“I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day!”
Those are not just song lyrics; those are instructions for life. As a child of the ‘70s (I’m dating myself), KISS was the cornerstone of my musical life and a stepping stone from which I would launch my music career.
That band encapsulated everything I dreamed of becoming. As a proud, card-carrying member of The KISS Army, I stood my ground in arguments that sometimes advanced to fisticuffs. As a young drummer, not only did I think Peter Criss was the best drummer to have lived, I thought he was the coolest guy in the world.
Born Peter Criscuola on December 20th, 1945, he shortened his stage name to Peter Criss. Wearing the “Catman” makeup and playing swing-based drum grooves inspired by jazz legend Gene Krupa, Criss had a swagger all his own. When listening to cuts like “100,000 Years,” “Detroit Rock City,” and “Love Gun,” one hears and feels the Krupa influence.
It has been said that a singing drummer is worth their weight in gold and if that is true, then Criss is pure 24 karat. His soulful, gritty voice is a stand out on songs like “Black Diamond,” “Hooligan,” and the arena staple, “Beth.” The timbre of his voice is reminiscent of great singers like James Brown, Smokey Robinson, and Lou Rawls. Criss inspired many young kids to pick up a pair of sticks and take a swing at playing drums, as well as test their voices at singing a song or two.
Criss’ discography with the band is second to none. He played and sang on the albums: “KISS,” “Hotter than Hell,” “Dressed to Kill,” “Alive,” “Destroyer,” “Rock-N-Roll Over,” “Love Gun,” “Alive 2 Double Platinum,” and eventually, “Peter Criss,” his first solo record. Unfortunately, when it came time for KISS to record their album “Dynasty,” Criss was only able to record on one track because he was recovering from injuries that resulted from a car accident.
By December 1979, the end of Criss’ tenure with KISS was at hand. A cocaine-fueled feud came to a head between Criss and lead singer Paul Stanley during a show. Criss took it personally when Stanley gestured for him to slow down the tempo during a song. “What that says to everybody in the arena is that I’m the one fucking up the band,” Criss recalled in his 2012 memoir, “Makeup to Breakup.”
After leaving KISS in 1980, Criss focused on family. In 2012, he told Drum Magazine, “I had a child. To me it was the greatest thing in this world. I had always wanted a girl. We had a beautiful house in Connecticut, and I wanted to raise my kid. I thought that the first 10 years of a child’s life are the most important. I grew up in a very poor neighborhood. My dad was always working and never around, my mom was in the kitchen. I just wanted to raise Jenny, I wanted to travel, I wanted us to do everything. So I put the sticks aside, just traveled and took her all over the world and loved her.”
Criss made a valiant, yet generally unsuccessful attempt at a solo career. The first solo record, 1979’s “Peter Criss,” was followed by “Out of Control” in 1980. Criss’ third album, “Let Me Rock You,” was recorded in 1982, but not released in the United States until 1998. The fourth solo record, “Cat #1,”made reference to lingering resentments he had toward being replaced in KISS. Former bandmate and original KISS guitar player Ace Frehley played on three of the tracks. The final solo recording was released in 2007 and titled “One for All.”
In the late ‘90s, Criss was invited to play with the original KISS line-up on MTV’s “Unplugged” special. Because of the success of the special, a full-fledged reunion tour of the group’s original members soon followed.
Unfortunately, bad feelings and old resentments soon reared their heads. When Criss left KISS for the first time in 1980, he was an equal partner. However, on his return Criss was seen as a paid sideman for the reunion tour. Studio musicians replaced both Criss and Frehley on most of the 1998 album, “Psycho Circus.” Criss and Frehley only played on three tracks.
In 2001, Criss left the band again only to return once more in late 2002, but then he finally left the band for good in 2004.
In 2014, Criss enjoyed the honor of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his original bandmates, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley.
Love him or hate him, Peter Criss will forever be known as the original “Catman” who laid the foundation of the grooves and feel for all of the early KISS classics.
When the battle cry, “You Wanted the best. You got the best. The hottest band in the world, KISS!” is screamed through a concert PA system anywhere in the world, Peter Criss’ soul is there in spirit.
As for the current incarnation of KISS, they are currently embarked on the “END OF THE ROAD TOUR” which is coming to FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine September 9th.