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“Well, that sounds really scary,” laughed Peter Criss when I mention the looming end to his career with a special two-show sendoff at the Sofitel Hotel in Melbourne and The Cutting Room in New York.
“There comes a time when people from all professions – football, baseball; I don’t care what it is, man – you never wanna be told to get off the stage by your fans. You wanna leave it the way it should be left and go out with respect. I’ve been playing music for over 50 years. I started KISS back with the boys in 1971 and we had major success. All of it has been great. They put us in the Hall of Fame; I wrote a great book; I’ve won People’s Choice. I have been so blessed. I have been privileged to perform with the Rolling Stones, to Paul McArtney, to Aretha Franklin. Everybody now is in their 70’s and I don’t wanna wake up in doom-time and have to sell my soul (laughs). I feel really good at the moment. I beat cancer finally and I have also started to meet with the fans one-on-one, which is a whole different thing to being on stage with 1000’s of people and just seeing little faces and not knowing who is there. I have loved actually meeting my fans—KISS fans and Peter Criss fans—and it’s unbelievable how many amazing people there are in the world. I could never thank them enough for the great life I have today. I still feel like I have a fire under my butt and watching all of these other great guys come back and perform… Of course, it takes a little longer to get out of bed and get around and do things, but I’ve really worked hard. I’ve been going back to boot camp and playing with these young guys that drive me up the wall all day (laughs). I ain’t that old man, I’m not in a box yet! It’s been exciting and I feel like I’m getting ready now for the main event. I bowed out with KISS in front of thousands and thousands of people and now I wanna say goodbye my way. I’ve wanted to do something intimate like this for a long time and share it with my fans. Someone asked me how I’m gonna feel playing smaller venues and I told them I started out in nightclubs. I played them for fifteen years for fifty people or one hundred people and the clubs for me were always so cool. They were more intimate and you were closer to your audience. It’s a whole different vibe to a big stadium. I wanted to bow out on a smaller stage because this really will be a whole musical experience. It’s gonna be cool and it’s gonna rock the house. I’m not dead yet and I’ve got one show after Australia in my hometown in New York City. I’m digging it.”
“I’m planning a show that will blow you away,” he continued. “I will be using local band Sisters Doll and I have heard they are really dynamite and know all the KISS stuff and then I’ve got a surprise for you, as well. I have my lead guitarist of 25 years, Mike McLaughlin, who has done three or four solo albums with me and he is… I can’t say the words right. He is really scary-good, so he alone would be worth the price of admission. After the show I get to spend time with my fans and say hello. I have a two-day signing as well at the KISS Konvention so I’m sure my hand will be in for an ice bath for a year after (laughs).”
After much conjecture and public outcry, KISS was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, with Criss admitting to a feeling of justification at the accolade.
“It’s like, for a musician, winning an Academy Award. It was a bittersweet day, but you know what? I deserved to go in there. I don’t mean that egotistically but I really worked hard all my life and I had as much creation with KISS as the other three. The drums are undeniably Peter Criss because nobody will ever make them sound the way I make them sound. There’s only one Catman and that’s the God-honest truth. I wrote the biggest hit record they ever had in that band which got the People’s Choice and God-forbid the drummer should write a hit record! I added an amazing voice and an amazing feel and beat to the band. Nowadays, when they do it, they are just copying the same thing I did when I was with them but I’m just really proud to have been a member of one of the greatest rock bands in the world.”
When KISS first burst onto the scene in 1973 it was amidst a storm of confusion and controversy, with these wild rockers seemingly threatening to tear apart the very fabric of the music world with their makeup and apathy towards all that is good in the world, but Criss says they were just merely trying to make their unique mark on the industry.
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“We just wanted to be the Beatles in makeup,” he laughed. “We went to watch Alice Cooper at The Gardens and he was the only guy wearing makeup after the set. Nobody else in the band did so we got back to our place and said what would it be like if four guys put on makeup. and made it to do with their personality (with their own agenda and something fresh) and each one could be like a John, Paul, Ringo and George and our fans will adore each and every one of us separately as well as all together? That was our plan and we actually had one instead of just being crazy guys. It worked because of the perseverance and the hard work and going from place to place and playing real shitholes.”
Despite butting heads with pretty much the entire music industry from the outset, Criss still reflects on the early days with fondness.
“It was great,” he enthused. “It was the best of times. Everybody was so young and Eric Clapton and Cream and Motown was amazing. The music was real music. I’m not going to say anything about the music today (laughs) but back then it was real rock and roll, and everywhere you went there was music. Out here in New York, you would get to see Bob Dylan at one place; you would go down the street and get to see Jimi Hendrix, then you get to go somewhere else and see The Doors or Janis Joplin. So there was—and has been since—nothing like it. That’s gone now. I actually feel sorry for the younger musicians today. I work with a lot of these guys in my band here and the oldest guy is 29, and I’m 71 and kicking their asses! They only dream of the stories I tell them about the great Hendrix and the great Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and the Stones when they were in their heydey. These young guys missed the train (laughs).”
As KISS got more successful, they branched out from being just a rock outfit to being a marketable brand. Countless toys and items of clothing and accessories were being released and all of a sudden the brand was almost bigger than the band, with Criss admitting that the band and their music actually got lost in the promotion.
“I never cared for the brand or the name,” he confessed. “I never cared for nothing but playing rock and roll and getting beautiful girls and making a lot of money and having a good time. I just wanted to be a rock and roll band like the Rolling Stones. I didn’t care about T-Shirts or comics or bread boxes or baseball hats. I didn’t care for any of that shit. To me, it was taking us away and bringing us into almost a teenager world whereas I thought we were more into an older kind of music and kickass hot girls. I didn’t wanna be in a magazine like Sweet 16, that wasn’t my goal man (laughs). I’m not gonna knock it (it made us even bigger), so what can I say? We became comic book superheroes. I wish I had those muscles (laughs).”
Since leaving the band in 1980, Criss has had running feuds with the remaining members – in particular, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons – but without going into specifics, he says it was more personality clashes than the trappings of fame which were the root of the problem.
“It happens with every band,” he said matter-of-factly. “Some bands last five years if they’re lucky and get famous and have problems, but bands are crazy. Musicians are crazy people. It all starts out and everyone’s cool and everyone’s happy with their role in the band, and are content with what they’re playing, but then things change. You don’t tell me what to play and I won’t tell you what to play because whatever we have been doing was good and we’re digging it and things don’t need to change. Then when it starts getting like, ‘hey I want you to play this’ or ‘hey man, I’m not digging it’, then it starts to get picky and then all of a sudden the arguments happen and it’s sad. It’s like, ‘oh man, I wanna play more of this’ and it just throws a wrench in the works and ruins everything.”
After a career spanning over 50 years, Criss admits that leaving the limelight will be difficult for him, but also admits that he will be happy to leave certain aspects of the industry behind.
“We’ve all got regrets,” he offered. “You have regrets, I have regrets, and they are very personal. I have written some in my autobiography, but you know what, man? I’m a Catholic, I believe in God big-time. I go to church once a week and I believe he took my cancer away—I really believe that—and I’m trying to forgive. Like I said in my Hall of Fame speech, you really have to forgive things to live because, otherwise, it will kill you, man.”
Written by Kris Peters
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