It’s the end of an era, as the world’s most notorious rock act takes its final bow. We look back, and forward, with their long-serving timekeeper.
Eric Singer knows this: serve the artist.
With Kiss, his primary function is, and has always been, to support the band and to put on the best show possible. “It says Alice Cooper on the marquee and the ticket,” Singer says, referring to his previous employer. “They might like you on guitar or bass or drums and be a fan of you on a personal level, but the people are coming there to see Alice Cooper. So you owe it to Alice Cooper to make his show as good as it can be. Some guys like to promote their side bands and solo projects, but I always look at it like I’m there for that band and nothing more.”
The Cleveland, Ohio–born Singer grew up on a steady diet of Led Zeppelin and big band before starting his professional career. Prior to Kiss, Singer provided rock-solid timekeeping, fiery drum solos, and excellent backing and lead vocal skills for Cooper, Lita Ford, Badlands, Brian May, Gary Moore, Black Sabbath, and his own group, the Eric Singer Project (ESP). Now sixty-one, Singer has been involved with Kiss and related projects for nearly three decades, first in 1989 as the drummer in singer Paul Stanley’s group, and then in 1991, taking over drum duties in the main band when Eric Carr fell ill. Original Kiss drummer Peter Criss did come back to the fold for stints in 1996 and 2002, but since 2004, it’s been Singer up there rocking and rolling all night and partying every day.
Though nowadays, “partying every day” entails sitting for hours of makeup and costuming on show day, and taking hundreds of photos with fans who are more than eager to part with their hard-earned cash for a chance to rub shoulders with members of the legendary band. And regarding that makeup, yes, Singer wears the classic “Catman” face that Criss made famous, and no, not everyone is happy about it. But Stanley and bassist Gene Simmons are brilliant marketers, so if you’re going to the show, you’ll have to accept the fact that Singer has definitively replaced Criss (as guitarist Tommy Thayer has replaced original axeman Ace Frehley) in the late incarnation of Kiss, down to the fact that it’s even Singer playing piano and singing “Beth” in the encore slot. And he does it all beautifully, playing certain drum beats and fills you’re familiar with, while injecting his own well-honed flavors into the music everyone has known since Kiss emerged in 1973.
But the show can only go on for so long, so the band’s End of the Road world tour, which started in early 2019 and is expected to end some time in 2021, will indeed be the band’s last (we think). But Singer is taking it all in stride, and his attitude about the finality of it all remains consistently refreshing and inspiring.
MD: Now that you’ve been associated with Kiss and its members for so long, how do you feel about the end?
Eric: I try to take life one day at a time. There’s a John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens while you’re making plans.” I’ve always tried to live by that, because it’s so true. Many times I thought I was going in one direction, and life throws you a curveball and you’re headed in a different direction. Sometimes it’s by choice and sometimes it’s out of necessity. But I allow myself the flexibility because things are constantly changing. So you recognize that many times you don’t have control over a situation.
They say it’s a good idea to be adaptable or versatile as a drummer or a musician, but I think you need to do that in life as well. Nothing’s forever. Every day, I play the show, try to take care of myself, and live in the moment. I try to play each beat, each song, each show for what it is and make the best of it, knowing that if I didn’t have the best show, I get to do it again the next time we play.
MD: What’s the best mindset for players who face the situation of having to replace another drummer?
Eric: Everything is a choice. You can choose to take a gig or not take a gig and how you want to approach the gig. You can choose the attitude you’re going to have when you [come up against] people who are fixated on one particular era or lineup of a band. So unless you’re an original member, there will be people who are married to the version of the band that they identify with or grew up with. And that’s okay, because we all have our favorite lineups.
It starts with you at home and your attitude. I never went into any band or situation thinking I was trying to change the world or change somebody’s mind about how they feel about somebody else. To me, you’re there to do a job. You’re there to make music with other people and have a cohesive working environment for yourself and to bring some stability. But ultimately you’re making music, so you want to be the best musician you can be, because that’s why somebody hired you.
In a band like Kiss, I sing a lot, so that’s a requirement to be the drummer in Kiss. Although when I got the gig, they didn’t even know I could sing. If you’re versatile and have better tools, you could get the gig over the other guy. Let’s say you play other instruments or sing. Whatever you bring, those tools make you more valuable. And you should find a situation where people will want to nurture that and have you contribute that.
MD: What about having to play certain iconic beats or fills that fans are used to?
Eric: [Original Black Sabbath drummer] Bill Ward was more of a jamming drummer, more free-form style. A lot of the older drummers from the ’60s and early ’70s didn’t play such formulated drumming. They didn’t play a strict, identifiable part in the verse, chorus, and bridge at every show. It was loose and scrappy, and you got something different at every show. And some guys don’t remember their own parts, what they wrote or played. They play how they feel on a given night, and it could be very inconsistent or a wild ride. It could be an improvisational approach to drumming. Ward and [Cream’s] Ginger Baker were like that. And to a certain degree Peter Criss was like that in the early Kiss. It was a less disciplined approach.
Some people play like the record every night. It gives them continuity and makes it easy to time the show with the lights and pyro. Those become musical cues for each other. That makes for a better show from a production point of view. In any band I play in, I take into consideration how the band is playing [the music]. I listen to recent live tapes, because many bands end up evolving their live arrangements. For Black Sabbath, I listened to live stuff with both Bill Ward and Vinny Appice so the band could see that I did my homework and could play the songs in a way that was familiar to them. That way they’re not thinking you’re just playing it the way you want. Because that can throw people off. Then if they want to give you some liberties, you can incorporate your own personality and style into the songs. And as you get older, you realize that making people happy by giving them what they want, audience and artist, is what’s most important.
MD: Please talk about singing while playing.
Eric: I’ve had to adjust my playing to accommodate my singing. [With Kiss] I sing the high harmonies on all the songs, which is physically very taxing. The first thing that goes when you’re tired or run down is your voice. I’m very disciplined about how I take care of myself. After the shows, I go back to my room and shut up for the rest of the night, because I know that if I don’t, I’m going to wear my voice out even more. And I sing lead on a couple of songs.
MD: What specific adjustments have you made? Do you hit lighter and play fewer fills?
Eric: Yes. I’ve had to back off physically. Rock ’n’ roll drumming is how you hit the drums. It’s an attitude thing. Some guys will look at jazz drummers and say that they don’t play rock the right way, and what they’re referring to is an attitude behind those hits. We know there are a lot of accomplished drummers who can technically play the notes. It’s like a singer who can hit the notes. Yes, he can hit the notes accurately and have the right range. But does he have the right style and vibe? A lot of drummers don’t get it when you explain about driving the band and that power thing that rock drumming requires. And jazz is a higher art form. It’s definitely more difficult to be a serious true jazz player, especially bebop players from that era.
MD: But Buddy Rich likely wouldn’t sound totally great in Kiss.
Eric: That’s my point. Buddy Rich, to me, is the greatest drummer ever, my favorite of all time. But Buddy wouldn’t play Kiss music. He wouldn’t understand it or relate to it. Of course he could technically play it, and a lot of guys can. But that doesn’t mean he’d be right for the band.
MD: Is sitting behind a piano in an arena singing and playing “Beth” nerve-wracking?
Eric: I’m not really a nervous person. I’d probably be more intimidated if I had to sit at a drumkit and you asked me to just play something. That’s more intimidating than playing in front of twenty thousand people. When the lights go down and we come onstage, I know what I’m there to do. I’m prepared and I’ve put the work in and the rehearsal in. You’re playing by muscle memory. You’ve trained your muscles how to play each beat, each song, and each part. Now it’s about trying to perform and entertain people and put on a show. And that to me is what the adrenaline and energy are focused on. I don’t have time to be nervous. I’m always focused on breathing. It gets you oxygen, and it calms you down and makes you more relaxed. Then you can get the best of both worlds. You learn how to play with more fluidity, less effort, and more physically but in a relaxed way.
MD: But you do get to do “Beth” in the encore slot, so all eyes are on you.
Eric: Well, I end the show on “Black Diamond” and then I have to go downstairs and put on my boots and all that crap and get ready to come up and do “Beth.” Once I get to that point, the last two songs are like gravy. Lately it’s been “Crazy Crazy Nights” and “Rock and Roll All Nite.”
I look at the show as a marathon, so it’s about pacing myself. And that’s why I go back to making the comment about breathing. I can’t stress it enough. If you can focus on learning to do deep breathing, on and off stage, that will help your playing immensely. Especially when you’re onstage and you can’t hear properly, or you’re having a bad show, you tend to get uptight, almost a panicked feeling. The solution for me is to back off a little bit, don’t get so strained in your playing, and just focus on breathing. Before you know it, within a couple of minutes, you feel like you’re in a different place.
MD: How often is stuff not ideal onstage?
Eric: Sometimes the room just sounds bad, or you’re in a bass trap or you’re getting a lot of feedback. Or you’re getting a lot of weird frequencies and it’s hard to hear things accurately. The drums are in a fixed position. I tell everyone else in the band that when a room doesn’t sound good, they can move. They can go to different parts of the stage and find a sweet spot. The drummer is stuck.
MD: What about other challenges of wearing costumes and makeup? And dealing with stage craziness like pyro?
Eric: It’s adapting to an environment. The pyro is already loud, and then I have twenty microphones on my kit amplifying that, into my in-ears. And sometimes pyro misfires and goes shooting into the wrong direction. I’ve had it happen and have a few burn marks and scars on myself to show for it. And the fiberglass Pearl kit is already loud.
MD: What’s it like grooving with Gene? Do you guys ever discuss kick patterns and linking up with his lines? Eccentricities aside, he’s a good bass player.
Eric: No, Gene’s a great bass player. He doesn’t rush or drag, and he doesn’t get swayed or pulled off time. And he comes up with really cool bass lines. He’s obviously influenced by Paul McCartney, Felix Pappalardi from Mountain, Jack Bruce, John Paul Jones. He has a great feel and sound, and he’s solid as a rock. And it has nothing to do with a click. It’s just his inherent ability. He’s effortless to play with. He’s very underappreciated. And Gene likes to play it down like he’s not really a musician. But he’s a very good musician. He knows music theory and chord voicings. He knows his stuff.
MD: Do you have a pre-gig warm-up routine?
Eric: I like those stretch bands. I try to stretch as much as I can throughout the day. Stretch in the morning, during the day, before you go to bed. That’s very important. We have a lot of demands on our time at our shows. With Kiss I don’t have the ability to warm up the way I’d like to. With Alice Cooper or other bands, I did have more time. I didn’t have to put on all the costuming and spend two hours getting ready. And we sometimes take from fifty to two hundred photos before the show. I’m not complaining, but it’s a long day and a lot of work and responsibility for us.
MD: Kiss songs are often 2-and-4, meat-and- potatoes rock drum parts. But what’s an example of a difficult or interesting tune to play in the setlist?
Eric: Well, it’s not as simple 2-and-4 as you’d think. No, you’re not playing odd time signature music, but when you listen to the parts that you have to learn, you have to know all the material and the changes. There are tunes that have more stuff going on than you realize. Like “Detroit Rock City” or “Love Gun” are based on a 6/8 shuffle feel in a way. It’s an implied shuffle feel; it’s not played with a doubled-up right hand like a traditional blues shuffle. So there are some grace notes and subtlety to that. Same thing with “100,000 Years,” which is also based on a 6/8 shuffle, like a swing pattern. You could almost play “Detroit Rock City” as a big band swing arrangement with horns.
MD: Speaking of “100,000 Years,” let’s discuss your drum solo in that tune. Do you improvise any of it?
Eric: I approach it in that 6/8, triplet feel, and I go into some other stuff as the solo evolves. I have a basic foundation or skeletal form that I developed, and Gene was instrumental in helping. He would sit there and watch me from the side of the stage every night, and he’d turn around and watch me on the screen. And then he’d tell me he liked this or that, or when I stood up or pointed at the camera, whatever.
Kiss is a visual-entertainment type of band, so I feel my job is to try to be a visual drummer. And I’ve always liked twirling sticks and that kind of stuff, because I always liked visual drummers as a kid. Seeing Dino Danelli, or Carmine Appice with Vanilla Fudge on The Ed Sullivan Show, those guys were stick twirlers. A lot of the old jazz drummers…like Lionel Hampton, really fantastic with his stick tricks. Buddy Rich would do stuff as well, but he was more of what I’d call a temperamental type of drummer. Look at his solos on YouTube, they’re always great, they’re just either great or greater. If he felt like clowning around or being more visual, then he would do cool tricks with the cymbals and stuff. I got the idea of hitting the cymbals underneath from Buddy. I do that a lot, though not in the exact same way.
MD: What about double bass?
Eric: I used to play a lot more double bass in the 1980s, with Alice Cooper, Kiss, and Black Sabbath. It wasn’t uncommon to see drummers with double bass kits back then. And a lot of my influences were double bass drummers, like Carmine Appice, Tommy Aldridge, Simon Phillips, Cozy Powell, Steve Smith when he got in Journey, Aynsley Dunbar. I loved Aldridge because of his double bass stuff, and he was a great visual performer, but when it came to feel or style or how they approached the drum parts, I probably leaned more towards Cozy Powell.
MD: Anything different or interesting about your live kit?
Eric: I’m using a Pearl Icon rack. I have a fixed footprint, an 8×8 riser, so out of necessity I had to go to a rack, to be able to fit my kit on there. It made me change the position of some of the drums. It’s not ideal. I would be more comfortable if I had a wider footprint, but I had to make it work. It was because of the way they built the platform that goes up in the air and the lights that are around it and how they were choosing to build the production from that point of view.
Everything I use is Pearl, every pedal and every screw. And I use Zildjian cymbals and my own model Zildjian sticks. And Attack heads. Sometimes I’ll use my most recent signature snare, which is a chrome over brass 6.5×14. It was patterned after the old Jupiter snares from the ’70s, which were chrome over brass [and often came with] a parallel throwoff system. But they made the same snare with a basic Gladstone-style throw-off as well, which is what my snare has. But this year I’ve been using a custom-made snare, a Pearl 14″ floor tom that was cut down. It’s a 6×14 fiberglass shell with 1970s-style lugs. And the drums are all 1970s Pearl fiberglass shells: 6″, 8″, 10″, 12″, 13″, 14″, 15″, 16″, 18″, and two 24s. The hoops and the hardware are all modern, making it road worthy and user friendly.
MD: The kit looks beautiful.
Eric: It was made by a company called Baker Drums in Nashville. I found Billy Baker on Facebook [see sidebar] last year when I saw he’d made a glass mirror-ball kit just like the Kiss Alive! kit from 1975 that Peter Criss used. Billy is a passionate drum guy. I had a mirrorball kit before that was custom made, where every mirror tile was glued on by hand. They were bigger, half-inch square tiles, and it looked amazing. It was totally hand-made and took like eighty hours to make, a labor of love. But I always wanted to find the really small mirrors. When I saw Billy’s set on Facebook I was like, “Where’d this guy find this material?” We started talking, and I had him make me a whole new custom kit. That kit had a 22″ single bass drum, like Peter Criss’s. I had him make [a second kit] with bigger, double bass drums and add more drums. I turned it into the sizes that I’m using now. So he took old 1970s Pearl fiberglass drums, stripped the finish, cleaned up the lugs, and refinished them all. I’m using newer hoops and tom mounts, though some of the mounts are even the original old style. It’s like a modern kit with real vintage drum shells.
MD: You still collect timepieces? Is that too obvious for a drummer?
Eric: It probably is, but it doesn’t go back because of drumming; it goes back to me just liking watches. My father gave me a watch when I was five or six years old. I was really attracted to these cool watches—one was a chronograph, and another had the man in the moon phases. As I got older and started playing drums, I thought there was a direct correlation. A watch is a functional tool that serves as a timing device, and at his core, a drummer is a timekeeper. That’s not a drummer’s only function, but it’s the main thing a drummer does in most scenarios.
MD: So how long is this farewell going to be farewelling?
Eric: It can take anywhere from two to three years, depending on what parts of the world we go to and when we get there. But I’m trying to live one day at a time, in the here and now. Once yesterday’s gone, you can’t change it. And you can try to prepare for the future, but in the big picture, I don’t really know what the future is going to hold for me. So I like to keep myself open-minded for the possibility that I might end up doing something completely out of left field. Life might lead me down a certain path, whether it happens intentionally or by circumstance. But I’m willing to be flexible to that idea.
Drums: Pearl vintage fiberglass shells custom-assembled by Billy Baker
- 6×14 snare
- 5.5×6 single-headed tom
- 5.5×8 single-headed tom
- 6.5×10 single-headed tom
- 8×12 single-headed tom
- 9×13 single-headed tom
- 10×14 single-headed tom
- 12×15 single-headed tom
- 16×16 floor tom
- 16×18 floor tom
- 14×24 bass drums
- 15″ A New Beat hi-hats
- 19″ A heavy crash (8)
- 20″ K Custom Hybrid ride
- 16″ China (2)
- 9.5″ Zil-Bel
- 6″ splash
- 8″ splash (2)
Hardware: Pearl, including Icon rack system customized by John Aldridge and Lorne Wheaton, Eliminator double chain-drive bass drum pedal, Eliminator hi-hat
Heads: Attack, including Eric Singer signature Coated snare batter and ES Clear snare-side, Royal series Clear batters on 6″, 8″, and 10″ toms, 2-ply Thin Skin Clear batters on remaining toms, Royal No Overtone Clear bass drum batters
Sticks: Zildjian Eric Singer signature model
Electronics: ddrum 3 brain and triggers
Percussion: Meinl 8″ hammered steel Kenny Aronoff cowbell
Accessories: Kelly SHU shock mounts for internal kick drum mics, SledgePad bass drum dampening system, Jerry Harvey in-ear monitors
Billy Baker on how he made Eric Singer’s latest Kiss kit
“In February of 2018, a friend of mine, Mark Good, traded me a full set of 1970s Pearl fiberglass shells. I realized I had all the sizes to do a replica of the 1975 Kiss Alive! kit, but I needed to source the 5 mm mirror mosaic to make it happen. After many late nights, I finally found the exact mirror I needed.
“I decided to try the process on the 6″ tom. When I finished it, I was all smiles, because I knew I was onto something special. My plan was to have the kit ready for the 2018 Chicago Drum Show. I finished the kit and decided to post a teaser photo, and after thirty minutes, I received a message through Facebook from Eric Singer with a straight and simple ‘Call me.’
“Eric wanted the original kit I’d built, and we began collaborating and making changes to make it a bit more gig ready. Eventually I suggested we just start from scratch and build what he really wanted. Mark Good had been stockpiling old Pearl fiberglass shells for about five years, so I had access to anything we wanted. I realized I was doing the kits for Kiss’s final tour, and Eric trusted me without having received an actual drum. Just two guys that shared a passion for customizing drumkits. He’s an incredible drummer, and now I consider him an incredible friend. Thanks for everything, E!”
A KISS DRUMMER TIMELINE
To the casual observer, Kiss has featured three drummers in its lineup: Peter Criss, who in 1973 cofounded the band with bassist Gene Simmons and guitarists Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley; Eric Carr, who came on board upon Criss’s departure in 1980 and remained until his death in 1991; and Eric Singer, who’s been the band’s drummer since.
But like many threads of the band’s story, the Kiss drummer timeline is messy. Anton Fig, of Late Show with David Letterman fame, played on two albums in the transitional period between Criss and Carr (Dynasty—which was originally credited to Criss—and Unmasked), and New York studio heavy Allan Schwartzberg tracked a couple songs and did some overdubs on Carr’s early recordings with the band.
Later, Kevin Valentine made modest contributions to Carr’s last two albums, and returned to ghost-drum on the original lineup’s reunion album, Psycho Circus, during Criss’s return to the band between ’96 and 2004 (which itself was an in-again-out-again situation).
Keeping the band’s convoluted history in mind, the following breakdown of their main studio and live albums should get you pretty close to understanding the comings and goings of Kiss’s major sticksmen, as well as the important contributions made by several veteran players to their recorded legacy.
Hotter than Hell (1974)
Dressed to Kill (1975)
Rock and Roll Over (1976)
Love Gun (1977)
Alive II (1977)
Dynasty (“Dirty Livin’”) (1979)
Kiss Unplugged (“2,000 Man,” “Beth” [vocals only], double drums [with Eric Singer] on “Nothin’ to Lose” and “Rock and Roll All Nite”) (1996)
You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!! (all songs except “New York Groove” [Eric Carr] (1996)
Psycho Circus (“Into the Void”)
Kiss Symphony: Alive IV (2003)
Music from the Elder (“Odyssey” and “I”) (1981)
Music from the Elder (all songs except “Odyssey” and “I” (1981)
Creatures of the Night (1982)
Lick It Up (1983)
Crazy Nights (1987)
Hot in the Shade (1989)
Revenge (“Carr Jam 1981”) (1992)
You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!! (“New York Groove”) (1996)
Hot in the Shade (“You Love Me to Hate You,” “King of Hearts”) (1989)
Revenge (“Take It Off ”) (1992)
Psycho Circus (all songs except “Into the Void” [Peter Criss]) (1998)
Revenge (all songs except “Take It Off ” [Eric Valentine] and “Carr Jam 1981” [Eric Carr]) (1992)
Alive III (1993)
Kiss Unplugged (all songs except “2,000 Man and “Beth” [Peter Criss]) (1996)
Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions (1997)
Sonic Boom (2009)
Kiss Rocks Vegas (2016)
by Adam Budofsky
9 CATMAN CLASSICS
Kiss’s original drummer reflects on his favorite performances
Coming from the tough streets of Brooklyn, New York, to hanging out at the Playboy Mansion, to selling millions of records and playing multiple sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden and tours all over the world, drummer, singer, songwriter, and Kiss co-founder Peter Criss, who is now in his seventies, is in a very happy place at this stage of his life. He’s a cancer survivor, he’s a loyal and loving husband to his beautiful wife, Gigi, he’s still a fan of the music he grew up with, and he’s especially proud of the music he helped create with one of the biggest bands in history.
As a drummer Criss has influenced thousands to pick up the sticks, and when he came out from behind the kit to co-write and sing on the ballad “Beth,” one of Kiss’s biggest hits, he influenced drummers to pick up a microphone and become bandleaders. Despite the infamous disagreements the original Kiss members had, Criss tells MD, “I still hold a special place in my heart for my bandmates.” We spoke to the original Catman about a few of his favorite Kiss songs.
“Deuce” At the time—and unbeknownst to Gene and Paul—the beat and feel on “Deuce” is really a cha-cha-cha. [laughs] If you listen to the song carefully, you’ll hear me playing a cha-cha-cha on the snare with the bass drum ending on a 4 beat. This came from years of me being influenced by Latin music.
“Strutter” With “Strutter” I thought of Charlie Watts on the Stones’ “Paint It Black.” It was a beat that was in a song, and I made an intro out of it. It’s an intro fill with an added flam beat instead of a single beat. Over the years so many drummers have told me how much they love that intro. This song became another signature sound for me.
“Firehouse” On “Firehouse” I really got the chance to incorporate the cowbell, and we came up with a great stop-and-go beat. I’m also clutching the cymbal instead of letting it ring out, to tighten it up. I put my stick in the hole of the cowbell and played really fast in a circular motion to make it sound like an old-time fi re engine bell.
“Shout It Out Loud” That’s my British Merseybeat feel. I thought “Ringo” on the verses and then straight fours on the chorus, with a straight hi-hat. I was very into Motown, so that beat always influenced me. For “Shout It Out Loud” I was looking for the feel of [the Four Tops’] “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” and also Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.”
“Detroit Rock City” I remember being out with Jerry Nolan from the New York Dolls at the Headliner club in New York, and we heard a band that night with the drummer playing a funky snare beat with a fast foot. I loved the beat so much, I learned it and I used it for “Detroit Rock City.”
I incorporated my own double bass feel (with one bass drum) on the kick with a single on the floor tom and snare (I flipped it around) and then a shuffle side beat on the snare and the hi-hat. I don’t play straight eights because I wanted to swing it.
“God of Thunder” That’s my big Gene Krupa influence with four on the floor and four on the toms. I did a marching band type feel on the snare, which I learned when I studied with the great Jim Chapin for about a year, and that gave “God of Thunder” its structure.
“Rock and Roll All Nite” Again, it’s my Motown influences. And remember the [Wilson Pickett] song “Land of a Thousand Dances?” I always liked that Dick Dale sound, the Beach Boys, James Brown, Wilson Pickett—I loved R&B. “Rock and Roll All Nite” is a great anthem, so I thought that beat felt and fi t perfectly.
“Love Gun” When Paul came up with “Love Gun,” I immediately thought the intro should sound like a machine gun. At first I did it too fast, so we slowed it down a bit. It became one of my signature drum sounds. After the intro it goes into a shuffle beat, which gets you up on your feet. I always wanted to make people move, dance, and tap their feet. In the beginning, no one ever suggested what I played. I’m mostly a self-taught drummer who plays what’s needed for the song. When you listen to all these Kiss songs, it was all my Motown and big band swing added to rock ’n’ roll music. I always played my best when I was free to be me. If I felt restrained, I’d lose the feel.
“100,000 Years” I’m very proud of “100,000 Years” because I’ve been told by so many drummers over the years, many who I admire, that that song influenced a generation of drummers to play drums. It makes me very happy that I could have an effect like that in my life. I’m very grateful.
GIVING THE DRUMMERS SOME
Guitarist Bruce Kulick on the Kiss drummers he’s worked with
Eric Carr was the first Kiss drummer I worked with. He wasn’t a tall man, but he was super powerful, and his drumkit was very large. He knew to stand up on his stool at the end of a drum solo to be seen! He was very creative, and anyone hearing the Creatures of the Night LP would think, Holy cow, what a beast of a drummer! On his last few Kiss tours, Eric introduced [electronics] into his drum solo. In the studio Eric played very hard, and his fills were always a driving force—a tough thing to do in a power ballad. For huger drumming, listen to “Love It Loud,” “Creatures of the Night,” “King of the Mountain,” and the head-spinning double kick intro to “No No No.” It was a tragic loss to Kiss and the drum world when he passed from cancer on November 24, 1991.
Eric Singer is a valuable addition to Kiss. He has a great feel and fit into Kiss smoothly. His playing on Kiss Unplugged was very tight and tasty, and he could follow direction from a producer such as Bob Ezrin, who is a strict man in the recording process. Eric’s effortless ability to be creative in the complex arrangements of Revenge brought the music to another level. “Heart of Chrome,” “Tough Love,” and “Domino” are dynamic songs, and he has the timing down. His performances on Carnival of Souls were also very creative. “Hate” and “I Walk Alone” show his ability to flex his muscle with taste and style.
Kiss brought in Kevin Valentine for a few songs when Eric Singer’s schedule with Alice Cooper prevented him from being able to record a few tracks. He’s a talented musician, and his drumming was solid. Happily his performances didn’t distract; they were correct for the songs, and that’s important.
I only played two songs with Peter Criss, at the MTV Unplugged gig. He’s another drummer who loves big band music. He was so much a part of the feel and sound of the original Kiss. My personal highlights of Peter are “Black Diamond” and “100,000 Years.” “Black Diamond” was a classic Kiss tune, and Peter’s drumming on it has lots of fills and attitude. “100,000 Years” has lots of drumming that’s tribal and big band–like. I always respond favorably to that.
THE NEW YORK GROOVER
Late Show legend Anton Fig on his Dynasty and Unmasked performances
My Kiss experience started when I played on Ace Frehley’s solo album. [In 1978 each Kiss member released his own album.] It came out really well and had the hit “New York Groove” on it. When it was time for them to go back into the studio as a group, they called me to record Dynasty. Peter had broken his arm, and they needed to keep on schedule. At the time I was told that this would be a private arrangement and that I was not to talk about it. I didn’t until they started to mention it in books and remastered versions of the album twenty years later.
We rehearsed at Brit Row in Queens, and then we went into Electric Lady Studios for recording. They never told me how to play or to sound like Peter, they just let me do the drums as I heard them. And I was there to drum for them; I never got involved in whatever internal stuff was going on between them as a band.
I don’t really remember all that much about recording individual songs, but I do remember hitting bunches of sticks together and pitching down the harmonizer for the whip crack sound on 4 in the breakdown of “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.” It sounded quite exotic in those days. I was also struck by Paul’s vocals in the bridge of the song. I had no idea he had that range. That song was a departure for them, in a similar mold to the Stones’ “Miss You” or Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” So it made perfect sense for the time.
I honestly don’t know where Peter was when it came time to record Unmasked, but they asked me to play on that album as well. Among the songs I really liked playing are “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” because it was so unusual at the time. Also “Hard Times” because that was typical Ace. I remember cutting a different version with him up at North Lake Studios when he was preparing his songs for the album. And I really like “Is That You” from Unmasked. I think it’s a good rocker. It was an exciting time in New York and music back then.
FROM THE BEGINNING
Session master Allan Schwartzberg had a hand in the proceedings before Kiss was Kiss
I first met the band more than thirty-five years ago, at Electric Lady Studios in New York. They were still called Wicked Lester at the time. They were working in Studio A with Eddie Kramer and I was recording in B with BJ Thomas and a guest artist, Stevie Wonder. I was also producing Sean Delaney at the time, an amazing character who wrote songs for Kiss and helped conceive their live shows. He invited me to play on his productions of Gene and Peter’s solo albums. I believe I’m on all the tracks on Gene’s and a few on Peter’s.
Peter was recording at Electric Lady Studio A, and he’d often be sitting next me as we recorded, with not one moment of negativity coming from him. He had a bad accident and couldn’t finish the record, and the band was up against a deadline. Peter handled the potentially egoistic situation of being a well-known drummer having to have another drummer play on something so personal as your own record. That’s a testament to his strength of character.
For Gene’s solo album, Sean had a studio band, which I helped put together. Gene called me later to add some tom fills on a few Animalize tracks. Soon after that, Bob Ezrin, one of the very few genius music producers, called me to play on the album The Elder. We did it at Ace’s cool home studio in Connecticut. It was killer because Bob wanted me to double my tracks note for note. Try doing that at home without flamming.
Interviews by Billy Amendola