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Back In The Solo Album Groove With Michele Slater

Production coordinator for Gene Simmons' solo album details her responsibilities, an attempt to secure the Beatles and Lassie, and provides her perspective on why KISS fans didn't embrace the solo albums.

Interview by Tim McPhate

KissFAQ: Michele, if we go back to 1978, what was your status in the music industry at that time?
Michele Slater: I was working for Bill Aucoin and Sean Delaney at Aucoin Management. I had my fingers in every pot that Sean Delaney was working on. He was the artist development and a producer for Aucoin Management, so he was handling all of the artists for Aucoin. That would have been KISS, New England, Billy Squier's band Piper, and so on. I was his production assistant.

KF: When did you come onboard?
MS: I would say the end of '77, beginning of '78.

KF: And you had met all of the band members of the members of KISS at that point?
MS: Oh sure, they were in the office all the time.

KF: In looking at the credits on Gene's 1978 solo album, you are credited as a coordinator. Was the fact that you were working under Sean the reason why you landed this particular position?
MS: Yes. Sean was producing the album with Gene. And they were doing it in L.A. at Cherokee. Sean had me come out; I lived at the Sunset Marquis and I handled everything that was going on in the studio because there were a lot of musicians going in and out. That included travel, booking, getting in touch with their managers and putting them in touch with Gene. Gene took a very active role in producing his own record. He made decisions with Sean as far as who was going to do what and then we'd find them and get in touch with them and see if they were available to come in and do a guest spot.

KF: So those were your primary duties?
MS: Yeah, it was contacting them, finding their managers and getting contact information that Gene didn't have. Gene had quite a bit of it.

KF: Melanie Delaney is also credited as a coordinator. Did you know Melanie? And did she have any relation to Sean?
MS: You know, I don't think so. I remember Melanie. She was not in L.A., she was doing some things in New York. I did not work with her on the day-to-day in L.A. In L.A. it was just me in the studio with Sean and Gene and of course Mike Stone and the other engineers.

KF: Of course, Gene's album is notable for the formidable list of guest talent -- from Helen Reddy to Joe Perry to Bob Seger to Janis Ian. Are there any particular standout memories having to do with some of the celebrities that were secured?
MS: No. What I can tell you is that they were all very involved in doing their part. There was very little partying going on -- Gene is of course a very serious, non-partying person. He's extremely professional and very low key and the atmosphere was always very professional. The only anecdote I can really give you is when Cher came in to do the phone call on "Living In Sin." That was a lot of fun. I did that with her. We were supposed to be a bunch of teenage girls making that phone call. You can hear the screaming going on in the background and so on (laughs). Other than that, it was pretty straight ahead. They came in and did their part and it was a wrap.

KF: In terms of location, Gene recorded his album at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, Blue Rock Studios in New York and The Manor in London. Did you make the trek to any of the other locations?
MS: No. I only did the [sessions] in L.A. We were in L.A. for about eight weeks. Other than Janis Ian, everyone that is on the album came into the studio in L.A.

KF: Were the special guests' travel expenses -- airfare, hotel, etc. -- part of the official recording budget?
MS: That's right. It came out of the album budget.

KF: That must have been quite expensive.
MS: Well, Sean and Bill were handling the album budget. You have to remember, it was also 1978. The airlines weren't insane with prices the way they are now. It was pretty reasonable. And they all had hotel accommodations -- they stayed at the Sunset Marquis or they stayed at the Riot House on Sunset or the hotel of their choice.

KF: Gene has claimed that he tried to secure the Beatles for his album. Do you recall any talk about Gene trying to secure them for the project?
MS: Yeah, Gene really wanted to make this special. He did reach out. And it wasn't a flat no. It was a scheduling issue. So he thought it would be fun to bring those guys in.

KF: So contact was definitely made with the Beatles' camp and the offer was being considered?
MS: It was on the table for consideration, absolutely.

KF: Interestingly, Paul and Linda McCartney are listed in Gene's "thank" you credits. He also thanked Donny & Marie and Stevie Nicks, among many others. Would you recall any particular reason why he thanked some of these artists?
MS: I was not involved in doing those credits with Gene. I can tell you that he knows everybody that's named there. I wish I could tell you that they were involved in some way, but not when I was working on the album.

KF: When we spoke with Eric Troyer, he recalled capturing a field recording with Lassie. What do you recall about Lassie?
MS: Lassie, oh yeah (laughs). That was a real highlight. We traveled to Rudd Weatherwax's house to record Lassie with a remote recording device, which at the time was like the size of a gas tank. It was myself and Mike Stone and an assistant engineer, and it was a real treat. It really was. We had the existing Lassie and we had the puppy that was being trained to come up as the new Lassie. So we spent some time there so that Lassie could do her bit. Rudd was really sweet. He lived in a California mountain town, I don't recall which town that was. But it was a real highlight, for me anyway.

KF: It's interesting that you captured a recording because I'm not sure if the dog made it onto the album.
MS: You know what, I don't recall whether or not the dog made it on the album. She did bark on command. But I don't think she made it on the album. But I haven't listened to the whole thing all the way through in a long time.


Michele Slater with Lassie and "Lassie in training"
Courtesy of Michele Slater


KF: I've listened to the album and if she's there, I don't hear her. It's funny because I've read that Gene wanted to have Lassie on the album but I was never aware that a field recording was actually captured. I wonder who has the Lassie outtakes!
MS: I don't know. But we did record her. I have pictures of myself with Lassie. It was a thrill for all of us -- everybody knows Lassie (laughs).

KF: One of the criticisms levied against Gene's album is that he seemed to focus too much on the star power he was securing rather than the actual music. You recalled that he was very businesslike in the studio. From your vantage point, did he take this project seriously?
MS: Yes. And I would not agree at all with that assessment. At all. Gene, from what I recall and being involved in the project as deeply as I was for that period of time, when he was bringing all those people in it wasn't about getting those people in and thinking about album sales. They were already really big stars. That was not something that Gene was focusing on. I think his motivation was to get the talent. We had great studio musicians, Eric being one of them -- Eric was a very close friend of Gene's. Gene's motivation was to capture something special, not to use it as a selling point. He wanted to make [the album] something different. And he was very serious about it. It wasn't like, "Hey, let's go throw an invitation to this one." It wasn't like that. He was very thoughtful about it, "OK, I want Jeff Baxter to come in and do a guitar solo ... let me think about what song is right for him." He was very thoughtful about which musicians would work on what songs. And it was more about bringing in a sound, not a name. Do you know what I mean? I remember with Bob Seger, he was also very, very serious as well. These were not "hey let's get down and party" sessions. This was serious work. Bob Seger was very thoughtful about what he was going to do. You know, they all enjoyed it. The songs were fun and Gene's motivation was very clear. These artists did not feel like they were being taken advantage of or used in any way. And that's because of the way Gene approached it -- that was not the motivation. That kind of hypothetical thinking is for people that weren't there. They don't know and they're making up their own story for whatever reason without finding out the truth. And the truth was Gene was looking for a sound, a sound he could bring to the songs. You get a Bob Seger, you get a Jeff Baxter -- you got a specific sound. They bring in their own parts, the bring in the way they play.

KF: Gene's album is certainly diverse. You have Beatle-esque excursions, songs with orchestras and choirs, a cover of "When You Wish Upon A Star," and some traditional rock-flavored tunes. I think the album's eclectic nature confused KISS fans.
MS: Well, the four albums didn't get as much attention as they should have. I think the fans expected to get four KISS albums and that wasn't the point behind this. The point was you had four individual musicians who were extremely creative and they wanted to spread out and do something on their own. And what happens with a lot of bands is that when that happens, the band breaks up. But that's not what happened here, because they worked so closely together and they had Bill Aucoin managing them. Bill was a real visionary. That's why you have four album covers that look the same, but are not. You have four different faces and four different sets of music, and each one is unique to that musician. The fans expected four KISS albums and they didn't get it. Paul Stanley's album is a little more subdued, and Gene's album is more along the lines of what KISS was doing at the time. It was their individual creations. And each one was able to spread their wings and do what they wanted to do, not what the band needed to do.

KF: That's the whole point of a solo project.
MS: Exactly. But the beauty of it was that they all did the solo albums together and they all helped each other. That was the beauty behind doing it that way. Bill Aucoin was brilliant, he truly was -- what a loss. I mean so many of the people who worked on these albums are gone. It's very sad. Sean is also gone. Sean was also brilliant. He was coined as the "fifth KISS" because he did all their staging and helped with all their costumes. Between Sean and Bill, they were brilliant and they brought them up from nothing.

KF: KISS were extremely fortunate to come into contact with people like BIll and Sean and Neil Bogart.
MS: That's right. Casablanca was great to them and Casablanca loved them, and they were very close with the folks at Casablanca.

KF: The KISS solo albums were released simultaneously in September 1978. From your perspective, just how much work was put into the entire project?
MS: Well it was a big project. It went on for months and it all had to be coordinated so they were all released together. Casablanca was very involved. Think about what goes into the pre-production, the production, the post-production and mastering of one album and then the release, and what's going to happen around the release -- the marketing budget, the publicity, the press, the travel. Think about doing that with four albums, all at the same time. It was a very, very big undertaking.

KF: Of course, Casablanca pressed a lofty sum of more than 5.3 million albums. And while the albums all sold fairly well, there was a big pile of albums that were ultimately returned. What's your theory as to why the albums didn't meet the sales expectations?
MS: I think that everyone expected these to explode. But I think it was a result of the fact that the fans were expecting four KISS albums and they didn't get them. And I'm not so sure the press was very kind with their reviews on the albums. I think everyone was looking at it with an extremely critical eye instead of looking at it as a fun, unique project, like, "Wow, look at how these four guys stretched out and did their own thing." Instead of reviewing them as individual creations, I think they looked at each one of them as a KISS album. and I think that's where the difficulty came in. I think the fans were absolutely expecting four KISS albums, and so were the press. And when they didn't get it, they cut it to pieces (laughs). That's my take on it. I recall that there was a lot of talk about the fact that they were getting bad press. And everyone was pretty disappointed. It wasn't what anyone expected, for sure.

KF: I think that's a completely valid take, and I would agree. Speaking from a fan perspective, when KISS have tried to step outside the box, the majority of fans haven't seemed willing to embrace it. In other words, KISS fans want KISS to be KISS.
MS: Correct. Because I was working with them and part of the company, I knew what was going on and I understood it. Of course, I had my favorite songs and there were some songs I didn't like at all -- but I loved the albums. But I knew what they were trying to achieve. And the fans didn't.

KF: Did you work on any of the other solo albums, by chance?
MS: Not in an official capacity. I didn't do anything with Ace and Peter. I did some things for Paul, like contract things and little stuff here or there.

KF: Given your close proximity, can you share some of your general impressions of the KISS members?
MS: I didn't know Ace and Peter that well, they didn't come around as much as Paul and Gene. Gene was in the office pretty frequently and so was Paul. What I can tell you about both of them is that they're both very serious, and both clean. No drugs and alcohol. Never. They're whole thing was music and that's where all the energy was going. It was all about the music. And it would go from one album to another to another. They had a huge body of work. They would finish one and start the next. They were always working. And if they weren't writing, they were on tour. They were very busy guys. Paul is very laid back, very sweet and very down to earth. I had dinner with him once with a bunch of people. I was sitting next to him and we starting talking about furniture. He was telling me he was getting some new furniture and he was asking my opinion on a couch, which I found kind of shocking (laughs) -- that he was that involved in his decorating. It was like, "Wow, I saw a whole different side to him." Where Gene is concerned, Gene is a very, very serious man. He has a very dry sense of humor. Between him and Mike Stone, they had me laughing quite a bit because Mike Stone was English and their humor is extremely dry. Have you watched Gene on his reality show?

KF: Oh sure.
MS: OK, well you get Gene. He's very serious and very dry, but he has a great sense of humor but you wouldn't know it. You'd think, "Oh my God, this guy has got to be really strange." And he's not at all (laughs). He's a straight-ahead businessman and very serious about his music. I really enjoyed watching "Family Jewels" because when I was working with him he was going out with Cher. He and Cher were together for quite a while and it was much later that he ended up having his kids. I really enjoyed seeing him interacting with his kids, it was really quite funny (laughs).

KF: Michele, how long did you end up working for Aucoin Management?
MS: I was there a little over two years. I left and went to work for Phil Ramone.

KF: He passed away this year, unfortunately.
MS: Yeah, it was very, very sad. I went to a music memorial for him and his family was there. It was nice to see everybody and I hadn't seen Phil in probably about a year, but we were in touch. I'd call him when I just missed him. He was always so busy, it was hard to see him that often. He was constantly traveling. It was a real sudden and unexpected loss.

KF: And as we mentioned previously, Bill passed away in 2010. Had you spoken to Bill at all prior to his passing?
MS: No I hadn't. I had not kept in touch with Bill or Sean, unfortunately. I moved on and worked for Phil. It was kind of an extension of what I was doing with Gene. With Phil, I was his production assistant and I was in the studio with him all the time, for three years. So Phil and I stayed very close over the years. I'm also very good friends with his wife. They don't live far from me so I'd see them when I could. It was a different relationship, it was much closer.

KF: Understood. How about Paul and Gene? Has it been a while since you've spoken with them?
MS: I haven't spoken with Paul or Gene since I left Aucoin Management. No, I'm wrong about that. I spoke with Gene when he was with Diana Ross. Do you remember that?

KF: Sure. That would have been in the early '80s.
MS: Right. After I left Phil, I was independent for a while, before I went to work for "Saturday Night Live." And I was doing independent production assisting and contracting and so on, and Diana was looking for an assistant. She wanted someone to work only for her. Gene called me about that and I interviewed with Diana.

KF: Your mentioning "Saturday Night Live" reminds me how KISS never played on the show.
MS: I don't recall them ever being on it. I have no idea why. That's probably the next question (laughs). I don't know if they turned it down -- you know, that's not really their venue. How could they pull that off on that stage?

KF: That's a fair point. From what Paul and Gene have said over the years, there's a New York contingent -- people such as Lorne Michaels, Jann Wenner and the like -- who have turned their back on the band and as a result never gave them a fair opportunity. KISS did perform on the show "Fridays" in 1982. "Fridays" was kind of like ABC's version of SNL.
MS: Did they do their whole stage show?

KF: No, it was definitely a streamlined stage. They were promoting their concept album, "Music From The Elder," another album the fans didn't accept (laughs).
MS: Right.

KF: What are you up to in the music industry nowadays, Michele?
MS: I'm doing marketing and public relations and I'm a social media specialist. I'm working primarily with Jana Mashonee, who is a brilliant singer and songwriter. Her voice is just spectacular, it's right up there with Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys. I handle all of her social media, marketing plans and public relations. I'm also independent so I could be hired by any other artist to do the same. There's not a lot of money out there right now, as you know, and obviously with labels they have their own people inside. But there are several independent artists that I've worked with that have been pretty great. And it's usually short-term and I work within their budget. And what I like to do is teach them how to handle their own social media and marketing. I basically mentor them at the same time I take over their communications for a period. It's a lot of fun.

KF: We're talking about a different era but, hypothetically speaking, do you feel the solo albums could have benefited from a tool such as social media?
MS: I think it would have helped because it would have had the artists' voices. Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter all could have had their own Facebook pages and Twitter pages. They could have been talking about it. I definitely think it would have been much more of a success had there been social media then.

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



About Michele Slater:
Michele Slater started her career in the entertainment industry in music production with high-profile artists such as Billy Joel, Paul Simon, KISS, Chicago, Barbra Streisand and industry icons Phil Ramone, Jerry Wexler, Elliot Scheiner, Garland Jefferies, and Bob Clearmountain. As an employee for Aucoin Management, Slater worked as a production coordinator for Gene Simmons' solo album. Setting up shop in Los Angeles, Slater's responsibilities included coordinating logistical details in the studio for co-producer Sean Delaney as well as coordinating the communication, booking and travel for the cast of "special guests" on the album. Later, Slater worked as the production assistant for Grammy-winning producer Ramone and subsequently continued her career as the music talent coordinator for "Saturday Night Live." Her public relations background includes work with record companies, boutique advertising agencies and global corporations. Today, Slater works as an independent public relations and social media specialist, lending her expertise to artists such as Jana Mashonee.