From playing clubs in New York to stadiums around the globe, life as a musician has been an astonishing trip for drummer Peter Criss, KISS’ legendary Catman. Next month, Melbourne plays host to both the KISS Konvention and the second-last of Criss’ One Last Time appearances (the final to be held in New York). Joining him for this intimate show at The Sofitel on May 12th will be his long-time guitarist and friend, Mike McLaughlin, and local glam rockers, Sisters Doll. Thanks to our good friend, John Howarth of Nuclear Blast, we had the great pleasure of chatting with Peter recently, who spoke with us about his musical background and influences and shared his great enthusiasm for these unique, intimate performances and returning to meet and greet his Australian fans.
SR: I could ask you so many questions, Peter. What an incredible career you’ve had. How would you most like to be remembered?
PC: Well, yes, I have been blessed with an amazing career. I guess when you get to the Hall of Fame, it’s like getting an Academy Award for rock ‘n’ roll, I don’t know. I did grow up on the kind of poor side of town and it’s been an amazing ride for me. I had cancer – I’m an 11-year breast cancer survivor, so that’s an amazing thing. Men do get it and early detection will save your life. In fact, I’m singing at a big ball next week for cancer. I do it every year and it’s become part of my life. So, I see my life now at 71 and I see the guys who are around who were around from my time, from Ozzy to the Stones to Paul McCartney to Rod Stewart, and I say, ‘Hey – we’re all in our seventies, it’s scary.’ But I don’t act like it. The number flips me out, but I don’t feel that in my heart. I always feel like a 15-year-old kid, so thank god rock ‘n’ roll keeps you young. We’ve lost a lot of guys, which is very sad, and I don’t want to be a statistic like that. For me, I just want to leave the stage the way I got on it 50 years ago. I just want to say goodbye to the fans. I have this show and one in New York and then I’m kinda done.
I have a lot of projects that I really want to do. There are a lot of things I’ve wanted to do that I haven’t put my whole heart into because I’ve kinda yearned, over the twelve years, just to perform again. I’ve just missed it and I didn’t really feel like bowing out when we bowed out with the boys. For me, as a musician, I didn’t feel like it was on my terms, man. I’m that Italian- Irish kid – I want it on my terms and I want to give it to my fans from Peter Criss, even though I’m a founding father of the band KISS, and I’m very proud of that. But this is something very special and it’s something from me and something I really want to do. I’m really jumping into deep waters. There are some major surprises and there are some songs I’m going to do that I never really thought I’d do live. I recorded them and I love them and wished in my wildest dreams I could sing these songs in front of an audience. I mean I’ve really been working my butt off with these great musicians where I live, day in, day out, five days a week; and over there I’ve got an amazing band, Sisters Doll, who’ll be playing with us. I’ve also got my guitarist who’s been working with me for 25 years, Michael McLaughlin, who’s going to fly in and do it with me, so that’s very exciting.
You know, I watched Barry Gibb last night and I loved it. I love the Bee Gees. I LOVE them. I’m a major, major, huuuge fan, so I was jumping up and down on my couch hoping they’d do Have You Seen My Wife, Mr Jones? (New York Mining Disaster 1941) and all these early Bee Gees songs. I was into them when I was a boy. They came over here, the Bee Gees, and we were really listening to them because they were so cool. I really enjoyed that last night. I was thinking, ‘There’s Barry and he’s having a great time and we’re similar ages, and that’s the way to do it, man.’ It’s always been so cool there. We’ve always had such a great time in Melbourne and we had that great symphony that we did. It was amazing to be the drummer with a 60-piece symphony. Holy mackerel was I shaking in my boots, because I was the only drummer. I’m thinking, ‘If I make a mistake, I’m dead!’ We’ve been getting calls from there from the promoter. He’s just so cool. Over the years, he’s been like, ‘Look at all the guys that have been here, not just with KISS, but separately. Gene’s been there and Ace has been there. They really want you really, really bad.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ Then another year goes by, and finally, this year, I said, ‘Well, if you can get me this and get me that, I’ll come.’ And he did. He said, ‘Okay, no problem.’ I’m like, ‘Holy mackerel – this is really everything I ever wanted to go on stage with and never did with KISS.’ And really, it was what I wanted as an up-and-coming musician, because I do more than rock ‘n’ roll – I’m an all-round musician. I can finally get up there with a bunch of other musicians, with strings and horns and really rock the place. I am excited.
SR: It’s a really intimate setting, too. Do you prefer the energy of these kinds of shows to the big arena affairs?
PC: Yes, I do, because that’s how it was in the beginning for me when I started out at 16. And I was playing nightclubs in Greenwich Village, New York City, when I was 17 or 18. It was really cool because you had Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan…it was the place to be, man, as a musician. And I kinda grew up in all that. So, for me, that’s kind of the epitome of music and I really want a chance to do that.
SR: Gene Krupa was an idol of yours early on, though I read that Jerry Nolan gave you your first drum lesson. What was it about Krupa that got your attention and who or what else shaped you, musically?
PC: That’s interesting, you know. My dad put the record on – I was around 10. I was so moved by the rhythm of the drums. They were so haunting that it was primal. I was dancing all around the place and couldn’t keep still. Every time he’d put it on, I’d go crazy. And I’d bang on my mother’s pots and pans, playing them every morning to the record. For some reason, I just knew the minute I heard it that that’s what I wanted to be – I wanted to be a musician. I wanted to be a drummer like Gene Krupa. And Jerry? I’m glad you mentioned him. I loved the New York Dolls. He was happy being in them, though he passed away much too young. When he was a boy, we went to Catholic school together. He was really an army brat so he travelled a lot with his dad, who was a colonel. Eventually he came back and he was playing drums. I was like, ‘Wow! That’s really cool, Jerry! Do you think you could show me? I like to play.’ And he showed me my first kinda beat – my first real twist beat. I was addicted. I played it all the way home on the subway on the train, with my hands. Then I worked really hard as a delivery boy and bought my first set of drums and the rest is history. It just never stopped. And again, I played nightclubs for ten years before I met the guys. I already had an album out with another band. And the bands I played with back then were all R&B guys – black guys, with horns and trumpets and a lot of it was James Brown and Aretha Franklin and Sam and Dave and Otis Redding… And I’d started out with jazz and wound up doing R&B and I loved it – it made me start singing. I became a singing drummer more so than a harmony drummer. Next thing I was doing lead singing and I was doing it better than the singer of the band. I would just take over and I just realised, ‘Well, I guess I could have my own band if I’m singing that well.’ I loved it.
My mother was an amazing singer. She sang constantly and there was always music in my home. She was just forever singing and she had an amazing voice. It just rubbed off on me. The clubs were amazing. Then, when I met the guys. It’s been an amazing journey, and I find a lot of love and respect where you are for the band and for me, personally, as a founding guy. You know, people have been asking me why I’m going to Australia – that 24-hour plane ride. I tell them it’s because it’s going to be really cool, it’s going to be great. You know, this is going to be something that I’ve never done so I’m going to be really excited, and I haven’t been this excited in a long time. And I started in clubs, so it’s really going back to where I started. That’s just a cool way to say adios, instead of a whoop-de-doo in a big stadium. That’s what it was like with the band – we were there with 50, 60,000 people and that was the end of it. Then when I did my book signing, I met so many fans from Brazil and Australia and South America and Italy and Germany (laughs). They’d hug me and tell me their stories. I got an amazing closeness with my fans that I don’t think many musicians ever do, through my endeavours with the cancer stuff and meeting all of these fans. They’d say, ‘Peter – why don’t you just play one more time? It would be so cool if you could just play one more time.’ It started making me crazy. I became really good friends with John 5 from Rob Zombie. Every time they were in town, they’d invite me. I’d go down to the show and see the grease paint. It’s funny seeing all these bands that wear make-up now. I’m like the granddad and these are like kids. We started it. And Rob admitted it, actually. He said he had the Destroyer album and became a fan.
SR: I read that you came up with the idea for that famous Catman face paint design when your wife’s cat walked into the room while you were sketching.
PC: Yeah, I’ll always be the Catman (laughs). You know, I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and said, ‘Whether I have make-up on my face or off my face, I am the Catman.’ I came up with that persona way back when and I’m very proud of it. I came up with the face for the Catman and I am that guy, in or out of make-up. And that’s why I’m going to perform without make-up. I’m really jazzed in that respect, because it’s just cool. It’s not that I don’t need it, but I don’t need it now, I don’t feel. Maybe I do because I’m 71 (laughs).
I’ve seen a lot of stuff now. I’m in the Hall of Fame, I’ve beaten cancer. My wife also had cancer and beat it. It’s brought me very close to God – I’m a devout Catholic. I’ve learned that it’s what you leave, not what you take. I’m trying to give back. I’ve had such a wonderful life because of the fans and I really mean that. I have a beautiful home and a beautiful wife and three cats and a dog. I mean, I grew up in four rooms. My life, for many years, has been good to me, thanks to God and I guess my talent. And this is some stuff I’ve never done for the fans. I’ve never even done it for me. And I’ve always wanted to, so this gives me a chance.
SR: When you consider your tremendous success, do you feel a sense of destiny?
PC: Oh, yeah, it’s a gift from God. That’s why everything I’m doing now is without selfishness. I want to get back to painting. I’m working on some books. For me, it’s woken me, deep down, in many ways. I think that’s a good thing. I think a lot of people need a slap to wake up to certain things in life so you don’t take them for granted, like family and friends and fans.
SR: You’re going to be at the KISS Konvention for two 10-hour days. I imagine your autograph hand’s going to be sore by the end of each day.
PC: (Laughs) Yeah, I’m probably going to have to leave it in an ice pack for a couple of weeks. But you know, this is what I mean – it keeps you young. I’m not ready to get in the box. I really want to do this. We have the last one here in my home city of New York. That’ll be with a lot of family and friends and a lot of people I grew up with. Hopefully, my friend, Paul Shaffer, will be able to make it. It’ll just be a really great night of rock and roll and laughs…kind of like my retirement party. It’s not really, though, ‘cause I’ll never stop. I’ll never stop music – that’s an impossibility. It’d be like not breathing. But the touring and going out? I’ve had enough of that – I’ve had 50 years of that.
SR: Do you have a message you’d like to send out to your Australian fans ahead of your tour?
PC: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I won’t let you down. I’m looking for a great vibe and a really great night of love and music just the way it should be. And hopefully, I’ll walk away feeling like a million dollars. Australia’s a great place.
***TICKETS ON SALE HERE NOW***