In honor of Peter Criss’ [December 20th] birthday, author and Kiss Army member Dale Sherman reminisces about meeting the Catman.
I once had a drink with Peter Criss. Well, that’s better than starting off by saying I once made an idiot of myself in front of Peter Criss. But more of that in a sec.
Back in 1984 I was just getting involved with KISS fandom, working on a little photocopied fanzine and spending time with a couple of friends going to KISS shows, listening to KISS albums and all the usual fanatical stuff you do as a fan of any band. By that time, KISS was on the rebounds, having taken the makeup off and getting some decent radio and music video airplay with their Lick It Up album.
Meanwhile, Peter had finally reappeared in public after vanishing soon upon leaving KISS in 1980. Okay, that wasn’t exactly true – he did his first solo album Out of Control in 1980 and then followed up with a foreign-only released in 1982, Let Me Rock You – but for the most part, us KISS fans never knew much of what happened to him after he left.
Peter’s recent autobiography, Makeup to Breakup, tries to paint a picture that essentially shows him vanishing as well, but even that wasn’t quite true at the time. After all, he did have those two albums there, and by 1984 he had been touring for a year with his old writing partner Stan Penridge in a band that kept changing its name.
Which is a story in itself. As Stan told me years later, the idea was “let’s be a band of equal partners, so let’s call the band ‘The Desperate Men.’ Then it became the ‘Criss-Penridge Alliance!’ But all the bookers would ask, ‘Who’s Chris Penridge?’ So it became the Peter Criss Alliance, and then finally the “Alliance.” But, of course, all that fussing over a name mattered little to the bookers – what appeared in the ads was typically an announcement that “Former KISS member, Peter Criss” was to perform. Sometimes with more emphasis on the band name than Peter’s. Just the way it went.
In August 1984, Peter was to play a bar in Dayton, Ohio with the Alliance. I won’t mention the name of the place because they’re still around and because of what occurred next. With one member of our little group being underaged, I knew the best step to take was to get there when the bar opened at 3 in the afternoon. At that time of day, no one bothered carding anyone, and as long as the one person didn’t get a drink, there wouldn’t be any problems once they were inside the place. This plan worked, but it meant sitting around for hours in a dark bar with nothing to do. Not even an alcoholic beverage, because we wanted to avoid the whole “carding” situation. On the other hand, it also led to us watching the band come in to set up their equipment and do a quick soundcheck. As for Peter, it amounted to him taking one look around, announcing that the club “sucks” and stomping over to the bar to get a drink.
And that was my introduction to Peter in-person.
As the band began setting up – with Peter helping with the equipment as much as anyone else – one of my friends who was and is a professional artist began doodling artwork of Peter at our table. Soon afterwards, a member of the band happened to see his drawing and asked if Peter had seen it., which quickly led to Peter himself coming over with his drink and growling for me to move over so he could sit with us.
Like I was going to tell him to get lost.
He sat down and talked with us as the place slowly began to fill with KISS fans all around us; some of them pointing towards our table and whispering, wondering if the man at the table with us were Peter or a roadie. That no slight on Peter – at that point in time, KISS fans only had a small handful of pictures of Peter without makeup to go by and most of them featured him in a beard that he no longer wore. If anyone figured it out, they never approached him (one person who attended that night told me later that he had assumed we were Peter’s management team or that one of us was Peter’s bodyguard and didn’t want to interrupt).
Peter sat with us for close to an hour, just talking about music in general and about his two solo albums. Of course, as expected, the conversation eventually turned to his days with KISS. It was at that point he stiffened up.
“Yeah,” he bristled, “okay, I get it that you’re KISS fans. But let me ask you this: are you Ace and Peter fans?”
Now at the time this was somewhat surprising. One has to remember that this so-called feud between the original band members that most people and their grandmother think of today about KISS was not even considered as the situation back in 1984. Far as most of us fans knew, Peter had left in a handshake deal with the other guys and they all loved each other and went to barbeques together on the weekends or something. There was not much talk about them hating each other or getting into fights. Oh, sure, some rumor about a show during the Dynasty tour where Peter supposedly stopped the show because he was fed up, but who knew if that was true? Thus, having Peter demonstrate that he wondered how much people were really there for him or for his previous association was a bit shocking to hear as a fan at the time.
I jumped in and pointed out that I was only slowly getting involved with fandom at the time and wasn’t anywhere near the level of KISS fan as the others at the table, but still interested in hearing what he had to say. Maybe it was my defensive or weaseling way to say, “hey, I’m not like them,” but it seemed to break the icy atmosphere there. He laughed and said in a loud enough voice to make clear it was a joke, “Gotta watch these KISS fans. They’re weird, aren’t they?”
We talked for a while longer and then Peter went to the back to get ready for the show. Soon after, Allen Woody, the bassist in the band (who would go on to join a reformed Allman Brothers Band and later Gov’t Mule) sat with us for a time, which merely confirmed to others that we must have been with the band. He related some stories from his travels with the Alliance, including how most of the band members were session players from Nashville and how he had been sitting at home watching cartoons on a Saturday morning and eating cereal when he got the call to join the band. Had nothing but good things to say about Peter, Stan and the rest of the band members and they all seemed to get along just great. He then excused himself to get ready for the show as well.
The show itself went smoothly, with the band playing a lot of original material and some cuts from Peter solo albums. As for the audience, there were a few members that kept screaming out for KISS songs, leading to Woody remarking to the crowd, “This stuff is better than any of that KISS shit!” As one would expect, that didn’t go over in a positive manner with an audience wearing their KISS t-shirts that night. I laughed, but I was in a minority, I know. Finally, Peter performed a handful of KISS songs, including an acoustic “Beth” with Stan playing guitar behind him, as the show wrapped up for the night.
After the show … there wasn’t much to it. I wish I could say that it became a magical moment and we all became the best of buddies, but that’s the dreamworld of fans, not the reality of show-business. We talked to Woody and the keyboardist for a bit as they packed up, Peter made his exit with a blonde to the bus, and they all left to a cheap motel on the other side of Dayton and out of sight. Still, we were left with having a good time sitting with Peter and then watching his band perform on-stage, even if they did never get around to the repeated screamed-for request of Baby Driver.
I mention this because over the years there’s been a bit of a love/hate relationship between Peter and the fans. No doubt helped by the level of insults Peter, Gene, Paul and even sometimes Ace has pitched at each other, the fans feel they have to stake a claim in the matter and throw their support behind one of them. While Gene and Paul can cocoon themselves a bit from that due to their still being in the band, Ace and Peter get hit with it a bit more and thus get blooded by fans’ comments … and in retaliation can sometimes hit back in a similar manner. When Peter asked if we were fans of his or the band, it wasn’t because the band meant so little to him, but because after being on the road for x-number of months and seeing countless ads featuring “the ex-drummer of KISS,” he probably was wondering if all he was to audiences was a guy that “knew Gene and Paul.”
As a side note, Gene and Paul have spent years committed to KISS and keeping it going with new albums and tours and side-members and then the fans and the press all run to them and immediately ask, “When are Peter and Ace going to be back?” No wonder they are a bit thin-skinned about that question these days. So such worries and resentments work both ways, and thus are reflected in the interviews and tell-all books that Gene, Ace, Peter, and soon Paul have released over the years. More of a chance to say, “Why are they so important to you people? Can’t you see what I’ve done is better than what they did?” And it goes around and around and around.
Which brings us to Peter’s autobiography that came out in Fall 2012. At first the reviews were incredibly positive, but now the newness is gone and the backlash has settled in a bit. Peter’s book is, frankly, take-no-prisoners, with him knocking himself down a peg or two just as much as he does everyone else. On the other hand, we have fans who feel that Peter is being nasty to the other guys just to be nasty. Of course, both Gene and Ace had written books that were just as negative about Peter and the others or even more so, but it is Peter – the ingrate that left KISS in 1980 – that gets the tomatoes thrown at him. With that, it is sometimes hard to not feel that Peter gets dumped on because some of the other members of KISS proclaim it’s the “right thing to do.” After all, we’re the KISS Army and we must obey.
But, admittedly, perhaps I excuse Peter’s efforts because I can’t hide the fact that I like the guy. It is obvious from his book and from other discussions about him with people who knew/know him that he can sometimes be a bit crazed (and he willingly admits that it can happen). Yet, it seems he comes by it honestly, and there’s a passion there that some of the other original members just don’t seem to share anymore about life, music or even the legacy of KISS. In fact – and this is not to make some type of grand ironic statement; rather just to point it out – I would say out of the four, Peter cares more about what people think about KISS more than any of the others.
Maybe it was due to me being there when I wasn’t quite as big as a fan as I would become about the band, but I spent time just sitting, drinking and gabbing with this guy who happened to be Peter Criss, former (and future … and former … and future and former once again) drummer of the mega-famous rock band KISS. I’m glad to see he is still around. I’m happy to see that maybe, just maybe, his life is finally completely pulled together and he has found peace within himself. I’m thrilled that he’s getting so recognition from the book. Most of all, I’m pleased to be able to look back on that day in a bar in Dayton, Ohio and have had the chance to talk to him.
Even if the first question I could think of to ask was “What is it like to have a beard?”
That was me trying to be cute. His response, “Hairy.”
Well, at least he took it in the right spirit. After all, I wasn’t one of those “weirdos” at the table.
Dale Sherman has written numerous books about rock music, including biographies of KISS and Alice Cooper, and about women rockers and urban legends in the musical industry. Get his stuff at Hal Leonard/Backbeat Books and Amazon.
To listen and buy music by Peter Criss, go to his page at the Rock Cellar Record Store HERE.