INTERVIEW: Peter Criss (solo artist and Ex-Kiss)

We talk about the final show downunder, retirement, a new rocking album, a new book and cats...

Peter Criss - Photo by That Metal Show: Colin Gray
Photo by That Metal Show: Colin Gray

 

When I was a kid Kiss was a huge part of my musical life, hell, at one time I was even in a band with school mates and we donned our own versions of the Kiss make-up! While others looked to Stanley and Simmons for me it was always the larger than life personalities of Peter and Ace that resonated the most and indeed they were the solo albums I listened to most of all – Peter’s especially opening up a whole new world of music that wasn’t just straight Hard Rock.

Over the years Mr Criss put out some fine music, wrote the best (auto) biography by a Kiss member, took up acting and survived cancer. Now he’s decided to retire from performing and one of his very last dates is here in Australia in May. He’s also got a new Hard Rocking album on the way! I just caught up with one of my childhood heroes and found out he’s a very cool guy indeed…

 

Peter: Hello Mark

The Rockpit: Hello Peter I hope you’re well. Thank you for taking the time to talk to the Rockpit today, as an ex member of the Kiss army as a kid it’s an honour to finally get to speak with you.

Peter:  Oh I’m doing alright; this is my last interview so I’m getting ready to grab my milk and an Oreo cookie and settle down to watch a good movie.

The Rockpit: That sounds pretty good to me, you’re relaxing at the end of the day and on this side of the world we’re just waking up.

Peter: Yeah, I know and I’ll be going through the same thing soon. That plane ride oh it’s murder! But I’m looking forward to playing I’m very excited, that’s for sure.

The Rockpit: And you’re playing with some musicians from our great State of Western Australia – Sisters Doll?

Peter: Yes I am and I’m looking forward to playing with them as Bruce Kulick – he has a ball playing with them. I was concerned as I’ve got some pretty cool cats I’ve been playing with over here, but he convinced me. And when I’m over it’ll be with my lead guitar player of 25 years so that made me feel a lot better. And then we’ve got a bunch of surprises too.

The Rockpit: That sounds great. The last ever show you will play in Australia takes place on 12th may just before you appear at the Kiss Convention on 13th and 14th. It’s been a long and wonderful career, not just with Kiss; you’ve also got a string of great solo releases behind you too. Why did you decide that 2017 would be the year you’d call it a day for ‘live’ performances? Are you moving on to do other things?

Peter: You know what, I’m seventy one, that scares me when I say that (laughs), but if you’re around me I’m like a fifteen year old kid, I really am. But I’ve had an amazing career in music; I was around in the 60’s and 70’s which was about the best time to be a musician. I actually saw Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison and The Beatles when I was young. I’ve seen the greatest of the greats perform; I grew up at a time when music was so cool. There was Bob Dylan, and things were changing – things were becoming amazing for musicians in the world. So I played clubs for 15 years, then I started the band with the guys.

Peter:  I’m a big Bee Gee fan, I was watching the salute to Barry (Gibb, the last surviving Bee Gee), I’ve been a big fan since they started and I love that he got up there and performed and I see now all these guys from the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart and we’re all in our 70’s now, and I hate to say it but were dying out and that’s so real, there’s less Rock and Roll in the world. Less music in the world and it’s kinda sad. So I’m 71 I’m in the best health I’ve been in for a while and I thought if I’m gonna do it I gotta do it now. I had male breast cancer and I beat it and that’s really changed my life, and my wife also beat cancer too, so I went out I signed autographs, I wrote a book and the fans man, and you don’t get this up on stage in front of 70,000 people it’s just thank you, goodnight and you’re gone, so you never really hear from the fans at that level, so when I connected again I got to hear their stories and they’d ask me if I’d play again or sing again, there was so much love. And when I looked around everyone was slowing down or retiring like Eric Clapton, and I wondered what I has left. I think there are a couple of books, maybe a comedy, and I have an album I’ve been sitting on for nine years now! And I want to finish that properly.

The Rockpit: That is so cool to hear, I think your book was the best of the Kiss biographies so to hear you have another one at least in the works is pretty cool, but another album! I loved ‘One For All’ and that’s ten years now. I actually thought it was your best work.

Peter: Thank you, I don’t get told that enough, when I wrote that one I really felt I wrote from the heart, I always try. Before my cancer though I really put down some really heavy Rock and Roll, I put down some ballads too, but it was heavier than the stuff I normally do. And then I got sick and I put it aside and I’ve been sat on it these last eight years. And when I moved to California I took it with me, there aren’t any vocals on there yet, but I played it to a good friend and he told me that it was the best stuff he’d heard in years and I had to finish it, so when I’m over in June to play my last show in New York City I’ll finish it.

The Rockpit: That sounds like it will be worth the wait. Back in 2012 when you wrote your autobiography, how was the writing process for you? Did it reveal anything to you about yourself?

Peter: I loved writing! I really enjoyed writing that book with Larry Slowman, I found it very cathartic, I really reached into my heart and soul and told as much truth… I told all the truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God (laughs). I got a great response from the fans and plenty of great feedback.  But I learnt other things; I love kids – one of the books I’m writing will be a kids book, I’m more in touch with cancer now, I’m actually singing at a benefit next week. I also got more interested in family, I’m lucky to have a beautiful house and a beautiful wife. Hey I’m a street kid man, I want to bow out doing it my way, get out there and kick some ass, have some fun and say hello one last time to my Australian fans.

The Rockpit: Australia has always had a love affair with Kiss and all things Kiss.

Peter: You guys have, we did the Melbourne Symphony and I was in awe man! I’m the drummer and I’m surrounded by some serious musicians! I was pacing back and for the back stage I was so excited.  Wow! You’re right we do have a special connection, we do have it with plenty of other places but I do feel it so strongly when I’m there.

The Rockpit: The Kiss Symphony, a great night.

Peter: And that was, you’re right but I really wanted to bow out with something a little more intimate, I really wanted that more ‘nightclub’ vibe, closer to the fans, where I could actually walk up to the frigging table and sing to them! And I really realised that I wanted to go back to where it all started and it all started for me in nightclubs. That’s exactly how it started and exactly how I wanted to end it, I don’t want to bow out on a big stage; I wanted a lot more intimacy. I didn’t want the 70,000 people “Thank you and goodnight” I didn’t want it that way.

The Rockpit: A beautiful way to bow out. I’m sure you’ll make everyone in that room really happy.

Peter: Oh I’m going to try man, believe me! (laughs)

The Rockpit: You’ve done a bit of acting along with the music, I actually saw you the other day on ‘Frame of Mind’ which I didn’t realise you were in until I saw it. Is anymore acting on the cards?

Peter: (laughs) I would like to I really had a ball doing that, I thought it was hilarious. I really did enjoy it; I did two years at acting school and loved it. I did that then got back with the guys and kind of left the acting behind, but I’ll tell you now if someone called me on the phone and had a movie, I’d certainly be interested. It’s a lot of fun; you just wait around a lot, a bit like being in a band.  But I enjoyed it, thank you for asking, did you enjoy it. It’s a whole different world.

The Rockpit: Yeah it was really cool, it’s like when you see someone you know do something unexpectedly cool and you think, “Wow I never knew they could do that!” Getting back to the music, is there anything you’ve left unsaid? Anything that’s slipped you by in the past and you wish you’d done it? Any opportunities that you wish you’d taken?

Peter: In Kiss we did such a lot of things and now we’re senior rock stars I don’t know, the Hall of Fame was such a big thing, and I love the other three but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved:  I was a kid from the streets of New York City and I worked for 50 years and I’m really proud of that, that and the number one hit. Where I grew up I was a drummer and you had to know everything man, I learnt Jazz first then Soul in a 15 piece band, a bit of funk, then a kick ass Rock band and back again, so I always thought that eventually I’d make something of music, I remember when I was drumming in my first band and I out-sang the lead singer in the band and became the lead singer. (laughs) It’s been a great ride.

The Rockpit: You certainly gave me some of my favourite moments in Kiss: ‘Black Diamond’; ‘Hard Luck Woman’ just to mention a couple and then your solo album which opened up different types of music for many rock fans.

The Rockpit: I’ve been dying to ask you this one, it’s something I always believed as a kid, but these days I’m not so sure anymore. Do you think that music can still change the world or was that just a dream we had in the 60’s and 70’s?

Peter: Yes, but not now, not now. When we lost John Lennon I thought it was over, actually when we lost Buddy Holly I thought the music died, but losing people like that and Elvis left a big gap, and somehow we managed to hold it all together. But now? It was quite interesting watching the MTV Bee Gee awards; I got to see a few a couple of young Rock bands that I’d never seen before and I must admit they impressed me, they were like 23, 24 and I remembered when we were that age – they had a lot of talent, and I think that talent is there, but I still haven’t heard for want of better words, ‘The Messiahs’, they haven’t come yet. Not that band that can change the world. We changed a helluva lot of things but never like The Beatles or The Stones, though I know we have a lot of fans and they are fanatical so they might disagree!  But I don’t hear any talent that could knock me on the floor and I would say “This is it – these guys are it!” And we’re well overdue.

The Rockpit: As a musician, is it the pinnacle of a career to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Peter: Yes. Yeah it is and I wish my Mom and Dad had been there to see it. But really what I always dreamed of was when I told my parents that I would play Maddison Square Gardens one day, and that to me was the biggest thing and still is the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life. When I was 13 I told my Mom I would play there one day and when I finally did and saw my Mom and Dad in the audience of 25,000 people, my Mom and Dad crying and I’m crying even though I’m wearing make-up – it was just overwhelming. Everything up to that was crazy, everything after that was just whipped cream. I didn’t really get into it to be a Rock Star, and I hate that word it’s such a label, I just wanted to be a good musician and play good music. You don’t think about the rewards and the pitfalls, no thoughts about living In a 22 bedroom mansion with naked girls, and having too many cars!  I lived through that but you have to slow down, or it fades, there’s no Rock Stars anymore, no excess no one as creative or as crazy as Clapton or Ginger Baker…

The Rockpit: If you could have been a ‘Fly on the Wall’ in the Studio for the creation of any great Rock album, just to witness how the magic happened, and how it all came together, what’s that album for you and why?

Peter: (laughing) Wow! I would have loved to have been a ‘fly on the wall’ for ‘The White Album’, by The Beatles. Are you kidding! I would take ‘Sergeant Pepper’, but I think I’d take ‘The White Album’ – pure genius!

The Rockpit: One of the greatest albums ever and the process in those days, no sampling, no dialling up sounds, no Pro-Tools. So much effort and creativity.

Peter: Very cool, you’re right; you really had to have talent (laughs) you had to be creative. You had to make do with what you had and push it. I mean I started with 4 tracks and when we got to 8 tracks – it was like “Oh my God eight tracks!” And when we got to 16 I thought we were in heaven! And now it’s all computerised, all funky, it’s all on my Apple and I could make an album overnight if I felt like it. But there’s nothing like the old days, that splicing of tape, the whole sounds of what you created, it’s kinda missing today. Too modern! Too high tech for me!

The Rockpit: And we always close with an easy one Peter: ‘What is the meaning of life?”

Peter: What is the meaning of life? (laughs) To me the meaning of life is ‘God’. It’s just that simple man, those three letters and I give up thanks every day for my life and my three cats! And the fan letters I wake up to are truly a blessing. They’re not always that positive of course there are cynical people out there in the world, I picture this crazy guy in a black room writing everything bad about everybody  because he don’t like no-one – he’s the ‘Nowhere Man”! But you take life as it comes and shut out that negativity.

The Rockpit: I must admit I never thought of asking you about your cats!

Peter: Oh sure, they talk to me, I love them. We’ve got a girl we adopted 7 years ago from a shelter ‘Fanny’, it was very sad she was kept in this little cage. Then we have two Maine Coons:  one called ‘Bando’ and one called ‘Rouse’ and then we have a stray cat called ‘Buddy’. So yeah I’ve got my cats around me, they keep me happy.

The Rockpit: It’s been so cool to talk to you today Peter I could go on all day!  Thanks so much for taking the time for The Rockpit.

Peter: You are an absolute very cool gentleman, thank you so much for having me to talk to you. Let’s meet when I get over, I’d love to say hi.

The Rockpit: Let’s do it, thanks again: you can get back to those Oreo’s now!

Peter: (laughing) You remembered! You’re very funny! Thanks man, have a great night.

 

Peter Criss ‘One Last Time’ Australian Show

Friday, 12th May
The Sofitel Melbourne,
Tickets: Ticketbud

Kiss Konvention 2017

Saturday 13th – Sunday 14th May
Wick Studios, Bruswick
Tickets: Ticketbud

Kiss Convention

About Mark Rockpit 339 Articles
Website Editor Head of Hard Rock and Blues Photographer and interviewer

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