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The Long Kiss Goodbye: The Search for Vinnie Vincent

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In concert, the guitarist was determined to get the attention he desired. A portion of the band's shows during its 1983 and 1984 tours was given over to a Vincent solo spot. Often dressed in a sleeveless, tattered shirt, tight black leather pants and high-heeled boots, Vincent would play impossibly fast flurries of notes, fall down to his knees, wring whammy bar dives and wails from his instrument and bust out finger-tapped triplets and power-chord riffs. He preened and pranced and drew screaming ovations. He wasn't Eddie Van Halen, but he wasn't far off. 

The hotdogging did not go over well with the other members of Kiss, especially not when Vincent began ignoring the other bandmembers' cues to end his solos. Things came to a head in the Spring of 1984, when Vincent's solos spun well beyond the few minutes they were supposed fill.   

"Onstage, Vinnie was hell-bent on using every solo as an opportunity to showcase himself," Stanley remembered. "We used to call it the high point of the show — because everybody in the audience left to go get high."

Once his unsanctioned bravado become too irksome to Stanley and Gene Simmons, Vincent's time in the band was short-lived. "It was torture working with him," Simmons wrote in his 2002 autobiography, Kiss and Make-Up. "He didn't like to be told what or how to play." The way Simmons and Stanley tell it, they had reservations about Vincent from the beginning. Stanley felt Vincent was "shifty" and told Simmons, "I just want to go on record saying that [working with Vincent] is a bad move." With each passing show, they came to loathe his self-indulgent mindset and standoffish attitude. "He had no sense of what to play or when," Stanley wrote, "and he had no ability to self-edit." Vincent's playing, felt Stanley, "was like puking — it just came splattering out." 

Vincent, naturally, felt differently about his virtuosic displays. "I'm an over the top kind of guy," he said in a 1987 radio interview. "I like it. It's extreme and excessive. I think as spectacular as Kiss was with its live show, they were conservative musically. I think they were looking for more a generic, old school kind of guitar player. I think that's what they wanted me to do. But that wasn't in my blood."

Vincent and Kiss parted ways once the "Lick It Up" tour ended in March 1984. Simmons said the band fired him for "unethical behavior" — understood to mean he wouldn't sign the employment contract being offered. There were other issues. Speaking at 1995's Worldwide Kiss Konvention in Nashville, Stanley said that "Vinnie sold a fan a guitar he had never played and said it was his favorite guitar, a guitar he always played, and he sold it to a fan for more than it would cost in a store." For a band that above all valued its relationship — business and otherwise — with its fans, the ethical lapse, said Stanley said, "was totally unacceptable." 

Rolling Stone's List of the 100 Greatest Guitarists

As the hotshot who'd given Kiss a kick in the ass, Vincent was in high demand after exiting the group. Chrysalis Records quickly offered his new band, Vinnie Vincent Invasion, a reported eight-album, $4 million contract. He recruited drummer Bobby Rock, bassist Dana Strum and, for touring, vocalist Mark Slaughter.

Things did not go smoothly. 

An obsessive taskmaster, Vincent, on four separate occasions, made Rock entirely re-record his parts for the group's self-titled debut. The veteran drummer still considers the drilling to be "the most difficult recording experience" of his career. Vincent held himself to his own, perhaps impossible, standards. "He kept using the whammy bar on this one solo," says Robert Fleischman, who recorded vocals before being replaced by Slaughter for shows, "and he kept doing it and doing it, and it kept getting out of tune. He was just chasing his tail and going nutty." The guitarist got pissed off — literally. "He finally just got up," says Fleischman, "and smashed the guitar and he fucking pissed on it. And he's just pissing on it on a hardwood floor. It was just nuts. We couldn't go into the studio for, like, three days." 

Despite the recording craziness, Vinnie Vincent Invasion sold respectably and earned a spot on Kerrang!'s 1986 albums-of-the-year list. In the years since, the album has become something of a hair-metal connoisseur's favorite, as tracks like "Boyz Are Gonna Rock" and "Animal" are peacocking party-rock exemplars. Kerrang! included Vinnie Vincent Invasion on its list of the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums of All-Time, and writer Chuck Klosterman praised it as an Eighties hair-metal classic. Vincent, wrote Klosterman, played like "a Tasmanian devil whirling toward vaginas and self-destruction." And he meant that in a good way.

After releasing the album, Vincent's band landed opening slots with Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden as well as embarked on a headlining club tour. But, in something of a pattern, conflict quickly arose. Vincent's bandmates felt the guitarist's showmanship detracted from the music. They attempted to hire a manager who could reason with Vincent. Vincent saw this as an attempted mutiny. "He took it badly," Rock says. "We handled it wrong." Despite the relationships having deteroriated, Vinnie Vincent Invasion released its sophomore effort, All Systems Go, in 1988 and embarked on a tour that was to be its last. Soon after, Slaughter and Strum broke off on their own. Performing as Slaughter, they went on to sell more than two million copies of their 1990 debut, the aptly titled Stick It to Ya. The Invasion was over.

Without a band, Vincent landed a publishing deal and tried writing adult contemporary pop songs. By chance, he ran into Simmons at a recording studio. "Vinnie Vincent came up to me and apologized for causing the band all the grief while he was a member," Simmons wrote. "He wanted to patch things up and wondered if I would consider writing some songs with him." 

Vincent was brought back into the Kiss mix to co-write "Unholy," "Heart of Chrome" and "I Just Wanna" for the band's 1992 album, Revenge. Once the record hit shelves in 1992, Vincent quickly shed his penitent's skin.

 "Vinnie was up to his old tricks again," fumed Simmons. "He reneged on a signed deal we had made and decided that he wanted to renegotiate. He eventually sued us and lost. As far as I was concerned, he was persona non grata forever."

He was also not proving to be musically productive on his own. A modest contract with Enigma Records gave Vincent the financial wherewithal to chip away at a third LP. He called on Robert Fleischman and drummer Andre LaBelle to help. "With recording," Labelle says, "Vinnie went extremely overboard and was never satisfied." The drummer says the meticulous guitarist had him work in six different studios over a two-year period and "blew money like crazy." He also says Vincent refused to let him take demos home and practice his parts off the clock.

After Vincent burned through his recording advance, Fleischman and LaBelle believe he tried to leverage his demos into a bigger record deal with a larger label and in the process scuttled his relationship with Enigma. Speaking at a Kiss convention in the mid-Nineties, Vincent said, "It was a small label, but they were spending quite a bit. I stopped production on the record and didn’t do anything with it. I let some time go by and I realized what I really wanted to do was launch my own record company."

With the exception of an archival 71-minute guitar solo dubbed Speedball Jamm, Vinnie Vincent has not released any new music in 18 years.

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