hold me down somehow just didn’t exist no more?!

The album features long-time, par-excellence Ace Frehley Band member Scot Coogan on drums on most of the record with the exception of the re-appearance of Anton Fig on “Pursuit of Rock & Roll” and guest jams by Matt Starr on “Rockin’ With The Boys’, “I Wanna Go Back” & “Quantum Flux”. Ace plays most of the guitars and bass, minus Gene SImmons’ singular playing on “Without You I’m Nothing” …count down’s comin’ on, here we go:

WITHOUT YOU I’M NOTHING > A ballsy, earnest rocker co-written with former band mate Gene Simmons that wouldn’t have worked (ie – been convincing) coming from Simmons or KISS. Frehley though knocks it out of the park with a great lead vocal, edgy semi-autobiographical verse lyrics and a bitchin’ solo that quickly re-affirms why you developed a taste for the Blue Koolaid way back.

“Now through the years, I’ve hit some walls, with no regrets .. when we’re apart I get the blues”” 

ROCKIN’ WITH THE BOYS > More straight talk from Ace delivered with customary ‘don’t sweat it’ chill. This one grows on you like a new pair of favorite jeans and the comfy feel continues into the solo as Ace eases back on the throttle, laying in behind the beat to get ‘back’ in NY groove.

We’ve had our differences, now don’t make a fuss, we’ve had the best of times” 

YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND > Co-written also with Simmons, ‘Wish’ features a similarly luke-warm Simmons chorus / title benefiting again significantly from Ace’s well-honed pop sensibility on the verse melody & lyric. An ill-fated reunion of sorts, no surprise this is the only tune on the album that feels a little forced. Like with most old flames, you often find once is enough.

Seen many miracles, don’t be concerned, so few are chosen”

BRONX BOY > More street cred and a great P&L statement from Ace that takes us back to the ‘hard times’ as a teenage gangbanger that he may not have escaped were it not for his guitar & considerable swagger, drunk or sober!

“I’m just a street kid, we seek and destroy, I lived so much of it, I’m just a Bronx Boy.” 

PURSUIT OF ROCK & ROLL > A rock anthem to rival KISS’s many arena driven-forays over the years. Ace’s ‘State Of The Union’  is a rocket ride with Anton Fig burnin’ up the drum kit and Frehley high on the fumes, literally shouting out to The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and even The Beatles.

“Don’t want no strife, ‘cuz it’s the enemy, that gets into your soul” 

I WANNA GO BACK > It’s almost impossible not to love this cover of the Eddie Money hit. The choice, and Ace’s delivery of the bitter-sweet Money lament, is flat-out charming, further illuminating Ace’s range and deep love for a great hook, regardless the artist or era. It wasn’t a guitar tune until now, and it’s a fucking cool departure.

I wanna go back, and do it all over, but I can’t go back I know”

MISSION TO MARS > Were I Ace’s manager I would have tapped the glorious  “Mission To Mars” as the lead single (or “I Wanna Go Back”?) as it’s perhaps Ace’s best vocal since “Rip It Out” and tracks us on radar somewhere between ’74’s “Parasite”, ’89’s “Lost In Limbo”, 2009’s “Outer Space” and Elon Musk’s flying Tesla. Wonder how many times Frehley left the pavement in his DeLorean?

“My ships off course, by some unknown force ….Between heaven and earth, you know we’ll always be first, and that’s why”   

OFF MY BACK > Even if it’s now clear Ace never heard Spinal Taps’ “Bitch School”, this tune is super catchy and boasts the hottest solo on the album. If not Ace’s rawest Frehley fret  attack ever from the get-go, the solo outro shifts to urgent blues phrasing reminiscent of Leslie West of Mountain or Rory Gallagher!

“We go in circles with no end in sight”

QUANTUM FLUX > The closer is, as is tradition for Ace, a continuation of the instrumental epics that started in ’78 with the haunting powerhouse that is ‘Fractured Mirror’.  No exception to the fleet, ‘Flux’ is transcendent and takes Ace and us out of orbit into emotional time-scapes, reverberating key influences Jeff Beck & Jimmy Page while remaining pure Ace Frehley through and through.

The crazy thing is that, with Ace, you can go back. He still gives me that feeling. There’s ‘Space’ on board …Ace’s got you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

KISStorian ranks the original studio LPs

#1 > LOVE GUN – Eddie Kramers KISStoric sonic masterpiece, the punchy Love Gun boasts Ace’s first vocal, some of his best leads and the original line-up’s finest studio hour. Best snare sound found on any KISS studio recording save the non-live side 4 of Alive II, compliments again of Kramer.

#2 > ROCK & ROLL OVER – Meaty, beaty, big & bouncy, and again with Kramer at the wheel, Rock & Roll Over is a bombastic rock record that captures the band getting back to what they do best, rock. The debut EP should probably have this spot but the band is so much more developed by ’76’s RRO .

#3 > KISS Almost as pristine as “Christeen Sixteen” herself in sheer simplicity, KISS is loaded with more of the bands live staples than any other and, If you don’t like “Kissin’ Time”, you’re probably in the band because Ace’s solo on it is fierce, capturing on his frets the bands frustration in being forced to record the number.

#4 > DRESSED TO KILL – Shortish but tight, Dressed To Kill is a surprisingly crisp sounding album given it was practically self-produced …DTK features a notably improved Peter Criss and a number of now classic KISS rockers for the subsequent tour and Alive!. Turns out that giving the band more control, at least at this juncture, enabled them to produce something that represented them better than the debut and HTH, employing acoustic guitars to add texture for the first time. 

#5 > DETROYERThe bar and the band raised to the high ‘n mighty Bob Ezrin standard, Destroyer is KISS’s first successful foray into mainstream pop hot on the heels of the radio explosion of the Alive! version of “Rock & Roll All Nite”. Although many argue it’s KISS’s best studio effort because of their expanded scope with Ezrin producing, the overblown fascism that is “Great Expectations” gives us their first truly cringeworthy moment and a snapshot of the shape of things to come.

#6 > HOTTER THAN HELL – A delightfully dark ‘n dirgy, balls-to-the-wall album that includes a number of my all-time favorite KISS deep cuts, HTH is a major cornerstone of the KISS cannon. Were it not for its muddy production and dead drums, I could even put it above Destroyer because its definitive stuff. No place else would the sludge blues-rock of “Mainline” have made the cut nor  “Goin’ Blind” & ” Strange Ways” fit in so well with classics like “Parasite”, “Got to Chose” and the title cut.

(( KISStorians note: I have left off Dynasty & Unmasked because they, by & large, feature Anton Fig as ghost drummer. Had I included them, Unmasked would have come in last place, Dynasty somewhere in the middle ‘cuz its state-of-the-art KISS! ))

 

KISStoric time travel now possible!

KISS Time Machine4Sources close to KISStorian.com are reporting that Abner Devereaux is back to his old tricks and has been working feverishly on a machine in which he will be able to travel back in KISStory!!

Long exiled for his transgressions at Magic Mountain, it is now feared that he may finally make good on his promise to “derail this Psycho Circus whatever it takes”. I hereby implore the KISStoric Galactic Council as well as our friends at KISS Army Alpha Minor (and all their affiliates) to hear ‘n take heed of this very real ‘Abner Alert’. I have a few coordinates of my own I wouldn’t mind punching into Abner’s fantastic machine:

kiss-portrait-1977-photo-GCJanuary 1973 > Oh to time travel back to the first time all four original KISS founders jammed together when Ace Frehley auditioned for the band.  Imagine hearing “Deuce” with Bob Kulick on lead and watching a spaced Frehley, in two different colored sneakers, walk over nonchalantly and plug-in mid-song to the dismay of Gene & Paul. “Sorry curly” Ace was reported to have said when rebuffed by the even-then domineering Simmons. In No Regrets Ace admits he chugged a couple tall boys before venturing in to try out for the role of “guitarist with flash and balls”.  Good thing Abner has been unable thus far to intervene via his time machine and introduce a Bob Kulick clone with long hair for it may alter KISStory forever …AWK!!

o_kiss-live-1983-san-francisco-creatures-tour-cd-r-7774April 3rd, 1983 > Ah, the last date of KISS’s ’10th Anniversary Tour’ in support of Creatures Of The Night with the new line-up and, most notably, no Ace Frehley on lead (despite his being on the album cover). Given the poor attendance of the tour and tepid sales of the record, it would be interesting to check-in on the vibe backstage after the show in San Francisco that night. Sure, KISStory tells us that they would still play a few South American dates in their face paint before their true unmasking on Lick It Up but this Creatures US jaunt was almost curtains for the band. Simply have Abner flip a switch and this might have been the last KISS concert ever, in the US or anywhere. San Fran was no treat for the Sex Pistols either who played their final show there in January of ’78. Pretty vacant.

thNovember 27, 1984 > What a long strange trip it’s been …. especially in the Animalize portion of KISStory when KISS briefly had two lead guitarists in the late, great Mark St. John & now long-time KISS’r, Bruce Kulick.  This evening in Baltimore seems a little like an alternate KISS universe. It was the night that both Kulick & St. John played with the band, ultimately joining each other together on stage to take the encore bows with Gene, Paul & Eric ….as a 5-piece!! Whether there were actually 5 KISS members playing on stage together at the same time at any point seems highly unlikely but, if you were there, please set us straight dude. It’s reported that St. John only played three nights stateside before being ultimately being let go. This would have been the last of those three and apparently enough pudding for Gene & Paul to make a decision. Foiled again, Abner.

2d37aeddcabbcda78b86599bd82e2ab7March 8th, 1985 > Ace’s first show after KISS with Frehley’s Comet at the L’Amour Club in Brooklyn. The bootleg was a childhood prized possession I got on cassette by mail from the New England Kiss Collectors Network back in the day. I love when Ace says “like dig it man ….it’s like such a ….great pleasure …to play for you people … I haven’t been on stage in years … it’s the fucking worst!! … but the reception I’m getting from you people just makes it all that much better” .. early Comet, before the album, with Richie and Arthur and Anton and John. A hot night for rock & roll. The energy in the room may have been enough for Abner to defect and become a ‘Rock Soldier’ …or did he spike Ace’s drink?

March 30th, 1986 > I was actually at this show, but wouldn’t mind going back! No sign of Abner, but we felt his presence as there was a snake there that night (but it was opener King Kobra). This was the night on the Asylum Tour that KISS played Hammond, Indiana. Only problem was it was Easter Sunday and local Church officials rallied to protest the show and all things KISS. Me and my bro tried to talk to a few of the ‘church elders’ about our ‘KISS Elders’ but they weren’t having it. KISS was, as they put, “what’s wrong with America”. Abner’s sentiments exactly. The universe handed me a free photo pass that night so, had I seen Abner backstage, he would have been a goner or at least questioned severely … “okay, Abner, what are you doing in Hammond man?”

It’s no wonder Abner wants to go back in KISStory — he may be the only one among us who could accurately see the future; a KISS with no original members.

KISStorian issues demands

Until all the following demands are met, darkness will consume the land and silence will persist…..

KISS is required to re-mix both Unmasked & Crazy Nights, removing all keyboards.

KISS must immediately issue a live DVD from the Asylum tour.

KISS is implored to perform The Elder live on a pay-per-view.

KISS must engage Bob Ezrin or Eddie Kramer to record one more album with the band.

The Demon’s hand must be forced to release of the oft-threatened  ‘Gene Simmons 100’