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.



KISStorian’s 10 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 loose, raunchy ‘n raw and yet grounded in rhythm ‘n blues, Motown and the Big Band era as well as the 60’s pop rock scene styles. Like Ringo, Peter Criss had a knack for playing what was called for with 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 clear 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 ‘Ayatollah Crisscola’ may have gotten at times.

It is my contention 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”. Like Ringo, like Charlie.

Everything else after Criss left the band is closer to metal by ‘n 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 . It’s what is lacking on all the post-Criss material, that classic “KISS rhythm section”  (Paul Stanley take a bow).

petecrissericcarrUltimately KISS were able to evolve after Peter left with the smart choice of the bombastic, more Zep-styled Eric Carr as a worthy replacement, completely re-defining the band’s overall attack. And as with the choice of Carr and later Eric Singer, it’s evident that 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’nR sucked after they lost Adler, no?

I feel it’s a pity the game is on in the KISS camp to obscure Peters’s playing and impact he had on their overall sound.

LARGER THAN LIFE – This track is off the 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, 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 live 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 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 is 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 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 could have put it on side 3 as the closer after “Shout It Loud”.

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 that Bun E. Carlos loved to tag on to songs live too w/ Cheap Trick.

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 tom 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 release in the band’s history, and I’m not forgetting Dressed To Kill!!

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. It’s not Bonzo or Peart but it could be no other than Peter Criss, his blend of Krupa and a jungle cat.

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!’.

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!