Legendary manager Bill Aucoin sadly passed away at age 66 on June 28th after losing his long battle against prostate cancer. Bill was the man known for masterminding and managing the career of the group KISS, but later on, he also managed such bands as Starz, Billy Squier, and Billy Idol, amongst many others. I interviewed Bill in Helsinki in 2006, when he was here working with the Finnish monster band, Lordi. For a reason or another, this interview was never published here in Metal-Rules.com, so, I decided to do it now as my tribute to Bill.
REST IN PEACE BILL!
INTERVIEW AND QUESTIONS BY MARKO SYRJALA
ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS AND ORIGINAL TRANSCRIPTION BY MAURA HAIMOLA
THE CURRENT SITUATION
Over the last few years, you have been doing a lot of Kiss Conventions, and you still seem to have stable connections to the band and the fans. But once you split up with Kiss, do you ever get any negative feelings being part of Kiss and connected to them?
Bill: No, no. Kiss was too much a pride of my life plus the fact that I love the guys. I love all of them even though there are only two in the band at the moment. And I really feel very strongly about them. Gene and Paul and I have actually been doing a lot of talking in the last couple of years. There is going to be something in their new box set, which will be one bonus track that will be one of the original shows that I did with them before they went on their first concert tour.
You are talking about the Coventry shows in 1973?
Bill: Yeah. Unfortunately, it is not going to be the whole show. There is a full show that I videotaped back then. It is only going to be one song, but it will be interesting to see them performing live in December 1973. But we still talk. I see Paul quite often and Paul on going on his first solo tour since he did the solo album back in the ’70s. The new album is great, and it is going to come out in October. So everything is fine. It is exciting to see them out on the road again. I´m glad to see them back in make-up now.
When KISS started to plan the reunion back in 1996, did they ask you to be part of it?
Bill: Yeah, I had a meeting with Paul and Gene. I had been talking to them for years about the fact that they should get back in make-up. They didn’t want to. They thought it was over and that it was something that they had done, and they really didn’t want to do it. And I told myself that there are so many fans and I was very disappointed when they decided that they will take off their make-up. But they wanted to be known for themselves and not for the make-up, and I thought the original Kiss was that should remain. I tried to encourage them, but they didn’t want to do it. For many years I would see Gene and Paul, especially Gene, and told them you really should get back together, but the answer was, “I don’t think so, Bill.” Eventually, I think they realized that it would be at least worth a try to get back together, and it happened because of the Kiss conventions. You know, the Kiss conventions were started by fans like you, and the guys didn’t want any part in it. But there came the point in time when they realized that there are a lot of fans going to these conventions and they should do the Conventions themselves. And when they started doing them, they realized how important the fans thought the original Kiss was. Then they decided to invite Ace back to one of the conventions. Then they invited Peter back, and they realized the fans loved them too. Don’t forget Peter left quite a while ago, and then Ace left, and they figured that maybe the fans didn’t care, but the Conventions showed that the fans really did care. And that finally made them see it would perhaps be worthwhile to do it. When they did MTV UNPLUGGED, they realized that it was powerful, and the fans really wanted it to happen. During that time, when Gene, Paul and I got together about potentially doing it, I felt it wouldn’t be right for me to go back again. I always felt good about starting with new artists and helping new ideas grow, and that was something I had been doing, and that is basically why I didn’t.
But as you know, it became very popular and successful again, and it was great to see them back in form again. I had hoped that maybe they would all stay together, which of course, didn’t happen. Peter and Ace are now thinking about doing their own things. They are thinking about putting a new band together, and Peter is thinking about new projects as well. Eric and Tommy are great in the band, and they have just come back from Japan, and they had a great time. But both Gene and Paul told me what a pleasure and how much fun the Reunion was. So they will be back on the road again.
The reunion of “the original four” didn’t last too long. What you think was the reason for that?
Bill: Well, there is still a little bit of animosity between the two and the two. They couldn’t quite get back and feel the same about it. I was a bit concerned when I went to see the Reunion tour in New York, and I noticed that Gene and Paul had dressing rooms on one side of the Garden, and Peter and Ace had dressing rooms on the other side. I always demanded that they had to get ready together. I was really concerned then that they were separated. They were together and yet separate. It showed it was not quite all back together again. It was together as far as doing it musically and doing it for the fans and the Reunion, but they really weren’t together as far as a real solid band being together every second. It was two and two. So I was not surprised when it didn’t work out.
Do you still think that at some point there would be another reunion with all original members?
Bill: In my heart of hearts, I kind of think that there is bound to be another one. Probably for the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I think sooner or later. Kiss was always looked at as maybe not a real band but more a theatrical band. The critics wrote they are very theatrical, and I used to say this is real. This is not going away. This is not going to around for a year or two. This is going to be as long as they wanted it to be. So for many years every time, there was a vote for Rock n roll Hall of Fame; they wouldn’t consider Kiss. But they are going to have to consider Kiss. Probably in the next few years in which case I think they will all come back together again for that.
THE EARLY DAYS
Let’s go back to the very early days of Kiss. Tell us something about the band’s very first photoshoot?
Bill: There were a lot of discussions for the first album: How it is going to look, and if someone could help them, are they always going to have to put the make-up on by themselves. So in the first photoshoot, we had a make-up artist there. You can see that Peter´s s make-up is totally different, and that is because the make-up artist thought he should look more like a cat. And she helped Gene to become a little more pronounced. Paul´ s star was pretty easy, but they also helped Ace a little bit. When I first met them, they all didn’t have a white face, and I said that if we all going to be in the same band, everyone has to have a white face. But anyway, it was the first photoshoot they had ever done, and it was quite exciting for them. They weren’t quite sure yet, and as you probably know, Paul changed his make-up for a short while. But we all realized that the star was a more important one, so he went back. Other than being a little nervous about that, they had their first record deal, and their album was coming out, and they did their first photo session, they were very excited.
I remember seeing the very first TV-show where Gene was interviewed and seemed like he didn’t exactly know what to do and how to behave there? “laughs”!
Bill: Gene was very bright and a school teacher, but he wouldn’t stop talking like a school teacher. Peter, Ace, and Paul would come to me and say he has got to stop talking because he doesn’t sound like a rock n roller; he sounds like a school teacher. So we went to Gene and told him that we think everybody else should do the interviews because you sound like a school teacher. That is why Gene started talking less. He would get nervous when he started talking, all of them would, but Gene sounded too much like a teacher and not the monster.
I know that everyone keeps on asking this question, but I’ll do it anyway as everyone knows ALIVE! is not a pure live record even though you had recorded three shows for that. What was the main reason you decide not to use the original live recordings for the album?
Bill: You have to understand why we did the ALIVE! album in the beginning. After we did the first three albums, although every album sold a bit more, the group never really broke big. So the record company was going through a troubled time, and we were going through a troubled time because we had used all the money we had. The only thing we could do was the live album because it was a cheaper album. That is why we did it. After we did it, we realized that as Kiss is doing the show, jumping and running around the stage, a lot of the music was not as good as it should be. It´ s fine if you see it live, but we sat down and listened to the tape, and it didn’t sound as good as we wanted it to sound. So we eventually took the tapes back to Electric Lady in New York, and we corrected a lot of the problems. It just sounded a little awkward if you didn’t see the visuals with the music. It just sounded odd. Today, for instance, if we would have a live DVD where you could see what was happening when you heard the music, it probably would work, but it didn’t work back then.
Do you still have the original master tapes?
Maybe there will be another box set released someday?
Bill: You never know (laughs).
Have you ever been thinking what could have happened for Kiss and you if ALIVE! would have been a miss instead of being hit? Would you have been able to carry on at all then?
Bill: It would be hard to say because we certainly couldn’t have ever afforded to have Bob Ezrin. He was a very expensive producer that got all the success with Alice Cooper. So we might have gone back to how we did the first three albums. But it didn’t work out that way, and DESTROYER happened to be a major album for us and brought them to another level as well. They got to talk to other people, work with producers, writers, and I think it was a good step. They needed to have a break. Ace and Peter had a very hard time with Bob Ezrin. Bob is a very bright, very demanding, and very hard-working producer. Gene and Paul were ok with it, but Ace and Peter were more rock n roll oriented, and they didn’t want to be in the studio at a certain time or want to do this or that in a certain time and Bob is very strong. You may know that there are other people playing drums and guitar on DESTROYER because Peter couldn’t show up someday, and Ace didn’t show up one day, and Bob said that if you are not going to be here, I´m just going to do it without you. And that started all sorts of arguments between Peter and Ace and Bob. They came to me at that time, saying we hate him and don’t want him as a producer. I said, well, we have him as a producer, and we are going to finish this album. So it became a little awkward. But most of the album, it was still the band. I think what happened was that the success that came from ALIVE! album went to their heads a little bit. They wanted to do it their own way no matter how long it took or what was happening. But we knew we had to get an album out, and Bob Ezrin was a very strong producer.
You just mentioned that there was also another drummer who played on the DESTROYER. I didn’t know about that. Who was he?
Bill: I believe it was Allan Schwartzberg.
DESTROYER is a way more different in every aspect than older albums. Did you want a “big sound” and orchestra thing on purpose, or was it just one of the ideas of Bob Ezrin?
Bill: That was again, Bob Ezrin. He had an idea of what he wanted to do and what he wanted to try. He also had a musical background from rock to classical, and he really is a good musician himself. That was his idea, and we really wanted to try new things.
THE BIG TIME
Since you’ve seen the whole thing very closely, I have to ask how money did change the guys and the band?
Bill: It changes everyone. You can’t help it. Basically, we went from not having anything and going through those first albums… I´ll tell you a story about Paul. Paul came to my office in the winter of 1973 or 1974 and sat down and was talking to me but really wasn’t asking anything, was just talking away. And then after a while, he got up and left. I never understood why he had come to the office. Years later, after the success, he said, remember the time I came into your office, and I said yeah, you didn’t really ask anything. He told me he came to borrow five dollars but when he was sitting there getting the courage to ask he noticed that I had a hole in my sweater and then he kept talking and I leaned back and put my foot up, and he saw I had a hole in my shoe which I did. And he figured out he can’t ask me for five dollars and made an excuse and left. So that’s where we were. We were fighting with each other to become a success. So you went from nothing to all of a sudden having a lot of money. It can’t help but change you in some way. And it did. Maybe Peter and Ace a bit more than Paul and Gene. They are more direct and also a little more settled, where Peter and Ace are the rock n rollers and a little less settled. But money changed all of us. We literally went from wondering how we were going to eat to all of a sudden having hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But who of them changed the most because of the money?
Bill: (long pause) Well, I think it was harder for Peter and Ace to adapt. I think that they thought the whole idea of rock n roll and being able to do what they want to do was something that they could get away with. That they would not bother anyway, that they would just be the rock n roll stars. It was what they always wanted. Gene and Paul were more realistic about keeping it going. How they started to balance things off when they had money was kind of odd because it gave them too much independence. They all could go this way as opposed to being together. I think some of them made the right decision, and some of them didn’t. That’s the problem, but I think probably, initially Peter went off on his own, kind of went into a shell. He had his own money, and he had his wife, Lydia. By the way, Lydia’s book is coming out. It is a phenomenal book. Wait until you see it, it´s great, and it is coming out in the next few weeks. That was kind of odd too. Don’t forget for years we told people that Peter wasn’t married. Lydia would come to a show and would have to pretend she was a girlfriend. It was very strange. When they got the money, they kind of went off on their own. Ace went a little nuts cause he wanted to buy stuff. Gene and Paul did too, but they were a bit more realistic about what had to be done.
At which point you noticed that Gene is a more into business than the other guys, and did he ever try to tell you or other people in the management what to do, etc.??
Bill: When I was managing, Gene was not that oriented in business. I think he got more oriented to it as the money kept coming in. They had business managers. All of a sudden, there was more concern about what stocks they had, and they own the building than in the production. In fact, that bothered me a bit because I wanted to spend more time on music and shows. When all this money started coming in, they would have meetings with their business managers about what they owned and what they had and what they are going to buy and so on. I think at that point; Gene got more interested in business. Not necessarily Kiss-business but just about making more money.
What about Sean Delaney? He is often mentioned as the “Fifth Member” of the Kiss. What do you think? How important was his role to the band in its early days?
Bill: Sean is probably one of the most creative people that I have met. He was a musician himself and a songwriter and was about to sign a contract with Electro Records with his band, and the band broke up just at that time. So everything he wanted in life and everything he wanted to do came crushing down. So I said that is not going to happen right now, why don’t you come in and help me with Kiss, you are very creative and very fun going. I said we are going to put a stage show together, and also I´m going to need a road manager to go out with them, to begin with, and meanwhile, you can help them with their show. So basically, we put the show together with my group of people and Sean in New York, and he became the first road manager. He helped them continue, putting things together and coming up with ideas on the road. He was very instrumental. He had a powerful personality, and sometimes the group said oh, we don’t want to do that, and we are a little scared, but he would force the issues to happen, and they learned a lot and became strong because of it. He was very important.
Sean often mentioned that he never received the respect and recognition he deserved from the band. Do you agree with that?
Bill: Well, you see his name on some of the albums, but what happened was that, unfortunately, the business manager that Sean had never really looked after him like he should have. There was a period of time when he should have gotten paid for some of the music he had done, but he didn’t. So that was that. The story about that was more that he didn’t get paid for what he should have, for writing and producing actually. That was kind of a sad moment when everything fell apart.
Have you read his book “Hellbox”?
Bill: I haven’t read the whole book. Obviously, it is a story about Sean and myself and also about his life, which was torturous for Sean. His life was about big highs and big lows. But that was Sean. A lot of creative people go through very big highs when things are going well, and they go crashing down to big lows. Sean went from extremes all the time.
Then there is a question about Bob Kulick. He was one of the guys who auditioned for Kiss, but he never made it. Still, in 1978 he was chosen to play lead guitar parts for Alive II, and later on, he played in Paul’s solo, album, KILLERS, and so on. So, what’s the story of Bob Kulick and Kiss?
Bill: Well, we needed something specifically for that album, and that´s how that happened. It is not unusual. A lot of times, if you need something in an album or you need something to hence the sound, That´s why.
Did you have contact with him from the past or…?
Bill: Basically, he was a hired guy.
But after ALIVE 2 he kind of stayed in the family, you know?
Bill: That was because Paul wanted to use him on his solo album as well. It is not unusual if you find someone to work things specifically.
How was Ace’s motivation and status in the band when you did the studio recordings for ALIVE II? I’ve read that he was only interested in his future solo career at that point, and that was the reason he hardly played on those tracks. Do you agree with that?
Bill: The reason we did the solo albums was that they really needed something to do on their own. They had been working very hard. We were putting out an album every six to eight months, and they needed some time, but the record label wanted the next album. We were kind of cut between a rock and a hard place, so we came up with the idea of solo albums. Today I don’t think that was such a great idea because it separated them even more. But in those days, because they had done so much work together, they had been on the road for years, they really needed the break. So we decided to do the solo albums. Initially, each one of them was going to do a solo album, but not all at once. There would be one of them and maybe next year another one, then a Kiss album and then another solo album. But one day Neil Bogart said we might be able to put out all of them and I said I don’t it´ s going to work out if you put out just one, the others won’t like that. They are going to think one person is getting more attention. So to satisfy everyone, we decided to put all out at once. However, during that time, I think they separated themselves, and they each became their own person for good or for bad. Ace wasn’t shy of his solo album, and if he didn’t want to come in that day or he was feeling bad or drank too much or whatever he just would not. It was the same with Peter. They started getting into their own worlds, which, once we got back together again as Kiss, was hard. It was hard for Gene and Paul to do stuff without Ace and Peter being there on time and really wanting to work hard. Peter and Ace had their own ideas about what they wanted to do. I think that started the rift. Unfortunately, it affected Peter first and then years later, Ace.
In 1978, each member of the band released a solo album on the same day. It was something that had never been done before. How much had to do with the content of the records?
Bill: When we said we were going to do solo albums, we had to let them do somewhat what they wanted to do. Gene had an idea about what he wanted to do, and all of them did. The idea of doing the solo albums and to get them done was from the management and record label point of view how are we going to get these done, especially when we decided to put them out all at once. It should be their solo albums, and whatever they wanted to do, they should do. On the other hand, it is still Kiss, and on the other hand, we have to put them out together, and those have to be delivered at a certain time. The conflict creatively is a tough one. I am not sure I would do it that way again. You either devote yourself to the creative process, and hopefully make it the best you can, or you devote yourself to the business process. I was really caught in the middle. The record label said we have to have it by a certain date, and meanwhile, you go through with the problems with every artist doing on their own. Then you talk to the producers of the different albums, so, part of it is a creative process, and the other half is “are we going to make it happen.” A record company is devoting all this to us, and we are doing this, and you all ought to get the albums out at once cause that is the way you wanted. From the management point of view, it was going through a little bit of hell trying to get it all done and make it work. As you get closer to the deadline, it turns out not to be so much of a creative process than getting it done, which is the sad part about it. Ideally, it would have been better to do each one separately and do them on the side, and when it was ready, put it out. But because it became a whole “Kissventure,” it went a little crazy.
Did any of the guys want to make actual tours as a solo artist?
Bill: I think they thought they were going to do it. In fact, both Peter and Ace went out on their own tours separately and recorded separately. But it never really broke through. Don’t forget that Ace´s solo album with Kiss was the biggest selling album. It was not Gene´s or Paul´s; it was Ace´s. Everyone was thinking that it’s going to be Gene, but it wasn’t.
What kind of relationship you had with Ace and Peter in the 70s? Did you always get along well with each other?
Bill: Yes, we did. I love that kind of spontaneity and that kind of rock n roll spirit. I think it was hard for us to deal with the situation they got themselves in, but I always liked them. Ace is very bright and fun-loving, and he is a good musician and guitar player. And Peter loves rock n roll and music very much, so when you´re with them, you have to think a little differently. Paul and Gene were very concentrated on the Kiss thing and what had to be done. They are a little more business-oriented, which is great, and I wish Peter and Ace would have been a little bit more business-oriented. But I love each one of them for different reasons. I was probably the hardest on Paul cause I wanted him to do more. Every time you wanted to do something, Gene would raise his hand and say, ok, I´ll do it. I used to push Paul to do things. He always thought I was hardest on him, but I also had to balance the Kiss show. Gene was on one side of the stage and was doing everything, and I wanted Paul to be stronger on the other side of the stage. In fact (now you are getting all this information from me) the part of the show where Gene flies to the top of the lightning bridge, it was supposed to be Paul. I brought that up and had designed it for Paul, but he didn’t want to do the flying stuff. So when Paul said no, Gene raised his hand, and I thought, oh god, it´s Gene again (laughing). It was the opposite of what I wanted to happen, but Paul didn’t want to do it. Now he actually does that in the new show, but initially, he didn’t want to do it.
Bill at his office in the ’70s
DYNASTY AND UNMASKED
“I Made For Loving You” is a song that many Kiss fans hate, but it’s still one of the biggest hit the band ever had. Did the band have a lot of pressure to write that style of a song then?
Bill: I tell you why we did that initially. Casablanca has a reputation as a disco label and had a lot of contests to get dance-oriented music played. And Neal kept saying that cant you do something a little bit more dance-oriented. If you do that we can sell a lot more records. We thought about it, and how we could do it, it is not really going to be Kiss, and Neal told us you got to do this for me, I gave you the change and so on. And I finally told the guys we have to do something for Neal. He really wants it. Basically, that is why it happened. Neal forced the issue. “I Was Made For Loving You” obviously was a hit, and a couple of things came out of that. They really couldn’t play it. That became very awkward. They just weren’t oriented to the dance thing and played very rough. When we came to Europe, “I Was Made For Loving You” was a major hit, especially in France. When we played this big show in Paris, and I never forget this, they started playing “I Was Made For Loving You,” and the audience went crazy, but then they couldn’t keep it up! They just couldn’t play it. It was very odd. So there was a love-hate relationship with that song. They loved the fact that it was a big hit but hated it because they couldn’t play it and it really wasn’t Kiss.
Did they ever learn to play it correctly, “laughs”!
Bill: Yeah, now they can play it. The band that they have now can play it.
It’s not a secret that Peter never played it on the record.
But much Peter actually took part in the whole DYNASTY recording session?
Bill: He obviously did, “Beth.” He probably did about half the album. Again, that became a big sore point because Bob Ezrin became very strong, and he just said that if you´re not here, I´m doing it without you. Initially, both Peter and Ace said, yeah, right; they can not do it without us, we´re Kiss. But as you know by now, when they didn’t show up, Bob hired other people to do it. That became a big trauma to both of them.
Wait a minute, now you’re talking about DESTROYER, but I was asking about DYNASTY “laughs”…
Bill: Oh, sorry, I was thinking about the DESTROYER. With DYNASTY, it was kind of the same situation. The producer Vini Poncia did Peter´s solo album. Vini had a rock n roll background, but he also had a pop sensibility. He had done things that could be played on the radio. So that was the whole idea. Again for DYNASTY, we kind of had that same feeling. Peter and Vini got along pretty well. That helped, but still, there became more rift between Paul and Gene and Peter. That was kind of the beginning of the end. It was a little bit awkward, but, again, the DYNASTY album did well. Ace hung in there with Peter, and in fact, Ace and I tried to convince Gene and Paul to keep Peter in the group and let him get through his problems and help him through it. But at that time there was an awful lot of other people that were around Kiss. Don’t forget that at this point they were making lot´ s of money. They had their own set of lawyers, business accountants, and everything else. When Gene and Paul decided that they wanted Peter out of the group, they had a lot of people that went along with them quicker than they probably should have. You know, when there is a lot of money involved, and the two key performers say they want to do this or that everyone around them tends to say yes. So Ace and I were kind of on the other side of the table. I remember this business meeting in the lawyer´ s office. There were the lawyers, the business managers, and Paul and Gene, and Ace and I were on the other side of the table. We tried to say that we should give Peter another chance, we should help him, and there was a whole other side of the table that said no. You know what happened, that just didn’t work.
At that time, what I’ve read, he had health and alcohol problems, and sometimes his playing was quite awful, to be honest.
Bill: He was going through a tough time. In life, everyone will go through some ups and downs. There are two ways to handle it. One is you go down on your own and hopefully help yourself, or if you are in a group that loves you, hopefully, they stick by you and give you a chance. I think we could have probably helped Peter even more. It is interesting how times have changed. In those days it was kind of scary, people would push you off. Today there are all sorts of clinics and doctors. Today it is a lot easier. In those days is wasn’ t like that, people were saying what you are doing and why and how… If it happened today, we probably could have helped Peter a little easier. In those days, it was not that easy, nor did we really try, which is probably my fault. I wish I had done more to help him. It would have probably softened the blow, or it might not have happened. But Gene and Paul were determined that they wanted him out of the band.
In the year 1980, it seemed that Ace was the most famous member of Kiss. Do you agree with that?
Bill: Yeah, there are a tremendous amount of fans that love Ace. I happen to be one of them because I just think he is incredible. He is certainly a little nut and can be a bit crazy, but he is very bright and has a lot of good ideas. And he came with a lot of those great Kiss licks that now Tommy is copying. He is terrific. I hope he does another album. He wants to put up a kind of superstar band together, and I hope he does that. Carol Kaye is handling Ace and being the manager and pr-person for him. Both Carol and I hope that Ace does something because we really love him. Ace has quite a sense of humor as well. You know that Ace loves flying machines and all sorts of hobby kits. We used to go to Ace´s house in Connecticut, where he had a long driveway. You had to drive down, and Ace had these remote control helicopters, and as you came down, he would try to bomb the car with his helicopters. He had a great sense of humor. I hope he does more. He has a tremendous amount of fans that still would like him to do something.
What about Anton Fig, who played on DYNASTY and UNMASKED? It must have been Ace who brought him in because Anton also played on his solo album, and later, he joined Ace’s Frehley’s Comet.
Bill: Again, it was just something at the time, and Ace and Peter, especially Ace, kind of attached themselves to other people that he thought would be good for the moment. Peter was a little guarded in the sense that it takes a lot to get to know Peter. He doesn’t open up that easily. Ace could open up at this table, and you would get to know every bit about him. So, I think that was just Ace wanting someone he liked and wanted to be part of it.
Did you ever ask him to join the band?
Bill: Anton is a fabulous drummer. He was in a band that I managed that came from South-Africa, that never broke. He was a great drummer and also fun to be with. That is how Ace met Anton because he was part of the management company. That fits Ace: lot´s of fun and a great drummer (laughing).
But still, did you never asked him to join the band permanently?
Bill: Yeah, well. Interestingly enough, Anton always wanted to do his own thing. We had thought about it, but I don’t think Anton wanted to do that. He had his own ideas and his own music he wanted to do. But he did work on the albums.
Did you follow Peter´s career after he had left Kiss? I mean when he released his first post Kiss solo album OUT OF CONTROL, some interesting guys are playing on it, like Steve Stevens who you were managing at that point?
Bill: Steve Stevens was part of my management company. I saw him in a young rock group and said, wow, what a great guitarist. I wasn’t sure that the group was going to be there, but I told Steve I would sign them to the management company. I was not sure what I was going to do with him. That is how that happened. When I started managing Billy Idol, I brought Billy Idol over from London and put Steve with Billy. And ironically, Billy didn’t like Steve because he thought he played too much. And I said well, the music sounds great, and that is the way it is going to be and it worked out. Steve is still playing with Billy. That is how Steve Stevens got on to something. He was part of the management company.
UNMASKED was a huge success in Australia, but it flopped in many countries, especially in the States. In your opinion, what might have caused that? “
Bill: Well, first of all, people thought it would be a smash which didn’t happen until later. So I guess it was kind of a letdown. People thought it would finally be a smash, and it will be this and that. But obviously, there wasn’t a smash, and the music wasn’t quite what the fans wanted. And I also think it was kind of the beginning of the end. The guys wanted to take off their make-up, but it didn’t quite happen with UNMASKED, and it was very odd. That was kind of the end for me as well because I didn’t want them to take off the make-up. Also, if you followed every major act, their carriers have those ups and downs too. You get the fans that love you, and all of a sudden, those fans move off a little bit, maybe to another musician, and the next generation comes up, and they don’t want the same thing as their older brothers or sisters. They are going to another direction, so all of a sudden, there is a dip, and then if they stay together, they can go up again. But a lot of bands broke up when that dip happens. They don’t see the record sales, and the record company doesn’t necessarily know what to do. They are not making the money they did, and there is no real substance there. Kiss still had the show; they had great fans and fan clubs having conventions that most artists don’t have. I will tell you the truth about this if there weren’t the Kiss fans they might not be together. It is undoubtedly true. It is a credit to the Kiss fans more than anything because if the Kiss fans hadn’t started the conventions and hadn’t been as strong as they would, I´m not sure if Gene and Paul… They wouldn’t have started the Conventions, the fans did. Therefore they would have stopped entirely. Gene and Paul would probably have gone separate ways and tried to have carriers. So it is really because of the Kiss fans they all stayed together.
But you did something right with UNMASKED because now there are thousands of about twenty-six years old girls called Shandi in Australia…(laughs)
Bill: Yeah, thanks (laughing). Hmm…. Next question! “Laughs”
MUSIC FROM THE ELDER AND END OF AN ERA
The final chapter of the old era was THE ELDER…
Bill: You are painful… (laughing)
I know. First of all, there were always rumors about THE ELDER movie? But, there never was an actual plan to do that at any point, right?
Bill: No. It was just a kind of wishes. It was also something to say about The Elder. Let me explain how THE ELDER happened. Peter had left, Ace was not doing very well. We needed another album. It was really a trauma. Gene and Paul were not getting along with Ace, and they were tired and didn’t want to do it, but they had to. That is the reason why I brought back Bob Ezrin. Remember I told you that Bob was very strong and got things going. I also needed a producer who knew them, and I couldn’t bring in someone new who didn’t know them because Ace didn’t want to do it, and Gene and Paul were unhappy. The only one I knew I could bring back was Bob Ezrin because he knew the situation and the guys. So I told them I want to bring back Bob. Gene and Paul said yes because they knew he could help them to do it. Ace hated him and didn’t want it. And we also had to have a drummer, but it wasn’t a problem to hire a drummer. So we were in that situation. Now we were ready to do the album, but they were no songs written, and they were not working well together, and I was wondering what to do. Bob listened to some of the stuff and didn’t really like it. So Bob said, just talking, what if we do a concept album. And we thought wow, let´ s do a concept album. All of a sudden, everyone was ok. No one had a clue about the writing and the work it would take. THE ELDER, in fact, is Bob Ezrin. It came out of the frustration having to do an album and Bob pushing the guys and helping them to write it together, pushing Ace even though Ace hated him and so on. THE ELDER happened out of frustration. I will tell you to listen to THE ELDER; it is actually quite a good album. But it certainly wasn’t a typical Kiss album. That is why and how it happened. When we finally delivered THE ELDER to the record label, they didn’t like it because it was not a Kiss album. The guys said certainly we won’t do another album, so it came out. It was a little confusing. The record company didn’t believe in it. Part of the story in THE ELDER was the movie. That was how we passed part of the problem. But there was never a movie that happened. It was a publicity trick.
You had a lot of outside people involved in the album?
Bill: That’s true. I can’t even remember some of the people that were involved, but, again, it was because the guys had really come to a peak. The whole thing with Peter leaving, finding a new drummer, was emotionally tough. And then they weren’t getting along with Ace. So at that point, they needed as much help they could get.
One thing about THE ELDER came in mind. Who made the decision not to use Eric Carr’s drumming on all tracks?
Bill: It had to be Bob, I don’t remember at this point. Yeah, it had to be Bob. We were also doing this up in Toronto. Bob felt certain things about certain tracks. And I think most of all he had to get it done. We kept getting this feeling from the record label. And I think Bob was frustrated too because it wasn’t the band situation anymore. It was all falling apart. I think Bob wanted to get this passed a well. Whatever it had to be on a certain track, that´ s the way it was. If someone couldn’t play, bring in someone who could play it or play it the way Bob wanted. It was a very odd time and a very hard time for all of them to be together.
During THE ELDER era, the whole band’s image changed a lot. Most band members cut off their hair, and the new stage clothes were much calmer than ever before. Whose idea was it to change the band’s direction that much at that time?
Bill: I think that was more the guys. There were so many changes in THE ELDER that it was kind of a different band and a different direction. When I look back at it, it was a Bob Ezrin album with the guys playing on it more than anything else. Both Gene and Paul worked very hard, and Ace did what he could. But it was a really tough time. I think all those changes that happened was part of the change that was happening in each individual guy. You know, I wanna be known for me, I wanna take the make-up off. They were going through a lot of changes. I think the hardest part of the whole experience was to see something happen once they had money. It´ s been a tough one for a lot of people not having practically nothing to having a lot of money. How they changed personally and how they changed physically. And also how they reacted to their friends and new friends. It was a tough moment because you had people who loved them for their money, not necessarily for who they were. You had people who didn’t even know them because you only saw them in make-up. They would go places where other famous people would be known and loved for who they were, and they weren’t known at all. And they would pretend like aren’t we lucky, we won’t get bothered, but in truth, they wanted to get bothered. They really wanted to be known and as successful being noticed as other artists.
Now, after many years, do you still think taking off the make-up was a mistake then?
Bill: I think it´s a lot easier for me to feel that way because I lived through the development and everything. Plus the fact that I spent an awful lot of time developing the merchandise and protecting their faces and the name and everything else. So it was very close to me, obviously. Plus, I knew it was something that was very successful and could work for them for many years to come. I think possibly the fact that they took off their makeup and then put it back on again worked. But let´ s face it, when they took their makeup off, they could have never gotten back together, and they could have just stopped. I think that is what would have happened. You know, the time when they did the Kiss Conventions, they couldn’t tour anymore because there weren’t enough fans buying tickets to the shows. That is one of the reasons they started doing the Kiss Convention themselves. It took all of that. It took off doing the Kiss initially. Peter and Ace leaving, taking off their make-up, seeing sales decline, wondering what they were going to do next, knowing that they couldn’t do another tour as it was, and then deciding to do the Kiss conventions themselves and getting to see the real Kiss fans again. They had separated themselves from it when they took their make-up off. I think it was a natural progression but an unusual situation because most groups don’t get back together again.
THE LAST QUESTION(S)
The almost last question, it is nearly 90 minutes already…
Bill: (looking at his watch) That´s right; I´ ll have to charge you (laughing).
Tell me something about the cover songs Kiss have recorded during the years?
Bill: The cover songs that they did?
For example, what’s the story behind the recording of “Kiss’n Time”?
Bill: Oh god… (laughing) That was another Neil Bogart situation. He thought we needed something to promote the group. He came up with the idea of doing the kissing contest. So we needed a song. This was the first time. You probably know that there were two separate albums, the one with “Kiss’n Time” on it and another one without it. Neal felt that if we would have a song that would promote the kissing contest, then he could go to the radio stations and get it played. That was the first time we had a conflict with Neal. The guys really didn’t want to do it. They didn’t want to do cover songs. A lot of times, cover songs were done because they thought they needed something for the radio. That was the first time, and Neal demanded they do it, and they did. What followed with most cover songs is that you may get something that radio would play and therefore sell more and get to larger audiences. I think a lot of times, record labels feel that they want to change the artist. Let´ s say a metal bands breakthrough or a heavy rock band and all of a sudden they have fans and the record company say: Now if you become a little more pop you´ ll sell another million units. Bands go through controversy and think maybe we´ ll give it a try. Of course, the more band gives in to that, the more they tend to change. Some bands have success with that next song that is a cover song or more radio oriented, so then you get more airplay, and you sell more. It´s a conflict between the airplay and being true to ourselves. The record companies are generally pushing like crazy to sell more obviously. So I have a different feeling now than I did then. Now you got to be very careful, and you can’t just do it even if the record company wants you to. In those days when we were struggling, Neal was saying this is going to be good for you, and you have to do this for me. We didn’t have much choice. At that point, it was the record label, and we were just beginning. Later on, I think they probably should have been a little more concerned about it, and I should have been too. I think today, with any artist, I would be a bit more cautious. It has the tendency to change the sound, change the group, and change everything about them. You can’t just sit there and say we’re going to do a cover song to get it on the radio. You have to do a little more thinking. And I also believe that it is important for an artist to write with other good writers. It is always good to expand yourself for a better song. But something that comes out of you and not a cover song. Because if you learn how to write a better song and you get to more people because of that, it will still be truly part of you opposed to covering another person’s song.
Whose original idea was to record “New York Groove” for Ace’s solo album?
Bill: Eddie Kramer found that song and Ace loved it because “New York Groove” made a lot of sense. And Ace loved doing that. That was kind of an Ace song in a way, and he made it his song. In that particular case, it probably could have been even more of a pop song if there would have been more time working on it. However, as you well know, that song got most of the airplay, and the fans loved it. Ace’s solo album sold and passed everyone else’s. It was frustrating to Gene and Paul, and they could not believe it. This was torture for poor Gene, who thought his album was going to be The album. Ace happened to find the right song, and he loved the song and made it his own.
Ok, now we are running over 100 minutes here. Thanks for your time Bill and see you later on!!!
Bill: Thank you, guys!
Interview session in 2006.