TEXT BY MARKO SYRJALA AND LASSI LIUKKONEN. PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Something very unexpected happened in the KISS community on the 16th of August 2017. The Atlanta Kiss Expo announced that Vinnie Vincent would be their special guest at their next event in January 2018. For those who don’t know, Vincent has been out of the scene for over twenty years. He did some Kiss Expos in the mid-nineties, which were very difficult to deal with for the promoters. Nobody has seen him in public since no one seems to know where he lives, how he looks, or what he is up to nowadays. The last time Vinnie’s photo was seen in public was when he was accused of beating his wife and dogs in 2011. There’s been a lot of rumors and gossips about Vinnie. There was a rumor some years ago which said that Vinnie was dead. Last spring, a group of Swedes did a documentary movie called “Guitarist Who Disappeared.” The moviemakers did seriously try to track Vinnie down but with no results. But what they find out was that Vinnie had changed his gender, “she” is living a whole different life and calls “herself” now as Angel. It’s hard to know what to believe, but anything is possible with the guitar god. The KISS fans like us were excited and skeptical at the same time. Does the promoter really have a deal with Vinnie? And if he had the deal, will Vinnie still show up after all?
Marko: For me, Vinnie was always a mystic and fascinating character, no matter if he was with KISS or not. And when I heard about this opportunity, I didn’t think twice. I purchased the M & M&G package right away, and I think my ticket was the number five sold in order. As a lifelong KISS fan, this would be once in a lifetime chance to meet the “Ankh Warrior” in person. Like said before, there are so many rumors about Vinnie, so it was going to be more than interesting to see if the stories were true or not.
Lassi: Did the Vinnie “Wiz” Vincent save KISS – I don´t know – but at least he made my dreams come true. I was on vacation in Liverpool, UK, when the news about Atlanta Kiss Expo was revealed. The Expo organization put the tickets and M&G’s for sale right away. Back then, I did not know if I would have the money necessary to go to Atlanta or get a vacation from the new job that will start the next week, but I did know that I really want to meet Vinnie; he shows up. So, I bought the Meet and Greeted -ticket (Friday, January 19th and Expo 20th) right away. The M&G tickets were limited to 100, so I thought they would sell out fast. I guessed that Marko Syrjälä would like to meet Vinnie, so I called him, and we agreed to go together if everything goes as planned. The autumn went quickly. In November, the promoter released a video clip that showed Vinnie’s eyes and voice. Yes, it was Vinnie. Now we knew that at least he is alive, and so far, everything looked good. Before Christmas, the hotel was booked, and also flights from Helsinki through Amsterdam to Atlanta.
Thursday, January 18th – A travel day to Atlanta.
Marko: Everything was packed, and we had a flight from Helsinki to Amsterdam which was about to leave early in the morning (about 7 am). The weather was horrible in Amsterdam, so our flight was delayed for one hour. Initially, we had counted that we would only have 1 hour 45 minutes for a plane change in Amsterdam so, there should be enough time to catch the plane to Atlanta. On the plane, it was announced that probably all the flights are delayed so, no worries.
Lassi: When we were landing in Amsterdam, our flight hit massive turbulence. It was one of the worst I have ever experienced before. It was like being on a roller coaster, but it wasn’t fun at all. It was really windy in Amsterdam, so we had to wait over 5 hours, but finally, the wind calmed down, and then we took the ten-hour flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta. We finally arrived at the hotel after 22 hours of traveling. Some people might think that we must have been entirely crazy to travel that long time to see if Vinnie will come to Atlanta or not. And still, if he will, he was just a member of KISS for two years in the early eighties. Well, doing things as we did now makes the Kiss Army.
Friday, January 19th – Vinnie Vincent Meet & Greet
Marko: The actual Expo day was on Saturday, but there was a special meet and greet session on Friday for 100 people only. This event sold out quickly in advance, so we were lucky to get the tickets and join the party. When Vinnie last time did these Expos in Europe in the mid-’90s, I decided not to go there. The closest Expo was really close in Sweden, but I didn’t go for some reason. Now it was the time to fix that old mistake. It still felt just unbelievable that this thing really was going to happen in 2018!
Lassi: This was the day we had waited for a LONG time. Maybe since 1988, but at least since last August. I gathered all the Kiss and Vinnie albums together. I hoped that I could get few extra signatures from Vinnie. The meet & great should start with a Question and Answer session with Vinnie. The clock strikes 2 pm, and nothing is happening. I was like a child. I can´t wait. About after one-hour of waiting, the promoter came on stage and told us that Vinnie is an interview session with Eddie Trunk, and he said that we have to wait still. And we waited. My thoughts were already playing games with me. What if Vinnie does not show up? I am here in Atlanta and had traveled a long time and paid quite much for flying tickets and the other stuff. How stupid are we?
Marko: After more than two hours of waiting, Vinnie is in the house. At least that’s what the promoter says. The atmosphere started to rise, and Vinnie’s famous songs were played through the PA system. “Lick It Up,” “A Million To One,” “Fits Like A Glove,” “Love Kills, “Boyz Are Gonna Rock,” etc. The heat was on!
Lassi: Then the backstage door opened and… there he is! Vinnie is there! … or is it he or she… Yes, it’s him… But, is she a lady nowadays? What the hell… Whatever? We are here in Atlanta, and so is Vinnie “the Wiz” Vincent. This was the moment I had waited so long.
Marko: I gave my video camera to Lassi and decided to take some still pictures when Vinnie came to the room. Usually, I’m really calm down, no matter what’s happens, but when Vinnie finally stepped into the limelight, I couldn’t control myself, and I said out loud, “Oh my god. The rumors are true!!” Fortunately, in Finnish, I said that I didn’t get too many disapproving glances from the others. It was a bit shocking to see Vinnie at first. Of course, people do change in twenty years, but this was something that I didn’t expect to see. However, the longer I listened to him talking and appearance, the more I get used to his new look, and it wasn’t that big issue after all. After a long and noisy applause, the audience finally sat down, and the promoter, Derek Christopher, started to interview Vinnie on stage. The first obvious question was, “Where have you been for the last twenty years?” and then things started to run smoothly. Vinnie was apparently a bit nervous, but he was in a good mood and answered all Derek’s questions and the audience patiently.
Lassi: There was a strong positive atmosphere in the room. Vinnie was telling a lot of stories from his KISS and Invasion days. It can be said that he was open-minded and talked about some sensitive and personal things too. The Q&A lasted more than one hour, and then it was a time to meet Vinnie in person. It took a long time to stand in a meet and greet line but the reason for that was that Vinnie was not just signing the items. He also wanted to talk in person with everyone. After two hours of waiting, it was our time, finally. Vinnie signed the things we had and spent some time with everyone.
Marko: Vinnie’s Q&A session was exciting. He did praise surprisingly much his former KISS colleagues, but on the other hand, the Invasion guys seem not to be Vinnie’s top friend list anymore. Vinnie, for example, said that the second Invasion album ALL SYSTEMS GO should have never been released. He also told his version of what happened when the band split up in 1988 and much more. I’ll put out a detailed review later on about all that stuff. When the Q&A was over, it was time to meet Vinnie in person. After some waiting in the line, it was my turn to step into the room. Vinnie asked where I come from, and I told him that I’m from Finland. He asked if we now had as much snow as in 1983 when he was the last and only time in Finland. He was also aware that we had the presidential election coming in the next few weeks, and that was a bit confusing to hear since it feels that not everyone in Finland even knows what’s going on with the politics. Overall, this first meeting was quite short, but it was exciting and more than what I expected initially.
Lassi: It’s evident that it is always a somehow surreal moment when you meet the person you have admired for a long time. My hands were shaking, and I didn’t know what to say. I said hello to Vinnie and told him that I am Lassi from Finland. I also had time to ask a few specific questions about the personal Vinnie item I had taken with me. Then it was only saying thanks and shaking hands, and it was over. Or nearly over…
Everyone who had purchased the meet and greet package also got a personal photo with Vinnie. The photo shooting went fast and worked out great. We had managed to arrange a separate private meeting with Vinnie in advance. There we could talk a bit more, get some more items signed, and perhaps try to discuss possibilities to organize future KISS Expo in Europe with Vinnie as a special guest. Still, the timetable was too tight, and Vinnie was getting tired, so our extra session was moved to the next day.
Saturday, January 20th – Atlanta Kiss Expo
Marko: Saturday was the actual Expo day. The venue was now filled with KISS merch dealers. The other special guests, including the original Invasion vocalist Robert Fleischman, Bob Kulick, a cover artist Ken Kelly, and Ron Keel, had tables selling their products and merchandise. The promoter told us that there would be approximately one thousand people in the venue today, and it did mean that the event was sold out.
Lassi: The Expo day. I was still waiting to meet Vinnie and hope to get more signatures, but also some time to talk more. Maybe now I would not be so nervous. As I had VIP-ticket, I had early access to the Expo. It was a great opportunity to meet Bob, Robert, Ron, and Ken before getting more time with Vinnie. I met all the guys briefly and got some items signed. Then I went to talk with the promoter, and he arranged for us to be the first in line to meet Vinnie. Wow. This will be great. Vinnie’s signing was now in a smaller room. The situation was more private… which I liked. Vinnie remembered me from yesterday. It was a great feeling. We talked about few things from the items he signed for me and some items that I bought from Vinnie through the auction. The situation lasted just a minute or two, but to me, this was a terrific moment. I really felt that I have now met Vinnie Vincent.
Marko: The Expo was really well organized. There were no long lines or rushing, and there was plenty of exciting stuff on sale. As promised, we had our special extra meeting with Vinnie. This time, I had the time to discuss many interesting topics, including his plans, upcoming appearances, etc. I also arranged an interview with Robert Fleischman and talked briefly with Bob Kulick, Ace Frehley’s tour manager John Ostronomy, Keith Leroux, Ken Kelly, and many others. I also bought a few KISS items for my collection, including promotional singles and a fully signed Marvel comic book from 1977. I also bought Ron Keel’s biography, his latest solo CD, and selected items from Kelly and Fleischman. The program was well planned, and there was much to see and do all the time. There were tons of KISS items for sale; there were plenty of interesting Q&A sessions and music performances. Ron Keel did a great acoustic set and played not just his old Keel hits and solo material but also a few KISS songs. “A Million To One” and “Hard Luck Woman” received a great response, and it was a funny moment when someone in the audience shouted, “Glad to hear that someone could still SING those songs great!”.
Marko: However, the most exciting moment of Saturday was Vinnie’s second Q&A session. He was now speaking even more openly than the day before. This time the questions went more into Vinnie’s deep and personal things. For example, he told his side of the story about his fighting with his ex-wife and the story behind the famous “mugshot” and dead dogs found at his home. It was another exciting session to listen and learn more about the things that had happened during Vinnie’s absence from the public.
Lassi: I have to say that it was maybe a bit too much for me because I felt that I would perhaps instead listened to stories from his music career.
Marko: Maybe the Q&A session was a bit sad and dark at times, but it was interesting to hear the man himself’s stories. However, the atmosphere raised like a rocket when Vinnie took the acoustic guitar in his hands. Everyone was like: “What? Will he perform, Really?” That was not planned, or at least it was not told for anyone in advance. He started his “set” with “Tears.” Vinnie wrote and demoed the song in the early ’80s, and Peter Criss later recorded it on his LET ME ROCK YOU album in 1982. Vinnie now performed absolutely a beautiful version of that lovely song. The crowd went crazy and started to yell more songs they wanted to hear. Vinnie listened and played “A Million to One” and “That Time of Year” next.
Lassi: Both songs are some of my favorites from Vinnie, and next, he started to play “Back in the Streets.” It was absolutely a fantastic version of that great song. The crowd stood up, and applause was loudest so far. Robert Fleischman got up stage too to sing a song that he did for the Invasion album but never sang live until now.
Marko: This was a historical performance because it was the first time Fleischman appeared on stage with Vinnie Vincent. They both looked pleased to sing the song together. The promoter saw “the momentum” and asked if Vinnie and Robert would do the Vinnie Vincent Invasion reunion in the next KISS Expo? They both said yes, so, who knows, this could be the beginning of the next chapter of Vinnie Vincent’s career? Saturday night was closed by all-female KISS tribute band The Priss. The girls did okay, but to be honest, they probably wouldn’t be here today if they were not females. Ron Keel did a few songs with the girls, and then the show was over. The dealers started packing their stuff, and the Expo was officially over at 08:00 PM. After the Expo was over, I had arranged a meeting with Ron Keel in the hotel bar. We did a lengthy interview and discussed Ron’s past with KISS; Gene Simmons produced several Keel albums in the ’80s, current activities and possible appearances in the future KISS Expos, etc. There were also many other guests hanging on the bar, so it was a long night.
Sunday, January 20
Marko: The Expo was officially over, but because of massive demand, there was an additional Vinnie Vincent M&G session on Sunday. Vinnie would do another Q&A, sign stuff, and take photos with the fans. Because we were still in Atlanta, we decided to join this Sunday event as well. The promoters were kind and let us in with no extra payment. There was approx. 100 people there, like on Friday, so this was also a sold-out event. Everything went smoothly, and Vinnie did all the stuff he promised. This time the Q&A was a mix of some old questions. Still, Vinnie also said some interesting comments regarding his pre-KISS band Warrior, who recently collected Warrior demos and rehearsals tapes without Vinnie’s permission. I went to see him once again, and now we discussed a bit more about the future. It was clear that Vinnie wants to do more things like this in the future. The next official appearance for him will be in Nashville in March when Gene Simmons will bring his Vault thing there, and Vinnie has invited to be Gene’s guest there. It was also announced that Vinnie (and Robert) would appear at the next KISS Expo organized by Derek in June. I had a “goodbye talk” with Vinnie’s managers, and we agreed that in few weeks, I would make a phone interview with Vinnie. We’ll see soon if the discussion will ever happen or not?
Lassi: Vinnie was the last still alive person from KISS that I had not met before. He was amiable, kind, sensitive, and yet as mysterious as he has always been. Making this trip to Atlanta was worth doing.
Marko: I would be lying if I say that this wasn’t an eye-opening weekend. It was amazing to meet such a legend in person and what was even more positive was that he was a really friendly and open person for everyone in the room. At the same time, it was shocking to see that at least some of the flying rumors about Vinnie were true after all. Of course, there’s the money that helped this thing happen in reality, but I also got a feeling that Vinnie also wanted to come out in public and tell how certain things went in the past, from his point of view. He wanted to clear some air for sure. However, I would not bet too much money on his full-time return to the music scene. This might have been his first and last appearance in public for a while or forever, but it was still great to see him playing in front of the audience after such a long time. Who knows what the future holds?? But as a whole, the Atlanta KISS expo was a big success, and people who were lucky to attend were more than pleased with the event. We have nothing but positive things to say, and once again, a big thanks to promoter Derek Christopher for making this event happen!
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