Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – K

The KKK took my baby away
The Ramones

Kiss

I am sure half of you have already skipped to the next headline. It is hard to explain how underground Kiss once were.
June 15, 1974. I was pretty pumped. I had great floor seats for the New York Dolls at Massey Hall. I had turned 15 three days before. The Dolls had released their second album “Too Much Too Soon” the month before and I was looking forward to hearing some of the new songs live. Who knew at that time that this would be the last studio album from the classic line-up of the band and it would take David and Syl 32 years to release their next record?

Back in the day the opening act for a show would sometimes be a  complete mystery. There was no social media and by the time the cool monthlies got their issues out tour information would be out of date. The poster for the Toronto show that night does not mention an opening act but you always arrived at the door time because you never knew who would open and in those days going to a concert was a big event. Now the Dolls were underground and hip and the crowd seemed to contain all of the freaks in the city. The smell of pot was heavy in the air, and, even though I was one of only two guys at my high school with an earring, I felt very un-cool. Nervous but excited I was ready for my beloved NY Dolls and whoever had the balls to try and open for them. There is nothing like that moment when the lights go down in a venue and the crowd erupts. We didn’t even know who was coming on but we were on our feet. There was some shuffling on stage, the sticky-sweet smell of stage fog enveloped us and then a monster dude in a black leather biker jacket and rocking an orange Plexiglas tube in his ear yelled out “You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the land KISS!”. Boom, flash, flash, boom. Oh my god. Not 20 feet away from me were four overgrown men in black leathers, full make-up rocking out to “Deuce” as things exploded all around us. Who were these guys? The sign behind Peter Criss said Kiss. “Strutter” was up next as Gene, Ace and Paul rocked in a synchronized choreography that we had never seen before. Gene then did a stare down with the audience as he ripped the first few notes of “100.000 Years” and out came the infamous tongue and a what looked like a couple of quarts of blood. It was just getting better and better. “Firehouse” was cool enough with sirens screaming through the PA as red fire truck lamps lit across the rows of amps and then Gene picks up a torch and spits out a good ten foot flame. How were they going to top this? Cue the final song of their short opening set “Black Diamond”. Tons of smoke and flash pots, and what’s this, ok, the drum kit is rising up in the air. Gimme a break. This might be the greatest band ever. The audience was stunned. None of us had any idea of what had just hit us. Some thought it was a joke but many of the more impressionable faction of the crowd had just pledged our allegiance and enlisted to the as yet mobilized Kiss army. I vaguely remember The Dolls set that night, and, sadly, it would be the last time they ever performed in Toronto with Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan and Arthur Kane still in the band. There were a couple of nights at The Queensbury Arms a few years later but not with this line-up.

Now the search was on. The band had just released their debut album and after some searching on the Yonge Street strip I finally found a copy. After about a month the band started to explode and re-released the debut album with the extra song “Kissin’ Time” and I need to shell out another five bucks. Band shirts were not a big item in the mid-seventies but there was a store on Yonge called Crazy David’s that carried the odd one and by the end of summer I was the proud owner of a white tee with the band’s image from the first album across the front.

As summer drew to a close I saw the announcement for the band’s headlining shows at the Victory Burlesque Theatre on Spadina. September 14, two shows, 8 PM and 11 PM with special guests Fludd (featuring a pre-Goddo Greg Godovitz). I don’t remember how I pulled it off but I managed to see both shows that night. It was pretty well the same set as a couple of months ago but this time we knew what to expect. The Victory was a great old theatre and it had a long gangplank down the middle of the hall that was perfect for Gene’s theatrics. I remember leaving the show and seeing a kid in full make-up who had smeared his face with Gene’s “blood”. Still haunts me to this day. Within a month they would release their second album “Hotter Than Hell”. In March of 1975 they would release “Dressed To Kill” with its great Bob Gruen cover and in September of that year released their double live set “Alive!” These guys were machines.

The band were signed to Casablanca Records and this will lead us to our weekly book “And Party Every Day – The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records” by Larry Harris. It is the story of Neil Bogart and the rise and fall of Casablanca Records. It is a chronicle of the excesses of the U.S. record business from 1974 -1980 in the good ole hookers and blow days. It follows the careers of Kiss, The Village People, Donna Summer, Parliament and a host of others from success to excess. Who could ever forget Punky Meadows and Angel? It’s a good read from a former Casablanca employee although I think a lot of the true horror stories were left buried.

After missing Toronto in 1975 the band returned in 1976 to headline Maple Leaf Gardens in April and then came back to headline at Varsity Stadium in September as they toured yet another new album “Destroyer”. Produced by Bob Ezrin the album would be the first by the band to go platinum and spawned their first Top 10 single with “Beth” (the B-side of “Detroit Rock City”). That song would later become the title for a 1999 coming of age story about kids trying to get to a late seventies Kiss concert. It was a decent little film and a good portion was shot in Toronto and Hamilton. The Occupy Toronto tents just left the church lands where many scenes were filmed. Gene’s now wife Shannon appears in the movie.

By 1977 Kiss were far too popular for my liking and it was time to move on. There was a bunch of scary new bands from New York and the U.K. who had piqued my interest and the music snob in me didn’t appreciate how big Kiss had become.

I got the chance to meet Simmons at a Gypsy Rose party at Rock’n’Roll Heaven in the late eighties as he announced them as the first Canadian signing to his new label. The 15 year old in me came out as I posed for a photo with Gene and 20 years later I would have him sign the photo as we hosted an event for him at Tattoo Rock Parlour when he re-launched the label with Universal Music Canada. That same evening I helped orchestrate a dinner meeting for Gene and local boys Down With Webster at the Shanghai Cowgirl. In a “how did we get here” moment I also spent some time with Paul Stanley and Howie Dorough from The Backstreet Boys at the MuchMusic Video Awards. Paul was in town promoting his appearance in “Phantom Of The Opera” I think he was more impressed meeting a Backstreet Boy than I was meeting him. I did have the misfortune of doing a little work with Vinnie Vincent but I think I will save that for the V’s.

I think that’s enough Kisstory for now.

Kindness

I attended an event this past week which officially launched the Unison Benevolent Fund. http://unisonfund.ca/ . This is a great new organization “for the music industry by the music industry”. Please go to the website and have a look. If you need help, they are there. If you are in the position to donate please do. They have assembled a great team and are willing to help. If you have an event and would like them to come out an explain what they are all about please contact them. Tom Wilson, who performed at the event, has invited them to set-up their booth at his Massey Hall shows next spring.

We now have an email where all of us here at Don’t Believe A Word I Say can be contacted dbawis@rogers.com. Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you would like to read about, links you would like to share, and, let’s hear what you have to say.

Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

And if you are in Toronto and looking for a cool rock’n’roll dinner please visit our friends at Shanghai Cowgirl 538 Queen Street West. It is right beside The Bovine just east of Bathurst.

3 Responses to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – K”

  1. The Dolls played the Victiry for 2 weeks in 75 and then partied in my club till the wee hours – they thought they were big stars -didn’t impress too much

  2. I was also at the Massey Hall show to see the Dolls, and remembering the crowd thinning out (to put it mildly) after KISS finished.

  3. GREGG ALTMAN Says:

    I WAS THERE GOT KILLER KANES GUITAR PICK AND JERRY NOLAN’S DRUMSTICK. STANDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE STAGE ALL NIGHT . MY SEAT WAS LEFT CENTRE ROW H SEAT 17 THAT NIGHT. ALSO SAW BOTH SHOWS AT THE VICTORY OF RUSH AND NEW YORK DOLLS AND FLUDD AND KISS WHERE I SCOOPED PETER CRISS’S DRUMSTICK

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