Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Catman: My First Drumming Hero

I remember the moment like it was yesterday...

My parents were visiting some friends and my older sister and I came along. The family whose house we were visiting had some kids that were a bit older than us and we were invited to hang out with them in their oldest son's room. He was a big KISS fan and was spinning one of their records while he ate a popsicle. As I listened to the music I was looking at all of the pictures on the wall and was fascinated by the makeup as well as the stage costumes. Even though I was a little kid I had already fallen in love with the drums so right away I wanted to know who the drummer was and that was when I saw the man in the cat make up... Peter Criss!

Before I knew it I was hounding my parents to buy me KISS records and that was when the love affair with their music really started for me. Many people speak of gimmicks and such but the bottom line is this: when you're sitting in your room spinning their records or rocking out their songs in the car there is no stage show. There is no make up. There is no image because all you hear is their music. Love them or hate them, they really don't care and I am not ashamed to say that I love KISS' music and still listen to them. No apologies.

Why the strong words, you ask? Because not only was it their music that helped get me started on my musical journey but it was also the drumming of Criss that helped shape me into the drummer that I am today. Here I will share some of my insights on his great drumming to show why he had such an impact on me and so many drummers today.

The Early Records 

Criss was a veteran of the local New York music scene and he really paid some serious dues before hooking up with KISS. In fact, he has said on many occasions that he was close to quitting all together and that if things with KISS didn't work out that he was probably done.  So when you hear his drumming on the first KISS album you can hear how hungry he was to push the band to the top. Many people talk about the feel he had as a drummer and that is definitely something to think about. On the first three albums there are so many classic songs but if you want to get to the highlights then let's get to what I think are his best performances.

1) "Deuce:" Original Lead guitarist Ace Frehley has said on many occasions that this is his favorite song because it has attitude. The Spaceman is spot on and part of that attitude it the Catman's groove. This song demonstrates the 'tude that someone would have growing up on the streets of New York where they have a no nonsense way of life. No one plays this song like Criss and no one ever will. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGE_1MqrAKQ

2) "Black Diamond:" This song is always a highlight of a KISS show and part of what makes this song great is Criss' drumming and lead vocals. The drumming on this song is both powerful and smooth. Aside from that Criss' fills are placed perfectly within the guitar riffs with just enough space to give it a dramatic effect. This is another song that no other drummer has been able to duplicate, which is why it was smart for Criss' first replacement, Eric Carr to take it in another direction. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0nNZ5wAWZE

3) "Parasite:" This is such a unique song for the early 1970's as it is both heavy and kind of sexy. The sexiness comes from Criss' groove as once again, that jazz background of his allows him to layer the song with a rhythmic presence that is not common for most rock drummers as they are much heavier handed with their ghost notes.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gw5-pGKpRHk

4) "Goin' Blind:" It might seem odd to praise a drummer's performance on a ballad but this song features a tasteful groove and some beautiful melodic fills that help fill in the spaces. The musicality of Criss' performance is why I never get tired of listening to this song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZa6tpq6Wzo

5) "She:" The album Dressed to Kill is one of my favorites because I think it is where Criss shines the most. He gets to employ many of the techniques he used in his jazz upbringing and he's playing that beautiful Ludwig kit that has that beautiful open sound. This song allows his to both pound those drums and to throw in those sexy ghost notes and ride cymbal work. It's the perfect compliment to the song's story line about a dangerous woman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wAo-LAZlkc

6) "Love Her All I Can:" This is my favorite studio recording featuring the Catman. I love the way he drives the cowbell beat with those carefully placed ghost notes. Then there is the drum break where he gets to throw down some powerful fills before he works the snare and toms together, which I think is the highlight of the song. Go Catman! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6WYUyRIMrA

The Stage is Mine!

The Catman performed one of the greatest drum solos in rock history on KISS Alive!  The tribal drums are the perfect thing to get the crowd going and Criss' jazz background affords him the ability to play 12/8 rhythmic figures with ease and with that great feel he is known for. He really nails it when he drops the dynamics down before doing his famous tribal beat with the cowbell pounding between the toms. Of course he also helps Paul Stanley get the crowd going by continuing the groove under the Starchild's diatribe. It is truly a beautiful display of drumming. (see 2:48-5:48) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxNtRX7qI-Y

When the Catman returned to KISS he incorporated much of what he did from both Alive! and Alive II while adding some new ideas to many of the familiar beats we have come to know and love. One of my favorite solos was the one he did on the opening night of the Psycho Circus tour at Dodger Stadium (by the way, I was there!). My favorite parts are when he does some kicks and then develops some nice fills within those kicks. Of course he still has his signature tribal grooves along with some showmanship that was fun for the crowd because they got to take part in his solo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jBeKPeoSkk

Phase Two 

KISS' next three studio albums have many gems as well and the Catman continued to work his magic on those drums. Again, it's very hard to choose which songs to highlight because there are so many but here are some of my favorites along with my reasons:

1) "Detroit, Rock City:" This is possibly Criss' most famous groove as it is an amazing shuffle with a great feel. This really helped KISS come out of the success of Alive! with a strong song that also had a slightly different feel. Criss' shuffles on songs like "100,000 Years" were a bit more traditional but if there was ever a rock shuffle it's the one on "Detroit, Rock City." His fills are also tasteful and the feel is just so smooth. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0R5J6dvpujs

2) "God of Thunder:" Sometimes it's more about setting the mood and Criss does a great job during this performance. This song is very dramatic and Criss really anchors the whole thing brilliantly. The snare hits are just right when it comes to announcing the presence of the deity that is the character singing the song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmHZ9vrcgxA

3) "Calling Dr. Love:" A rocking classic and a total rock star song when it comes to the lyrics. This is another song with attitude and to paraphrase Gene Simmons who once said about Criss' playing: It is in fact deceiving as the rhythms are harder than people realize. Criss' grooves are smooth and sexy on the verses and he just rocks out o the choruses. Aside from that his fills are very melodic as they help tell the story of the song. It's a fabulous performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDTE8DpkKE4

4) "Makin' Love:" If there is such thing as a song that is harder than it appears it's this song. Criss plays simple beats but such beats are not easy to maintain because the energy that KISS brings can tempt a drummer to speed up more than they should. He does a great job anchoring things down before that beautiful fill of him going around his drum set. Thank God for the engineering of the great Eddie Kramer because those concert toms are gorgeous: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSMc0UAxgyo

5) "I Stole Your Love:" This is a great opener to the album Love Gun and features some amazing drumming by the Catman. His tom work through it so unique to a rock song and really adds to the drama of the song. His snare sound is amazing so when he goes from a tom driven groove to a regular back beat it just kicks the band into overdrive. This was the first studio album my parents ever bought me and I will never forget the mark it left on me when I first heard it because it still gets to me to this day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3MZnxJ-lYM

6) "Shock Me:" This song is both Frehley's lead vocal debut and has what many consider to be his best recorded guitar solo. I won't argue against any of that but I will insist that people must also cite the fact that it is also one of Criss' finest recorded performances. Frehley's riff is very unique and has a nice flow to it thanks to Criss' groove. Aside from the smooth grooves that feature a nice hi-hat feel and occasional ghost notes he also offers some pounding drum fills with his drums again having a heavenly sound thanks to the great Eddie Kramer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iauaDVVPGW8 

7) "Rocket Ride:" Here is a track that was one of the studio cuts on Alive II and it's awesome. It's one of Frehley's most exciting songs as it features some cool riffs and solos but such a song could not exist without Criss' powerful drums supporting the ride. You also have to love that drum break at the end where the Catman lets out what is probably the most amazing drum roar that he ever recorded. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ9nQoNuAZs

Don't Overlook This

Criss' raspy almost Rod Stewart type voice is so sweet to listen to. However, don't let the reference fool you because the Catman can rock with the best of them. Yes, we all know about his beautiful lead vocals on classics like "Beth" and "Hard Luck Woman" and like many people I love those songs. But, let's not forget songs like "Getaway" and "Baby Driver" where the Catman holds his own with any great rock singer out there. I still love rocking those songs in my car.

Finally, even when I was a kid who loved KISS and other rock bands I still listened to other types of music with one of those genres being R & B. With that being said I am not ashamed to say that I love a lot of Peter's KISS solo album. It has so much soul and most importantly, we get to hear him sing a lot more than usual. I never get tired of "I'm Gonna Love You," "You Matter to Me, "Don't You Let Me Down," and my favorite song off of the album, "Easy Thing." The Catman deserves a lot more love than he gets for what I think is a great album.

Finally, I have to give a nod to Criss' adaptability when it comes to his approach in the studio and his approach onstage. The studio allows the artist a little more room to do what they think is best in terms of their performance but the energy that comes from an arena filled with rowdy rock and rollers will dictate how a song should be performed live . To see Criss' adaptability in such situations I would suggest you listen to recorded versions of "She" and "Calling Dr. Love" on their respective albums and then check out the live versions on Alive! and Alive II. It's is truly night and day and kudos to Criss for being able to drive both ships.

Beyond KISS 

One if the things that never made sense to me was that so many KISS fans speak of their wish for Peter to have remained in KISS due to the musical contributions he made to the band. With that in mind, how many of these fans even know what Peter did away from KISS as his musical talents were still without question. 

It is understandable that many KISS fans may not care for much of Peter's solo work because that was when he returned to a lot of his jazz and soul roots. We saw hints of this on his KISS solo album in 1978 and to me that's a true sign of an artist making a true solo effort. In other words, you go in a direction that you are not able to go into in the band you are known to work with. the Let's check out some tracks that many KISS fans may not be aware of.

1) "By Myself:" An obvious ode to leaving KISS and starting a solo career. This is a beautiful song with a beautiful vocal performance. You can see in Peter's performance how determined he was to the best of his solo career. It's just too bad that the label and fans were not there to make it happen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuKKF3hi6uw&list=PLkK4ovn_8Er2E6bXc_yypt2_RT1Zl11P_

2) "Out of Control:" The title track from Peter's first post-KISS solo album and while this song sounds a bit dated it is pretty cool when you're in a nostalgic mood. The drumming has the expected solid feel that we have come to know from the Catman while delivering a great lead vocal performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-4z7e2Jzzg

3) "Destiny:" This has a nice moving groove with a great chorus. There is also a lot going on with the background instruments with the Peter's voice doing a great job adding the final piece to the song. A very underrated song for that time period. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzSsQSN0mFw&list=PLQUVYGgOvzcp5WeSJOMYL6G_aldXt6Li7&index=5

 4) "Tears:" Ironically, this song was co-written by future lead guitarist of KISS Vinnie Vincent under his real surname of Cusano. It has a nice groove with a nice lead vocal performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVU3XnJ0P9o

5) "Bad People Burn in Hell:" This is a cool track. Peter's vocals are spot on as is his drumming as they round out and support some nice guitar riffs. There is always something about the way the Catman grooves with that cowbell, a la "Black Diamond" and we see in again on this track. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNK9TDq1T5g&list=PLA2-nXsHvm3Kjea6NBlIop_A4yff_OzL3&index=4 

6) "Strike:" This is a very interesting track as it has a nice dynamic opening with some jazz hi hat work, a nice number of groove changes while allowing Peter to display some nice snare drum work on the chorus and outro of the song. This is definitely not something we are accustomed to hearing from the Catman as his drumming and vocals are definitely stretched on this track. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5A4waqEme6I

7) "What a Difference a Day Makes:" Talk about Peter being in his element. This is the kind of stuff he grew up on and his soulful musicianship is all over this song. Here he gets to display his abilities as a crooner along with some nice brush work on the snare drum, which I'm sure he loved doing since he is a band fan of jazz drumming.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsQm7sw9wTs&list=PLB60DB51EB022FC2A&index=9

8) "Falling All Over Again:" One listen to this song and it's more than obvious that the same lead vocalist who recorded "Beth" had to be the one to perform on this track. His vocals are so beautiful while his drumming is smooth and sweet, which offer support and a rhythmic reflection of his vocal performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ck5tc7rm5bs&list=PLB60DB51EB022FC2A&index=11


Saying Goodbye 

On June 17, 2017 Criss performed for the last time at the Cutting Room in New York. Each song that is posted on You Tube is a party in itself. It was so good to see him get the accolades he deserves because we all know that he has fought so many demons in his life. Aside from that, he performed as a professional musician for over five decades and we know that many of those performances were not always on the biggest stages with all the amenities. That is a real trooper who obviously did it for the love of the art. I also know is that he always loved and appreciated his fans and you could really see that in his farewell speech. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8oDv6KCFT8

I also know this from first hand experience.

On May 2, 1990 I attended one of his drum clinics at Guitar Center in Hawthorne, CA. I was a young seventeen year old drummer and brought a ton of stuff for him to sign. Our first connection was when he looked in my direction and I offered him a fist pump, which he returned as he had just done a great drum solo. Later on I brought my stuff for him to sign, which included some KISS records & pictures as well as his post KISS solo albums. He was stunned to see me with these albums because they were only released over seas. He asked me where I got them and I just smiled and said that I am a true fan. He was really touched by that. When he finished signing my stuff I gave him a mask I made for my high school art class, which was a Plaster of Paris of my face with his KISS make up on it. He really liked it and then put it on his face, which took my breath away. As he did that a bunch of fans complimented my work. Then the Catman almost brought me to my knees when he said that he was going to put it in his trophy room with all of his gold and platinum records.WOW!!!! Finally, when it was time to leave so I wished him well and he said, "God bless you man!"

Thanks Catman but I must return the favor: "God bless you!"

 Even though it's been a few years since that special night at the Cutting Room I still have a hard time believing that the Catman has called it a career. That's one of the reasons why it has took me a long time to write the first version of the this blog before I took some time to update it.  All I can say is thank you Peter. Thank you for being my first drumming hero and for giving me the inspiration to pursue my dream of being a great drummer. Thank you for those amazing performances when this man who was too young to go to a KISS concert during your first run with the band got a second chance to see you with the band during your second run with the group. Thank you for being an inspiration from your farewell speech to your openness about your breast cancer. Your courage inspires me to be the man I should be. Thank you for being you because you are still a hero to me and always will be.

Carlos Solorzano

Monday, October 23, 2017

Eric Carr: Looking Back at the Brilliance of the Fox

Better Late Than Never is something we hear a lot and this seems to apply a lot to the late Eric Carr, who was the drummer for KISS from 1980-1991. While many hardcore KISS fans loved his drumming during his time with the band there are still many who did not show such appreciation until many years after his tragic death in November of 1991. Perhaps it was out of loyalty to the great Peter Criss, who was the original drummer of the band or perhaps it was because the KISS Army had to experience the reality of Don't Know What You Got 'Til It's Gone. Either way, many are finally seeing how great he was and even going as far as stating that Carr was in fact the best drummer KISS ever had.

With this blog I will give many examples of how his time in KISS allowed him to both add new life to some classic songs while also showing how creative he was when it came to what he brought to the new music that he performed on. 

1) New Life to Some Classic Songs 

To begin, this section does not seek to take anything away from the magic that the great Peter Criss brought to the band. In fact, my next drumming blog will be about the brilliance of the Catman who retired from active performing this past summer.

When a new member comes into the band there is going to be change and the most obvious one when KISS made their first lineup change was that Carr made KISS a heavier band. Criss came from a more swing/big band/R & B background and while Carr loved all kinds of music his main drumming influences were from much heavier rock music. So one listen to a KISS concert video (sadly, they never released a live album with Carr on drums) and you will hear that the older songs now had a drive to them that they never had previously. This was important because such drumming was in the fact the trademark of 80's rock music so KISS was able to be right there with any band that was hot at that time. 

However, Carr brought more than just a heavier feel to the groove, He literally changed some parts of the classic songs that again gave them new life. Consider the the way Carr played the main groove on the KISS classic Detroit, Rock City. This is a live mainstay and also featured one of Criss' best performances. Carr having a totally different style and approach added some double bass to what was Criss' smooth shuffle beat and then did many fills that focused more on upbeats than the straight drive that was part of Criss' amazing performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DUv1zyYJOA

Black Diamond is always one of the highlights of any KISS show and that's where Carr got to shine the most. Most people focus on the fact that he sings the lead vocal on that song, which is true but his drumming approach is totally different than what Criss did. First off, during the chorus he doesn't drive the band with a cowbell driven beat between vocal lines. He uses the toms with both a pounding pulse along with some quick 32nd notes that added some flavor to his beat (see 1:53-1:56) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lo1XTATfup8, which seemed to fit the story line of the song as it is about a woman who walks the streets at night. During the guitar solo he adds more to the accented section by adding some nice fills and even some cool double bass work (see 2:53-3:18). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lo1XTATfup8 In KISS' later years they removed the halftime outro of the song, which is really sad because it is a very dramatic part. Eric added much more drive to the section and then gave it a different dimension when he went around his whole set in the middle of the groove while his band mates did their famous choreography (see 3:27-3:31). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtVwbT3anoM These are some real phenomenal performances on the drums and this says nothing about his stellar lead vocal part. The man was a true talent.

Finally, I have always been intrigued by the way Carr played the chorus on the KISS classic "Cold Gin." On the original version of the song Criss played a figure between his hi-hat and snare in between the vocal lines on the chorus. Carr on the other hand plays a downbeat on the snare while he keeps his right hand on a bigger tom while his left hand travels around two higher pitched toms. This means that he has to play the fill leading with his left hand. For most drummers this is a little more challenging because leading with one's weaker hand requires more concentration (see 2:18 and 2:22). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtVwbT3anoM What might have helped Carr with this figure is that he was naturally left handed but played a right handed drum set. Either way, it's a tough fill to play with the power one needs to drive KISS in an arena sized show.

2) Creativity 

The first thing that I would like to comment on are some drum fills he does on the song "Under the Rose," which is a song Carr co-wrote with Gene Simmons on the album Music From the Elder. This album was also Carr's first recorded performance with the band and features a beautiful guitar part that he wrote. This is a very atmospheric song with a lot of dynamics and the chorus is absolutely amazing. It has a dramatic vocal line with an amazing guitar lick that comes after the vocal part. The drumming on this guitar feature are accented crashes with some light tom fills but what Carr plays is just beautiful. He does what sounds like some quick 32nd notes on the toms that give an almost flam like effect that leads to the crash along with some powerful sixteenths that are placed in just the right spots to help drive the riff (see 1:08-1:28). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOTUPhS7cPA

The song "I Still Love You" is another special song if you're a fan of Carr. Aside from it being what many KISS fans consider to be Paul Stanley's finest recorded vocal performance Carr is in fact the rhythm section on the song as he plays not only his drums but the bass line as well. The drumming performance is absolutely brilliant as it's a great combination of power groove and some heartfelt fills that support Stanley's emotional singing performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IU93xQL2lc Then there is the bass line that has a strong presence along with some nice tasteful runs that sound like a seasoned bass player. For those who do not know Carr played drums, guitar, bass guitar, piano and sang. In other words, of any member that was ever in KISS he was the most diverse. If you listen carefully to his drumming you can hear that musicality is his playing as no drummer in the band had such musicality in their drumming both before and since Carr's tenure in the band.

3) The Thunder 

In hard rock music double bass drumming is a signature of what power drummers do. Carr took a backseat to no one as his double bass abilities were up there with the best in the business. When he first joined the band his power and double bass drumming gave new life to a group moving into a new decade where rock music was changing. He also gave KISS a drive that hadn't been heard before and it was most evident on the opening track of Music From the Elder titled the "The Oath." Unfortunately, the mix on the song was horrible but one can still hear the power that Carr brought to the band. Fortunately, one can get some idea of how the song should sound when you hear the only live performance Carr did of this song with the band from the old television show called Fridays: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAINgNyL-7w.

Thankfully some of the later albums such as Asylum give us a better presentation of Carr's double bass abilities. On the opening song, which is titled "King of the Mountain," there is a nice double bass figure that is consistent throughout most of the song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d91t5jQt6nw There is also some double bass work with some nice movement around the toms on the intro to "I'm Alive" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cibvfYuMTF4. Of course there are times when you just have to drive the point home and kick the audience in the face. The song "Boomerang" off of Carr's last album Hot in the Shade is far from KISS' best song but the drums are worth mentioning as they feature some of Carr's powerful double bass drumming. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrqmAqulaIU

4) The Creative Force 

What happens when a drummer who not only plays other instruments and write songs creates a drum solo? You get something much better than what's expected from most of his peers because frankly, many drummers still fail to see for the impact their drumming will have if they simply expanded their musical vocabulary beyond the world of percussion. Over the years Carr not only created an entertaining solo that showcased both his drumming abilities and showmanship but also his ability to create music on his own. His solo at Budokan in Tokyo in 1988 during the Crazy Nights tour was probably the best he ever did. Along with doing things that had become a signature of what he was known for as a soloist he started to add electronics to what was already a brilliant solo. You will see that he does more than hit pads to end the solo. He is also able to rock out a cool riff while he pounds away on those drums. And, since it was 1988 he was definitely a pioneer of a movement that is still rarely done by drummers today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adkoL615NS4

As stated earlier, Carr was also a songwriter and while he did earn some co-writing credits during his time with KISS (1981 "Under the Rose" and "Escape From the Island" from the album Music From the Elder, 1983 "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" from the album Lick it Up, 1984 "Under the Gun" from the album Animalize and 1987 "No, No, No" from the album Crazy Nights) it wasn't until 1989 when the band finally let him sing his own song on a KISS album. The song was called "Little Caesar," which was the nickname given to him my band mate Gene Simmons with the song featuring him on drums and bass guitar yet again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cp3qq8uUYA4

Thankfully, even death didn't take away the fans chance to hear more from Carr. Former band mate and close friend Bruce Kulick along with songwriting partner and close friend Adam Mitchell have partnered with Carr's family to release a lot of demos and finished songs that really showcased Carr's amazing talents. So far we have his posthumously released solo CD's Rockology and Unfinished Business with fans hoping for more in the future. Some highlights from these releases are:

"Somebody's Waiting:" A powerful ballad in the spirit of the 80's power ballad era. Some great drumming and beautiful vocals by Carr: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3lldR4Lmdw 

"Eyes of Love:" A demo of a great rock song again that is in the spirit of the 80's: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eznHcfVtZeQ

"Tiara:" A beautiful love song.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSvBjGhsu1E

Even KISS put out a recording that featured the only drum solo that Carr ever recorded. It is titled "Carr Jamm 1981" and is available on their album Revenge. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2XNYwTCIVM 

Many KISS fans hope for much more, especially since Kulick once stated that Carr was able to write and perform songs with an edge that one would hear from a band like AC/DC to something with a folk feel that one might hear from The Beatles. Most of this was because Carr worked in cover bands for years so he not only had to learn a lot of songs but also had to perform them properly. That requires a certain amount of musical diversity.


I am a KISS fan and continued to follow the band after Carr's tragic death.  It has never been the same for me but I know that life goes on and am glad that the band continued. They still put on a great show and have released many great songs beyond their years with Carr and like most fans I am happy to have been a part of that.

In some ways I think I saw his passing coming. I attended his last performance in the Los Angeles area on September 14, 1990 at Long Beach Arena and I first noticed that something felt wrong during his drum solo. It's hard to explain but there was just something in his playing that didn't seem right. Many years later I got a hold of a bootleg cassette of that show and to my surprise the solo was fine. Still, I trust what I felt that night so what was it? It wasn't just Carr's solo though that bothered me. I remember at one point Stanley told the crowd that the band would return next year for their their 20th Anniversary tour and while the audience cheered I shook my head as I looked at each member of the band. In my heart I knew one of them would not be there and it was not a pleasant feeling.

About five months later is when Carr's health problems started. Soon after that is when they found out that he had cancer with him leaving this earth later that year on November 24, 1991. To me, it all made sense after leaving a concert five years later when I saw the the original KISS members reunite for the what would turn out to be the biggest tour of the year. Yes, the fans were more than excited with me being one of them to see the guys who started it all put the whole thing back together. But of course we are dealing with people here and it's never as pretty as it seems.

I believe that God took Carr home because the music business is vicious and even though Carr would have been in the band sixteen years at that point profit would dictate decisions made so it would be safe to say that he would have been pushed aside to allow Criss to return. Not to take anything away from Kulick and drummer Eric Singer who had to go through that themselves but this would have destroyed Carr. He gave his heart and soul to the band and to have the dream taken from him would have ruined him. I truly believe that. So, in all of God's mysterious ways He found a way to take Carr out of that chaos in order to spare him the agony. I could be wrong but that makes perfect sense to me and at this point nothing can change my mind.

Thankfully, even though so many of his fans miss him we still have so much of his musical legacy to celebrate his life. He was a true talent and those who knew him say that he was the nicest person that they ever knew. To know that he was a better person than he was a musician tells me that I chose my drumming hero wisely. Thank you Eric Carr for the good times. I will always remember you.

My tribute to the Fox: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2qu_-d4uII

 Carlos Solorzano

Friday, October 13, 2017

Another KISS Reunion? I Hope Not

Recently KISS co-founder and bassist Gene Simmons and former KISS lead guitarist Ace Frehley have been reconnecting at some of Gene Simmons' Vault Experiences. Before that they reunited onstage for the first time in 16 years during a charity concert in St. Paul, MN. This came about a year after the band's other co-founder Paul Stanley made an appearance on Frehley's last solo album (an album of cover songs....more on that later) along with a music video in support of that song. So once again the rumor mill has started talking about Frehley returning to KISS...again. Interestingly enough, Frehley is also fueling these rumors by saying that he would be up for another run with the band but that nothing has been discussed yet.

Please God, make it stop!

Here are my three reasons to oppose what I know is probably the inevitable:

1) KISS is NOT a Cover Band! 

I saw the current KISS line up perform in Phoenix during the Sonic Boom tour and they were awesome! It was one of the best KISS shows I ever saw and since then I have given a nod to current lead guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer who perform every night knowing that many fans in the KISS Army despise them taking Frehley and original drummer Peter Criss' spot both musically and in terms of their characters. No pressure at all, right? Such an idea is ridiculous because no one called KISS a cover band when they took off their make up and had the late Eric Carr on drums as Criss' first replacement and a string of replacements for Frehley in the 80's. Yet, somehow having replacement members wear the make up and costumes designed by two original members make KISS a cover band even though the two founding members are still leading the group (keep in mind that their set lists features songs mostly written by Stanley and Simmons so again, how is this a cover band when you're playing your own material?). That and of course the fact that both Frehley and Criss had signed away the rights to their trademarked makeup to Stanley and Simmons who are the current owners of the KISS brand regardless of what Frehley says about leasing his makeup to the band. First of all, one simply has to look up the register of trademarks to see who is telling the truth in terms of who owns Frehley's makeup. Further, if Frehley is so disgusted by Thayer performing in his makeup why would he have given KISS permission to do this in the first place? And let's not forget that Frehley is also scheduled to be on KISS Kruise VIII later this year, which means that he'll be on the same boat as Thayer while he performs in Frehley's makeup. Come on people, this isn't complicated.  

If any performing act is a cover band it's Ace Frehley's solo band. Take a look at his set list the night before he reunited with Gene Simmons: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/ace-frehley/2017/the-ardmore-music-hall-ardmore-pa-53e217b1.html About half of the songs are KISS songs along with cover songs from other bands with the best KISS songs on the set being ones he didn't sing or write. Wow, I thought Ace left KISS both times because the success of his 1978 solo album showed him how much the band was holding him back in terms of what he could do musically.  But this is nothing new because in so many ways Ace has had a cover band for years. In Criss' biography he talked about touring with Ace in 1995 and actually criticized Frehley for performing 80 percent KISS songs in his set while Criss focused on performing his most recent solo material. (p. 270 of Makeup to Break Up: My Life In and Out of KISS). Again, where was the break out solo musician that was now free to show the world what he was made of? Mind you, his two biggest solo hits were written by Russ Ballard with the biggest hit of all being, you guessed it, a cover song (New York Groove)!

Of course it's not just hardcore KISS fans who accuse the current lineup of being a cover band. Dee Snider and Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister also accused them of such but many don't know a dirty little secret: Twisted Sister actually opened for this same cover band at a gig in Mexico: http://bravewords.com/news/kiss-twisted-sister-and-lamb-of-god-to-headline-corona-northside-rock-park-meeting-fest-in-november-2016  It sure is funny how people reevaluate their view of this cover band when they have a shot at a good gig with a good payday.  Then again, that might be why Twisted Sister called it a career because it must not feel too good when your band was once in high rotation on MTV and then are reduced to open for a cover band in Mexico.

2) The Full Original Lineup? 

People seem to forget that Singer first donned Criss' cat make up when he helped the band finish the Farewell Tour while Frehley was still a member of KISS. Of course many people (most notably Frehley's good buddy Eddie Trunk who is the most notable of persons calling today's KISS a cover band while now politicking to get Frehley back in the band since Frehley seems to talk about it more and more) point to the fact that Ace continued with the tour because he was still under contract (Trunk is consistent with that assumption because he has said it on his radio show and gave me the same answer via email). Fair enough, but then when Criss returned to the fold a couple of years later it was when Thayer officially replaced Frehley as the spaceman with Criss not having a problem sharing the stage with this so called imposter who now wore his buddy's make up and stage outfit. Of course Criss didn't make such claims at that time since he had another shot at being in the band while most importantly, making that KISS money. And when I challenged Eddie Trunk on this issue that was the one email that never got answered. Hmmmmm......Then again, Criss did say in his book that he returned to the band the first time because he wanted to make enough money to retire (p. 274). I guess another round of KISS money doesn't hurt since he recently said that he and his wife are building a new home on the water as we speak. Perhaps this why Frehley wants another run with the band because he is living in San Diego now and perhaps would like to do the same thing Criss is doing in terms of building a home on the water. Of course, such facts mean nothing to those hardcore KISS fans who swear that only Simmons and Stanley are about the money.

The reason why I bring this up is because Criss has retired from touring with many saying that he is done performing for good. http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7833992/peter-criss-founding-drummer-with-kiss-is-retiring-from-touring So if Frehley does return to KISS who is going to play drums? Is it going to be Singer in Criss' makeup?  Even if he wore say Carr's makeup is he still not an imposter since he would be wearing the make up design and stage outfit of a character that he did not create? Or, he could always wear Vinnie Vincent's make up because that was in fact designed by Stanley. But still, it's not the original lineup so I am guessing that the hardcore fans who can't let the 70's go would still insist that it's not the real KISS! But what if they performed without makeup or costumes? Would that make a difference? Maybe because the makeup seems to be the only thing that matters to such fans.  On a funny note, it they didn't perform with makeup maybe Singer can go back to being a blond. But still, it's not the original lineup so is it in fact the real KISS? 

3) It's More Than Frehley's Sobriety 

The original KISS had a magic that cannot be duplicated. No one denies that and I am a still a big fan of that time period as well as other time periods and lineups. But most people who are fans of the original lineup have also never played in a band before and don't know what it's like to be in such a relationship. Even though Frehley's contract required him not to abuse substances during the Reunion Tour Criss has spoken openly about knowing that Frehley was bombed many times with him calling Frehley out on his irresponsible behavior. This was cited in Criss' biography (p. 293 & 316) as well as  in Gene Simmons' book KISS and Makeup (p. 248 ). For some reason (probably money) Stanley and Simmons put up with that for 5 years and then Frehley decided to leave the band again. Aside from dealing with what appears to be Frehley's past sobriety issues (he claims to be sober now and if that is true then that is indeed great news) there are other issues that can be just as annoying for those working in a band together. There was Frehely's frequent tardiness to everything from rehearsals to performances, his crazy demands, him accusing Simmons and Stanley of lying about concert attendance because he doesn't know that an arena's capacity is X thousand but loses X thousand seats when a stage is set up....I mean, how does a business (yes, a rock band is a business) put up with such unprofessional and annoying behavior?

Being in a band is tough and being a pro musician myself I know how there are times when a member leaving the band is a good thing. It's not something that fans understand but until you're in that situation you just don't understand what I'm talking about. Trunk, the biggest critic of the current KISS lineup has worked in the music business for many years but to my knowledge has not been in a pro band before or even plays an instrument with any type of proficiency. If I am correct in my observation then I can safely say that even someone that close to our favorite rock stars, like many die hard fans who hate the current KISS lineup, does not know what it's like to be in a band when a member who causes problems is no longer there. There is a sense of freedom that one doesn't want to give up. Of course KISS isn't the only band that is willing to go through the struggle of bringing back such members for the money but I do know this much, if you can't trust the people you're in a band with then it is just not fun, regardless of how much money you make. Meanwhile, Simmons and Stanley have had a run of over 15 years of problem free touring with Singer and Thayer so again, what would anyone else do if they were in this position? And, it's not like the KISS brand isn't making any money these days.

Now let's address something that no one wants to talk about. Frehey's playing is not as good as he claims. It's obvious that his past substance abuse has done great harm to his body so that along with his age doesn't give him the ability to do the gig better than Thayer. I listened to his previous solo album Space Invader and it was absolutely horrible (Anomaly was slightly better only because I liked the song Space Bear)! I read the "stellar review" of the album given by Metal Sucks that was on the sticker placed on each CD and couldn't help but laugh. So, I decided to contact them in order to challenge them on such nonsense and did receive a reply where they admitted that the album was in fact horrible and that the review wasn't accurate (sounds like someone in the Frehley camp called in a favor). Is this why his latest album is a collection of cover songs and re-records of KISS classics that he wrote with him saying that there is another CD of more covers and re-records on the way? And if you listen to his solos on Space Invader they are nothing more than a rehash of the same old licks we have heard for years with a lot of them not sounding as good as they did in the past. For me this was sad because I love the work he did on the first Frehley's Comet album as well as Trouble Walkin' but I guess this is another example of what happens when you are busy partying your life away.

Also, the current KISS lineup performs songs from all eras and let's face it, Frehley doesn't have and never had the ability to play solos done by his replacements as they used techniques that were common for their musical eras. Why do you think the band only played songs like Lick It Up, Heaven's on Fire and I Love it Loud on the Farewell Tour? Those songs don't have any real solos! Then when Stanley did an excerpt of I Still Love You he did it on his own even though it has a blues based solo. Why? Because Frehley can't play it! Aside from that, imagine Frehley trying to play the solo to Crazy, Crazy Nights, Unholy, Tears are Falling, etc. with each of these songs being featured on recent KISS tours. Sorry folks, it's not happening and Frehley needs to be honest with himself because the truth is, he can't blow Thayer off the stage http://ultimateclassicrock.com/ace-frehley-tommy-thayer/ because his "guitar tutor" prior to the Reunion Tour plays leads from every era of KISStory...and plays them very well! But he will never admit that because as even Criss admits in his book that Frehley has an ego comparable to Simmons (Criss p. 293). So if Frehley does return to KISS it will be a set list of old songs like they did on the Reunion Tour.


The word on the street is that KISS is going to retire soon http://tonedeaf.com.au/kiss-going-retire-soon-gene-simmons-planning-farewell-party/and that they have a big surprise for the fans.  Some speculate that this surprise might include bringing Frehley back for the fans. I'm not so sure of that because I can't see Simmons and Stanley pushing Thayer aside for one member. Perhaps both Thayer and Singer if they could get Criss to come along as well but that's doubtful as Criss' age more or less tells us that he can't handle the demands of a full production KISS show along with the schedule that KISS demands. After all, he had physical issues during the Reunion Tour and that was over 20 years ago. Now that he's in his 70's....

If I am wrong then it is because bringing in a lesser than Thayer guitarist will work financially speaking because as Stanley has said on more than one occasion, "People listen with their eyes." If that's the case then I say this to those who choose to attend such performances to enjoy it and that there will be an extra seat because I won't be there. Make sure you're caught up in the emotion of the moment because that will be the thing that carries you through the performance because even during the Reunion Tour, there were many moments when Frehley showed that he wasn't the guitarist he was back in the day. Why do you think the band put out a chronicle of the tour when they released the Second Coming home video instead of a complete concert? Well, for those who dare to know, watch the concert footage of the original lineup on the KISS Anthology III DVD set, which came out many years after Second Coming and that will give you the answer. You will see a distinct difference between the musicianship of some members at that time compared to their abilities on KISS Anthology I, which featured footage from the 70's. A big difference! 

I am not saying all of this out of malice towards Frehley because I love many of the KISS songs he wrote as well as many of his solo songs from the 80's. But the proof is in the pudding and he is just not what he used to be. What I find most interesting about KISS fans when it comes to Frehley's playing is that he is the one member that they are the least honest about. For example, no one has a problem stating that Criss in his 50's wasn't the same drummer during the Reunion Tour and onward that he was back when he was still in his 30's during the early days of the band. Not to say that he played bad but he didn't have the same power and drive that he had when he was younger. These same fans certainly hear and comment on the condition of Stanley's voice now with Stanley himself addressing the issue more than once publicly. When will Frehley do the same about his playing and just as important, when will KISS fans do the same when it comes to what they see and hear in Frehley's playing?

In other words, at least on a musical, professional and personal level it just doesn't make sense to bring Frehley back. But when it comes to KISS, it's all about the money so I guess it's likely that we'll see Frehley back in the band real soon. If it were up to me the surprise on a final tour would be to bring back Frehley, Criss, Vincent and Kulick and celebrate the history of the entire band by giving them all spots during each show. After all, the real fans are the ones who didn't jump ship just because the band looked and sounded a bit different from the early days.

Carlos Solorzano 

Monday, October 9, 2017

The World From the Drum Riser

Lately a lot of people have asked me what it's like to be a drummer in the local Tucson music scene. To my surprise, I have been busier than ever and this is coming from a guy who used to perform in the Los Angeles music scene. Realistically, it's a lot of trial and error but I believe I am at a point where I think I have it figured in terms of what works best for me.

Time at Home 

I have a family, a full time job and a home so I am just as busy as any other adult with the same obligations. I also have other interests outside of music so time management is crucial for me even though I am not one who outs everything on a calendar. As a drummer I can be limited to what times of day I can work on my craft so the one thing that I am most thankful for is that I have my trusted practice pad as well as my electronic drum set.

Taking time to practice is not always a luxury with all that I have to deal with on a daily basis so when I do practice I need to make sure that it is quality practice with a specific purpose. The majority of my playing today has to do with performing with a working country band and in the studio so the two main things I focus on are precision and endurance.

Working on the practice pad is something I really need to do every day. Sometimes I may only have about 15 minutes to spare but that time can be useful if I use it right. Over the years I have preferred to start with flam taps and Swiss triplets at about 85 BPM's. At that point I am just trying to get loose and feel the rebound at the fulcrum point of my hands while remaining relaxed.

Most of the time when people hear you say warm up they assume that you're going to start picking up the pace as you go but I actually do the opposite. I dial the metronome down and continue to do so as I do some sticking exercises that involve singles, doubles and paradiddles while increasing the amount of subdivisions. I like to do exercises that involve triplets, quintuplets and septuplets because the odd number groupings really force me to hear and feel how consistent my strokes are between each beat of the metronome. When they are consistent and smooth my groove is spot on at the gig.

I usually practice my set playing on my electric drums because it has a built in metronome and it's just more practical for me at this point in my life since it's usually the early morning or late evening when I have a chance to sit down and work on my set playing. If I am not working on new songs or some new world drumming adaptations I work on various exercises that involved the hands and feet together. I usually start with various patterns of 2, 4 & 6 and make sure to lead with either side of my body. Then I will work on some double bass beats that require me to change my footing (foot talk for sticking) as leading with both feet also allow for more consistent playing. And, just like on the practice pad, I tend to work at moderate to slower tempos because for me it's about being accurate and consistent for a 4 hour gig and not being the fastest gun in the West.

Lately people have also been asking me about the physical toll of drumming. Thanks to the lessons I had with some great teachers such as Greg Alban back when I lived in Southern California I have never had any injuries as he taught me the importance of using the proper motion when playing. Aside from preventing injury it has also saved me a lot of money on sticks, drum heads and cymbals because efficient motion helps get a better and more consistent sound out of my instrument without doing damage to my gear that is common for many drummers. That and the fact that using the proper motion and having a good drum sound (another gift from Greg who taught me an awesome tuning method) means that I don't work my body too hard and let the drums do a lot of the work for me. 

Still, drumming is very demanding on the body and the older I get the more I have to do whatever I can to ensure my ability to deliver each night on stage. Therefore, I get on my bicycle whenever I can and have even started adding some weightlifting to my daily routine. Stretching is also very important so I try to do that every single day, which includes doing a few Pilates exercises and yoga postures that have really made a difference in helping me be physically ready for those long gigs as well as work and family obligations.

Preparing for a Gig 

Aside from what I call the house cleaning details I address before each gig there are also some important drummer things I need to do. First off, I load my gear and check multiple times to see if I have everything. Most of the time I get it right so that's when I pray that I don't live too far from the venue in the event I have to go home and get something.

Aside from that I always make sure to have my practice pad, my wrist bands as well as some snacks such a trail mix or nuts handy in the event that I get hungry during the gig. I then pack my shirt for the night and head for the club. I like to arrive early because I don't have to hurry when it comes to setting up and it gives me time to grab a bite to eat while taking some quiet time to slowly prepare my mind for the four hour marathon that awaits me and the rest of the band.

Most of the time I will wear a t-shirt from one of my endorsement companies that all can see while I am loading my gear because I feel that it is important to do as much as I can to promote their amazing products. Of course once I am dressed for the stage I have their logos on my front bass drum head so I am still doing my part to announce to whoever is there that I use such equipment.

About 30 minutes before the show I put on my stage shirt, my wrist bands and grab my practice pad. I usually find a place that is away from everyone and start my warm up exercises. By now my mind is set and the anxiousness to hit the stage starts to take over because the rest of the band has arrived and we are all ready to start the show. At that point I still try to stay in a mellow mood so I warm up slowly while keeping a close eye on my sticking. It is important for me to make sure that I don't rush my warm ups because if I feel myself flow slowly into being ready for the gig is allows me to stay strong and focused the whole night.

Once I hit the stage I give my band members a nod and then look towards the crowd before counting off the first song. Now it's on! From the time I start the first song until I hit the final cymbal crash for the night, it is all about throwing down the best groove possible and doing whatever I can to keep that dance floor filled with the amazing people who come out to see my groups perform.

The Aftermath

Tearing down after a gig is nothing more than a necessary evil. Thankfully since I am just taking things apart and packing them into their gig bags it takes less time than setting up. Once I check to make sure I have everything I make what is usually a 20-40 minute drive home as I live outside of town but that's okay because I usually drink some water and reflect on the night's show. Also, there are times when I am coming down from the adrenaline rush so I use the drive to wind down a bit from the gig.

Once I get home I shower up and go straight to bed. I don't sleep a lot as it is but I still need my rest as there are usually things I have to do away from music the following day. Once I get out of bed I try to make a point to stretch my back out over an exercise ball while using Chinese Baoding Balls to relax my hands a bit. It's not that I come home sore or anything but I am working my body hard and being in a seated position for a long period of time isn't the best thing for the human body so I want to make sure that I take care of my back.

Aside from my physical routine I also stay away from drugs and alcohol and try to eat high energy foods before a gig while eating foods that are good for recovery the day after a show. That and I try to take it easy because it's not uncommon for me to have another gig or a recording session the day after a Friday night gig.


Finally, the main thing I focus on through all of this is feeling a sense of gratitude. I am blessed to be working with two great bands while also doing session work from time to time. The extra income is great as it helps me provide even more for my family and to be able to do this while drumming is such a gift. In my younger days I focused more on being creative and such and while I do that from time to time it is not as important to me as it is bring home an immediate financial reward, which of course is easier to do when a musician is in a working situation. I will admit that I am pickier about gigs now than I was when I was younger but to me every night away from my family is a night I can't get back so I insist on bringing something home that will benefit all of them. But to do that I have to be a true professional and make sure that I am ready for every aspect of the gig.

Carlos Solorzano