Sunday, January 7, 2018

Vinnie Vincent: A Defense of the Musician

The KISS Army eagerly awaits the return of Vinnie Vincent at the KISS Expo that will take place in Atlanta on January 20, 2018. The thing that excites fans the most is that Vincent will have news in terms of what his future musical plans are while also meeting with fans and answering their questions.

No former KISS member has caused more controversy and yet has been more mysterious than the man known legally as Vincent Cusano. From stories of why he was fired from KISS to hearing about why he didn't sign his contract with the band (one story is that an attorney familiar with the case said that Vincent could see that the contract was not favorable to him) along with stories of what it was like to deal with him once he was out of the KISS and working as a solo artist.

Speaking for myself, I am not too interested in any stories he may tell us about his time with KISS as I am more interested in his future musical plans. That is because Vincent is a true talent and I have been a fan of his work since he was a member of KISS in the early 1980's. I even had a chance to see the Vinnie Vincent Invasion perform at Long Beach Arena from a 3rd row seat on their first tour as they opened for Iron Maiden. Talk about an amazing night as they were absolutely amazing!

Was It the Player of Was It the Era? 

Very few people seem to contest the idea that Vincent did some amazing things with KISS from writing great songs with the band to performing great solos on the albums. Yes, we all know of his eccentric solos onstage as he was one of many gunslingers from the 1980's determined to show the world how flashy he was. From what I can remember he didn't really do anything that many other guitarists weren't also doing except for the fact that he was a far better player than many of them.And since guitarists have egos and love to show off you can imagine how many of them felt when they saw this short strange looking player out dueling them.

KISS also continued to deal with the same issue but on a smaller scale since Vincent's replacements didn't have as much involvement in the songwriting process. The late Mark St. John was also a gunslinger that gave the band some trouble during the creative process (see Face the Music: A Life Exposed by Paul Stanley's pgs. 297-298) and while Bruce Kulick was a great team player, there were some things that Gene Simmons had said about his playing that showed that he needed a few records to figure out the attitude one needed to play with the band. (see KISS Extreme Closeup). If you look at the time period, this was the way people played guitar and the truth is, if KISS was being formed at that time and writing songs that were typical of that time period then original guitarist Ace Frehley would not have made it through the audition.

I remember when I saw Vincent do his guitar solo during the first VVI tour. The band had just finished the song "Animal" and then Vincent took the stage to himself. It was long and he really went crazy with it but at the same time, he did some amazing things. Many people in the crowd were booing him and calling out names like Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen and while such guitarists are also true talents even my teenage self could see that Vincent was doing things that many guitarists from that era simply could not do. Does anyone think that might cause some resentment? And, such a reaction is not exclusive to that era of music. Just look at the drumming world today and see how many drummers react to the talents of players like Mike Mangini, Thomas Lang, Virgil Donati, Marco Minneman, etc. Well, can he groove? Why does it have to be some complicated? Etc  (side note: sometimes these remarks are also said by many world renown drummers). True, there are some people out there who simply don't like this style of drumming or even shredder guitarists for that matter. That's okay and I will always respect a person's preferences when it comes to the kind of music they like.

But we all know a dirty little secret about musicians and music fans who are real possessive of their favorite artists. Every now and then someone comes along who is simply at a different level than the musician or the preferred musician and while their style might not be to their liking it's hard to deny the talent that one sees . Being a musician myself I am willing to admit to the fact that I have seen other players that blew me away with me having to admit to myself that: This person is doing things that I can't do and possibly, will NEVER be able to do. Therefore, some of my criticisms of such players were in fact a mask for my wounded ego and I am not afraid to say that other musicians are guilty of the doing the same thing.

Finally, when people have great talent they also get very restless. They are usually known to be difficult to work with because it's hard to find people that can match their level of competency or intensity for that matter. That doesn't excuse their behavior if they are in fact rude to others but on a musical level there are times when they simply want to explode. Does anyone think that Vincent wanted to simply play Frehley licks for a living? Or, from an egotistical point of view, if he sees that he has enough ability to surpass the level of talent that is heaping words of praise why not go out there and show the world what you can do? I'm not saying that it's not a self-centered thing to do but hey, how many people would go for it and how many guitarists back in the day did in fact, go for it?

Digging For Treasure

That is not a pun to one of Vincent's old bands but a suggestion to look beyond the screaming guitar lines and to the things that demonstrated Vincent's true brilliance. Some say that it is impossible because getting through Vincent's wild guitar playing to whatever was underneath it is impossible but I would argue that it is not impossible because I know that I've had to do the same with other bands. Take for example the song "Humans Being" by Van Halen. It's one of my favorite songs by this great band but the middle section absolutely irritates me because while EVH isn't necessarily shredding I always wonder, does this middle section have to be this long?! If I could ever sit in the same room with him and listen to this song I know what I would say: Yes Edward, I know that you play the guitar? Yes Edward, I know that you're a guitar hero. Please Edward, just play the damn song! Geez....and yet, I can still listen to the whole song because overall, it's a great song!

Every artist knows that they are responsible for whatever they release to the world as it is part of their musical legacy. In this case, Vincent has talked about how the first VVI album was the moment he took the time to exorcise some of his pent up anger  (Start at 8:15). But within that anger there is some brilliance in terms of what he did as a songwriter and all of it is pretty amazing for someone who doesn't really see himself as a songwriter (previous link, start at 6:09) and I will do the best I can to share what I hear because while I do play a little bit of guitar I am more of a drummer so please keep in mind that I am more of a fan and not an expert on the guitar.

First Album

Of all of the records that people criticize the most it is Vincent's debut album. Yes, there are plenty of moments where he is really out there but he has never shied away from what he did and stated many times in the past that he did all of that for himself. Further, it's not like he was the only guitarist from that time period that played in that way. He is just the one who gets the most heat for doing it. Seriously though, to my ear he was doing things that other players simply couldn't do and again if you're that person with that kind of talent you're going to be the target, especially if you're not in those inner circles of those considered to be the guitar god of the moment. Still, let's take a look at some tracks from this album as I offer what I think are some great things that Vincent did:

1) Boyz Are Gonna Rock: The song is a real rocker and God knows that Vincent really went out of his way to go nuts on this track. However, the song in itself is pretty cool in terms of structure, lyrics as well as some of the sounds that Vinnie came up with. I have always liked his rhythm guitar sound as well as the tone he gets on his solos but that roar that comes out of his guitar at 3:15..WOW!

2) Shoot You Full of Love: Yes, an eccentric 80's song but it has a sexy riff to say the least. The thing that stands out to me is the vocal line after the solo. Robert Fleischman really gets up there and the first thing that comes to mind when I hear that is imagine Paul Stanley singing this song at the peak of his vocal abilities. It's too bad KISS and Vincent couldn't work things out as this might have been a great KISS song.

3) No Substitute: Honestly, this is a beautiful song and the lyrics are just amazing. This was certainly a tune that any teenage boy at the time (myself included) could relate to as the song said exactly what a lot of us were feeling at that time for that special lady we had our eyes on.

4) Animal: The opening riff is awesome and the chorus is very catchy for what we knew of 80's music. And when it comes to throwing throwing one's hat into the circus known as 80's guitar soloing...well let's just cut to the chase...Vincent wins.

5) Back on the Streets: This is just a great song. The vocal part is heart breaking and let's be honest, when Vincent actually holds a note during his solo it feels as painful as the song. There is feel here and yes we would have liked to have felt more of it.

All Systems Go

On the second album they seemed to have tamed the beast...well, a little bit. But we do get to see so much of Vinnie the songwriter as well as Vincent the producer because there is a lot going on with some of these songs and the there are in fact many textures in what we hear. 

1) Ashes to Ashes: This is such a great song as it has such a great groove with some great guitar riffs. The vocal melody is awesome and the guitar solo is amazing. The beginning draws you in and when Vincent does get into his rip roaring licks it's not as intense as what he heard on the last album but again, it's the way it was back in the day.

2) Dirty Rhythm: A different type of groove than what we were used to hearing in the 80's but it has a sexy feel to it. Again, great guitar riff and a very upbeat song that is a lot of fun. It is both different for Vincent as well as the era. 

3) Love Kills: I have to say that this is still one of the most amazing power ballads I have ever heard! The lyrics give me chills as it brings up haunting memories of my own painful experiences. The guitar work behind the vocals adds to the emotion of the song and the movement of the verses into the choruses is just phenomenal because it brings a rise out of the listener that convinces them of the message of the song, that love does in fact, kill! The guitar solo was most surprising to all of us when we first heard it because we were used to the shred master doing his thing over everything. However, on this song Vincent shows his ability to play with taste, feeling and dynamics. It's a spectacular performance.

4) Burn: This is just a great rocker and I can never get tired of the amazing tone of Vinnie's rhythm guitar. The intro is super cool and the main riff is just the perfect thing to hear right out of the rocking intro. Again, another song that is just fun.

5) That Time of Year: For those of us with dreams of rock stardom this song stopped you in your tracks. The story line was heart breaking because while we wanted to feel that thrill of the stage we also wondered what it might be like if we had to leave our beloved behind. Aside from that, Vinnie's clean guitar work is just beautiful and his rhythm guitar is once again smooth and grooving. I especially love those kicks that go into the verses because while this song can be seen as a ballad it still rocks! Finally, another great solo that was both current to the era that also helps tell the story of the song.

Feeling Hopeful

Like many fans from the KISS family I hope this coming convention is the moment where Vincent tells us that he has something planned for all of us. We already knew back in 1992 when he helped KISS resurrect their career yet again by contributing to the best songs on the Revenge album that he knows how to write music and not just songs dated to the 80's. Everyone from Adam Mitchell to Mark Slaughter have said that he knows how to play just about anything on guitar and not just the shred master stuff so in my perfect world I would love to see him show us every side of his musical abilities. However, just something new would be great.

I know most people are jaded by past horror stories and I am not hear to ignore such things. However, we do know that this is not abnormal for musicians in general from any musical genre. Buddy Rich? Ray Charles? Barbra Streisand? Whitney Houston? And how about Gene Simmons? I have seen similar behavior even among local musicians who have never tasted the type of success Vincent has experienced in his life so that should tell us enough of what can happen to anyone that gets up on a stage. And with that being said, we all know that we love the music and support the career(s) of artists who are just as bad if not worse than Vincent. Isn't that interesting?  And why is this so? Because of the fact that true talent and good people skills don't necessarily go hand in hand. But if anyone has true talent they have the ability touch someone in someway. Speaking for myself, I have no problem saying that I have been touched by the artist known as Vinnie Vincent and hope to hear something new really soon that will move me in a similar way.

Carlos Solorzano

No comments:

Post a Comment