Former Kiss drummer Peter Criss recently took his old band's current lineup to task in an interview, dismissing the replacement members as hired guns doing a job. But Richie Wise, who co-produced the first two Kiss albums, says as far as he's concerned, Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley themselves were nothing more than employees whose purpose was to help Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley realize their vision for the band.

"There was never a doubt from moment one in Gene and Paul, in their minds, that they were going to do this, they were going to do it this way and they were going to be Kiss," Wise tells Kiss FAQ. "Ace and Peter had no focus. They were hired hands as far as I was concerned. I knew they auditioned for the band -- and the band was Gene and Paul, period."

Wise says that during the time he worked with the band, it was always clear that Simmons and Stanley were the dominant forces not just in business, but musically. “Ace, I understood exactly what he was doing. He listened to [Jimmy] Page and [Eric] Clapton and all those guitarists that I listened to, so I understood him well," he notes, adding, “Peter was, at best, a poppy adequate drummer. But he was solid; he really didn’t get in the way and laid down the proper fundamental beat.”

He lauds Simmons' melodic bass playing and Stanley's mic technique and rhythm playing, saying, "They had, right out of the box, good technique. They worked well together. I worked well with them . . . and I think it was very organic and real.”

But he doesn't entirely discount Frehley and Criss' contributions to Kiss. "Could those characters have been created with another drummer and guitar player? Yes, if you got another guitarist and drummer that bought into what Kiss was selling -- the makeup, the stage show, the whole thing," he states. "But those guys were perfect for it."

Criss recently suggested that the current Kiss lineup -- featuring guitarist Tommy Thayer in Frehley's makeup and drummer Eric Singer in Criss' old slot -- is just a tribute to the original band. “Although Gene and Paul are the major members in the band, Eric and Tommy, to them, it’s a job," he told Eddie Trunk (quote via Classic Rock magazine). “He’s playing Ace Frehley licks to a tee; Eric’s playing my drum licks to a tee. They’re still playing the same songs that we made famous."

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