You joined Kiss in 1984, but you actually recorded with them before that, right?
I wound up doing some ghost guitar work before I joined the band, on Animalize, because they had Mark St. John, who was an overreaction to Vinnie Vincent. They had to move on from Vinnie because he wouldn't sign contracts or however that story goes, and that was the end of him. But Mark St. John was the wrong guy for the band. To play in Kiss, you should worship Jimmy Page. You shouldn't be worshipping a shredder, you know? No way. By December of '84, Paul and Gene sent Mark home, and asked me to join.
How did they want you to play?
I remember the conversation. Paul was very specific – "I want you to be competitive with all of the current guitar players and also be familiar with where we started." So I was the right guy, because I was definitely hip to what Eddie Van Halen did, yet my love of rock guitar came from Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, etc.
There was some conflict between Paul and Gene during your tenure in the band – Paul felt like he was carrying too much of the Kiss burden while Gene was off doing other things.
I was very happy that Paul was there to steer the ship. Because Gene's plate is always full. He'll do 50 things, and he'll throw everything against the wall. Paul's not that way. Paul is much more meticulous about what he wants to spend his energy on. Fortunately, he wasn't distracted with lofty, "I want to be a movie star, TV star, screenplay" – whatever it was that was so kind of fascinating for Gene. I mean, if you think about it, Gene really got his inspiration from movie people, movie horror people, Lon Chaney and all of that, right? I guess in Gene's mind, it was, "Well, I've conquered rock & roll, so now it's time to make a name as an actor." It's kind of ironic, even with all of the aggressive behavior in Hollywood, the only time he's had real success in that medium was the family TV show. And that's Gene the way most people don't see him, but it's much closer to the real him. And even though Paul resented when Gene was busy carrying on, I never felt like Gene didn't care.
Kiss' History in Photos
How did you feel about the band's look in your era?
I don't like to make excuses for the Asylum era. That's what everybody was wearing! It was ridiculous. Paul, he's flamboyant with his clothes in any era, okay? So of course he went wild with it, and I fit in the best I could. Gene was lost, completely lost. You know, he buys a sequined, red top from a crazy woman's shop in Vegas and cuts it up and wears it. I'm like "Come on." He went through a period there he didn't know what to do.
Were you bummed that you never got to wear makeup?
When I joined the band they already took it off, the year before. Because they'd kind of reached the point where it was not even that interesting. I was kind of relieved that my whole era I didn't need to. In the reunion era, I was kind of in panic at times when I was hearing through the grapevine that Ace was potentially going to be exiting. I wondered if they would they ask me, and I was nervous, because what if I left Grand Funk, and then Ace wants back the next year? Who knows? It was stressful, for me. I wasn't looking forward to becoming the Spaceman if they offered it to me, I'll be quite honest.
Eric Singer did make that transition – he returned to the band and wears the Catman makeup.
Let's do the analogy. Eric only had five years. He's behind the drum kit, too, so it's not as critical. He did have to adjust his playing, but only slightly, because Eric could play any style. I never was served up, like, "Learn this note for note. If you're going to do ‘Cold Gin,' you've got to learn every riff that Ace did." Tommy Thayer was a perfect guy. Like an understudy.So I know when they went to Tommy, it was more like, the understudy can drop in here and nobody would know the difference. It would have been more of an adjustment for me. That all being said, do I miss being in Kiss? Yes. Because I fit really well with them, and I think my talent is very complementary to their style and what they represent and all. But I don't miss being the Spaceman. And then the bonus for me, as much as I'm not in Kiss, which I do feel sad about in that way, but if it was at the cost of that, I realize I enjoy being able to wave the flag for my era, when there were probably ten million records sold and countless successful tours.
The late Eric Carr was the drummer in Kiss when you first joined. How well did he fit in?
He was just, like, not real happy. Usually there were two limos for the gigs, and it was usually Gene and Paul in one and Eric and me in the other, and Eric would just be complaining about various things. And I'd be like, you know, you gotta shut up. You're killing me. You know how many people would want your gig right now? Every band needs a pecking order – Gene and Paul are kind of like the two presidents, and you're not gonna get the same power. And I think Eric didn't know how to fit in with that, just let it kind of bother him, and I just wanted to slap him around. But we became very close. He was the best with the fans, I gotta say. But it drove me crazy that he was that miserable. Now, in time, I got to see what some of the faults are of being part of the band. Things don't always go down the way you think they might go down. But in general, Gene and Paul run a very, very hard-working, focused kind of band. They're very dedicated to what they do and how they're perceived, and how to make it go from A to Z. That might mean your feelings might be hurt to make it happen. So be it.
Then Eric got sick, which must have been awful to deal with.
It was awful. I mean, I was definitely close to him. He really had a valiant fight against a very aggressive, difficult cancer. And it was a really hard time for everyone. It really was. I mean, I was really happy to see him do his last video with us, for "God Gave Rock 'n' Roll to You" with us. And he had more energy than me in that video, even though he was going through the chemo, and he was wearing a wig that really looked like an Eric Carr wig. His hair was always so hair-sprayed and crazy to begin with. The bigger the hair spray, the better. The bigger the hair, you know? "More hairspray! Bring it in." Eric's always been a part of my life, just emotionally, but also in some dreams, and some other things that have happened to me. I always feel like he's been watching over and he's a part of my life. So I feel very honored that I had that relationship with him.
After Unplugged, how did they break it to you that they were reuniting the original band and that you were out?
We literally just went to Gene's guesthouse. He just said, "Hey, since Unplugged, this is what's happened. And we're gonna do this. We're probably just gonna do it for a year, but it's now or never, and we realize we gotta do it." And I accepted that. But, you know, Eric [Singer] was in denial. He was like, "There's no way. No way Peter Criss could do this. No way!" I was like, "Uh, dude, they're gonna do it. They'll figure it out." And they did. And they did it well. Obviously, the cracks started to show after some time. And then the machine keeps going. And it's a big machine, what can you do?
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