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Kiss Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide

Kiss Lineup Changes
Getty Images / YouTube / KissOnline.com / YouTube / Getty Images

Rock and roll never dies, but as any fan can tell you, band lineups are a lot less permanent — and for groups that have been together for decades, such as Kiss, the personnel shifts can be hard to keep track of. With that in mind, we’ve decided to take a band-by-band look at the ins and outs of some of our favorite acts’ rosters, pausing to sample the music along the way.

For our first installment, we’re looking at a band whose members let their own personalities take a back seat to their stage personae — a decision that would ultimately allow them to have two member’s replacements literally assume their predecessor’s identity. But before that controversial chapter in their history, there were plenty of hit songs, platinum records, pyrotechnics, and buckets of stage blood…not to mention many other hirings and firings. Ladies and gentlemen, pucker up and make yourself comfortable for the Kiss Edition of our guide to classic rock lineup changes.

1973-1980:

Gene Simmons / Paul Stanley / Peter Criss / Ace Frehley

The band’s classic lineup coalesced in 1973, following the dissolution of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley‘s previous group, Wicked Lester. Seeking to adopt a harder-edged sound (and experiment with a more image-driven approach), Simmons and Stanley recruited drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley to form Kiss in early 1973; by year’s end, they were the first act signed to Casablanca Records, the label with which they’d record arguably their best albums. Success didn’t come right away, however — in fact, Casablanca was on the verge of bankruptcy by 1975, when Kiss released its first double live LP, ‘Alive!,’ which went gold and kicked off a string of bestselling releases that lasted through the rest of the decade.

Kiss, ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’ (Alive)

1980-1982:

Gene Simmons / Paul Stanley / Ace Frehley / Eric Carr

The late ’70s found Kiss derailing its own momentum both creatively — with a series of ill-advised solo albums, all released on the same day, and the poorly received ‘Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park’ TV special — as well as personally, as artistic differences and substance abuse drove the band members apart. Criss, who was largely absent from 1979′s ‘Dynasty’ album due to injuries suffered in a car accident, found himself on the outside again during the sessions for 1980′s ‘Unmasked’ LP; shortly after its release, the band officially announced his departure and replacement with new drummer Eric Carr.

Peter Criss interview from 1981

1982-1984:

Gene Simmons / Paul Stanley / Eric Carr / Vinnie Vincent

Ace Frehley was the next to go, one of the many casualties of the band’s ill-advised 1981 album ‘Music from ‘The Elder.” Dissatisfied with their artistic direction and disenfranchised by a series of band decisions that saw him outvoted by Simmons and Stanley, Frehley opted to remain almost entirely on the sidelines for ‘The Elder,’ taping his guitar contributions at home and contributing lead vocals to only one song. When it came time for Kiss to fulfill its (extremely limited) promotional obligations for the record, Frehley was mostly absent — and although the band delayed the announcement of his departure, even going so far as to picture him on the covers of its ‘Killers’ and ‘Creatures of the Night’ LPs in 1982, he was gone by the summer of that year. In December, Kiss announced that Frehley had been replaced by Vinnie Vincent, but trouble was already on the horizon.

Kiss, ‘Creatures of the Night’ (live 1983)

1984:

Gene Simmons / Paul Stanley / Eric Carr / Mark St. John

While Vincent may have been a strong contributor to Kiss — he’s credited as a co-writer on the bulk of 1983′s ‘Lick It Up’ album — it’s putting things politely to say he didn’t get along with Simmons and Stanley during his brief, bumpy tenure with the band. By the spring of ’84, Vincent was gone for good (although he’d briefly return to the songwriting fold in the early ’90s, co-writing three songs from the ’92 release ‘Revenge’), and when the group unveiled its ‘Animalize’ LP in September of that year, his spot had been taken by Mark St. John. Sadly, although the album ended up being one of the band’s commercial high points during the decade, St. John’s tenure would also be short-lived.

Kiss, ‘Heaven’s on Fire’

1984-1991:

Gene Simmons / Paul Stanley / Eric Carr / Bruce Kulick

Shortly after joining Kiss, Mark St. John was stricken with reactive arthritis, the symptoms of which prevented him from reliably playing and forced the band to find a fill-in for its live shows. Enter Bruce Kulick, who officially took over the position in December of 1984 — and helped cement the Kiss lineup for the rest of the decade, quieting years of personnel turbulence just as the band started to reassert itself as a commercial force to be reckoned with. While they didn’t recapture the dizzy heights of the group’s ’70s releases, the next few Kiss records — 1985′s ‘Asylum,’ 1987′s ‘Crazy Nights,’ and 1989′s ‘Hot in the Shade’ — found the band comfortably ensconced in the upper echelon of rock’s biggest acts.

Kiss, ‘Tears Are Falling’

1992-1996:

Gene Simmons / Paul Stanley / Bruce Kulick / Eric Singer

By 1991, Kiss was ready to follow up ‘Hot in the Shade,’ but just as sessions were getting underway in the spring, doctors discovered a tumor on Eric Carr’s heart — the start of a scary medical odyssey that would end on November 24, 1991, when Carr passed away at the age of 41. Although devastated, Carr’s bandmates carried on, enlisting new drummer Eric Singer to join them while they finished recording what would ultimately become 1992′s ‘Revenge’ album. While it wasn’t one of the band’s most radio-friendly efforts, it was hailed as a return to form by many fans, and continued their string of gold and platinum releases, and presaged a period of commercial and cultural reappraisal for the group that included an all-star tribute album and a well-received 1995 appearance on ‘MTV Unplugged’ that featured cameos from Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.

Kiss, ‘Unholy’ (live 1992)

1996-2001:

Gene Simmons / Paul Stanley / Peter Criss / Ace Frehley

The apparent end of Criss and Frehley’s long-running feud with Simmons and Stanley sparked rumors that a full-on reunion was in the works, and as it turned out, they weren’t far from the truth; although Kulick and Singer remained in the fold until early 1996, tracking their parts for what would eventually form the long-delayed ‘Carnival of Souls’ album, by late February, negotiations were complete for Criss and Frehley’s official return, and in April, the reunited foursome announced plans for a world tour. While the fans’ enthusiasm was palpable — Kiss went down as the top-earning live act of the year — the passage of time hadn’t really done much to smooth things over between the reconstituted lineup, and while they managed to keep it together for 1998′s ‘Psycho Circus’ record, the seeds of dissension were already blooming.

Kiss, ‘Detroit Rock City’ (live 1996)

2001-2002:

Gene Simmons / Paul Stanley / Ace Frehley / Eric Singer

After five years of relative public harmony, Criss had had enough, departing Kiss one more time over a contract dispute and being replaced by Eric Singer — who, in a move that many fans deemed disrespectful, donned Criss’ Cat Man makeup for his portion of what was then being billed as the band’s farewell tour. By this time, Kiss had evolved into primarily a live band and merchandising center, with its sole major musical output of 2001 coming in the form of a five-CD box set.

Kiss, ’100,000 Years/Drum Solo’ (live 2000)

2002:

Gene Simmons / Paul Stanley / Eric Singer/ Tommy Thayer

Twenty years after following Peter Criss out of the Kiss lineup, Ace Frehley repeated his decision in 2002 — and just as Criss had seen Eric Singer assume his iconic persona on stage, So did Frehley witness his replacement, Tommy Thayer, don his makeup and costume for the tour. While some fans surely didn’t notice the change (which was obviously the point), others took it as an affront.

Tommy Thayer guitar solo (2004)

2003:

Gene Simmons / Paul Stanley / Peter Criss / Tommy Thayer

Just when it seemed like Peter Criss’ history with Kiss couldn’t get any stormier, it did: In February 2003, he returned to the lineup for another round of tour dates, joining Simmons, Stanley, and Thayer for the recording of another live album, ‘Kiss Symphony: Alive IV,’ and anchoring the rhythm section for a top-grossing run of shows with Aerosmith. But by March of the following year, he was out again — and this time, since he was no longer a full member of the group, all Simmons and Stanley reportedly had to do was opt not to renew his contract. When the band hit the road for its summer tour with Poison, Singer was back in the drummer’s seat.

Kiss, ‘God of Thunder/Love Gun’ (live 2003)

2004 -Present:

Gene Simmons / Paul Stanley / Tommy Thayer / Eric Singer

Clearly, Kiss has weathered more than its share of personnel changes over the last 40 years, but they’re still going strong — but while longtime fans may be disappointed with Criss and Frehley’s (presumably permanent) absence from the lineup, they still turned out in droves for the band’s most recent studio releases, 2009′s ‘Sonic Boom’ and 2012′s ‘Monster.’ And with another summer packed with tour dates on the horizon, we should be able to expect even more music (and who knows, possibly more member turnover) in the years ahead.

Kiss, ‘Hell or Hallelujah’

Next: Top 10 Kiss '70s Songs

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