KISS turn 40 in 2013. They played their first show in January 1973 in Queens, New York. Since then KISS have become adored and derided in equal measure, but their influence on a generation of guitar rockers has been huge, and they have proved themselves time and time again to be masters of marketing and self-mythology.
Below are some fun facts. If you want to read about KISS’s Gibson guitars, check out:
Ace Frehley "Budokan" Les Paul Custom, Gibson.com’s 2012 interview with KISS’s Tommy Thayer and Tommy interviewed recently at NAMM 2013.
But here’s some fun…
1. Before changing their name to KISS, the quartet were called Wicked Lester. As Wicked Lester, they even recorded an album’s worth of demos for Epic Records in 1971-‘72 that never got released. Some of these songs would show up on later KISS albums. Drummer Peter Criss joined around April 1972 and Ace Frehley followed in January ’73. Two weeks later, they debuted as KISS.
2. Before they decided on KISS, they also considered the names Albatross, Rainbow (before Ritchie Blackmore’s post-Deep Purple band of the same name), and Crimson Harpoon. Gene Simmons was once quoted as saying that he wanted to call the band F***, but he was joking. Simmons is smart enough to know that would be uncommercial.
3. In the 1970s, some anti-rock preachers suggested KISS stood for Knights in Satan’s Service – that’s not true.
4. The Rainbow connection doesn’t end there. Ken Kelly, the artist who painted both the Destroyer and Love Gun album covers also painted album covers for Blackmore’s Rainbow.
5. Former Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French auditioned for lead guitarist of Kiss in late 1972/early ‘73, when they were still called Wicked Lester. But Ace got the gig. Even though Ace auditioned wearing mismatching sneakers, one red and one orange.
6. Their fervent fans are known as the KISS Army, and started in Indiana when a local radio station refused to play any KISS songs in the early ‘70s. Protesting fans marched outside of the radio station and referred to themselves as the KISS Army.
7. Original pressings of debut album KISS did not include "Kissin' Time". The album was reissued in July ‘74 to include the cover, "Kissin' Time," originally a hit for Bobby Rydell.
8. For the cover of KISS, the band wanted their debut LP to resemble Meet The Beatles. Oh, and Warner Bros. Records initially threatened to end the band’s deal if they did not remove their makeup.
9. To get the silver “Spaceman” look for his hair on the KISS artwork, Ace Frehley applied commercial spray-paint that he assumed would wash right out afterwards. Ace was wrong.
10. Ace began using blue eyeshadow in the late ‘70s – he also developed allergic reactions to his silver makeup.
11. “Dimebag” Darrell (Pantera/Damageplan) was buried in a “KISS Kasket”, as he had requested in his will. Gene Simmons said, “There were a limited number made and I sent mine to the family of ’Dimebag’ Darrell. He requested in his will to be buried in a KISS Kasket, as he sort of learned his rock’n’roll roots by listening to us for some strange reason.” For those who favor cremation, KISS urns are also available.
12. In the early 70's Peter Criss flew to England to audition for Elton John's backing band. He failed the audition.
13. Ace Frehley was once known for liking a drink, but his classic “Cold Gin” wasn’t based on his preferred adult beverage. “I didn't drink gin: didn't drink liquor of any kind very often,” he writes in his No Regrets memoir. “I was a beer man then, and not even a connoisseur. Gimme a can of whatever you had in the fridge! I was happy. I wanted to write a drinking song, and "Cold Gin" sounded like a great title.”
14. KISS were offered the part of the Future Villain Band in the 1978 movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The band declined, as they were afraid of damaging their image. The role was taken by Aerosmith.
15. The hand on the cover of Music From The Elder is not that of Paul Stanley, as some fans presume. It’s that of a hand model, according to ex-manager Bill Aucoin.
16. The door pictured on the cover of …The Elder is the door for a Methodist church on Park Avenue in New York City.
17. Gene Simmons is one of the world’s top fire breathers. The bassist’s fire-spitting is a KISS stunt, but Simmons is actually good at it. He’s reached 15ft. Not as good as the 2011 world record held by American Antonio Restivo of 8.05m (26 ft 5 in) but impressive nonetheless in what can only be described a “minority” pursuit.
18. Ace Frehley sings horizontally! He says, “Every time I ever record a lead vocal, I've had to do it on my back. If I stand up and try to sing, I can't hit the notes sometimes.”
19. Paul Stanley wrote a number of early Kiss songs, including "Firehouse" and "Let Me Know" while in high school.
20. Stanley was later an art major at the Bronx Community College, before devoting his time to KISS. But he still paints - see Paul Stanley paintings.
21. Kiss have never had a U.S. number one single. But "I Was Made for Lovin' You" hit Number 1 in Canada and Holland.
22. KISS’s late drummer Eric Carr’s collar on his 1980 “fox” costume was made out of real fox fur.
23. Most of the songs featured on Peter Criss's 1978 solo album were originally written in 1972 for an album by his then-band, called Lips.
24. In 1986, Paul Stanley was close to getting the producer's job for Guns N’ Roses' Appetite for Destruction album. But Stanley eventually changed his mind, and declined.
25. For his solo album of 1978, Gene Simmons wanted guest appearances by Sammy Davis Jr., Dinah Shore, Chaka Khan and Liberace. Other obligations meant they couldn’t take part. Simmons also asked Paul McCartney. “Scheduling problems” also stopped that happening.
26. According to Peter Criss, Ace Frehley played bass on a lot of early Kiss songs.
27. Early in their careers, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss all recorded vocals on commercial jingles, including some for AMC trucks.
28. Sammy Hagar was thrown off as the opening act of a Kiss tour during the late ‘70s due to using foul language on stage.
29. The “newscast” heard at the beginning of "Detroit Rock City" on the Destroyer album was read by producer Bob Ezrin.
30. Immediately after leaving Kiss in 1982, Ace Frehley flew out to Los Angeles to produce the first demo tapes for W.A.S.P.
31. Despite Stanley being the serious art student, Ace Frehley designed the KISS logo.
32. When Eric Carr recorded his vocal for the re-recording of "Beth" in 1988, he sat on the same drum stool that Peter Criss used during the original recording of the song in 1976.
33. In his early years, Gene Simmons entered a Jewish Rabbinical school with the intention of becoming a Rabbi.
34. Ace Frehley was a drum roadie for Mitch Mitchell during Jimi Hendrix's final Band of Gypsys New York performance in 1970.
35. All instruments on the song "Little Caesar" off the Hot in the Shade album were played by Bruce Kulick (all guitars) and Eric Carr (drums and bass).
36. Immediately before joining KISS in 1982, Vinnie Vincent was a staff songwriter for the TV program Happy Days – he reportedly wrote all the songs that characters Joanie and Chachi sang on the show. (We so hope this is true!)
37. The guitar solos on the songs "All American Man" and "Exciter" were played by Rick Derringer (of "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" fame.)
38. In 1977, Kiss became the first band since The Beatles to have four albums on the Billboard Hot 100 album chart. Alive, Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, and The Originals were all in the Top 40 at the same time.
39. In 1983, Gene Simmons says he turned down the romantic male-lead role in the movie Flashdance, for fear of hurting his image. Apparently.
40. In the early ‘90s, Gene Simmons claimed to have written a song with Bob Dylan. It has yet to surface.
As is always the way with KISS, some of the above “facts” may be more true than others. Thanks to all the fine KISS fansites, biographies and member autobiographies for their own version of some krazy events…