Crazy Nights, It's
25 30 Years Strong
KissFAQ: Chris, before talking about "Crazy Nights," specifically, let's set the stage. "Lick it Up" had been break-even at best on the road and by 1987 had only gone Gold. "Animalize" continued the trend, with mediocre gates becoming the norm. You mention that by the end of the "Asylum" tour the album-tour cycle had become drudgery. The band comes off tour in April 1986 -- from your perspective, on the business side, how had that tour done in comparison with "Animalize," before and "Lick it Up," which I believe was only a break-even proposition?
Christopher K. Lendt: My recollection is that "Asylum" did reasonably well. I don't remember the specific statistics as compared to "Animalize." It did reasonably well. With Bruce Kulick playing, the band was settled in terms of the lineup for "Asylum;" it was the people that were with KISS until the 1990s, until Eric Carr passed away. At the end of the "Asylum" tour we expected KISS to go back in to the studio and do a new album that would come out at the end of that year. But KISS were keen on not just doing another album with another producer, they needed to do a new album with a really big producer. And that producer was Ron Nevison. Unfortunately, Ron was very much in demand at the time, he'd been working with Ozzy Osbourne, and it would be nearly a year until he was available to work with the band.
The business managers, myself, Howard Marks, and Carl Glickman, went along with the idea because it was important artistically and creatively to KISS that they wanted to have an album with the imprimatur of Ron Nevison. He'd done the Heart albums that were very successful. He had a very deft hand in the studio at producing radio friendly pop-edged records with a diverse group of artists. So that set the stage for waiting a year until Ron Nevison was available. Basically KISS had a year off to rehearse and get songs ready to be screened by Ron, and then go into the studio as soon as he was free. Our belief at the time was it was debatable whether it was worth the wait, in terms of what made sense to KISS economically. It's not a reflection on Nevison, he was a real talent, but how much difference it would make to KISS was debatable.
How tough does it make for you from the business perspective, when the band isn't on the road, the band isn't in the studio, or selling a new record; to deal with the loss of all of that prospective income stream for a whole year?
In KISS' case it was a problem, but it wasn't unsolvable. They had only recently gotten their finances back together, and it would plug a big hole in their finances because we would have to wait another year to collect the album advance. There would be no income coming from touring or merchandise, so yes it would be a problem and it made things a bit tight.
So Gene had a lot of external projects lined up to tide him over. How involved were Glickman/Marks in helping him with say getting roles in movies such as "Trick and Treat" or "Wanted: Dead or Alive" which came out around that time, or production with Black 'N Blue, and probably others.
All of those activities, I can tell you Glickman/Marks management, including me, had practically nothing to do with, at all. Whatever I knew about "Trick or Treat" or his work with Black 'N Blue, I knew from speaking directly to Gene. He might mention a few anecdotes about what he was doing and when he was going to be out of town and when he'd be back. I haven't the slightest idea how much he was paid for any of those projects because I believe the money flowed directly to him and don't recall that it was commissionable by us. So, whatever he did on his own were his own projects. He scheduled them, he participated in them, he made his own deals (or someone on his behalf), but I don't recall it was us.
By this time KISS has no specific manager. Aucoin is long gone. I believe Howard may have been helping out as that role developed depending on what the band needed?
So, what's going on with Paul at this point because he seems to have had nothing lined up that actually took place? I know in Billboard, in the middle of the year, it's rumored that he's going to do a solo album; then a couple of months later that print a retraction saying that he's decided against doing one at that time. There was also the possibility of the Guns N' Roses album production that we've heard about in both Slash's and Paul's autobiographies. Is anything being done to help Paul? Gene's got all these things going that he's obviously set up on his own. Was anyone helping Paul to try and do something externally during that year gap, or is he just off on his own thing?
Well, the Guns N' Roses production, my recollection is that Howard Marks may have had a meeting with Paul Stanley and someone from Guns N' Roses, but it simply didn't come to fruition. Paul probably tried to find what he would consider to be higher profile projects for him to do, but for whatever reason they didn't happen and then, you know, time marches on.
Indeed. KISS is also rumored, in early 1987, to be playing that year's Donington "Monsters of Rock" festival, which they don't. Do you remember anything about offers for one-off shows like that coming in?
I recall that they played Donington the year after I was involved. There was a Donington show in 1987; I believe that one was with Bon Jovi.
That's right. They were in England at the time and Paul ended up on stage with them that day while Gene declined.
I was physically there. We were backstage at the show, but we flew with Bon Jovi in a helicopter to the site. And Gene and Paul appeared on stage at the end of Bon Jovi's performance, but we were never scheduled to be in the show. And if one of the promoters made an offer for KISS, it's possible, but they didn't accept it because they certainly wouldn't have been the headliner. I don't even know what position on the bill they would have offered KISS at the time.
It probably would have been similar to the following year where they opened for Iron Maiden...
Right, I know about that, but that I wasn't involved in.
I guess, ultimately, that "Crazy Nights" could be described as an attempt to copy the Bon Jovi playbook that had resulted in the insanely popular and commercially successful "Slippery When Wet" album. Would there have been business meetings where musical direction for the new album was discussed, or at this point is the band just figuring all of it out for themselves, and not communicating it with the business office?
My recollection is that the recording was done in Los Angeles. I never met Ron Nevison until he came to New York to do a listening session, which I wrote about in the book. It's possible that Howard Marks may have gone to Los Angeles in that period and met with him, I don't remember. But basically, Ron Nevison was calling all of the shots with the band. I didn't hear any negative feedback, except after all was said and done. They were happy with the album and the way it had turned out, but I sensed that they didn't feel that Nevison did anything really remarkable. In other words, the album was completely professionally done, and they were satisfied with the results; but it gets back to whether it was worth waiting for a year because there was nothing ground-breaking or spectacular or extraordinary about the album.
You detail the listening party in "KISS and Sell" which provides a nice contrast to the one held for "The Elder" where the jaws were left agape...
Yeah, [the album was] more favorably received!
How did Glickman/Marks get involved in the business process once the album is completed? What is the role, once the band is ready to move forward?
What our job was, was to make sure that all of the marketing opportunities were capitalized on. That the record company knew that the band had a management company trying to not only bolster what the record company was doing, but to spearhead KISS' touring and merchandising, and to market the album. It's important for fans to understand that the artist doesn't get involved in day to day discussions and the ordinary business machinations of the everyday dealing with the promotion department at the record company, the marketing department, the business affairs department. There has to be a manager, or a management team, to handle all of those functions. The record company has to know that the band has people behind them who are looking over their shoulders, frankly, to make sure that things happen as they're supposed to happen. The management company, at that time, was responsible for seeing that a tour was booked, for making sure that there was an outside publicist to augment the publicity efforts at the record company, which KISS paid for. The management company was responsible for ensuring that there was a line of merchandise available to be sold at the concerts. And for the album cover, artwork, and graphics that were to be used for the album. There's a lot of leg work to be done, and someone has to constantly check on the record company that if KISS are playing in Louisville, KY, or Dallas, TX, or Pullman, WA, that there's a record company person who's going into the stores and knows the album is in stock, and doing a local promotion with a radio station in conjunction with the promoter. There's a lot of wheels that have to turn properly in order for sales to be maximized, and in large part that's what our company was responsible for.
So, at the listening party, the album is seen as being a good album, albeit a not spectacular one, that didn't blow anyone out of the water. Were there any challenges in getting the album promoted at PolyGram -- particularly when bands such as Def Leppard, Cinderella, and Bon Jovi were in ascendency at the label and KISS are not?
Yes, that's always a problem and that's why you need somebody to represent the band's interests because otherwise you get lost in the shuffle. What you're talking about is the competition from within your own record company, not to mention all of the other record companies that are going to have albums out at the same time as KISS'. And some of the market that is going to buy KISS is also going to buy other hard rock records from those other acts and labels. So you're right, those groups were in ascendency and KISS was their competitor. At that time Def Leppard were at the top, selling millions of copies of albums, so it was pretty hard to get the attention of the record company and keep their attention when we had that kind of competition.
One of the things that stands out in hindsight, and of course hindsight is always 20/20, is that KISS releases "Crazy Nights" at the same time Aerosmith releases "Permanent Vacation" Def Leppard has "Hysteria" and Guns N' Roses are hitting with "Appetite For Destruction" not to mention Mötley Crüe and Whitesnake's successes that year. So, that one year delay seems to work into a perfect storm of competition that kind of dooms the band without a spectacular album and a large dose of luck.
Exactly. At that time, the radio stations that played Aerosmith, Def Leppard, and Guns N' Roses were for the most part the same stations that we wanted to play KISS. They're only going to add so many records every week. Chances they're not going to add all of those bands, and they'll go by their instincts and maybe some listener feedback, and go with the one that instantly gets the best reaction, which is probably the one that has been doing the best in the recent past.
So Bruce Bird was brought back in to help on the promotion side and try to get them more radio play. Was it a lost cause for KISS trying to get radio airplay in 1987?
I wouldn't say that it was a lost cause. There were always some stations that had been loyal to KISS based on their success with the band in the past, but it wasn't getting any easier. They were not the KISS of yesteryear; they were the modern KISS without makeup and costumes. In some ways that gave them more credibility, they weren't seen as a throw-back or a nostalgia act. But on the other hand, the mania of the original KISS wasn't there. KISS was now another hard rock band, a very good hard rock band, but look at who they were competing with, giants.
Absolutely, coming back to the vision for "Crazy Nights" would it be fair to say that the album and Ron Nevison's involvement was 100% Paul Stanley?
I would say largely that was true.
Was there any attempt to persuade him to go with a different producer so that there wasn't a year's gap because of the financial strain it would put on the organization?
I'm sure it was discussed, but I don't remember any other names coming up. There certainly would have been people who were available. Here again, they didn't want to go back to the people who had done albums in the recent past like Michael James Jackson, or before that Eddie Kramer. Obviously, they weren't going to go back to Bob Ezrin, at least not then. So they would have had to take a chance on someone new, and I'm not sure that that was something that they were inclined to do.
Paul wanted this to be a big album, I think you described it as "big and important," in your book. Even though it's not a direct analogue around the thinking that surrounded "The Elder" didn't it set off any alarm bells that the band were trying to reach for a next level again; and the last time they had attempted that sort of thing, it hadn't worked out too well?
Well, in fairness, most of us who were longtime allies of the band felt that they really did need to do something that was, maybe if not spectacular, but they really needed to do something that was a step forward. Something, perhaps, that would have been seen as more important and would get them a lot of publicity, in a favorable way, because of the caliber of their producer. I think it was a legitimate objective. I don't think that anyone at that time was delusional, in the sense that they were going to do a concept album, or do a completely different genre, or cross over into a different kind of musical experience. It wasn't so much overly ambitious, to the point where it may have been a bit unhinged, I think it was simply ambitious to the point where they wanted to prove themselves. That they could do something musically and production wise in the same caliber as many of the same artists we've mentioned, who also received accolades in the press for doing breakthrough forward-thinking albums that were really state of the art. Albums that were very progressive within their genres. In a long-winded way, what I'm saying is that there wasn't the kind of thinking going on that what they wanted to do, or that we were heading for "The Elder" again. No, there was no reaction of that kind. It just created a business dilemma because taking a year off, for KISS at that time, potentially put them behind the eight-ball financially, which obviously we had to say we couldn't recommend.
What about Gene at this time, at business meetings, because Paul's really driving the car. That's the impression we get from Gene and Paul's books, is that because of his outside projects he's very much distracted from the business of KISS. Is that a fair appraisal?
He had all these side projects going with the acting and producing groups, and that's what kept him happy. He's a very ambitious person and always likes to be involved in things. At that point he was happy to cede the KISS responsibilities, creative wise at least, to Paul who wanted to take control in any case.
You've mentioned that you didn't meet Ron Nevison until the album listening party. Had you heard any of the demos or musical ideas they were thinking of, before they went into the studio, to get an idea of the music direction in which they were heading?
I probably did, but my only recollection is that they wanted to continue in the direction of a heavy metal/hard rock sound that was not so intense or aggressive that it would not be suitable for pop stations. So, they wanted a kind of sophisticated production of hard rock music. Not head-banging music or intense heavy metal music, because KISS had moved past that. Music that was more song oriented that had a very professional studio produced patina that was very much in the style of what was working at the time on the stations that played competitors such as Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. It's hard rock, but not head-banging. It's an aggressive guitar sound, but not so aggressive that it splits your ears. It's melodic and structured in the way that pop records produced for rock artists are, but they weren't trying to be Melissa Manchester.
In comparison with "Asylum" in terms of the economics of the recording of the album, was it about the same cost as the previous few albums?
I think with all the costs, and the advance paid to Ron Nevison, it was more expensive.
In terms of Ron, was he perhaps given too good a deal on the points to save on up-front costs and load it on the backend if the album performed?
I remember that he had a very good deal. At that time he was in a position to negotiate an excellent deal for himself. I remember Howard saying that there was really no negotiation with him. He got the big advance and whatever his points arrangement was. He had come off very successful albums, so he was in a position to command a really good deal. It was basically take it or leave it. And if we didn't want to take it we would have had to find another producer, but somebody in the music business who's reached his level of success, they take what they can because that time may never come again.
So, at the listening party -- this is the first time you hear the music -- what's the mood?
I don't remember who was or wasn't there. It was generally upbeat. The band was proud of what they had done. People liked the sound, it was very hard-rock pop sound. I don't remember anything standing out in my mind as to their reaction. The listening session was well received.
At the same time, you switch from ICM to CAA for booking the tour. Was that a positive or a negative in the long run?
CAA came into the picture because they had started to get a real foothold in the music industry. They had already become a dominant force in television and then motion pictures, so CAA was seen as a way for KISS to bolster the market place. The agency was looking for bands to take on. KISS had a name and a track record of years of arena performances, so I'm sure they were very interested. Here again, it was a way to shake things up for KISS' benefit and go with an agency that was on the rise.
Once the tour starts, response is pretty dire. White Lion seemed a good pick as an opening act, though they only really hit big after their opening slot had ended. It seems KISS just couldn't get any luck. Was there anything else that could have helped the band on the road?
The opening act was always seen by KISS as being critically important. For a period of time it was difficult to get really promising bands to appear with KISS, because KISS weren't really seen as a really big deal. White Lion, I remember them, but I can say where anyone would have done anything differently. They had the album that they wanted, they had the producer that they wanted; they had a new agency behind them that was motivated in marketing the band and selling them to promoters very aggressively. I'm sure they would have been thrilled if some band came down the pipe who were about to break out with a top-10 album.
How serious was the possibility of the tour being cancelled? Some of the early attendances were pretty dire.
Yes, there was. In fact, I was in Los Angeles at the time and I got a phone message from Howard Marks that the tour was now confirmed to go, which leads me to believe that there had been some doubts whether it would have happened. Otherwise I wouldn't have received a message like that.
The IRS issue, you go into quite a lot of detail about that in your book, and obviously it's not settled until after your time with the band. When does this really become an issue for the band in 1987? Is it during the recording of the album that they're cognizant of the issue facing them?
It was brought up in business meetings at the time, and to my recollection it came to a head toward the end of 1987 and finally culminated in early 1988 when we had a business meeting with them in Cleveland, OH. And that was the final straw that led to us being dismissed.
And Peter Criss also comes back into the picture, as far as you're aware did he sell his image back to the band?
The settlement with Peter Criss, during the time that I was involved, my recollection is that there was something carved out in the agreement that he owned the rights to "Beth," since he considered that his song. I don't remember if he owned the rights to the "Cat" makeup. I'd have to go back to the book, but whatever I said there is probably 99.9% accurate since nobody ever contacted me or challenged me on anything that I wrote in the first place. The problem with these agreements is they were so complicated and in some cases so poorly drafted that they created more questions than they answered, or caused problems. When reality set in, what was in agreement made no sense, and had to be renegotiated. I know that happened with Ace Frehley. Not one person that had sophisticated business knowledge could understand that agreement because it was so unclear. So I don't exactly remember whether he did or didn't. Maybe he did, because he did a solo album on Tony Nicole Tony records with the makeup on the cover. It's really an abstract issue.
Howard Marks, it sounds like in your book he remained totally devoted to KISS. Have you read Paul Stanley's autobiography that came out a few years ago?
Yes, I did read it. I can't say I read all of it, but I did read parts of it.
Is it difficult to marry up what you know how things worked, and what you're aware of, with how presented his view in his book questioning Howard's judgment?
I can simply say that Howard Marks and Paul Stanley were extremely close personally and professionally for many, many years. Paul Stanley had a father-son relationship with Howard Marks. He'd talk to him multiple times a day on the telephone, or come into the office. Howard Marks knew many aspects of his life beyond simply Paul Stanley as his business client. Paul Stanley trusted his judgment and benefited for many years from the negotiating abilities and business acumen that Howard Marks had, and used on behalf of the band. Now the whole thing blew up when largely because his psychiatrist instigated in him the belief that we were doing bad things and the tax shelters proved it. So Paul Stanley's faith in Howard Marks was undermined and eventually the psychiatrist took over a business role. But that says more about the state of mind of Paul Stanley and his psychiatrist, that a medical professional becomes your business manager, than it does about Howard Marks and Carl Glickman who probably made an error in judgment in putting the band into those tax shelters. However, those tax shelters were perfectly legal. They were fully disclosed. There were other very wealthy people, during the late 1970s, who had done similar things. Unfortunately, those tax shelters blew up because the government claimed back taxes, not that they did anything illegal, but they didn't allow the write-offs that they had originally promised. So it was a bad business judgment that happened as a result of unforeseen circumstances.
A lot of memos circulate from business meetings, and while obviously not all of them and they don't paint the full picture, it's clear that the KISS partners are present when financial investment decisions are being discussed, even if they don't understand them. So the band was aware of the investments and what was being done on their behalf?
Yes. And they also had an outside lawyer who had partners who came to the meetings. So it's not like we handled their legal affairs too, they had completely independent lawyer and an accountant. The accountant reported to them too. It wasn't that they were unaware, it was a matter of whether they accepted that these problems existed and eventually we'd have to something about them.
So, in your view is there anything that could have helped "Crazy Nights" be a more successful album? Was there anything that you felt that the record label, band, or you didn't do, or was it simply the vagaries of the market?
I think the album got off to a reasonably decent start and they were able to tour on it. You have to realize that less than six months later I am no longer involved. What happened from March 1988 forward, with respect to that album, I really have no idea. All of a sudden you drop your management in the middle of an album campaign that may jeopardize your relationship for a period of time that you might not be able to recover from. So, I don't know. I can't imagine anything. They got the producer they wanted, they got the producer they wanted, they were reasonably happy with the album. There were no tracks on the album that became hit singles [Ed. In the United States]. The tour, from what I understand, did fair to middling business at best, and some of the shows had to be cancelled. So, if you ask me, "what could have been done differently," during that period of time with that set of facts? I can't think of anything.
In your book you've been very clear about the demise of your relationship with KISS, but had you been involved in the booking of the Japan tour before you were fired?
Yes, I was involved, and was dealing with Bobby Brooks, who was an agent at the time. He passed away in a helicopter crash [Ed. Along with Stevie Ray Vaughn in 1990]. I remember discussing it with him, and we had some back and forth during negotiations.
What about the Monsters of Rock run through Europe during the summer?
No, nothing at all.
How about the compilation, "Smashes, Thrashes, and Hits?" Had any advance discussions for that album occurred by the time you left?
Ozzy's "The Ultimate Sin," produced by Nevison, had been released in February 1986. It struggled to Platinum certification in May, and ultimately stagnated. Didn't the reception of an album from an artist similar to KISS, working with Ron set off any discussions or cause any concerns? Was anyone looking at this while the band was waiting for him, and it not turning out as well as the Heart album?
I seem to recall that Paul Stanley had a very good relationship with Ron Nevison and seemed to be very knowledgeable about his track record. This was largely his decision, to go with Ron Nevison -- it wasn't like we were selling him on the idea. Paul had already been sold on the idea, and we were simply trying to put the pieces together to make it workable. Sometimes a producer has a great track record, but to extrapolate from that, that he's going to do the same job for you, perhaps that's overreaching. This is what he felt would work for KISS and he was very confident about it.
Do you think that anything could have saved Glickman/Marks' relationship with KISS, with everything that happened in the background, or was it just done by that point after 12 years?
I'm sure if Hilsen wasn't around, we would have soldiered on. I also have to concede that for us to have been involved for 12-years, it is almost an eternity in the life of a rock group. It's true that after a while people do get tired of the relationship they have with other people. And usually you get tired of a relationship, especially a long standing one, when your fortunes decline and you start to have problems, even about things that you may have known about. So we ended up being the fall guy.
You interacted with the band members at one time or another, can you just give us a quick appraisal of what you thought about them individually? Paul Stanley?
I would say very focused, very intelligent, very mercurial, and very artistic. Paul Stanley had the most artistic temperament of all the KISS people that I knew.
Did you work with him the most?
Initially, I was closer to Peter Criss, and then he left the group so my involvement with him started to wane, particularly after he did his first solo album. He moved from Connecticut to California, so from that point on I had very little contact with him. Ace, I had a good rapport with, but I wasn't really close to him. Paul and Gene I knew much better, but Paul I probably spent more time with, talking to and being with in the later years of my involvement because Gene had moved himself to Los Angeles. So, Paul was around more and was the main person from KISS who was still living in New York.
What about Gene Simmons? How would you describe him?
Also very focused, and somewhat bombastic. Somebody whose personality was actually quite different in private than his persona was in public. And I mean that in a favorable way. Behind the scenes, when the cameras were off, he was a very thoughtful, often generous, person who you could have a really good conversation with. But then when the cameras were on, or he was onstage, or there was an audience, he became overly aggressive and bombastic. That's just how he works, he just switched himself on and off, in terms of his personality, depending upon the environment -- like an actor.
The man of 1,000 faces, so to speak. Eric Carr?
Very decent and kindly, but a little bit timid. Someone who ended up in a situation, a stroke of good fortune or good luck, that happens maybe one in a million times. He was someone who went from total obscurity, to being a part of one of the most famous groups in the world, in a very short period of time. And that created problems for him. He wasn't used to it, and there was no transition for him. One day he was a drummer in Brooklyn, playing in local bands and working a day job, and the next day he was making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as an employee of this famous rock group. So he had a lot of adjustment problems. I sympathize with him; it's really more than I understood at the time.
So he goes from basically cleaning stoves to KISSteria in Australia!
There was in-between for him.
What about Bruce Kulick?
Bruce was a real journeyman musician. He had a very unassuming personality and was very solid worker, an excellent musician and easy to get along with. Again, somebody who had worked for years as a professional musician, but suddenly got a stroke of good fortune and became associated with this famous group for years. He seemed to know how to handle it, so he didn't have the adjustment problems that Eric Carr. Bruce Kulick was a more mature personality.
He'd been on tours with bands such as Meat Loaf, so had more experience that sort of drama.
He had a much wider range of experience and a level of maturity that worked in his favor.
You worked with the band for 12 years. What is your fondest memory of your time working with them?
Let me answer it this way, the earliest days, say 1976, 1977, 1978, they were by far the most fun, because everything was happening at that time. Every day was an adventure. Everybody from the original band was there and those were the most original and unique experiences. So it was the most fun, we were all a part of this big organization and KISS was a household word and one of the most successful acts of the time. After that I had many good moments, many wonderful travel experiences, such as Brazil or Australia that I enjoyed tremendously. By the time the 1979 tour was finished you could see the wheels starting to come off.
The KissFAQ thanks Chris for participating in the Danger Zone, celebrating the 30th anniversary of KISS' "Crazy Nights" album.