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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kiss has been shouting it out loud for 50 years

Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Paul Stanley of Kiss, perform during their opening show for the Australian leg of their 40th anniversary world tour at Perth Arena on Oct. 3, 2015, in Perth, Australia.  (Paul Kane/Getty Images)
By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

The seeds for the sensation known as Kiss were planted a half-century ago when a group dubbed Wicked Lester delivered its first and next to last performance in a Queens club. Wicked Lester, which didn’t sound or look like Kiss, was short-lived.

The band, which featured Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, who would go on to be the frontmen of Kiss, wrote and recorded an album but Epic Records head of A&R, Don Ellis, decided not to release the record.

“It was fortuitous,” Simmons said during a 2021 interview from Los Angeles. “We moved on to the next project and that next project was Kiss.”

Kiss is reportedly not just on its final tour, the storied larger than life act is on its “Final Tour Ever,” which will end in Norway on July 15. The jaunt ends just a week after Elton John plays his final show in Stockholm.

The cartoonish Kiss, which has been one of the most polarizing bands in the world of music, has also been incredibly successful. The group, which has been derided by some critics as a shallow gimmick with its makeup, costumes and antics, such as Simmons spewing fire at each concert, has sold more than 100 million albums and has one of the most passionate fan bases in all of music.

“We owe everything to those who have supported us through thick and thin,” Simmons said. “They’ve always been there for us.”

Kiss has been a critical whipping boy but the band has crafted its share of solid anthemic pop-rock, such as the rollicking “Detroit Rock City,” the infectious “Love Gun,” the muscular “Deuce,” the dramatic “Black Diamond” and the trippy “Parasite.”

Kiss was the antithesis of mid-70s monsters Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, who were mysterious. Kiss was larger than life onstage as they performed with fire, lasers and endless eye candy.

“If you see Garth Brooks, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones, you get pyro,” Simmons said. “Where do you think that came from? Air Supply? We started doing that stuff, and they, the arbiters of taste, hated it. We didn’t care. We wanted to combine all the thrills and put them on stage. Rock is renegade music. They all caught up with us though. The Grateful Dead came out with the cherry vanilla ice cream. So the hippies came around.”

So did the establishment when Kiss entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. Simmons ripped the Hall for ignoring Kiss, who were eligible for induction since 1999.

“I don’t waste my time thinking about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Simmons said.”

For someone who claimed not to care, Simmons was vocal about who should and shouldn’t be inducted. Simmons scoffed at the concept of hip hop recording artists entering the Hall.

“The idea of Run-DMC and other rap acts being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the height of ridiculousness,” Simmons said. “If Kiss were inducted into the Rap Hall of fame, people would say, ‘Man, that’s crazy!’ Exactly. Kiss ain’t hip-hop, and Run-DMC ain’t rock. They don’t belong in the Rock Hall.”

When Kiss was finally inducted into the hallowed hall, Simmons and Stanley snubbed an invitation to perform since the Hall failed to recognize other members of Kiss besides the four original members.

Original Kiss members Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss left the band during the early ’80s but returned for a massively successful world tour in 1996.

“That was an amazing show,” Former Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach said. “I couldn’t wait to see it. Those guys are my heroes.”

Simmons and Stanley cut ties with Frehley and Peter Criss in 2002 after their contracts expired.

But it’s been business as usual with replacement players for Simmons, who is arguably the greatest rock entrepreneur of all time. Simmons has marketed Kiss cologne, condoms and coffins.

During a 1997 interview with Simmons, he had just left a meeting with Starbucks. When asked what would follow, Simmons wasn’t sure but he was optimistic. “I don’t know what’s next but it’s very exciting,” Simmons said. “Perhaps it will be coffee with a “K.”

Simmons has been looking back fondly after an incredibly successful ride. When asked why Simmons picked up a bass and formed Kiss, he laughed.

“It’s always about the girls, isn’t it?,” Simmons said. “That’s why anyone including (Bruce) Springsteen gets into a band.”

Don’t expect Kiss to ever release new material since folks aren’t buying music much these days.

“Kiss isn’t a charity even though we do a lot of philanthropy,” Simmons said. “All musicians should be compensated. This disaster with musicians not being paid started with Napster. The record companies were asleep.”

The members of Kiss have always been inveterate rockers and very proud of the genre.

Simmons scoffed when asked if rock and hip-hop are just labels and it’s just about the music. “No,” Simmons said. “If you’re a politician and you’re any good, they call you a rock star. Rock is a verb and a noun. If you want to wish somebody well, you say, ‘Rock on.’ You can’t say, ‘Country and western on.’ You can’t say, ‘Hip-hop on.’ That means nothing. Only rock crosses lines. Even rappers call themselves rock stars.”

As Kiss stares at octogenarian status, Simmons, 73, and Stanley, 71, remain rock stars. Both impressed when the group performed for the final time at the Gorge in September of 2021. The show, which was filled with hits, a few deep cuts and concluded with a seemingly endless confetti shower, which was so intense that fans a few rows from the stage were smiling and laughing. How often does that occur during a hard rock concert?

Kiss has been hit with its share of slings and arrows during its career but it has brought great joy to fans, who enjoy melodic hard rock and the spectacle the band provides.

Simmons says there will be hand-picked successors, but it won’t be the same even though the new version of Kiss will be sporting the same makeup and costumes, including boots that weigh as much as bowling balls.

The first concert I ever witnessed was as a prepubescent in 1977 featuring Kiss. The opener was AC/DC with the late Bon Scott. I recall being mocked by the older kids in my neighborhood, who loved Zeppelin and loathed Kiss. I convinced my parents to allow me to purchase seven Kiss shirts so I could annoy the upperclassmen every day of the week. The members of the Kiss Army understand.

There was no band like Kiss and Wicked Lester deserves a nod since the cottage industry run by Stanley and Simmons wouldn’t have happened without a New York band that is barely a footnote in rock history.