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

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