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Back In The Solo Album Groove With Carol Kaye

Publicist recalls KISS being on top of the world in 1978, the promotional strategy for the solo albums and "a very special time" working at the Press Office.

Interview by Tim McPhate

KissFAQ: Carol, let's go back to 1978. You were on staff at Aucoin Management's publicity subsidiary the Press Office, correct?
Carol Kaye: That is correct.

KF: How long had you been on board at that point?
CK: Well, I started working directly at Aucoin Management in June 1977. I was just this young kid who didn't even know there was a music industry. When Bill hired me I remember he said "I have a feeling about you." You know, Bill continued to be my mentor and my inspiration and my very, very dear friend. And I always viewed Bill, in a way, like a big brother. As a matter of fact, I'm looking at a picture of him right now! There are so many times I go to pick up the phone to call him and get his advice on something that I'm working on. I still cannot bring myself to erase his phone number from my phone. But anyway, it was '77 when I started working at Aucoin Management. And in January 1978, I believe the Press Office launched and I moved over to the Press Office representing all of the Aucoin-managed bands, which were KISS, Starz, Toby Beau, and Piper (Billy Squier's) band. And then of course, the Press Office, being an independent PR company, represented many other artists such as Paul McCartney, Uriah Heep, Triumph, Blondie, the Ramones and many others.

KF: How did you come across the job opportunity?
CK: I had just graduated high school. I decided I was going to take some time and work for a while. You know how it is, you want money, you just want to chill out for a while before heading off to college. I was working for Otto Preminger, the film director, I [had] worked with OP, as I called him, for about six months. A friend of mine called me one day and she said, "Carol, Bill Aucoin is looking for a publicist. You should go in and interview for the job." And I said, "Who's Bill Aucoin and what's a publicist?" (laughs) It was that foreign to me! She said, "Well he manages KISS." And I was like, "OK." I really didn't know much about KISS. I was not like a rock chick (laughs). I know it's funny now; I had heard of them but I didn't know a lot about the band. I went and I interviewed. I first interviewed with Bill's assistant, Linda West. When I walked into the office, it was like nothing I had ever witnessed before. There was music coming out of every room, people running around, phones ringing off the hook, there were gold and platinum records all over. I never saw anything like this -- it was like walking onto a movie set. Linda interviewed me and I thanked her very much for her time. And I really didn't think very much about it, Tim. The next day, she called me and said, "Mr. Aucoin would like to meet with you." So I said, "All right. I can come over on my lunch hour." What was supposed to be a 10-minute interview turned into an hour and a half. I was sitting in his office and behind me were these huge puppets, bigger than me. It was crazy! That's when Bill said to me, "I just have a feeling about you and I'd really would like you to start working here. I asked if I could answer the phones because I needed to familiarize myself with everything he had been discussing. And he started laughing and said, "Just start in two weeks." I had to tell OP that I would be leaving him. And of course he was like, "Is it more money? Do you need more money?" I said, "No, no, no. I think this would be a really fun opportunity for me." Little did I know I was stepping into a hurricane. And that's how it started. I was part of Al Ross' team on the publicity end at Aucoin Management. And I just took to it like, pardon the stupid phrase, but like a fish to water. I really did. I never looked back.

KF: And what was the staff configuration of the Press Office in 1978? How many people were on staff?
CK:. There was Carol Ross who headed the company. Her husband was Al Ross, myself, Julie Steigman, Harriet Vidal, Julie Harrison and two others. We each had our own artists that we worked. KISS were my babies, so to speak, with Carol Ross, of course.

KF: Of course, the KISS solo albums weren't just any KISS project, but four solo albums released simultaneously on the same day. What do you recall about initially learning about the project and what were your thoughts?
CK: [With] the solo albums, there was a lot of buzz, there was a lot of excitement. And of course, we would have creative meetings with Bill all the time about how we were going to put this out to the media. And as you know, Bill was very, very hands on about the image of the band. It was a lot of fun to sit around and hash out ideas and throw ideas around. You know, it's very different today, the way things are done. But we were all very instrumental in the process. We were a family. We lived and breathed and worked KISS. As a matter of fact, my home was pretty much destroyed in October from the Superstorm Sandy.

KF: I'm really sorry to hear that Carol.
CK: I lost two floors in my house and more memorabilia and memories than I care to discuss. I lost a lot of KISS memorabilia and things that I had been offered so much money for over the years to purchase, which I would never even consider doing. I mean, this is my life and these are my memories. I had tourbooks with my notations about who was doing what interview at what time, you know a really detailed and amazing history. But one of the reasons I mention this is I did happen to save the press kit that I found of the KISS solo records. It was one press kit that had all four photos on it and inside we had individual bios of each band member and individual photos of each band member. We also had shopping bags that were made [with the] same images and we put all four albums, along with the press kit, in the shopping bag and had them hand-delivered to all the New York media. Now you have to understand Tim, at that time there was X amount of publications. It wasn't obviously like it is today. And we had a great relationship with all of the editors. I'd say we had maybe 25 packages that we sent out. It was a very big deal. I mean it was Christmas all over again.

KF: Can you please expand on that, Carol? In the context of the 1978 record industry, just how big of an event was the KISS solo albums?
CK: It was huge. It was huge. The buzz, the momentum and the excitement leading up to the releases and then the actual releases. And of course, people were like, "Is Gene selling more than Paul? Is Peter pissed off? What about Ace?" It was really crazy. But that wasn't coming from the band; they were happy for each other. It wasn't an internal "let's see who sells more" [competition]. It wasn't that way at all. But it was an amazing thing.. They were on top of the world and being part of it, we were just thrown into this with them. From the minute we got into the office in the morning, the phones were ringing off the hook. We did crazy, crazy things. We did fun things. I remember doing events like the one where there was a painted Volkswagen on display at Sotheby's with all of the KISS faces on it and we had a big press event about that and [wrote] press releases about it. It was so creative and that's how I still think of my business. I try to be an extremely creative publicist, which I learned from the greatest band in the world.

KF: The press kits for the solo albums have been described as comparable to those put together by major Hollywood studios to promote movies. Just how atypical were they for a music release at the time?
CK: The press kits were beautiful. They were chock full of photos and press clippings. It wasn't printed out on a Xerox machine (laughs). It was beautiful, heavyweight [paper]. Bill always did everything the best that it could be. They were beautifully copied, they were glossy. Everything about it was first-class.

KF: According to Chris Lendt's book, the advertising campaign orchestrated by Casablanca totaled $2.5 million across TV and radio spots, print and in-store displays. One item from the campaign is what is known today as the "KISS Bible," or "black box." The black box features a KISS logo on the front and contains a cassette of pre-recorded answers from each member of KISS discussing their respective solo album, along with a set of questions and some postcards of the band members. Do you recall how this idea came about?
CK: Well that probably occurred between Bill Aucoin and the radio promotion team. But if you think about it Tim, that was the pre-cursor to today's EPKs.

KF: You know, I think you're right.
CK: They were so innovative and so ahead of their time to think about sending that out to radio programmers. They would have their questions and here are the answers on cassette. Nobody else was doing that at the time.

KF: Indeed. Generally speaking, what do the recall the feedback being from the press in terms of their reaction to the KISS solo albums? For example, I believe I've read that some press might have been confused upon hearing Peter's album.
CK: Well, I think that people were very surprised when they heard Peter's record because they didn't expect that from Peter. I think they were really thinking that all of the solo albums would be much more inline with KISS music. So when they heard it with his jazz influences, they were confused. They didn't expect that. I thought it was amazing because each solo album just showed the strength of each artist. Paul and I were very close during that time and I spent a lot of time in the studio with him at Electric Ladyland Studios while he was recording this record. And he had these lush background vocals, you know [the girls in] Desmond Child & Rouge. His record is the iconic straight-ahead rock and roll record. There are songs on there that just stand the test of time. Gene's record was fantastic. Ace's record, obviously [he had] "New York Groove." And then Peter's [album] -- it just showed the strength of each as songwriters. And then you were able to say, "OK, I see how each part of this created and made up the sound of KISS."


Peppy Castro and Carol Kaye
Courtesy of Carol Kaye


KF: I agree. The four solo albums show the diversity of the band at the time and display each member's unique personality, which, I think, at the end of the day is the goal of solo album.
CK: As a matter of fact, I had introduced my best friend Peppy Castro to Paul and they ended up writing a couple of songs together. Peppy sings background vocals on "Hold Me, Touch Me." As I said, we were all family. It was just an amazing time.

KF: Gene, Paul and, to a lesser extent, Ace participated in promo tours across the country, doing assorted radio interviews or in-stores. But I don't know that Peter participated in any similar kind of press efforts. Do you recall why, Carol?
CK: No, I don't recall. I know that when we set up interviews, we set them up for each and every member of the band. We didn't just set them up for Gene or Paul. We had interviews for every band member. But I don't recall Peter not participating.

KF: In terms of performance, the albums performed relatively well. However, Casablanca shipped more than one million copies of each album, totally upwards of 5.3 million albums. Ace's album was the best-selling of the four, but the others did not perform as well. Larry Harris has said that the KISS solo albums were a fiasco for the label. Was this a case of Casablanca biting off more than they could chew?
CK: That's a great question. And I think the only one who could really answer that would be Bill. And unfortunately he can't. Talking about Casablanca and their involvement and Aucoin Management and the Press Office, we had such a big machine going. But yet there weren't that many of us. It's very interesting. At Casablanca, we used to deal all the time with Irv Biegel who was heading the sales and distribution, and Larry Harris and Neil [Bogart]. And at the Press Office, it was Carol Ross and myself and the team there. And then we had Aucoin Management with the innovative, amazing, brilliant Bill Aucoin. It was really the first management company that had everything in house. They had a radio promotion department in-house, production department with Stephanie Tudor and Ken, the publicity department. The tour managers used to come up to the office where they were booking the travel for the tours. We had the production team up there working on the stage show. I'm telling you, it was magical. And the band would come up and they were very much a part of what was going on. It was an unbelievable experience. And for me, that's how I learned. We had an opportunity to learn every aspect of the business. It wasn't just segmented or, "OK, you just do publicity. Go sit in the corner." It wasn't like that at all. We were all very much a part of everything. But as I said, there weren't that many of us and when you think back at how all of this was accomplished and how they've stood the test of time is just awesome. Great, great memories.

KF: Depending on who you talk to, the KISS solo albums were either a success or failure, in terms of results. But how would you gauge the success of the solo albums' promotional campaign? Did you accomplish what you set out to accomplish?
CK: Absolutely we did. I mean, they were the greatest band to do publicity for. Can you imagine -- what better speakers are there than Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley and Peter Criss? They each had such distinct personalities. I remember one of the first television bookings I did was "The Tom Snyder Show," which is now infamous.

KF: Yes it is.
CK: The talent booker for the show was Donald Berman, who now is very much a part of "The View." But I will never forget standing on the side of the stage when they were being interviewed and Ace was ... a little tipsy (laughs).

KF: (laughs)
CK: And there was that back and forth going on with Tom and Ace and the bear. But you didn't really see a lot of it, you know they broke to commercial. I was convinced that I was getting fired. I was like, "I'm getting fired. This is crazy." (laughs) But you know, these became iconic moments in rock and roll history. It was like that all the time. It was on 10 -- or 100 -- all the time. Full steam ahead.

KF: A month after the solo albums, "KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park" aired on NBC. Rewinding to April 1978, "Double Platinum" was released. Various retailers were littered with KISS' merchandise, from lunch boxes to makeup kits and dolls. Do you think 1978 was the zenith of KISS' popularity?
CK: Oh, I think '77, '78, '79 -- it's all kind of melded into one because, as I said, it was just continuous momentum. We were going, going, going. There was "Love Gun"; there was "Double Platinum"; there were the solo records; there was "KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park"; there were tours! It was non-stop. Yeah, it was absolute insanity. And it didn't stop. They were number one on the Gallup Poll. Remember "Knights In Satanic Service"? Somebody called me one day and said, "Carol, you're on the front page of 'The Wall Street Journal.'" I'm like, "What are you talking about?"And there it was, "KISS publicist Carol Kaye can't seem to to squash the rumors that KISS does not stand for Knights In Satanic Service." You never knew what you were going to walk into. For me Tim, it was baptism by fire. It was sink or swim. Because as I said, I entered this business not even knowing there was a music business. I did not set out to work for a rock and roll band in the music business. That was not my goal. I was a very, very lucky girl.

KF: And how long did you end up staying onboard at the Press Office, Carol?
CK: I stayed with KISS through, this is where it gets foggy, I think 1980. And then I went on to record companies and working in management with Aerosmith, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Rex Smith, Ted Nugent with Leber/Krebs. I've had an amazing career. I worked at a label doing publicity and traveling with Queen, the Cars, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, the Eagles, Roy Orbison. I've been blessed.

KF: You've worked with an impressive group of artists, and continue to do so through your own company today. Do KISS hold a special place in your heart?
CK: Absolutely. They are the best. They always will be. If not for KISS and Bill Aucoin, I don't know ... I'm sure I would have had a good life, but it would not have been this life. So I will always hold a special place in my heart for KISS. I try to see them every time they are in town. But because of the experience that I had with KISS, I was able to apply that to everything else that I do in my career. When I first started Kayos Productions, after doing music supervision for a number of films, the first clients I had -- funny enough -- were KISS and Ace separately.

KF: That's nice how things came full circle.
CK: So that's another conversation! And I continued to work with Ace for over 20 years on his career. But it's been an amazing ride. Just getting back to what you and I talked about at the beginning of our conversation, I've been around. I know all the players. I would never ever ever think about writing a book or telling "my story." There's a lot that will stay quiet and that's the way it should be. But when I hear about these people that spend five minutes with KISS, literally, and they're writing books about their experience, it freaks me out a bit. I can't imagine how the band feels about it. But I just say, "I can't believe they're doing this."

KF: I think I know exactly what you're talking about.
CK: Really, it's crazy. But there will always be those trying to piggy-back on somebody else's fame and you've got to feel sorry for them, you really do. But I have to tell you it was a wonderful experience in my life. Writing a book is just not in my makeup. But I thank them for giving me the opportunity and I miss Bill. I truly do. The last time I saw Bill actually was when we went to a KISS concert at Madison Square Garden just a couple of months before he passed. Bill passed on a Monday - Paul called me on Saturday while they were in Europe and we spent quiet time on the phone talking. We knew the end was near. They're great guys. And all I can say is I just hate to hear people bashing them.

KF: Final question, Carol. I don't need to tell you that the music industry has undergone quite the transformation. Today, the industry is constantly evolving. There are MP3 files, YouTube and social media. In thinking back to the '70s and people like Neil Bogart, Bill Aucoin and bands like KISS, is there a part of you that misses the traditional record industry and the days of working in an environment such as the Press Office?
CK: Absolutely! Without a doubt. You know, it's funny because talking about all the various things we just mentioned, imagine doing all of this the way we did it, without email, without faxes -- I mean we had Telex machines and we used to sit there and wait for the Telex to come in (laughs). It was a completely different world and look at what we were able to accomplish. It was also quite a feat at that time to keep all the band's images without makeup from being published. That in itself was a trip. I remember photos in the daily newspapers, "Paul Stanley was spotted at Studio 54." And it wasn't even Paul, it was like, "Who is this guy?" It was really funny. But look at what they accomplished -- world domination without the tools that we have today. I have that mentality still when I do publicity: "Let's create. Let's see what we can do. Let's try to really make this special." That's how I was trained so I have that sort of mindset. I do miss the camaraderie and the excitement of this group of people who come in to work everyday with the same focus and the same goal. You're a team and you're a part of the family. It's all for one.. And that was a very special time.

(KissFAQ thanks Carol Kaye for her time and contribution to Back In The Solo Album Groove, our 35th anniversary retrospective dedicated to the 1978 KISS solo albums.)



About Carol Kaye:
Carol Kaye came into the KISS fold in 1977, working directly for Bill Aucoin at Aucoin Management, before seguing to work in the subsidiary press arm, the Press Office. There she represented all of the Aucoin-managed bands: KISS, Starz, Toby Beau, and Piper. As the owner of her own company, the New York-based Kayos Productions, Kaye has overseen successful PR campaigns for such iconic artists as KISS, Ace Frehley, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Paul McCartney, Queen, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, the Eagles, the Ramones, Blondie, and many others. The company represents bands of all genres, from classic rock, indie, and punk to blues, instrumentalists and jazz. Learn more about Kayos Productions at the comapny's official website .