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George Peter John Criscuola
(born December 20, 1945), better known as
, is an American musician best known as drummer and
band for the rockKiss. Criss established the "cat" character for his Kiss persona.
, Criss is the eldest of the five children of Joseph and Loretta Criscuola in
Brooklyn, New York
He was an avid art student and a jazz aficionado. While playing with bandleader Joey Greco, Criss ended up studying under his idol, Gene Krupa, at the Metropole Club in New York. This blossomed into an active musical career as he went on to play jazz and rock with a number of bands in New York and New Jersey throughout the 1960s.
Criss was involved with a number of bands throughout the mid-to-late 1960s. In late 1960s, Criss joined Chelsea, who had a two-album deal with Decca Records. The group released a self-titled album in 1970. The group never recorded a second album, and in August 1971 became Lips (a trio consisting of Criss, as well as Chelsea bandmates Michael Benvenga and Stan Penridge). By the Spring of 1973, Lips was just the duo of Criss and Penridge.
After the demise of his band, Lips, Criss placed an ad in the East Coast edition of
, which read:
EXPD. ROCK & roll drummer looking for orig. grp. doing soft & hard music. Peter, Brooklyn.
Contrary to the story that has been recited by fans and by the band for years, there was never an ad placed that said "Drummer willing to do anything to make it." The ad was answered by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, who were looking for new members for their band, Kiss. Ace Frehley was added to the lineup in December 1972, and the band was formed later that month.
Kiss released their self-titled debut in February of 1974. Throughout his Kiss career, Criss was lead vocalist on several notable songs including "Black Diamond", "Hard Luck Woman", and their breakthrough hit "Beth". Many of Criss' contributions to Kiss were written with the help of
, who was a bandmate of Criss' in Chelsea and Lips.
Criss was featured on the album sleeve for the 1979 comedy record Lenny and the Squigtones, collection of novelty songs by Michael McKean and
David L. Lander
, performing as their Laverne & Shirley personnas of Lenny and
. Criss was billed as drummer "Ming the Merciless," and appeared without his Kiss makeup.
Peter Criss is referenced in an episode of the television show Family Guy, when Peter mentions to Lois that he suspected Lois was not a true Kiss fan when she dressed up as Peter Criss, stating "Nobody wants to be Peter Criss, not even Peter Criss."
Criss is given co-writer credit for the ballad "Beth", which was a Top 10 #7 hit for Kiss in 1976. The song remains the highest charting song for Kiss in the USA and it earned them a People's Choice Award for "Young People's Favorite New Song" in 1977 which had tied with "Disco Duck". The song was written before Peter had joined Kiss, while he was still a member of Chelsea. Peter came up with the melody for the song while on a train to New York City from New Jersey where the band practiced. He and Chelsea guitarist Stan Penridge wrote the song together.
A bootleg exists of the song from 1971, but the song's title was "Beck", named after fellow band member Mike Brand's wife, Becky who would call often during their practices to ask Mike when he was coming home. Years later, while in Kiss, both Bob Ezrin and Gene Simmons are credited for changing the song's title to, "Beth". The song was said to be a tribute to Criss' wife Lydia, and, according to interviews with Peter, he had changed some of the lyrics to reflect some of Lydia's lamenting that she missed him while on tour, but the song actually originated years earlier.
Along with "Beth", other songs he sang in Kiss were "Black Diamond", "Hard Luck Woman", "Dirty Livin'", "Nothin' to Lose", "Mainline", "Strange Ways", "Getaway", "Baby Driver", "Hooligan", "Kissin' Time", and "I Finally Found My Way", with only the first one being a live staple for every tour during his time with Kiss and "Dirty Livin'", "Baby Driver", "Hooligan" and "Beth" being the only ones he co-wrote (Paul Stanley wrote "Black Diamond", "Hard Luck Woman", "Mainline", and "I Finally Found My Way", Ace Frehley wrote "Strange Ways" and "Getaway", Gene Simmons wrote "Nothin' to Lose").
Criss struggled with drug abuse through many of the years he was in the band. Although he was always credited as drummer, 1977's
was the last Kiss album on which Criss played throughout.
On the 1979 release
, he played only on his own composition, "Dirty Livin'" and did not play at all on 1980's
. Anton Fig, now David Letterman's house drummer, was hired to play on both albums.
Although Criss officially left Kiss in May 1980, his involvement with the band had ceased by December 1979. In March 1980, he began recording his first solo album,
Out of Control
. Released later in the year, the album was a commercial failure despite remaining a favorite with fans of Criss. So too was the follow-up album, 1981's
Let Me Rock You
, which contained one song written by Gene Simmons. The album cover for
Let Me Rock You
featured Criss without his Kiss makeup but was not released in the
at the time.
For the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s, Criss was involved with a number of bands (each usually lasting less than a year). One of them was The Keep, which featured ex-Kiss guitarist Mark St. John. While Kiss were promoting their upcoming release
, Criss appeared on the syndicated radio program
and discussed his time in Kiss from a more positive perspective than previously. Criss briefly reunited with former Kiss bandmate Ace Frehley on Frehley's 1989 album
(singing and playing percussion on one track). In the early '90s, Criss assembled a band named "Criss," which would feature future Queensr
che guitarist Mike Stone. This band released the
EP in December 1993 and the
album in August 1994. The group also supported Frehley's band on the 1995 "Bad Boys Tour."
The homeless urban legend
In the late 1980s, an urban legend circulated that Criss was a homeless alcoholic, culminating in a 1989
article that appeared to lend credence to the notion. Jeffrey Scott Holland paid tribute to Peter's alleged plight by painting his portrait in an alley with a bottle in his hand, and Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold began a campaign to try to rescue Criss. Barr and Arnold had discovered a homeless man living under a bridge who had claimed to be Criss, but it was later revealed to be a hoax. The hoaxer, Christopher Dickinson, appeared with the real Criss on
The Phil Donahue Show
in 1991. On the same show, there was a woman who claimed to also have had an affair with Criss back in 1982, which was vehemently denied by Criss (and his ex wife who called in to the show). For years afterward, the belief still persisted that Peter was broke and sleeping on the streets. Criss later sued the Star
and they settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Return to Kiss
In 1995, Criss appeared at the official Kiss Konvention in Los Angeles that led to the Kiss live performance that was recorded for
. In April 1996, Kiss held a press conference to announce a reunion tour with all four original members. The 1996–97 Alive/Worldwide Tour was an enormous success, and the reunited Kiss released a studio album, 1998's
. However, controversy would arise when it was discovered that Criss only played on one track, which was "Into the Void," Ace Frehley's one lead vocal track. Many sources claim that Kevin Valentine performed on the rest of the drum tracks for the album. Criss did have one lead vocal, a track called "I Finally Found My Way to You," which was written by guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley and Bob Ezrin.
Criss remained a member of Kiss until 2001, when he left over a contract dispute, and was replaced by Eric Singer. He rejoined the band in 2002, and would appear on the Kiss Symphony DVD and CD before departing again in March 2004 when Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons opted not to renew his contract. He was once again replaced by Singer who continues to perform with the band today.
Since 2004, Criss has kept his public appearances to a minimum. Criss now resides in Wall Township, New Jersey. He released a solo album—
One for All
—July 24, 2007, on Silvercat Records.
(February 18, 1974)
Hotter Than Hell
(October 22, 1974)
Dressed to Kill
(March 19, 1975)
(September 10, 1975)
(March 15, 1976)
Rock and Roll Over
(November 11, 1976)
(June 30, 1977)
(November 29, 1977)
(May 23, 1979)
(March 12, 1996)
(September 22, 1998)
Kiss Symphony: Alive IV
(July 22, 2003)
(September 18, 1978)
Out of Control
Let Me Rock You
(August 16, 1994)
One for All
(July 24, 2007)
Peter Criss - The Official Website
Interview with Peter Criss
Second Interview with Peter Criss
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