Vocalist/pianist rewinds to the sessions for Gene Simmons' solo album, the days of Wicked Lester and an early KISS gig, and shares recollections of Cher, Sean Delaney, Lassie, and more.
Interview by Tim McPhate
KissFAQ: Eric, can you give us a general overview of your musical career in 1978?
Eric Troyer: I guess I was probably pretty much a session singer at that point. I was doing a lot of sessions. And I had known Gene and Paul since the Wicked Lester days. We were produced by the same guy, Ron Johnsen, back at Electric Lady Studios when they were Wicked Lester. We used to hang out a lot together and Gene and I were pretty good friends. We spend a lot of time going out to eat and just sort of hanging out. He was very helpful in trying to direct me in some career moves, to do a solo career, he made some really great suggestions and it really helped me along in a lot of ways. But it didn't really turn into much, which was totally fine for me actually as it turned out. But we hung out a lot together and I was doing a lot of session singing. At that time, I was pretty much hanging out in New York. But for some reason as I look at [Gene's] album, I see that he must have cut a lot of those tracks in New York because they're all New York musicians. But he flew me out to L.A. and I hung out with him and Cher for probably about 10 days while we did a couple of things. I was at the studio when there was a lot of the other stuff going on too.
KF: it's interesting that you have ties to Paul and Gene going back to Wicked Lester.
ET: I was at one of their very first concerts at [the library]. Ron Johnsen, he said, "You got to come along and see Gene and Paul. It's a group called KISS and they're going to put on makeup and it's pretty wild and everything. They're just trying it out at this place." It was in New Jersey or somewhere, Englewood Ciffs or somewhere like that. [Ed: The "1973 Library Party," a benefit for the Palisades Free Library, took place in Palisades, N.Y., on May 26, 1973.] It's funny because I saw Paul recently. We did a show with them in Newfoundland about a year ago and we were just chatting about that. But yeah, I was pretty good friends [with them]. Paul came out to New Jersey with our manager and hung out at the sessions and stuff. We were all kind of in the same ballpark at Electric Lady Studios when Ron Johnsen was producing Wicked Lester and my band as well.
Courtesy of Eric Troyer
KF: That's wild. Getting into Gene's album, it was recorded at a few places, at the Manor in England; Cherokee Studios in L.A.; and Blue Rock Studio in New York. So you were present at the Cherokee sessions?
KF: Do you recall any of the other musicians who were present while you were in the studio?
ET: Yeah, I was there when Skunk Baxter did some guitar work. Rick Nielsen -- it's funny because when Cheap Trick first burst out they came to New York and did a show at Max's Kansas City and Gene and I went to see them. Gene said, "You've got to come along and see this band. They're outrageous. We're thinking about bringing them along on tour with us." So we went and we sat right in front. Rick, of course, was throwing picks at us all night. And Gene was throwing hundred dollar bills at him (laughs). It was really cool. So I knew Rick from those days. And then he was there at the session and he did some guitar work and it was really nice to see him. I've see him a few years since too -- he's a great guy, a great guitar player. We were hanging around with Cher a lot because Gene and Cher were together at that time. So I was there [when] Cher did her vocal part on "Living In Sin at the Holiday Inn," which reminded me of that whole thing. I was just listening to it just a few minutes ago and I was like, "Oh my God, that was so awesome!" And Bob Seger and I did some vocals. I think I did some vocals separately too. I played piano -- there's some banging piano that I put on both those tracks ["Living In Sin" and "Radioactive"]. I was also there when Helen Reddy did her vocal part -- she was kind of a pain in the ass but...
KF: She was featured on the track "True Confessions."
ET: Yeah, that's it. She was just as you might imagine. I don't know if you're familiar with her persona or her career, but she's kind of proper, sort of a bit of an attitude kind of a girl.
KF: She and Gene must have been quite the combo.
ET: (laughs) It was really funny. He's so outrageous -- oh my God, the things out of his mouth, to women especially. He used to say the most outrageous things to women and I'd say, "Gene, come on man!" So I was there for that. Oh, interestingly enough, Lassie is on there. It's funny, but we drove up [to] Lassie's trainer's [place], this guy named Rudd Weatherwax. I think he trained all the Lassies. But we went up and recorded Lassie barking and it was pretty interesting.
KF: The producer for Gene's album was Sean Delaney. What do you remember about working with Sean?
ET: I remember Sean really well. He's a very wild guy, very fun-loving, very outrageous, [and] part of the whole thing with Gene and the management. Sean was a really great guy. He was really great in the studio because of his energy -- you know Gene is pretty calm and more subtle and sarcastic, and that kind of thing. But Sean was really exuberant and just like this big puppy dog -- really excited about everything and just full of ideas and good humor and good vibes.
KF: You are credited as playing piano on a couple of tracks, one of which was "Radioactive," the single from the album. What do you remember about the piano part on this track?
ET: I remember a little bit of it. They knew they wanted some real banging sort of rock and roll piano. So I'm playing like these high-up eighths, you know [sings melody and rhythm], "Gang, gang, gang, gang," that kind of stuff. I actually think I do that on both tracks, that sort of thing. And I think it helped because there are some gaps in some of the spacing in the arrangement. And when I listen to it now, I listen to the drums, the drums are so pre-'80s (laughs), it's pretty funny. But a lot of the parts sound really good. It was recorded really well. I think they probably said, "We'll hear the tracks and you play." You know, Gene was pretty loose with that. The background vocals he was very specific with, "I want this something here, something here, maybe a little higher." But the piano part, I think it was like, "We'll listen to this song, run it down and play some parts." I think what happened was I started to work out some parts and then they would listen and say, "Well, do more of that there and a little less of that there." And it just sort of shapes itself, which is pretty generally how I would work when I would do piano overdubs and stuff like that.
KF: I assumed the piano would have been an overdub situation.
ET: Oh yeah. They cut the basic tracks in New York, Neil Jason and all those guys are New York guys. I'm sure they must have done all the basics there. This was after the fact.
KF: The interesting thing with "Radioactive" is there are technically two parts to the song -- there is the ominous introduction with strings and some dissonant piano at the very beginning. Did you play that part?
ET: I think that was all done in New York. I don't think I did. I'd have to listen to that again just to see. I was listening to it and it sounded pretty cool, I liked it. It sounded really, well Beatle-y. There was a lot of that going around, the sort of vibey pastiche.
KF: This piece has always fascinated me, probably because it was my first exposure to KISS. I heard this track when I was 4 and was of course scared to death. You have this eerie string arrangement, Janis Ian singing in Latin, another voice -- which I believe is Sean -- singing through a harmonizer, and it all creates sort of a swirling effect. And then it just evaporates into this great rock tune.
ET: Yeah. I actually really liked it. I had forgotten about that, you know because I haven't listened to [the album] for a long time. But I listened to it and said, "Oh, that's really cool. They really did a good job." It looks like they got some string players in, and I forget the arranger...
KF: Ron Frangipane.
ET: Ron Frangipane, absolutely. He was from Electric Lady, that's one of Gene's probably old friends from the same time that I met Gene. He did a lot of arranging and I know his name from Electric Lady.
KF: Moving on to "Living In Sin," which you said featured some similar rock and roll-style piano parts. What do you remember about this track and Cher's cameo?
ET: I remember thinking, "Oh my God, this is so hilarious. It was really awesome." Cher was there [and] in and out of the studio, I don't think she was working on anything at that particular time. She was around and hanging out occasionally. I remember her doing that. But when I listen to it now, I'm like, "Gee, I'm like all over that track." I can hear my voice singing and I think I might have even come up with -- there's like an answer part at the end. I'm not sure of this but there was kind of like an answer part at the end and I did some of those vocals with Bob Seger, who was a real sweetheart too. A really nice guy. And we sang some on the same mic for some of the tracks but I think I might have done some high bits [alone] because I can hear my voice sticking out pretty high and Bob didn't have a particularly high voice, he was more of a baritone.
KF: Did you sing any backgrounds with Gene sharing the same mic?
ET: Yeah. He and I did some tracks and I don't think he sang -- it seems to me that we had three singers when Bob, me and somebody else (pauses) ... I guess it was probably Gene but it might have been .... is Rick listed as a singer?
KF: Rick is only listed as a guitarist.
ET: I just seem to remember that there were probably three singers. It was probably Gene. It's a little hazy.
KF: Well, interestingly Mitch Weissman has stated that you may have sang background vocals on some of the Beatlesesque tunes on the album -- "See You Tonite," "Always Near You/Nowhere To Hide," and "Mr. Make Believe." Might this be what you're remembering?
ET: I think they did their [parts] in New York though.
KF: Well, I did speak with Mitch and I know that he mentioned in the "Behind The Mask" book that it's he and Joe Pecorino from Beatlemania singing on those songs and he also mentions your name. So maybe you blended in a separate part in Los Angeles for those particular tracks?
ET: Yes, I think I maybe did do that. I know Mitch well, he's a great guy. He was a New Yorker. But that's my impression too because I was there -- I might have been there for a week to 10 days. And I know I was at the studio a lot and I remember just participating in quick things, "Can you go out there and do this and sing that?" And they were nearing the finish of it so that would have been the time where they thought they needed something, some little bit. And that was kind of my specialty, singing high and adding little parts here, ghosting vocals and stuff like that. That is my memory, that I ran out there and did a bunch of vocals. It just wasn't on those two songs.
KF: Interesting. Would you have made any contributions to any songs that might have been left off the album?
ET: I don't know that they did more than they needed? I think they pretty much knew what they wanted to do and it was pretty well set. At the time I remember Gene was very secretive about "When You Wish Upon A Star." He was like, "Oh this is going to blow people's minds. I'm going to sing this song and you're not going to believe this." He wouldn't tell me what it was. Until the day that we walked in and he was singing it. There was some big moment when he sort of revealed it and we were like, "Holy shit, that's awesome." It was pretty funny. But I don't know that they did more tracks than they needed -- they might have cut more in New York and then narrowed it down. That was pretty common, to do a couple of extra tracks. But at the time we were working out in L.A., I didn't know [of any] other tracks.
KF: The thing about "When You Wish Upon A Star" is that no one would have expected Gene Simmons to cover that song.
ET: Nope, absolutely not. That's why he did it.
KF: That kind of leads into my next question. What do you remember about Gene's mental state during this time? Did you sense from him that he was very serious about this project? Or was it a lot of fun and games?
ET: Well, you've got to say that it was a bit of both really. I mean, Gene is the most serious businessman -- he's all focused, he's totally focused on one thing. He's monomanical. He really is a very focused guy. And you know, he's a straight guy. He's a teetotaler -- no drugs, no alcohol ever. He's really anti all that stuff. He's got a very clear head and he's very organized [and] he knows where he's going. But, I wouldn't say he's a jokester, but he's a witty guy and he'd have a lot of funny things to say. Actually, that's not true. He is a jokester, what am I saying? (laughs)
KF: Gene definitely has a comedic side.
ET: Totally. He's like Henny Youngman. That's right, I totally forgot that. He would always have a string of jokes, you know, "Did you hear the one about ...? Did you hear the one about ...? Did you hear the one about ...?"
KF: Do you recall that Gene was trying to get the Beatles on his album?
ET: Yeah. I remember that he was trying to do that. He spoke about that at the time and he said, "I got the next best thing. I got the Beatlemania guys."
KF: And what was the story with Lassie? Why would Gene have wanted a dog on the album?
ET: Oh yeah. I don't remember exactly what track it's on, but he was looking to do a "let's just get everybody on this album. Let's just load it up with interesting stuff." And I don't know what made him think of Lassie, but Lassie was more in the consciousness at that particular time. The TV show had probably ended for a bit, but it was still very popular. But I don't exactly know why.
KF: And Lassie didn't come down to the studio, you guys went to Lassie?
ET: Yeah, we went up to Lassie. We went up and did a field recording. We drove all the way up to wherever it was, I remember driving past the Knott's Berry Farm so it was way out ... somewhere (laughs). And it was a beautiful area and we set up the mics and everything and recorded it.
KF: Trying to get the dog to bark?
ET: Yeah, they could get it to bark on command. Speaking of barking, my dogs are barking down stairs right now (laughs).
KF: (laughs) Obviously, Gene's album is quite eclectic. There's a range of material and there's "When You Wish Upon A Star" and there's the "special guest" cast. But some have criticized the album for having "too much sizzle and not enough steak," as Paul Stanley would say. What's your take, Eric?
ET: Well, Gene used to say to me, he used to be very bold and clear-cut about, "[KISS is] just doing this one slice of music." I think he loved the Beatles and he was into lots of other music as well. And I think if you talked to Paul, he would be too. But they knew that KISS had to be very clear-cut [with] no ambiguity [to] what they were doing musically. And so they really honed it and towed the line with that. But this was an opportunity for Gene to stretch himself out a little bit. So he took that opportunity. And It might have been Sean's influence too, you know, "Why don't you get this? Why don't you get that?" Sean was that kind of guy, "Oh man, let's get Lassie!" So he would have prodded and pushed Gene in that direction, which I think was kind of a natural direction for Gene anyway because he really like the Beatles and he was definitely influenced by all that stuff. But I think [the album is] pretty cool. I like both of those tracks [I played on]. I think they're really good. There's more depth to them, it's not just slamming, in your face kind of rock and roll.
KF: So did you ever meet Peter and Ace?
ET: Oh yeah, sure. I knew them all really well. I sang on a Peter Criss album, the one that Vini Poncia did afterward.
KF: "Let Me Rock You," which was released in 1982.
ET: Yeah, that's the one. Yeah, he was a nice guy, Peter. I don't know what he's doing these days.
KF: I know you were on John Lennon's "Double Fantasy" album. Peter actually does a cover of Lennon's "Jealous Guy" on that particular album.
ET: That's right.
KF: Eric, the KISS solo albums were released in September 1978, a time when KISS were surely at their peak. What do you recall about the publicity surrounding the albums' release?
ET: It was a big deal, it definitely was a big deal. There was a lot of press and they released it with big fanfare. Bill Aucoin, I knew Bill pretty well and he was genius at all that stuff. Between him and Gene, I mean they were both top business minds. They knew how to do all this stuff. So yeah, there was a big hoopla. They had big press and everything. I wasn't a part of any of that but I just remember seeing it and reading about it. It was a pretty successful PR campaign that launched the whole thing. Everybody was talking about it, you know the musicians in the city. I lived in New York so everybody knew a lot of the guys that were on the albums. It was pretty impressive.
John Lennon, "Woman"
KF: Getting a little into your career, Eric. Once again, you were featured on John Lennon's "Double Fantasy" album. What was that experience like?
ET: Yes, I sang on the song "Woman." I did quite a few vocal parts on that. It was amazing. Of course, one of my boyhood idols was the Beatles. Just to work with one of the Beatles was just mind-blowing. It was an amazing couple of days. I spent a couple of days in the studio with them. It was a great experience. John, we came out in the room and played the guitar and sang "Woman" over and over again while we worked out parts. It was just like, "Oh my God, I'm sitting here with a Beatle and listening to him sing." (laughs) You're used to hearing his voice in a speaker and he's there singing. It was pretty amazing.
KF: And tragically, we lost John Lennon right after that album was released.
ET: Yeah, a couple of days before he was killed -- I was really good friends with [producer] Jack Douglas, and that's how I got the session -- Jack said, "You know, we're wrapping up now. You want to come up and listen to some of the mixes? John's talking about putting a band together and maybe doing some live gigs. He wants you to come up and maybe you could do some vocals for him live." I said, "OK, yeah I'll come up in the next couple of days." You know, when you're doing these sessions, you also stop and think, "Can I have a picture with you and me?" (laughs) And you just can't do it, you feel so lame. I've worked with a lot of people and never asked them for a picture and autograph or any of that stuff. And now of course, I wish I had. But he's one of those guys, oh man, I would have loved an autograph and a picture with him would have been incredible. But, it was not to be. I have the experiences and I have the memory and it was really amazing.
KF: That album went on to win Album of the Year Grammy.
ET: Yes it did.
Billy Joel, "Uptown Girl"
KF: Pretty cool to be featured on that. And in looking at some of your other work, did you sing on Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl"?
ET: Yeah, "Uptown Girl." [I was] on the whole album, "An Innocent Man."
KF: That's my favorite Billy Joel song.
ET: Me and Rory Dodd are the first voices you hear on that, [sings melody] "Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh."
KF: The vocal arrangement is superb.
ET: The arrangements, some of them, we had an arranger come in and kind of work on parts. But a lot of them didn't work so a lot of them we kind of made up on the spot. It was kind of sort of a partnership of the arranger and we kind of modified his parts. But yeah, that's a great vocal arrangement. I mean, I can claim to have modified it here and there, but that was a fun album. We did some great stuff on that album.
KF: In your career, you've worked as a studio musician, you've been a member of ELO Part II, you've written jingles and children's music, and you run a recording studio, Wonderwerks/Charlestown Road Studios. That's quite the career resume -- can you update fans on any current musical projects you're working on?
ET: Well, I'm presently doing a soundtrack to a horror movie, which I'm having a lot of fun doing. I'm doing children's music. I'm working a lot with my band the Orchestra, I'm leaving for a tour tomorrow in Mexico and Texas and we've got dates all over the globe. TheOrchestra.net is our website. But I do a lot of different things. I'm actually working on a bunch of projects now. If I get things organized, I'd like to get some kind of social media things going. I wanted to try and put together a YouTube channel because there's a lot of cool tracks that I'm working on now which they don't have any purpose to them -- so I'm not in any hurry to get them done -- but it would be nice to get them released. People are always bugging me, "What are you working on now? What are you working on now?" It's like, "Well, I'll show you at some point." (laughs)
KF: And you mentioned you saw KISS fairly recently. Can you tell us about that?
ET: Yeah, weirdly enough we opened for them at a festival up in Newfoundland. It was really nice to see Gene and Paul again because I had kind of lost track of them. I don't really have much contact with them anymore.
KF: That would have been the Salmon Festival in 2011.
ET: Yeah, that's right. It was great, it was really fun. It was nice to see them. It was a ridiculous travel nightmare to get there. We actually had to rent a plane, we had to charter a small plane for the last leg of the journey up there. We arrived after being up all night trying to get there because there was some weather problems and they cancelled our flight and stuff like that. We got there about 11 a.m., basically ran out onstage and did our set. I mean, we were so delirious. And as I'm walking offstage, I saw Paul. I was like, "I know that face. Oh yeah." Paul was standing over at the side and I went over and gave him a big hug. He was really nice and we had a long chat and walked backstage and Gene was there. He was like, "Eric Troyer..." You know he was complaining about something I had done. It was hilarious (laughs). It was like, 25 years pass and the first thing out of his mouth is, "Why didn't you do that?" Like I had just seen him two weeks ago. Because he was upset at me a long time ago because instead of pursuing me solo career I went out on tour with Meatloaf. So you know, he always remembers those kind of things where I didn't listen to him (laughs).
KF: Eric, you have an interesting perspective in knowing Paul and Gene going back to their Wicked Lester days. Here it is in 2013 and KISS are celebrating 40 years. Paul and Gene have kept KISS together through various lineup changes over the years. Why have they been able to make it work for four decades?
ET: Well, they kind of grew up together. They have a common background. I mean, I met Gene's mom. She used to make us breakfast at his place back in the day. She was wonderful, she would make these potato pancakes, these latkas. She was wonderful. There's a cultural bond there. And then, they just have a harmonious relationship. I mean, I don't know whether they've ever had any major fights. It's interesting because they have a division of labor that works really well, and a partnership. Gene is kind of the mastermind of everything ... he's just really a smart businessman. And Paul was always like the front guy. He was the good-looking sort of front face. And Gene was kind of this evil counter force to that. And it just worked. And unfortunately Ace and Peter were kind of interchangeable and that's what happened too, because of the problems with them and all that down through the years. They became interchangeable. But it was always Gene and Paul -- they were the original partners. And man, they've stuck together.
(KissFAQ thanks Eric Troyer for his time and contribution to Back In The Solo Album Groove, our 35th anniversary retrospective dedicated to the 1978 KISS solo albums.)
About Eric Troyer:
Indiana native Eric Troyer's professional r�sum� reads like a who's who of rock history. His voice can be heard on mega hits such as "Woman" by John Lennon, "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel, "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" by Bonnie Tyler and on songs by Aerosmith, James Taylor, Meatloaf, Gene Simons, Lou Reed, and many others. A founding member of ELO Part II, Troyer's distinctive voice and keyboards -- not to mention his tireless work ethic -- have been a staple of the band for more than 20 years. Troyer has managed to survive years of exposure to the highest levels of rock and roll insanity with his good humor intact. And for good measure, he is a health nut and history buff. Learn more about Troyer's band the Orchestra, which regroups members of ELO and Electric Light Orchestra Part II, at their official website.