Renowned artist/friend of the KISS family recalls collaborating with Paul Stanley on "Hold Me, Touch Me," working with Bob Kulick in Balance, teaching Ace Frehley barre chords, and details his creative process, current music projects and why he's "Just Beginning".
Interview by Tim McPhate
KissFAQ: Peppy, how did you end up meeting Paul Stanley?
Peppy Castro: As you know, I was instrumental in teaching Ace Frehley how to play guitar. So I had known Ace for many years beforehand and was always aware of KISS. Back in the day, Bill Aucoin was very interested in this band I had called Barnaby Bye. So we would go up to his office at times and you could see the smoke stains on the sealing in the office from where Gene used to practice his fire (laughs). They used to practice it in Bill's office. This was in the early days when they were starting up. So I was aware of KISS through Bill Aucoin but it wasn't until a year or two later that I met Paul as a friend through a publicist, and one of my closest friends, Carol Kaye.
Courtesy of WireImage.com
KF: How did you meeting Paul turn into coming down to sing on one of the tracks on his solo album?
PC: It's now 1978 and I had this musical "Zen Boogie" at the Solari Theater, which was in Beverly Hills. It's no longer there but it was a great little theater. So I'm living in L.A. It so happened that I was very friendly with Paul. Preceding that, we had done a lot of hanging out in New York. He would come over to my apartment all the time; I was over his apartment all the time. I had re-met Bob Kulick through Paul. I had known Bob Kulick from my early days in the Blues Magoos at the Night Owl Cafe in the Village in New York. I didn't know him well but we were in other bands. And then it wasn't until years later that I became very friendly with Paul that Paul reintroduced me to Bob Kulick. So I have a hit musical up in L.A. and KISS is out in L.A. doing the KISS movie at Magic Mountain. It turned out that I was sharing a house with Barry Levine, who was an iconic photographer at the time. He was doing a lot of KISS' conceptualizations and photos and stuff like that. The hangout was me, Barry Levine and Paul. So we were hanging out all the time and we were just having a lot of fun.That's really where it all kind of morphed out of. Since Paul was starting to do his solo album, he had asked me if I would sing on it with my friend Doug Katsaros, who later became my partner in Balance. Doug Katsaros was my musical director at the time for "Zen Boogie."
KF: The track you sang on Paul's album, "Hold Me, Touch Me (Think Of Me When We're Apart)," was a radical departure for Paul at the time given it was a lushly orchestrated ballad. What do you recall about formulating the background vocal parts?
PC: The studio was a lot of fun with Paul because Paul's a lot of fun (laughs). Paul's always been fun. He and Gene have always had a fabulous sense of themselves. They are very charming and they are very funny guys, and very witty. What I remember about the studio is it being a fun, creative environment. Paul was really happy to be able to stretch his wings a little bit. After years of being in KISS, you get typecast and popped in a little bit of a box there. Nobody ever wants to see you outside of just being KISS. And Paul really is very musical. He had a vast knowledge of songs. He always loved picking up his guitar and just singing songs, hit records from his childhood and different things like that. He was always very good at that. This was really a way for Paul to stretch and express himself and it was a great creative outlet for him. It was wall-to-wall singing. We put a lot of lush vocal parts on it and it was great. He was in total command. He had a good sense of what we wanted. "Hold Me, Touch Me" wasn't really something he could normally do in the framework of KISS.
Courtesy of WireImage.com
KF: As a trio, yourself, Paul and Doug formed a consonant vocal blend. Some 35 years later, what's your take on the track? Do you think it holds up?
PC: Totally. It blew me away when I heard it because I hadn't heard it in decades. Listening to it, it kind of puts you back in the moment. I was like, "I remember being in the studio." It was a nice freeze-frame moment in time. I knew Paul very well back then in those days. And I kind of feel like I know who the song was written about.
KF: I don't know that that story is out there.
PC: It probably isn't. I don't know that it matters now in this day and age (laughs).
KF: Some fans who are not into the lighter side of KISS are not particularly fond of the track. And some think maybe he should have went with one of his up-tempo rock tracks for the single. To someone who thinks the song is contrived or overly sensitive, what would you say?
PC: My reaction is KISS purists don't want to see them be anything else other than KISS. It's something you have to expect because once you're typecast and put into a certain mold, it's very hard for those people to look outside of that mold if they are totally in love with you for the way they see you and with what they fell in love with in the first place. That's understandable. I think Paul probably understood that. But he was willing to take that risk because it was more important for him to stretch and do that. Where else was he ever going to get a chance to be that syrupy? And probably the only other chance he's ever had is when he asked to sing on the Balance record.
KF: I want to touch on Balance in a minute. Bob Kulick has been praised for his lead work on Paul's solo album. Peppy, what are your thoughts on his guitar playing on the album?
PC: Bob's guitar work is always stellar. He's a very dedicated guitarist. He lives and breathes it. He's 24/7 on that. You can't take his dedication and his playing away from him on any level. He's really a consummate rock guitarist. He's always had a good relationship with Paul musically. It was something Paul was very comfortable with. He knew by having Bob there that what he wanted to hear, the style of guitar playing and the finesse of it was going to be covered. He leaned on Bob for that.
KF: Interestingly, Paul plays a very nice guitar solo himself on "Hold Me, Touch Me."
PC: Yeah. Paul is very deceiving as a musician. Because KISS is so entrenched in image, a lot of that stuff gets side-tracked. People don't really get to see that or they don't even care about that because it's not the focus. Paul is a fabulous musician; he's got great feel. And now he's been around forever and he's just so seasoned. He's another one who just lives, eats and breathes music.
KF: The solo albums made quite a bit of noise between the more than 5.3 million albums that were shipped and the multimillion dollar marketing campaign undertaken by Casablanca Records. What do you recall the talk being about the solo albums in your circle?
PC: People love to pick you up and they love to tear you down. I think there was a lot of talk going on, people were saying, "This is the beginning of the end of KISS. It's the breakup of the band." I remember hearing a lot of pro and con about it. But they had a lot of power so they could do what they wanted and they did. They took their slams for it but at the end of the day I think they were all very happy to be doing it. It's the chance you take. I think at that point, I didn't see it so much as a risk, as much as it was causing a lot of attention. They knew they were going to slammed in certain corners.
KF: Hanging around Paul during this time, you must have some great stories. How about it Peppy?
PC: (laughs) I did have a conversation with Barry Levine recently. Barry did "Detroit Rock City" with Gene and he's making movies now in L.A. He's got a company called Radical Comics and I know he's producing films out there. Barry's doing rather well for himself out there and still is very close with Gene and Paul. I haven't seen Gene and Paul for a few years. But Gene has also been very good to me. He was instrumental in me getting my covers with Cher and Diana Ross. But my story is "Zen Boogie" was up at the Solari Theater and Paul and Gene are doing the movie and Barry is their photographer. Barry and I are living up in a house in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. So Paul is over every day and Barry had a few other guys hanging around -- Barry Brandt, who was in [Angel], and Micki Free. It's at night and we're all running around the house and being complete A-holes and having a ball (laughs). Either Paul or Barry throws the circuit breaker to the house so there are no lights on. And we're literally chasing each other around the house and smacking each other and catching each other in the dark and doing dumb, silly shit and laughing our asses off (laughs). I'm standing around a corner in the house and I'm kind of getting a visual that Barry is around a wall and Paul is near him. So I'm standing behind this wall and when Barry comes out I'm thinking I'm going to scare the shit out of him or hit him with something and get one up on him. It's like playing paint ball in the dark (laughs). So Barry comes around from the wall and as he's coming around I just come out and scream, "Boo!" and scare the hell out of him. What I didn't realize was that Barry was in the kitchen and had picked up dishwashing liquid, you know the kind that's concentrated. And as I scare him, he squeezes the dishwashing liquid in the dark and it goes straight down my mouth (laughs). So now, I got this dishwashing liquid in my mouth. In a heartbeat, I just feel like I'm going to die. I can't breathe. I'm choking to death. The burn that's going up inside my nose and into my head and down my throat is excruciating. Paul yells out, "Peppy, wash your mouth out! Get that stuff out of your mouth!" So like a jerk I run over to the sink and try to wash this concentrated dishwashing liquid soap out, which didn't wash anything out (laughs). All it did was just mix this concentrated stuff into the most amazing amount of bubbles you've ever seen. And huge bubbles were coming out of my nose and my mouth and I'm literally choking to death. And Paul goes, "Hey Peppy, when you're done choking, do the dishes." (laughs)
PC: (laughs) I'm dying and I'm laughing still with this stuff coming out of my mouth. Paul was cracking up laughing and those guys were hysterical. Somebody turned the light on and they saw these bubbles coming out of my nose and my mouth. It was one of the funniest things you ever saw. It was like the movie "Jackass." (laughs)
KF: (laughs) That's a riot. Of course, we can laugh about it now but it doesn't sound like it felt too good at the time.
PC: Oh, it was everywhere. It took me a half an hour to get the shit out of my throat. There were bubbles all over the sink. The sink was full of suds and it was all coming out of my mouth! (laughs) I mentioned this to Barry Levine the other day and he laughed his ass off. He said, "That was the greatest." (laughs)
KF: (laughs) How about another one, Peppy?
PC: Yeah, the cheesecake story (laughs). Barry, Paul and I were hanging out all the time in 1978. It was like everyday we were seeing each other. Paul would come down to the theater 20 minutes before the show would end because then we'd go out and hang out after that. Barry, Paul and I were out to dinner one night, there was this Moroccan restaurant up on Sunset that was called Dar Maghreb. I doubt it's there anymore but it was like a big temple-style restaurant. You walked in there and took your shoes off, everything was kind of like finger food and you're sitting on mats. So we're eating, laughing and joking. And the dinner is over and the waiter said, "Do you want any dessert?" And Paul said, "I'll have a cheesecake." And Barry said, "Paul, you can't have cheesecake. You have a photo session with me in the morning. You have to watch what you're eating." Paul said, "I'm having cheesecake." So the cheesecake comes out and gets put on the table and just as Paul is getting ready to eat the cheesecake, Barry takes his fist and squashes the cheesecake. Splat! (laughs) I'm cracking up and Paul's laughing but he's pissed. He wants his cheesecake and Barry just put his fist all over it and squashed it on the plate. Paul says, "Bring another cheesecake out." So now another cheesecake comes out and Barry squashes it again. And Barry goes, "I'll have a cheesecake." (laughs) Barry was going to eat a cheesecake just to say "fuck you" to Paul. Barry's cheesecake comes out and before Barry can eat it, Paul smashes it. (laughs). So this just went on and on. We were laughing our asses off. And I swear to you, within five minutes, there must have been a bucket brigade of waiters -- like two or three waiters from the kitchen door to our table -- and they were just passing the cheesecakes down. And we probably went though about 20 cheesecakes. And Paul finally ate his cheesecake (laughs).
KF: (laughs) He finally got his way.
PC: (laughs) Paul finally had his cheesecake. I don't know if he ate it all. We laughed our asses off. When we got out of that place, we were so fucking hysterical. It was like a game show when the three people are by the buzzer and whoever hits the buzzer first gets to answer the question. It was like, "How fast can we squash the next cheesecake?" (laughs) That was the summer of '78. The funny thing, years later, I remember talking to Paul one time in the '80s and saying, "Wow, look at your six-pack." And Paul said, "Well, I do 500 sit-ups a day."
KF: Moving ahead to Balance. Peppy, the self-titled debut album was released in 1981 and "In For The Count" followed in 1982. How did the band form?
PC: What happened was after "Zen Boogie" I went back to New York with my managers in tow, Leber & Krebs. I was on their roster as an artist and they were shopping a solo record deal for me. We had just gotten a deal back in New York with Ron Luxemburg, who was an old record guy who used to be with Epic Records. Ron had a custom label and he was ready to sign me. And no sooner than I got signed to the label, he lost his financing. And the label never happened and the money folded. I got really pissed off because it was taking so long to put a record deal together. After that, I took my tail between my legs and said, "Alright, this is not that easy anymore." In order to facilitate a deal quicker, I decided that I wanted to package a band of real heavy hitters in New York. A kind of East Coast Toto, if you will. The band would be so good because of the talent and the caliber of musicianship that it would be hard for anybody to ignore. So I enlisted Andy Newark, Willie Weeks, Doug Katsaros, and Kulick on guitar. I came up with the name Balance because I remember looking at a stereo amp tuner and seeing the balance knob. I said, "Oh yeah, left and right stereo balance. Balance is the mix of the instruments. It's the final product of whatever the record is going to be." I thought it was a very cool name. I started the band in New York and we did a few showcases. And in no time, Leber & Krebs got us a deal and those two albums were the result of that deal.
Balance, "Falling In Love" feat. Paul Stanley
KF: Paul Stanley sang on the ballad "Falling In Love" on the first album. How did that come together?
PC: Well, because of Paul's friendship and Paul knowing Bob, me and Dougie, Paul was very aware of the band. Anybody who came across the band, even if you didn't like the style of music, there's nobody who can find issue with the fact that it was an unbelievable, quality band. We were a musician's musician band. For the most part, even though it didn't see the kind of success it probably should have seen -- you know, one of those woulda-shoulda-couldas -- the band was excellent. Paul loved the band. And I had this song called "Falling In Love." He really loved the song. So Paul asked me one day if I would mind if he sang on it. And I was flabbergasted. It took me by surprise and I was totally blown away. I told him, "I would love nothing more than you to sing on it." Because he was like, "I can never do something like this with KISS and it would be really fun to be able to do that with you guys." I said, "Paul, I would love to have you on the record. My present guilt was such that I would never ask you." Because everyone was wanting something from him. You know, he's Paul Stanley of KISS. When you're in that kind of position, people are batting down your doors all day long, whether it's for an autograph, or for you to do something -- show up here, do this, do that. You're being hounded and chased all the time. I never felt it was my place to even ask him to do something on it. When he offered, I was blown away. He even went anonymous because those guys were signed to [Casablanca] and when you're in that kind of an entity nobody could make a move or do anything without it getting signed off by the label, the management and the band. So he just did it for fun. It's classic, because when you hear "Falling In Love," you can hear Paul's falsetto sticking out right at the top. It's totally identifiable.
KF: I think I shared with you that out of the first two albums, I tend to lean toward favoring the debut. What about you Peppy?
PC: It comes down to a matter of taste. You lean toward it because you're more of a song person probably. I think the songs are more middle of the road and more power-pop on the first record where as on the second record Kulick was on a testosterone loop and wanted the band to be heavier and he wanted to compete more with acts like Journey. The second album became a little heavier and, unfortunately for us, the label didn't like the second record as much as the first. They weren't behind it at all. And on the release of the second record, there was a Black Friday that went on at Epic/Portrait and I think they fired half of the staff of the label when the record came out. But then it becomes a can of worms because there are songs on the second record that I think are unbelievable, as there are on the first. I see the validity of both even though my heart probably leans more toward the first record as well. And it's probably the songs that are more akin to the first record on the second record that I like. I remember writing "On My Honor" [from "In For the Count"] and just loving that one. It was so funny, Andy Newark, who is such a great drummer, had a mental block when I was working with him in the studio. He had the hardest time grabbing it. Then he finally got it. When you're a songwriter, you don't think like a musician. You think more like a songwriter and sometimes you do certain things that are maybe a little unorthodox.There are definite things on the second record that have great melodics that I love. They're just a little heavier. "All The Way," when I listen to myself singing that thing, I go, "Wow, I was in my prime on those records." I sound like a Superman.
Balance, "Slow Motion"
KF: One of my favorites on "In For The Count" is "Slow Motion." What do you remember about the genesis of that tune?
PC: Oh, Slow Motion," I got to tell you, this girl from Detroit just found me within the last week on Facebook. She just discovered Balance within the last two or three weeks, by mistake or somebody led her to something on YouTube. She started sending me fan letters and she's like, "You don't understand. I'm immersed. I love this band. I'm listening to you in the stairwells, on the way to work, in my car. It's my complete steady diet -- I'm listening to nothing else." The girl is head over heels over this and it's just now, it's coming out of the woodwork. She doesn't have the albums, she can't find them for the most part. She's grooving with little cuts she's found on YouTube, one was "Breaking Away" and the other was "It's So Strange." She was like, "Where can I find more stuff?" I said, "Well, if you like this kind of stuff, here's another one." And I sent her a link to "Slow Motion" on YouTube. It's now her favorite song (laughs). She said the guys at work in front of her are bouncing every time she puts it on and I can see that because of the way I wrote that intro (sings intro riff). It's got a bounce to it. I wrote "Slow Motion" when I came up with the intro. I said, "Boom. Done. I hit the nail on the head." The minute I hit that intro, I went, "OK, I got one." It was undeniable.
KF: I love the bridge in that song. It has a nice change of scenery, dynamically speaking.
PC: (sings) "And haven't you ever heard that nothing goes on forever?" It's typical of my writing. I'm a very melodic writer because I love to sing. I think that's all part of the melodics of my writing. I was very happy with "Slow Motion" as a song.
KF: "Breaking Away" was a hit for the group. What do you recall about writing that one?
PC: The writing process for "Breaking Away" was I wrote it in 20 minutes. I sat down and I had nothing in my head. I sat down at my keyboard, I started playing and in 20 minutes I had the song. I remember just pushing my chair back from the keyboard and looking up at the sky and saying, "Holy shit, where did that come from?" It was as if God channeled the song through me. I said, "Wow, 20 minutes ago this thing didn't even exist. It's here. It's born." I loved it and thought it was great. The process was so easy. There was no struggle; it just came right out. I said, "Wow, what a gift." I remember presenting it to the band. The band hated it. They hated it. They didn't even want to put it on the record. Fortunately, the label heard it and said, "This is far and away your single. This thing is great. We're putting it out." It went to No. 22, we did "Solid Gold" and I heard it on "American Bandstand" and it was really Top 10 most everywhere in the United States, just not in the New York market, which was kind of always a slap in the face since we were a New York band (laughs). New York is the toughest market. But I was glad the song got validated.
KF: Someone has to upload that "Solid Gold" performance to YouTube.
PC: Oh man, if I can find that, I'd be so happy. Someone's got to have it.
KF: "Haunting" is a spectacular track. I love how the first chorus morphs into just voice and piano.
PC: Thank you. Again, that's typical of my writing. I'm in search of the melodic. It's funny, after writing all these years, I found something out about myself. I found out that there was almost a little bit of a signature that would happen that I wouldn't think about. It was just something I would do naturally. Because I've always been a guitar player, I find that being in bands I always tried to pick up how to play drums, bass and keys, just by having access to those instruments. I found that my writing style on keyboards, because I write totally different on keyboards than I do on guitar -- it just provokes a different mood -- I found that lots of times if I'm singing something, I will leave the note of what I'm singing out of the chord. So when I'm playing keyboards sometimes, I notice in my writing that I'll look for the note that I'm singing in the chord and I'll go, "Holy shit, I'm not even playing it in the chord. It's not there. I'm not doing it in my phrasing. And I'm not doing it over here." And I see the spot where it's left out and I think what happens is it just naturally completes the chord for me when I sing because that's the note that's missing out of the chord. It's not intentional but it's just something that naturally started to happen. Now I'm aware of it and I look for it sometimes and I think it pleases me a little more when I play three notes instead of four or five in a chord. And I'm singing a note that would be in there, but I'm leaving it out. It kind of fits you into the music a little bit and it actually gives me a very harmonious feeling when I sing. But "Haunting," I always loved. Kulick rocked it up a little more than I wanted it to be from where I thought the style of the song was, which provoked me to do some falsetto screams in the song. As a rock song, it's very credible for what it is and obviously you still get the changes. The actually songwriting came through so I'm good with that.
KF: I believe "American Dream" was a little bit more of a collaboration. How did that come about?
PC: "American Dream" started with Bob. I think Bob originally had the intro on an acoustic guitar. When I heard that, I said, "Oh OK," which I loved because Bob was always coming up with heavy guitar riffs. Everything was like crunch, balls, testosterone rock guitar. When he came up with this intro, I went, "I love it." It definitely provoked the melody in me. Once he started playing that, we started working on it. It started off with me and Bob and then Dougie kicked in. Dougie did the string arrangements on it and conducted the strings. Dougie is just amazing and one of the most wonderful people and amazing musicians on the planet. It was a great collaboration and it got tons of airplay in New York. And you know what? The song still holds up. The subject matter of the song is such that America is always being scrutinized by the world.
KF: More recently the band recorded the album "Equilibrium" in 2009. I know that you didn't have as pleasant an experience with this album.
PC: Yeah, unfortunately "Equilibrium" is one of the things I'd do differently. We waited so long to do a reunion record. Bob approached me, he had spoken to a label in Italy that didn't have a lot of money but really wanted to hear a Balance reunion record because there's a fan base in Europe. Bob said, "If we're ever going to do it, this is the time to do it." It came down that we decided that if we were going to do it, we were going to do it over the Internet, which meant we weren't even going to see each other. There were no rehearsals or anything. And the label didn't want to bring anything new to the table. I was writing new stuff and I wanted to do what would be the Balance of 2009 with the progression and the writing. And Bob just wanted to take old used tracks he'd had in his head and stuff that really wasn't used for the last record, or maybe it was stuff he had lying around that we were going to do for another record had we done another record. That was a turn off for me but I agreed to it because I agreed my only consideration with Bob was artistic. I just wanted to know because we weren't going to be working together and we were going to be sending files over the Internet, that if I wanted things changed artistically, he'd have an open mind. He reneged on that for the most part, which really pissed me off. It was not a pleasant experience. I was not a fan of the mixing or the sound of the drums. I made that known and when Bob refused to work with me or care about my feelings on that level, I requested that my name be taken off the record as a producer because I really didn't stand by the production. There was one song that I wrote with Bob called "Breathe," which I thought was rather special. I wrote it because my wife had passed away in 2007 and that was really about her. That was a special song for me. There's another song, "Liar," which I basically wrote in the style of Balance 1980-1981 just to send something new to Bob because he was coming up with all of this already canned music. Bob did the drums and guitars out in L.A. He'd send me files and I'd throw bass on it and write to those tracks. Dougie did the keys at his place. Then Dougie and I did do backgrounds in my studio. But I was really, really unhappy with the sound of the record and the mix and the fact that Bob was so difficult to deal with. In hindsight, I wasn't too thrilled about it. Out of respect to Serafino, who owned Frontiers Records, I did not put a fly in the ointment when the record came out. But now that we're behind it, I'm letting my feelings be known. I towed "all the presidents men" line just because I didn't think it was fair to the label to badmouth it. We took the hit for certain things. I saw a few comments that said, "Peppy Castro's vocals are nowhere near what they used to be." Well it's 25 years later, hello? And I wasn't happy with the way Bob laid up my vocals because he had to drop them in. Everything was sent over the Internet; we never spent one day together on the record. There wasn't any pre-production, but there wasn't any budget either. It hindsight, it was one of those things that I'm not thrilled that I did because I think it cheapened the name of the band, since the first two records were so amazingly wonderful. There are some things that I do like about the record. It's just not the record I would have put out. That's the footnote on that thing.
KF: Peppy, going back to the beginning, if you could have a mulligan with Balance, what would it be?
PC: When I looked at the knob on the stereo and I thought Balance and thought of the mix, I thought if I'm going to use the things Balance, I spiritually wanted it to connote all things in balance, you know, scales and the balance of nature. My original concept was to have the balance of nature in there as well. The first incarnation of the band, there was black, white and male and female in the band. That was my original concept because music has no color. It doesn't discriminate and so I wanted to know that we had a black guy in the band and I wanted a female in the band because I wanted to feel that balance of life, of male and female. There was a woman by the name of Bette Sussman, who is one of my dear friends and one of the most amazing musicians and women on the planet. She was Bette Midler and Whitney Houston's musical director, so Bette's no slouch. Having her and Dougie on two keyboards, I was like, "Oh my God, the orchestrations will be ridiculous. And the vocals will be ridiculous." And I allowed myself to be prostituted by Bob who pretty much put the fly in the ointment and said, "No, the band's got to be a real rock band. We shouldn't have a woman in the band. You can't be a heavy band with a woman in a band." And he kind of talked the others into it and I went along with it, against my nature. To this day, Bette Sussman will tell you that I've totally apologized to her and I've told her that it's really one of the reasons why the karma in the band didn't happen, because I allowed my original vision to be prostituted and I think I got penalized for it in some kind of karma way. Again, it's just the mistakes you make in life. I should have stood up for myself more when it happened. And I didn't. You live with those things. But that was the original concept of Balance.
KF: Moving back to KISS, what do you remember about your contributions to "Naked City"? Was it lyrics or music?
PC: Yeah, I think both. What happened was that Bob had the guitar riff -- I think it initiated from Bob actually. I think Gene heard the lick from Bob. Bob and I had demoed up the song because Bob was looking to give stuff to Gene to see if there was anything he liked. Bob came over to my place and we demoed up the lick and the song. Gene heard it, embraced it and took it from there. I think he shared it with Vini Poncia and it kept ping-ponging back and forth. Once Gene liked it and decided he wanted to something with it, then it was pretty much everybody saying, "OK, let's just give Gene whatever he needs." Gene would be sending back instructions, "Try this. I need this to be changed. I need this here. I need that." Gene is very good at directing traffic, that's for sure (laughs). We kept developing the song. It was a four-way effort, without a doubt.
KF: Bob Kulick has said, and I quote, "KISS ruined 'Naked City." What's your take?
PC: Well, Bob was a huge Balance fan and in Balance we were able to do things probably that KISS couldn't do just because of where we were at the time. The melodics, the songwriting and the caliber of musicianship was such that I think Bob, in hearing our demo, had no restrictions in his mind of how he saw the song. And Gene had to put it into the mold of KISS, so I can see Bob feeling that. I don't remember Bob necessarily saying that. He probably did voice his opinion back then to me, "Ah, they're fucking it up. They're butchering it." He's good at that (laughs). I can see that from Bob's expectation of the song. But KISS is KISS.
KF: It would be interesting to hear your demo of the song. Maybe that's lying around in your vault?
PC: Oh God, it probably was tossed because it was probably done on a four-track TEAC and I have changed formats over so many times. I'd love to find that somewhere but I don't even know where to begin. I spend all too many times changing things over from reel to reel to DAT, from DAT to CD, to dropping into digital recordings -- the formats that have changed over the years, it's just been a friggin' nightmare. I've got a bunch of old two tracks lying around here of God knows what that I'll probably never get to because I'll have to go into a studio with 24-track two-inch tape and then drop that all into Pro Tools or Logic. Some of the stuff you just let go and leave behind.
Ace Frehley with Peppy Castro
Courtesy of Peppy Castro
KF: In his book, "No Regrets," Ace reflected on how he met you and you showed him a few guitar tips. What do you recall about those early meetings with Ace?
PC: Well, when Ace contacted me I was the rock and roll star out of the neighborhood and Ace was still a kid in the neighborhood. I was a total inspiration to Ace. Ace was looking at me like, "Holy shit, that guy made it. He's got a hit record." I'm just in the generation before him. I think that inspired him and it empowered him. To Ace's credit, he acted on it. How many people would act on it? I think he called my mother and said, "Where do I call him?" I knew who he was because Ace always had a drug nature, even when we were kids I remember him sniffing glue and being in this thing called the Ducky gang (laughs). But we were very young; I must have been 17 or 18 when Ace contacted me. He asked me if I would sit down and show him some stuff on guitar. So I said, "Sure." We got a guitar and an amp and we sat down in the basement and I showed him some stuff. He showed me what he knew already, he knew one or two chords. And then I showed him how to play a barre chord. That opened up the stratosphere for him. It's more about the inspiration more than anything. I think the fact that Ace was able to act on that, it changed his life for sure. He opened up and kept going. As fate would have it, he's probably 1,000 times more well-known than I am.
KF: How gratifying is it that Ace acknowledged you as a positive influence?
PC: That was nice. He said something in an interview on YouTube too. That always makes you feel good. It was very nice of him to do it. And it was the truth. I'm happy for Ace. He's a survivor. He's been through so much and his relationship with Gene and Paul has been so toxic over the years but at the end of the day, he's certainly a lot better off than he was being a kid coming out of the Bronx.
KF: You spoke earlier about Paul and his ability to just pick up a guitar and sing a song. Do you think Paul and Gene get short-changed for their musical ability due to the KISS image?
PC: Without a doubt. And probably rightfully so. I'm a guy who prides himself in being a jack of all trades, being able to do a lot of different things. And I do a lot of different things. I love the variety. It's not a boring existence; it keeps you fresh. I remember seeing onstage one night with Barnaby Bye years and years ago -- Barnaby Bye is a fabulous band with amazing vocals and songwriting. The songwriting and the vocals are probably the most notable thing coming out of Barnaby Bye. I remember getting off stage one night and some guy coming up to me and saying, "Man, you're the fucking most amazing guitar player I have ever seen. I love your playing." I remember walking away from the guy and saying, "He didn't like my singing?" (laughs) I'm thinking, "He didn't listen to me like that." It was like a natural reaction. Then I put it into perspective. So I think when you factor in what an amazing business guy Gene is and what an amazing business person Paul is -- I mean their business is the most impressive thing, even more than the music. They are just so smart and cultivated at that, that they do so many different things between the imaging, the stage production and the show. It's like, "Pick what is going to stick out first in your mind." A lot of purists are going to say, "Oh, it's a crutch because they can't play." And you know what, maybe it did overshadow their playing. Maybe Gene is not the greatest musician. And maybe Paul is not the greatest musician or the greatest singer. But show me who is. You're always going to find someone who's better. The bottom line is they are who they are and they are absolutely amazing. They multi-task and they've always been very focused and very loyal and very, very protective of their brand. Nobody has ever done what they've done. I think you've got to take that side stuff as incendiary chatter. Because if you can't even respect who they are and what they've done, that's probably your problem.
Peppy Castro, "Just Beginning"
Listen to samples and order your copy at Peppy Castro's website
KF: Peppy, I know you have a new solo album out, "Just Beginning." Can you fill us in about this project?
PC: The project is something I've been waiting to do all my life. I have a few to do things and now that I'm in the second half of the movie, I'm methodically doing the things that I've always wanted to do. To me, it's all icing on the cake at this point. I put a solo record together of a collection of songs. It's self-engineered, it's self-written and self-performed, with the exception of just a handful of people. I do have Joey Kramer from Aerosmith playing on two cuts and Brad Whitford from Aerosmith playing on one cut. I love it and I'm getting great reviews. I've done something very unique that's never been done on a CD before because CDs are so small and there's not a lot of room for packaging. I made the credits to the record as little records, as audio files. You'll read some credits but you won't read the credits of the record as to who is playing on it and how the song was written. I did those as separate audio files so the listener can hear in my own voice the story behind the song and how it was written. People seem to love it. I'm not affiliated with a label. Because of social media and the Internet, I decided it was a good time to put it out on my own and see if I could make lemons out of lemonade. It's where I am today. I think it's a good representation of my talent and my writing. I don't have to be locked into a box. I don't have to be KISS or Balance. I have different kinds of tunes on there, some ballads, some rockers, some softer stuff. I did it for myself and for anyone else that wants to come along for the ride and enjoy it. I'm very happy with it and I stand by it.
KF: What else is going on in your world these days, Peppy?
PC: I just got an offer to direct "Hair" at a theater in San Antonio, which has always been on the back burner of the to-do list but because I did the lead in "Hair" on Broadway it's something I want to do. I co-produce a show in New York called "The Gong Show Live," which is based and licensed from the iconic TV show "The Gong Show." The Blues Magoos have their first reunion record in 45 years, maybe in 50 years, coming out in late September, early October. I do have a musical that I've had in my head for 15-20 years called "X-Star," so I would tell people to keep on the lookout for that. That's going to be something I'll hopefully get done in my lifetime (laughs). I'm just keeping myself busy.
(KissFAQ thanks Peppy Castro for his time and contribution to Back In The Solo Album Groove, our 35th anniversary retrospective dedicated to the 1978 KISS solo albums.)
About Peppy Castro:
Peppy Castro has done it all and is a successful seasoned professional with great variety in his music. His fame and first hit record began at age 17 as one of the founding fathers of the legendary rock group, the Blues Magoos. His rock and roll status led him to a starring role in the original Broadway production of "Hair." He is also Emmy-nominated and an award-winning playwright and multi-instrumentalist, having penned and/or performed hundreds of well-known jingles for decades for Budweiser, Chevy, Bounty, Nestlé's Crunch, and Kodak, among others. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Diana Ross and Cher, among others. On "Paul Stanley," Castro contributes background vocals to the single "Hold Me, Touch Me (Think Of Me When We're Apart)." He is also the co-writer of "Naked City" from KISS' "Unmasked" album. Castro has also collaborated with artists such as Laura Branigan, Michael Bolton, Liza Minnelli, Ronnie Spector, Joan Jett, Richie Havens, John Denver, Aldo Nova, David Johansen, and Darlene Love, among others. Castro has enjoyed years of diverse music as an original member of the bands the Blues Magoos, Balance, Wiggy Bits, and Barnaby Bye, who is newly inducted Long Island Music Hall of Fame. Castro is also an associate producer for the new off-Broadway show "The Gong Show Live." He recently released his latest solo album titled "Just Beginning." The album features longtime friend Joey Kramer from Aerosmith on two tracks and Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford on one track. In an interesting twist, Castro recorded audio liner notes for the album, allowing listeners to gain first-hand perspective regarding the creative process for the songs while listening to the album. To listen to samples and order your copy of "Just Beginning," click here. Drop Castro a line on Facebook.