KissFAQ: Chris, by the time the calendar turned to 1978, KISS had just come off a huge year in 1977, with a gross income of $10.2 million according to your book. In other words, business was good.
Christopher K. Lendt: Very good.
"KISS And Sell," by Christopher K. Lendt
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KF: Would you describe 1978 as the definitive starting point for the "Super KISS" era?
CKL: I think the Super KISS era started to take shape after the high-water mark of the '77-'78 tour. I think that gave them a tremendous impetus to want to become more ambitious and more extraordinary in terms of how they presented themselves to the public.
KF: I'm curious, is Super KISS a phrase that you coined?
CKL: Yes. It's entirely my own invention and no one else should take credit or blame for it.
KF: (laughs) Maybe you should look into trademarking that.
KF: I recently read an article from a May 1977 issue of "Billboard" in which Bill Aucoin mentioned the idea of the KISS members doing solo albums. And I believe there was a proviso regarding solo albums in KISS' record contract that was signed in late 1976. In advance of 1978, do you recall discussions at Glickman/Marks about the KISS members doing solo albums?
CKL: (pauses) I don't recall any specific discussions. Since the albums came out in the fall of 1978, they obviously were starting to gel by the end of the '78 tour, which I believe was in February. You know, a lot of things were discussed primarily with Bill Aucoin and we caught wind of it after the band had their discussions with him. I didn't really become aware of it until late winter of '78, which is not to say they weren't talking about it prior to that. There are many things that they were talking more on a one-to-one basis with Bill about the next creative project they were going to embark on, as opposed to somebody like myself who was at the time primarily concerned with the mechanics and the administration of how the project would get done and what the timetable was.
Christopher K. Lendt
KF: While Bill Aucoin was certainly in his element in orchestrating a grand KISS assault in 1978 with four solo albums and a film, it seems there was more to the story. Certain parties have described tension between the band members during this time and implied that KISS would break up if Casablanca Records refused to release four solo albums. Was your company privy to the internal tensions during the time of the solo albums?
CKL: There was always tension between Bill Aucoin and Neil Bogart and it ebbed and flowed. I wasn't directly connected to that relationship but I knew through Howard Marks, because he was a little closer to it than I was, that they were always looking to try and get the edge on Casablanca because they felt that in many cases Casablanca shortchanged them financially. So any opportunity they would have to better their contract or improve their payout from Casablanca, they would try and take advantage of. That was something that Bill was trying to manipulate behind the scenes.
KF: What was Howard Marks' reaction to the solo albums? Was this a project he was behind 100 percent?
CKL: I don't recall anybody opposing it. The only problem with the project was it was extremely ambitious. Nobody in KISS had ever made a solo record before. And now you're talking about making four of them and they were all going to be released at the same time, and they all had to be ready at the same time. In each case, they required a producer and somebody had to be available immediately. We couldn't wait six months for a better producer or a better match to be had. We had to work with whomever was ready, willing and available at that time. And it had to be four at the same time.
KF: In contrast to the typical KISS studio album, can you outline the financial implications of the solo album project for Glickman/Marks?
CKL: Well, I honestly don't recall all of the contractual details. I don't know that we got four times the advance of a studio album but there were substantial advantages to doing the [solo] albums and Glickman/Marks, I guess, got at least as much if not more of a commission on the four albums as opposed to one. But I don't know that it was four times. I just don't recall.
KF: So we can get a sense of your whereabouts during this time, I believe you arrived in L.A. in May 1978. Were you out in L.A. for an extended period?
CKL: Yes, I was in Los Angeles for the entire filming of the movie. And then as soon as Peter had his auto accident, I stayed out in Los Angeles through August until his album was completed, along with Paul Stanley's and Gene Simmons'.
KF: Chris, can you outline your responsibilities for the solo album project?
CKL: Well, my job was to be the administrator or the business manager; to make sure that everybody who was working on the album, including the band members, had accommodations; that whatever contracts were required with studios and producers were administered with me within a certain budget. I also monitored things on a day-to-day basis since Bill Aucoin couldn't relocate to California for that period of time. I also had to make sure that we were on schedule and to provide whatever organizational expertise I could to make sure that everything was coalescing to meet that deadline.
KF: In your book, you mention that a lot of money was spent between booking studios, living expenses and securing musicians ...
CKL: Right, it was really being a coordinator and the organizational manager for those three productions and to make sure that everybody was in the right place at the right time. I had to report to Howard Marks and Bill Aucoin to troubleshoot anything that came up that might have interrupted our schedule.
KF: If you had to ballpark it, how much did all of the costs add up across all four albums?
CKL: Ace Frehley's was the least expensive. I think that Gene Simmons' was the most. I don't remember exactly what all four cost but, now that I think about, they couldn't possibly have cost much less than a million dollars.
KF: Eraldo Carugati was commissioned to create four paintings for the albums' artwork. Would you recall what Carugati would have been paid for his work?
CKL: I don't recall exactly. It wasn't in six figures, I can tell you that. It was probably in the four or five figures. But it wasn't anything out of sight.
KF: What were your impressions of the work Carugati produced?
CKL: I thought he did a splendid job. He was a very good artist and in terms of rendering KISS the way they wanted to look or how they wanted to appear at that time, I thought he did excellent work. That was part of what people like Bill Aucoin, Howard Marks and Dennis Woloch were responsible for -- finding these artists and finding these designers to create images for KISS that would be entirely compatible with how they wanted to present themselves creatively. That's something that managers, and in this case the advertising agency, really don't get enough credit for because those people just don't come out of a phone book. They have to be researched. People have to look at their work. And they have to be at a level of professionalism that they could do a job like this -- four individual paintings on a deadline -- and at the same time they couldn't charge Andy Warhol prices (laughs).
KF: (laughs) Right.
CKL: That is to the enduring credit of Bill Aucoin's legacy and also the roles of Howard Marks and Dennis Woloch and what they were contracted to do by KISS, which was to create all their advertising and images and find the people to render them in a way that was commercially viable.
Christopher K. Lendt and Peter Criss in 2012
Courtesy of Christopher K. Lendt
KF: Well said, Chris. If we get into the music, Peter's album was reflective of his diverse influences and the music he grew up with. And of course, Peter was older than the other members of the band. In hindsight, doesn't it seem unlikely that KISS fans were going to embrace the music on Peter's album?
CKL: The music on Peter's album, as you mentioned, reflected the music that he grew up playing since he was a teenager. It was more of a rhythm and blues-influenced kind of pop music. I think the fans at that time expected all the albums to be somewhat different. I don't think Peter was expected to produce more of a stripped-down hard rock album like Ace Frehley did. I think the whole idea was for them to make an album that would be an album for their creative energies and everybody knew going into it that Peter was not going to be unfaithful to the style of music that he grew up with, even though perhaps that was a difficult pill for some to swallow.
KF: Generally speaking, you have two albums that are more in alignment with KISS' sound in Ace and Paul's albums.
KF: And then you have two albums that maybe threw KISS fans for a bit of a loop in Gene and Peter's albums.
CKL: Well, the idea behind the solo albums, which Bill Aucoin was instigating, was that everybody in the band should have the opportunity to make an album of the music that they're closest to, as opposed to having to make a KISS-sounding album. So it was designed to be a creative outlet that would actually make the band stronger because you didn't put them in a straight jacket and say, "Well, you have to go out and make another KISS record now. It has to sound a certain way; it has to be disciplined in a certain way. You can go and now have freedom to create new music in the way that you want and connect with your fans." With freedom comes certain risks but I don't know that any of Peter's fans were disappointed that he produced an album that was his thing as opposed to Gene's thing.
KF: Pardon my pun, but Ace's album was a bit of a wild card given he had only two lead vocals to that point in his KISS career. Do you remember a sense of surprise when Ace scored the lone hit of the solo albums with "New York Groove"?
CKL: Yeah, I think there was. It was unexpected, which is one of the reasons you do creative projects that hopefully stake out some new territory. Because with that sometimes comes a surprise in a positive way. I don't know who identified the Russ Ballard song for Ace Frehley -- I never really looked into it or asked -- but obviously that was a brilliant choice and the way it was produced was perfect for Ace.
KF: In your book, you describe Paul arriving to a recording studio in the San Fernando Valley and him ending up being dissatisfied. Do you remember why Paul did not like the studio?
CKL: I recall that he didn't like the sound or the feel of the studio. And he just didn't feel comfortable in it and he wanted to walk away from the whole situation.
KF: And a deposit was forfeited?
CKL: To the best of my knowledge, yes.
KF: That's a costly decision then.
CKL: Yes it was.
KF: Apparently Jeff Glixman and Paul didn't hit it off. And from what I can gather, all signs point to Paul wanting creative control of his album. Do you recall if there was a contract stipulation that stated each member needed to work with a producer? In other words, why didn't Paul produce his album himself?
CKL: Well, I think Bill Aucoin insisted that everybody have a producer because nobody in the band had ever produced before and we were all working on a very tight deadline. There's got to be somebody who can take responsibility for seeing that the project is completed and is expedited, if necessary. So I think it was probably reaching too far to expect that Paul would be producing his own album. And if he produced his own album, why wouldn't Gene want to do the same?
KF: A fair point. One interesting thing to note is that each solo album had one single, except for one. Peter Criss actually had two single releases: "Don't You Let Me Down" and "You Matter To Me." In hindsight, this didn't amount to much for Peter's album in terms of sales. But would a properly promoted second single for each album have done anything to help stimulate sales?
CKL: Well, the answer is, in theory what you say makes sense, but in practice, record companies -- if they can -- identify a second single on the album. Or if there is competition that's getting in the way of them coming up with the second single to promote, it's not going to happen. In other words, Casablanca is like any other record company. They had a full slate of other releases, in addition to KISS, and once the initial singles came out from the KISS albums, they obviously had other releases to promote at that time. You know, those are the business judgments that they make. "Is there a second single on this album? Does this album justify us bringing a second single into the market and promoting it? Is it going to take away from the success that perhaps some of the other KISS albums were having with their singles?" And then they have to assess, "How does that affect the other releases that we have for other artists going on at the time?" Every record company has a finite degree of resources available. And to promote four solo albums at one time and do them justice and come out with an initial single requires marshaling a tremendous amount of resources. To come out with subsequent singles -- unless that album has been a clear, over-the-top chart-busting success -- requires some strategic thinking as to whether or not that effort will be rewarded and be sensible.
KF: I just find it odd that Peter's album was chosen as the one that would be given a push with a second single, especially since his album charted the lowest out of the four. When we spoke with Larry Harris, he couldn't recall why Peter's album had a second single.
CKL: A lot of things happen because somebody at one particular moment in time makes a decision, perhaps instinctively. But it isn't necessarily indicative of a master plan that something happened with Peter's album, so why didn't it happen with the other three. It probably was just a decision made at the time out of what they felt was opportunism and so be it.
KF: Speaking of Harris, he has described the solo albums as a "death knell" for Casablanca Records, given the returns of more than 2 million albums. Neil Bogart was a gambler, but by pressing more than 5.3 million albums maybe he gambled a little too much.
CKL: Well, Larry would know better than anyone. If you manufacture 5-plus million albums and 2 million come back, like you said it was a "death knell." Bogart was a real promoter, he was a big risk taker [and] he had very good creative instincts. But that doesn't mean he's infallible. A lot of times people who are very successful at gambling, they keep upping the ante and by making the gambles bigger and bigger they think that automatically the payouts will be bigger and bigger. It doesn't happen that way. He made a big error in over-promoting and over-selling the albums. And this is a business, like the movie business, of expectations. If he printed a million solo albums and they sold out right away, that would have been considered a huge success. If he printed 5 million and half of them came back, it looks like a fiasco. And obviously financially it was.
KF: Harris also said in his book that Neil Bogart initially thought to release a total of 2 million solo albums, which equated to half a million for each album. But apparently Howard Marks balked by quoting that KISS' contract stipulated 1 million of each album needed to be pressed ...
CKL: Well, I can't say what Howard Marks did or didn't say. He was very much a close confidant of Neil Bogart. I don't recall anything in the contract saying a certain amount of copies had to be printed. That's news to me. If you're saying that maybe Howard Marks egged on Bogart to take on more risk and print more albums, I'd say it could have happened like that. It's not out of character. I can't say it did because I don't know. But I can't say it's unthinkable that he would say something like that.
KF: In searching for answers as to why there were more than 2 million returns and why the albums didn't sell, one of the theories I have is the simple fact that there were four albums. Taking into account the average age of a KISS fan in 1978, was it logical to think fans would be able to spend in the neighborhood of $40 on four albums, versus $10 for a regular KISS studio album?
CKL: Yes, it's clear that if they had sold 2 million albums, that would have been what a very successful KISS record would have sold at that time and everybody would have been very satisfied. I don't remember what the thinking was in terms of the fans having to spend four times what they normally would spend to buy a KISS album. Assuming that the kids have so much disposable income that they can just go out and buy four records as opposed to one, you're right, in retrospect it's a mystery to me why that thought didn't sink in. But that's the music business. People just push ahead with creative ideas that are bold and provocative and sometimes very risky, thinking that the positives will outweigh the negatives.
KF: Given the returns of the albums, there is a stigma attached to entire project. Whenever I talk to people who worked in the industry at the time, it's seems the KISS solo albums are something of a punchline. In the grand scheme of KISS' career, do you view the solo albums as a success or a failure?
CKL: Well, I don't think it could be considered a failure because it was something unique in the history of the music industry that a rock and roll band would be able to produce four solo albums and release them simultaneously. It certainly did something to promote the KISS mystique and the fact that they were four separate characters with their own identities. I don't think it was a failure from that standpoint. Obviously financially it was a failure for Casablanca because they made some grievous business decisions and over-extended themselves in manufacturing so many albums. But I think that that's part of the legacy of KISS -- that they did these creatively ambitious undertakings and they helped to burnish their reputation at that time for being a band that does big things and was always looking to push the envelope.
KF: KISS were very fluid at the time in moving from one project to the next. Do you recall a true sense of disappointment in the KISS camp given what materialized with the solo albums? Or did everyone just move on to 1979 and what would amount to the "Dynasty" album and tour?
CKL: Nobody was thrilled that the albums were considered a failure by the standards of the industry, notwithstanding what I just said. Actually, they all thought they would sell a million or more each. That didn't happen. So they were was little bit chastened by it. They didn't get the claim or the commercial success that they anticipated. So we decided once that was over that we had to move on and make a new record as a band the following year.
KF: Paul, in particular, has not held anything back in terms of his feelings for Peter's album. As a matter of fact, he has said he can't give it "any stars" on a five-star scale. That's all well and good but what I've always found a bit peculiar is that the producer of said album ultimately was brought onboard for the next two KISS studio albums. What is your sense as to why Vini Poncia's services were retained for two consecutive KISS albums?
CKL: Well, because Vini Poncia was an experienced producer. Vini Poncia was a very good musical arranger and he also had experience and professional credits as a songwriter. He apparently gelled with the members of KISS and felt that he could create an album that would be musically respectable and in more of a pop direction, which KISS felt at that time that they wanted to pursue because that was a way of broadening their appeal to the public. In that sense, he was an ideal choice. They wouldn't have brought in Vini Poncia if they wanted to make a basic hard rock record -- they could have worked with Eddie Kramer who could do that very well or probably a number of other producers from that era who were very well-known for producing hard rock albums. The fact that they chose Vini Poncia suggests to me that they were looking to go with a more pop sound. They certainly heard the "Peter Criss" album so they knew the kind of music that he created in the studio. They obviously felt that he was the right person at the right time to create a more commercially mainstream sound that would be a little bit more distant from the hard rock sound but put them more in the middle of a pop rock sound, which again is what they wanted. Believe me, it was their decision. Nobody had to give them a sales job. And I guess that Vini got along very well with the band members professionally and they found him very reliable and rewarding to work with, which is important. Because if you don't get along with the producer -- he may be extremely talented but he might not be the right person for you.
KF: You've described the solo album campaign as being overreaching and "too much" KISS. Fans have long ruminated about possible alternative scenarios if the KISS solo albums never came to be. If here was an opportunity to go back to the start of 1978, do you think there could have been a better strategy for the band for that particular year?
CKL: The best way I can answer that is that, according to what I remember Bill Aucoin telling me at the time, the group was getting kind of ragged from the extensive amount of touring they were doing and the very tightly controlled release schedule they had for their group albums in recent years. You know, they did a live album and they did several studio albums -- they had as many as two albums being produced over a single year. So he felt that it was time to let off a little steam and have them do something different. That's what managers do. They're very close to the artist. You can't just put them in a cookie-cutter, which we had been doing for many years very successfully. We'd do a new album in the fall, and then we'd tour in the spring and we'd start another album six months later. That becomes like a machine. And it can wear people down. Apparently that's what he felt. And this would be a way to, first of all, satisfy the importance of producing new KISS recordings for the public and, at the same time, give every member a chance to do something individually and not have to work in the studio together and give each of them some space to create their own music. But it would still conform to the KISS strategy for developing their career for the next phase.
KF: In terms of actual results, as we've discussed, the KISS solo albums fell short. KISS soldiered on, though ultimately the original lineup disintegrated and popularity began to waver to the point where KISS ultimately unmasked by 1983. Chris, in looking back, do you think the solo albums the snowball that sent the original KISS lineup in a downward spiral?
CKL: I think that's kind of a stretch. The solo albums -- with the exception of "Ace Frehley," he did have a hit single -- weren't commercial milestones in terms of sales. That's clear. But I don't see how they hurt the band. The following year they did "Dynasty." That was, I believe, their biggest album worldwide at the time. It did very well in a number of countries. They did a tour to promote the record beginning in the summer of 1979, and I don't want to get ahead of myself but the problem with that tour was not that KISS couldn't play big shows, they just couldn't play multiple big shows. That was a business decision made with some degree of creative chutzpah. It really brought them down a notch because they bit off more than they could chew. The "Dynasty" album did reasonably well; it certainly had one big hit single. So I don't think the solo albums hurt them. I think they helped solidify the fact that there were four individuals in this group called KISS and they got a tremendous amount of promotional value from it.
(KissFAQ thanks Christopher K. Lendt for his time and contribution to Back In The Solo Album Groove, our 35th anniversary retrospective dedicated to the 1978 KISS solo albums.)
About Christopher K. Lendt:
Christopher K. Lendt was an employee for Glickman/Marks Management from 1976-1990, ultimately ascending to the level of vice president. He served as business manager for KISS, managing their concert tours and overseeing the band's growing business affairs. Lendt also was the business manager for legendary artist Diana Ross. Since 1992, Lendt has been an adjunct professor of marketing at New York University. He also currently acts as a consultant for artists and entertainment companies. In 1997 Lendt published "KISS And Sell," a riveting account of his tenure with KISS. A graduate of the University of Southern California, Lendt today resides in the New York area.