Monday, September 24, 2018

The End of the Road with KISS

I always knew that this day would come and of course now that it is 2018 I knew that the day was much closer than it was back when I was say a high school teen with musical dreams of his own. My favorite band of all time is about to embark on their final tour and there are so many thoughts and emotions racing through my being right now.

Being a KISS fan has never been easy. First, you have musical snobs and haters who have always had strong opinions about a band that hits the stage with outrageous costumes and a massive stage show. There are also those who simply hate their music, which is fine because there are plenty of bands out there whose music I don't like including The Beatles so as you can see there is no musical group that can please everyone. Of course there are also those who shake their heads at the antics of co-founder Gene Simmons who has even called himself delusional on several occasions so there really is no point to getting on his case about anything because he'll probably agree with you.

But that doesn't mean that the band hasn't meant the world to those like myself who have followed them in most cases, their entire life.   I think the best way to describe what it's like to be a KISS as well as why we are KISS fans was stated clearly and without question by  Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello at KISS' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: 

Enough said!

The Life Changer

My first exposure to KISS was like any other kid growing up in the late 1970's. I would see their pictures at local record stores and was totally fascinated with the image of the band.  Then when my parents would get together with friends at their homes many of these people had older kids who knew that I loved music and that I was interested in KISS. Many times they were nice enough to play their KISS records for me and that was the moment when I was hooked. Notice that these were NOT moments when I was exposed to a stage show or someone in makeup and costumes. I was listening to music and I have no problem or shame in saying that I liked what I heard. And, since this was a time when I began playing drums I was intrigued by the drumming of the great Peter Criss.

Before I knew it my mother and I were at the The Wherehouse record store at the Carson Mall and she bought me my first 45 single for the song I Was Made For Lovin' You. I still have it to this day with all of my other KISS records and other collectibles. Soon after that my father bought me the two album set Double Platinum, which has always been a treasure to me since it is a collection of the best songs from their first six albums. I love every song in that collection of hits and it was at that moment in my life when I studied them religiously to the point where I memorized each song and then played them in my head while I drummed Criss' parts on my own drum set. It was a great way to start learning how to play music regardless of what some musical snobs might say. To this day I have no problem saying that Criss was my first drumming hero.

I was eight years old when Peter Criss first left the band in 1980. At that point I had not been to my first concert so I never saw the original lineup back in their heyday. But as founding members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons have said for years, the band is bigger than its members so once they brought in drummer Eric Carr to replace Criss I was just as devoted to the band as ever. That was also a time when many of their fans moved on to other things but I never went anywhere. I still bought their new albums and kept picking up the albums I didn't have in my collection because I was truly a fan of the band.

The Next Phase 

As I entered my pre-teen years I not only continued to study the band's music along with the drumming of Eric Carr but also attended my first of many KISS concerts. Love them or hate them, you have to respect them when it comes to their live show because no one does it better. As Rush bassist & vocalist Geddy Lee has said on many occasions, "No one works harder than KISS onstage." And mind you, this is a band that has always brought out some of the best opening bands ever who later went on to become international sensations in their own right. KISS was never threatened by the quality of the opening act as they would simply see it as a reason to take their set to the next level in order to make sure that the crowd remembered who the headliner really was. That is an an example of a band who knew how to bring it! 

This had a huge impression on me as I started playing in bands of my own. KISS members always talked about how the audience deserved the best and that anything less than your best was unacceptable. I thank them for branding this into my psyche because I have never been one to waste my time playing music I didn't want to play or with musicians who didn't know how to be professionals in all that they do. Aside from that, I also knew that every gig has to be your best performance so again, I set high standards for myself when it came to what I did onstage.

Aside from learning how to be a professional performer from the hottest band in the world I also developed a life long passion as a collector of KISS records. It all started for me when I couldn't find a vinyl copy of KISS Alive II in any record store. So I ordered that album along with an album called Killers that I saw was an import record from a mail order catalog and that's when my eyes were opened to the world of record collecting. When these albums arrived I also received a catalog that had other KISS import records along with extended singles, alternate covers...the works! Once my eyes feasted on all that was out there in record land I was hooked and couldn't wait to make my next order.

To this day I don't have as extensive of a collection as some KISS fans because I always knew that I could not afford everything but to be honest, I wasn't interested in just getting something for the sake of having it. However, the rare releases that I truly wanted I do have regardless of how long it took for me to get it. The best part of this experience is that my son now also has the same passion for record collecting with his focus being on his favorite band, the great Iron Maiden.

As a fan KISS' music got me through some really hard times. Being a teenage boy isn't easy and I can't tell you how many times the music of KISS as well as their take no prisoners approach helped me get through life when I was down and out. I think the messages that moved me the most were the ones to believe in yourself and not to take any lip from anyone, ever! And mind you, this came from a band who has ALWAYS had the odds against them. No one in the music industry EVER wanted KISS around. They were the band that simply refused to go away. So to be blunt, when KISS said such things and also LIVED what they preached it really gave me the confidence to believe in the creed that I could see worked for them. Yes, this short little kid that endured bullying and self-confidence issues was given the will to go on by the band that so many people hated. And, I am not the only one who had such an experience.

Devastation and a Realization 

As a young college student I remember hearing the news that my now favorite drummer ever and favorite KISS member of all time had passed away. When Eric Carr left us I felt that KISS should have called it a day. I know now that it was an unpacking of emotions that feared what the band would look and sound like once they brought in a new member. I was so angry that they continued on that I refused to buy any more albums and even refused a chance to see them in concert one night when a friend of mine had an extra ticket that he was willing to offer me. This would go on for another four years!

It wasn't until they performed on MTV Unplugged when I was willing to end my protest. I had heard that original drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley were making a guest appearance so being a fan of the band for so long I just had to see it. It was beautiful to see because the chemistry of the original lineup was still there and, I had to admit that the then current lineup that featured lead guitarist Bruce Kulick and drummer Eric Singer was nothing less than spectacular. I had a sense of pride that I hadn't felt before because this band that wouldn't go away whose music was such a joke that it required stage outfits and a huge production went onstage with acoustic guitars and drums and gave one of the best performances in the show's history:

This performance showed the world what KISS fans already knew: this is a great band!

The emotion I felt brought me home and I will admit that I was so proud to be a KISS fan again. Well, I always was. I guess I was just being a brat and thinking that my ignoring them would somehow have an impact on their career. Nope. These are the same survivors that they have always been so why wouldn't they continue on even after the death of Eric Carr?

Most importantly, this is my favorite band but it is NOT my band! Who was I to dictate to them what they should or shouldn't do? If I love KISS that's fine but what about those who love being in KISS? And what about the two members who founded and maintained KISS all of these years? Was it my place to tell them what to do with their brand? I sure as hell never wanted anyone to tell me what to do with my bands so yes, after some self-reflection it was time to come home and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Time Traveler 

In 1996 the original lineup had decided to reunite for what would be the most anticipated tour in the history of the band. Now I was in my early 20's and able to see the lineup that started the magic. How appropriate that I would go with my mother to the concert since she was always supportive of my interests and bought so many of my treasures for me (for those who are wondering about it, this was not my mom's first or last KISS concert. She rocks!).

The night was one of great excitement and anticipation. I will never forget the feeling I had when the lights when out and the roar of the crowd filled The Forum in Los Angeles. Then, my first group of musical heroes took the stage. This was my first time seeing the band in makeup so the thrill was like nothing I could ever explain. The band delivered like I knew they would because these were the four guys who created the standard by which every replacement member believed in and lived by. It was an experience I will never forget.

I would go on to see them two more times, which included what we all thought was going to be the Farewell Tour in 2001. I remember the emotions from that night as I had honestly felt that I had seen my favorite band for the last time. I was okay with the idea because I felt that they had given me plenty of memories to last a lifetime. Plus, I was also grateful for all that they had done for me, especially when they helped me get through some pretty hard times.

Of course every band has something within that unit that even the fans are not a part of and in most cases, will never understand. Once Peter Criss and Ace Frehley parted ways with the band again Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons decided to carry on with Eric Singer back on drums and now Tommy Thayer on guitar. I had no problem with this because having been in plenty of bands myself I know first hand of the drama that goes on along with the desire that a musician has to carry on with their career even if someone else no longer wants to be part of the group. Once again, who was I or anyone else to tell the band what they could do with their brand?

Fans are free to come and go to whatever show they want but I did get a chance to see this lineup on the Sonic Boom tour and I have nothing but good things to say about them. The standard that I had known all of my life was still there. Both Singer and Thayer were top notched professionals who more than filled Criss and Frehley's shoes and I have no problem stating that it was one of the best KISS concerts I ever attended.

The End of the Road? 

Time has brought us to this moment and while I knew it was inevitable there is in fact a great truth about great music and great art in general: it does last forever! I am happy to say that I will be a part of this final run as I will attend the show on February 13, 2019 in Glendale, AZ with my best friend for life as well as my son. My best friend is the one who has been on this journey with me and my son is the one who I introduced the band to who is now a fan himself. And, did I mention that February 13 is my mother's birthday? What better way to do this on what better day to do this? 

Yes, it will make me sad when the band takes their final bow but my love for their music and my pride in being a KISS fan will never die. Insults from musical snobs and pretentious elitists mean nothing to me because such people were never around when I needed a pick me up. Many of these other groups that people say are superior to this joke of a group called KISS never wowed me with their performances. And once again, to those who want to bring up this tired old criticism again about KISS being nothing but a stage show...when I'm in the car and rocking out to their music there are no costumes or stage shows. I am listening to their music and love it as much if not even more than I did as that young boy who discovered them back in the late 1970's!

So thank you to: Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Eric Carr (RIP), Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John (RIP), Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer. You all made an impact on my life and I will never forget all of that you have done for me. You will always be:

          The Hottest Band in the World!!!!! 

Carlos Solorzano

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Persistence Over Frustration

The other day I was talking to a friend about all of the things that come with being a working and/or professional musician. Of course the joy that comes with creating or making music with other amazing artists is the most rewarding thing but there are so many things that surround that experience that at times make a musician question why they continue doing what they are doing. Immediately it made me think of a small section from the introduction to my music memoir:

Music was my first love and will always hold a special place in my heart. It has offered me all of the joys and trials that can only come from a loving relationship. Music gives me purpose and frustrates me. It fills me with a joy beyond words while also breaking my heart. It allows me to succeed while also humbling me. It has been my best friend and a vicious adversary. It was a dream beyond all dreams while also being something I wish I could have done without. Finally, music has also been my loyal bride and my deceitful mistress.

And deep down I have loved all of the joy and the abuse!

So many times I wanted to react to many of these obstacles by walking away from the music scene once and for all. Many of these experiences were quite painful and at times made me question if my love for music was worth the struggle but somehow I found a way to continue with my music career. When people have asked what made me do it I guess aside from my love of playing music I also found the good in each situation that made me want to continue, even if I had to start over yet again.

Early Days 

My first professional gig was on May 2, 1991. It was 18 years old and playing in a heavy metal band that wrote our own music. We worked hard both in rehearsing our music and putting a show together and performed all over the Los Angeles music scene. On more than one occasion we met with music producers and managers both in their homes and even at our rehearsal location. Many people seemed to like our music but that was also a time when I vividly remember a changing music scene that concerned me due to the fact that my band didn't quite sound like this new thing that began to appear on MTV as well as my local Rock radio station.

It was the early 90's and grunge music was the new flavor of the week so before I knew it my band that seemed to be going in the right direction in terms of where the music scene had been was now a dinosaur in what was now seen as a new ground breaking sound. We were dead in the water and soon we would go through a series of painful circumstances before deciding to go our separate ways.

At the time I was also studying music in college so I was learning how to play different styles of music knowing that diversity was an important part of being a professional musician. Still, it was a time when I dreamed of being in a world renown Rock band so most people assumed I would jump into the grunge scene and see where it would take me. The problem was, I hated grunge music so I was not interested in playing with any band that wanted to jump on what I saw was a depressing band wagon. Sorry folks, but music is supposed to be fun so the last thing I wanted to do was work with people who either were or wanted to pretend to be on suicide watch.

Moving On 

I cannot invest my time and most importantly my heart in music that I don't feel a connection to. When I wasn't playing in a band I would jam with other musicians working on new styles of music while also keeping my eyes on the scene. Fortunately, I would find other groups that had a sound that I not only liked but believed in, which allowed me to keep taking my shot at the big time. Now I was working with management companies who got us big shows opening for world renown artists at popular music venues, spent time working in upscale recording studios and even had the chance to spend some time at record company office meetings. While I was always sure to keep my eyes focused on reality one could not help but wonder if this dream of mine was actually going to happen.

Of course the closer I seemed to get was also the moment when I could see that I was still so far away. We're talking about big business here so there are lots of dollars to be spent on a band that the labels hoped would turn a profit for them. The problem is that as an artist I always loved doing something that was very different, which could be a big problem for business minded people. I get it but still, I wondered how they could be so hesitant to take some of the bands I worked with to the next level after seeing us annihilate a huge crowd with some amazing music. Of course they never went for the bait but were always gracious with their reasons for passing on us while also having suggestions for what could make us more appealing in the future. As simple as that sounds that's when a group of people had to decide what they were going to do next and believe me when I say that such a thing can lead to some serious disagreements.

I was never one to resist change but when people wanted to take the band in a direction that I disagreed with it was hard to put in the same effort that I did prior to this change or even proposed change of direction. Sadly, there were times when I realized that things would never be the same and when I no longer believed in the vision of what we were doing it was either time to depart or this would become yet another band that mutually decide to part ways.

Changing Priorities 

When I reached my early thirties I was now married with a child and a home. At that time I made the decision to redirect my focus by becoming a working drummer in the local music scene so I could earn more money for my young family and be able to stay close to home in order to provide the necessary emotional support for my wife and infant son.

Working with original bands that were always having to promote their brand helped a lot in terms of preparing a resume and other promotional materials. However, now I was the only member of the team that was responsible for putting my name out there so I ended up doing more networking than I had in the past. It was nice in the fact that I didn't have to answer to other people with different ideas but now all of my progress depended on my own efforts, which at times was exhausting. I had to become a business person who stayed on the cutting edge of what was current both in the music scene as well as in the music business. And, I had to do this while maintaining my abilities on my drum set.

The other challenge was that I had to focus less on creating music and now on learning other people's music. As an artist it wasn't always fulfilling on a creative level but now that I was a family man the extra money more than made up for my lack of creative output. In some ways it also gave me some peace because by now I accepted the fact that the world may not really be interested in the songs that I wrote or helped write but I was more than happy to see the number of musicians who did value my drumming abilities, which in turn kept me working.

I Was Wrong 

The creative artist in me wouldn't leave me alone as I was deeply inspired by my love for world rhythms. I started to write and record my own original drumming compositions, which led me to make my own solo CD. Honestly, this project was nothing more than the fulfillment of a personal goal but before I knew it I was going to start working in two worlds that I knew nothing about.

The first world was the music distribution world. At the time my CD was only available as an EP that I myself designed and put out as a hard copy as an independent artist. At the time online sales were just starting up for such artists so I pretty much did all of the marketing and selling on my own. Soon after, and to my surprise, I was contacted by someone from a company called Peacework Music and found out that they were interested in distributing my music online. It was a pretty cut and dry deal with me as an artist having more rights to my recordings since I had already financed the recording project. Now my music had an online presence and it was great to know that people from all over the world were now hearing and buying my music, especially when they contacted me to tell me how much they enjoyed my CD.

Later on I was contacted (and continue to hear from others) by someone who was interested in adding my music to films and television shows. I didn't really know a lot about this other world that I now had to learn about, which was the world of music licensing world so I had to learn a lot and fast. In this case it wasn't so much of me having to deal with any type of obstacle or frustration but I did have make sure that I knew now to negotiate such deals in a way where I wouldn't short change myself. Thankfully, I had a lot of amazing musical peers who had experience in this world who were more than willing to help.

Of course it was a great feeling to have this happen to me and I was certainly very proud of my accomplishments. Still, I wonder to this day if the same thing might happen to music I have written where I use instruments beyond the world of percussion. Maybe it will happen and maybe it won't but all I can do is move forward and hope that perhaps one day someone might be interested in one of those pieces of music that is not one of my drumming compositions. Either way, I am still grateful for the

Changing Times

Twelve years ago I moved to the Tucson area and continued to work in the local music scene. I was more than content to do that but then an opportunity came about that hit me by surprise. Being a practicing Catholic meant that my faith life was important to both me and my family but the last thing I thought would happen was first, that I would join another original band and second, that it would be a faith based group.

That was exactly what I did when I helped start a band called Come Thirsty. At first we just wanted to learn some popular Christian songs and serve the Christian community with our musical performances. However, once the band found that it had a special musical chemistry we began working on our own material that was most pleasing to our audience. Eventually people started asking when we were going to record and release these songs and once we had a full album's worth of material we got started. Once the album was completed we came in contact with an independent record company from the Midwest. We ended up signing a contract with them so here I was at a time in my life when I thought I was way past that moment with a pen in my hand and a record contract in front of me.

To be honest I didn't get real excited about it. I was at a point in my musical career where I knew that nothing was as good as it seemed. While there were so many great things that came out of having this deal there were still so many obstacles for the band to endure. The most frustrating thing was that we never got the support from the label that we had hoped for. I felt like we were still doing the bulk of the work in terms of selling CD's and booking gigs in more high end places (in this case it would be bigger churches). We did have a label rep and they were supposed to be helping us with all of this because after all, selling CD's would also benefit them but when it came to getting to work these people were just not there for us. Still, we moved on and went as far as we could until the band decided to call it quits a few years ago. Even though things didn't turn out the way I hoped I will admit that I learned a lot from this experience and of course am proud of the fact that the record deal thing did in fact happen at least once in my musical career.

Onward and Upward

The focus on my work today is to keep writing music for more licensing opportunities and to sty active as a performer. Each of these things keeps me busy and I do enjoy working in these two musical environments. The difficult part though is the networking, which is always a bit of a chore. Sending out emails, phone calls, saying the same things over and over as you try to book more shows and peddle your music to those who you think might be interested. There are times when you don't even get a response or those moments when people do want to do business with you but take forever to get things done. Sadly, that's just how the music business works.

Lucky for me that I am working with people who are both honorable and appreciative of what I do. Even after all these years I had to/will have to deal with people who treat you like family one day and then turn on you in a moment's notice because for some reason they no longer have any use for you. Even though I expect that to happen based on past experiences it's never easy to deal with because even the most experienced musician is still in fact a person with feelings. In my case, I give my all to any project I am involved with because it's both respectful to those I am working with and because I care about my own legacy so yes, this type of business is very personal to me.

I would be lying if I didn't say that there were days when I just want to walk away from this rat race once and for all but I can never bring myself to do that. Music is in my blood but it's also in my soul. Being a musician is who I am, not what I do so like anything else in life, you just have to move on and continue to make things happen.

Get your copy of my music memoir, A Speck in the Sand at:

Carlos Solorzano