Back In The Solo Album Groove With Richard T. Bear
Pianist shares memories of playing on Gene Simmons and Peter Criss' solo albums, the New York scene, stories of his own career as a solo artist and songwriter, and offers perspective on working with the late Sean Delaney and being 30 years sober.
Interview by Tim McPhate
KissFAQ: Richard, can you give us a snapshot of your career in 1978?
Richard T. Bear: Around 1978 I was signed to RCA. I had a solo album out. I was touring before the album "Red, Hot & Blue" came out, with Billy Squier's band Piper and the Babys, who had John Waite. The three of us were on tour together and we played free concerts for radio stations all over the West.
Richard T. Bear, "Red Hot & Blue"
KF: And how did you come into the KISS fold?
RTB: How I got to know KISS was playing in New York as a session player. I was hooked up with a couple of guys and we would play a lot of dates together. Then we would hang out at a place called Trax. I was also hanging out at Catch A Rising Star, The Improv, because I loved comedy, JP's, and Dr. Generosity's. And there was another place called Trudy Hellers and another called Reno Sweeney. But I was at Trax a lot because I lived close by. JP's was on the East Side, and had kind of a more folkie vibe, like James Taylor and Jackson Browne. JP, the owner of that club, opened Trax, which was a total rock and roll vibe. It was kind of like a Whisky or a Troubadour. Everybody would fall by there to play. I was over there playing and this guy kept walking in front of the stage, back and forth, in this whole leather outfit, with kind of a handle-bar mustache. He'd go back and forth and back and forth and glare at me (laughs). And during the break, he introduced himself as Sean Delaney. So that's how my involvement with KISS started, through Sean.
KF: In 1978 KISS were arguably at the peak of their popularity. Did you have any impression of their music?
RTB: No, only because I didn't know much about them. I grew up working at Manny's Music on West 48th Street and getting free passes to the Fillmore. I was 16 and I'd go down and see Iron Butterfly and Led Zeppelin would open for them. And then I'd see bands like the Who, Hendrix, Bowie and the Stones. I was like, "That's it, man." What I found out about KISS was that they were kind of a good rock and roll band that discovered that the kabuki makeup and the lasers and the fire, and the show -- it was smoke and mirrors more than it was ability. Seeing them in the beginning, they were very raw, which was kind of cool. But it was more like cartoon characters coming to life. Now, I thought the show was the best visual spectacle I ever saw.
KF: So you saw them live?
RTB: Oh yeah. In fact, I went out with them when they were doing their movie.
KF: "KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park," which was filmed in spring 1978. Did you go to the show at Magic Mountain?
RTB: I was at that show.
KF: That's a legendary show among KISS fans.
RTB: It was great.
KF: So you were impressed the spectacle of the KISS concert?
RTB: I was impressed and I'll tell you why. I learned a lot about live shows from being the opening act for Boston, the Outlaws, Doobie Brothers, and Peter Wolf. Peter used to tell me, "You've got to do this. You've got to do that. You've got to get the audience involved." And KISS were great at that. Sean was great at that. Sean got me so fucking high and drunk and we carried on like you couldn't believe everywhere (laughs). We'd fly to lots of different places together a lot, places like L.A., and get in all kinds of situations. There was another guy who worked for them, was it Alan?
KF: Alan Miller?
RTB: Alan Miller, who I liked a lot. There was another guy I didn't like so much. But anyway, I got to start knowing Paul a little bit, Gene a little bit, Peter a little bit. Ace, I never spoke to. We never really had a relationship. The one thing I do remember is Sean said to me, "I was kind of instrumental in putting a lot of this together," which he really was. He had the vision. And he said, "They all want to do solo albums. I'd like for you to work with me on their solo albums." So Sean and I started writing some songs together. Then he put me in touch with Gene. Gene liked me. We put a band together and I don't remember if I did Peter's album first or Gene's album first. But I do remember that we all went to London.
Richard T. Bear
KF: Yes, some of the sessions for Gene's album took place at the Manor in Oxford.
RTB: Right. We all went to the Manor. Now I went to the Manor a few times to record there. I was in the Manor with Sean with a band called Toby Beau. "My Angel Baby," I played on that. I had lived in London for a bit and knew the scene. I went to the Manor with the guys. We flew over in a Concorde, which was amazing (laughs).
KF: Who would have been on that flight? People like Gene, Allan Schwartzberg, Neil Jason?
RTB: Yeah. Allan, Neil and I think Elliott Randall. That was like a little rhythm section I had. We all went over there. I think even Cher was with us.
KF: I know you wrote a song on Cher's 1979 album, "Take Me Home."
RTB: It's all incestuous (laughs). I was in England for a long time and I remember just sitting around not doing a whole lot. And then they pretty much brought me in for some overdubs.
KF: So on Gene's record, was it an overdub situation for your piano tracks?
RTB: Yeah. I think it wasn't anything else other than that.
KF: Gene has a co-producer credit but was Sean running those sessions?
RTB: Yeah. Sean was basically running it. Actually, Peruvian marching dust was running those sessions (laughs).
KF: (laughs) What was the demeanor like in the studio?
RTB: I'll tell you what the demeanor was like going over on that Concorde (laughs). Everybody realized that it was only a three-and-a-half-hour flight instead of an eight-and-a-half-hour flight and everybody was in the bathroom most of the time. We had to finish everything we had before we got there. I remember Sean Delaney, may he rest in peace, went back to the bathroom because somebody was in there. He starts pounding on the bathroom door and it was like the president of Nigeria in there, literally the president of a country. And the guy comes out and Sean's going, "This ain't no R&B gig, let me in!" (laughs)
KF: (laughs) Sean sounds like he liked to get in trouble.
RTB: Back in the day, cocaine and alcohol kind of ruled, although Gene was totally abstinent. And Cher did nothing. But the rhythm section and Sean, we were having some fun. I remember the techs at the Manor would fight to see who was going to go in there in the morning first and they would take the modules and scoop stuff up (laughs).
KF: You ended up playing piano on two tracks. Why don't we take a listen to a sample of "True Confessions." (plays sample)
RTB: I didn't have much to do (laughs). A two-headed monkey could have come in and done that.
KF: Those are pretty much straight triads.
RTB: Triads in straight eight-note rhythm.
KF: Would they have played you the track and you came up with that part? Or did someone specifically suggest that idea?
RTB: I think that was Sean saying, "This is what I want. I just want eighths on this."
KF: You probably banged that out in no time.
RTB: Probably. It was probably a late night when I overdubbed it. It was probably one or two takes.
KF: Any thoughts on that track?
RTB: (pauses) The backgrounds ... who's singing on that?
KF: That's Helen Reddy.
RTB: Helen Reddy, really? Wow. I don't remember much about that track to be honest with you. I just played it. And I think when I played it, it had none of the sweeting. When I played it there were no background vocals.
KF: And maybe Gene's vocal wasn't even done at that point?
RTB: Probably not. I think he did his vocals later.
KF: How does a track like this hold up for you all these years later?
RTB: My opinion is it was a basic rock and roll track. Nothing special about it. You know, it's funny because a bunch of us went over, if I recall, a bunch of us went over to George Harrison's house.
KF: No kidding? That's interesting because Gene was supposedly attempting to secure the Beatles. Ultimately, he couldn't secure them so he got the guys from Beatlemania. So you guys hung out with George Harrison?
RTB: Yeah, we went over to his house.
KF: The next track you're featured on is "Always Near You/Nowhere To Hide." (plays sample)
RTB: It's funny because Sean always liked the Spector wall of sound. That was a big, big thing with him.
KF: This track definitely has that flavor, and there are some other Spector-esque productions on this album.
RTB: There is. After listening to the whole record, when it was finished, I found it was a whole bunch of different things. It wasn't like one direction that this record went in.
KF: Which is I think what KISS fans expected.
RTB: Yeah. It was a lot of different styles and ideas.
KF: And he had the kitchen sink with the Disney cover of "When You Wish Upon A Star."
RTB: Yeah, it was Heinz 57 varieties. That's what I remember.
KF: From what you observed, was Gene serious about the project?
RTB: Oh, Gene's really serious and really intense about things that he does. But I think what happened was there might have been distractions at the time.
RTB: (laughs) He was pulled into some different directions, doing different things. He was always a huge publicity hound so he was off doing things and kind of left Sean in charge.
KF: Gene has admitted he had an "angle" for his album. Aside from the breadth of the material, he had a huge cast of special guests. There was Cher, Donna Summer, Joe Perry, Rick Nielsen, Helen Reddy. Getting into Peter's album, Sean was involved with that album in the beginning because Peter was having an issue securing a producer. He had approached Tom Dowd.
RTB: Interestingly enough, Tom Dowd was my mentor. I grew up in New York and Florida and I used to see Tom all the time. He was down in Miami. I got him to do a band for A&M around the same time, Pablo Cruise. I think I tried to get him for Peter.
Richard T. Bear with his gold and platinum awards for "Gene Simmons" and "Peter Criss"
Courtesy of Tim McPhate
KF: So maybe you had a hand in helping with Peter's ask?
RTB: I might have had a hand in that. It sounds like I might have made a phone call. But Dowd was doing something else.
KF: That's interesting. I'm not entirely sure of the exact chronology, but I believe Sean stepped in to help Peter. He got musicians like yourself, Allan Schwartzberg and Neil Jason and recorded some tracks, some of which he had written. And the goal was to put together a demo tape that would help get Peter a producer. Vini Poncia ended up coming onboard and he ultimately kept some of the tracks that Sean cut at Electric Lady. You played on "I Can't Stop The Rain," which is a lush ballad that closes the album. Do you recall being at Electric Lady?
RTB: Yeah, I had been in there a bunch of times. I used to go in there and do a lot of session work.
KF: Do you recall Peter being around?
RTB: Yeah, I think he popped in a couple of times.
KF: Did you get any vibe from him?
RTB: It's really interesting, the New York guys have a vibe all their own. Hand to God. Here's an example, I played on "Southern Cross" for Crosby, Stills & Nash. I lived with Stills for a while. Unlike that vibe -- the Jackson Browne, West Coast vibe -- the New York guys that made it were completely different. Everything about them was different. I was in an offshoot of the Rascals called Bulldog featuring Gene Cornish, Dino Danelli and John Turi. And they had this whole New York, New Jersey vibe. Peter was totally like that. He was totally like Dino in a lot of ways. He would come by and hang out for a little bit, not a long time, and then he'd be gone. And then three hours later, he'd stop by again. I think that was, in his mind, "I recorded today."
KF: Interestingly, he didn't play drums on any of the New York tracks.
RTB: I always thought that was a bit strange, but then again he was a singer. He had "Beth." That was a big, big record.
KF: Why don't we play a bit of "I Can't Stop The Rain." I'm not sure how you feel about ballads.
RTB: I love ballads.
KF: (plays sample)
RTB: That's a really good track.
KF: Did you come up with the piano accompaniment? Or was that already written?
RTB: I think it was probably -- and I'm going to be stretching here -- from the demo where Sean and I had done a little lick that worked for him. He probably said, "Let's use that little figure." But I was always given a lot of free rein unless I was stepping on someone's dick or something. "No, there's going to a guitar part there. We don't need the piano there." It was kind of like, "Let's do a great ballad." Because of Peter's success with "Beth," you know. I think a lot of that had to do with "Beth."
KF: Your piano is really center stage on that track. To be candid, Peter's solo album is perhaps the most maligned of the four, but this song is considered a favorite by a segment of fans.
RTB: (laughs) Well, it was a Sean Delaney song. And that may be around the time that I wrote "Love & Pain (Pain In My Heart)," the Cher tune. It's got that same kind of vibe to it. But I think we did a demo of that for her. We did some demos -- I wonder if I have any of Sean's demos.
KF: You also played piano on the tune "Spotlights (And Lonely Nights)," which was featured on Sean's 1979 solo album, "Highway." This tune was reportedly demoed for Peter Criss' 1978 album. (Plays sample of Delaney's version.)
RTB: I remember doing the demo in a New York studio.
KF: So this tune rings a bell?
RTB: Yes. It's fuzzy, but ... (pauses)
KF: And who knows, it could be lying around on one of these tapes?
RTB: Could be.
KF: When would have been the last time you saw any of the KISS members?
RTB: Interestingly enough, I ran into Paul at a Starbuck's one day and he was very kind and nice to me. And then I ran into Gene a few years back, he was having a book signing and I went to a Barnes & Noble. And maybe because he was with a lot of people, but he wasn't especially warm. I found that to be very weird. He was just different. I don't remember him ever being like that. Maybe he was just busy at the time. Or since we hadn't talked for a few years, I may have caught him by surprise.
KF: When was the last time you saw Sean?
RTB: The last time I saw Sean was in the late '90s. He was playing in a country band and he was at the Orange County Fair. Around the same time, I ran into Bill Aucoin, who was trying to get back into the industry.
KF: Was it a good meeting with Sean?
RTB: Very much so. It was great. There were big hugs involved. He was so happy to see me. He was living in Utah and my biggest regret is I never got to see him again after that because I wanted to write more with him. At the time, I kind of took a hiatus from music. I put my last records out in Europe, because I got a record deal in Europe, into the late '80s, early '90s. Then I took a hiatus because I got married and started raising kids. Somehow Sean got a hold of me and I met him at the Orange County Fair. I wanted to write with him again because he had cleaned a lot of his act up. And I cleaned my act up. I got sober, believe it or not, February 8, 1983. I just celebrated 30 years of sobriety.
Richard T. Bear with Mick Fleetwood and Shelly Weiss at a Musicians Picnic in 2001
Photo: Johnny Olsen
KF: That's wonderful. Congratulations.
RTB: Thanks. I told Sean about an event that I had and we were talking about him coming and playing at it. I was on the board of directors for a thing called the Musicians Picnic. I used to get all kinds of people. I was playing with Mick Fleetwood and got him to come, then I got Clapton to come and talk and play, and Chicago, and a bunch of people. We had that thing going for almost 25 years. It was a nonprofit organization that would put musicians who had no insurance into detox and then into a sober living environment. Before there was MusiCares [Ed: The Recording Academy's nonprofit charitable organization], there was MAP -- Musicians Assistance Program. I was at the start of MAP with a guy named Buddy Arnold. I got sober and Buddy invited me over to his house and we started the musicians meetings. There were like 12 of us -- Paul Butterfield, Ray Sharkey, an actor, Dick Forest. A lot of those people died -- there's only a few of us left. I remember saying to Sean, "I'm doing this thing called the Musicians Picnic. Maybe you come out?" And he never did it. I was really involved and invested in getting musicians sober. I think I stepped down the 21st or 22nd year, because I had enough (laughs). But that's kind of my legacy.
KF: That's a great legacy to have. Do you know if Sean tried to get sober in his final years?
RTB: He tried a few times. For him, it was pretty good.
KF: From your vantage point, just how talented was Sean Delaney?
RTB: Extremely talented. Maybe KISS would have eventually evolved but he was definitely a linchpin. Between Bill Aucoin, Sean Delaney and a few other people, I think they were the reasons that KISS happened. I will say that as far as intelligence and all that, Sean was kind of a tortured soul because he would envision himself as being like the fifth KISS member.
KF: That's kind of his nickname, "the fifth KISS."
RTB: Right. As far as putting the show together, he was a genius. There's no question in my mind. If there was ever a KISS museum, they should have a statue for Sean Delaney.
KF: Well said, Richard. There is a song called "All-American Man" from "Alive II" that was written by Paul Stanley and Sean Delaney. Sean once alleged that you helped co-write this song even though you were not credited.
RTB: (laughs) I can't tell you how many times that happened.
KF: (laugh) Right. (Plays sample) Does this tune ring any bells?
RTB: Yeah. I think I was involved. The thing about when you get to be in rarified air, when you're there, you realize how much the publishing is worth. The writing is 100 percent and the publishing is 100 percent. None of those guys wanted to give up anything because that's where a lot of the money was. And unless they were taking your song or whatever, that was that. Look, I've played on a lot of demo dates where I have said, "How about go to this change? How about use this chord?" Or, "Here's a great phrase that might work." And it ended up on the record but my name never did. I have one which is sitting up there [points at his wall of platinum records] that I could have easily been given a piece. But I got paid for the sessions.
KF: Speaking of which, I take it you got compensated fairly for your work on Gene and Peter's albums?
RTB: Absolutely, Sean took great care of me.
KF: A few questions about yourself, if I may. What city were you born in?
RTB: New York City.
KF: How long have you been in California?
RTB: I've been out here, on and off, for about 25 years.
KF: Do you visit New York at all?
RTB: I do on occasion. I do miss it. I used to miss it terribly but I've become a Californian. I do have a family home there so I do go back. A year ago last summer, I got a call from Dino Danelli to join the Rascals and take Felix Cavaliere's spot and sing and play all the Rascals stuff. We had rehearsals here with a couple of the guys that he chose for the band. It was going to be called Dino Danelli's Rascals, because they weren't all getting along. We were supposed to go out in the fall and we didn't because he didn't get the kind of money he wanted. And then what happened was Steve Van Zandt got them all to bury the hatchet and do a reunion, which happened last December at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester. They sold out four nights and then they did a Broadway revival of the Rascals. Now they're doing limited dates and this and that. So we've put Dino Danelli's Rascals on the back burner. But that could come back. I was going to do it because I really like Dino and I love the Rascals songs. I was going to go back to New York for that stuff.
KF: Your real name is Richard Gerstein. How did you get the stage name Richard T. Bear?
RTB: I played on lots of records under Gerstein. Interestingly enough, one of the first records that I played on that I remember was a Richie Havens record. He had just passed on. I played on that record, I was really young. They asked, "What name should we put on the credits?" I said, "Gerstein." And people had started calling me Bear. It was a nickname because I had a beard and long hair. When RCA wanted to sign me as a solo artist, I said "I'm Richard Gerstein." I had a big fight with my dad over this. He said, "That's your name. Be proud of it." And RCA went, "Jews don't sell in the South." And I said, "What about Springsteen?" (laughs) They said, "No, we're going to use Richard T. Bear." Lots of stuff has Gerstein on it, lots of stuff has Bear. My Facebook page, I put Richard T. Bear in parentheses. With the sobriety thing, I was known as T. Bear for so long.
KF: The T is your middle initial?
RTB: Yes, it's the middle initial. I think I had a contest once, "Guess what T stands for?" The one that I liked the most, I think Sean said. Sean said, "Trustworthy." (laughs) So he named it and I kept Richard T. Bear.
KF: Richard, who would you cite as your top musical influences?
RTB: (pauses) The Beatles, the Who, the Stones, King Curtis, because he used to take me to shows. Richie Havens, I loved him. Odetta. Zeppelin. I loved Hendrix. Bowie. Stevie Ray Vaughan.
KF: Do you listen to any current acts?
RTB: I listen to Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers. I like some of the Foo Fighters' stuff. And Gary Clark Jr. He's the real deal. My daughter is in love with My Chemical Romance. She's 14. My son is 16 and he's into rap. My 19-year-old is into country.
KF: But when you want to unwind, you play the classics?
RTB: Yeah. I have an iPod. I just put it on shuffle because I've got 4,000, 5,000 songs on it.
KF: Have plans for new music?
RTB: I got divorced a few years back and I remarried three years ago. My current wife Nina is an incredible muse and loves music. There's always music in my house. I started writing again -- I have about 100 or 200 ideas. I think I'm going to end up doing another record. I had seven solo records in total, when you count the European releases, and now I'm going to do another one.
Richard T. Bear, "Sunshine Hotel"
KF: Good for you. Of course, you are known for "Sunshine Hotel," which became a hit in 1979. How does that song hold up for you some 30-plus years later?
RTB: I had a Top 5 hit with "Sunshine Hotel" in England. It was big over there at the time so I was riding the crest over there. By the way, that's the same rhythm section that's on Gene's record, Schwartzberg and Jason. My take on that is I still get residuals. It's been sampled about a dozen times and it's a big dance record still in house music. It's been at raves and all kinds of stuff (laughs).
(KissFAQ thanks Richard T. Bear for his time and contribution to Back In The Solo Album Groove, our 35th anniversary retrospective dedicated to the 1978 KISS solo albums.)
About Richard T. Bear:
In music circles, New York-born Richard Gerstein (aka Richard T. Bear) is known for being a fixture on the New York session scene and his work as a solo artist. His 1979 album "Red Hot & Blue" spawned the disco-flavored rock hit "Sunshine Hotel," which climbed the charts not only in the United States but overseas. Bear performed the song on the popular German TV show "Rock Pop." Bear recorded several additional albums, including 1980's "Bear" and 1984's "The Bear Truth." For Gene Simmons' solo album, Bear played piano on "True Confessions" and "Always Near You/Nowhere To Hide." On "Peter Criss," he played piano on the album's closing ballad "I Can't Stop The Rain." He also contributed piano to Sean Delaney's 1979 solo album "Highway." Other artists Bear has collaborated with include Cher, Billy Squier, Rick Moses, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Fun fact: Bear made his acting debut in 1985 as Tim Stewart, a pilot who James "Sonny" Crockett busted for smuggling. Bear was on the board of directors for the Musicians Picnic, a clean and sober backyard barbecue that grew into an annual event that generated nearly $1 million in contributions. Now 30 years sober, today Bear resides in Southern California.