40 Years Ago: Peter Criss Leaves Kiss for the First Time
Though he's since quit two more times, Peter Criss' initial exit from Kiss on May 17, 1980, was by far the most cataclysmic. It revealed the first fissures in the original lineup, which would then lose Ace Frehley a couple of years later. It also sent Criss toward an underperforming solo career that never again achieved the heights of his 1976 Kiss-era hit "Beth."
Criss says he quit in 1980, though both Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons have said he was fired. Whatever the circumstances of his departure, a promotional clip for "Shandi" represented Criss' last work with Kiss for more than 15 years. Frehley would likewise return and then depart, leaving for good in 2002.
“They were instrumental in what we created as a team, but they became impossible and intolerable, on more than one occasion necessitating their removal," Stanley said of Criss and Frehley in 2012. "And unfortunately when people don’t really learn from their mistakes, they repeat them. At some point, you just lose tolerance. It’s ultimately disrespectful to the fans to not give them what they deserve. I don’t miss them.”
For his part, the self-described street-tough Criss says he never fit in with more learned figures like Stanley and Simmons, anyway. "I would have to pull that out of my bag of tricks, 'cause I didn't go to college," Criss remembered much later. "I didn't have the knowledge they had. And they would use that constantly, use words I didn't understand. I'm a kid from Brooklyn. I was not the smartest bulb in the band. They would literally embarrass me in front of people. You can only take so much of that after a while."
Initially, Criss was content to focus – for the first time in years – on family. Even when he made a go of it apart from Kiss, however, Criss' solo career went nowhere.
“I had a child,” Peter Criss told Drum Magazine in 2012. “To me it was the greatest thing in this world. I had always wanted a girl. We had a beautiful house in Connecticut, and I wanted to raise my kid. I thought that the first 10 years of a child’s life are the most important. I grew up in a very poor neighborhood. My dad was always working and never around, my mom was in the kitchen. I just wanted to raise Jenny, I wanted to travel, I wanted us to do everything. So I put the sticks aside, just traveled and took her all over the world and loved her.”
Kiss moved on, hiring fellow Brooklyn native Eric Carr. Out of Control, an album Criss had started while still in Kiss, was released later in 1980. It disappeared without a trace, despite the presence of "Beth" co-writer Stan Penridge as well as two songs – both the title track and "There's Nothing Better" – that dated back to the Dynasty era with Kiss.
Criss' follow up album, Let Me Rock You, didn't see U.S. release until 1998. An interim project, 1994's Cat #1, made direct reference to his lingering bad feelings about being replaced in Kiss – and even featured Frehley on a trio of tracks. None of it sold, and Criss seemed to have sunk without a trace when he was invited back for a late-'90s reunion of the group's original members.
Bad feelings soon bubbled up again, though. When Criss left the first time in 1980, it was as an equal partner. This long-hoped for reunion in 1996, however, would find him playing the role of paid sideman. Studio musicians largely took over for Criss and Frehley on 1998's Psycho Circus; they only appeared on three tracks from this "reunion" studio project.
Another separation perhaps inevitably followed in 2001; Peter Criss then returned again, only to split seemingly for good in 2004.
Fed up, Gene Simmons gave Criss a rough send off, as part of his autobiography Kiss and Make-Up. “We had a contract with him and weren’t willing to meet these new terms,” Simmons wrote. “Peter held his ground and told us that we could take it or leave it. We left it. At the end of the day, Peter Criss is still the very same guy who, even before our first show at the Diplomat Hotel in 1973 — a show where we scratched and clawed to get people there — was ready to quit the band.”
Eric Singer now wears Criss' cat-inspired make up, while Criss's last solo album was 2007's One for All, and he officially retired in 2017. It was a steep fall for a performer who, with the No. 7 smash "Beth," had helped Kiss to their highest-charting U.S. single a few years after that long-ago stop at the Diplomat.
In fact, Criss' descent had begun well before his eventual break with Kiss. He only played on one song for 1979's Dynasty, and was replaced entirely on 1980's Unmasked – penalty, his former bandmates have intimated, for spending more time partying than practicing. Criss' final tour had been marred by poor playing and charges of blatantly disregarding his duties onstage.
In light of all that, Criss' ouster shouldn't have come as a surprise, really. After all, the former Peter Criscuola (then a 20-something Italian-American playing in a cover band at a Mafia-run club) had been given a pretty specific set of marching orders from Gene Simmons as part of his initial pre-Kiss interview.
"I had a party at my mom's," Criss remembered in a 1997 interview. "This maniac [who turned out to be Simmons] called me, and this guy's at the other end of the line asking me these really blatant questions. You know, 'Are you good looking?' 'Do you have long hair?' 'What color eyes do you have?' 'What's your influences?' I mean putting me through this major degree of stuff and I thought, 'Who does this guy think he is?' He just went on and on ... but he knew what he wanted. I gotta respect him for that. He didn't want no jerk off coming in there."