CHRIS DALE’S METAL MELTDOWN: UNDISCOVERED KISSTORY: THE KISS DRUMMER AUDITIONS OF 1980
First Published 24th APRIL 2015
This is one that’s bugged me for a while. How many drummers auditioned for KISS when Peter Criss departed the band in 1980 and who were they?
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Updated September 2015 with information from former KISS crew member, Bobby McAdams on Eric Carr’s try out, Carmine Appice’s previously denied audition and most tantalisingly the whereabouts of the only existing VHS video tape of the all the drummers auditioning…
We know that Eric Carr auditioned because he got the job. In his book ‘KISS and Make Up’, Gene Simmons says that they auditioned “hundreds” of drummers, so who were they? I’ve heard rumours over the years of all sorts of drummers auditioning for KISS; some of them quite ludicrous, some them quite real. The rumours I’ve heard or read about have included:
Ringo Starr (The Beatles)
Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow)
Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge/Rod Stewart)
Hirsh Gardner (New England)
Tico Torres (Bon Jovi)
Charlie Benante (Anthrax)
Anton Fig (Frehley’s Comet)
Barry Brandt (Angel)
Stephen Quadros (Martial Arts Commentator)
Chuck Billings (Virgin)
Richie Fontana (Billy Squier’s band)
Joe Nevolo (phenomenal prog-rock session drummer)
and the mysterious Canadian teenager, Beau Hajavitch.
As we’re about to find out many of those rumours are false and Gene Simmons’ claim to have auditioned hundreds of drummers is unlikely to be true either.
As a bit of background, KISS (Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, managed by Bill Aucoin) were arguably at the peak of their initial fame at that time. Despite only having come to national attention halfway through the decade, they had out sold all other American rock artists of the 1970s. They also had international hit singles in Europe, Japan and Australia.
The drummer, Peter Criss however had struggled with his share of the fame, fortune, drink and drugs. His character and playing had become increasingly erratic.
Peter was replaced in the studio on the two most recent Kiss albums, ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Unmasked’ by session drummer Anton Fig. Peter’s last appearance in make-up with the band was miming to Anton’s drumming in the video for ‘Shandi’. Shortly after that he was fired from the band.
New England drummer, Hirsh Gardner happened to be in the Aucoin management offices on the day that Peter was fired. He told me:
“Simmons and Stanley came into the office well dressed in suits. About ten minutes later Peter came in they all went in the conference room and only a few minutes later Peter came out with a devastated look on his face and quickly left the building. Bill Aucoin was in Europe at the time. Had he been there things probably would have been a little bit different, though that’s just my opinion.”
Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley in 1980
On 18th May 1980 just as the ‘Unmasked’ album was released, KISS announced to the public that Peter was leaving the band to pursue a solo career and that they were now looking for a new drummer.
They had a very limited time to do this in as the first show of the tour was booked for KISS in two month’s time at the Palladium in New York on Friday, 25th July. The band had already postponed a European tour scheduled between May and August because of Peter’s departure. They couldn’t also miss their hometown show and album launch gig. They had a month to find a drummer and a month to rehearse him in.
Some drummers were recommended, some were known to the band and others were strangers that had sent in demo tapes. KISS management also asked around and scoured local papers for drummers advertising.
This was before the internet, so drummers had to read the press and prepare a demo tape and photo then send it by post. That’d take a week or two before they started coming in. These days of course, that’d take a couple of hours.
The applicant would have to be a great drummer who played double kick drums and sing lead and backing vocals. They would have to fit into the rock image, preferably with long hair. KISS would probably also have rejected other people who didn’t fit the image such as anyone over weight, too young or much older than themselves (they were between 28 and 30 themselves at the time).
Another important point to make here is that KISS required someone unknown in the public eye. At the time they never appeared without their make up which was a key part to their mystique and appeal. To have a new drummer announced that was already known to the public would ruin that mystique. For that reason they would also have rejected anybody with recognisable arm tattoos.
They’re really limiting their options here aren’t they? Do you know of any unknown, long haired, world class rock drummers, aged 25-35, who can sing lead vocals and have no tattoos? I personally know quite a lot of world class rock drummers but none who exactly fit all those criteria. It’s a tricky one!
So we’re probably into mid- June before the band have heard all the demos and seen the photos. Next Bill Aucoin set up interviews for the prospective drummers. That would weed out any time wasters or madmen before the audition stage.
Paul Stanley told Sounds magazine in 1980 that “Before you even got to play with us you had to be interviewed, because if we auditioned everybody who wanted to try out we’d still be auditioning people today”.
Jayne Grodd, who was an assistant at the Aucoin office, remembered the search for a drummer in the ‘KISS Alive Forever’ book:
“Ric Aliberte and Bill Aucoin walked into my office and told me that I was going to be interviewing people. I couldn’t believe it. What the heck did I know about interviewing a drummer?
“We made up a checklist of what they were going to need, and the main thing that the guys in the band required was they wanted the candidates to be able to sing. And they had to play double kick.
“They had a list of questions for the candidates, including one which asked if they were married. Because after the fiasco with Peter, they wanted someone with no obligations.
“They put the word out for a drummer and I took a week’s vacation. When I returned, the piles of folders and resumes was so high I literally could not see my desk, and there were at least 150-200 phone messages as well.
“I told Bill that I was going to start interviewing but that there was no way I was going to get all the way through the list of people that had accumulated.
“Bill told me to go ahead and choose some people to interview and that whomever made it past the initial screening with me would then go through another interview with him. And from that we’d decide who would get an audition.”
Rick Shutter, the original drummer with the Broadway musical ‘Godspell’, told us: “I sent in an 8×10 (photo), bio and demo tape. I was interviewed by Bill Aucoin but once I told him I did not sing that was it. I did get a thank-you note from the office which I still have.”
For those that got past the interview stage, the auditions took place at Starr Sound Studios, a rehearsal studio on Lafayette Street in New York. Billboard magazine described the studio as a “pre-tour rehearsal facility equipped with stages, theatrical lighting and a 16 channel PA system”. Across the road was a restaurant called Lady Astor’s where the KISS camp had lunch and management meetings.
That all sounds ideal for KISS to audition drummers.
People Magazine of August 1980 reported that “the group checked out 2,000 replacement applicants”. An official KISS Army newsletter of 1980 claimed that “a few hundred musicians were permitted to audition”. Gene Simmons also claims they auditioned “hundreds” of drummers in his book ‘Kiss and Tell’.
Australia’s TV Week newspaper reported that they “rehearsed with almost 80 drummers”. Bobby Mc Adams, Ace’s close friend at the time and one of the KISS crew told me, “I’m thinking 25 to 30 drummers if my memory serves me well”. Ace Frehley says they saw “about a dozen” drummers in his book ‘No Regrets’.
These are quite wildly varying figures, so which one is most likely to be correct?
If Gene is right, where would they have found the hundreds of drummers that could fit their strict criteria and pass the interviews with Jayne Grodd and Bill Aucoin?
And more importantly where would they have found the time to run through five songs with these hundreds? Where would Jayne and Bill have found time to interview them all? That would take months!
Kiss didn’t have months, they had about two weeks from when they got the applications to when they had to decide.
Jayne Grodd recalls that “we only did about four days of auditions because that’s all the guy could take. Gene and Paul were just completely unnerved.”
Bobby Mc Adams told me “I think Eric Carr auditioned on day two, after that I think we auditioned at least one day, maybe a 1/2 day”.
So the consensus seems to be around three or four days of initial auditions. If they spent half an hour or so with each drummer and had breaks here and there, they probably wouldn’t have seen more than eight to ten drummers a day.
On that estimate, over roughly three and a half days they would mostly likely have seen Bobby’s figure of 25 to 30 drummers. Gene’s figure of “hundreds” is simply impossible in the known timescale.
Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley in soundcheck without make up in 1977
As well as Gene, Paul, Ace and the different drummers one by one, there were several other witnesses to the events. Some of the KISS touring road crew were there to set up the band’s equipment and operate the PA system. One of those was Ace’s assistant and personal friend Bobby Mc Adams.
Bill Aucoin, the band’s manager was there, as were various Aucoin employees such as Jayne Grodd from time to time. Vini Poncia, the producer of the band’s last two albums was also there to check out the drummers and Gene brought his girlfriend at the time, Diana Ross down too.
Tom Harper had been Paul Stanley’s guitar technician on the Dynasty Tour (and incidentally played bass on the song ‘Shandi’ on the recent Unmasked album). He went down to hang out at the auditions and told Mitch Lafon:
“I was there for Eric’s audition. I went down one day just to see how things were going. My friends were still working for them and I got along great with the guys.
“I was out in the lounge hanging with my buddies from the crew. The band was purposely not having a bunch of people in the actual studio while they were auditioning these guys. So as not to make them nervous.
“Let everybody be comfortable. The last thing you need is a bunch of guys in the back of the room with their arms folded staring at you when you’re auditioning. They wanted to create the best atmosphere for these guys to come in and try their best.”
One very interesting rumour has always been that the auditions were filmed. Bobby Mc Adams indeed confirmed that to me, “Yes, I video taped all the drummers who tried out, the reason being that we could have never remembered them otherwise. As far as the format we used for the taping, I think it was VHS and there is only one copy and guess who has it?
“Gene of course!”
Now wouldn’t that make an interesting bonus feature on the next Kissology DVD? Come on Gene, we all want to see that!
The auditionees had to learn five songs: ‘Detroit Rock City’, ‘Strutter’, ‘Firehouse’, ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’, and ‘Black Diamond’. In addition they would be expected to sing backing vocals on all of them and lead vocals for one song, ‘Black Diamond’.
Paul Stanley said in the Night Flight TV interview in 1983, “We said, learn these songs and learn to sing them all. Also we said learn the low harmony or learn the high harmony. It was tough. I mean you had to come in and be a member of the band. Most of the people we eliminated immediately.”
Straight after the first round of auditions, second rounds were held from among the finalists a few days later.
It is not certain how many drummers attended the second auditions perhaps as many as “seven or ten” as stated by Gene on the Night Flight interview or perhaps as few as two.
Jayne Grodd says “After that we got down to the second set of auditions and Paul Caravello and another guy were running neck and neck but KISS was leaning towards the other guy.”
Both Paul Caravello and Bobby Rondinelli made it to these final auditions and both recall being asked to learn ‘Calling Dr Love’, Caravello is also vague about having perhaps being asked to learn ‘I Was Made For Loving You’, ‘Is That You?’ and ‘Shandi’ at this stage.
With no disrespect to Mr Rondinelli intended, the best man got the job. And as we’ll find out Bobby Rondinelli got his dream gig too!
Now let’s have a closer look at all those drummers that were been rumoured to have auditioned for KISS one by one…
We had better get this one out of the way straight away. Ringo Starr of the Beatles did NOT audition for KISS. Yet a rumour did go around that he was after the job in KISS. The origin of this story may lie in the fact that Vini Poncia produced some of Ringo’s solo albums around the time he was producing the then current KISS albums ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Unmasked’. Aside from that coincidence there is nothing more to this rumour.
Ringo Starr and Paul Stanley
Charlie Benante is the next drummer to rule off our suspects list. Yes, he did go to the KISS auditions. No, he did not audition for KISS. Charlie was a seventeen year old fan of the band at the time hanging around outside the rehearsal studios and that’s where this rumour has arisen. In ‘The Eric Carr Story’, he recalls:
“I remember going down to the auditions when I was younger, but I was too young to even get an audition. Me and my friends were there and we actually saw Eric going in for the audition. I think we saw Carmine Appice there and some other people that I didn’t even know- session guys. I think we saw Anton Fig there too”.
As we’ll see later in the article, this young Kiss fan’s eyewitness recollection of the events and the personalities involved cannot be totally relied upon but they do give us an interesting clue about one guy.
The young Charlie Benante
Charlie of course went on to have a very successful career as the drummer of Anthrax. In 1993 he recorded a version of the KISS classic ‘Love Her All I Can’ for Anthrax with Gene and Paul on backing vocals. Despite this pedigree, as we’ll see later this young Kiss fan’s recollection of the days events and the personalities involved cannot be 100% relied upon either.
Here’s Charlie playing the KISS cover ‘Parasite’ with Anthrax:
While it is well known that the South African drummer played on Ace Frehley’s 1978 solo album and the KISS albums ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Unmasked’, it has often been rumoured that he was actually asked to join the band or auditioned for the job as suggested by Charlie Benante above.
These rumours were not denied by the KISS camp at first. In May 1980 an Australian newspaper said that a session drummer had recorded the Unmasked album and that he may be the new permanent drummer in the band. It quoted KISS’ publicist as saying “It’s still unofficial but I’m not denying it”.
Anton Fig addressed the issue in a recent interview on the Metal Rules website:
“Ace took me out for dinner one night and asked me if I wanted into it. At the time I had this band with the Aucoin Management (Spider). We had a song in the top 40.
“So I thought about it for a little bit and then I said I feel like I should stay with my band because it looked like it would break it too you know. Maybe not as big as KISS but that it could break.
“Then what I heard was that Gene and Paul didn’t like the idea of me and Ace being like a group together so they kind of took away the offer if you know what I mean”.
Anton Fig with Ace
Ace recalled the same events slightly differently on Contact Music:
“I called up Paul and Gene and said, ‘Why don’t we get Anton Fig to play drums?’ and they both agreed.”
“So I called up Anton and said, ‘You’re in the band’. He was thrilled. He couldn’t sleep all night. The next day, Paul or Gene calls me and says, ‘You know what, I don’t think Anton’s a good choice’. So I had to do the dirty work and call Anton and say, ‘Sorry, Anton, you’re not in the band’. He was elated and then he was let down.”
Paul Stanley remarked quite pointedly in his autobiography ‘Face the Music’: “It wouldn’t have made sense to have Anton Fig or some other known commodity dress up as a silver giraffe or whatever.”
So it seems that Charlie was mistaken and that Anton didn’t actually try out at the auditions. Besides why would KISS need to audition someone they had just recorded the last two albums with? Wouldn’t they already know by now if he could play or not?
Anton went on to record sessions for many artists including Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Madonna. After Ace left KISS Anton played in the Frehley’s Comet band. He was also the house drummer on the David Letterman Late Show for nearly 30 years until the show closed in May 2015.
Here’s Anton playing ‘Breakout’ with Frehley’s Comet:
Bobby Rondinelli is a drummer that we know auditioned for KISS in 1980. Both him and the band have confirmed as much in interviews. At the time he was a relatively unknown New York drummer with long black hair. He would seem to fit the bill very well. In the end it came down to KISS deciding between Bobby and Eric Carr. The fact that Eric was the better singer probably swayed their minds.
Bobby was however in the enviable situation of having two great gigs on offer at the same time. Though he was not a KISS fan (“I was too old to be a KISS fan. Guys that were younger than me were more the KISS kind of fans, you know”), he was a Deep Purple fan and when Ritchie Blackmore called him at about the same time he had a dilemma on his hands. Bobby told his story on the Metal-Rules website:
“Ritchie approached me and said: ‘If you don’t get the KISS gig, I’d like to get together and jam with you’, I said ‘I wanna jam with you no matter what. And let’s see how it goes.’
“And he asked me to join Rainbow and I was on hold from KISS and I still didn’t know. So, after a couple of days not hearing from KISS, I told Ritchie, I said ‘Look, I want the gig’, He goes ‘What if KISS calls?’ I said I’ll tell them I got a gig. And a couple of days later I got a letter from KISS saying thanks, but no thanks.”
Metal-Rules also asked Bobby what his make up character would have been had he got the gig. “The invisible man make-up! I don’t know? But I didn’t get it, so I didn’t have to worry about it.”
Bobby went on to play with Richie Blackmore in Rainbow during the successful Joe Lynn Turner era on the albums ‘Difficult To Cure’ and ‘Straight Between The Eyes’ including the hit single ‘I Surrender’. Since then he has also played for Black Sabbath, the Scorpions, Quiet Riot, Doro Pesch, Axel Rudi Pell and Blue Oyster Cult.
Here’s ‘I Surrender’ recorded by Rainbow with Bobby in 1981:
A drummer considered for the KISS job and rumoured to have auditioned was Richie Fontana from Billy Squier’s band Piper. Richie had played on four tracks on Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album and some of Paul’s demos for the ‘Dynasty’ album. Like Anton Fig’s band Spider, Piper were also managed by Bill Aucoin.
Richie told me “They already knew all about my playing because we (Piper) toured with them, plus we had the same manager, plus I had already played on Paul Stanley’s solo album so my name came up but I never had to audition.”
Richie said in a YouTube interview with Jason Saulnier: “I got a call from Bill Aucoin’s West Coast secretary, she said come down here we wanna talk to you. So I go down to the office and she says, Bill Aucoin was with Gene and Paul and they were talking about me.”
“So I was being considered but it never came to be of course. At that time KISS had yet to be unmasked and I had already been in Piper, we had two albums out, magazines and all that stuff so my face had been seen. They needed somebody who was more of an unknown really.”
So like Charlie and Anton, Richie did not actually audition for KISS but he was certainly considered. Richie carried on a successful career as a drummer playing with Sean Delaney’s Skatt Bros, Laura Branigan and Dr John. Although Fontana did not inherit Peter’s drum stool he has been dating Peter’s ex-wife Lydia Criss for many years.
Here’s Richie playing ‘How Am I Supposed to Live Without You’ with Laura Branigan in 1984:
A drummer that did confirm to us that he auditioned for KISS was Stephen Quadros. Stephen was the drummer in Snow, an LA band that also featured future Quiet Riot guitarist Carlos Cavazo. Stephen told his own story of how the audition came about on Examiner.com:
“Carmine Appice held a drum off in the parking lot of what was Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard. I entered and placed 8th out of 32 entries. A month or two later, I got a phone call from Bill Aucoin, KISS’ manager, who asked me if I’d like to audition to replace their drummer, Peter Criss. At first, I thought it was one of my idiotic friends joking around, but, as the conversation progressed, I realized it was real.”
“Apparently a videotape of Carmine’s drum battle had ended up in Gene Simmons’ hands. So I met with Bill in Beverly Hills and we set up my audition. Because Criss was a really good singer also, Bill asked me if I sang. I lied and said I did, because I didn’t want anything to stop or disqualify me!”
Stephen recently expanded on the events to me:
“Yes, I played ‘Detroit Rock City’ with Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley. And yes, I met Diana Ross who was there with Gene at the time.”
Stephen told us that before the audition he “was sitting in the rehearsal studio lobby, waiting for my turn, I heard the loud KISS music at the end of the hallway stop. A few minutes later a tall guy with platform shoes and big hair walked out, followed by a thin black woman with frizzy hair, dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt. They approached me.
“Now understand that at this time the real identities of KISS were still a secret to the public.
“The tall rocker walked to me and extended is hand, ‘Hi, I’m Gene. And this is Diana,’ or something to that effect. Gene had to take care of a quick errand and left Diana Ross there to hang out with me.
“So there I was waiting to tryout for one of the world’s biggest rock bands and chatting with one of the greatest R&B icons ever. No pressure. Hahaha!
“Diana was really, really nice and our conversation was a thing of beauty. It was one of those ‘forever’ moments. I didn’t get the gig but to this day I am still thankful to Gene, Paul, Ace, Bill Aucoin and yes, Ms. Diana Ross for the hospitality.”
Quadros left the music industry in the early 1980s and went on to become a successful martial artist, broadcaster and Hollywood actor. His commentaries on martial arts contests have earned him the nickname, ‘The Fight Professor’ and in 2014 saw him inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame for ‘Outstanding Contributions To The Martial Arts’. As an actor, he has appeared in CSI Miami, Murder She Wrote and starred as a rock star opposite Traci Lords in a great horror B-movie, entitled ‘Shock ’em Dead’.
Stephen told us: “I got tendonitis REALLY bad in 1983 and that forced me to stop playing drums. It almost destroyed me. Carlos had made it to #1 with Quiet Riot and he wanted the band I was in at that time, Dangerface, with his brother Tony (also from SNOW) on bass, to tour with them. But I couldn’t because my arm was f****d up.
“After that I reinvented myself as an actor and fight commentator.
“Since then, I have done a number of high profile gigs with Sacred Cowboys (with Earl Brown from the HBO series Deadwood), Mike Pinera (Blues Image, Iron Butterfly) and recorded the 7th Sun album “From The Beginning”. Also, SNOW did a massive reunion gig in December 2011 at the Key Club (formerly Gazzarri’s) that was streamed live on the internet. We used Andrew Freeman on vocals that night.
“Carlos and I are featured in Bob Nalbandian’s fantastic new documentary “Pioneers of LA Hard Rock and Metal” (Universal). And SNOW is currently working on a few things that I can’t get into detail on until the agreements are worked out. But trust me, SNOW’s “Pure Uncut Rock” shall rise again!”
Here’s Snow with Stephen Quadros and Carlos Cavazo playing ‘Somebody Love Me’ at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in 1979:
A drummer that was rumoured to have been considered for the job but did not actually audition was Hirsh Gardner. He was the drummer in New England, a band produced by Paul Stanley and again managed by Bill Aucoin, who had supported KISS on the Dynasty tour.
Hirsh told me: “I certainly knew that KISS was looking for a new drummer being right in the middle of the fray the whole time. New England at that time had the number one added top 40 hit single ‘Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya’ climbing the charts.
“We were touring constantly and things were looking quite rosy for the band at that time. Neither Bill, Paul or Gene ever approached me about being in the band. I had obviously thought about the possibility of being the drummer for KISS but never acted on it as New England was so important to me.”
Hirsh was not only a great drummer but also a really good singer, though like others he may have been too well known already for the job with KISS. Many KISS fans would have bought the New England album with it’s obvious KISS connections and already have seen Hirsh’s face on the front cover.
After New England split, Gene introduced Hirsh to Vincent Cusano (later Vinnie Vincent) and Hirsh and Vinnie worked on demos for the pre-KISS band, Warrior (see my article on Vinnie Vincent’s Warrior here.
Hirsh then went into studio recording as a producer. Recently Hirsh has reformed New England and their latest single “I Know There’s Something Here” has been reviewed by Mark Taylor here Here’s Hirsh playing ‘Alone Tonight’ with New England:
Another drummer that is strongly rumoured to have attended the auditions in 1980 is Tico Torres, later of Bon Jovi fame. Several online comments and his own official Wikipedia page refer to it openly: “Tico was also one of the drummers auditioned by Kiss in 1980 after original drummer Peter Criss left the band.”
Around that time Tico was a session drummer in New York and had played for artists such as Pat Benatar, Alice Cooper and Stevie Nicks. Ironically his experience and relative fame in the industry may have gone against him in the quest for the next drummer in KISS.
Eric Carr, Tico Torres and Jon Bon Jovi
In 1983 he joined Bon Jovi and went onto massive success selling over 100 million albums worldwide. Ironically guitarist Richie Sambora had also tried out for KISS a couple of years later but that’s a story for another time…
Bon Jovi of course did their first European dates supporting KISS on the Animalize Tour in 1984 and it was Paul Stanley that introduced them to Desmond Child with whom Bon Jovi went on to write string of hits including ‘Living on a Prayer’, ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ and ‘Bad Medicine’.
Tico Torres (via Bon Jovi’s press office) was not available for comment at the time of going to press.
Here’s Tico playing Breakout with Bon Jovi in Tokyo, 1985.
Barry came to fame as the drummer of Angel. Angel were discovered playing in a bar in Washington DC in 1975 by Gene Simmons who rang Neil Bogart of Casablanca records from the bar and got them a record deal. Angel were also singed to Aucoin Management.
Angel had some success in the late 1970s but by 1980 were on the decline and I’ve heard rumours that Barry auditioned for KISS at that point but no definite proof.
In favour of the rumour would be the obvious KISS connections but strongly against it would be Barry’s relative fame at the time and like other Aucoin managed drummers, such as Anton Fig, Richie Fontana and Hirsch Gardner this may have put him out of the running. The rumour may have been confused because Angel guitarist, Punky Meadows certainly did audition for KISS in 1982. But that’s a story for another time…
In another KISS connection Berry went on to play in a short lived band with KISS guitarist Mark St. John around 1985.
Here’s Angel playing ‘The Tower’ in 1975 (note also Greg Giuffiria from House of Lords on keyboards):
Joe Nevolo is a drummer that we know auditioned for KISS in the Summer of 1980. I contacted Joe and he recalled the event well:
“I had placed an ad in the classified section of a New York newspaper called ‘The Village Voice’ stating my professional drumming experience, and that I was a former student of, and highly recommended by, Carmine Appice.
“I received a phone call from Aucoin Management, who saw my classified ad, and said they specifically wanted a lead singing drummer for a band that had a few platinum records.
“After hanging up the phone, it hit me like a ton of bricks, realizing that Aucoin Management was looking for a drummer for KISS. I called back shortly thereafter and asked if I could send in a tape, which I did.
“They called me back after they received it, extremely ecstatic, confident that they might have found the next drummer for KISS, but when they discovered that I wasn’t singing on the tape, they asked me to send them a sample of my vocal ability.
“I immediately started taking vocal lessons and sent in another tape of me singing the song ‘Beth’. (Coincidentally my current girlfriend of 11 years is named Beth!) After they received the tape of my vocals, they invited me for an audition.
“The audition started late because Ace Frehley stumbled in late after what looked like some possible heavy partying. With Diana Ross and other heavy weights seated in front, to my recollection.
“I proceeded to play the following songs which they had sent me in advance: ‘Detroit Rock City’, ‘Strutter’, ‘Firehouse’, ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’, and ‘Black Diamond’ which I had to sing lead vocals on.
“I was very excited and pretty damn nervous. I remember playing on a nice double bass Ludwig drum set. It was a maple wood grain drum set. I don’t recall any drum tech being there. I don’t remember many techs there.
“I can recall two funny stories during the audition. First, I was doing a lot of visual stick tricks such as different twirls, stick flipping etc., when Gene Simmons turned toward me and said ‘What are you trying to do? Impress Paul?’.
“Second, I started singing the intro to Black Diamond when Ace Frehley turned toward me and said ‘What are you doing? That’s Paul’s part!’
“There was another incident that occurred in the elevator when I was ready to leave. The sound engineer opened the elevator door as it was closing, shook my hand, and excitedly said ‘You should hear the way they’re talking about you in there! You could be the next drummer in KISS!’
“I went home, waited a few weeks, never hearing back from them, and then called them up and found out that they did not pick me. I assumed that it was my singing ability because they had wanted me to harmonize on the spot which I wasn’t very good at. Nevertheless, it was very disappointing.”
Joe was quite clearly in the hotspot there for a minute!
It may have been disappointing for Joe but at least one person was happy. Jeffrey Warden told us: “I remember when Joe auditioned, I was a student of his back then. My friend Patty’s cousin, Eric got the job. So I’m grateful that I got to keep Joe as a teacher.”
Nevolo went on to play with guitar legend Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush and in 1986 he replaced Joe Franco in the Good Rats, when the latter joined Twisted Sister. In another KISS related twist, the guitarist in the Good Rats at the time was the then unknown, Bruce Kulick. Joe has also played for Pat Travers, Greg Howe (in Howe II) and the progressive rock band, Shadow Gallery.
He currently teaches drums through his company Big Beat Music in Neptune New Jersey and has recently completed a progressive instrumental project with guitarist Stephen Ross and bassist JD Deservio (Zakk Wylde) entitled Jabberwhacky.
Here’s Joe playing ‘High Gear’ live with Howe II in 1989:
One persistent rumour that Charlie Benante also repeated is that Carmine Appice auditioned for KISS. Jayne Grodd says in ‘KISS Alive Forever’ that amongst the considerations for the job, there were “a lot of big name drummers with inside recommendations. I remember Carmine Appice was a choice.”
Carmine was well known at the time as the drummer in Vanilla Fudge and Rod Stewart’s band. He had also played on one song on Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album, ‘Take Me Away (Together As One)’.
Paul Stanley seemed to hint that they didn’t want Carmine in the band and also took a little swipe at Bobby Rondinelli at the same time in Sounds magazine in 1980, “It was really important to us that we got somebody who was unknown. We didn’t want somebody who last week was in Rod Stewart’s band or in Rainbow.”
In ‘The Eric Carr Story’ Carmine denied auditioning: “I never tried out for them. I would have liked to have been in KISS. I think I would have been a good addition to KISS but they never called me.”
That seemed to close the case for me until I spoke to Bobby Mc Adams, who you’ll remember had filmed the auditions. He told me:
“Believe it or not, Carmine Appice did audition. He was great and still is. But he was too powerful for them. I personally thought he kicked some f*ckin’ Rock n Roll ass.”
If that was the case, I asked, then why did he fail the audition?
Bobby’s reply was, “Carmine didn’t fail nothing. He told them it wouldn’t work out. He was right. Plus Gene don’t like anyone stealing the spotlight. It really came down to personalities, Gene’s ego and Carmines ego. But Carmine was not impressed by KISS, he already was famous. He told me he did it just for fun. He really had no intentions of ever joining KISS”.
Carmine joined the Ozzy Osborne band a couple of years later, then went on to form King Kobra and Blue Murder (with John Sykes of Whitesnake/Thin Lizzy).
Here’s Carmine doing ‘Bark at the Moon’ with Ozzy in Dortmund, 1983:
Chuck Billings of the boy-band Virgin was yet another drummer in an Aucoin managed band who was considered for the job but not auditioned for the same reason as all the others – he was too high profile. At the time he knew Gene Simmons very well. Gene had produced the unreleased Virgin album and Chuck had played on some of Gene’s KISS demos. Chuck Recalled what happened on the Virgin Rocks website:
“When Virgin had ended, Gene Simmons was in Hollywood staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and he had called me up and invited me to come over and visit with him. When I got to his hotel room, there he was in his bathrobe eating cheesecake.
“He proceeded to tell me about Peter being out of the band. I said to him: ‘I am not in a band anymore, what about me?’ Then I said to Gene that ‘when we were recording your demos, you liked my drumming and my recordings better than Peter’s. So, what about having me be the new drummer for KISS? You know I love playing and recording with you, and that you loved playing and recording with me.’
“Then Gene said to me: ‘Chuck, I seriously considered auditioning you for the band and I would love to have you as our drummer, but your face and name has been in every teen magazine all over the world. And that won’t work, we need a drummer that nobody knows or that nobody has seen. If your face and name had not been publicized, you would have been my first choice’.”
Chuck Billings in Virgin
So here was another drummer that came very close but didn’t get the job due to his relative fame. Chuck went on to play with Eulogy (featuring Paul McCartney’s guitarist Rusty Anderson), F8 (featuring Leif Garrett) and the Zak Daniels band.
Here is Chuck playing on a great unreleased Gene Simmons demo called ‘I Have Just Begun To Fight’ around 1978/79:
A helpful message from Chris Macaluso pointed us in the direction of another drummer that auditioned for Kiss. Chris recalled: “I had a teacher from the same area (sort of Monmouth County, New Jersey) named John Bartola who auditioned for KISS in 1980. I think he was in a Metal band called Sinner. He also auditioned for AC/DC around the same time too.
The AC/DC audition would probably have been in 1983 when Phil Rudd was replaced by Simon Wright. I haven’t been able to find any more information on John Bartola as of yet. If you’ve got any information on him please contact me via MetalTalk here.
Here’s another one that we have barely any information on, Frank Longo. Joe Nevolo told us simply: “I think I recall someone mentioning a drummer from possibly Bricktown, New Jersey that tried out. I think his name was Frank Longo but not positive. Too long ago.”
Again if anyone has information on Frank Longo please get in touch via the MetalTalk contact page here.
THE GUY WITH THE BRIEFCASE
I happened to ask keyboard player Gary Corbett if he recalled the days of the KISS drummer auditions as he was a musician on the New York scene at the time. He had an interesting answer for me:
“I do remember it well. I was in a band on Mercury records at the time called Tom Dickie And The Desires and we needed a drummer. That band was always looking for a drummer. So our manager, Tommy Mottola contacted KISS’ management to get all the runners up names for us to audition.
“I remember, like three or four guys that came from the KISS list. I remember thinking that they were mostly weak, considering they were THE runners up.
“I remember one of them came in with a perm, ‘rock star’ scarf, driving gloves, and he took his sticks out of a briefcase. He wasn’t capable of playing anything but boy did he look good sucking.”
Ironically Gary Corbett went on to play keyboards for KISS (offstage on the ‘Crazy Nights’ and ‘Hot In The Shade’ tours and onstage for Paul Stanley’s solo tour of 1989).
THE HYPERVENTILATING GUY
Paul Stanley told the story of another unnamed drummer auditioning for them in an interview for Night Flight in 1983: “We had one guy who tried out for the band who literally was hyperventilating. He was behind the kit going, ‘Huh, huh, huh! … Just gimme a minute! I’m OK’.
“And you gotta figure if the guy is nervous now what’s he’s going to be like in front of 20,000 people? So that’s like a consideration.”
Paul Caravello was a young Brooklyn based drummer who played drums and sang in local covers bands such as The Cellarmen and Flasher. He also worked in a stove cleaning business with his father. He joked in the Night Flight interview, “The worst that can happen is you don’t make the band but you can fix their stoves!”
Two of the photos Paul Caravello sent to KISS in 1980
Little did he know but his relaxed humble nature, relative anonymity and singing ability would along with his drumming skills win him the job with KISS over other far more experienced players. He was told that KISS were looking for a drummer by Paul Turino, a band mate in Flasher who saw an advert in the local press. Caravello later told Kiss Asylum:
“I got the telephone number of Aucoin Management and told them I was a drummer and I want to audition for KISS. They said send a tape of your playing, a picture and a resume. I sent it in a bright orange folder because I figured that that there would be so many of these on the secretaries desk that maybe, just maybe it’ll attract her attention”.
“Sure enough, that’s what happened. She saw my folder and grabbed it first.”
Jayne Grodd confirmed that she saw the envelope first “I went through to sort out this huge stack of folders and resumes and I saw an orange folder. I pulled out the folder and read about this guy called Paul Caravello. It was the first thing I picked up, and I only picked it up because it was orange.
“The picture of him looked good. I listened to the tape he provided and he could sing great, so I set up and did an interview with him. Then I had him go interview with Bill and Bill liked him.”
Caravello continued: “They called me and I went in the next day to meet Bill Aucoin. He gave me a list of songs to learn for the audition, in the event I was called for the audition. He told me I should shave my moustache off because they wouldn’t want to see me in my moustache. I spent the rest of that day learning the five songs.”
Gene says in ‘Kiss and Make Up’, “I’ll never forget his audition. He came in and he had the biggest head of hair I’d ever seen. And he was shorter than any of us. Still he was great from the start, cute as a button with a heart of gold. At the end of the audition, he actually got up and thanked us and said ‘Before I leave can I have your autograph?’. It struck us all, even Ace, as being a sweet thing. He wanted this break so badly, in such a pure way while working as a stove cleaner.”
Bill Aucoin remembers the audition in ‘The Eric Carr Story’: “He was just one of many, so he came in, he tried out and we knew he could play well. I think it was a juxtaposition between two or three potential drummers and he just stood out. I think he stood out because of his personality. That really separated him from everyone”
Paul Stanley’s guitar technician Tom Harper, when asked by Mitch Lafon in an interview if he remembered the other drummers he said, “I do not, I just remember Eric because it was so clear- that’s the guy!”
Bobby McAdams told me his recollections of Eric’s audition: “I remember it like it was yesterday. Eric played drums twenty times better than Peter. Gene and Paul Stanley said privately, ‘This is our new drummer’, but they still wanted to hear more drummers. As Paul Caravello was leaving I helped him carry his drum kit out to his car. I said ‘Don’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you but Gene and Paul loved the way you played and you’re the guy. He flipped out!”
Paul Stanley was the only one not totally convinced. In his autobiography ‘Face the Music’ he says “At first I wasn’t blown away by his playing, but everyone else in the room, including Vini Poncia and Bill Aucoin, thought he was great.
Bob Kulick expanded on Paul’s dilemma in ‘The Eric Carr Story’: “Paul told me the story of what was going on. I remember him showing me Eric’s picture with a comment about his hair. Paul’s like “Yeah, the guy’s really great. He can really play.” I was like “Looks great, sounds great, and he can sing. He’s a nice guy? Take him!”
Gene comically explained the choice in Sounds Magazine as “He was a bum in the street, he was drinking and we felt sorry for him. But he was wearing high heels, so we knew there was hope.”
KISS took a few days to decide then on 1st July Bill Aucoin rang Caravello and told him that he had the job. With 25 days to learn the eighteen song setlist, devise a new name and character for the band and rehearse for the show, he still carried on his day job of cleaning stoves with his father until the first show day with KISS. He came up with the name of Eric Carr based on his real family name, nailed the set and finally designed his fox make up less than 24 hours before the first gig!
Eric Carr went from strength to strength with KISS and was much loved by the fans from the start. He proved to have been the perfect choice for the band as a drummer, vocalist and songwriter. Sadly, he died from complications caused by cancer in 1991.
Here’s Eric playing and singing ‘Black Diamond’ on his first tour with KISS in Sydney, 1980:
Oh, I nearly forgot! There’s one more guy that deserves a mention here for throwing another red herring into my researches. Beau Hajavitch was a 17-year-old student from Winipeg, Canada and a massive KISS fan. At the time he heard that KISS was looking for a drummer he mocked up a picture and petition for him to join KISS and accidentally gained a spot of international press!
Beau told us: “It was just a joke, I wasn’t auditioning. It was a school graphics assignment, just a mimeographed sheet with a photo of KISS with my picture scissored and scotch-taped onto Peter’s face and some text underneath. My typeface read ‘Petition now to include Beau Hajavitch as KISS’ new drummer’. I made copies of the sheet and mailed them to rock magazines as a joke.”
Beau’s Simple Graphics Project That Went International!
A few magazines picked up on this and ran small features including Record World in America and Sounds in the UK. Beau told us that he first heard about his international fame because “local music columnist Jim Millican of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote a piece detailing how Record World printed a blurb in their gossip column talking about me.”
Winnipeg Free Press 1980
Beau told me: “I was surprised, because even back then, I had thought what I did was too dumb and trivial to warrant any attention, other than a smirk by whoever opened the envelope, before tossing the sheet in the circular file. But you never know.
“I was just a high-school kid in 1980 (graduated that year, a month after the public was told about Peter Criss) who had never played drums in his life, other than what you see Bobby Brady do on The Brady Bunch. I still don’t play. I was more interested in being a rock and roll fan than being a musician.”
Beau later went on to become the presenter on ‘Hard Rock Heroes’, Winipeg’s only dedicated Heavy Metal TV show in the 1990s.
Beau Hajavitch on Hard Rock Heroes
So there we go. That’s all the rumours that I’ve heard of people suspected of doing the KISS auditions in 1980. After all that, we’ve only found the names of eight drummers that we now know auditioned with the band. They are:
Paul Caravello/Eric Carr
There may be as many as twenty more to find. If you know of anyone else who auditioned as a drummer for KISS in 1980, or if you were one of them, please contact me here and we can update this article. I know there’s still more drummers out there.
I could not possibly have written this article on my own. I did some web searching and some book reading but the real breakthroughs were down to personal information from eyewitnesses to the events back in the day and from fellow KISS fans. I would therefore like to thank the following for their help and encouragement:
Gordon GG Gebert
Jeffrey L Warden
‘KISS and Make Up’ by Gene Simmons
‘No Regrets’ by Ace Frehley
‘Face the Music’ by Paul Stanley
‘The Eric Carr Story’ by Greg Prato
‘The KISS Album Focus Vol1 – Kings of the Night Time World’ by Julian Gill
‘KISS Alive Forever’ by Curt Gooch and Jeff Suhs
Sounds Magazine, 13th September 1980
Billboard Magazine, 12th March 1977
Winnipeg Free Press, 26th July 1980
Official Eric Carr Website
Eric Carr Interview by Thomas Valentino
KISS Night Flight Interview
Ace Frehley quotes on Anton Fig
Anton Fig interview
Stephen Quadros interview
Richie Fontana interview
Bobby Rondinelli interview
Tom Harper interview
Tom Harper’s website (check out his very cool songs)
Chuck Billings interview
Chuck Sabo Interview
Beau Hajavitch’s Hard Rock Heroes website
Tico Torres on Wikipedia
TV Week Australian Newspaper Articles
People Magazine 1980
NY Times Review of Lady Astors Restaurant 1982
Post by KissGod on the Melodic Rock Forum
Peter Criss photo by Edward Przydzial
Kiss and Eric Carr photos
Bobby Rondinelli photo
Carmine Appice photo
Joe Nevollo photo by Rick Berk
Stephen Quadros photo
Richie Fontana photo
Tico Torres photo
Chuck Billings photo
Kiss Wembley 1980 photo
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