Keyboard player recalls demoing material with Paul Stanley and performing on the “Crazy Nights” album.
Gary, before we get into talking about you working with KISS during the “Crazy Nights” tour, let’s set the stage with where your career was “at” in 1987. First, why the keyboards as your instrument?
Gary Corbett: It’s something that happened at a really early age. I think it primarily happened because my aunt had a piano in her house and before I was of age to go to school my mom was spending a lot of afternoons with her and I would have to keep occupied. So I used to sit at the piano and just play. I was a 3 or 4 year-old kid so I wasn’t really playing the piano; I was probably more banging on the piano. But I was picking out melodies or doing things enough that my parents said, “Let’s get him some lessons and see where it goes.” So it started there and I started taking lessons when I was 4. I basically I learned how to read music before I learned how to read English. So, it’s been my whole life and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t play.
Was there anything in your upbringing that made music inevitable?
Nothing in particular, but, there was never a doubt about it. From the time that the Beatles came out, the Rolling Stones and then, ultimately the Dave Clark Five — because they were the first ones of the British Invasion that had a keyboard player — once those guys came on Ed Sullivan, I was hooked and I knew that that was what I was going to be. I used to wear Beatle boots with my Cub Scout uniform! I was always into it as a little kid and there didn’t really seem to ever be a doubt in the house that that’s what I was gonna do, because it’s what I said I wanted to do. I started earning money at it at 10 years old. One thing my dad always instilled was if you want to be a musician, you can’t just be a rock musician. You have to be able to earn a living as a musician, and that involved learning more than just [the style of music that] I wanted to play. So, I always had that approach and learned all styles of music. I learned pop music, but I also learned older big band music and played with older musicians — I was always the youngest person in the bands I played in. I never had another job my entire life.
That’s a fantastic story to have. That you’ve had a passion for music since age 3 or 4 and made it your life. What was your path into professional music? You said that you’re always the youngest member of the bands that you were in. When did you start playing in bands and when did they get serious enough to really start saying that you’re gonna make a living doing it?
My first band was at 7. We were called the Mosquito’s. I started working and getting paid doing gigs at age 10. At that point I wasn’t old enough to get myself to gigs, so my dad was my chauffer, roadie, equipment carrier and setter-upper. I took piano lessons at a place that taught all instruments and they also had these classes that they called the “combo” classes where they would invite the more promising students for each of the instruments, and on Saturday afternoons one of the teachers would actually put together bands and basically teach you how to play with a band. Playing with a band is a little different than sitting and playing the piano by yourself, so you have to learn to play differently to accommodate the fact that there’s also other people playing. It was just another afternoon activity I guess to keep me off the street, but we used to do these things every Saturday. The woman who owned the school was enterprising enough to capitalize on it and hire us out for sweet 16s, bat mitzvahs, bar mitzvahs, and younger kids’ parties. Nonetheless, we would be working on Saturday nights and we’d play for a couple hours at a party and I’d get paid 10 or $15.
I started doing that at about 10 and then I started working with the kind of bands that played at weddings and bar mitzvahs and all that stuff where I had to put on a black suit and go play with a sax player! At that point it was always older guys. I also used to spend my summers in the Catskill Mountains at a bungalow colony — which was popular back in the 50s and 60s — and people would rent these cottages basically for the summer. They would have a recreation hall, and every Saturday night there would be entertainment. So they’d have a trio: a drummer, keyboard player and a sax player. They played dance music for a few hours and then around 11 or 12 at night they’d have a singer or a comedian come in and do a sit down show, and then they’d have dance music again afterwards. So, being up in the country for the summer, at around age 13 or 14, I started doing that where I had a set gig at the same place every Saturday night. I did that for three or four summers and then once I got my driver’s license I was able to do a lot more.
So where were you growing up? When you say the Catskills, it screams upstate (New York) to me.
Yes, I was born and raised in Brooklyn and lived there my entire life until 1997. It was a regular thing for people from the city. My parents always wanted to get us out of the city for the summers because that was when all my friends would get in trouble. You know, too much free time on the streets in Brooklyn… Plus the summers in New York City were so much hotter and more humid than upstate, so it was a nice way to have a vacation for the summer. My mom would be up there with us for the whole summer. My dad would commute back and forth. He would come up to the country on Friday afternoons and he would leave Tuesday morning, drive straight into work. His job allowed him to take Fridays and Mondays off during the summer so that he could be up there with us, so that was the way I grew up. Until I was 17-years-old and got my driver’s license, every summer was up at the bungalow. Of course, as a kid you can’t wait until you could stay home with your friends, but my parents would never allow it! Once I graduated high school that’s when I really started trying to get into a touring band and into the real music business.
So what is your entry point into what we might call the real music business?
I graduated high school June of ’76 and that summer started with me having a gig up in the Catskills. I guess very much like the resort in Dirty Dancing. It was kind of schlocky and it wasn’t a really good gig; it was a trio with me, a drummer and, believe it or not, the instrument that played the melody was a trombonist. Two weeks into the summer I had had enough and quit. Then I got a call, to come back to the city. There was an act, a woman named Cherry Vanilla, who started out as a public relations person for David Bowie’s company, MainMan, Ltd., as punk rock was starting, she decided she wanted to be a singer and I got a call to be in her band. Max’s Kansas City was a happening club, and she was a regular, and we would travel on up to Boston and played the Rathskeller Club. Max’s Kansas City did a record of all the top acts that played there, and on Max’s ’76 album we did a track [Ed. “Shake Your Ashes”]. We’d been up to a studio in Massachusetts to record it so I guess you could say that was the first chance to actually “make it.”
So, once you’ve got your first break, you’ve got your foot in the door, so to speak. How do you start moving up the musical food chain?
In 1977, I got a call to play with Ian Hunter. He had just released the album “You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic,” and a buddy of mine, Tommy Mandel, was actually the keyboard player, but his father had passed away the night before they were leaving for the tour, so I got that last minute call asking, “Can you be on a plane tomorrow and fill in for him for a couple of weeks?” I did, so I guess that’s really where it all kind of got started. I started meeting people… As a matter of fact, a lot of the band on that gig had just finished the first Meat Loaf tour which included the Kulick Brothers. Ellen Foley was the opening act for Ian on the shows that we did, and they kind of shared the band. It was a really kind of cool band. The drummer was a guy named Hilly Michaels, who was in Sparks. The bass player was Martin Briley who had a song, “You Ain’t Worth the Salt in My Tears,” which was a big hit back in the ’80s. The guitar player was a guy named Billy Cross who played with Bob Dylan at the time. And Ellen was singing backgrounds for Ian. The band just backed up both acts, so it was a really fun musical thing. David Johansen was also there. Cleveland International was the company that was managing all these artists so it was kind of their “A list” guys backing everybody up. So, I had the pleasure of being able to be a part of that for a couple weeks. It was a lot of fun, but that’s where I started meeting people and going into the city more and trying to find the next gig.
That sounds like a lot of fun, what about trying to find a regular band to be a part of?
At that point I had auditioned for lots of bands, including one with Michael Bolton, called Blackjack. As a matter of fact when I first started working with KISS, Bruce Kulick said, “I know you from somewhere!” We started talking about it and figured out that he remembered me from the Blackjack auditions. He said, “That’s right, you were that really young kid who had come in.” I think it was down to me and the guy who actually got the gig, Alan St. Jon that went on to play with Billy Squier. I was banging around a bunch of studios, and started to play around New York City a lot more. I found a band through the Village Voice that played at a club called Great Gildersleeves in Manhattan [Ed. 331 Bowery between 2nd and 3rd Streets] that was a really cool live music club. The band was called Falcon Eddy, and they were really hot at that club. We’d play every weekend at either Great Gildersleeves or Tracks, Privates, and Hurrah’s. There were so many clubs that had live music that we worked two shows a weekend, every weekend just about. We opened for the Kinks and lots of different people. We opened for the Scorpions — I think it was probably their first tour in the states. So I played with those guys for a couple years and, you know, one thing leads to another…
The importance of networking old school, face to face, and getting your name around and then you get a phone call… Let’s jump forward to 1984 and talk about “She Bop”. Cyndi Lauper shares a history with KISS for also playing at NYC clubs such as the Coventry and opening for the all-female band ISIS. How did that collaboration come about?
We’re back at the Great Gildersleeves playing with Falcon Eddy. We were supposed to get signed to Tommy Mottola’s company, but it never happened, so I left the band and joined Tom Dickie and the Desires who were managed by Tommy. Tom Dickie came from a “Gildersleeves” band called “Susan” and when he left that band, he formed Tom Dickie and the Desires. We did two albums on Mercury Records. During the pre production for the second record one of the guys they were looking at to produce was Steve Lunt. He’d been in a band called City Boy. Steve and I, even though he didn’t end up producing the record, ended up hitting it off and decided we were going to do some writing together. He was managed by Dave Wolf, who ended up being Cyndi’s manager. Blue Angel had just lost their deal on Polygram, but being on the New York club scene I was already a huge fan of Cyndi and her band. She was so awesome live with that band! So what happened was, Steve told me that Cyndi was willing to sing the demos for us when we finish writing the songs. We were recording simple four-track demos and had already written the music for “She Bop.” The track was complete — including the whistle solo in the middle. Everything was done. We had the song titled. Steve had a notebook full of titles that we would go through and we would look at them and just pick an appropriate title for whatever we thought the music sounded like, just so it would be easier to remember and reference in the future. Instead of saying, “You remember that idea that sounded like …” He’s British, and explained to me that “Bop” was a slang term for masturbation, so we just laughed about it, and I said, “Yeah, okay, that’s a good title for the music.”
When Cyndi came over to sing one or two of the other songs that we actually had finished, she accidentally heard the music to “She Bop” and said, “Wow! I really like that. Can I write the lyrics with you and I’ll do it on my record?” She had just gotten her solo deal. Blue Angel had sold something like 20,000 records, so in my mind I thought it’d be great if she sold the same number for her solo record; and to have a song on it! So, we just said, “Yeah, take it.” We never expected what happened to happen. There was just that social type of thing, the networking, and the social aspect that used to be such an amazing part of the business back then, which no longer exists. That was how everything got done back then before the internet and social media. There really was no other way.
What a great part of your career, to be part of something so special — which that album is regardless of anyone’s preference for a particular style of music. It was impossible as a teenager in the early 1980s to not be aware of Cyndi’s explosion on the popular scene with that album and her quirky style.
Yeah, and I still get checks a couple times a year. It’s unbelievable what it turned into…
Getting paid for your art, that’s an important part of it!
Yes, absolutely! It’s funny because at the time, while I was trying to peruse the dream of being in a band and getting signed to a record deal, I always did the wedding band stuff on weekends because, like I said, my dad instilled that in me that you can’t call yourself a professional musician if you can’t earn a living being a musician. You’re not going to just sit around all week and wait for your “rock” band to do something. You’re going to work. If you’re going to be a musician and you’re not going to go to school for something else, this is how you’re going to do it. So, that was just part of what I did. There was a gap between the time the album for Cyndi was finished, and became a hit, so I was still going out and doing these gigs on weekends and putting on my tuxedo and going and playing cover stuff and Top-40 stuff. When the album came out and the song took off, I was still playing in the wedding band because the money hadn’t started coming in yet. It takes 9 months to a year before you start seeing royalties after a song becomes a hit. So, during that time period I still had to put on my tuxedo and go play weddings. People would come up to the bandstand and say, “do you guys know “She Bop?” And the singer would say, “Yeah, that guy over there wrote it. And they’d say, “Yeah, sure. If he wrote it, what the hell’s he doing here!” That used to kill me, absolutely kill me, but eventually the checks started to come in, and I was able to burn my tuxedo and stop doing the wedding gigs.
I think Gene Simmons would approve of your work ethic! So let’s get into 1987 and KISS’s “Crazy Nights.” Phil Ashley, of course, recorded the keyboard parts in the studio and had worked with Paul Stanley during the writing sessions. So, how did Gary Corbett enter KISS’s radar range? How were you approached to tour with the band?
After I started getting my royalties, I went out and bought a bunch of gear. I bought my first computer which was an Apple IIe computer — because computers were just starting to be used to make music. Since “She Bop” had been a result of us experimenting with drum machines and synthesizers, I also bought my own four-track, drum machine and DX7 synth. I started doing a lot of work in studios around Manhattan as a programmer for people, because at that point it was a new thing, and when something like that is new everybody wants to use it. It became the way in the 80s that many records were done. It seemed there were no more drummers playing on pop records at the time, as it was all drum machines! It took a while before there were a lot of people who could actually do it themselves, so I worked a lot, as a result. I used to work at Electric Lady Studios all the time. One time I happened to walk out to the coffee machine, and there’s a guy standing there, so we started talking. That guy was Phil Ashley. I told him how I was getting a little tired of the programming thing, because when you’re programming you’re not playing with a band and you’re not bouncing ideas off of other musicians you’re being creative in a different way. It’s fun, and it’s great to be the source of all the parts, until you have a creative block; and then there’s nobody else to pick up the slack. So, it was getting a little bit old to me to not have a band to play with. That’s really what I loved doing, so I told him that I was at a point where I was ready to hit the road and take a break from the studio.
That’s been something I’ve always had to do. If you look at the names on my resume, even style-wise it, it goes from one style to another because I’m always needing change like that. We exchanged numbers and went back into the studios that we were working in. About a week later, he called me up and said, “Listen, I got myself in a bit of a jam and I could use your help, if you’re still interested in going on the road.” I said, “Sure!” He said, “I got myself kind of double booked on two different tours, and I would love for you to cover one of them for me.” I said, “Sure, who are you playing with?” And he said, “Lou Gramm from Foreigner.” And I went, “Oh, that’s great, man, who I am gonna play with?” He says, “No, you’re playing with Lou Gramm, and I’m going out on the road with Mick Jagger.” Mick had just done his solo album [Ed. “Primitive Cool”]. So, I ended up getting the gig with Lou. About a week later he called me up again, and he told me he had just done the record with KISS, and that they had thought about actually wanting to take a keyboard player out live. Because of his relationship with Paul they weren’t really going to be doing cattle call auditions. They were basically trusting Phil’s recommendation and all I basically had to do was go to a meeting at the office with Paul Stanley and Chris Lendt. We sat and talked for a few minutes, and they pretty much said, “Okay, you’re hired!” That was it, but it was Phil Ashley who recommended me.
What did the interview entail? The sort of, “Do you have a passport? Are you ready to go?” vanilla questions, or was there anything technical or anything else asked to judge you personality-wise for what they wanted?
It was more personality-wise, because from a musical standpoint, Paul trusted Phil. Phil was really involved in the demoing process of many of Paul’s songs for the album. At that point everybody else in the band had moved out to Los Angeles, so for Paul, when it was time to write songs for the next KISS record, he didn’t have the guys from the band to lean on. He had his friends in New York and he ended up doing a lot of it with Phil. Phil had a room that he kept at Electric Lady Studios where he had his own personal little 12 track setup and his computer, and all that stuff. So, they ended up demoing all the songs there and when it came time for the record, they recorded it with Ron Nevison and Phil played keyboards. It was just that he was very connected to it and Paul trusted his musical judgment — especially, I guess, when it came to keyboard players! Paul really didn’t know much about that end of it, and Phil did, so from the musical point they really trusted his judgment. It was more about the personality and just to see that I wasn’t some nut job. That I fit in too or I could possibly be a good hang or whatever. It was more about that than anything else.
What was your initial impression of Paul from that first meeting?
It was a little overwhelming walking into that office, you know. Of course, I had been aware of them for a few years, and they were huge. I wasn’t really a die hard KISS fan, but when you meet somebody of that magnitude it’s intimidating. I guess it made it easier because it was just him and wasn’t the whole band. It would’ve been a lot harder if I walked into the room and it was all four of them and management and everybody else there. It probably would’ve been a lot more uncomfortable. Paul can be a very charming personable person, so it wasn’t an uncomfortable situation at all. Chris Lendt was there and he was very nice. The only uncomfortable moment was when they finally said, “Okay, you’re hired.” We started talking about the set list. They said that they weren’t sure what the set list was going to be, so they would really like me to be familiar with everything, which was like, 20 albums. I guess that was more of a test than anything else, so when they asked me what albums I needed — because at that point it was still vinyl — I said, “All of them!” They kind of looked at me funny, but they handed me a few envelopes stuffed with albums. I was actually leaving for a tour with Lou. We were going on tour in Europe, so I wasn’t even going to be back in the country until the second week of KISS’s rehearsals. They were actually gonna start the rehearsals without me so I flew from the last gig with Lou in Munich straight out to LA and, and then started with them. I never even went home between tours! My entire time on tour with Lou in Germany I was listening to KISS albums. I transferred all the albums they gave me to cassettes and I had my auto reverse Walkman with my headphones and speakers that I traveled with. I slept with it on continuous loop so that I could subliminally absorb it! I listened to it with headphones as we traveled from one city to the next. It was basically my background music for the entire European trip, but that’s what I needed to do to really learn it all properly.
So had you done the tour’s musical rehearsals with Lou before the meeting with KISS?
Oh yeah. We had already done some shows with Lou in the states although that tour didn’t make it all the way through in the states. What happened was Lou’s tour had started and Phil was going to do the first 2 weeks and then I was going to step in. During the first 2 weeks of the tour, there was some stuff going on at the record company and they said they’re going to postpone the tour. So, I never got to go out and do any of the shows in the States, but I did all the rehearsals and everything as an understudy with Phil. I’d go to rehearsal every day and just watch, but I also had a recording of the band running through the set — minus the keyboards — and once the band left at the end of the day, I would stay behind and crank it through the PA system and run through the show. So, I was already up to speed with Lou, and then they added this European tour. I was finally going to get to do some shows, so I was really excited about it because he was always somebody I had idolized. That part of it was a thrill. I was a huge Foreigner fan at that point. When I was still doing the work up in the Catskills in the 80s when I was engaged to my wife, we had a conversation, while driving up for the summer, and she asked “If you could play with anybody in the world that you want, who would it be?” I pointed to the cassette deck, with “Foreigner 4” playing, and said, “It would be that guy!” At the time, the Lou gig was actually the gig of a lifetime and I was really thrilled to have it. I really loved playing with him and it was a great band. He was still in great physical shape and his voice was still amazing. I used to get goose-bumps every night with him.
He played a really good set for that tour, didn’t he? He’s got some Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Humble Pie, the Small Faces, and all the stuff from the “Ready or Not” album. It, it looks like a really fun tour to have been a part of.
Like I said, it was a great band. Bruce Turgon, who was his right-hand guy in that situation, had co-written all the stuff for the “Ready or Not” album with Lou. Lou’s brother, Ben, was playing drums. He is a great drummer. It was an awesome gig to have. It was just sad that there wasn’t more of it! I did get to play with him again in 2003, but he had already gone through his health issues and it was hard for me to actually go and do it because it really hurt me to see him in that condition. I actually ended up doing the second solo record, called “Long Hard Look” [Ed. Released in 1989]. We even did the one of the Small Faces songs that we did in the 1987 show on the second record and I played on that.
That was “Tin Soldier,” right?
Yep, that’s the one. Yeah, I’m on that. That was Eric Thorngren that produced that record?
Yes, Peter Wolf and Eric Thorngren.
We recorded at Lou’s house up in Katonah, New York. He had a studio above his “garage.” It wasn’t your typical garage, it was a 10 car garage! He was a muscle car collector so it was this huge square building on the property of his really nice estate. He had a whole studio upstairs with a Neve console and a 2 inch 24 track machine. So I would drive up there and we would go play racquetball and then work on the record and have dinner with the family. And that was how that the second record was done. It was great to work with him. You know, it’s nice to get to work with someone you idolized like that.
That’s a great story! So, you were spending your tour of Germany doing your prep work for the next tour; listening to the KISS tapes. Were you in touch with them, while you were on tour with Lou? From their perspective, wouldn’t it have been difficult for them to be waiting for you while they’re starting to get things going and did they ever consider just going with someone else because of your availability?
What they had told me was that it usually takes them a week or so to knock the rust off — because of not playing together since the last tour [Ed. Which had ended in April 1986] — or the recording of the record. There was so much other stuff that needed to be addressed for the tour during the first week. It’s kind of a matter of get up and get everything running properly anyway. So, they really wouldn’t really have missed me much; and as long as I came in prepared I could get up to speed pretty quick. They were confident that I would actually do my homework and be ready to go so they didn’t really worry about it. I think they actually welcomed the fact that they got to get into their routine before I was there.
So, you fly directly from Germany to Los Angeles and you’re rehearsing with KISS. Were these the musical rehearsals or are they the full stage production rehearsals by that point?
It was a little bit of both. We were rehearsing in a rehearsal studio. Do you remember the set for the “Crazy Nights” tour? It had that kind of semi-circular ramp that went around the drums toward the back of the stage. They had that part of the stage in the rehearsal room that we were in, so that they could get used to being on it and running around and doing their thing. That really was the most impressive thing to me at the first day of rehearsal. I get off the plane after flying from Germany, and before I even go to check into a hotel they took me straight to a TV studio where the band was taping a an episode of “Top of the Pops,” which was that British TV show. They tried to do an American version of the show, but that didn’t last long. But, in the ’80s, when MTV was so successful, every network tried to do their own video show. And that’s when I first met Gene, Eric, and Bruce. I walked in the dressing room as they were getting ready to go on. That was a fun night, and the first rehearsal was the next day. I got to the rehearsal room and everybody was off in their own little corners.
Eric was over in one end doing drum stuff with his drum tech, Paul was dealing with his stuff, and Gene was off on the phone doing his business stuff and everything. It was very quiet, a very business-like environment. But when they said, “Okay, you guys ready to play?” everybody just walks up to the stage, puts on their instruments and from the downbeat of the first song; it’s a full-on KISS show! They were running and jumping and it really floored me that they could just flip a switch like that and all of a sudden there’s a full-on KISS show going on in the room right in front of me. It was very impressive and that really showed me something about their talent for putting on a show. They might not have been the best musicians in the world, but as performers and entertainers they had a keen sense about that, that I’ve never seen anywhere else. Obviously they managed to sustain themselves as one of the top rock shows of all time, so it wasn’t by accident and they worked real hard at it. It really gave me a new respect for what they did.
So when you properly meet them for the first time — I don’t think we can call the “Top of the Pops” introduction a proper meeting of them since they were about to go into basically work — what are your initial impression of the band members? We’ve already talked a little about Paul, so let’s start with Gene.
Gene can be a little intimidating. The first thing he said, as I walked into the dressing room at “Top of the Pops,” was, “I want your jacket!” I had bought this leather jacket while I was in Germany, and it was really cool — it had buckles and all this stuff on it — so that was the icebreaker. It made me relax a little bit because he gave me a compliment. I don’t remember talking much to him at that point. But Bruce, that’s when he and I started talking and realizing that we kind of had met before, and we had the whole conversation about Blackjack. Eric and I hit it off immediately, because he also grew up in Brooklyn with a very similar background to me. We played at some of the same clubs growing up and there were a lot of similarities between us. I didn’t have a rental car — I was staying at the Hyatt on Sunset and he was still living in New York — so for the time that we rehearsed he would rent a suite at an extended stay type hotel and he did have a rental car. The arrangement was that he would swing by and pick me up on the way to rehearsal every day and drop me off, so we had a lot of time at that point to kind of get to know each other. We just hit it off, we just had so much in common that it clicked, instantly.
So you’re working at these rehearsals, was it always planned for you to be an offstage player for the tour?
For that tour? Yes, absolutely, that was always the plan. Of course, Gene, to be honest with you, never really wanted keyboards in the first place. Gene didn’t like the keyboards. Gene didn’t want the keyboards, and he let it be very well known. He used to tell me that keyboards were not a rock and roll instrument. And he meant it. Forget about Jerry Lee Lewis, or Jon Lord, etc. Keyboards were not a rock and roll instrument and at sound check every day whenever the soundman would get through with everybody else and say, “Okay, Gary, could you give me a little bit of keys?” As soon as I would start to play by myself he would start fake ice skating around the stage. Because that’s what keyboards were to him — it was music for ice skaters. Gene is Gene and the one thing about being on tour with those guys is that they were hilarious, but you had to have a “thick skin”. They all had really sharp wits and there was heavy sarcasm going on. We were all New Yorkers, so I got it, and I could dish it out just as well. It was constant. There was always somebody busting somebody’s balls! I think that was more important, when we had our initial meeting, just to make sure that I was a person that could deal with it.
There were a lot of times when it came time for a tour, you get these crew guys that grew up being KISS fans. And they couldn’t do their jobs if Gene or Paul were nearby because they were so enamored that “they’re,” over there. We had a pyro guy that Gene fired in the middle of a show while he was onstage playing. He looked over at the guy and said, “You’re fired”, and through a series of hand gestures, and “demon” looks, had the pyro guy get away from the pyro rig and give the button to his bass tech,” and Dave Rule (Gene’ bass tech) had to trigger the explosions for the rest of that night until they could replace the guy. Fortunately, I wasn’t like that, so I was fine. I used to laugh, you know, it was kind of funny, and they would throw picks at me and I’d pick ’em up and throw ‘em back. It got to the point where I had my own bags of guitar picks just as ammo to throw back at them. It was fun, but Gene’s got really good aim with a pick. He could hit the sound guy at the board from the stage. It was amazing.
They turned it into an art form what they could do with picks.
Yeah, they really did!
Did you have any input on the sweetening and where and how the keyboards were gonna be used in the show or did they, Paul in particular, have a very clear vision of exactly where you were going to feature and how you were going to feature?
No, they had no idea at all and I don’t think they really gave it much thought up to that point. I think that all that was important to them was the stuff that was on the “Crazy Nights” album –that I covered the keyboard parts where there were actually keyboard parts on the record. I had the choice that I could either just play those six songs, and then having nothing else to do, or I could figure out something to do. So I played on every song during the show, and as time went on I was basically doubling pretty much everything that Gene and Paul were playing. When they’re running around doing the show their playing could suffer a little bit, so I would play the stuff that the rhythm guitar part was playing and also pumping the bass stuff so that if they didn’t hit every note it wasn’t as apparent. As samplers became a thing, I also started doing some background vocal samples in the choruses of probably half of the songs in the set and some sound effects.
There were nights when the fire marshall would show up in the afternoon to watch a pyro run through and then say, “Well, you can’t use the explosions but you could use the colorful stuff.” Gene would have that spot in his bass solo where he fired rockets from his guitar up at the PA cabinet and it would explode and confetti would fall out, and there would be explosions that would go with it that came from the pyro guy. But in the buildings where they couldn’t use the concussion stuff, I would have these samples of explosions that really rumbled through the PA, and it became part of my job to trigger them at the appropriate places. He would do his bass solo and go up to the side of the stage and point his bass up, hit the button, the rocket would fly up and then I’d hit the key that triggered the explosion. The siren in “Firehouse” was another thing that I did, and the talking in the middle of “God of Thunder” was something that came from the keyboards. It grew as time went on what I did, but I always played every song from day one.
So you’re really you’re really thickening the sound for the band, aren’t you? You’re, you’re helping them mask faults and making the show richer. What’s the core equipment that Gary Corbett’s using in October/November 1987? What was the equipment that you took out on tour?
On that record they used the Roland JX 10 keyboards. There was the Jupiter line which was a very popular analog synthesizer with very typical ’80s sound. It was the sound in “Reason to Live.” Bruce would play the keyboards on stage for that song during the show because they were so predominant. I guess they felt if the keyboards were there and nobody onstage was playing them, it would be apparent that there was somebody else. So for the first half of the song they actually had a keyboard up onstage that Bruce played. It was also a Roland JX 10, and he would start the song and we both played together, but then — like halfway through — he’d swing the guitar around and walk away from the keyboard and, of course, the keyboards continued. Because of that they bought the two JX 10s, so they had the one that I used and the one that he used. For the rest of my rig, I had a Korg EX 8000 which was basically Korg’s version of that type of synth. I would MIDI them together, which means that I would play the Roland JX but also hear the sound of the Korg layered with the Roland when I played — so it doubled it to be even thicker. So, basically what ended up becoming my signature sound, if you will, was a combination of those two synths and on one song I might dial in a little bit more of a gritty sound on one so it wasn’t as smooth; so it wasn’t that typical keyboard sound and it blended better with the guitars. What I was going for, especially on the songs that didn’t have keyboards, were sounds that were guitar-ish and just basically filled the sonic spectrum; that you couldn’t really distinguish from the guitars.
When you listen to one of the pro-recordings from the tour you can hear the thickness of the overall sound, which I guess is you doubling the guitar chords throughout the songs. It sounds lush, and different from earlier tours.
Basically I became like an expensive effects unit and it was the kind of thing where you only noticed it when it stopped. It wouldn’t stick out so much as much as just filling everything in, but it was more apparent if I stopped playing that something had just fallen out of the sound, but you couldn’t put your finger on what it was. That was always how I approached it, which was different than many keyboard players because most keyboard players are very technically oriented and schooled and when it comes time to play with a band they always want to stand out and show what they learned at their lessons. I never cared about being noticed. I just wanted to make the band sound better and do what I was hired to do.
Eric’s drum solo involved a lot of synth. Did you work with Eric to help him on that aspect of the show?
Yes. He wasn’t a very technical guy. When I got there, he had already had the simmons pads that were all around the top of his drum kit and he had a synth module in a rack that those pads were connected to. Each one of those pads would be a different note. So if the song was in the key of E, at the last note of the song when the last note was ringing out and everybody’s just bashing out, he would also embellish it by hitting the appropriate pad and adding a low rumble to the end of the song. So he was already doing that when I got there, but when I started doing the sampler stuff with the vocals and sound effects and everything, he got interested in it and bought a sampler. We would do that for his drum solos. I remember going and sampling all these different Metallica guitar riffs, that he would trigger from the Simmons pads. He would start a guitar riff that would loop around once it played through, and then he would play the drums to it. But we always sampled guitar riffs. If it was a song that started with just a guitar on a Metallica record, we would sample the four bars or the two bars of the riff — just the guitar, never a full band thing — and we had all these different little snippets across each one of those pads. He would incorporate it into his solo. I helped him do all that stuff.
What are you doing on stage while he’s doing a solo? Are you still at your keyboards triggering stuff while he’s doing the drum solo or is it “break” time for you?
No, break time. Definitely break time!
During “break” time, what’s going on backstage? Are you, or any of the band members, talking about what’s going on in the show, or is it simply a matter of catch your breath and just relax for a few moments?
It depends on which tour. By the “Hot in the Shade” tour, they had thought enough about my placement to actually build something as part of the stage to actually hide me properly. On the “Crazy Nights” tour, when I first started working with them, although they didn’t want me on stage and they really didn’t want people to know I was there, there really was no place to put me where they could be guaranteed that nobody would see me. Typically, I would be on the floor behind the stage left PA stack, which meant that people on the sides could see me and knew I was there, but I wasn’t visible to the main audience. On the “Hot in the Shade” tour, they actually built something we used to refer to as the “condo,” which was off on Gene’s side of the stage and it housed my keyboard rig and also Gene’s bass rig. His bass tech would be in there, and there was a little ramp that came down from the right side of the stage. It was only like a 3-foot ramp that came into the “condo” from the stage.
So, I had the view right across the stage from the side of the stage, but there were opaque curtains. It was a pipe and drape type thing, so I was kind of covered at that point which then meant that it became a little bit of a party room during the show as well. The fun thing about touring with those guys was that it seemed that every band that came out in the ’80s opened for KISS, at one time or another, they were all huge KISS fans. Guys like Slaughter, Faster Pussycat, and Danger, Danger. They would be with us for months at a time, so you become friendly with them and it was a very common thing for Mark Slaughter or Ted Poley to be standing next to me while I played. And they’d be singing backgrounds with me, and having fun, just because they were fans, like little kids at that point. So my “condo” became kind of a meeting spot. It actually was good once I had that little hiding spot because it allowed us to do a lot more fun things.
Mark Slaughter, he’s an awesome guy. Let’s get back to November of 1987 here. Six songs from the “Crazy Nights” album debut at the first show in Jacksonville, Mississippi: “When Your Walls Come Down,” “Bang Bang You,” “Hell or High Water,” “No, No, No,” “Reason to Live,” and “Crazy Crazy Nights.” Were those the only songs from the album that you rehearsed or were there other new songs tried out during the rehearsals?
There might’ve been one or two others that were rehearsed, but they either never really sounded great or there was something about them that they didn’t like. Maybe they didn’t feel the other songs were necessary, especially if they weren’t going to be singles. I think that album was more of a Paul album than a Gene album. Gene was so busy at that time, pursuing his acting, and he had the record company, so I don’t think his attention in the off season was on the band, as much as it had been on previous albums. When it came time to write the new record, I think it kind of fell more on Paul’s shoulders. Gene did have a couple of songs, I think “No, No, No” was one of his.
Yes, so was “Hell or High Water,” which wasn’t performed much.
There’s a couple that were Gene’s songs, but the main vibe of that record is definitely a Paul record.
Absolutely, and none of them will deny that Ron Nevison was Paul’s choice. He had no choice but to try and carry the load on his own. Were there any of those “Crazy Night” songs that you could choose as a favorite that you really enjoyed performing every night, that immediately struck you as your sort of song?
No, because even though I’m a keyboard player, I like the heavier stuff and that’s probably why I was able to do what I did for them. Even though I’m a keyboard player, I understand Gene’s feelings about keyboards, although I might not agree with them. I know what he’s feeling, so I was very careful in my approach to never step outside of that zone. I understood that and I did appreciate the heavier stuff and the earlier songs more. For me, songs like “Rock and Roll All Nite,” and stuff like that were the songs that I was really familiar with from KISS before I ever worked with them, so those were the songs that I kind of looked forward to.
Well, that answers the next question as well… Which was, of the classic stuff, what was kind of more in your wheelhouse?
“Strutter” was fun. “Heaven’s on Fire” was fun. I also liked “Tears are Falling”. I used to sing a lot of backgrounds too, so that was fun for me to be a part of the background vocals. I really enjoyed the challenge of making it sound as huge, and KISS-like as possible. Overall, it didn’t bother me to be off stage, but it’s a little hard to not be on stage when you’re playing and there’s a huge audience. However, there were times, like during the “Monsters of Rock” tour [Ed. Summer 1988] when people were throwing bottles full of piss from the audience at Donington where I was kind of happy to be offstage because I knew I’d never be hit!
There are certainly times when being offstage had its benefits! So, on the early part of the U.S. tour, the audiences were pretty unspectacular. It’s well documented, mid-60, if that, percent at best, and even lower in some cases. Shows, such as one in Lake Charles, Louisiana are cancelled. What was the mood of the band as they set out on this tour, and then started seeing those sorts of results?
It was dark. The sarcasm kind of turned to that stuff. We would be in the dressing room and Paul would say something like, “We should order a pizza for the audience,” or something like that. They’d make a joke about it, but you know, at the same time, they were also figuring out ways to hang curtains in strategic places in the arena to block the empty seats, because they didn’t want it to look like a half empty arena. That’s a really ugly thing to see from the stage. I guess for the sake of making it still look like a full room, they added curtains to the venues to close it down a little bit. Then the expense of the tour became an issue, and I was actually let go for a time because they decided that the tour wasn’t doing well enough that they couldn’t afford me anymore. So they actually sent me home.
What did you do in the interim?
Well, I didn’t get any warning about it, to be honest. We had a break at Christmastime and I was home in New York and doing my Christmas shopping. I was in Greenwich Village, so I stopped by Electric Lady Studios to say hello to all the people there. I was doing my thing, Christmas the next day, great, and then we were supposed to be leaving again the day after Christmas. So, I get to Electric Lady and a call came in to the studio for me and it was Paul. I was sitting in the lounge with a couple of my friends and I answer the phone, “Hey, Paul, how’s it going?” And he says, “I’m really sorry, man.” I said, “What do you mean you’re sorry?” “Oh, you didn’t speak to Gene yet?” “No, I didn’t speak to Gene.” “Oh, um, well, we really can’t afford to, you know…” So basically, I was now out of work and it was so last minute that there wasn’t even time to get my gear off the truck. So my gear went back out on the road without me. It wasn’t a very happy time. I’ll tell you I wasn’t very happy with them, as you could imagine. Then they went back out on the road and after like one or two shows, they called me up and said, “Listen, man, we really need you to come back out on the road… What we’d like to do is figure out the shows that are important and bring you back out and have you come out for some shows, and go home for the ones that don’t matter as much,” and all that stuff. So I ended up going back out and I ended up doing probably another 3 or 4 weeks of that tour and then it ended for me because they couldn’t afford it anymore.
Were you still around when they shot the “Turn on the Night” video in Worcester, Massachusetts [Jan. 27, 1988]?
No, I don’t think so.
So you hadn’t rejoined at that point? When you are out on the road with them, was there any fun shenanigans on the road in the States, or did the overall mood just somewhat kill the fun?
Not so much on that tour. At that point, although I went back out, I was not really as jovial and happy to be around them as I had been; because of circumstances. As a matter of fact, there was even a point when I did go back out where they decided that as part of this thing to save money, I no longer traveled with them but was gonna ride the crew bus as a crew member. So, needless to say, I was not really in a joking mood when it came to those guys. Now, don’t get me wrong, I spent more time on the crew bus at the venues during the day than I did anywhere else, because those guys were the guys that were having all the fun. I could hang out on the crew bus and smoke cigarettes and not worry about it. I would just be myself more with those guys, and a lot of them were friends of mine from New York City that I knew from other things. So, I spent a lot of time with the crew, but the difference between being hired under the arrangements that I traveled and was treated as a band member to all of a sudden I’m with the crew, was a bit of a kick in the nuts. Instead of being in a room at the Four Seasons, my day would start on a crew bus at a venue with everybody else inside working and putting the show up. I would just sit there until the band showed up for sound check at around 4 in the afternoon with nothing to do. I think I did that one night and they could see that that was not going to work.
So, I ended up going back and traveling with the band again. But I only ended up staying for another couple of weeks before things completely fell apart. It really wasn’t a lot of fun at that point. The last show I played with them was at the Nassau Coliseum [Ed. Jan. 29, 1988] and I left there that night without saying goodbye to anybody. I just basically left, took my gear, and went home because I was still living in New York. My wife came to the show and at the end we loaded up my gear, and split. The Roland keyboard that I was using belonged to them, so it stayed behind. I didn’t hear from them again until the “Monsters of Rock” tour was a possibility. They called me up and asked me if I wanted to do it, and at first, I said, I wasn’t interested because of everything that had happened. Ultimately, we came to an agreement that I would go back out with them, but I would travel as a band member like we had originally agreed. If the band was on the road, then I was going to be on the road. I wasn’t going to be flying back, doing the back and forth thing. Everybody agreed, and then from there, for the next few years, everything was always great. So, I guess with, like a lot of things, you have to stand up a little for yourself. You get a little bit more respect and then you can get back to being who you are with each other.
So in the interim between leaving the tour in January and the “Monsters of Rock” tour, I guess that means you didn’t go to Japan with them?
No, I didn’t.
Let’s fast forward to June and the rehearsals at SIR in New York getting ready to do a couple of gigs in July. Did you do the North Swanzey, New Hampshire show at the Cheshire Fairgrounds on July 4 with them, and the club gigs in August?
So you were back by then and the set list had changed with songs like “Strutter” and “Deuce” returning, starting to skew the set’s content back in favor of the classic stuff. A lot of the “Crazy Nights” stuff is now out of the set. All you’re left with is, “Crazy Crazy Nights,” “Bang Bang You,” and “No, No, No.” Even “Reason to Live” is gone. What was the mood of the band at this point and their reaction to you? You had stood up for yourself and now you’ve agreed to do the “Monsters of Rock” dates. Did it strengthen your relationship in the sense that you had confronted them about not being happy about arrangements?
Absolutely! I never had another problem with them and there was never any of that sort of uncomfortable background stuff. All the way, until the time I stopped working with them after the European leg of the “Revenge” tour, I never had another issue like that with them. And it was awesome!
How were those club gigs then from your perspective, the Ritz in New York and the Marquee in London a couple of days later? What were those like to play with a band like KISS in a small venue?
It was fun! At the July 4 gig, my keyboard tech Tony Byrd had bought one of those handheld 8-millimeter video cameras, which were brand new at the time. So at that Fourth of July gig, I ended up borrowing his camera and we walked around the venue filming. Basically, we made a really funny video of back stage and all this stuff. When it came time to go to Europe, the day before we left, I went and bought my own 8-millimeter video camera. So, I have all of that on video. I have the Marquee Club on video and I have all the Donington, and “Monsters” stuff. It was a new toy, I would take it everywhere with me, including on stage or on the side of the stage. I would hold it with one hand while I played or set it down on the rack next to my keyboard and leave it on while I played. I’d walk around and film Eric doing his drum solo. The Marquee Club was mayhem. They were packed in like sardines in that place, but it was so cool because it’s such a legendary club that to be there and have it be so packed was really cool.
Of course, a couple of days later, you’re playing in front of 100,000 people at the “Monsters of Rock Festival” at Donington. Would that have been the biggest audience you’d ever been in front of, at that time?
Yeah, it was. It was huge. It was unbelievable.
You mentioned the throwing of the bottles of piss and everything — which bands such as Twisted Sister have discovered is a very Donington thing — if you’ve ever seen Dee Snider talk about the audience throwing actual crap up on the stage… What was that like? Just give us a quick overview of your “Monsters of Rock” experience in England.
I spent a lot of time at the site. The day before, Eric and I had gone down, because he had to do some last minute tweaks with the drums. That’s who I hung out with all the time when we were on the road because Gene and Paul didn’t come out much. Bruce was newly engaged and his fiancée was with him at that time on the road. So, I have lots of footage I shot on that trip. Most was me behind the camera, with Eric as the focus. We went to Hyde Park, the original Hard Rock Café, and then the next day was the show, and I have all this back stage stuff too. Paul was dating Samantha Fox at the time — I just filmed everything. It was unbelievable, but it had rained the day before and the site was really like a mud fest. Earlier in the day, on the day of the show, two people got trampled to death during Guns N’ Roses’ set. There was a little bit of weird vibe going on, but once we went on stage, we had to put it aside. It was quite a large mass of people and they didn’t really do enough from a safety standpoint. There were no barricades; it was just one large mass of people. Today, they would never allow an audience that size to be one large crowd. They would have to separate the audience with multiple fences to keep it from being such a large mass. They start surging, when the bands came on stage, and I remember during our set, having to motion to security people and pointing out people in front to pull out. They had to be pulled over the barricade because they were getting crushed by the people behind them. There was nothing that anybody could do about it. And unfortunately, like I said, during Guns N’ Roses’ set, two people had slipped in the mud and were trampled to death. It was just pandemonium. From the standpoint of being a musician on stage in front of an audience like that, it was incredible, you know. It was the biggest audience I had ever played in front of up until that point.
You made the news during this initial British visit, didn’t you?
(Laughs). Eric and I went down to the site the day before. While we were in LA rehearsing for the “Crazy Nights” tour was when “Welcome to the Jungle” had just come out. It was everywhere you turned in the LA clubs on the Strip. Every time that song came on, the dance floor immediately was packed and people loved it. We were fans of it and I bought the album when it was released. So Eric and I were down at the site the day before and they were sound checking that afternoon. Eric and I walked out into the middle of the empty field and sat down on the grass. They were playing, and I was filming with my video camera. While they were playing, Eric noticed that there were two guys that were crew guys on the side of the stage and they were pointing at us. So Eric said, “Hey, I don’t think they want you filming. You better turn off your camera.” So, I wasn’t going to turn off my camera but I acted like I did, and just put it down on the ground next to me. I kept it running, and nothing was ever said. When we got back to the hotel that night, I walked in my room and the phone rings, and it was Paul. He says, “You guys made the news.” And I said, “What are you talking about.” He says, “Well, when Guns N’ Roses were playing, the reporter was standing on the side of the stage and they pointed out at you and Eric sitting there in the middle of the field by yourselves. And the reporter said, ‘Guns N’ Roses played to a very small audience today…'” So, that’s what the guy was pointing at us about. It wasn’t about the fact that I was filming.
Oh, that’s absolutely brilliant. Hilarious.
Yeah, because that was such a huge show the following day and there’s 100,000 people. But at this point, there’s only two people dead in the center of the grass, and nobody else. I imagine that looked pretty funny, you know. We’re sitting out on the ground like we’re part of an audience. I never got to see the news report, but Paul made sure he told us about it. He thought it was pretty funny.
That’s something I want to see if I can track down now. A week later you’re in Schweinfurt and that’s notable for being a pro shot for TV where you show up with a bit too much camera time, right from the first song. You’re where you’re supposed to be, stage left under scaffolding with a tarp around you, but I guess the camera crew hadn’t been told to not film you. And you’re certainly mugging for the camera! Any response to that? Was that kind of like one of those moments of sweet justice, to a certain extent that you’d been off stage all these times and now, here you are on a TV broadcast and you’re getting exposure like a full band member?
Absolutely! I didn’t encourage the guys to come over, so they couldn’t hold me responsible or get mad at me. They weren’t happy about it, and it was kind of funny to me that that kind of stuff bothered them. Every country has a KISS Army branch and every one of them had a fan magazine, after 20 years of the band’s existence — or whatever it was at that point — to put out a monthly magazine and have content, Sometimes they’d do a “few degrees of separation” and you know, interview someone silly like Peter Criss’ mailman or whoever had a connection to the band — just to be able to put out a magazine. So needless to say, it started getting to the point where they wanted to interview me, and it became a bit of a problem to them that I was getting that much attention. There was no chance I was gonna steal any spotlight from anybody, but they just didn’t want me to get that much attention. I guess I was supposed to be a secret. They did give me permission to do one or two interviews, though.
Yeah, there’s no right or wrong with that at the time. It was always a matter, at that time particularly, that the focus in KISS is on Gene and Paul as the original members. Same to this day, it’s their band.
Yeah, it’s their band and they can do whatever they want.
Wrapping up “Monsters of Rock,” you’re on tour bands like Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Anthrax, Testament, and Great White. Did you interact with any of the members of these bands, or was it just very businessman-like atmosphere? I would think Iron Maiden were utter focused pros, and just come out there and do their thing and not really be hanging around. Was there interaction between at least yourself and anyone else outside of KISS?
There wasn’t much. You know, those shows were so huge and the sites were so huge, and the back stage areas were so separate and everybody’s trailers so far apart. So there really wasn’t much time or a place for that sort of thing. But there was a little. You know Anthrax had been an opening act on the “Crazy Nights” tour, although it was after I had left. Eric was a huge Anthrax fan. When I went through my videotapes recently from backstage, there’s a whole piece where we’re all sitting there with Frankie [Ed. Bello], Danny [Ed. Spitz], and Joey [Ed. Belladonna], and everybody’s goofing off. But as far as hanging with Iron Maiden, I don’t think that happened much, aside from Nicko, who was also a friend with Eric. It was basically anybody that I hung out with was because I was friends and hanging with Eric. He had been in the band for nearly 10 at that point. He was also a fan of Iron Maiden. Everybody loved Eric and he had many friends, so that was how I met a lot of them. I can’t remember really talking much to David Lee Roth. Maybe Brett Tuggle and I talked a little bit. Gregg Bissonette was a really nice guy. Iron Maiden was the headliner on the “Monsters of Rock” tour, so they were even more isolated than the KISS guys were, so there were no opportunities to really interact with them.
So, during this time, KISS are also doing some solo shows. I’m not gonna dig into every single one of these, but I did want to ask you particularly about Iceland and playing in Reykjavik. What do you recall of that gig because that, in looking at the venue, it looks basically like a glorified barn?
Yeah, is that the one that looks like an indoor tennis court, like a big long garage basically?
Yeah, the only pictures that I’ve seen of it, it has dirt on the floor. I guess without the dirt, it might’ve not looked that way. It’s certainly not the kind of traditional European type of venue!
It looked like one of those temporary kinds of metal buildings. What I remember about that gig was how strange the terrain of Iceland itself was. It really looked like you were on the surface of the moon because it was just the weirdest looking rock and that’s all you could see for as far as you could see, except for the road that we were on. Driving and driving and driving, you would see nothing but this weird rock, and then all of a sudden in the middle of nowhere, there’s a Hard Rock Cafe, and then there’s nothing for miles again. And then we pull up, and we’re driving down the road that leads into the venue and we thought no, please tell me that’s not the place! I remember that at that gig, it was so strange because I’d never seen this before, but because of the climate, inside as opposed to outside, there was literally a cloud that formed inside the building above the audience because of the heat and the cold, and whatever it takes to make a cloud! But there was literally a cloud inside the building floating over the audience that looked really, really strange while we played. I remember that my keyboard rig’s main power supply blew up at that gig because the power in the building was not stable. That was a strange one.
Did the band do the, did the band do the full set for the Icelandic audience, or was it like a scaled back job.
No, they never would do that. They would never scale the show down if there was less people, or do less of a show because for them, the show is what KISS is about. They would never do anything other than 110 percent for the audience.
Well I’m going to call you “pusher man” now, one of the best stories I’ve heard from this tour — though it may not be the best for you personally — occurs when the tour reaches Holland. Let’s talk Amsterdam.
Oh, gosh, that’s a videotape that I’m looking to find because I have about 45 minutes of Eric in that place.
I think his family would certainly like that footage, wouldn’t they? (Laughs).
When we were talking a few months back because I sent some of my personal video footage to his sister, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to see that stuff. I assured her, there was nothing, you know, bad about it. The fact is the guy had never done anything else like that in his life. He had never tried smoking. He had never tried any drugs of any kind. He’d occasionally like a glass of wine. What happened was, the band took his drum solo out of the set for the “Monsters of Rock” shows because they were not the headliner. In that format they simply didn’t have the time slot to do the full KISS show. So, that was one of the things that had to be sacrificed, but after the “Monsters of Rock” shows were over and we continued on and Eric completely expected the drum solo to be put back into the show. He was working it up in his head, and getting ready for that and looking forward to it because that was a really big deal to him. He was told that they weren’t going to put the drum solo back in the show once we were out on our own, regardless. He was really bummed out about it. Because of the nature of the shows, the “Monster of Rock” shows were always either Saturday or Sunday, so wherever we played, we would get there and we’d have a whole week off, which was very unlike any other tour. You know, usually you don’t get to see the town you’re in other than the venue, and that’s it, but on these shows, because we had the whole week in between, we ended up with a whole week in Amsterdam. My sister was living in Switzerland at the time, so when I originally got the tour booked, I had made plans to visit her. So after Amsterdam, we were going to Italy, I believe, so my sister said why don’t you come and spend a couple of days in Switzerland with me. So I looked at the schedule. I said, “Okay, you know what, I’m going to be in Amsterdam for a week. I’ll stay like 3 or 4 days and then I’ll fly to Switzerland, and then I’ll meet back up with everybody in Italy.” And so Eric was really upset and pissed off about the drum solo, and he comes to me and he says “I want to get high.” I’m a smoker, and I was fully taking advantage of the legal things Amsterdam had to offer.
I said, “are you sure you want to do it?” He said, “Yeah, I want to do it.” So we went to the coffee shop and he ordered a couple of bonbons that were laced with weed and he ate them. He didn’t feel anything, as a lot of people do the first time they do it, you know. Sometimes it doesn’t affect you at all, so he was kind of disappointed. The next day, I get a phone call from Bruce who said to me, “I found a coffee shop that’s not a tourist place, but a place where the locals go and they’ll make some really good “space cakes.” they were really strong and unbelievable. So, when I saw Eric, I said, “Hey, you know, Bruce told me about this place and if you still want to try it, if we go there, you should feel something.” So he agreed and we went to the coffee shop and Eric ate a bunch of space cakes and he smoked up. I rolled this big spliff with hash in it and he was pulling it out of my hand and taking hits, eating brownies, and all kinds of crap. Then we left and started walking around the canals, and there was this little outdoor café where we ran into the rest of the band as it was starting to hit him. He started getting very paranoid and very agitated because he was very insecure anyway, especially around Gene and Paul. And he was mad at them about the solo, and didn’t want to be around them. So, he said to me, “I gotta get outta here. Let’s go back to the hotel.” So we go back to the hotel and we get back to my room, and he started to freak out a little bit. He said he couldn’t breathe, that he was going to die because he had forgotten how to breathe.
So I called up Bruce and I called up Nite Bob, who was our sound guy, and I said, “Guys, you’ve got to come over and give me a hand!” The scene looks like one of those bad ’70s “Don’t Do Drugs” movies because I’ve got the music cranking on my CD player and a pile of weed on the table. I’m turning the camera sideways and doing all these strange zoom-ins and all this weird stuff, and then I would pan over to the chair where Eric was sitting frozen. He’d just have this strange look on his face, and would say these weird things. And that went on for hours. I was like, “Dude, you know, maybe you should just close your eyes for a little while and lay down on the bed and take a nap. We’ll all stay here with you.” He was like, “No way, man! I know if I go to sleep, I’m never gonna wake up!” And I said, “Well, listen, maybe if you eat something, you’ll feel better. Maybe some food will bring you down a little bit.” So we ordered room service and he took one bite of the food and threw the fork down. “I’m gonna choke, if I eat, I’m gonna choke.” I mean it was just unbelievable. It was really, I think, aside from the fact that he was actually going through something traumatic to him, it was kind of funny. So, that went on for the rest of the night. My flight to see my sister was the next morning, so at the end of the night, he left and he went back to his room, and I got up the next morning and left to go to Switzerland, and never thought another thing about it. I assumed he woke up the next morning and felt fine.
Then I fly back to meet the band that weekend. I get to Italy and I get to the hotel, and I go down to eat something by myself. I’m sitting in the restaurant, and then Paul comes into the restaurant by himself and he’s sitting at the table, a few tables away, and that’s where, where I started hearing it… “Hey, it’s the pusher man, goddamn the pusher man” and he’s singing the Steppenwolf song. And I say, “What are you talking about?” Paul says, “Oh, Eric confessed.” Confessed? And of course, he threw me under the bus as the instigator. I didn’t do anything wrong! I mean he wanted to do it and it was legal where we were, so what’s the problem, you know? But yeah, Paul wasn’t mad. It was just another opportunity to bust Eric’s balls. Basically, because of the way Eric handled it, it became a thing. They weren’t really mad, they just kind of thought it was funny. So, that’s where “Pusher Man” comes from.
Never ever miss an opportunity to put some heat on someone, right?!
Well that that was the KISS way. They were relentless, but it was hysterical, especially when someone else was the target.
After Italy you’re, you’re in Paris and before the Zenith show there’s a couple of days of rehearsals. What was the purpose of those rehearsals, do you recall?
Right, it was the beginning of the non-“Monsters of Rock” leg of the tour and we were rehearsing the stuff that we were gonna add to the set for the rest of the shows. That was fun.
Once you’re on a regular tour did the vibe change since it’s pretty much just a regular European tour with Kings of the Sun opening. You guys did a lot of shows in Scandinavia on this leg and in the British Isles. Any overall thoughts about this part of the tour?
In Newcastle, Paul was still dating Samantha Fox. I used to travel with my golf clubs so I was going to play golf because here we are going close to the birth place of the game. So I was really looking forward to going and playing, and Paul decided he wanted to come along and play. So Paul, Samantha, Samantha’s assistant and our security guy who was named Graham, all went to the local golf course. Of course, we were turned away because Samantha and Paul were not dressed in appropriate golf clothes. Paul ended up having to go into the club shop and buy appropriate golf clothes for them! They sent a golf pro out to give us a lesson before they let us out onto the course. Which of course got videotaped … We ended up playing a round of golf and that was hilarious because none of them had ever played before. It was the first time any of them had swung a golf club and to watch Paul and the rest of them all try was great. They couldn’t hit the ball. It was hilarious.
I’m trying to get an image of Paul Stanley, circa 1988, wearing golf gear, and a blue thong, holding a golf club. I mean that is almost a priceless image to try and conjure.
I wish I could send you a video clip! It’s so funny, because Paul used to love to mug for the camera every time the camera came on him. I have footage of us in Budapest walking the streets and, he was hilarious when he was “on” like that, ya know? And at the golf course, although he started out that way, it ended up becoming, “Get the camera off me!” He didn’t want to look bad on the camera, but it was really funny to watch him try to swing and miss the ball. He didn’t have a very nice looking golf swing, I’ll say that. And I doubt he ever played again.
Some golf aficionados will be happy you did this in Newcastle and not in St. Andrews! That would have been morally wrong to have Paul Stanley on a golf course in Scotland at the birth places of golf. I won’t tell you my story of what I did at the Royal & Ancient one Hogmanay as I’d have to edit it out. Let’s talk about the last show of the tour at the King’s Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Bruce has made plenty of comments about this show and I’ve nicknamed it the “Gobs of Thunder” show. From your vantage point, was this the one show where you were very thankful to be behind stage and not within spitting distance? Tell us about the show.
Absolutely, I don’t know what I would have done. I’ve never been in a situation like that. Because you know the problem with those things, like that or the piss bottle at Donington. You’re briefed about this before the shows by the promoters. They tell you that the worst thing that you can do is react to it. If you do anything, or act like you’re mad about it, it’s going happen ten times worse. So you really can’t even try to dodge it or do anything because then you’re just going to get it worse. I don’t know how anybody could do it and deal with it the way they did. Paul, especially, because he was getting nailed constantly with gobs of spit from the crowd, and it was just disgusting. I mean, there was spit dripping off his knuckles on the guitar, it was dripping off the guitar, it was just absolutely disgusting. Towards the end of the show he had had enough, and he did his little dance up to the front of the stage. I guess there was one guy in particular who had been nailing him all night long and Paul goes up the front of the stage and, with his right hand he kind of motions to the people around the guy, like you move that way and you move that way, and then he just leaned over and spit right in the guy’s face.
Fantastic! Go Paul. You can actually see that on the video of the show. It’s brilliant when you understand the context of the barrage the band had been under for the whole show. It’s another thing that reminds me why I adore Paul!
It was great.
You’ve got to love Paul. He knows how to work the audience and take care of them as well sometimes.
Yeah. That was the best part of the show for me, and that’s probably one of the most vivid memories of that show. That and the amount of spit that came on the stage…
I’m surprised the band gave them the full end of tour show. There was full set that night including “Whole Lotta Love.” One thing I noticed on these sets is, “Oh Susannah” obviously comes in now and then, “La Bamba”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Whole Lotta Love”, the whole of that one. How did that section of the show work? Was it just you’re briefed before the show that they may or may not do a jam section, and just adapt? Was this set up that they knew what they were going do each night they did these little jam sections?
Paul was such a huge Zeppelin fan and you know, sound checks for that band were always a jam session of Led Zeppelin’s greatest hits. That’s what we would do every afternoon. So it certainly wasn’t the first time we ever played the songs but, you know, we never played them in front of an audience so. When a song like that gets called out there’s no discussion really necessary, and it wasn’t planned — it just happened. Being the last show and everybody, you know, there’s that feeling of letting go because the tour is over and you’re going home. They just did a couple of spontaneous things and everybody just jumped on and followed along. But it wasn’t anything that was talked about or specifically rehearsed or anything.
You mentioned earlier that for the show you were briefed about not reacting to the audience or you’d get even more back from them. As a quick side note, were you guys briefed about the troubles that were occurring in Northern Ireland at the time? Safety and such?
Oh absolutely. Throughout the entire summer that show was cancelled and not cancelled then cancelled then not cancelled because it was a dangerous show. Our security guy was ex-SAS, the equivalent of like a Navy Seal — a trained killer basically. We had heavy security because of the show and we weren’t really thrilled with the idea of going. Most bands that put that show on their schedules ended up cancelling it before they got there, so I guess the guys kind of felt bad for the kids of the country there. They felt like they’re so deprived of any international entertainment and probably really need a break. Plus it was an opportunity to ensure a sell-out crowd, so they decided to go ahead with it, but took some precautions. We had a meeting and I remember them sitting in the room and having them warning us like not to walk too close to the cars parked on the curb if you’re walking down the street because of car bombs. Not to stay on the top floor of hotels because of people repelling off roof. We’re like, “Where the hell are we going!?” The hotel that we stayed at looked more like Folsom Prison or Alcatraz with the razor wire around the top of the fence and huge gates. We must have gone through five or six armed military check points, in our vehicle going from the airport. It was really a scary feeling. There were very few people, aside from the band’s party, in the hotel that we stayed at. It definitely was eerie. We couldn’t wait to get out of there. We didn’t fly in until 4 or something like that in the afternoon and we went straight to the venue, did our show, went to the hotel, got a few hours’ sleep, and then got out of there. It was really a little bit tense. A lot of the crew guys didn’t really want to be there. They were a little nervous because if things went wrong that would have been a very bad way to end the tour.
I think knowing that the period of time and “The Troubles,” a great deal of respect has to be given to KISS to actually play in that show and finishing the tour there.
Fortunately, it was, other than being spat on all night a good show and a strong finish to the tour. If you had to pick a single “one,” what would be a high point from working with the band on this tour?
I would say Donington. It was a very well received KISS show. The reviews of the band at that point were good, because of the changes they had made in the set and bringing back a lot of the classic stuff that we added back in at that point. You know, the reviews in magazines such as Kerrang! and Metal Hammer and whatever, the reviews of the show were really positive, which wasn’t the case for everything that was going on the prior year. There was a lot of negative stuff written because of the “Crazy Nights” record. It was a really successful show and like a lot of bands, KISS were very competitive guys, so the fact that they were not the headliner and we were going on during the day, all of that combined to totally light the fire under them to go out and play a great show. We didn’t have the pyro and the show to lean on, so they simply went out and played their asses off. I would say that was definitely the highlight for me.
As an English guy, it was a good time to be a KISS fan in Britain. It’s my memories of KISS seeming to be everywhere in Britain during “Crazy Nights,” which is why I’m doing this whole 30th anniversary celebration for it. It’s just one of those strange things. You come off this tour and four months later, in February 1989, Paul heads out on his solo tour. You’re a member of that touring band. Was there any discussion about the solo tour during the “Monsters of Rock” leg? At what point did you get invited to be a part of that band with Eric Singer, Bob Kulick and Dennis St. James?
That didn’t happen until probably 2 or 3 weeks before we started the rehearsals for that tour. It was kind of a last minute thing. It was just a whirlwind it seemed more than anything else. Paul called me up and said, “Listen, you know I’m thinkin’ about going out and doing a solo tour …” He had never gotten to do any shows around the solo record that they had all done back in the day, so there were songs that he wanted to play from that. He just wanted to go out and have fun and play some clubs and get back to feeling like a young up and coming band again. So we played all these clubs, like HammerJacks, Toad’s Place, and it was a blast. I mean we were still staying at Four Seasons and we still had a bus and a tour manager, an accountant and everything. But the venues were clubs and very intimate and every one of them was like an event, ya know? They were packed way beyond capacity; people were really excited about them. Paul was in a very relaxed state of mind at that point because it wasn’t KISS; he didn’t have to compete for the spotlight with Gene. He didn’t have to compromise with anyone on anything that he wanted to do. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it was just an opportunity for him to go out and do his own thing and he seemed to really enjoy it. He was more fun on that tour than any other time I spent with him because he was so relaxed and it was just about having fun. And the band was great too. It was a really killer band. Eric Singer is a great drummer. Bob, he’s a great guitar player who was the perfect guy for that band. He was a perfect fit, as was Dennis. So it was great!
Were you given any different instructions about the keyboards or it was just a matter of you did it before, come and do the same thing on this tour?
I was on stage so that was different. On the songs that we had played with KISS, I played them pretty much the same as I played in with the band. All I wanted to do was, what was best for the music, not to show off my keyboard playing skills. So my parts didn’t change though I might have gotten some new keyboards at the time, but as far as the approach, it was still the same, except on the big ballad we did, “I Still Love You.”
That’s an epic song!
Yeah. So, I got to play a little bit more on that one and the keyboard parts in that were a little bit more “keyboardish” than normal, as far as a KISS song goes. Whenever I play with bands like KISS or Cinderella, or bands like that, I always approach my part that way, where they are fitting in as though I’m the rhythm guitar player, as opposed to playing twinkly sparkly stuff that sits on top like a lot of keyboard players do. I was very into John Lord and Deep Purple and the way he played the organ was very much that way. It wasn’t about showing how fast you could play or how many notes you could play; it was making the keyboard sound as mean as possible and compete with the guitarist in that way. That was always the way I approached it.
What are you up to currently musically?
I’m just recovering from three shoulder surgeries so I took the last 2 years off to deal with that. I recently got involved in a new project with the Nelson twins. We’re just finishing up a record now actually and it should be pretty interesting. There are plans to go out and support it, so I’m really looking forward to that. There’s also some talk of me doing some shows with Mark Slaughter who’s just released a new solo record as well.
Many KISS fans are raving about Mark Slaughter’s new album.
Yeah. It’s a great record. The Nelson Project is called the Stone Canyon Band, which was actually the name of the band that was their Dad’s backup band when he passed away. So it’s a bit of a nod to what their dad was doing at the time he passed. It’s definitely not a continuation of the Nelson thing. It’s very exciting for me to be a part of something from this early on as opposed to being hired on after a record is completed.
Absolutely, it must be nice to be invested in a band project from the ground floor rather than being a go to person after the fact when a band remembers, “we need a guy to play keys!”
Exactly. I got to thinking about and it dawned on me that during my entire career I’ve never done something like that. We started working on this project and I was originally contacted by Gunnar to just play keyboards on some recordings. They started sending me the tracks, and I’d been working in my studio at home and then sending the tracks back. So at first, they were just hiring me to play some keyboards on the recordings, but I guess what I was sending back was exactly what they were looking for and, everything started to really mesh. After the third song he said, “Would you be interested in being a part of this and being an actual member and help get this thing going?” And for me, that sounded really, really inviting. At this point in my life and career, I’m goin’ for it. The collaborative process is really fun because I can try something, send it to them; and they’ll be honest and give me their opinion. If they have an idea, I’m totally open to it. If I have an idea about something they’re doing I could suggest it, which is very different than anything else I’ve ever done. So I’m actually really enjoying it.
The KissFAQ thanks Gary for participating in the Danger Zone, celebrating the 30th anniversary of KISS’ “Crazy Nights” album.