Thursday, June 16, 2016
My Interview with Lydia Criss, Ex-Wife of Original KISS Drummer Peter Criss
The legendary rock band KISS, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, has been in the news a lot lately. Founding members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, still wearing kabuki makeup and crazy costumes, keep the brand alive by continuing to tour (with drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer) and involve themselves in such enterprises as the Rock & Brews restaurant chain and the LA KISS Indoor League Football team.
Original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley has a new solo album filled with cover tunes, Origins Vol. 1. The band’s first drummer, Peter Criss, has pretty much retired from pounding the skins professionally, but he’s still in the public eye, as evidenced by his recent appearance at Texas Frightmare Weekend, where he signed autographs and posed for pictures with a large crowd of happy fans.
Criss’s ex-wife, Lydia, who was married to the Catman from 1970 to 1979, has been visible as well, promoting her spectacular book, Sealed With A KISS. The autobiographical tome is filled with candid stories of Lydia’s exciting, if sometimes tumultuous life with Peter and is loaded with rare photos, including early pics of the band sans makeup.
I recently caught up with Lydia , who discussed her book and her years with Peter Criss and KISS.
BRETT WEISS: Growing up, what kind of music and what bands did you like?
LYDIA CRISS: Initially I liked Motown. Then when the Beatles arrived I changed to the British bands, like the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, and Led Zeppelin.
WEISS: If someone had told your teenage self that one day you would be married to a famous rock star, what would you have said?
CRISS: No Way!!
WEISS: Please describe the first time you met Peter Criss, and your first date. What attracted you to him initially?
CRISS: I met Peter at a club in Brooklyn when he was playing with the Barracudas. My friend was dating the bass player, and she thought I would like Peter, the drummer. Our first date was the following day. We went to the beach with a bunch of his friends. What attracted me to Peter was his personality.
WEISS: When and how did Peter propose?
CRISS: Peter never proposed. We went out to dinner and then went to see Romeo and Juliet, and he then said he wanted to get married. It was just understood that after three-and-half years of dating that we would get married. I never did receive an engagement ring.
WEISS: Did you help Peter come up with his Catman character and look? Did you ever offer Peter any advice about his music or costumes?
CRISS: No, Peter came up with the Catman character and look by himself. There was always discussion about his music, but me not being a musician, I didn’t give him any advice. Regarding his costumes, I did help make some of them in the early days, but after they signed with Casablanca, there were professional people working with them on their costumes. Peter would come home with sketches, and we would discuss the sketches.
WEISS: You were there at the Coventry on January 30, 1973, when KISS played their first show. Please describe that experience.
CRISS: It was exciting that they were finally getting out of the rehearsal loft and playing to the public. It was also scary. The first night, there were only three people in the audience. It was Jan Walsh (Gene’s girlfriend), Jan’s friend, and me. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: Other reports have described the crowd as being “less than 10 people.”]
WEISS: You supported Peter financially before KISS became successful. Did either of you resent this? Was he truly appreciative?
CRISS: Yes, I supported Peter for the first six years of our marriage, and the three-and-a-half before we got married. I didn’t resent it. I think it paid off. As far as Peter being truly appreciative, you will have to ask Peter that question. I really don’t know the answer.
WEISS: What was it like watching the band morph from guys in T-shirts and jeans, playing in a loft and in bars, to famous rock stars adored by millions?
CRISS: It was great seeing this happen, but it was a slow process. First they got the show and costumes together, thanks to Sean Delaney. Then they had to get the public to love them. That’s what took a while. They were playing small venues for the first two years, and then in the third year it all started to explode.
WEISS: What was the best thing about being married to Peter?
CRISS: He was very funny, and I like guys that make me laugh.
WEISS: What was the worst thing?
CRISS: His dependency on drugs.
WEISS: In your mind, what caused the divorce? Who instigated the divorce, you or Peter?
CRISS: Infidelity on his part. Peter wanted the divorce.
WEISS: What is your opinion of Gene Simmons?
CRISS: I liked all of the guys. It was always fun being around them. Lots of laughs. As far as Gene, he was a very understanding and pleasant. He was the person to talk finances with.
WEISS: What about Paul Stanley?
CRISS: I thought Paul and Peter were the closest back then. They roomed together in the beginning, and we went on vacations with Paul. He was good to talk to about clothes and food.
WEISS: Ace Frehley?
CRISS: Ace was just a happy-go-lucky guy, always telling jokes.
WEISS: What is your favorite KISS song and why?
CRISS: My favorite KISS song is, of course, “Beth.” I do have other favorites, but that is number one. I also like “Hard Luck Woman,” “Strutter,” “Do You Love Me?”, and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.” My favorite albums are Destroyer and Love Gun.
WEISS: Please describe your life as ex-wife of Peter Criss. Do you still talk to Peter or any of the other band members?
CRISS: I only talk to Peter if we happen to be at the same place together. I do talk to Ace, but now that he moved to the West Coast, I only see him when he plays on the East Coast.
WEISS: Your book, Sealed With A KISS, is truly amazing—lots of great stories and information, and the photos are incredible. How long did the book take you to write? Please describe the writing and publishing process.
CRISS: Writing Sealed With A KISS was a long process. I was approached by a publisher who was a KISS fan. He had published a couple of books before I met him. I started writing the book in December of 1997. I was working a fulltime job at the time and was also going back and forth to Brooklyn to take care of my father, who was sick. I finished the text around May, 1999. In the meantime, the publisher had Dave Snowden scanning all the photos. By March of 2002, the book was still in progress when the publisher went bankrupt. I got all my stuff returned and then started to figure out how I could publish it myself. In 2004, I started finding people who could work with me. I finally decided to started the book in 2005 and finished it in 2006.
WEISS: Did Gene Simmons, who is fiercely protective of the KISS brand, have a problem with you publishing the book? Did you get any feedback from KISS members about the book?
CRISS: As far as I know, KISS did not have a problem with the book. I did check with three lawyers before I printed it. I believe I was protected by our First Amendment right. The only feedback I got from KISS is that Tommy Thayer bought the book and told me that I did a really good job. Tommy was one of the major writers for KISStory, so I felt that was a great compliment.
WEISS: Anything else you care to share about your book or about your life in general?
CRISS: Well, if you don’t have my book, you have to get it. It is one of the best KISS books. It is the most accurate and the most honest. It’s a hardcover coffee table book, 12” x 10” glossy, full color, 384 pages. It has over 1,500 photos and approximately 120,000 words. It weighs almost five pounds. If you purchase an autographed copy from www.lydiacriss.com,
you will get a free CD by my boyfriend, Richie Fontana, who played drums on Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album. The CD is called Steady On the Steel.
WEISS: Thanks for your time, Lydia!