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Profile of KISS, Theatrical Hard Rock Survivors


KISS, without make up, London, August 1983, from left to right: Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Vinnie Vincent, Eric Carr.
Michael Putland/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


1972 in New York City

Original Members:

  • Paul Stanley (born Stanley Harvey Eisen on January 20, 1952 in Queens, New York) - Lead vocals, rhythm guitar, background vocals
  • Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz on August 25, 1949 in Haifa, Israel) - Bass guitar, lead & background vocals
  • Ace Frehley (born Paul Frehley on April 27, 1951 in the Bronx, New York) - Lead guitar, vocals
  • Peter Criss (born George Peter John Criscuola on December 20, 1945 in Brooklyn, New York) - Drums, lead vocals

Long-Term '80s Replacements for Frehley & Criss:

  • Bruce Kulick (born on December 12, 1953 in Brooklyn, New York) - Lead guitar
  • Eric Carr (born Paul Charles Caravello on July 12, 1950 in Brooklyn, New York, died on November 24, 1991 in New York City) - Drums


The seeds for KISS - at its peak known as "the HOTTEST band in the world" - were planted quietly by Stanley and Simmons, who formed a rather nondescript rock and roll outfit in 1971, unfortunately christened Wicked Lester. When that band essentially went nowhere, the pair decided to go back to the drawing board and create an entirely new band and direction. Criss joined after Stanley and Simmons answered his Rolling Stone ad, and last came Frehley. Stanley soon came up with the now-familiar name for the group, which had already begun experimenting with a hard rock sound, makeup and flashy outfits.

Early Years:

Inspired by the theatrics and driving hard rock style of contemporaries like Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls, the new quartet played its first gig in January 1973, quickly grabbing the attention of eventual band manager Bill Aucoin. By the end of 1973 the band had a deal with a label that would soon become Casablanca Records, and after starting work on its debut album unleashed Simmons' groundbreaking fire-breathing, blood-spitting act at an industry showcase. The group's self-titled debut would drop in February 1974, and the KISS stage show began its slow spread across the North American pop culture landscape.

KISS Comes Alive!:

The band's first few studio album releases suffered from murky production and failed to capture the dynamism of a KISS live show. Therefore, perhaps it wasn't surprising that the group finally caught fire on the strength of a live double album, 1975's Alive!, which became its first gold record and spawned a Top 40 hit in a live version of what would later become a signature tune, "Rock and Roll All Nite." This massive success helped thrust KISS into the mainstream limelight, and the band would go on to enjoy a blockbuster second half of the '70s beyond almost anyone's imagination.

KISS Mania & the Profit Machine:

Perhaps inevitably, the band's musical output always seemed secondary to its live show and exploding brand name power. Record sales and concert attendance rose impressively enough, but the group's skyrocketing popularity benefited almost as much from a smooth marketing machine that unveiled a comic book series, action figures, a pinball machine and other merchandise by 1978. The mass market media saturation didn't stop there, as the group threatened to become a parody of itself with four overhyped solo albums from each member in 1978 and, especially, the embarrassing TV movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.

Dissension & Decline:

Criss and Frehley never got along swimmingly with the band's clear leaders, Stanley and Simmons, but tensions truly started to rise as the '70s came to a close. It didn't help matters that despite staggering revenue over the last couple of peak years of KISS popularity, 1979's Dynasty began to show wear in the group's sound. Disco-inflected in an effort to keep up with trends, the album's music clearly didn't draw the same type of audience as before, as younger and smaller audiences showed up for the ensuing tour. By the end of the year Criss had drummed his last show for KISS, at least for 15 years or so.

Chaotic Lineup Shifts, Then No More Makeup:

Following a series of disappointing, somewhat wayward album releases and the drawn-out departure of a disgruntled Frehley, KISS needed a major change to avert total collapse. In a highly publicized stunt appearance on MTV, KISS showed their makeup-free faces for the first time publicly in 1983. By this time Vinnie Vincent was the band's lead guitarist, though that wouldn't last long or run particularly smoothly. Nevertheless, record sales for Lick It Up and 1984's Animalize rebounded, and tunes like "Heaven's on Fire" began to find favor on MTV and among fans of the rising pop metal/hair metal genre.

Late-'80s Resurgence - KISS for a New Generation:

Once the band's lead guitarist roulette wheel landed on Kulick in 1985, KISS consistently stayed on the rock radar for the rest of the decade. In spite of having never fit clearly into a music category during its initial '70s climb - the band was too pop for heavy metal and too outrageous visually for other genres - the new lineup found its way into the hard rock/metal mix with 1987's Crazy Nights and 1989's Hot in the Shade. By decade's end the band seemed poised to enter its third decade not only intact but perhaps even reasonably relevant.

Reformation of Original Lineup - KISS Nostalgia:

With KISS nostalgia on the rise in the mid-'90s, Stanley and Simmons began to move toward what was probably an inevitable reunion of the original lineup, especially considering the amount of money that appeared ready to be claimed from fervent fans. Following an MTV Unplugged appearance in 1995 with Criss and Frehley, the quartet launched a hugely successful 1996 reunion tour and actually continued to perform together through the rest of the decade. Ultimately, Criss and Frehley would wear out their welcomes yet again, and KISS presses on currently with drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer.

New Album Set for 2009 Release:

According to tidbits of information provided by Stanley and Simmons on the KISS Online Official Website, the first KISS studio album since 1998's Psycho Circus is slated for an exclusive Wal-Mart release during the latter part of 2009. The band promises a rocking, vintage '70s sound for the new record, and based on the group's past marketing genius, there will certainly be no shortage of clever promotion to go along with the new product. Some fans will certainly lament the absence of Frehley and Criss from this go-round, but as ever, KISS survives and marches toward four decades on the rock and roll horizon.

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