In a previous article, we looked at the KISS drummer auditions of 1980, when Peter Criss left the band and was replaced by Eric Carr.
Words: Chris Dale
This time I thought I’d take a look at which guitarists auditioned for KISS in 1982, when Ace Frehley was replaced by Vinnie Vincent. It turned out to be a much bigger task than I’d thought.
KISS in 1981. From left to right: Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Carr and Ace Frehley.
Because of its eventual size, I’ve split this article into two parts. In this first part we’ll look at the guitarists that I researched on the internet and in various magazine and book interviews that have come out over the years.
At the same time let’s look at the much debated topic of who all actually played guitars on the 1982 album ‘Creatures of the Night’. The stories of the auditions and the recording sessions are intertwined and inseparable as they happened at the same time and often involved the same people.
As a bit of background for the uninitiated, KISS had become massive in the 1970s as four superhero-type characters that played good time rock and roll and always put on a great live show. In 1980, the original drummer Peter ‘The Catman’ Criss had been replaced by Eric ‘the Fox’ Carr. By 1982, the original lead guitarist, Ace ‘the Spacemen’ Frehley was also leaving the band.
Since Peter Criss’ departure from KISS, guitarist Ace Frehley had become increasingly detached from the rest of the band. He took very little active part in the recording of their next album ‘Music From the Elder’ and no part at all in the following two releases, ‘Killers’ and ‘Creatures of the Night’.
It was during the recording of ‘Creatures of the Night’ that KISS were forced to look for another guitarist to play on the forthcoming tour.
The auditions that KISS held for guitarists were very different to the drummer auditions of 1980 in that they were mostly kept quiet from the public and that they saw a lot more guys over a lot longer period of time.
When Peter Criss was dropped from the band, they announced that he had left and that they were searching for a new drummer. When Ace left, they for a time pretended to the public, the press and their record company that he was still in the band.
They recorded the 1982 albums, ‘Killers’ and ‘Creatures of the Night’ with a host of session guitarists while still putting Ace’s face on the record covers. It was only on the eve of the Creatures of the Night tour that they announced that Ace would not be playing guitar live and even then initially claimed that he would return to the band when he had recovered from injuries sustained in a car crash.
In fact as the band already knew, Ace had no intention of returning to KISS. All this, as well as the search for Ace’s replacement was largely kept from the public.
Also different from the drummer auditions was what they expected from an auditionee. For the drummer auditions they wanted a good drummer who was relatively unknown, was a good singer and who fit the rock image.
For the guitarist auditions they wanted all this and more.
Kiss advertise anonymously in Billboard Magazine for a lead guitarist
As you can see from the advert above, the guitarist would also have to be a 6ft outstanding onstage performer, a singer and a song-writer.
Height was an important factor this time around. It was OK having Eric Carr and before him Peter Criss being the short guys in the band because they sat down behind a kit. Gene and Paul are both over 6ft tall and wanted someone their height in stack heels.
Though anonymity was becoming less of an issue for auditionees than before with the drummer auditions, as recent newspapers had published photos of their faces unmasked and they themselves were planning to unmask soon, it was a consideration to some extent.
Something that it seems a lot of guitarists failed on was attitude. Gene Simmons said in the Night Flight interview in 1983 that, “almost every guy that worked in through the door was convinced he was a star and that’s OK to have that as part of your ego make up, and make up as you know is very important to us(!). But these guys would come in with the biggest attitudes.”
In other words they’re looking a six foot, good looking, singing, song writing, performing, guitar hero… without an ego. As we’ll see they had to compromise on at least two of the prerequisites in the end.
Then there’s the consideration of their lead guitar playing style. The new guitarist would have to play in the classic style of KISS. On the other hand Gene and Paul were acutely aware of the new guitar hero phenomenon growing in the early 1980s and now wanted their own guitar hero but one who would take orders and play what they’re told.
Bob Kulick who was playing lead guitar in the studio in place of Ace Frehley on the ‘Killers’ record at the time described Gene and Paul’s dilemma in ‘KISS: Behind the Mask’ by David Leaf and Ken Sharp:
“At that time it was getting way more difficult working with KISS because nothing seemed like it was good enough for them. I think they were reaching a point where they were starting to second guess themselves. It wasn’t what feels good anymore, it was ‘How does this stack up against the competition? How does this stack up against Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads?’. They were beginning to overanalyse everything.”
The indecision over a new member wasn’t there as much when they did the drummer auditions partly because on that previous occasion they were forced into making a quick decision by the fact that they had a gig coming up very shortly.
A second and probably more important cause of indecision was KISS was now just Gene and Paul didn’t always see eye to eye on matters of musical taste, so a great guitarist to Gene might not be a great guitarist to Paul.
KISS had fired their trusted long time manager Bill Aucoin in early 1982 and were now basically looking after themselves with Howard Marks dealing with their business affairs. The day to day running of the band was done by Gene and Paul. Not only did this mean that Paul made all the personal phone calls to guitarists and that there was nobody there to screen and interview them all but it also meant there was no outside referee to guide and reassure them when they had found the right guy.
To add to the pressure, the new deal with Phonogram Records wasn’t going well and their last album ‘Music From the Elder’ was the worst selling of their career. Everything depended on this new album and to some extent on this guitarist.
As a stop gap between albums, they had released a greatest hits record called ‘KISS Killers’ with four new bonus tracks (all with Bob Kulick on guitar) in some territories, while they worked on the next full album.
The upcoming new album was titled ‘Creatures of the Night’ and was being recorded by the band at the Record Plant studio in LA at the same time as auditioning guitarists.
Paul Stanley said in the Night Flight interview in 1983 that for this reason it was tougher than the previous drum auditions: “I think it was worse. We were literally flying in people every day from all round the country and at the same time working on the album. So we would do is probably put in around fifteen hours a day in the studio, go home sleep a little, get up in the morning go audition guitar players then go back to work on the album.”
In all KISS auditioned dozens of guitarists at the SIR Rehearsal Studios in Los Angeles, (the same place where the ‘Rise To It’ video was later shot) playing KISS songs or jamming covers. One auditionee I spoke to described it as a “cattle call of guitarists”. They also called some players into the Los Angeles and New York Record Plant studios, recording trail parts over tracks for the new album.
There’s plenty of rumours about which guitarists auditioned for KISS, after all the early eighties was a ripe time for guitar heroes. Some of the biggest names in rock guitar playing at the time have been described as “nearly being in KISS”.
These rumours include the guitarists from just about every North American band of the late seventies and early eighties: Van Halen, Guns ‘n Roses, Bon Jovi, Heart, Angel, Whitesnake, Ratt, Chicago, Meat Loaf, Manowar, Bryan Adams’ band, Shark Island, the Bulletboys Mr Mister and even Yngwie J Malmsteen himself!
Like the people rumoured to have auditioned on drums for KISS in 1980, we’ll see some of these rumours are true and some are not but most have at least have a grain of truth in them. Let’s take those rumours one by one…
YNGWIE J MALMSTEEN
Let’s get this one out of the way first off. Despite the rumours, the Swedish guitar god did not audition for KISS. Can you imagine Yngwie calming down enough to do the solo in ‘Detroit Rock City’?
That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? But ridiculous or not, KISS did actually consider him for an audition.
One of the people Gene and Paul asked for recommendations of guitarists was Shrapnel Records boss, Mike Varney. Mike had a reputation for finding guitarists and had just discovered the young Yngwie through demo tapes he had been sent from Sweden.
Mike told KISS that this kid was really something special. So they decided to check him out. This is how Yngwie told the story to the Glam-Metal website:
“I remember once, when I was living in Sweden and I got a phone call from KISS. It was so funny because it was like ‘Yeah we hear that you are really, really hot’ and I’m like ‘I don’t know, it’s quite cold here.’
“Stuff like that. I didn’t get it at all. Then they asked if I was at least 6ft tall and I’m like ‘I don’t know, I’m 1 meter and 83 cm.’
“I had no fucking idea what they meant at the time. There was a real communication problem there.”
Inevitably, based on that conversation KISS didn’t invite Yngwie to fly to California for an audition. Instead Yngwie went on to become famous as one of the most over the top guitar players of his generation and as a solo artist he has sold over 50 million albums worldwide.
This is another rumour we should clear up straight away. Bob Kulick was certainly in the studio recording guitar parts for KISS in 1982 but he was not considered or auditioned for the the job of permanent KISS guitarist at this time.
He had auditioned for them in 1973 when Ace got the job, he had played on several studio tracks songs on ‘Alive 2’ when Ace was absent, he had also played on Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album but when Metal Rules website asked Bob if he was ever seriously asked to join KISS or audition for them in 1982, his answer was:
“No, I mean it was always the joke when Ace was going to leave. I remember the business manager would always be like, ‘Bob’s going to be in the band, we’ll change his name, we’ll get him a wig’ and we’d all laugh. It was just a joke. They needed a guy with long hair.”
As to whether he played guitar on the ‘Creatures of the Night’ record, there has been much debate over the years. It was initially denied by Paul Stanley in Kerrang #41 that Bob had played on the ‘Creatures’ album although KISS have been very open over the years about the fact that he had played on the new songs on ‘Killers’.
In ‘Behind the Mask’ by David Leaf and Ken Sharp, Bob Kulick said that there was some confusion about which songs that he was recording were for which project:
“‘Killers’ and ‘Creatures of the Night’ were done essentially at the same time. So they flew me out from New York to do the KISS ‘Killers’ thing and then I came back to do some stuff on ‘Creatures’ but it wasn’t even defined which was which.”
Also in ‘Behind the Mask’, the album’s producer Michael James Jackson confirms Bob’s presence on the final version of the album:
“Bob Kulick played a great solo on ‘Danger’ but we soon decided it was in the wrong key for Paul to sing. Using prototypes of new equipment that wasn’t even available yet and with the help of our engineer Dave Wittman we sampled the entire song, modulated it to a different key, sped it up and were still able to keep Kulick’s solo!”
Outside of KISS, Bob has had a very successful career as a guitarist for artists such as Lou Reed, Meat Loaf, Diana Ross, WASP and played in Paul Stanley’s touring solo band in 1989.
These days he mostly works works as a studio producer where he is known for producing a series of tribute albums featuring major rock artists. So far he has produced rock tributes to many artists including the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Queen and of course, KISS.
Bob won a Grammy award in 2004 for his work on Motörhead’s version of the Metallica song ‘Whiplash’ and recently spoke very eloquently at the funeral of Lemmy, his collaborator on that and many other projects.
Well here’s one guy we do know that tried out for sure, Vinnie Cusano. We know that because he eventually got the job in KISS as Vinnie Vincent. But oddly enough they didn’t seem very impressed with him at first.
In the very early stages of the making of the ‘Creatures of the Night’ album, Vinnie Cusano had been introduced to Gene and Paul through Adam Mitchell as a songwriter but then as a guitarist in the studio. Eventually Vinnie’s contribution to the album was co-writing songs and playing five of the guitar solos on the finished album.
Despite this KISS did not initially consider him as a future replacement for Ace Frehley. In Paul Stanley’s book ‘Face the Music’ he says, “The first time Vinnie came into the studio he started doing a solo and got down on his knees. I thought it was one of the goofiest things I’d ever seen. You just don’t do that in an audition. He seemed somehow wrong.”
Gene didn’t seem keen on him either as while working on the Creatures album, Gene passed Vinnie onto the former New England members to form a band called Warrior (see my previous article on Warrior).
The bassist in that band, Gary Shea told me that, “Gene told us that Vinnie was hot, but too short to be in KISS.”
Bob Kulick mentioned Vinnie in ‘KISS: Behind the Mask’ by David Leaf and Ken Sharp, “I noticed Vinnie Cusano hanging around. He was sitting in the studio one day and I remember asking Paul who was that and he said ‘We’re writing with him and he also plays guitar’.
“And I said ‘Well is he any good?’. And he said ‘Yeah, he’s really good’. And I said ‘Then why don’t you take him in the band?’ And he said ‘Well, we’re not sure about him'”.
Paul said in the Night Flight interview: “Vinnie had worked on the record. He had co-written three of the songs and done some of the solos but we kinda put Vinnie to one side.”
So KISS set about auditioning more guitarists, while Vinnie worked with them in the studio and hoped his chance might one day come…
DOUG ALDRICH (Dio/Whitesnake)
Here’s one guy that we know did audition for KISS in 1982. Doug was a teenager when he auditioned for KISS. When interviewed by the Legendary Rock Interviews website he recalled:
“I was asked to audition for KISS in 1982. Ace had just left or whatever. Eric Carr saw me play live and brought me to meet Gene and Paul. It was cool. We played in the studio and twice in a giant airplane hanger where they were rehearsing.”
He expanded to the Saultstar website, “Half of the intimidation thing for KISS was that nobody had seen their faces at that time. I didn’t even know what these guys looked like and here I was going down to the recording studio to meet them.
“Gene is sitting there with no makeup on telling me, ‘Try a solo on this song’, or whatever. There was that whole thing going on in my head. ‘Wow, this is just bizarre.'”.
He told Legendary Rock Interviews though that, “I was much too young for that gig, but Eric gave me a lot of confidence and said I was good. So I got very serious after that.”
He did indeed. He went on to play with Lion, Hurricane, House of Lords and Bad Moon Rising. In 2002 he joined the Dio band for touring and also recording the ‘Killing the Dragon’ album. Doug later joined Whitesnake for more touring and recording the ‘Good to be Bad’ and ‘Forevermore’ albums.
Through these gigs, Doug has secured a reputation as a world class guitarist and is currently on tour with Glenn Hughes.
Doug later told Legendary Rock Interviews, “A few years ago, Gene was at a Whitesnake gig in LA. He sent me an email later saying he was proud of what I had done.”
ROBBIN CROSBY (Ratt)
At 6′ 4″ Robbin Crosby of Ratt, was certainly tall enough for the KISS gig. In fact he may have been “too tall and too blonde” as he once joked to a fan about the audition.
There are rumours that Robbin was temporarily a member of KISS or helped out in the studio on the new tracks for the ‘Killers’ album but these appear to be no more than rumours probably started by the fact that he had simply auditioned for the band, though like some other auditionees he may have tried out in the studio.
An interesting piece of evidence to show that Robbin did attend at least one audition for KISS comes in the form of a handwritten note on the back of a ticket to see Ratt play at the Troubador Club in LA on 2/3 July 1982. The note simply says “Robbin Crosby 2nd audition?” with a phone number and appears to be in Eric Carr’s handwriting.
This would lead us to believe that Robbin had at this point done a first audition and that Eric went to check him out live and considered him good enough for a possible second audition.
Robbin of course didn’t get the job with KISS but with Ratt he went onto achieve multi-Platinum success with top 40 hits such as ‘Round and Round’ and ‘Lay It Down’ both of which were co-written by him. Robbin sadly passed away in 2002 due to a heroin overdose while suffering from complications relating to HIV.
Adam was a young guitarist from Seattle, playing in the band TKO under his real name of Adam Brenner at the time. He told Sleaze Roxx website about how he auditioned for KISS.
“I read an ad in Billboard magazine that a major group is looking for a guitar player. I sent a tape to them with the TKO songs, a photo and a bio and then Paul Stanley called me. I think they already had Vinnie Vincent but were checking out more people.
“First of all they were looking for six foot tall guys that were at least over twenty years old. At this time I was 17, I was a baby. Look at me now, I was shorter than Eric Carr!
“I met KISS and we played a few songs together like ‘Detroit Rock City’, ‘Firehouse’, ‘Calling Dr. Love’ and ‘Black Diamond’. I did my guitar solos with them but I wouldn’t have been a good fit because I did a few drugs and went on the dark side while KISS was a serious band with all the things they have to do.”
In another of the many small world connections that feature throughout KISSTORY, around that time Adam was friends with the young Tommy Thayer and even played for Black ‘n Blue at one point. It was Tommy that suggested Adam change his stage name to Adam Bomb and take up a solo career.
Adam has since gone on to release eleven solo albums and collaborate with John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) and Michael Monroe (Hanoi Rocks). He told Sleaze Roxx “I’m happy being Adam Bomb. I built up my reputation. I mean its rock ‘n’ roll, playing in a dirty rock ‘n’ roll band.”
KEITH SCOTT (Bryan Adams Band)
There are also rumours of that Keith Scott, most famous as Bryan Adams guitarist, auditioned for KISS back in the Summer of 82. Certainly he’s a great guitar player and singer and with his dark hair he fits image side of the job description.
The connection was there too, as around that time Adams was writing songs with Gene and Eric Carr for the ‘Creatures of the Night’ album. At that point, Keith was already working with Bryan but they had not yet had the big singles that catapulted Adams and his band to fame within a couple of years, so it is possible that Keith would have been interested in the job with KISS?
Keith was one of the nice guys that took the time to reply to my queries- “I did not and never have auditioned for Kiss but did get to meet Paul Stanley several years ago!”
There’s that rumour cleared up then! Keith has of course spent much of the time since the early eighties playing for Bryan Adams on sold out world tours and platinum albums.
It is estimated that Bryan Adams has sold between 65 and 100 million records, all of which Keith played on.
STEVE FARRIS (Mr Mister)
It’s long been known that Steve Farris of Mr Mister fame, recorded some of the guitars on the ‘Creatures of the Night’ album, including the solo on the title track. It was uncertain though if he had actually auditioned live with the band and been considered for the job or if like Bob Kulick, he was just a studio player as far as the band were concerned.
Paul Stanley cleared up that mystery in his autobiography ‘Face the Music’. He tells how Eddie Van Halen “came down to the studio one day… he listened to some of the stuff we had including a solo on the title track by Steve Farris.
“‘Why don’t you get that guy?’ asked Eddie. He was blown away. The fact was we had rehearsed with Farris but the fit hadn’t been right.”
Farris of course went on to success with Mr Mister including two US number one hit singles (‘Kyrie’ and ‘Broken Wings’) and a matching number one album (‘Welcome to the Real World’). As session player he has since played in the studio for Tori Amos, Belinda Carlisle and Diana Ross and on tour with Whitesnake in 1997.
That’s all you need to know on Steve for now but in Part 2 of this article we’re going to take a much closer look at Steve’s episode with KISS…
EDDIE VAN HALEN
So as mentioned above we know that according to Paul Stanley, Eddie Van Halen was hanging around the Record Plant Studio in LA while KISS were recording but was he ever considered for the job as some online rumours suggest?
According to Gene Simmons, Eddie Van Halen was begging to be the next guitarist in KISS. The Van Halen News Desk website has tracked several sides to the story from all the main witnesses. Curiously the different accounts don’t seem to agree on much.
In an interview on Nikki Sixx’s radio show, Gene told how Eddie was in the studio with KISS during the Creatures of the Night recordings, “So I take him to lunch across the street and he actually tells me, ‘I want to join Kiss. I can’t take Roth, he’s driving me nuts.’
Gene went on to say, “I remember feeling proud of what I said. I said, ‘Don’t do it. Stay with the band you started. There’s no role for you in KISS. You’re too big’. And he went back and he was miserable for the next 20 or 30 years. But it would never have worked. Not even close.”
So Gene really didn’t want Eddie in the band. He may also have seen that Eddie liked a drink or two as had Ace, which probably didn’t stand him in good stead in Gene’s books.
Eddie was asked about this by Alan K Stout of The Times Leader, his comment was “Not that I know of. If it happened I’m sure I would have remembered. They might have just asked me in passing, and I just kind of laughed it off, probably.” So Eddie doesn’t remember begging Gene to be in KISS?
Paul Stanley doesn’t remember it being discussed either. He was asked about the rumour in Guitar World magazine (April 2014). He said, “No, I never heard that. Eddie did come down to the studio during Creatures, and he spoke to me on the phone during that period.
“There was real dissension in the band (Van Halen) at that time, that much was clear. But as far as him wanting to join KISS? No, not that I know about.”
In 1995 Van Halen fan magazine ‘The Inside’ #8, interviewed Wally Olney, an old friend of Eddie’s. When he was asked if Eddie had wanted to be in KISS, he said the opposite was in fact true and recalled earlier events around 1976-77.
“I sat in his (Eddie’s) bedroom in their old house in Pasadena. I can remember Ed picking up the phone going, ‘No, I don’t want to play,’ and telling me, ‘God, he calls me constantly, and won’t leave me the fuck alone’. He goes, ‘It was cool that he made that tape for us, but I don’t want to be in a band with him. I’ve got my own band.’
“I can remember going back to my friends, going, ‘Guess what? Gene Simmons called Ed!'”.
So there we have our proverbial two sides of the coin to choose from. Did Eddie ask Gene but Gene say no, or did Gene ask Eddie but Eddie said no? Either way he didn’t audition for KISS.
The one other known fact is that Alex and Eddie did record demo versions of some of Gene’s songs in preparation for the ‘Love Gun’ album. These demos have not yet been heard in public.
It has long been known among KISS fans that the blues guitarist and five times Grammy Nominee Robben Ford, recorded some lead tracks on the ‘Creatures of the Night’ album as a session player.
He confirmed the fact in a recent interview for the D’Addario Guitar Strings website he was asked what was the weirdest gig he had ever done. His reply was:
“The strangest thing for me was doing nine days in the studio with KISS. I played on their record ‘Creatures of the Night’ and wound up playing two guitar solos on that record, ‘Rock and Roll Hell’ (laughs) and the other was a kind of rock ballad called ‘I Still Love You’.
“So I spent nine days in the studio with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. And that was rather unusual, that whole situation was rather unusual. I heard a lot about their stories and was playing music that I don’t play and I never listen to.”
Robben is undoubtedly a great blues player but from the quote above that doesn’t sound like me to be a man who’s auditioning for a gig in a flamboyant Metal band, so like Bob Kulick there seems to be no suggestion that he was being considered for KISS in a permanent way.
RICHIE SAMBORA (Bon Jovi)
And talking of blues players, in an interview with Howard Stern, Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi fame told this story: “I got asked to join KISS and I flew out to LA. I ended up staying out there for about two weeks, I had a blast. I was gonna replace Ace when they were looking for a guy.
“Honestly, you know I respect KISS a lot but my music was more into a more of blues oriented kinda thing, more organic. I was into like Zeppelin and Hendrix; guys who played guitar and actually emoted through the instrument.
“I walked into the audition and they were looking for a guy to worship them and I didn’t. I just wasn’t that guy.
“I was like ‘C’mon, lets jam!’ and they were like ‘You better know ‘Black Diamond’, and I go ‘I dunno. Can we just jam I’m sure I can play your music’. They got a little upset.”
On Gene and Paul, he said “They were both pretty cool to me. They were taken aback that that I wasn’t so into them. It didn’t seem authentic to me. I was like, as an artist I was moving in a different direction already.”
So, let’s get this straight. Richie says he auditioned and was then was asked to join KISS despite not having learned their songs? But that he turned down the job because he didn’t like their musical direction? I’m not sure that makes much sense. Did he not know what their musical direction was before auditioning? Perhaps not, if he hadn’t learned the songs?
In Paul Stanley’s autobiography ‘Face the Music ‘ he offers a more plausible story: “Richie Sambora flew in from New Jersey to audition. He wasn’t the consummate player he would become and he didn’t get the gig.
“It’s funny but years later I heard him say he hadn’t really wanted the job because he wanted to be in something more blues based. First of all it’s hard to imagine that he flew to California to audition for KISS just because he liked airplane food; also Bon Jovi’s done a lot of great things but they don’t sit next to Howlin’ Wolf in my record collection.”
After Richie returned from LA he hooked up with a young singer called Jon Bon Jovi. Ironically the drummer in Bon Jovi, Tico Torres had also auditioned for KISS in 1980. Bon Jovi’s first European tour was supporting KISS on the Animalize tour in 1984.
It was Paul Stanley that introduced Bon Jovi to the song writer Desmond Child. He had co-written the KISS hit ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ and the went onto to write several hits for Bon Jovi including ‘Living On a Prayer’.
Since that humble start Bon Jovi have gone on to sell over 100 million albums worldwide with Sambora credited as a co-writer on most of the hits. Richie has also released three solo albums to critical acclaim.
In April 2013 Sambora quit Bon Jovi mid-tour and has not since returned, although he recently stated that a return to the band may be on the cards one day.
PUNKY MEADOWS (Angel)
Punky Meadows was the guitarist in Angel. Angel were discovered by Gene Simmons and signed to Casablanca records. By contrast to KISS they were famous for their white angelic look. (Incidentally, Punky was also immortalised on a song by Frank Zappa called ‘Punky’s Whips’. He even appeared onstage once with Zappa in his Angel costume!) .
Angel did not however have the same success as KISS and effectively split up in 1981 when Punky left the band. In Kerrang #41, it is stated that Punky then auditioned for KISS.
Update 26th January:
When I wrote the original version of this article I mailed Punky to get the full story from him but I didn’t hear back. Instead I posted an internet rumour about him as the only evidence I had to go on. The day after the article went online, I heard from Punky with the true story!
I’ll publish that in Part 2 coming soon…
ROGER FISHER (Heart)
In Kerrang #41 it was also reported that the guitarist from Heart had tried out for KISS but it doesn’t say which guitarist. There are online rumours that long time Heart guitarist Howard Leese was this man but that seems unlikely as he was a full time member of Heart from 1975 to 1997 and they were very successful in their own right at that point.
The rumour may have started with the story of Paul Fischer, a guitarist and founding member of Heart who had left the band in 1980. On his website he recalls:
“After leaving Heart, KISS approached Heart’s manager, saying they were interested in having me audition. I certainly meant no disrespect to a great group but they didn’t really turn me on at the time. I had ask them what the pay would be. They responded with ‘Come down and audition and we’ll take it from there’.
“I was unimpressed with that response so passed on the opportunity and (instead) lived a somewhat hermit like life in the middle of five acres of woods.”
I think Richie Sambora should take note as that is the correct way to deal with an offer to audition for a band that you don’t want to be in.
DONNIE DACUS (Chicago)
Kerrang #41 also reported that the guitarist from Chicago auditioned for KISS in 1982. It can’t have been original Chicago guitarist Terry Kath, as he had died from an accidental gunshot wound in 1978.
His replacement in Chicago was the young Donnie Dacus who had previously played with Crosby, Stills and Nash. Donnie was a member of Chicago for two years and recorded the platinum album, ‘Hot Streets’.
He was let go from Chicago in 1980 after the ‘Chicago 13’ album, mainly because the rest of the band felt his style didn’t fit – he was too rock and also that his acting career was getting in the way.
Dacus went on to act in the musical ‘Hair’ and play guitar and sing on many sessions for artists such as Billy Joel and Elton John but withdrew from public life in the mid-eighties.
So, what’s the chances of an unemployed good looking, long haired, singing, rock guitarist being asked to try out for KISS in 1982? Pretty good, I reckon. I think Donnie goes on our list.
If anyone knows for sure if Donnie auditioned or not please let us know here at MetalTalk via the MetalTalk contact page.
MICHAEL ANGELO BATIO
Or if it wasn’t “THE guitarist from Chicago” that auditioned for KISS maybe it was “A guitarist from Chicago”? Michael Angelo Batio originated from Chicago, Illinois and is known to have auditioned for the band.
Michael is one of those super fast guitarists, famous for his technique of playing both necks of his unique double guitar at the same time. He didn’t try that in the Kiss audition however!
Along with Yngwie J Malmsteen, Michael was one of the guitarists recommended to KISS by Mike Varney. In an interview in Guitar World magazine Michael Angelo said:
“I learned a valuable lesson then because I was completely star-struck. I was on Shrapnel Records with Mike Varney. He set this thing up for me, and I still lived in Chicago. I was just out of school but I had a really good promo shot.
“So Mike sent it to KISS, and they flew me out to audition. I still have the ticket stubs. I was completely star-struck. I mean I was scared to death. And I had played with KISS before. I was 18, I had just graduated from high school and we won this battle of the bands contest in Chicago to open up for KISS, so this wasn’t my first encounter with them.
“But when I jammed with them, it was me, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and Eric Carr. I sang ‘Calling Dr. Love’ and I kicked ass. I was a pretty good singer but Gene was laughing because I had some of the lyrics wrong. I didn’t buy a songbook; I just kind of picked it up off the record, and he was telling me he was cracking up because I had some of the words really wrong.
“I actually showed Gene Simmons how to play over the neck and he would stop and start, make me play it again.
“But I learned never to be in awe. That if I’m going to be a rock star, I’ve got to act like one. And one of the biggest reasons, it wasn’t my image; it wasn’t my age that prohibited me from getting it. It was that I became a fan. And I really didn’t realize that. I went in there acting like a fan instead of a guy who could be the guitar player in the band.
“And then later on Gene Simmons remembered me from that. He told me in my Michelangelo band, they had a rhythm guitar player and he goes, ‘Your playing is light years ahead of other guitar players’. He goes, ‘You play two guitars at the same time, what the hell do you need another guitarist for?’ He really liked my guitar playing.”
Since the KISS audition Michael has gone on to make numerous solo records and instructional guitar playing videos and featured in guitar magazines around the world.
In another minor KISS connection, Michael was called to record the guitar parts and filmed for the close up guitar playing shots in place of actor Steven Quadros who was playing a possessed guitar hero in the horror film, ‘Shock ’em Dead’.
Regular readers of this column will remember that Steven Quadros was one of the drummers who had auditioned for KISS a couple of years before.
ROSS THE BOSS (Manowar)
Several rumours quote that the former Dictators guitarist Ross ‘the Boss’ Friedman auditioned for KISS in 1982. I’m not so certain of this rumour as at the time he had just formed Manowar and their debut album came out in June 1982.
I doubt he was auditioning for other bands in secret just as his band’s first album was being released. Like similar rumours about Mick Mars from Mötley Crüe, I’d tend to cross him off our list unless anyone knows for sure otherwise. Again, let us know here at MetalTalk via via the MetalTalk contact page.
SLASH (Guns ‘n Roses)
No, Slash didn’t audition for KISS as some rumours would have us believe. But there is a spark of truth in there in that KISS were interested in him and Paul Stanley did call him about a possible audition!
In Paul’s autobiography, ‘Face the Music’, he says, “Another guy I spoke to was a really sweet young kid named Saul Hudson. He told me his Mom had been a seamstress for David Bowie and that his friends called him Slash.
“He was very well spoken and engaging, but he seemed really young. Finally I asked him how old he was. ‘I’ll be seventeen next month’ he said.
I had turned thirty earlier that year and Gene was twice his age. ‘You know’ I said ‘you sound like a great guy but I think you’re too young for this’. I wished him well and always remembered him because he was so nice and unaffected.”
Slash of course went onto multi-platinum success with Guns and Roses selling over 100 million albums worldwide and later also achieving considerable success in Velvet Revolver with a US number one album ‘Contraband’.
Paul Stanley was at one point considered to produce the first Guns and Roses album ‘Appetite for Destruction’ but that honour later went to Mike Clink.
Joe Shikani was a Seattle based guitarist who is often mentioned online as having auditioned for KISS and he does seem to meet the profile: a great guitarist and singer of the right age and image. He later played for Paul Rodgers’ band.
The Pacific Rim Talent praised Joe highly, “You may have seen lead guitarist vocalist Joe Shikani with Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers, or Spike and The Impalers in recent years. Nobody can deliver Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend or Jimmy Page better than Joe. He is truly a legendary guitarist of the Pacific Northwest.”
Joe was tragically killed in an accident by a falling tree in 2008. Former Heart guitarist Roger Fisher, who had turned down the offer to audition for KISS commented at Joe’s funeral “A lot of people dearly loved Joe, and it was heart warming to see much of the Seattle music scene show up in honour of one fine man.”
Another online rumour says that Joey Hunting auditioned for KISS but that he was considered too young for the job as like Adam Bomb and Doug Aldrich, he was still a teenager at the time. He later went on play with Billy Joel, David Lee Roth and Dear Mr. President.
I have not so far been able to contact Joey to confirm if he did or did not audition for KISS. He’s a difficult one to search for because when you put his name into Google a lot of links come up for people shooting young kangaroos!
This is another one where if you know any more, please let us know via the MetalTalk contact page.
MARQ TORIEN (Bulletboys)
Here’s yet another rumour I’ve seen around the internet, that Marq Torien (later famous as the lead singer of the band Bulletboys) auditioned as a guitarist for KISS.
Certainly Marq is a very good guitarist in his own right, in fact that’s how he started out as a teenager moving to LA in the early 1980s. In an interview with IndiePower TV, he talked about meeting KISS back then.
“I had a very close friendship with Gregg Guiffria and Greg was in a huge band called Angel. Greg basically took me under his wing, when I came to Hollywood and he brought Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley to my shows at the Troubadour and they would come in and they just thought I was really talented. And Gene would talk to my Mom at shows.”
Richie Violet posted on the KISS FAQ forum “Eric Carr told us that Marq was brought down to the studio (during the Creatures era) and he looked like Eddie Van Halen circa 1979 (yellow and black striped guitar, knee pads, black vest, etc). He said Marq was really good but they had already began writing songs with Vinnie and liked the chemistry better with Mr. Cusano.”
Marq also auditioned for the Ozzy Osbourne band when Randy Rhoads died that same year (oh, no, you don’t want me to research all the potential Ozzy guitarists next, do you?) and he played briefly for Ratt. I guess he had a busy guitaring year!
After Ratt he joined King Kobra as the lead singer and from there went onto form the Bulletboys with ex-King Kobra members Mick Seda and Lonnie having a US Billboard Top 40 debut album helped by the MTV hit ‘Smooth Up in Ya’.
Marq still plays gigs with a new line-up of the Bulletboys.
MICHAEL RAY (Wendy O’ Williams)
Left to Right: Bassist Greg Smith, Wendy O’ Williams, Gene Simmons and Michael Ray
So having heard every guitarist in Los Angeles, KISS moved back to New York for some final work on the ‘Creatures of the Night’ album KISS moved to New York and kept looking for guitarists there.
Michael Ray, later guitarist with Wendy O Williams is a player that is rumoured to have tried out for KISS around that time. In fact his biography on the Artist Direct website looks suspiciously like it was written by Michael himself telling his own story:
“He first met Gene Simmons of the highly successful rock band, KISS in a club called My Father’s Place in Roslyn, Long Island. Simmons was scouting the New York area, looking for a replacement for Ace Frehley, and got word on the street that there was a guy performing there that he should check out. That guy was Michael Ray.
“(Michael’s) band performed hard and loud, and as soon as the set was over, Simmons invited Michael to the V.I.P. section where he and Eric Carr were sitting. Michael gave Simmons his phone number. Soon after he received a call from Gene, inviting him to the Record Plant Studios in New York where KISS had been recording the Creatures of the Night album. This was a test to see how Michael Ray’s lead guitar sounded with KISS on multi-track.”
And that’s where Michael’s story ends for now. He didn’t get to replace Ace Frehley after that trial recording but he did join Wendy O’ Williams’ band, through Gene’s recommendation and later played another interesting part in KISSTORY which we’ll look at a later date.
I think we’ll leave it there for Part 1 of the 1982 KISS Guitarist Auditions. I’m sure you’ve read enough of them by now, you probably deserve a break.
For now I think we’ve managed to find a good list of the some of the big name guitarists that did and did not audition for KISS. And I also think that we’ve got a fairly definitive list of who actually recorded guitars on the ‘Creatures of the Night’ album.
First the solos, Steve Farris played the solo on the opening track ‘Creatures of the Night’. Robben Ford played the solos on ‘Rock and Roll Hell’ and ‘I Still Love You’. Bob Kulick’s solo was used on ‘Danger’ and the remaining five solos were played by Vinnie Cusano, soon to be Vinnie Vincent.
Much of the rhythm playing may also have been Bob or Vinnie although Paul Stanley is certain to have done much of it too.
Gene Simmons played at least some of the rhythm guitar on ‘War Machine’ and Adam Mitchell, the song-writer that initially introduced Vinnie to Gene, played some of the middle section and outro guitar parts on ‘Creatures of the Night’ (“What you hear on the record is actually me playing my blue Charvel”- Adam Mitchell in ‘The Eric Carr Story’ by Greg Prato).
So is that all of them? No, it seems there’s possibly one more. The most obvious and yet the most overlooked may actually have made his way onto the album.
Every source in KISSTORY including the band themselves says that Ace Frehley did not take any part in the recording of either ‘Killers’ or ‘Creatures of the Night’. Every source, except possibly the most important one, the man who produced and mixed the album, the man who ultimately chose which guitar parts were used, Michael James Jackson!
In ‘The Eric Carr Story’ he recalls “We cut the tracks in LA for Killers and Creatures of the Night but Ace was not around for the tracking. Then we flew to New York and recorded Ace on some of it. So Ace made a contribution, he played on both those records but the performances were somewhat minimal.”
The story of doing more recording in New York on those albums is not usually told but does tie in with Michael Ray’s recollection of going into the Record Plant Studios in New York around that time.
So there you have it, by my reckoning there are at least eight guitarists on the nine songs on the ‘Creatures of the Night’ album. That’s if none of the parts recorded by Doug Aldrich, Michael Ray or any other passing guitarists were ever used!
See you in Part 2 of this article where we’re going to find even more guitarists that tried out for the band and I’ll be interviewing them in depth about the whole process…
‘KISS: Behind the Mask’ by David Leaf and Ken Sharp
‘Face the Music’ by Paul Stanley
‘The Eric Carr Story’ by Greg Prato
‘The Kiss Album Focus, Vol. 1: Kings of the Night Time World, 1972-82’ by Julian Gill
Kerrang Magazine #41 (May 1983)
Guitar World Magazine (April 2014)
Kiss Night Flight Interview 1983
KISS guitarist advert from:
Post about KISS guitarist audition rumnours by RAB
Bob Kulick Interview
Doug Aldrich interview
Doug Aldrich interview
Doug Aldrich Interview
Yngwie Malmsteen Interview
Robbin Crosby Photo
Discussion on Robbin Crosby’s role in KISS and ticket
Joe Shikani Comments
Joe Shikani Article
Punky Meadows Article
Adam Bomb Interview
Adam Bomb Photo
Robben Ford Interview
Robben Ford Photo
Richie Sambora interviewed by Howard Stern
Marq Torien interviewed by IndiePower TV
Marq Torien Photo
Donnie Dacus photo
Vinnie Vincent Photo
Eddie Van Halen Photo
Michael Angelo interview
Michael Angelo website
Michael Angelo Photo
Marq Torien auditions for KISS
Marq Torien photo by Jay Nanda
Van Halen News Desk Articles on KISS and Eddie Van Halen:
Gene and Eddie Photo
Doug Aldrich photo
Kerrang #41 claims of guitarists from Heart and Chicago auditioned
Michael Ray Biog
Michael Ray Photo
Thanks for help with this article are due to to Keith Scott, David Ryder-Prangley, Jef Streatfield and Alex Dickson.