Background vocalist/original "Beatlemania" cast member recalls his contributions to Gene Simmons' 1978 solo album and his work with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons on albums such as "Animalize" and "Crazy Nights," plus a potpourri of KISS stories and tangents.
Interview by Tim McPhate
KissFAQ: Mitch, when did you first meet Gene Simmons?
Mitch Weissman: I met Gene Simmons in 1976 when we were rehearsing for "Beatlemania" at SIR Studios in New York City. We had these four hour a day lockouts, five days a week where we rehearsed. We rehearsed for that show until it opened in May 1977, from July of '76. It was a great job back then. Beer was two and a quarter in a green bottle, rent was $275 and I was getting paid $300 a week to rehearse. So you couldn't spend enough money. We were in studio A or B for the lockouts, two different casts, four guys for four hours, us for four hours. And whoever was across the hall -- Foreigner, Roberta Flack -- all these people, we met everyone of them and they'd come in and watch us do Beatles songs. So one day, Gene and Paul come walking in. Big John [Harte] came in and said, "The guys want to come in." So they came in. And they sat with us for the whole day and said, "Sing some more songs." They said, "Sing this, sing that." We're sitting there and Ace was nowhere to be found. But Peter kept coming in in a blue jogging suit. He comes through the door, "Are we rehearsing yet?" I go, "No Peter, not yet." We'd do some more songs and the door would open again, "How about now?" "Nope, not yet Peter." The very last time, in unison, the four of us and Paul and Gene without even turning around, we go, "Not yet Peter!" He goes, "OK!" The next day Big John came over and said, "You guys have to come across the hall. They want to play for you." So we went over to watch them play. They started the first song, it could have been "Strutter." It was just in a small rehearsal room. They were starting a tour. During the first few minutes of the first song, Gene pops a bass string and Ace's amp blows up and starts smoking. They're freaked. We barely got to say hello to Ace and Peter. Big John comes in and ushers us out the door. That's the end of that. A few nights later I was at this club. This woman comes up to me and goes, "Hi, you don't me, I'm Lydia Criss. My husband just wants you to know that the guys were so upset when the stuff blew up because they felt like they were playing for the Beatles. And they wanted to give you guys a show because you played for four hours for them." So we were friends from that day. Then in '78 I was down in L.A. and I got a phone call from the office in New York trying to find me and Joe Pecorino to sing on Gene's album.
Mitch Weissman (third from left) with Steven Tyler, Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson
Courtesy of Mitch Weissman
KF: What do you know about Gene's effort to get the actual Beatles on his album?
MW: He did. He had always wanted to get Paul and John but their schedules were, as he said, too busy. But who knows if they would have sung on it? So the greatest thing he said in print was, "I got the next best thing." So Joey and I went down there to Cherokee Studios.
KF: So you were at the L.A. sessions?
MW: Yeah, they called us down. When I walked in Janis Ian was finishing up her part and Joe Perry had just done his guitar solo. And I remember playing ping-pong with Rick Nielsen. Then we started to sing the vocals for "Mr. Make Believe" and all that stuff. We worked the parts out but Joey's voice didn't blend. So it was me, Gene and Eric Troyer. Eric's voice didn't blend either. So it's just me and Gene on some of those backgrounds.
KF: On "Mr. Make Believe"?
MW: "Mr. Make Believe" and "Always Near You/Nowhere To Hide." "Mr. Make Believe," I think I arranged more of the backgrounds than Gene did. It was easy to do. We doubled each other's voices, or tripled them. I don't have a very strong falsetto, but combined with his it was fine. "See You Tonite" is the two of us also. When they did KISS Unplugged and they did that song, I felt like a proud father sitting there watching when those vocals came up. (Sings) "Ah, ah..." It was really cool.
KF: How long did it take to arrange that part?
MW: We did them on the spot. He had an idea and then we added the harmonies. It was great. We were down there at night. Joey was seeing Debralee Scott from "Welcome Back Kotter." She was there. Cher was ill. And Gene wanted us to have his moneybag T-shirts so she came down the hill from her house in a limousine. I remember, "Cher's outside." I ran out the door and the window went down like six inches and she handed me the shirts and I went back inside. (laughs) Then at one point, we were all waiting around, and Debralee comes running in and said, "You've got to go next door because George Martin is recording America." I went in the room to say hello and said, "Thank you for recording the Beatles." He said, "Don't thank me, thank him." And there was Geoff Emerick sitting there.
KF: How was Gene approaching the project from your perspective? Did it seem like serious business for him?
MW: I would say he was serious. Gene can be very goofy and nobody ever sees that side. But he's very very normal and he does have a professorial way of talking to you. But he'd go out and eat with my wife and I around Manhattan, and he'd always do this funny thing like a guy with his mouthful of food and he'd laugh. It was hysterical (laughs). Those sessions were loose but when we got together he had definite ideas of what he wanted to do. I think the basics were done, certainly enough for us to sing over. If Joe and Rick were in there, they must have been doing overdubs on their parts too. Sometimes I'd walk in and see all these people and go, "What the fuck am I doing here?" (laughs)
A 1978 TV documentary about the making of "Beatlemania"
KF: Some have the opinion that the cast of special guests might have been a little too far reaching.
MW: You know the old analogies to the Beatles with all four of them having unique personalities? He made a big Beatles sort of pop record. That's what he wanted to do. "Radioactive" was not the same as "When You Wish Upon A Star."
KF: Do you remember him saying anything to you about covering a Disney tune?
MW: No, he didn't tell me. I just remember when I got the record and saying, "This is unbelievable. This is great."
KF: The participant list reads like a Hollywood who's who at the time.
MW: It's like a cast of thousands. Whoever he could get, they would come in and play. His albums got good reviews. Ace's album I think got better reviews than all of them because of "New York Groove." I remember they sent me all four copies.
Courtesy of Mitch Weissman
KF: How many days do you recall being in the studio?
MW: I think I was there for two nights. We actually had two weeks off between the show continuing in Los Angeles and me and Joe Pecorino going to Chicago to open "Beatlemania" there. That's when the call came in. We went to do it and it was really fun. Here's a fun story. In September 1978, I got back to New York. Somewhere in that time period Peppy Castro had a party at his house on 24th Street. He had a top-floor townhouse and he'd have roof parties. One night, we're having the greatest time up on the roof and all these people are there. Paul was there and he and I start talking. We hadn't seen each other for a while. And he gives me his phone number and says to me, "Give me a call." I remember very vividly the next morning waking up and seeing the phone number written down and saying, "I can't call that guy." My wife goes, "Why?" I go, "That's Paul Stanley. I can't call him." The next year, July Fourth of 1979, he actually comes up to me at another party and says, "How come you didn't call me?" (laughs) We were just normal friends by that time. There was a time in the '80s where me and Gene and Paul were inseparable. And I actually was the one guy who was friends with both of them, even when they separated themselves. It was like, "When we go out, don't tell Gene what we did." Gene would say, "What'd you do last night?" I'd say, "I can't tell you." Not that we were doing anything bad, he just wanted a separate life. I was like the man in the middle. I wrote some stuff that didn't make it on "Creatures" and didn't make it on "Lick It Up." We were friends all that time and socializing. They were out there one day doing sessions at Wally Heider's, so it must have been for "Creatures," and they called me on the phone and said, "We're not going to use any of your tracks." I said, "Bummer. So when you come back next week, where are we going to eat?" They said, "Did you hear what we just said?" They were all on speaker phone.
KF: This was stuff you wrote with Gene and Paul?
MW: Yeah, demos and stuff. There's a whole lot of demos floating out there. The "It's Gonna Be Alright" demo is Gene over the click track. Mikel Japp had this riff, I did the passing chords, they were kind of Beatle-esque. I remember the first time we played "Thief In The Night" for Wendy O Williams. She said, "You guys are really demonic."
KF: I love that track. Back to Gene's album, did you make any contributions that weren't used?
MW: No, I did not. It was strictly the backgrounds.
KISS, "See You Tonite" from "MTV Unplugged"
KF: What's your favorite song of the three you're featured on?
MW: "See You Tonite." It's one of my favorite tracks. I think it's a great pop song. I'm surprised no one has covered it. It's pretty straightforward. I remember we came back and I think we just wiped out the background vocals and Gene and I sang them again. I've got all these demos of us doing stuff. "What You See Is What You Get" is funny. On the last record, he's got that song on there. It's the same thing.
MW: It's "Eat Your Heart Out." He and I have a version of a song called "Eat Your Heart Out."
Keel, "Easier Said Than Done"
KF: It's the same tune?
MW: No. What was funny. I actually sent him an email, "It's about time you finally figured out what to do with that title." (laughs) He just recycled the title. Our song, I thought, was one of the best pop tunes ever. Gene used to have a notebook, which would literally have song titles and lines from songs. One day, my wife just threw out, "No sooner said than done." That became the Keel track. It made more sense to say "Easier Said Than Done." She shouted it out and he wrote it down and ended up writing a song. When Gene and I would write, we'd throw anything against the wall and see what stuck. When Paul and I would write, we'd go to SIR. He'd play drums and I'd play guitar. Or I would play drums. That's where we wrote "Get All You Can Take."
KF: I love that track.
MW: There are about 12 verses to "Get All You Can Take." I wrote them all. I would sit there, I felt like I was writing "Taxi" by Harry Chapin. Eventually we just picked three and we finalized them. The comping of the solo on "Get All You Can Take" is Paul and Mark St. John. Paul is playing more lead on that track than Mark is. I also remember Gene was at his apartment, we were in Paul's old apartment on 52nd Street where Bob Kulick used to rent from. I'm in the bathroom on the phone, he's in the living room, Gene's at his place. We're trying to figure out, what is the line we can sing instead of "What fucking difference does it make?" on "Get All You Can Take."
KF: You were writing on the phone?
MW: In this one case we were stuck with the line. At one point in time, there was a whole bunch of ideas written for what it could be. We just couldn't come up with the line and then finally Paul said, "I'm just singing, 'What fucking difference does it make?'" I think that might have been the first time we came up with it because it made sense but it was around the time Tipper Gore's parental advisory shit was happening.
KF: Paul reaches the stratosphere with his vocals on that song. But it fits the energy of the track.
MW: He sings great on that song. On "Animalize" I'm actually playing rhythm guitar on a few of the tracks I wrote.
KF: Did your parts make it to the album?
MW: They made it on the album; I'm just not credited. The funny thing is "Murder In High Heels," I wrote that riff. It's me that wrote that stupid song (laughs). I wrote, just about the top off the top of my head, "You know she could / She's a get-rich bitch / You better get her while the gettin's good." We would do this sort of scat stuff, and it was phenomenal writing with him. With Paul, I just wrote tons of verses and we paired it down. When we were doing that song at Right Track, (sings pre-chorus riff to "Murder In High Heels"), that's me on the rhythm guitar. Paul was talking with his parents about something about one of his cousins. He said, "You record." And he gave me the biggest compliment at the time. He said, "You know, I consider myself one of the best rhythm guitar players in the world. I don't have anybody on these records. But go ahead and play." The other thing about "Murder In High Heels," when Gene left for "Runaway," I played the bass line. But I played the riff wrong, so Jean Beauvoir had to re-record it.
KF: There's been a lot of speculation that Gene didn't play a lot of bass on "Animalize."
MW: He played some. I know on that one, I was called in to play bass because he had already gone for the movie. So Jean played it again. It's my own riff and I got it fucking wrong. (laughs)
KF: What about "While The City Sleeps"?
MW: That's me basically doing Free's "Wishing Well." When Gene and I wrote, almost 90 percent of the time the music would almost be all mine and the lyrics were a co-write. "What You See Is What You Get" is a great song. I'm surprised know one has released it. There a demo around somewhere. It's Eric Carr's drum track from "Lick It Up," and me and Gene. We left Gene's apartment, and we said, "What a song."
KF: Gene's musical talents tend to get overlooked given his public persona. Having worked with him, what are your thoughts on Gene as a musician/songwriter?
MW: As a musician and a songwriter, I think his talents are pretty damn good. He's good at pulling in ideas from everybody in the room, getting people to put out the best they can put out and managing to keep things loose when they should be loose.
KF: Any good stories from the "Animalize" sessions?
MW: The best story I can tell is when Paul and I went to record the vocals for "Heaven's On Fire." Cathy St. George was in the other room, his girlfriend at the time. We were running the tracks and he says, "I'm going to take a pass at it." He didn't feel he quite opened up enough. So the tape is rolling in the control room and he doesn't hear Eric's click track for whatever reason on this take and he's doing the yodeling. He doesn't realize it's running and he's yodeling. And the drums and first chord come in. We froze. And we go, "No one's ever going to believe that that wasn't an edit." It was just him warming up and serendipitously when the music started, it was at the end of that. It wasn't like he was trying to come up with that. He was just warming up. And on the best warm up he did, the tape was rolling. So we kept that on there. He had me in the control room listening to him and I guess in some sense I produced the vocal. He said, "How was that?" I said, "That's fine." I don't think I had to tell him to go back and do anything more than maybe 10 percent of anything. He'd come in, "Should I do that again?" "No." "I'm going to sing that again." "Fine." I think that vocal was done almost magically.
KF: You have a unique perspective given you worked closely with Paul and Gene. How did you view their musical partnership in KISS?
MW: I would say their partnership was based on the blend of the relationship. At times, I think one would drive while the other wouldn't. When Gene was doing the movies, Paul was driving. I remember Michael James Jackson coming to them and saying, "I don't need to be on this record."
KF: He's credited as drum producer on "Animalize." It's not a formal producer credit.
MW: They didn't force him off, he just said, "You're doing fine without me." On that album, Paul had to drive because Gene went off to do the movie. It's funny when they went back to the makeup and costumes and disassociating themselves from those records, a lot of my royalties disappeared. I also remember hearing that song "Reason To Live" and calling Gene on the phone, "Does anyone want to tell them this is 'I Want To Know What Love Is'?"
KF: Some fans have made that parallel.
MW: I said, "I'm not going to tell them." That was when everything was in turmoil. And you had the shrink running things.
KF: Jesse Hilsen.
MW: Yeah. Toward "Animalize," they were buying Ace out at the time. We almost got into a huge fight, corporate-wise, because they were going off to Europe to do the first tour after "Animalize." They had already sold like 1.7 million records and I hadn't signed any papers because I just figured, "I'll sign them when they come along." They were going to try and give me an advance before the signings. And I didn't think that the publishing papers and the advance were two separate things. Very naively they said, "We can't give you any money." I said, "Well, I guess I can't sign any papers." Gene thought my lawyer was holding them up. And then Howard Marks was calling me. And I was like, "Hold on." I got them on the phone on a conference call with their lawyers, my lawyer and me. And at one point, they said they couldn't give me money because they were going to give Ace a ton of money to leave. There would literally be times where they were floating in between "Lick It Up"'s comeback where I would pay for things. I had my "Beatlemania" money still saved. I know that at the end of that relationship, they found out that everything they already owned was being leased back to them like three or four times already. I called Gene and said, "I'm very sorry to hear you aren't working with Howard anymore. I'm sorry he left." He said, "He didn't leave." Gene didn't curse much at all but he said, "We fired his fucking ass."
KF: A few more questions to take us out, Mitch. When was the last time you spoke with Joe Pecorino?
MW: About a year or so ago. He's in New York. He still does casual gigs. He got married and I think he's got one kid. He's good. He just had his 60th birthday on May 13th. I was invited but I couldn't make it.
KF: Did you get a gold or platinum album for your work on Gene's solo album?
MW: Yeah. They're in storage in Long Island. What's funny, for the "Animalize" one they spelled my name wrong on the plaque. I sent it back to the RIAA guys to get it redone. The night they got presented with their four platinum albums for "Animalize" in New Jersey at the Meadowlands, I was there. They had no place to take them. So I took them back in the limo to my apartment. From there, me, Desmond Child and Paul went to see somebody play in Desmond's little Volkswagen Beetle. (laughs) This was before Desmond became Desmond. I actually got asked to write for Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet," because Paul recommended me as a writer.
KF: What do you remember about Paul introducing Desmond Child to Jon Bon Jovi?
MW: He hooked them up because I got a phone call from Jon and Richie on a conference call saying, "Paul says you would be great to write with. Can you do this?" My eight-year marriage was coming to an end and I looked at my royalties and said, "I better take some time off and see if I can make this work." It makes for a great fucking story. All for love I went that way and it didn't work out. And "Slippery When Wet" goes "boom."
KF: You mentioned you had a Vinnie Vincent story. How about it, Mitch?
MW: What's funny is I remember when KISS were looking for guitarists after Ace, Grover Jackson had sent a bunch of cassettes and Paul and I sat in that apartment on 52nd Street and listened to all of the guitar players -- Allan Holdsworth and all these different guys that were being submitted. And Vinnie's demo was in there. The song that sold Paul was "Tears." I don't remember any great guitar playing on it at all. That's when I first heard Vinnie. He was brought in on "Creatures" because Ace was starting to fall apart. And then he came in for "Lick It Up." I remember Gene calling me at my apartment on 74th Street on the West Side and saying, "Come over to the hotel." It was a hotel on the East Side. Vinnie was in the room for like five or six days. I went over and met him and it was great. He was a huge Beatles freak like them so the three of us spent the entire afternoon singing Beatles songs. I also remember at the end, when the tensions started, all the people around Vinnie were telling him, "You were the one that made these guys."
KF: He co-wrote eight of the 10 songs on "Lick It Up."
MW: Right, and "Lick It Up was a hit. So you could see how he would think that. At the end I remember Gene and I sitting at Radio City Music Hall at the end of their stint of gigs [in 1984]. Vinnie was in the band and backstage he was talking to a bunch of guys from Connecticut about where he was going next and how he was going to the next level. And he was then out of the band. He thought he was bigger than the band.
(KissFAQ thanks Mitch Weissman for his time and contribution to Back In The Solo Album Groove, our 35th anniversary retrospective dedicated to the 1978 KISS solo albums.)
About Mitch Weissman:
A native New Yorker, Mitch Weissman debuted in the original New York case of "Beatlemania." He was chosen for not only his musical ability but his uncanny resemblance to Paul McCartney. Originally conceived and produced by Steve Leber and David Krebs, "Beatlemania" premiered on Broadway in May 1977 and ran until October 1979, with more than 1,000 performances. Weissman and fellow "Beatlemania" cast member Joe Pecorino were brought in by Gene Simmons to provide Beatle-esque vocals on "See You Tonite," "Always Near You/Nowhere To Hide" and "Mr. Make Believe." Weissman would go on to become a key KISS contributor, writing songs with Simmons and Stanley in the early '80s. His writing credits include songs such as "Get All You Can Take," "While The City Sleeps," "Murder In High Heels," and "Thief In The Night." Weismann also collaborated on several demos with Stanley and Simmons, in addition to co-writing songs that appeared on Simmons-produced albums for Keel and Wendy O. Williams. Today, Weissman resides in Los Angeles.