Saturday, November 25, 2017

Back to Record Collecting

It all started for me when I was a young teen looking for a copy of the KISS classic KISS Alive II. For some reason none of the local music stores had any copies of the album so I was forced to order it from a record dealer that I found in a monthly rock magazine. Even though I was only looking for one particular album there was a title that caught my attention: KISS Killers. What was that? I already knew all of the albums and hadn't heard of this one. So after brief reading I learned that it was an album that the band had only released in Europe and Japan that was a compilation of classic songs with four new songs recorded in early 1982.


And this led to a passion of collecting not only every KISS album that had been released but also the band's rare, import and bootleg KISS albums that were being sold both my mail order, in special stores and of course from some interesting people that I met along the way. Sometimes they were packed in very creative ways as some people were very creative and made some really cool album covers. Sometimes they simply made a flier of the show and slid it into the packaging with the middle sticker of the record being written by hand. I didn't care because in both cases I had something that I didn't have yesterday as well as something that most fans didn't have at all.

It turned out the that album the version of Killers that I bought was the European release as the Japanese release had two additional tracks that were not included on the European release. Right away I felt the need to get both releases so the hunt began. That's when I also learned that some import records were sold as picture discs where the cover of the album was printed directly on the vinyl disc with many of these being rare collectibles since the record label would only print so many of them. Then I found out that it wasn't just European records that were of interest but also the German records specifically since they had a different KISS logo due to the normal SS looking too much like the Nazi SS. Therefore, KISS had to have a different logo for anything German including their stage logo whenever they toured in Germany.

I could see right away that I had a lot of work to do but I also knew that this would turn into a life long pursuit with me looking for things of specific eras and members. Also, I was only interested in records, pictures as well as magazines & books because I always loved reading interviews and other articles about the band (this also included merchandise put out by former KISS members who embarked on solo careers). Of course KISS has tons of merchandise with a lot of it being just rubbish in my opinion so I focused on the my main interests in order to keep me from overdoing it and from wasting money on things that are really of no value to me anyway.

Right away I started to do really well. First off, the company I purchased KISS Alive II and Killers from continued to send me catalogs. That's when I would ask my parents for certain things for my birthday and Christmas and to my surprise my parents were awesome about it. My mom was one of those mothers who took you seriously if something was important to you. She loved to encourage my passions and interests so whenever she could help she would. My father was a record collector himself as he had tons of Latin Jazz and Chicano rock albums so he understood how I felt about the music I wanted. Then we would frequent records stores as they were still a big part of our culture at that time and if you happened to walk into an independent record store it was amazing at times what they might have: KISS imports, bootlegs of both audio recordings & concerts and many other cool things. Many times my parents were more than willing to hook me up with these rarities so my collection continued to grow. Once I got a little older and was able to drive on my own I would frequent these special stores to see what they had and it was very rare for me to walk out with nothing in my hands.

Later on I would go to record shows and then meet some music dealers who will remain nameless who also had some interesting things to sell. That meant that a lot of what I had was not an official release and strangely enough, some of these bootlegs were also becoming collectors items. The music business is a dirty one so at times there were some homemade records that were either pressed to vinyl of put on cassette of everything from demo recordings of songs that had never been released (The KISS box set would not come out for more than 20 years), concerts from around the world that were copied onto VHS tapes and of course the audio of concerts from the sound board or from a radio broadcast. At times it might be a fan with a hidden tape recorder at a special show so while the quality of the recording might not be that great it was knowing that I had a special recording such as Eric Carr's first show with the band and/or recordings of KISS concerts that I had attended.

I kept everything that I collected over the years and have some records that are so rare that many KISS fans have begged for me to sell them. Of course I would never do that and now that vinyl is starting to pick up again the value of these records continues to go up.  Until recently the most valuable records I had were Peter Criss' first two post-KISS solo albums. Out of Control, which was released overseas in 1980 and Let Me Rock You, which was also released overseas with a different cover in Europe and Japan. Therefore, I have 3 records for 2 releases. On May 2, 1990 I attended a drum clinic of his in Hawthorne, CA and had the privilege of speaking to him afterwards. I brought these records along with many KISS items, all of which he signed but he was most surprised to see a 17 year old kid with these hard to find records.

As time went on I grew up and once I finished college I started my career, got married, went to graduate school, started having children, bought a home and all of the above so while I continued to buy music that I loved I wasn't really interested in the import and bootleg market anymore. Later, the internet changed everything for better and worse. The worst part was how anything and everything seemed to be on You Tube. Yes, it was kind of cool to have such rare recordings at my disposal but it also took away the thrill of finding something rare and then having it in my possession. The best part of course was eBay and other websites that still sell rare recordings as now I wasn't limited to the few record stores that still exist or to those anonymous music dealers.

Still, it wasn't enough to bring me back into the game until my son became a major Iron Maiden fan. Once that happened I started to see myself in him and it was nice to be on this end of things for a change. First, he wanted every CD he could get his hands on especially when he discovered rare recordings that needed to be ordered. Then, one day I showed him my vinyl collection and once I gave him my classic Iron Maiden vinyl records he was on a mission to get the rest. Right away I went back to my collector instincts and there I was again hunting things down for him and seeing the thrill on his face when he increased his music collection.

The next thing I know I started to get that itch again and there we were one day at our candy store, Zia Records in Tucson, AZ. While we were on our way to the cashier's stand to pay for his birthday present I decided to stop in the KISS section....and BOOM, I saw something that got me right back in the game. There was a German CD of KISS Killers with the altered logo and it was only $6.99. I grabbed it and brought it to the counter to pay and felt that surge again. Then I brought it home and was excited when I put it next to the Japanese release of the CD that I bought over 20 years ago!

My KISS Killers far! Japanese vinyl, Dutch vinyl, German vinyl, Japanese CD, English vinyl picture disc, German CD, Dutch cassette and German cassette

At this point I have no desire to be as committed to this cause as I was in my youth but there were still a few things that I never found and thanks to the internet I decided to take another look. One of them was the Japanese vinyl release of KISS Killers and the German release of the cassette. With that purchase I have just about everything one could have of KISS Killers: The Dutch, German and Japanese vinyl, the English picture disc, the Japanese and German CD's and the Dutch and German cassettes. This means so much to me because KISS Killers was the first import album I ever bought.

Aside from that there is also the what many call the Holy Grail of KISS collecting, which is a compilation called KISS The Originals II. It was released in Japan in 1978 in order to promote their tour of Japan that year and it is extremely rare because there was a limited amount of copies that were printed. Back in the 80's I was told that I would never find it but still, it never hurts to look. Then one day while searching on eBay I found it!!!!! The timing couldn't be better as I just had a weekend of good paying gigs so even my wife was cool with me making this big purchase.

Record collecting is a passion of mine and it's always fun to meet other enthusiasts so we can talk about all of the good stuff that we have. Here are some highlights of some "official" releases in my collection:

The Japanese release of the first KISS album. This was signed by Peter Criss

A Hotter Than Hell picture disc, which is rare since that was their second album

The Originals 

The Originals II

Creatures of the Night single. It is a double grooved album and features the autographs of each member carved into the album on the other side. This includes the late Eric Carr.

Dynasty picture disc and the I Was Made For Lovin' You extended vinyl single, which was an import.  This is one of my favorite KISS albums.

Music From the Elder Japanese release vinyl release with a different cover and the picture disc, German vinyl release and the picture disc single for A World Without Heroes

Japanese release of Lick it Up. It's the album where the band removed their makeup but they still had it on the Japanese release

Out of Control and Let Me Rock You, which were Peter Criss' first two post-KISS solo albums. These records were only released in Europe and Japan with Let Me Rock You having two covers, one for Europe and one for Japan. Peter Criss signed all three records.

Boy, it's good to be back in the game!

Carlos Solorzano

Friday, November 24, 2017

Ahead Drumsticks: Why Did I Switch?

For the past 5 years I have not only been playing country music but have also been playing 4 hour gigs! Aside from the toll it takes on my body it's also been pretty rough on my drumsticks! Most of the gigs aren't the hardest hitting gigs out there but let's be honest, 4 hours of hitting something will take its toll on you and your gear and that's on top of hitting drums for the past 35 plus years.

Recently I made the switch to Ahead Drumsticks and have never been happier. I am still surprised at my decision to do this because of the journey that brought me to using what is technically called a hyper-form engineered drumstick better known to the rest of the world as a non-wood drumstick. Let me share the details that led to this decision.

Let's start with my gear: Thanks to all that I learned regarding drumming technique from my old teacher Greg Alban I have never been known to destroy drum heads and cymbals. There are times when I do lay into my drums but I would never claim to be the hardest hitting drummer out there. Yes, you will definitely hear me from the drum riser but that's a combination of my playing and my drum sound (another gift from Greg as his tuning method is the best I have ever used). I have an open tuning yet many people are surprised to hear that I use Drum Dots on my toms. These dampening products help cut down the ring but don't choke the drum so my drums still have that big sound that people have come to expect from me. 

Then there are my sticks. Like just about every drummer out there I have pretty much used wooden sticks from the moment I started drumming. Regardless of the brand I was always told to use a hickory species of wood because hickory is good for rebounds. My preferred size was a 5B but would use a 2B for practice pad work in order to get a better work out. All of this worked just fine when I was younger and playing 1-2 hour rock gigs back in the Los Angeles club scene or gigs of various musical genres that I found myself in once I started performing in the Tucson music scene because many of those gigs were in venues smaller than a night club. Then I started doing 4 hour gigs back in the night club scene as well as at casinos and that's when I started to notice things that I didn't find to my liking.

The Reality of Wooden Drum Sticks 

First, I had grown tired of being covered with wood chips. At times I felt like I was caught in the middle of a termite attack but I just figured it was part of being a drummer. I would find it all over my drums, embedded in my Drum Dots, all over my pedals and all over me! The worst part for me was when I would find it in between the edge of my drum heads and the rims because that had an impact on the sound of my drums.

Second, I would love the sound and the feeling I got when I started a gig with a fresh pair of sticks. The drums had such a full sound, the hi-hats had a nice crispness to them and those grooves where I played the ride bell with the shoulder of the stick really moved. However, by the 3rd set the shoulder was no longer the perfect shape it was at the beginning of the night so my sound wasn't quite to my liking and that wasn't cool because that's when the set really gets cooking. Some would say that I should just grab another stick but it's not that simple. Yes, I had a drumstick endorsement for many years but since I am not a rock star I don't get my sticks for free. Even though I received a most generous discount I still had to pay for them so I'm not going to just toss the stick away or into the audience. Wasted money and a potential lawsuit for poking someone's eye out weighed heavily on my actions.

Third, I hate the feeling I would get when I broke a stick in the middle of a song. In the past I usually tossed a stick out when the shoulder was worn down but now with all of these long gigs and constant hitting there are times when my stick would just split down the middle or when the tip would just fly off. Again, I just thought it was part of being a drummer but it's not something I like to deal with. Most importantly, it's an obstruction to my performance and while it's not a big deal to just grab another stick and continue with my groove it still serves as a temporary distraction. To speak further on such an issue, wood is wood and while drum stick companies insist that they use the best wood there are times when a stick will not live up to the what is advertised by the drum stick company. So yes, there were times when I would simply do a rim shot with a fairly new drum stick and BOOM, it splits. Really? I just bought this and now it's already broken? Yes, that does happen.  

Finally, since I order sticks in bulk I don't have the chance to walk in a music store and roll the sticks to see if they are perfectly straight. Sadly, even though it was a rare occasion, there would be a stick here and there that wasn't straight and of course you can feel that when you're playing. Again, I paid for this and while I could send it back do I really want to deal with the hassle of sending it across country and getting another stick? Further, am I getting what I paid for?

Finding Another Path

Recently I had a full weekend of gigs and experienced something that I had never experienced before, pain. It was nothing major but the sensation I felt in my finger joints concerned me for two reasons: First, was I doing something wrong from a technical point of view? As we all know, it's not unheard of to develop some bad habits and when that happens it's time to reevaluate one's playing. So, that took me back to my practice pad as I took a good look at my grip as well as how I executed my strokes, rebounds, etc. From what I could see everything looked okay so I started to think of other possibilities. Perhaps it was the fact that I've been drumming for over 35 years so the constant striking of a drum and vibration of the stick had now taken a toll on my hands. After all, I've had numbness on the palms of my hands for years but there had never been any pain so again, this was concerning. Finally, arthritis does run in my family so I wondered if this was the beginning of a new experience due to the fact that I am also getting older. Whatever it was, I didn't like what I was feeling and it started to preoccupy a lot of my thoughts. That was when I turned to something that had been sitting around my house for some time.

Earlier this year I joined the artist roster for Ahead Sticks and Percussion Products. For a while I was using their practice pads and other gear while also buying their products for my percussion class at St. Augustine Catholic High School. I wasn't using their sticks because I was already on the artist roster for another drum stick company so my Ahead rep and I worked out an agreement for me to use their other gear. Still, I was curious so I ordered a pair of sticks just to see how they felt. They were okay and even though I did order the the grip tape I didn't wrap them around the sticks. I think my old school sensibilities got the best of me because I have never used any kind of wrap on my sticks and I didn't plan on starting now. The snob in me took over even though the instructions regarding the sticks state that you have to use the grip tape because it is difficult to grip aluminum when one is sweating because it is still a type of metal.

So I just put the sticks away and didn't give them another thought...until I felt some pain in my finger joints.

One day while I was home alone the thought crossed my mind to give these sticks another try since I had gone back online and read how they in fact cut out more vibration than wooden sticks. Since there was no one around to see me commit the crime of wrapping my sticks with grip tape I decided to go for it. Once I became a drumming fugitive I took the sticks to my practice pad and all I could say was WOW! I couldn't believe how light they felt and how easy they were to play. The grip tape didn't have any effect on my rebounds and it felt almost as if the sticks were dancing in my hands. This was very important to me because playing country music requires a lot of dynamics especially when we play ballads, waltzes and shuffles.

The next step was to take the sticks to my electronic set. Again, there was a difference in what I felt with me seeing how easy it was to go around the pads. Aside from that, I could feel a difference in my rolls as well as my ability to play complex patterns with more efficiency.

Now it was time for the big test, which meant that it was time to take these sticks to the stage and the timing couldn't have been better because I had a three gig weekend coming up and I planned to see how well these sticks would hold up. I showed the sticks to my band mates and asked them to keep an ear open to see if they heard any difference in my drum sound as well as in my playing.

The first thing that turned their heads was a fill I did during a fanfare at the end of a song. I went around my drums before hitting the last crash and kind of freaked myself out because I couldn't believe how fast my single strokes were when I went around the drums before the final crash. Apparently some of my band mates noticed it too as they turned around and offered looks of astonishment. Aside from that I was told during our first break that my drums sounded bigger and seemed to have more attack.

I agree! I use birch drums so attack is an important part of my sound but these sticks really brought out a more focused attack that really cut through the sound of the band. Most importantly, I was able to perform without a whole lot of effort. Everything just felt easier to play but the sound still filled the room like never before. Playing country music also means that I do a lot of cross stick playing and I was amazed at the sound that came from these sticks with plastic sleeves on the shoulder.  I also noticed the clarity of my crash cymbals, how easy it was to do those swing patterns on the ride cymbal and of course, that big and consistent sound that came from the bell on the ride cymbal.

I was having a blast so getting to the end of the last set didn't seem to take long at all. I was not as tired as I had been in the past and my fingers didn't hurt anymore. I couldn't believe how much vibration these sticks removed. During the last set I was curious about how much vibration these sticks actually removed so I grabbed a wooden stick out of my stick bag and played one song with that stick in my right hand. Unbelievable! I couldn't believe how much vibration I could feel. Had I really been dealing with this for the past 35 plus years? How did I only start feeling pain in my fingers now when it was obvious that I had been dealing with this from the beginning of my playing career?  This was eye opening to say the least.

Finally, there would be seven more shows after this first gig with my new sticks and I am happy to say that the sticks felt the same way they felt the first time I used them live. Even though the plastic sleeves were a little worn there was no change whatsoever in terms of how they felt and how they made my drums sound. Now I have more sticks in my stick bag, mostly as spares in case I drop a stick as well as some replacement sleeves and tips so it makes me wonder how long it will actually be before I have to buy any more sticks or replacement parts. I don't see that happening for quite some time. 

I am happy to admit that this was a time in my life when I was more than happy to swallow my pride. Here I was using a non-wood pair of sticks with grip tape of all things! Then again, why should I care what someone thinks? I don't set up my drums in the traditional way because I have an ergonomic set up. I approach country music in ways that are not typical of most country drummers. Even my solo drumming act focuses on things that are not typical of what many other drummers do. So, why should my choice of sticks surprise anyone?

Myth Buster 

When I first researched Ahead Sticks I came across websites and message boards with claims that these sticks ruin your cymbals and drum heads. I am pleased to say that this is not true! Nothing of the sort has happened to any of my gear. Drummers who bash their gear are what ruin cymbals and drum heads. I have long believed this because I have seen it first hand for years and none of these drummers used Ahead Sticks. You take any drummer with bad technique hitting their gear that is angled in a non-constructive way and I promise you that they will be buying cymbals and drum heads on a regular basis.

I have been blessed to have good instruction over the years and while that has spared me many injuries that are common to many drummers it has also saved me lots of money as I don't have to buy new gear on a regular basis. In fact, I am so confident in the way that I play drums that I never feel hesitant to play another person's drum set because I know I won't damage any of their gear. Meanwhile, do you want to sit in with my band on my drum set? Sorry Charlie because it's not happening because I don't know what kind of technique you have and I won't sit there and watch you damage my instrument. Am I a hypocrite? You're damn right I am but I'm an honest hypocrite to say the least.

Money doesn't grow on trees and knowing that one pair of Ahead Sticks is the equivalent of 6-10 pairs of wooden sticks. I have 3 pairs in my stick bag so imagine the money I will save this year considering the fact that I usually went though about a dozen 5B sticks a year (I told you that I wasn't a basher). Yes, my wooden sticks got chewed up during 4 hour gigs but I have been known to be able to use the same pair of sticks for 2-3 weeks at a time. Of course that meant I had to deal with balance issues as the wood chipped away but that was just something that came with the territory, right? Well, not anymore.

I just wish I have discovered these sticks much sooner.

Carlos Solorzano

If you'd like more information about these sticks please read this link:

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Still the Hottest Band in the World

There is a saying that one should never discuss religion or politics because it will be like talking to a wall. Well, if you're a member of the KISS Army that also applies to KISS fans who accuse the current lineup of being nothing more than a tribute or cover band. Personally, I disagree with those who make that claim and I will present my case using facts from what has taken place over the years in both the KISS & Ace Frehley camps and from my experience as a working musician. Let's start with what I think qualifies me to have a bit of an understanding of what goes on within a musical group that is active in the music business. 

My Background

I have been drumming professionally for over 26 years. My first 15 years of professional experience took place in the Los Angeles music scene. I worked in multiple original projects with some of them having management that were able to get us some great gigs along with some label interest. Sadly, none of those bands ever inked the big deal but each experience was a great lesson in the music business. Then I started working on my own original music and would go on to sign a distribution deal for my first EP since I had already finished the project on my own. At that time I also worked as a hired gun both live and in the studio with both of those experiences teaching me even more about the music business. This would also be the time I would earn my first drumming endorsement deal as I was starting to get around quite a bit in the music scene.

Now I live in the Tucson area and have been active in that music scene since I arrived in 2006. I have worked a lot in the country music scene as it keeps me quite busy while also giving me the chance to earn extra money for my family (I still have a full time career outside of music). I also continue to work on my own music and have now been involved with the music licensing world for the past several years. I have been fortunate enough to have my original music featured on television shows like CSI: Special Victims Unit, America's Top Model and on various shows on networks such as MTV, the BBC and E! Entertainment Television. Some time ago I was also in a local band that signed a recording contract with the an independent label with all of these accomplishment leading me to earn even more drumming endorsement deals.

So to be fair and honest, how many KISS fans have this kind of insight not only on the music business but also on what it is like to deal with people in the music business?

Therefore, I know what it's like to deal with disgruntled band members and have myself been one of those band members. I know what it's like when a band member betrays the trust of the group and having to make the realization that the band would be better off if that person was asked to leave. I also know what it's like to be unhappy with a group to the point where I had to walk away no matter how hard it was for everyone involved. On a positive note, I also know what it's like to form lifelong friendships with people because we have fought many battles together and stayed loyal to each other. Most of these battles were of course against those who gave us sour business deals, promoters who lied to us and/or stiffed us money that we had earned along with crooked record label representatives and so many other shady people in the music business.

Meanwhile, I still have the emotions that come with being a KISS fan.I know what it's like to be among the loyal members of the KISS Army as we celebrate the hottest band in the world. I also know what it's like to be ridiculed for being a KISS fan and having to stand up for what I believe in. I am not ashamed to say that my favorite member of all time is the late great Eric Carr with my favorite lineup being the 1980's lineup with him and Bruce Kulick on lead guitar. BUT....I too love the magic that could only come from the original lineup, even when they reunited after the death of my favorite member. It was so hard for me to see the band for the first time without my beloved drummer but dear God in heaven, they put on one hell of a show!

And I recognize that these are the same emotions that influence the opinions of many who insist that KISS is now a tribute/cover band so I definitely get where they are coming. But again, I disagree and here is why:

Unveiling the Spaceman  

(Note: some material has been taken from another recent blog of mine

What is the difference between a cover band and a tribute band? There is in fact no universal answer on the issue but I have performed in both and here is what I have found to be the case. A cover band plays a variety of songs from a specific genre so in my case, the two working bands I am in right now are cover bands because they both play country songs from several different artists. A tribute band focuses on a specific band and then has their vision of how they want to present their act. Some acts just focus on the music while others attempt to look like the band they are paying tribute to. I once performed in a Journey tribute band and it was true that we tried our best to actually become the amazing rock band from the Bay area so we studied their music and stage moves on a regular basis as we refined both our sound as well as the presentation of the group.

In my opinion, when it comes to KISS as well as their former members I would have to say that 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 his recent reunion with Gene Simmons in St. Paul, MN for the Hurricane Harvey fundraiser: 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 that he didn't sing or write.  I find this to be most interesting because Ace supposedly 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 on his own.  But this is nothing new because in so many ways Ace has led a cover band for years. In Peter 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 by Peter Criss with Larry "Ratso" Sloman). 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 both of them being, you guessed it, cover songs! (Of course we also can't forget that he didn't write "2,000 Man" either and the fact that he even covered the KISS song "Rock and Roll Hell" on his last album. Yes, it's a cover song because Frehley has stated for years that he didn't play a note on the Creatures of the Night album so it's even close to being a re-record like he did on other KISS classics on his cover song album).

Comments from the floor? Does anyone have any credible arguments to state the opposite of what I just said?

Meanwhile, KISS continues to do what they have always done and if you look at their set list the majority of songs were actually written by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons with the two of them still fronting the band that they co-founded in 1973. How in the world does this make them a tribute/cover band? Of course we know that they are called such a thing by some simply because they now have two other members wearing the makeup and costumes created by Criss and Frehley. Fair enough but we do know that they only reason this happened was because they went back to the makeup and costumes during the Reunion Tour and decided to maintain that image because it did well for the band in terms of resurrecting their career. Aside from that, I actually would like to question why those who accuse KISS of being a tribute/cover band aren't just as outraged at Frehley for covering KISS songs that he didn't write because they are creations of Stanley and Simmons. I mean, why not jump on Criss' bandwagon on that issue as well?

Yes, I am aware of the fact that original lineup shared the publishing on those early songs but again, here is a man who left the band twice to free himself from the shackles of what he thought was holding him back. Yet, here is he is making money by playing other people's songs because he knows that he has to not only perform KISS songs but the best KISS songs to get people to buy tickets to his shows with such songs being written by his old band mates Meanwhile, Frehley criticizes KISS for doing the something that also helps them push their brand. What's the difference? Is it about who created something or is it about makeup and costumes? To be honest we're actually creating different standards for different bands. 

Years ago Stanley said that they had invited Frehley to stay with the band but respected his decision to leave the band. However, Stanley said that Frehley's decision to walk away would not impact his own decision to continue with the band and brand that he helped create. Many hardcore KISS fans, including one of the band's biggest critics Eddie Trunk have not been in this position before as well as the position that Stanley and Simmons were in during the band's first run when they had to deal with Criss and Frehley's reckless behavior. If you don't want to believe me because of my lack of public stature in this business then let's hear from another person who would tell you the same thing, Scott Ian of Anthrax The fact is, if Trunk or any of these hardcore fans owned a business none of them would retain an employee who performed poorly, had a bad attitude or simply didn't want to be there. KISS, like every other successful rock band out there is a business and like any business it takes years to build your brand and just as much effort to maintain it. Welcome to the real world!

It's Not Even About the Most Important Thing, the Music! 

I have always hated it when people said that KISS was just a gimmick; nothing more than a bunch of guys in makeup running around a circus type stage. True KISS fans know that those two things are only a fraction of what we love about this band. When I listen to the music in my car I don't see the stage show nor do I see the members in their stage outfits or makeup. I hear the music that I have loved since the first time I heard them. This is the band that inspired me to want to be a musician. This is the band whose perseverance in an industry that just wanted them to go away gave me the courage to handle the struggles of being a teenage boy. This is the band whose song "Forever" was played at my wedding when I walked out with my new bride. Finally, this is the band that I have introduced to my children who now rock out with me in the car on a regular basis.

It's the music people and for real KISS fans, it's always been about the music! So why in the world are we talking about who is wearing the makeup when in reality, we only get a clear look at them when we look at a photograph of the band? Watch the band perform with Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer. They are just as good as ever because KISS has always been committed to giving their audience the best show ever. If not, you end up like Peter Criss or Vinnie Vincent in that if you do anything to jeopardize the brand in front of a paying audience then you are gone!

Still, people want to fight over the makeup so let's go ahead and do that right now. And, let's do that with the help of our friends from Three Sides of the Coin. 

If you watch this Three Sides...episode Michael Brandvold is very clear on the ownership of the makeup and anyone is free to challenge his claim that the KISS Company (Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons) owns the trademark on Frehley and Criss' makeup (see 36:10-57:40).  During the episode Michael invites everyone to look in the trademark database in order to see all that the band KISS has trademarked. They even cited Criss' statement in his book where he talks about giving up the rights to his makeup (p. 338).

Some of what isn't clear in this episode is made clear in another Three Sides...episode that featured  David Snowden. Here Snowden tells us that Stanley and Simmons got the rights to Criss and Frehley's makeup during negotiations for the Reunion tour that started in 1996 (See 1:28:45-1:31:12). This makes total sense because the Kiss My Ass album (the record that featured Stanley's bandit makeup from the early days instead of Frehley's makeup) came out before the Reunion Tour so that was still a time when Frehley still owned the rights to his makeup. However, did Frehley and Criss not really see the value of their makeup or more importantly, who they were both as musicians as well as public figures? Obviously not because they were unable to negotiate better terms with Stanley and Simmons.

Think about it: Frehley and Criss never saw how much leverage they had because without them there would be no Reunion Tour. Gentlemen, you didn't need better lawyers. You simply needed to stand your ground and ask Stanley and Simmons how bad they wanted their reunion pay day. Keep in mind that Stanley and Simmons bad mouthed them in the press for years before the Reunion Tour and now they wanted them back in the band? My guess is that they were trying to promote the brand of KISS that they were running at the time but they could never distract the KISS Army enough to squash the demands for a reunion of the original members. Stanley and Simmons are no fools, which is why they relented with their criticisms and brought Criss and Frehley back in the band because as Stanley has stated on many occasions, people hear with their eyes. And by giving such people what they wanted they all made a ton of money, including Criss and Frehley.

Still, we know for a fact that Frehley and Criss had, as Simmons would say, the keys to the kingdom. Criss himself in his book talks about how he wouldn't cooperate with the negotiations for the Reunion Tour because he refused to take less money than Frehley (Criss p. 278). Where would these negotiations have gone if Frehley hadn't pulled Criss aside and agreed to an equal share with him? Would Criss have agreed to do the tour for less money or would they have moved forward with only Frehley coming back to the band? Further, it wasn't just their participation on the tour that the fans wanted to see but also the whole band in their classic makeup. So, even more so, why agree to sign off the rights to the makeup? They had to see that there was a reason why Stanley and Simmons not only wanted them back in the band but also wanted the rights to their makeup so why give them everything they wanted? Perhaps it's as many suspected; both of them were so down and out financially that they sold the rights to their makeup to make ends meet. Whatever the reason, they gave those rights away and there is no one to blame other than the person who signed off on it.

Many people continue debate the issue of the Criss and Frehley's makeup but I would suggest we take it even further. What about the KISS logo? No one has ever denied the fact that Frehley designed the logo and that Stanley refined the logo. If it's all about a design that was created by someone then people like Trunk should have called KISS a tribute/cover band back in the 1980's when they did not wear the makeup because they still used the logo that was originally designed by Frehley who at that point was no longer in the band. Keep in mind that by 1987 when Frehley's Comet was active in the same music scene as KISS that Frehley was essentially competing with a band who used a logo that he designed.

Some may claim that the band logo is not as important as a person's makeup design but I disagree. I would argue that the logo is more valuable and memorable than the makeup of each member because people not only read the name KISS but also know the design of the logo and how the band's logo refers to the rock band and not some other brand. Do they really know the makeup design of each character in the band? The answer is no. The makeup design the general public knows the most is Simmons' design so most people would probably not know the difference between a picture of the band from 1976 or 1982. That is because the key to knowing if a picture of four guys in makeup is in fact KISS is if Simmons is in the picture. If it's another band that also wears makeup then they would probably think that this band is imitating KISS and not any specific member. So yes, let's admit which design or should I say designs have the most value. The KISS logo and Simmons' makeup. 

The Inner Circle 

Alright KISS fans from all points of view, let's talk about the thing that many of you don't know about and that's being in a band. The fans only see what's on the outside: the makeup, the show, the packaging on whatever merchandise we buy and whatever behavior the band displays when they are in the public eye. We are not privy to see what goes on behind closed doors.

If you have read any of the KISS members' biographies or read any of their interviews in the past 20 plus years you know that this band more or less NEVER got along. Sometimes that's just how it is because creative people always have different ideas and there are times when such clashing leads to some great things. In other cases, there is a point of no return and while our emotions want to see our superheroes stay together forever...well in the real world with real people behind the facade it's just not going to happen.

Even in the case of lifelong friendships I have made with former band members there is still the reality of knowing that I will never perform with some of the them ever again. Not just because of the fact that we have all moved on and in some cases have moved away from each but also because we are in different places musically with me not wanting to revisit my musical past. In some cases there are broken relationships where trust was broken and for that reason alone while there has been forgiveness and a willingness to be cordial on a personal level there is still enough of a scar for me to want to keep a respectful distance from those people when it comes to working together musically.

Do any of this think that the same isn't true for a super group?

As much as I hate to say it, maybe it's best that the original members never work together again. As fans we should just thank them for the memories and thank God that so much of what they have done has been documented so we can enjoy them over and over again. Consider the following and ask yourself if these people should in fact work together again:

...and this is just a taste of what is available for all of us to read.

If you don't want like what KISS is doing now then do what many KISS fans did back in the 1980's...disappear! The rest of us will stick around and enjoy the fact that the band is still around. Aside from that, let's also enjoy the fact that Ace Frehley is still out there performing, especially if he is indeed happy leading his own band and living a life of sobriety. Heck, let's even hope that Vinnie Vincent has some musical plans in the future and that perhaps even Peter Criss might consider releasing some new music even though he has retired from the stage.

Lacking Consistency

The first time we had an imposter (ugh, whatever) in KISS makeup was on April 5, 1997 in Columbus, GA when KISS had Criss' roadie Ed Kanon fill in for him for one night on the Reunion Tour when Criss claimed that his hands hurt too much for him to perform. It is true that Frehley felt that the show shouldn't go on but the band moved forward .....just like they did when Criss left the band a second time when the band brought Singer back to finish the Farewell Tour

Of course if you read carefully Singer reveals the hypocrisy of Criss, Frehley as well as some of the fans. When Frehley performed with KISS with Singer on drums there was no criticism from Frehley or the fans about Singer performing in Criss' makeup or costume. Many fans including Trunk state that Frehley did these dates because he was under contract but Singer, who was actually in the band at that point, has a different perspective on things when he claimed that Frehley was in fact happier without Criss in the band (I would like to hear Trunk press Frehley on that issue since he is a regular guest on Trunk's radio show). Interestingly enough, Singer also pointed out that the hardcore fans, Frehley and Trunk also said nothing about Criss returning to the band and making that KISS money when Thayer had now replaced Frehley on guitar, makeup and costume.

Hello? Anyone home? Are you people really against a KISS cover band or do 3 out of 4 original members make it okay based on a majority?

Here's what I see: Frehley is a hypocrite because if it really bothered him to see another person in Criss' makeup he would've have quit the band out of respect to Peter and let Thayer finish the tour. It's not like Thayer wasn't ready to take over because we all know of that moment when he almost filled in during the Farewell Tour when Frehley was late to the August 11, 2000 show in Irvine, CA.  As the band waited for Frehley to arrive Thayer was dressed for the occasion and ready to hit the stage as a last minute ringer (p. 400-402 in Face the Music: A Life Exposed by Paul Stanley). Oh, and guess who was scheduled to perform with KISS on drums that night?

Criss is a hypocrite for the same reasons as he did a full tour with KISS with Thayer in Frehley's makeup. And of course you can see this KISS lineup on the KISS Symphony CD/DVD with Criss looking completely miserable onstage and during the behind the scenes footage, right? Of course he tried to sell his participation on this tour as if he had been deceived (Criss p. 328) but the one thing that doesn't make sense is that he says that he was already rehearsing with the band in Los Angeles when he went to Stanley's birthday party and found out that Frehley wasn't going to be on the tour. is he saying that the band was only rehearsing as a trio at that point? Why would they not need a lead guitarist to be at such rehearsals? That just doesn't sound right to me because the only lead guitarist in the band's history that ever seemed to not show up at times was Frehley. Would Thayer, who has always conducted himself as a professional NOT show up to a KISS rehearsal? Stanley and Simmons are often accused of trying to re-write history (I'm not saying that they haven't or don't continue to do so) but I wonder if they are truly the only ones.  

My, my, my...isn't it funny how facts can be such an inconvenience? Let's face it folks, the hypocrisy that both Frehley and Criss have joined in at one time or another is not only a rusty wrench in the machine but also the wild card that proves that KISS is NOT a tribute/cover band. Because, if you really believe that then you have to admit that Frehley and Criss have also performed in this same tribute/cover band and did it for the same reason that many claim is the motivation behind Stanley and Simmons maintaining this tribute/cover band...the money! Believe what you want but the facts don't support the tribute/cover band claim. If anyone can prove's not hard to find me. Post your argument and let's do this.

I rest my case.

Now let's have some fun folks. I need some help with this last section. Help me find the real KISS!

Some would say that this is KISS because they have replacement members and they are NOT wearing makeup:

Not sure if this is KISS because it has 3 of the original members and since certain people love the original Catman they wouldn't want to take a shot at him for performing with this tribute/cover band:

Here is Frehley performing with what some call the KISS cover/tribute band. He even sings lead vocals on one of the songs:

For the hardcore Trunk circle, I guess this is KISS because they are NOT wearing makeup, correct?

If you want more than an acoustic set just go to soundcheck in order to see the real KISS because once again, they are NOT wearing makeup:

Carlos Solorzano