UNDISCOVERED KISSTORY – THE KISS GUITARIST AUDITIONS OF 1982 Part 2
Chris Dale. 25 March 2016
In Part 1 of this article about the KISS guitarist auditions of 1982, we saw how KISS had contacted and auditioned an awful lot of talented guitarists, some of whom later became very famous in their own right and that they had a fair few of these guitarists played on the ‘Creatures of the Night’ record that the band were making at the time.
Words: Chris Dale
Most of that article I’d researched online and in print, through interviews that other journalists and authors had already done. For Part 2, I tracked down even more guitarists but this time I interviewed them myself to find out every tiny detail of the audition process (except what kind of socks they were wearing on the day) and as you’ll read below several guitarists have willingly obliged.
So as a quick recap in case you’ve not read Part 1. It’s the Summer of 1982, Ace Frehley has (secretly) quit KISS and the band are trying to (secretly) replace him by checking out what seems to have been every guitarist in the known world at the time.
Kiss advertise anonymously in Billboard Magazine for a lead guitarist
Despite having heard some of the most talented players in America, they still don’t seem to have found their perfect guy, all of them are either too short, too tall, too young, too old, too shy or too full of themselves. Most could play guitar very well but that wasn’t enough for Gene and Paul who seemed trapped by a mountain of indecision while searching for the elusive perfect guitarist.
So let’s hunt down some more rumours and this time get some complete first hand stories of the auditions, meetings and phone calls that went on between KISS and their potential guitarists throughout 1982. I do hope you’re sitting comfortably. This one’s quite a ride!
Punky Meadows live with Angel c1978 Photo © Richard Galbraith
Firstly I’m very happy to set the record straight on Punky Meadows.
Edwin ‘Punky’ Meadows was the guitarist in Angel. Angel were discovered by Gene Simmons in the late 1970s and like KISS, were 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.
For Part 1 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’m sorry but you don’t have your facts straight. Barry Levine called me up, he was the photographer for KISS and Angel and many other groups back in the day. He was in the studio with Gene and Paul. Gene and Paul had put an add in the paper auditioning guitarist to take Ace’s place.
Barry Levine mentioned me to Gene and Gene said, “That’s a great idea”. Gene called me up and asked me if I would come down SIR and sit in with the band. He asked me to learn side one of the KISS Alive album. I learned a couple of songs.
I went down to the rehearsal studio, walked in and they were playing ‘Communication Breakdown’ from Zeppelin. I plugged up, we played and it sounded great!! Gene and Paul both were impressed, and Gene said “Let’s talk business, you have the gig.”
I then said to Gene, that Gregg (Guiffria, Angel and later House of Lords keyboard player) and I are still working together and we’re in the middle of shopping a deal. Well I guess I insulted Gene when I said that and he looked at Paul and said “Come on Paul, let’s go”.
I sat afterwards with Eric who was playing drums then and we talked for about a half hour.
I then went home when Barry Levine called me and said “Punky, what did you do? Gene and Paul both came back to the studio with jaws hitting the floor and Gene said : NO ONE HAS EVER TURNED DOWN KISS!!!”. Barry then said, “They were going to offer you $160,000 a year plus points”.
It’s funny because when Gene said let’s talk business, I didn’t say no or turn them down. When I said to Gene that I was still working with Gregg he got up right away and stormed out. I don’t know if I insulted him or hurt his ego, but I never had a chance to say yes or no. I have to say, I did somewhat regret it. I wasn’t making any money at the time and sure could have used it (laughing). But woulda, coulda, shoulda …Right?
So that’s the true story. There have been many interpretations over the years, but that’s how it happened.
Punky Meadows – Fallen Angel 2016
Thank you Punky, for setting the record straight for me and all KISS and Angel fans alike. Meanwhile Punky has a new solo album out this year, called ‘Fallen Angel’. We look forward to that one with baited breath…
John Verner live in Chicago, c1982
John Verner was like many others, a talented young guitarist but he stands out in that he was the guy that Ace Frehley recommended to Gene and Paul that they replace him with! I contacted John early on in this project and he proved to be very helpful in telling me how his KISS connection came about and the details of the audition itself.
I started playing in rock bands early on with Frankie Banali of Quiet Riot. Frankie was and is such a great friend. I then went to LA after auditioning for a band called Skylark who had a recording contract with Capital records. The band dissolved and I went on as a studio guitarist in Hollywood.
Then Frankie Banali and Rudy Sarzo approached me about a band they were forming called Shatter Star. I had commitments at the time so could not tour. Later I joined the band, by which time Barry Ackom had joined on bass to replace Rudy. Barry worked for KISS as a guitar tech for Paul and Ace. KISS would come to our gigs when they were in town to see Barry. Ace came out to see us in Chicago. After the show he came back stage and was very complementary. Barry claims later that Ace had recommended me as a replacement but I can’t confirm that for sure.
KISS then asked Barry for my phone number or contact information. I was hard to reach being on the road so much, so Barry gave them my old girlfriend’s phone number. One night she ran over and said ‘You have to be at my house at 7pm, Paul Stanley is going to call!’. She was a nervous wreck.
Paul called at 7pm on the nose. Paul always called himself, which I was impressed by. Up to this point I was lead to believe Paul was signing a new band and looking for new members to produce. But now he said it was for KISS and this was top secret.
So they wired me money (for a flight ticket to LA) and put me up at the famous Hyatt hotel in Hollywood for a few days. I arrived at LAX airport after my little get away from the band I was in, in total secret. I took a cab to the hotel. Then the manager called my room as I walked through the door. He told me Paul was waiting at the Record Plant recording studios on 3rd. I was to take a cab.
I first went to the Record Plant to watch Paul laying down a vocal track for the new LP. Then we drove to the SIR sound stages in Hollywood CA. On the way Paul leaned forward and asked me if I liked Rick Springfield. I said sure and at that moment I knew he was thinking of radio ready type songs to write.
We arrived at this huge sound stage and met Eric and Gene. I didn’t bring my guitar as I was endorsed by Dean guitars at the time and our manager kept close watch on the gear. It would have been obvious to him that I was looking at another gig in other words. Paul offered me one of his to choose from, I picked the Cherry Les Paul. I had to restring it while they waited as he plays rhythm guitar and had heavy strings on it, too heavy for me.
I tuned up and plugged into a stack of Marshalls and we played all types of jams from James Gang to funk. I played original jams as well so they get a taste of my skill I soloed safely and navigated through Gene’s lead. The reason for not worrying about learning KISS songs was based on Barry initially telling me that Paul was putting a band together to produce. I had told Paul I would have to wing it, he said no problem we know how you play and we need you to fly out ASAP.
During the audition, Paul just watched and studied the stage from the audience perspective. Gene said he loved the power chords and said he was so glad my soloing was not of the busy nature more melodic and straight forward rock. I sang some Bad Company type stuff that seemed to make them happy as vocals are an extra bonus. Eric said that was a key point. We harmonized a bit and so on, very chilled in some regards but intense for me!!!
We played for a few hours and afterwards Gene asked me if I would dye my hair as they thought that it was darker from some gig they saw me at. I said no problem. We talked about makeup or no makeup. There was a big image thing going on and they were figuring the next stage of their career.
They conversed and told me to stay available for 20 days. Vinnie was a friend of Pauls’ and Paul told me he felt loyalty towards him but that they wanted to consider me. After I received a call from Paul thanking me, 20 days later.
It sounds like John was one of the guitarists that Gene and Paul seriously considered for the band but like all the rest, they must have found some tiny point to their dislike or thought there might be someone slightly more perfect out there.
After the audition, John moved back to Hollywood to do more session work. Around this time he met his wife, Jeanie. In 1983 he joined the US Army because “they sent me to all the music schools and Jazz schools to develop my craft”. John stayed in the army for thirty years of service, retiring in 2013. During this time he played in the Army Ground Forces Rock Band, Loose Canons.
Sergeant 1st Class John Verner playing for Loose Cannons, 2012
John is too modest to tell me himself but I Googled his musical career in the military and found that the Canadian Royal City Music Project described him as having, “served as developer of a contemporary guitar curriculum for the Armed Forces School of Music for which he received an award from his Commandant. John has a BA in Music from Thomas Edison State and has completed his advanced guitar performance education at the Armed Forces School of Music in Virginia.”
Information for the above from here.
Way to go, John!
Shark Island with Spencer Sercombe on the right
Spencer Sercombe is best known as the guitarist for LA rockers Shark Island although he also played with Michael Schenker’s band for a while, appearing on MTV Unplugged and in former Black Sabbath drummer, Bill Ward’s solo band on the ‘When the Bough Breaks’ album. The online rumour mill had Spencer listed as one of the auditionees for KISS so I went looking for him.
Spencer wasn’t so easy to track down online but luckily his son Jonas, put me in touch with his Dad. So eventually I got to ask Spencer how he’d got to audition for KISS?
I worked for B.C. Rich Guitar company in the early 80’s and that’s where I first met Paul Stanley. He had acquired several B.C. Rich instruments which we serviced for him. He had a favourite Eagle guitar which was painted in a leopard print and liked it so much that he wanted a second one just like it. I ended up being his liaison there and worked closely with him in recreating that instrument.
Paul Stanley with his favourite BC Rich Guitar, London 1982 Photo by Ross Halfin
Spencer continued; I can’t remember where exactly I heard about the auditions but being in regular contact with Paul at the time I simply asked him. He gave me some contact information for whoever was organizing things and I sent in my bio and demo and was granted an audition.
I asked Spencer if he remembered when and where the audition took place?
I’m no longer sure about the time though it must have been late 1981 or in 1982. The place was SIR Studios in Hollywood. It was a huge rehearsal room with a drum riser and though I don’t recall the amp set-ups for Paul and Gene, I will never forget the rig that I was given.
They had a little Mesa Boogie amp on a chair with a mic in front of it and a ridiculously huge boom mic stand with a mic for my expected backing vocals under a spotlight whose placement dictated the area in which I should stand. It was intimidating and monumental.
I was told before hand that I should prepare Strutter, Black Diamond and Firehouse. Upon my arrival I was greeted by Paul who was, as always whenever I have seen him, a very warm and friendly person. After a bit of small talk he lead me over to the stage area and I think I was briefly introduced to the drummer who then disappeared behind his kit and I had no further contact with him.
Gene said, “Hello Spencer, nice to meet you. My name is Gene. There is a tuner over there. If you would please, go over there and tune your guitar”.
As I was unpacking I couldn’t help myself and said something stupid like, “Hey Gene, what’s going on with Ace anyway?”.
Gene said, “There is a tuner over there. If you would please, go over there and tune your guitar.”
I said something like, “Yeah, that’s a good idea, I’ll just go and do that”.
After tuning we took our positions and got plugged in and then Gene said, “OK, Hotter Than Hell, ready? One, two, three…”
“Stop!” I said. Gene looked at me as if he had just noticed me for the first time.
“I was told to prepare Strutter, Black Diamond and Firehouse,” I said.
“Oh, I see,” said Gene. Then let’s do Firehouse. One, two, three, four”. Me and Paul started the riff. It was awesome. Then came the “Woo-hoo yeah!”. I nailed the harmony. Paul smiled at me. We where doing it. It was f’king great! I was in KISS! I nailed the solo. It was over too soon.
Paul said to Gene, “He even moves a little like Ace!”
Gene said “Black Diamond!”. I nailed that one too. Then Strutter. I started to imagine my new make up and stage name.
Gene said, “Let’s go over and sit down for a minute and have a talk”.
I said, “Hey Gene, I’m just getting warmed up! Let’s play Hotter Than Hell!”.
Gene said, “Let’s go over and sit down for a minute and have a talk”.
I said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea. Let’s go and do that.”
My band The Sharks had just released an independent record and I had sent that along in my promo pack. Gene said “This looks nice, nice image and packaging.”
“What do you think of the music?” I asked.
“Unfortunately,” said Gene “I don’t currently own a turntable so I was unable to listen to it. Perhaps at some future point in time.”
Looking back, I wasn’t quite ripe as a person or a player. Big ego. I think I annoyed Gene. I didn’t hear back from anyone about the audition.
Some months later I hand delivered a guitar to Paul at SIR that we had worked on for him. He was as friendly and gracious as always. I saw Gene and asked if he had listened to our record yet.
“As you may recall Spencer” he said “I told you before that I don’t currently own a turntable.”
I (unfortunately) said to Paul ” Hey man, you guys are doing pretty good. Maybe you could get Gene a turntable for his birthday or Christmas or something?”. Paul laughed. Gene did not.
While we were speaking, I couldn’t help but notice a guitarist warming up in the next room. He was dressed in street clothes but was wearing some silver boots with conspicuously high platform soles…
Nearly ten years later I was recording a song with my band Shark Island for the soundtrack of the film ‘Point Break’. I think it was at Sunset Sound. We were overdubbing in Studio B and whoever was in Studio A was making some big nasty rumbling bass sounds in there.
Later I was in the lounge and in walked Gene Simmons. I commented on the bass sounds I had heard through the walls and he told me he was pushing his bass hard through some Marshall guitar amps for a particularly devastating tone. We chatted cordially and joked around for a bit and then I asked him if he remembered me. No, he said, he was sorry but he did not. I mentioned the audition and the guitar company. No, sorry, no recollection.
“No problem,” I said, “That was a long time ago”.
A moment later in walks Paul and Gene says to him, “Paul, do you recognize this young man?”
Paul says “Sure, that’s Spencer from the Sharks and B.C. Rich. He auditioned for the band back in the early eighties. How have you been, Spencer? What have you been up to?
Spencer Sercombe, 2015
I asked Spencer the same question that Paul Stanley had, how has he been and what is he up to nowadays?
I am currently living in Germany with my family and do a great deal of teaching and a little bit of live playing and studio work. My band Shark Island occasionally gets together for a project, but we are scattered over three continents which makes this logistically difficult.
I have had the great fortune to have been able to make music with some of my musical heroes including Michael Schenker and Bill Ward as well as many other outstanding musicians who are less known but just as worthy.
Mr Mister with Steve Farris on the left
Remember that in Part 1 of this article we mentioned that Steve Farris of later Mr Mister fame is known to have played the guitar solo on the title track of the ‘Creatures of the Night’ record?
Initially I had assumed that he was another session guy like Bob Kulick or Robben Ford who did some recording on the album but wasn’t considered or auditioned for the full time job. Then in Paul Stanley’s autobiography ‘Face the Music’, he confirms that Steve played in the studio, says that Eddie Van Halen heard Steve’s work and praised it highly but Paul also alludes to the fact that Steve had actually auditioned with the band.
Clearly there was more to this story than I’d first thought, so now it was time to track Steve down and find out what really happened and also while we’re at it, find out what’s it like to record a guitar solo for KISS. It turned out that Steve was very helpful. I started off by saying that although it has long been known that he played the Creatures of the Night solo, I wondered how did it had come about?
Chris, Interesting. And thanks for your interest. Amazing that you say it’s long been known. Obviously in the original time it was kind of kept under wraps. But I knew it was out of the bag when I was playing guitar in Whitesnake (in 1997) and in Japan I was being asked to autograph KISS albums.
In any event, particularly to those in my life that have nothing to do with the music business, that event has been a story I have told for 33 years. And it’s sort of long and drawn out…
Funnily enough, I like long and drawn out KISS stories. So, I let Steve go on:
It was 1982. June, I believe. I was playing with an original band called the Mambo Jets. The three other members were from the band Poco of all things. But we were doing a lot of stuff that featured me and my stereo rim, Jim Kelly and Dumble amps, Rivera mod CE-1 Chorus pedal, a Goodrich Volume pedal, and my custom made Valley Arts guitar with the old original style Floyd Rose. I did long solos in that band.
When I got done with my set one night, a guy walked up to me in the back of the Blue Lagoon Saloon in Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles and asked if I would be interested in auditioning for KISS. Eating Campbell’s soup everyday and driving a Volkswagen Rabbit that I had to to push and then jump in to pop the clutch every time I started it, I thought, why in the world would I not want to audition for KISS?
So he gave me a number on a napkin (typical networking method of the day) and told me to call it. They were handling the auditions. I called and a girl told me to put together a tape of my playing and bring it to an office on Sunset Bvld, somewhere near Gower in Hollywood.
At that time I had not yet played on an actual record, just demos. So I took this demo tape down to the office where this girl/assistant sat and listened to it while I was there, and looked completely unimpressed. I went back to the house I was renting in Van Nuys with two other starving musicians and thought nothing more about it.
Two weeks later I get a call and the voice on the other end says, “Is this Steve Farris? Steve, this is Paul Stanley of KISS. Gene and I listened to your tape last night and we really like it. We’re having people come down to the Record Plant and having them play on a new record as kind of an audition. Could you come down tomorrow about 2pm?”.
The next day I went down there as requested. As I walk down the hall, I see Luther Vandross talking on a pay phone in the hall, Tom Petty comes out of one room and back into another, and when I get to Studio D I look through the sliding glass doors at a couple tall New York looking dudes with jet black hair, another shaved-headed guy playing a guitar, and one more sort of serious guy sitting behind the console.
Mind you nobody in those days, including me, had ever seen Gene Simmons or Paul Stanley without make up and I first played their songs in a band I was in in Nebraska; opening a set with ‘Strutter’. But there they were!
I walked in and introduced myself. They were very polite. They thanked me for coming down, and asked if I could wait in the hallway while they continued to work with this other guy for a while. Anyway, I waited for over three hours while he was doing his thing. Then they introduced him to me as he was leaving. Nice guy… he was Bob Kulick!
I went into the control room with my Valley Arts Strat, my modified chorus pedal and the Goodrich volume, uncased my guitar and started tuning. Paul handed me a chord that lead out to a Marshall in the recording room. I plugged in my little rig.
Paul told me, “It’s in G, 8 bars, I’ll roll you up to the bridge just before and count you in.”
I was working hard in those days to become a studio musician or hired gun and I valued being able to do things quickly and impressively… at least that was the goal. I did a take.
Looking fairly pleased, they said, “Give him another track”. They rolled the tape back up and I did a second take. I starting by doing this harmonic thing I used to do, then swelling the volume pedal while palming my Floyd down to nothing, with the strings laying loose on the guitar, before coming back into the downbeat of the solo.
At the end of the sustaining last note, they stopped the tape and said very excitedly, “Will you die your hair black?”
I said, “Sure”.
They asked, “Can you were high heels?”.
I said, “I’ll give it a try”.
They said, “Don’t cut your hair… Don’t change anything… Let’s meet again on Monday… You’re f’king great!!!”, or something to that effect.
And I remember the engineer (who turned out to be Michael James Jackson, their producer), looked up at me from his seat nodding his head slowly up and down and said, “You’re happening Man!”
And to this day, that second take of that audition is the solo that exists on the song, ‘Creatures of the Night’, album of the same title. It is still one of my favourite studio moments and in fact, that solo is the very first thing I ever played on an actual record.
So it looked for a minute like was going to succeed Ace as KISS’ lead guitarist, to the point of them setting up for a live rehearsal at SIR in Hollywood. The day before the rehearsal, I had been down at the studio working with them again and had an interesting moment when Gene asked me if I could give him a ride to where he was staying.
Diana Ross (whose record I would play on years later) being his girlfriend, I shuttled Gene in my Rabbit to her very large house in Beverly Hills. I ended up crashing in the guest room rather than drive back to Van Nuys only to get up and come back to the rehearsal. At her house I got to see some of the KISS boots gene had just had shipped to him… dinosaur/dragon type.
The next day at the rehearsal, they ask me to sing. I said, “I don’t sing!” Shit…
After some prodding and a realization that if I didn’t sing for them, I wouldn’t get the gig but if I did sing, I might get lucky and have a chance to get the gig I sang, obviously. So I have the dubious distinction of having played ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ with KISS, with me singing lead vocal. And if I could have a video of anything, it would be that!
Needless to say, I didn’t hear from them again until one day about two weeks later. I got a call from Paul saying, “We don’t think you’re the right guy for the band, but we love your playing and want to keep hiring you to do sessions”.
And so it was. I went down and did some sessions for them. But almost simultaneously, I got a gig to go on the road with Eddie Money. On one Saturday I remember having to leave the studio from working with KISS to catch a plane to Casper, Wyoming, starting the ‘No Control’ tour with Eddie, ‘Shakin’ and all that shit.
Years later, I ran into Paul Stanley who was a presenter on the American Music Awards while we were performing ‘Kyrie’ with Mr. Mister. He came up to me like we were long lost brothers and told me he and Gene had been watching my career take off and were so happy, etc. I was surprised but was very grateful. After that, he and I even hung out a few times socially like heading down to an elite club called Helena’s in Silver Lake, having dinner and chasing girls.
And over the years I have run into those guys in studios etc. and not only are they always great to me, they still like to tell me the story about playing that solo for Eddie Van Halen.
And perhaps one of my favourite KISS moments of oddity I guess, was when I was working with Dolly Parton at Record One in Sherman Oaks and they were in the same studio working with Bob Ezrin. I had meet Bob previously through other circumstances, so we were all having a chat. But then they asked me for an introduction to Dolly. Dolly, gracious as she is, comes down the hall with me were I am then introducing Dolly Parton to Gene and Paul and Bob. Life is crazy!
Steve Farris, 2010 Photo by Andrew Rozario at NasH20.org
Steve Farris of course went on to success with Mr Mister including two US number one hit singles (‘Kyrie’ and ‘Broken Wings’) and a number one album (‘Welcome to the Real World’). As session player he has since played in the studio for Tori Amos, Dolly Parton, Belinda Carlisle and Diana Ross and on tour with Whitesnake in 1997. These days Farris splits his time between his music and his passion for bird hunting. He has developed four waterfowl hunting clubs in his native Nebraska.
Steve Hunter live with Alice Cooper
Also in Paul Stanley’s book ‘Face the Music’ he says that Steve Hunter, known for his work with Lou Reed and Alice Cooper tried out for KISS in 1982. I didn’t manage to contact Steve for Part 1 of this article but recently his wife, Karen kindly replied to me on the subject:
Steve was never invited to audition for KISS and he is not sure the make up would have suited his complexion!
That made me laugh! So it appears on that occasion Paul Stanley perhaps remembered wrongly.
Roger Romeo live with Legs Diamond 1977 Photo www.jdthedj.com
Roger Romeo is best known as the guitarist in the American 70s rock band, Legs Diamond. Rumours on the internet also implicated Roger in the KISS auditions, so I tracked him down and asked if those rumours were true. Roger was good enough to reply to me:
Yes, it is true I did audition for KISS in the early 80’s!
Gene was a friend of Legs Diamond. We had opened shows for them so I knew all of them. Gene actually wanted to manage our band and they wanted to record one of our songs but we wanted to keep it for our album… bad choice! The song was ‘Satin Peacock’ off our first LP.
Gene and I kept in touch after I left the band in 1980. The audition was presented to me not as a KISS audition but that Gene was doing a solo project and he wanted to jam.
Unfortunately, since I didn’t know it was a KISS audition, I didn’t learn any KISS songs so we just jammed. I actually don’t remember what we jammed on but it was the full band at the time with Gene and Paul and Eric Carr on drums. They were super nice to me.
They actually chose the next guy that auditioned after me. Vinnie was right outside the door when I came out. I had met him before hanging out around town. I think Vinnie got it because he was a pretty crazy showman at the time, possibly too much for them eventually.
I’ve always wished I would have know it was KISS prior to the jam so I would have been more prepared. If they would have chosen me I’m sure I’d still be in the band!”
Roger and Michael Prince are currently working on the 40th Anniversary Legs Diamond CD and hope to have it out this summer. Roger also plays and sings in an excellent new bluesy rock band, called the Funkin Maniacs.
The Funkin Maniacs are currently playing live around LA and their album is available at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/thefunkinmaniacs2
Al Romano jamming with Ace Frehley c1990
(Photo from www.acefrehleylespaul.com)
Albert Romano was a teenager who had been getting guitar lessons from Leslie West of Mountain since the age of fourteen and had heard about the KISS auditions in the Summer of 1982 through his friend. Al told me:
Mike Carbonaro was just a Kiss fan friend of mine who had heard about the Kiss auditions at SIR. Mike had met Gene and told him about me and and he had set the audition up. The call came from Mike, Gene said to have me come down to SIR. There was no demo tape and they never saw me play, it was just word of mouth. It was amazing how it happened. I was just seventeen at the time.
The audition was at SIR studios. Gene, Paul and Eric were there. I didn’t know any KISS songs and wasn’t really a fan although I knew of them. So I go down to audition with my friend Lance and went into the room and jammed with them for an hour.
I also mailed Al’s friend, Lance Kovar, who remembered:
Yes I was there! I drove him there and we were there all day, Al was playing new songs with Gene, Paul and Eric. Al was playing a lot of riffs and great leads in the fashion of Michael Schenker and Frank Marino.
Gene was afraid of Al taking over and becoming a guitar based band and made that perfectly clear: “We don’t want a guitar hero.
Al jumped on Eric’s kit and started playing drums! Eric said he thought he was a good drummer as well. We were there for a few hours and I was thinking to myself Kiss could actually gain some musician respect if Al joined the band! It was a fun day!”
Al continued himself:
“Paul would show me a riff to play and I would follow and play along. He would nod when and where to solo. They didn’t ask me to sing. It was an amazing hour jam. We really rocked out.
After I finished playing Gene asked to speak to me. He asked me if I knew any Kiss music. It was then I replied stupidly saying I heard some stuff I liked but I stopped listening to them when they made that disco song.
Gene laughed and my seventeen year old brain took over. For years I had always heard that Gene had photo albums of all the girls he was with, so I asked to show me the photo albums.
He chuckled and replied: “Let’s not talk about the photo albums. Let’s talk about you.”
Gene said: “You played better then the last one hundred guys we had down here”. He said that I was one of the greatest guitarists he had have ever heard and said that my playing reminded him of Jeff Beck’s ‘Truth’ album. He asked me if I had that album.
It was then Gene said that KISS doesn’t need a guitarist that is that good, telling me I was over qualified in the skills department to play in KISS. Looking back on it I was unprepared for that audition mentally because of my age.
I did see Vinnie Vincent roaming around the hallways too. I guess they were keeping him around.”
One other especially interesting point that Al mentioned to me was that: “The audition was filmed. I wish we could find those audition videos!
We already knew the drummer auditions of 1980 were videoed on VHS but nobody so far had mentioned the guitar auditions also being filmed. Does that maybe mean that Gene and Paul have footage of all of these guys running through a few songs.
I’m sure Gene’s quotation here of having heard a hundred guitarists already was an exaggeration but they almost certainly auditioned twenty or more. We have found sixteen for certain. Gene, when you read this, please, please, please may we see some of the highlights on the next KISSOLOGY DVD?
Al Romano went on to co-write two songs on the Mountain album ‘Go For Your Life’ with his former teacher Leslie West, play in Joey Belledonna’s post Anthrax band with John McCoy on bass (ex-Gillan), form the band, Sun Red Sun, featuring the late great Ray Gillen (ex-Black Sabbath and Jake E Lee’s Badlands) on vocals, Mike Starr (ex-Alice in Chains) on bass and Bobby Rondinelli (ex-Rainbow, Black Sabbath and also former KISS auditionee) on drums and also recorded on Gidget Gein’s (ex-Marilyn Manson) solo album ‘Confession of a Spooky Kid’.
More recently Al buys and sells classic guitars and includes guitars owned by Jimi Hendirx, Eric Calpton and Ace Frehley in his personal collection. He has also been working on solo projects for both Joey Belladonna and Cro-Mags bassist Harley Flanagan.
Here’s an interview by Kyle Gass of Tenacious D with Al Romano with his Ace Frehley owned 1959 Gibson Les Paul:
Tommy Lafferty live with Crown of Thorns Photo by JHH 2011
I found another internet rumour saying Tommy Lafferty (known for his work with Crown of Thorns and From The Fire) was one of the guys who auditioned so I got in touch with him. Tommy was very kind in answering me straight away when I tracked him down and asked if the rumour was based on fact.
“Yes it’s true,” he said, “and a good story for sure.”
More good guitarist stories? Yes, please Tommy,
So, I was living in Westchester County in NY at the time Circa 1982-83, I received a phone call from an assistant at an attorney’s office asking if I would be available for a phone call regarding an audition, I said yes, hung up and waited by the phone.
The phone rang again and a different person asked if I could be at S.I.R. studios in Manhattan at 10:30am the next day and I said sure, I asked what band it was, they were unable to comment. After that I received a few other calls alerting me that the audition was for Kiss. The phone rang again, this time it was an attorney explaining the pay structure and that a new Mercedes would also be included as well as their percentage of my salary.
I asked if the audition was for Kiss, their answer? “I cannot confirm or deny the question”. The reason (for the secrecy) being was that they did not want any leaks and cause a ruckus down on 52nd Street and flood S.I.R. with a crowd. They told me that they would call me back with the song list.
The next phone call gave me the song list, ‘Calling Dr. Love’, ‘Detroit Rock City’ and so on. So I said, it is Kiss then, their answer, “I cannot confirm or deny”.
So, I stayed up late learning my parts and showed up at S.I.R. around 10am. They didn’t do a very good job keeping it a secret because 52nd street was packed with fans.
I entered the room and there was Gene and Paul, with no makeup. We talked a bit and I plugged in my Gibson Explorer to the massive Marshall stacks and turned them up to 11, this was a really loud audition. We ran the songs and it was super fun, surreal!
Suddenly Paul went into ‘Heartbreaker’ by Zeppelin. I joined in and it was loud, rocking and good! When it came to the guitar break everyone just stopped and watched me, no pressure…it was really fun, as I like this kind of action.
After we finished Gene asked what I was doing that night and if I wanted to come with them to see Van Halen at Madison Square Garden, “Uh…,” I said “Yes!”.
At 6pm a Black Limousine appeared in front of my apartment at 26 Carmine Street in the West Village. We arrived at the Garden and had a blast, great show. Back stage it was quite the scene, I got to meet Eddie of course and David who as a really fun guy. I remember Billy Squire being there as well.
This was when Van Halen had their midget security guards whose basic function was to hold a bottle of Jack Daniels and when you needed a swig you would lift them up and they would pour it down your throat. It didn’t take very long and then I was assigned my very own small security guard.
I didn’t get the gig but we all became friends after that and that in itself was very cool. I heard through a third party that they liked me a lot.
At the time I was playing with Jean Beauvoir in a power trio called BovWar. We later went on to record and tour as Jean Beauvoir. In the late 80’s I helped to form Voodoo X and recorded The Awakening Part I, (with Paul Stanley co-writing and singing backing vocals on ‘A Lover Like You’). After that I helped to form the band From the Fire and recorded Thirty Days and Dirty Nights.
Eventually I ended up in Crown of Thorns with Jean but now have resurrected From the Fire as well and we are currently in the studio recording our third album that should be out around the end of the year. We are also editing a show we played in New York to be released as a DVD and a live album.
You can check out some of Tommy rocking with From The Fire playing ‘Same Song’ here:
Jack Starr, 2015
Back in the 1980s Mike Varney ran the Shrapnel record label that was responsible for unleashing a whole generation of guitar heroes onto the scene including Yngwie J Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore and Tony MacAlpine.
KISS called Mike for advice about a possible new guitarist and one of the guitarists that Mike recommended (along with Yngwie and Michael Angelo) was Jack Starr from the band Virgin Steele that had appeared on a compilation album on Shrapnel Records called ‘U.S. Metal Volume 2’.
So I rang Jack to get the full story. He told me that KISS had called and asked him if he was interested in auditioning but first they’d like to see him play live if he had any upcoming shows in the area. As it happened he had a show coming up at a club called Cheers in Long Island, New York. So Gene Simmons and Eric Carr arrived in Eric’s Porsche to see him play.
I knew Eric previously, before he was in KISS which was kind of cool. I thought I played well that night, I had a Dean Flying V, a Marshall 100 watt head. I was getting a killer sound.
Jack told me that after the show Gene said to him:
You played great but KISS is more than a band, we’re an extravaganza. You don’t fit the part.” He towered over me, I felt like one of the little people. “You played great but you don’t fit the image.” I was overweight at the time which did not help. We spent a long time talking about music, about bands like Blue Cheer and so on.
I asked Gene what he thought of this band the Music Machine and Gene said he thought they were great and seemed to agree with my assertion that they may have been the very first heavy metal band I told Gene that what I thought was amazing about this band was that thought they came out in the hippy flower power days, they wore all black and even dyed their hair black and sang about non hippie subjects like alienation and the dark side of life.
Gene seemed to agree but I did not push the subject because I suspect that this band the Music Machine which was only a footnote in the history of rock had a profound effect on the making of KISS at least from Gene’s perspective.
I’d never heard of the Music Machine before but when I had a look online I kind of saw what Jack meant. All us old school KISS fans know that KISS were influenced in their music and image by other bands of the era but this was one that I’d personally not heard at the time.
Then Gene said an interesting thing to me. “To be a great metal musician you have to be a fan as well. I’m just a regular guy who got lucky. Gene told me, “Next week we’re seeing Steve Mironovich from the band Cities”.
I knew Steve and said “If you don’t take me you gotta take Steve!” I think I would have added a neo-classical side to KISS, a little progressive. I think we could have gone a little more like Dio or Queensrÿche. But I guess when you have a formula that works like KISS…
My experience was a good one, who knows what would have happened if I had been in KISS but I’m happy where I am in life these days still making better and better music.
Indeed he is. Here’s Jack Starr’s Burning Starr performing ‘Sands of Time’ live at the Keep It True Festival in Germany, 2013.
Steve Mironovich AKA Steve Irons live with in Cities c1982 Photo on www.metal-archives.com
So clearly my next task was to find this Steve Mironovich. Jack told me he looked like Randy Rhoads and that he played in the band Cities in NYC. Cities was the band that the late, great AJ Pero had played with prior to joining Twisted Sister.
Steve wasn’t so easy to find until I discovered that he now works under the name of Steve Irons and currently teaches guitar in NYC and plays in his new band Circle of Thorns. I messaged him and asked if he was the Randy Rhoads lookalike that Jack had described?
Haha, yeah I guess I did look like Randy from a far distance! Wow, Jack Starr and Virgin Steele… Yes he was a very nice guy. We did some shows together when I was in Cities. We were playing theatres and clubs back then.
I asked him about his shot at being in KISS and found there was something unique and unfair about Steve’s story. Everyone else who Gene and Paul showed and interest in or auditioned had failed on their own terms. Either their playing, singing, height, age, hair colour or something they said had let them down.
In Steve’s case he didn’t get the job because someone else messed up his chance before he even knew it was there. Steve was gracious enough not to mention the name of the particular individual but he appears to have been the kind of scum that gave the music industry such a bad name back in the old school days.
So anyway, Steve what happened with the KISS job?
I haven’t though about that in quite a while but I remember it like it was yesterday it was a pretty big event for me. I was just seventeen years old, I was in Cities and we were doing really well early on. We got a following very quickly and played L’Amours really regularly; we were kind of like the house band.
I remember our manager telling us he got us an audition to play for Gene and Paul, that they were looking for a warm up band to take out with them. I wasn’t actually aware that they were auditioning guitar players, I had no idea and I’m pretty sure the manager didn’t either at that point. We simply thought we were being auditioned to be taken out on tour.
Gene and Paul set up time in SIR in Manhattan. That’s a really big beautiful studio where bands like KISS and Judas Priest would go and rehearse when they were in town, the stage was like the size of Madison Square Garden so they could work their show out. So that was pretty epic alone.
That was at the time when KISS hadn’t taken their make up off yet. I was a huge KISS fan till I was about sixteen and this was pretty fresh after that so this was a pretty huge deal. You know, we were getting to meet KISS! We were assuming they were going to come with no make up, which was epicly huge in itself. In my opinion, they probably should have never taken it off and could have kept that mystique.
So we got to the studio, waited around a while and Gene came in and he talked to us about half an hour, telling jokes, talking about all kinds of stuff, all the KISS history and how the band started. I remember I told him I wrote Ace Frehley a letter when I was fourteen, to ask if he could send me one of his Les Paul’s rather than smashing at one of the shows, if he could send me a broken guitar to fix. He got a kick out of that.
On a side note, a funny thing. I’m not a small guy, I mean, I’m 5′ 9″ but when Gene came in he was a big guy and he had these six inch heels on, he just looked huge, he towered over all of us. I just looked up at him and it just came out and I was like “You’re f’king huge!” and he was laughing and he looks down at me and says “You’re f’king little!”. So this went on for about half an hour, joking about.
And Paul Stanley came in about half an hour later, and then the two of them were like stand up comics, really nice guys, telling jokes and the whole time we were all like, “Wow, we’re getting to see them without make up!”. So after a good amount of time, we went and did three songs for them. There’s actually a recording of this audition that the singer Ronnie Angel did, he’s probably still got it.
But it was really cool because after we were done, Gene made a B-line right up to the stage and he came right up to me and he said “You know Steve, you look f’king huge to me right now” and man, I felt so good! That was pretty epic for me.
A week or so went by and we didn’t hear anything that I knew of. Now remember I was seventeen and Cities was signed to this manager, we had a contract with him and apparently that’s when the manager got hold of us and let us know. He told us “Listen, KISS wanted Steve in the band. They wanted him to dye his hair dark and put him on extra heels to bring him up to their height- they had it all worked out.”
And that M-F’ker turned them down!
He was trying to get them to buy out the contract for an insane amount of money. He didn’t want to break up Cities. He figured if Gene and Paul wanted me that he had a commodity there that he wasn’t looking to part ways with.
So I was furious, I was insane. It was too late at that point, they had already gotten Vinnie Vincent. Yeah, I was furious. The guys in the band said they were really pissed too because I could have played with KISS a while and come back and their minds I could have still been in Cities and it would have helped the band out as well. So we were furious! That was a ballsy move, not to let us know.
So KISS found out what happened, they didn’t have any idea that I didn’t know about any of this, and they met with us and they felt really bad and being gentlemen I guess they…there wasn’t much they could do about getting me in the band but they did try to help me and Cities out.
They didn’t dig Ronnie’s lead vocals, he was playing rhythm guitar and singing, so they wanted us to get a different lead singer and have Ronnie play rhythm guitar. They said they had a singer in mind called Outlaw Alan and we should audition him. It was cool, we probably met with them another three or four times. We’d go and meet them up in the office.
The first singer, he was really flaky to say the least. We did one rehearsal with him and it didn’t go real well. And we’d go back up to them and we’d meet Chris Lendt, their road manager at the time, then we’d go up and meet them. I remember going up and meeting Eric Carr, nicest dude you ever met, he was always so happy, always in a great mood always real positive, just a really nice guy. This went on for the course of a year but none of the singers really panned out and after a while we just slowly lost contact. I guess it didn’t go the way Gene was looking for it to go. I wish it had gone another way but that’s just not how it worked.
Yeah, that manager, needless to say we fired him and he used to come to the shows and actually try to picket the shows and stop people from coming in. I remember him being outside L’Amours with a picket sign, because we fired him and that was apparently against the contract. He tried taking actions against us but I guess there wasn’t really anything he could do.
But yeah, he really F’ed up. He totally f’ed me up. Live and learn, man.
Steve is currently teaching guitar in New York and fronting his new band Circle of Thorns. See www.circleofthorns.com.
Bruce Kulick live with KISS, 1985
Now here’s one of the bigger surprises on this list of guitarists. Bruce Kulick, who joined KISS in 1984 had been rumoured to have auditioned for them in 1982 and was not chosen for the job at the time. Back then Bruce was playing in the Good Rats (with Joe Nevolo who had auditioned as drummer for KISS two years previously) but was recommended for the gig by his brother Bob who was playing guitar for KISS in the studio around that time.
This sounded like an odd rumour so I got in touch with Bruce and asked him if it was true. He told me:
Yes, I was part of the cattle call of guitar players!
They were super loud, I mistakenly took a Boogie head I liked from my Blackjack days with Bolton, and I don’t think I was my best. I couldn’t hear myself! I was sporting a full BK moustache at the time, and was quite shy.
Gene said, “Great vibrato,” but honestly I knew it wasn’t to be.
Of course KISSTORY happened in 1984 when a no facial hair BK did a session for Paul for ‘Animalize’, and he instinctually told me NOT to cut my hair. I filled in for Mark (St.John), and it became the beginning of my amazing 12 year journey as the KISS guitarist.
The irony here is that Bruce Kulick turned out to be a much better fit for the band musically and personality-wise in the long run. Bruce is an awesome player, he had the height, the image, mutual friends and similar backgrounds. I think this says more about Gene and Paul’s indecisive nature in 1982 rather than any weakness on Bruce’s part.
Here’s some KISS with Bruce Kulick to enjoy:
Incidentally, Bruce also confirmed to one of our spies that Joey Hunting mentioned in Part 1 of this article (later of Mr President and the twin brother of Union bassist, James Hunting) was another guitarist who auditioned for KISS in 1982.
More recently Bruce has released an album of seven songs by his first band KKB, recorded back in 1974. Bruce describes it as:
Three young men pouring their hearts out making music, never concerned about anything but the music. That was the intention. It was pure, it was real. And now it’s available for all to enjoy.
For more details and to order the KKB CD go to http://www.kulick.net/kkb/
Vinnie Vincent on the ‘Creatures of the Night’ Tour, 1983
So now having considered everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Richie Sambora, Steve Farris to Bruce Kulick, Gene and Paul ended up choosing the guy they didn’t like right at the beginning of all this. In Paul Stanley’s book ‘Face The Music’ he says of Vinnie that: “He seemed somehow wrong but we were between a rock and a hard place.”
And thus it came to be that Vinnie Cusano joined the band in time for the opening of the ‘Creatures of the Night’ tour. Gene renamed him as, Vinnie Vincent and Paul designed his onstage character as the Egyptian Warrior.
I personally loved the music Vinnie made with KISS but soon disputes between Vinnie and the rest of the band led KISS to fire him in just over a year later and start the search for a guitarist all over again.
At the end of that marathon search, we have concluded that the following guitarists did audition live with the band to potentially replace Ace Frehley in 1982 (in no particular order):
1. Vinnie Cusano
2. Doug Aldrich
3. John Verner
4. Tommy Lafferty
5. Adam Bomb
6. Michael Angelo
7. Robbin Crosby
8. Bruce Kulick
9. Joey Hunting
10. Richie Sambora
11. Punky Meadows
12. Steve Farris
13. Marq Torien
14. Roger Romeo
15. Spencer Sercombe
16. Al Romero
In addition, I have strong suspicions (but no confirmation) that Joe Shikany
and Donnie Dacus also auditioned.
And we now know that Gene and Paul considered the following enough to check out as potentials but did not go as far as to audition them in a live rehearsal:
2. Yngwie J Malmsteen
3. Roger Fischer
4. Michael Ray
5. Jack Starr
6. Steve Irons
There may still be many more to add to the lists of those who auditioned or were considered. Please let us know via the MetalTalk contact page if you know of any more guitarists that auditioned for KISS.
We can also conclude that the rumours of the following auditioning for KISS are not true:
1. Bob Kulick
2. Eddie Van Halen
3. Robben Ford
4. Howard Leese
5. Keith Scott
6. Steve Hunter
7. Mick Mars
8. Ross the Boss
In addition we’ve learned such useful KISS trivia as:
1. Paul Stanley personally rang most of the guitarists himself.
2. Gene Simmons did not own a record turntable in 1982.
3. Bruce Kulick used Mesa Boogie heads in Blackjack before joining KISS.
4. In the 1970s KISS considered doing a cover version of Legs Diamond’s ‘Satin Peacock’.
5. Gene and Paul are Dolly Parton fans.
6. The band Music Machine may have been an early influence on KISS as the darker side of the Beatles.
7. The type of volume pedal used by Steve Farris on the intro of the ‘Creatures of the Night’ guitar solo was made by Goodrich effects.
8. Gene’s dragon boots used on the ‘Creatures of the Night’ tour were delivered to him at Diana Ross’s address.
9. Vinnie Vincent rehearsed with KISS for the ‘Creatures of the Night’ tour in his street clothes but wearing stack heeled boots, presumably to acclimatise himself to the altitude.
10. No other band in the world has fans so dedicated that they would still be reading number ten in this list of incredibly trivial trivia. Well done, KISS ARMY!
SOURCES AND THANKS
All the sources for this article were personal interviews by Chris Dale with the guitarists in 2015/16. Thanks very much to John Verner, Jonas and Spencer Sercombe, Steve Farris, Karen and Steve Hunter, Roger Romeo, Tommy Lafferty, Jack Starr, Steve Irons, Bruce Kulick, for taking the time to share their stories with us.
A big thanks is also due to Richard Buffet who had looked into this topic before and so was able to give me some great clues about where to begin my searches.