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:

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), 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). 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). 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). 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).

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. 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:

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 There is also some double bass work with some nice movement around the toms on the intro to "I'm Alive" 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.

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.

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.

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: 

"Eyes of Love:" A demo of a great rock song again that is in the spirit of the 80's:

"Tiara:" A beautiful love song.

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. 

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:

 Carlos Solorzano

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