Mitch Weissman (2013)
Background vocalist/original "Beatlemania" cast member recalls his contributions to Gene Simmons' 1978 solo album and his work with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons on albums such as "Animalize" and "Crazy Nights," plus a potpourri of KISS stories and tangents.
David Snowden (2013)
Longtime KISS fan and former head of the Vinnie Vincent Invasion fan club talks "All Systems Go" and various KISS-related topics
John Storyk (2013)
Renowned studio designer recalls his work on Ace Frehley's Ace in the Hole Studios in Wilton, CT
Mark Opitz (2013)
Producer details his work on "KISS Symphony: Alive IV"
Bruce Foster (2012)
Grammy-nominated musician discusses working with KISS and playing piano on "Nothin' To Lose"
David Wolfert (2012)
Grammy- and Emmy-nominated producer recalls working with Peter Criss on his first post-KISS solo album, 1980's "Out Of Control"
Bob Ezrin (2012)
Legendary producer details "Destroyer: Resurrected" and the making of the album
Lydia Criss (2012)
Author discusses the second printing of "Sealed With A KISS" and various Peter Criss- and KISS-related topics
Ron Nevison (2012)
A celebration of the 25th anniversary of "Crazy Nights" featuring an in-depth discussion with renowned producer/engineer
Jean Beauvoir (2010)
Songwriter/recording artist recalls collaborations with KISS on "Animalize," "Asylum" and more
Kenny Kerner (2010)
Recalling KISS' early days with the co-producer of "KISS" and "Hotter Than Hell"
Eric Singer (2010)
Exclusive interview with KISS' current drummer regarding a variety of topics
Ace Frehley (2009)
KISS' original Spaceman details his first studio album in 20 years, "Anomaly"
Bruce Kulick (2009)
Non-makeup-era axeman discusses KISS tenure and latest album, "BK3"
Mike Japp (2005)
A discussion with KISS collaborator on the "Killers" and "Creatures Of The Night" albums
Dick Wagner (2004)
KISS' favorite "ghost" guitarist discusses his guitar playing on "Destroyer" and "Revenge"
Jesse Damon (2003)
Former member of Silent Rage on his collaborations with Gene Simmons
Stan Penridge (2000)
Peter Criss' right-hand man talks Chelsea, Lips and working with the Catman
Bruce Kulick (1999)
Guitarist talks Union project with John Corabi, Eric Carr and ESP
Sean Delaney (1998)
A brief encounter with the "fifth" member of KISS
Bob Ezrin (1998)
Former KOL webmaster Michael Brandvold grills the legendary producer regarding his work with KISS
Non-KISS Band Members
Derrek Hawkins (2011)
KISS fan and former rhythm guitarist in Ace Frehley's band recalls his stint with the Spaceman on tour and recording "Anomaly"
Art Lindauer (2011)
Guitarist/vocalist discusses working with a pre-KISS Eric Carr in the cover band trio Flasher.
Adam Mitchell (2010)
Songwriter/collaborator recalls working with KISS, Vinnie Vincent and writing songs on "Killers," "Creatures Of The Night," "Crazy Nights," and more.
Bobby Rock (2010)
Powerhouse drummer recalls his wild ride with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion.
Rich Circell (2008)
Lead singer discusses working with Ace Frehley in pre-KISS band Honey.
Mike McLaughlin (2006)
Guitarist on his personal musical path and work with Peter Criss, Criss' "One For All" album, and much more
John Henderson (2004)
Musician shares his memories of collaborating with a young Paul Caravellos (Eric Carr) and his memories of Carr's pre-KISS bands
Neal Teeman (2003)
Uncle Joe drummer discusses working with Paul Stanley in pre-KISS band formed in 1966 and assistant engineering "Alive!"
Victor Cohen (2002)
Rhythm guitarist/keyboard player discusses working with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
David Bartky (2002)
Bassist recalls his musical beginnings and collaborating with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
Phil Naro (2002)
First lead vocalist of Criss recalls work with Peter Criss and ex-KISS guitarist Mark St. John
Jason Ebs (2002)
Final lead vocalist of Criss discusses his musical background and working with Peter Criss just before KISS' reunion in 1996
Robert "Bob" Pryor (2001)
Guitarist discusses his musical influences and working with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
Ron Leejack (2000)
Wicked Lester guitarist recalls collaborating with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley prior to KISS
Ross Berg (2012)
A detailed conversation with the author of "Gene Simmons: A Rock 'N Roll Journey In The Shadow Of The Holocaust."
Paul Grein (2012)
Yahoo Chart Watch blogger and certified chart expert provides a current breakdown and analysis of KISS' Nielsen SoundScan totals.
Larry Harris (2009)
Former Casablanca executive dishes on his must-read book, "And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records."
Todd Schorr (2004)
Artist discusses designing the album cover for Peter Criss' first post-KISS solo effort, 1980's "Out Of Control."
Charles Frehley (2001)
Brother of Ace Frehley discusses his sibling and his own musical career.
Kenny Kerner happens to be a very key figure in KISStory. It was Kerner who came across the KISS demo (on reel-to-reel, no less) one Friday evening in Neil Bogart's office in 1973. Extremely impressed with what he heard, he returned the following Monday and advised Bogart to sign the band. Kerner had uncovered the proverbial gem amid the pile of rubbish. And it would be he and production partner Richie Wise who would be brought on board to produce the self-titled 1974 album.
Black Diamond Dust With Kenny Kerner
By Tim McPhate
When offering his summary on KISS' debut, Kerner is direct. "The first album is a classic, classic album," he declares, suggesting "KISS" belongs alongside the likes of "Black Sabbath," Led Zeppelin," "Van Halen," and "Appetite For Destruction" in the pantheon of classic rock debuts. With grade-A material such as "Deuce," "Strutter," "Firehouse," "Black Diamond," "Cold Gin, and "100,000 Years," he has a point.
KISS entered Bell Sound Studios in New York in autumn 1973 to record their Casablanca debut (with "Kissin' Time" being added months later). The recording was completed in blind-quick fashion, just six days. Kerner and Wise helmed the sessions, helping the band arrange and refine the songs to the punchy succinct forms that have become all-too familiar to KISS fans. They would go on to produce the band's follow-up, "Hotter Than Hell," an album Kerner isn't as keen on. "I don't like the songs as much," he says. However, the production team was not brought back for 1975's "Dressed To Kill," a move Kerner explains had more to do with things such as control and conflicts of interest, as opposed to lack of record sales and requisite creative differences.
Though his tenure co-producing the band was halted after just two albums, Kerner is secure of both his work and standing in the band's history. He is also quite complimentary when touching upon the concert spectacle that is the KISS show: "They are the greatest live performing band ever in the history of popular music."
A veritable jack of all trades, Kerner has enjoyed a career going on four decades with a unique background that includes not only record production, but management, A&R, public relations, and journalism. Currently the director of the music business program at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, Calif., he shares his wide-ranging knowledge with students on a daily basis.
In KISSFAQ's latest interview installment, we step back with Kerner to talk not only the debut album and "Hotter Than Hell," but how he and Wise formulated their partnership, Bogart, guns, Casablanca Records, and much more.
KissFAQ: Kenny, let's begin with your career start. You worked at Cashbox, one of the old industry trade publications. You also managed a Brooklyn-based band Dust, a trio which included your eventual production partner Richie Wise. Can you recount your early career beginnings and how your involvement with Dust led you to meet Neil Bogart?
Kenny Kerner: Sure.
First of all, I have to say that I have had an amazing career. This is my 40th year in the business and for someone of moderate talents, I have for some reason been amazingly successful in every single endeavor in my life. And it started with this band [Dust].
We were all living in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and hung out at a candy store, Louie's candy store on Parkside Avenue where all of us were in bands or musicians. And being a couple of years older than everyone else, I fortunately or unfortunately got saddled with the management aspect. Also because I didn't play an instrument and I was more into the business. So we put this band together called Dust, which was a three-piece hard rock band consisting of Richie Wise, who was the guitar player and songwriter with me and became my producing partner; Kenny Aaronson on bass, who went on to be and still is one of the number one bass players in the country, who has played with Joan Jett for about 10 years, Hall & Oates, Dave Stewart....on and on. And Marc Bell, who later became Marky Ramone. I mean, check out this lineup! I mean three guys from Brooklyn and a manager -- I mean what are the odds of everyone involved becoming incredibly successful.
KF: No kidding. That's pretty rare.
KK: Well we went on. Dust was the most popular band in Brooklyn. They had an incredible live show and were just fierce onstage, and I handled them and made sure they had publicity and everything. We got signed to a local New York label called Karma Sutra Records, which was run by Neil Bogart. And he had always wanted a legitimate rock band on his label because he had been known as the "Bubble Gum King" putting out really -- "Simon Says," "1, 2, 3 Red Light," "Chewy Chewy," "Yummy Yummy Yummy." (laughs) All of those type of records that were all hit records, but you know one-hit wonders. He wanted a real legitimate band, so he signed Dust.
The group went in the studio and did their first album -- I produced it, Richie produced it, Kenny produced it, Marc produced it. Another manager got involved, the engineers produced it -- it was like soup, you through everything into it. It was just a mish-mosh. It did really well in Detroit and Cleveland and all the hard rock cities. But Richie and I weren't happy with it. And when it came time to do the second album we went to Neil and we said, "Look, here's the deal: Richie and I wrote all the songs and we want to produce the second album because we think we know what the band should really sound like. The first album just had too many people." He said, "Okay, I'll make you a deal. You go in and produce the album and if it doesn't do anything and I don't like it, I'm dropping the band."
KF: No pressure or anything.
KK: (laughs) We said, "Cool." We went in and produced "Hard Attack." We picked the cover, which was three vikings killing each other on a snowcap mountain. Are you familiar with the first cover?
KF: I don't think I've seen that cover.
KK: It's the remains of three skeletal human beings in the caves of the catacombs in Italy.
KF: That sounds pretty risque for the times.
KK: It was not only risque, there were three guys in the group and there were three skeletons. We followed that up with the second cover, which was three vikings -- so we carried the theme along. The album came out and Neil loved it. It charted in Cashbox, Billboard, and Record World. And he said to us, "Do you want to produce other stuff?" And we said, "Sure, what's that?" (laughs)
And he gave us this record called "Back When My Hair Was Short" by a group called Gunhill Road that used to be on Mercury Records. Their only album was produced by Kenny Rogers and they did this song -- a nostalgic look back at the '50s when they were growing up. Neil said, "Here's all I am going to tell you: I want it to be really bouncy and really pop." And we went in and we did it [in 1973], and we had our first Top 20 hit single. And everything we did after that was a hit. Everything we did for Neil was at Top 40 between No. 1 and a Top 40 record for him. It just wouldn't stop. You know, again, who knew??
KF: So the story goes that you took home a box of demos home one Friday evening in 1973 and that's when you came across the KISS demo?
KK: Neil would leave demo tapes for me outside of his office. And I would come by once a week, pick them up, take them home, listen to them and bring them back. One trip found me taking the KISS demo tape out of the box -- from Electric Lady, I knew Eddie Kramer because I had worked with him before. And I listened to it and it just blew me away.
KF: What about the band's picture?
KK: I got the picture. It wasn't the $50,000 leather suit with bat wings. It was basically a turtleneck shirt you could buy at John's Bargain Store for $5 and some cheap facial makeup. But I got it.
KF: You saw the potential right away.
KK: It was a total gimmick, but I got what they were after. And when I listened to the tape -- you know I put it on my 400-pound Wollensak reel-to-reel.
KF: Reel-to-reel, wow.
KK: That's all we had then. And I listened to stuff like "Strutter," "Firehouse" and "Black Diamond" and "Deuce" and I said, "Shit, this is real raw, real street. This is credible stuff, this is exactly the kind of stuff Neil should have on Casablanca. A legitimate and credible rock group."
KF: And you came back and suggested Neil sign KISS?
KK: Yes, I brought that tape back to him Monday and said, "You want to sign these guys." So that's how we met Neil and became involved with KISS.
KF: Going into the KISS showcase at the Henry LeTang School of Dance, which featured the band in a very small setting. When we talked to former Casablanca executive Larry Harris a few months back he said once he saw the reaction from the handful of people in attendance, he knew KISS "would be big." What thoughts did you have about the band after that performance?
KK: (laughs) My thoughts were, "I wish somebody would have pumped some more air into that room." You know how they say, "It was no bigger than a shoebox?" This wasn't even the size of a shoebox.
KF: Hard to imagine what that would have been like.
KK: The ceiling was so low and the guys came out in full regalia. Their six-inch heels -- they couldn't even stand upright on the stage. (laughs) And the room was so narrow -- you tried to stand in the back of the room because you didn't want to get deafened by the sound but the back of the room was only 20 feet away. So you were basically trapped. (laughs)
And they came out and they were spectacular. I don't know if Larry knew immediately. You know the deal back then, to be perfectly candid... all those guys -- Bucky Reingold, Larry Harris -- it was a label through nepotism. They were all related to Neil and they weren't going to tell him anything that he didn't want to hear. So if Neil had said, "This sucks," Larry would have said, "Boy do they suck!" (laughs)
Whatever Neil wanted they would kiss his ass and do because A) their jobs depended on it and B) they were relatives. I knew [KISS would be big] from the beginning otherwise I wouldn't have brought the tape back to Neil and said, "Sign these guys."
KF: I wanted to ask about KISS going into New York's Bell Sound Studios in late September 1973, before the debut album.
KK: October. October 10.
KF: Apparently the band went in to do quick and dirty live recordings supposedly to help decide what would be recorded during the album sessions. What do you recall about listening (and recording if you were involved) to these recordings and how were the songs that were recorded for the debut album decided on?
KK: You mean for the album?
KF: No the demos done at Bell Sound Studios?
KK: The demo was done at Electric Lady with Eddie Kramer. After that, we went into the studio. And what we did as the producers, we didn't make demos and spend months going over them. We would bring the band into a rehearsal facility usually and say, "Play all your songs." And they would play their 15 songs and we would go, "This sucks, this sucks. This is great. These are the 10 songs we are recording." And then we'd book studio time and go in. This way, what I knew was... whatever songs were left over, the label owned. So if we recorded 20 songs in the studio and picked 10, the 10 that were not on the album would be owned by the record company, which would have made it more difficult for the band to leave if they wanted to leave the label. Because their old label would still own songs. So we avoided that by going into SIR and saying, "Play me what you got" and "these are the songs we're picking. We already know these are good, let's record them."
KF: So with the debut KISS album, as you alluded to a moment ago, the intent was to try make a "real" record that reflected a raw-type sound indicative of how the band sounded in a live context. In the book "Behind The Mask," Paul Stanley has been quoted as saying he was not happy with the sound of the first KISS album and that it did not capture the band's live sonic blueprint. Hindsight is a big part of KISS, and perhaps any long-standing band for that matter. But what is your reaction to Paul's assessment?
KK: Yeah, I love Paul. But it's a funny statement because that first album was pretty much recorded live in the studio. So for him to say it didn't capture the band live when it was recorded live, he would have to explain that to me. (laughs) You know there were very few overdubs on that first album and that's what we wanted because we felt the band was so effective live. We didn't want to clutter it up. If you compare it to "Hotter Than Hell," the second album is a little slicker than the first although I don't like the songs as much. But it was a little slicker because we wanted to show some growth and some maturity but not a lot. Because it was still -- if you see them today, if you compare their live concert today in 2010, it's most closely to the first album.
KF: I saw them at Staples Center last November.
KK: And they are doing half of the songs on that first album.
KF: They also play plenty of material from "Hotter Than Hell" too -- "Hotter Than Hell," "Got To Choose," "Let Me Go Rock And Roll" and so forth. And all these songs you were involved in. That must be a good feeling for you?
KK: Oh yes, it's terrific.
KF: Back to you and Richie Wise. As a duo, you and Richie had an interesting production philosophy. Richie represented the more technical side, while you were the more intuitive and business side. Can you expand more on your teamwork and maybe provide some examples of how this applied to the two albums you produced with KISS?
KK: Sure. It's really hard when there is a production team in the studio because if someone from the band wants to do something and I say, "No." They'd go over to Richie and it's like, "Mom, can I have the car keys?" "No." "No, I'll just wait until Dad comes home and I'll ask Dad." (laughs) So we wanted to avoid that. On the way to the studio -- I didn't have a car in New York -- Richie would drive and we would always talk about the session in front. Richie was really into the technical aspect of it, he was into the board. I was into the vision of it and the business side of it.
So I would always sit there in Richie's car and go, "I think on this song we should approach it this way." And when we got into the studio Richie would be the mouthpiece but my thoughts would come out of his mouth, as well as his. And I would handle the business -- the negotiations with the label, being the producer liaison with the manager, booking the studio time, making sure everything ran smoothly as well as commenting on everything in the studio. But I just didn't want to get into, "Richie that's wrong. We can't do that!" You know one of those things, which would have been disastrous. So that's the way we handled it, and it worked great for every studio session we had.
KF: What are some of the things that stick out in your memory from the debut album sessions -- atmosphere, camaraderie between the band, etc.?
KK: We had a lot of fun. Riding on the subway with Gene was really cool, I'd be on the same train with him.
KF: What were your impressions of Gene in those early days?
KK: Well a lot of people give Gene a bad rap. A lot of people think he is an egomaniacal greedy bastard. (laughs) But when you really get to know him, you realize he's an egomaniacal greedy bastard.
KK: Gene's just a great guy. He's real focused and real business-like. When I see him today and I talk to him, as friendly as we are, he talks to me as if I am interviewing him. (laughs) You know, if I see Paul in the supermarket or something I go, "Yo Paul, what the fuck's going on man? How ya been?" And he'll talk to me like he saw me five minutes ago. Gene is like, "Are the cameras on?" And I go, "Gene, it's me Kenny. Hello, down to earth, hello." But that's the way he is. If you watch "Family Jewels," he's the same way. That's the way he is.
Gene thinks everything out. Spontaneity does not exist in his dictionary. It's got to be all planned out. One of the interesting sessions we had was, and what ultimately led to us not producing the band anymore, and this is a bone I would have to pick with Larry Harris in the book ["And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records"]. In the book, Larry Harris says that Bogart fired Kerner and Wise from doing the third KISS album because we didn't give KISS a hit single.
Well, he didn't want a hit single. He was looking for a credible rock band. All he knew was singles. He couldn't promote an album with a billion dollars, he couldn't promote a hit rock group. All he knew was hit singles. So, he never said to us, "Give us a hit single." He would just take tracks off the record and release them as singles. So, when he didn't get a hit single on the first album, he came up with another stupid idea: "Let's do 'Kissin' Time'!"
KF: Of course, that song was going to be one of my questions.
KK: We can have a great kissing content and thereby destroy completely the credibility of this band! So here's the dichotomy, "Bring me a great rock band with credibility that's realistic and let me destroy them by having a stupid teeny-bopper kissing contest." And we didn't have a choice.
KF: Neil was adamant about it, but you, Richie and the band wanted no part of it?
KK: Right. We were sitting in the studio and we had the Bobby Rydell version of "Kissin' Time" and we had to rock it up so we made a list of all the rock cities: "We need to get Detroit in there and Cleveland in there," you know all the rock cities. There were like five or six of us in the studio, and we would just go around and call out new lines for the song. "We're rocking in Detroit" -- yeah that's good. (sings) "We're rocking in Detroit." And we rewrote the song that way, right on the spot in the studio. Of course, it was released and on the news KISS got an MMMbop of a second of airtime and the rest of the news story was on the lines of people who stood there hours and hours kissing. So the group was completely lost. So that backfired and that led to the big secret meeting at my place to pull the band off the label.
KF: "Kissin' Time" -- that was obviously cut after the debut album was out, around April 1974, right?
KK: Yes, they pulled the album back and released it with "Kissin' Time" on it.
KF: While you were in the studio, did you record anything else, say for a B-side?
KK: Yes, it was "Kissin' Time." There was a B-side that they pulled off the record, or whatever. But that was the one he wanted on the record.
KF: A few of the songs on the debut, say "100,000 Years," were trimmed compared to their demo arrangements. What do you recall of this truncation? And was it Richie that played a primary role in rearranging the songs?
KK: No. We both did that. We both sat there and I would even sit there in the studio after a guitar solo and I'd go, "Ace play that exact solo again. We're going to run another track, play the solo again and just double the solo." I wouldn't sit in the studio and keep my mouth shut. It's just that I didn't want them to have a favorite. You know, "Kenny says no, go to Richie." Or, "Richie says no, go to Kenny." I didn't want that to happen.
KF: "Love Theme From KISS" is a song that is based on a previous song called "Acrobat," which had a bit of a jam section. Do you remember the original "Acrobat"?
KK: No. Well they weren't a jam band. (laughs) They were not a jam band at all.
KF: So they rearranged that song and came to the studio with just what became "Love Theme From KISS"?
KK: Yes, exactly. And you know that's the best way to work with a band when you're producing them. You have a choice of spending two or three days in a rehearsal place at $15 or $20 an hour or two or three days in a studio at $250 an hour. Why put the band in debt like that for no reason?
KF: Was there any overt decision to hold material from the first album for a second one?
KK: No, we recorded exactly what we wanted to record.
KF: Were there any other songs recorded other than the songs that made it on the debut?
KK: I don't believe so. I think that was it.
KF: I ask because it has been suggested that there was softer piece called "Mistake" brought to the sessions by Gene. Do you recall anything about this song?
KK: Well, it was a mistake. (laughs) It never got on. Like I said, we were pretty thorough with picking the songs. We never sat there and went, "Shit we only have eight songs, we need three more, what are we going to do?" We usually at a rehearsal picked the songs all of the songs that are going to be on the album. Period. And that's what we go in with, that's the vision, that's the plan, and everybody knows exactly what he has to do and what songs to work on. That's the way we used to do all of our artists. Even with Gladys Knight we did the same thing. Sit her down, pick the songs, go over them, "Okay, here's what we're recording." And everybody knew what was going on, there were no secrets.
KF: By the time we get to "Hotter Than Hell," Casablanca has moved to the West Coast. How did preparation for the album compare with the first? Did the band send you tapes to review in advance or were there pre-production rehearsals?
KK: I don't remember tapes, but we always [went] into a rehearsal studio. And I remember the band did not like recording in Los Angeles. And we recorded at a great studio, Village Recorder in West Los Angeles.
KF: Which is still around today.
KK: Yeah. And I think Paul got his guitar stolen the first day. Gene didn't drive. And the band just didn't like it.
KF: So with Paul's flying-V, still no leads on it?
KK: I got $20,000 for it on eBay last year. (laughs) No, we have no idea where that went.
KF: "Hotter Than Hell" contains a another strong batch of songs from "Got To Choose," the title track, "Watchin' You" and "Strange Ways"...
KK: I still don't understand the damn cover of that album.
KF: It's a pretty wild design.
KK: I don't know who picked it or who approved it. Was that supposed to be a Japanese motif?
KF: It does have the Chikara symbol at the bottom, the lettering below the KISS logo at the top, and it's pretty "colorful" with the pink stripes and the band in black and white. Of course, the back cover contains those images from the outlandish party shot by Norman Seef. The cover definitely grabs your attention, but you obviously didn't have a hand in that one.
KF: There are a couple of reported Peter Criss incidents during this album. One supposed incident is that he threatened to quit the band if he wasn't allowed to sing "Mainline," a song penned by Paul Stanley. Also the initial incarnation of "Strange Ways" reportedly featured a seven-minute drum solo from Peter, which Peter was insistent on leaving in or he would quit the group. Do you remember anything about these incidents?
KK: (pauses) Uh...no. You know, I have to say Bill Aucoin was, first of all he was my mentor when I got into managing. He was one of the most amazing and understanding managers. And this would have been something that he would have dealt with the band on. Paul would have gone straight to Bill and said, "Look Peter is forcing me to let him sing this..." You know, he sang on "Nothin' To Lose"...
KF: "Black Diamond."
KK: And he sang "Beth," which was their only Top 10 hit at that time. And I think Bill explained to them, "You have to do what's best for the song." That would have been something that should not and did not come out in the studio.
KF: The time between the first two albums is relatively short, especially by today's standards. Was there ever any concern with the band's ability to come up with material for the ever-important second album in such a short time?
KK: Well, to this day I don't think the material on that second album is even close to being as strong as the first album. You know it's the old story, you have your whole life to write the songs for the first album.
KF: And KISS had about eight months for the second album.
KK: Yeah. I just think the first album is a classic, classic album. It's like the Knack's "Get The Knack" album and Led Zeppelin "I." You know, the first one -- there's not a bad cut on it.
KF: Lot of fans would agree with that.
KK: I didn't think the second one was that good, material-wise. But Neil was going to try and break the band, no matter what he could do, and never really knew how to put the band out on tour, or promote the band, or develop a band. He was just looking for one quick single after another.
KF: How would you describe Neil's role during the two albums you helmed? Obviously he was the driving force behind "Kissin' Time," but during the first two albums did he give his two cents or was he more hands-off?
KK: None. Zero. Totally hands-off, until he took the band away from us.
KF: Can you talk about that meeting?
KK: It was the band, me, Bill, Joyce and Richie as far as I remember. It was a very serious meeting at my apartment in West Hollywood, which ironically was right around the corner from the first offices of Casablanca. And it was really serious because we were frustrated with Casablanca and the way they were marketing the band. We were not getting any mileage out of the marketing at all. And then the "Kissin' Time" thing -- we were still pissed about that. And we had serious offers of over $1 million for the band from a major label.
KF: Atlantic Records?
KK: I am not going to say.
KK: I'm not going to say. It was a real serious offer and we had a meeting and we spoke about it and decided that it would be in the best interest of the band to take that offer. Now, Joyce Biawitz was at that meeting. She should not have been at that meeting. She was partners with Bill in Direction Plus, in their company, and also dating Neil Bogart. So there was a major conflict of interest. I mean a major conflict of interest. And Neil must have been really good in bed because after the meeting she went right back and told him everything. So the first thing Neil tried to do was to get the band away from Bill. And I'm thinking the reasoning was if he gets them away from Bill, he could let Joyce manage the band and he would record the band, and he would control the entire the band. She'd manage it, and he would control Joyce. And he would record the band, and he'd control the recordings. The band refused to leave Bill so the next logical thing he said, "Well, I'll take Kerner and Wise out of the picture and I'll produce them."
Now the bone I have to pick with Larry Harris is in the book, Larry says Neil Bogart fired Kerner and Wise, didn't let them produce the KISS album or work for him anymore because they didn't give him any hit singles with KISS. That's not true. He took us away because he wanted to push a wedge in between us and the band. We continued to work for him for years after that. We continued to give him hit records. He just wanted KISS. And he figured if he got in between us, and Bill and the band -- at least that's one thing out of the way.
So he went in and did the "Dressed To Kill" album, which didn't really do much. Shows to go you, as they say, that all he was concerned about was getting his two feet in the door there.
KF: So you mentioned you continued to work for Neil. Was there any resentment on your and Richie's part over what happened with KISS?
KK: No. I mean we knew that he payed the bills and he had the right to get anybody he wanted. I was pissed that he was going in to produce them himself. That looked mighty suspicious to us. But, it is what it is, and you move on.
KF: Speaking of bills, do you recall the session budgets for the first two albums?
KK: Oh, we didn't work with budgets for Neil.
KF: Neil wasn't a budget guy? (laughs)
KK: No, not with us.
KF: If somehow KISS breaks free from Casablanca in 1975 and goes with another label, do you think success would have been forthcoming?
KK: (pauses) I think KISS was one of those bands of destiny that was supposed to happen because they had everything that the teenage rock audience wanted to hear. Mainly the amazing show, which was all KISS and Bill. You know, I used to see that they would audition pyrotechnics guys and magicians, "How do I do this? How do we do that? We want the drums to fly." One person after another until they got exactly what they wanted, and that was all Bill and the band.
KF: As the band continued, Peter Criss eventually departed in 1980 and Ace Frehley left in 1982, and they since came back for the reunion in 1996 only to leave the band again later. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons have remained constant since the founding of KISS. Looking back, did you see this degree of separation in the band? Could you tell that Paul and Gene were cut from a different cloth, and that perhaps Peter and Ace were cut from another?
KK: Oh yeah. Absolutely. There was no...I mean could you tell that Jagger and Richards run the Rolling Stones? That Lennon and McCartney ran the Beatles? (laughs) It was that obvious.
KF: That Paul and Gene were the main driving force behind KISS?
KK: Yep, it was no secret.
KF: But obviously, all four of them together made for something unique.
KK: Yeah, oh absolutely. And I think with KISS [today] the brand is bigger than the band.
KF: I think Gene likes it that way.
KK: Oh absolutely. Gene is the kind of guy who right now is probably sitting at home designed a little perfume bottle and he's probably going to piss into it and sell KISS Piss with the KISS logo on it.
KK:. And he'll probably get it on the market.
KF: Any interest in partnering with him on that one?
KK: No, that's okay.
KF: You want no part of KISS Piss?
KK: (laughs) No, but I bet there's a million people who do. "Hey, whose KISS Piss do you have, Gene's or Paul's?"
KF: KISS released their latest studio album in 2009, have you heard it?
KK: Yeah, "Sonic Boom."
KF: What are your thoughts?
KK: For me, and I think for KISS fans, it's not the records. If it were the records, they would stay on the charts for two or three years like "Dark Side Of The Moon." It's not about... for me a new KISS album marks the beginning of a forthcoming tour. And KISS is all about the live show. They are the greatest live performing band ever in the history of popular music.
KF: That's pretty high praise.
KK: There is no other band -- if you say KISS tickets are $100 each, it's worth it to see that kind of spectacular. What band comes close? You know, when we did KISS we'd do shows at the Academy Of Music that were sabotaged. Headlining acts would literally call the fire marshal. We would have people standing at the box office in front of the theater with an envelope with like $50 or $100 to say, "Hey, buddy come here. No, please do me a favor. Here's a $100, we'll take care of it." They would sabotage the show.
KF: So you bribed the fire marshal?
KK: I didn't say that, and I will deny it. (laughs)
KF: Who was this, Blue Oyster Cult?
KK: It was the show at the Academy Of Music. But -- who could follow that band?
KF: You just said KISS is the best live act ever so where do you see KISS in terms of their standing among other rock greats -- Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, etc.? Is KISS in the conversation with these bands?
KK: Absolutely. And again, a lot of people say, "Oh the makeup, the makeup." And I say this is the entertainment business. And you do whatever you need to do to entertain your audience. You know what I am saying?
KK: And they do it better than anybody else.
KF: The fans know about KISS live, but for many of us it really is about the songs. Like you said, take a look at the debut record -- it's a classic.
KF: So have you spoken to the guys at all recently?
KK: No I haven't. They're incredibly busy, they're on a two-year tour now. Every so often, I'll call them up and leave them a phone message or stuff like that. I used to run into Paul when I lived in Hollywood, I used to run into him at Ralph's occasionally.
KF: What about Richie Wise? When was the last time you spoke with Richie?
KK: Not very often. I spoke to him -- strangely enough about two weeks ago. I was on the phone with Marc [Bell] and Marc was thinking about rereleasing and repackaging the Dust albums. There's a huge market for that. There are fans by the thousands. So Marc called me and I said I should get in touch with Richie and Kenny. Richie is not in the music business anymore. He kind of got out -- Richie was really strange because Richie was a purist. Richie looked for pure talent -- real talent. I looked for talented artists or artists with a great gimmick or artists with a great image because I knew how much marketing was worth. And I always like to tie in the marketing with the artist -- that extra push. And Richie just got frustrated as it got more and more difficult to break artists.
KF: So he's out of the business altogether?
KK: Yeah, he's not in the music business anymore.
KF: So back to your career. As you alluded to, you've been in this business for 40 years, which is an amazing accomplishment. You've been a producer, an author, worked at a label, managed, and worked in a journalism capacity. And currently, you are the director of the music business program at Musicians Institute. Which profession would you say you've enjoyed the most and why?
KK: I'm enjoying all of it and, like I said, marveling at the fact that I don't any one spectacular talent. I've been a successful manager, a successful magazine editor, a successful author, a successful publicist, a producer -- I don't know what it is I have that makes me successful, maybe it's perseverance. (laughs) But I just love doing this. I get up in the morning and my hands move and my eyes can see and I say, "Wow, thank God, it's a great day." And to be paid for doing music and working with kids who listen to music and talking about how to navigate the music industry today, it's just great.
KF: Obviously the music industry has changed so much over the years, even more so in the past decade. If you have one word of advice for your students or for people wanting a career in music these days, what would it be?
KK: I tell them, "Never give up, and focus on a single career." You know I talk to a lot of students and I say, "So what you want to be? What kind of career do you want?" "Well, I want to be a singer/songwriter, but I also want to be the artist and I like to produce my stuff, and I have a studio and engineer my own stuff." And I go, "Woah, you just went through seven different careers!" Those are the people that never succeed. You know, pick a career and go for it.
KF: So you mentioned Larry's book, have you read it?
KK: I read it in about an hour.
KF: I read it pretty quickly too. It was such a fun read. Outside of your bones of contention, what did you think about the book?
KK: I finished the book. I closed it and put it down on my desk, and I thought to myself: "I can't believe I lived through this shit." (laughs) That was my thought. Everything in that book is true to my knowledge.
KF: There are some pretty wild stories in there.
KK: It was wild. I remember going to my office at Casablanca once and I walked into my office, and there was a guy sitting on my desk cleaning his gun, and I'm saying, "Excuse me, what the fuck are you doing here?"
KK: And I'm in my office one day and some guy knocks on my door and I say, "Come in." And he comes in and he goes, "Can I get you anything?" And I go, "Yeah, what store are you going to?" He goes, "No, no no -- I mean drugs! Anything, pot..." And I said, "What?!" You know innocent me, I didn't know what the hell was going on. I was there to produce records.
KF: Drugs and guns. That's quite the work environment.
KK: (laughs) I mean, what the hell was I was thinking? I actually went there to work.
KF: Kenny, on behalf of KissFAQ, thanks so much for the time.
KK: It was my pleasure. Anytime.
April 9, 2010