wicked lester

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Wicked Lester & Eddie Kramer demos (1972 & 1973)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 1:  

For once, it did not all start with a kiss-logo.

scan_20170220-4Wicked Lester (1972 unreleased album) & the Eddie Kramer demos (1973) (CD bootleg “promo” with “Epic” logo)

Stanley Eisen and Chaim Witz were two young New York musicians who didn’t particularly care for one another.  They met via guitarist Stephen Coronel, a mutual friend and bandmate of Witz.  Chaim, who came to the United States from Israel at the age of eight, changed his name to Gene Klein.  Stephen Coronel told Gene that young Stanley wrote songs too.  Unimpressed, Gene commanded, “Oh yeah?  Play one.”  Stanley played a prototype called “Sunday Driver”, but the encounter left a foul taste in his mouth.

Coronel eventually succeeded in bringing his two friends together, when Stanley Eisen joined their band Rainbow.  In was 1971, and Ritchie Blackmore had yet to form the most famous Rainbow of them all, but even so they needed a more unique name.  They already knew of one other band using the name Rainbow.  Both Paul and Gene had their sights set on bigger things than just New York City.  They wanted something original, and settled upon Wicked Lester.  They’d also drop their “ethnic sounding” real names in favour of the handles “Paul Stanley” and “Gene Simmons”.  They collected together some material they’d written and focused on their originals.  The lineup consisted of Stanley and Coronel on guitars, Simmons on bass, Brooke Ostrander (RIP, FYC) on piano and horns, and Tony Zarella on drums.

Wicked Lester performed only two gigs before an opportunity was offered by Ron Johnsen, a resident sound engineer at Electric Lady studios.  He saw something in the band, and put up the funds for some demo recordings.  Eventually, Epic had their curiosity piqued enough to buy the demos and agree to do make an album.  They had only one condition:  Get rid of Stephen Coronel.  Thus, the man that brought Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley together was fired from the band he shared with them.

Coronel was replaced by a player named Ron Leejack, and recording of the album commenced.  The majority of tracks were Simmons/Stanley (and sometimes Coronel) originals, with a handful of covers.  To cut a long story short, upon completion, Epic shelved the album and deemed it not good enough to release.

They were right to do so.

Only three tracks have ever been released officially, on the 2001 Kiss Box Set:  “Keep Me Waiting”, “She”, and “Love Her All I Can”.  The rest are only available on very poor sounding bootleg discs.  Even without the full fidelity of a proper release, one can tell from the available bootlegs that the album Wicked Lester was best left in the shadows.  When Kiss seemed to emerge fully-formed in 1974, nobody had witnessed their growing pains.

The running order of various bootlegs differ.  The red-packaged “Epic promo CD” (surely not) begins with the familiar “Love Her All I Can”, best known as one of Kiss’ early classics from 1975’s Dressed To Kill.  The unfocused Wicked Lester original sounds like a hippie commune on speed. Simmons today describes their sound as “like a cross between Three Dog Night and the Doobie Brothers.”  Throw in a healthy dose of acid.  Who knows where that came from, Simmons being so proudly anti-drug.

scan_20170220-3

An obscure cover “Sweet Ophelia” (Barry Mann/Gerry Goffin) really demonstrates how far out in left field everybody was.  It’s mildly disconcerting how well Paul Stanley fits the hippie vibe, far removed from his future Starchild persona.  A Stanley original “Keep Me Waiting” bears little resemblance to the style his is known for.  Though one could imagine the guitar solo section as part of a Kiss song, “Keep Me Waiting” is a delirious concoction of congas and horns.  Simmons’ “Simple Type” is more straightforward.  No annoying extra accoutrements.  No hooks either, or any balls, but it’s one of the earliest examples of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley sharing lead vocals on a song.  Even at this early stage, it was clear that Paul Stanley possessed a mighty throat.

“Simple Type” merges with the flutes and tambourines of “She”.  Flutes and tambourines, on “She”?!  Yes, this future Kiss grinder is set to the sultry sounds of more hippie instrumentation, to go with the organ and shakers.  As the song fades out, you can just hear the potential it had.  This potential is nowhere to be found on “Too Many Mondays” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil), light and flaky.  “What Happens in the Darkness” (Tamy Lester Smith) is all but indescribable.  Deep Purple Mk I gone terribly wrong,  but with Paul Stanley leading the choir instead of Rod Evans going it alone.  Tougher and better is “When the Bell Rings” (Austin Roberts/Christopher Welch) which again features Paul and Gene singing together.  This time, Gene utilizes his early high rasp, also heard on Kiss tracks like “Goin’ Blind” and “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”.  Sounding a bit more like our beloved demon, “When the Bell Rings” is actually listenable.  Paul Stanley’s dainty “Molly” brings the flutes back into the picture, and the sooner it’s over the better.  A cover of The Hollies’ “(We Want To) Shout it Out Loud” is not bad.  And it lent its title to something much better later on.

The “Epic promo” CD has terrible tape bleed-through.  It’s clearly a copy of a copy, generations down.  The cheap paper cover belies its actual bootleg manufacture.  It’s also missing a song called “Long, Long Road”, a soft country track that was recorded but perhaps cut from the intended album. That’s right — soft country.

Epic passed on the Wicked Lester album, which was mixed and even had cover art selected.  The boy was their mascot, “Wicked Lester”.  The cover art was originally intended for another band called Laughing Dogs.  Now that the album was shelved (and since Simmons and Stanley were the clear leaders of the group) the fates of the others were pre-determined.  Paul and Gene began looking for new members, and experimenting with makeup.  They wanted a strong, singular image, not five guys who looked like the line at the local soup kitchen.  They also wanted a focused direction, and that was to be hard rock a-la The Who, Cream and Led Zeppelin.

An experienced drummer (his band Lips had an album) named Peter Criscoula was first to heed the call.  The new Wicked Lester was a power trio consisting of Peter, Gene and Paul, who rehearsed in a loft located at 10 East 23rd Street in Manhattan.  The sound was incomplete:  a lead guitarist was needed.  Auditions were held at the same loft.  Legend has it that Bob Kulick (who features into the story much later) was about to get the gig, when they were rudely interrupted.  A spaced out guy with one red and one orange sneaker had plugged in and started wailing away.  Paul Frehley snatched the gig at the last minute, and Kiss was born.

The loft where Kiss was born.   10 East 23rd Street, photos by Mike Lukas.

The new focus became apparent when the re-named band entered Electric Lady one more time, in March of 1973, with legendary producer Eddie Kramer.  The band cut five new originals:  “Deuce” (Simmons), “Strutter” (Stanley/Simmons), “Cold Gin” (Frehley), “Watching You” (Simmons), “Black Diamond” (Stanley).  Each of these songs later made it onto Kiss albums in 1974.  They had the goods.

The Kramer demos sound better on this CD than the Wicked Lester tracks.  A different, younger tape generation would be the probable source.  Only two of these demos (“Strutter” and “Deuce”) have been released officially, on the Kiss Box Set.  These ferocious tracks are almost completely faithful to the final album arrangements.  A few extended solos here, and some longer bits there.  Tracks such as “Deuce” are faster than they were later recorded, and more akin to what Kiss sounded like live.  Playing to their strengths, keeping things simple, and with Eddie goddamn Kramer at the boards, the band laid down one hell of a demo.  This is something that bands today would release officially as their first EP, to build buzz for an album.  That wasn’t the strategy in 1973, so the band instead stuck to a regular regimen of songwriting, rehearsals and unforgettable club gigs.

Nine months after their debut gig as Kiss at the Coventry, they signed with Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records.  They had built up a repertoire of roughly 18 originals, including some holdovers from the shelved Wicked Lester: “She”, “Simple Type”, “Keep Me Waiting”, and “Love Her All I Can”.  These four songs were whittled out again in the process of coming up with the tracks to record for their first LP.

The Eddie Kramer demos and Wicked Lester album alike are important historical documents.  They are pieces of the puzzle coming together, and by the time they got with Kramer, the outline was in place.  The only way to go was up.

Today’s rating:

Wicked Lester 1/5 stars
Eddie Kramer demos – 3.25/5 stars

 

Original mikeladano.com Wicked Lester review:  2012/08/14

 

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GUEST SHOT! #439: 10 E 23rd Street

GUEST SHOT by Mike Lukas

GETTING MORE TALE #439: 10 E 23rd Street

I just finished 93 shows in North America with Steve Earle & The Dukes. I’m their Tour Manager. We have four days off before heading to the west coast for a festival, then on to Europe for another month of touring. Being away from home for so long is tough. So when this little break came up, I told the wife, we were going to take a short trip to NYC. We have tickets to a concert and a Broadway show, a few great dinners, shopping, the works. It was something nice to do together before I leave again.

We are staying at a small boutique hotel in Gramercy. Today [September 29 2015] we were heading across 23rd street on our way to lunch when I saw the number 10 and for some reason that address just kept ringing in my head. 10 East 23rd Street. Over and over, I said to myself 10 East 23rd Street, 10 East 23rd Street, 10 East 23rd Street. Why do I know that address? Then it clicked! 10 East 23rd Street was the loft where KISS was born! It’s the spot where they auditioned Ace and Peter. It’s the place where they took those early pre-make-up photos. I grabbed my wife’s hand and told her we had to stop here.

I filled her in as to the significance this place played in the mind of a KISS fan. I took a quick photo of the façade of the building and noticed the door to #10 was wide open. I beckoned my wife to follow me in. Just a quick peek, the door is open after all.

We went inside and were greeted by a man with a little Boston terrier holding a ball in his mouth. The dog, not the man. He was holding the small service elevator door for us. “Coming up?” he asked. “Nope just popping in for a quick look.” I replied. His expression changed. “You’re KISS fans.” He said with a smile. “Get in the elevator, but we have to be quiet.” In we went and up we went, petting the little pup as we rose. The nice man who went on to explain that every so often people show up at 10 East 23rd Street to see where KISS was born, showed us the door to their former rehearsal spot. “Come over here” he pointed to the stairway. “See those pipes? That’s where that picture was taken.” I of course walked down and snapped a couple pics.

We looked around some more before descending back down to the street. We said thank you again to the man with the dog and made our way down to The Gramercy Tavern for a nice lunch. At lunch I texted a pic over to LeBrain. Knowing full well he would appreciate the experience as only another fellow KISS fan would. His response is what led to this little story!

Mike Lukas

REVIEW: KISS – Kissin’ Time in San Fransisco (1974/1975 bootleg)

KISSIN TIME FRONT

KISS – Kissin’ Time in San Fransisco (1974 or 1975 bootleg , Black Diamond Records 1994)

Early Kiss, live Kiss at least, was the best!  They were young hungry punks, a garage band in makeup and heels, playing with an intensity that they never equaled even on later triumphs like Kiss Alive! or Love Gun.  It was a ferocity on stage, made doubly impressive when you remember that they were weighed down by those costumes.

This widely available bootleg recording showcases exactly what early Kiss was about.  Recorded shortly after the release of their second album, Hotter Than Hell, it actually sounds pretty good for 1974 or 75.  You may be familiar with some of these recordings.  “Deuce” for example was on the Kiss eXposed video.  “Parasite” was later made available on the Kiss My Ass VHS and DVD.

What’s astounding here is just how good Peter Criss used to be.  I don’t mean technically.  I mean in that way that a good rock drummer just slams you in the guts and doesn’t let up.  Peter Criss plays like a savage.  The two best moments are “Watchin’ You” and “Parasite”.  He absolutely demolishes his kit, he’s relentless, and it’s so damn fun to listen to him, young and powerful, laying waste.

Gene’s bass is very loud in the mix, and while Gene was also no virtuoso, it’s nice to hear his compositional abilities on bass. Especially in early Kiss, Gene wrote and played some very cool basslines, melodic and solid.  It’s a side of Kiss that is often ignored by the critics.  Gene was heavily influenced by bands like Cream and I think you can hear that.

The setlist is pretty standard, with every song later getting showcased on the aforementioned Kiss Alive!  These versions are without the spit n’ polish that Eddie Kramer put on that disc, live as it was on that night.   In a lot of ways, I prefer these versions.  What they lack in audio fidelity, they make up for in sheer adrenaline and barbarism.  Paul’s as confident as ever on stage.  His stage raps are fully-formed and cocky.  His “Do you believe in rock and roll?” rap is present on “100,000 Years”, with Peter Criss hammering out a consistently tribal backdrop.

The CD is padded out by a bunch of unrelated (and often misspelled) bonus tracks.  “A World Without Heros” is an instrument demo from The Elder, widely circulated.  So is “The Difference Between Men & Boys”, which can be found under different names.  “Young and Wasted” is a Lick It Up demo (not from 1971 as stated on the back, who are we kidding?).  Lastly, “(We Want To) Shout It Out Loud” is from the Wicked Lester album.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Carmine Appice – Carmine Appice (1981)

Next in line of my reviews from Record Store Excursion 2012!  Check out the video below if you missed it.  This one bought at Paradise Bound.  If you recall, this is actually one of two drummer solo albums I bought that day, the other being Over The Top by Cozy Powell.

MIKE AND AARON GO TO TORONTO

CARMINE APPICE – Carmine Appice (1981, CBS/Pasha)

Well hey.  He did co-wrote “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”, and that ended up being one of Rod’s more massive hits.  Why not do a solo album?

Carmine co-wrote all tracks herein, and sings lead as well.  There are a couple interesting co-writes:  “Drum City Rocker” was co-written by an unknown named Vincent Cusano.  Cusano would later change his name to Vinnie Vincent when he joined Kiss the following year.  Another alumnus from the school of Gene & Paul, Ron Leejack (ex-Wicked Lester) “Am I Losing You”.

The sound is pop rock with pounding drums, a sound I don’t mind too much.  I’ve always been a fan of Carmine’s drumming, and his drum sound here is what I like.  A big snare drum that sounds like a snare drum, lots of toms and a non-stop approach.

The songs are not great, especially dreadful is a tribal keyboard-drenched “Paint It Black”.  Perhaps inspired by Ian Paice, Carmine chose this Stones cover for a drum salvo.  He plays it very tribal but…how many people have done covers of this song and buggered them up?  Most.  The minority do it well.

Better is the ballad “Blue Cafe” with its mournful sounding vocal and keyboard lines.  The rockers fare less well, with “Have You Heard” and “Keep On Rolling” both sounding pretty weak kneed for rock songs.  The drumming’s great of course, the singing less so.  Carmine barely holds it together at times.

“Sweet Senorita” which closes side one is a Bon Jovi-esque rocker that might have been hit worthy in 1981.  Really the weakest aspect of the album is the vocal.  Carmine’s voice lacks character, sounding very much like Joe Pop Singer.  It’s too bad because “Sweet Senorita” boasts a great groove and fine guitar solo, along with memorable hooks.

Side two opens with a drum salvo!…and then this lame vocal part kicks in, “Drum city, drum city…”  Yes, it’s “Drum City Rocker”.  Why couldn’t they have left it instrumental?  It’s otherwise fine, with punchy drum fills and a great boogie!

“Hollywood Heartbeart”, much like the earlier song “Keep On Rolling” sounds like a Journey reject, without any of Steve Perry’s vocal grace.  They sound like pale imitations.  I had higher hopes for Phil Spector’s “Be My Baby”, being a personal favourite.  Thankfully this is more suited to Carmine’s style and he doesn’t butcher it.   The backing vocals are pretty sucky though.

“Am I Losing You” is another strong ballad, a good song, a decent vocal from Carmine.  I hate buying a rock album only to find that the best songs are the ballads, but in this case, that’s the way it is.  Both ballads are good and have some feeling to them.

“Drums Drums Drums” closes the album, and as you can guess, it’s a plethora of drums…with Carmine’s annoying vocals!  “Drums drums drums…” he sings.  This is followed by an awful “Heyyyyy, heyyy, heyyy–o!” section.

Produced by Richard Polodor.  It has this dry, dull sound kind like a Peter Criss solo album.

The record sleeve has an ad (expiring December 31, 1982) to send $12 to buy Carmine’s own book, The Ultimate Realistic Rock Drum Method!  A quick Amazon search reveals that the book is still in print today, available for $18 on Amazon.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Wicked Lester (1972) Eddie Kramer Demos (1973)

Today, a treat:  Part 0 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!  Yes, part 0.  Today we go right back to the beginning:  Wicked Lester.

 

WICKED FRONT KISS – Wicked Lester / Eddie Kramer Demos (1972 – 1973, CD bootleg)

Before forming Kiss with Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, Gene and Paul had a five piece band called Wicked Lester that cut one album for Epic.  That album has never been released, although a couple tracks turned up on the Kiss Box Set.

You might recognize two songs:  “She” and “Love Her All I Can” which were both recorded much harder on Dressed To Kill.  One song, “(We Want To) Shout It Out Loud” is a Hollies cover that later inspired the title of the classic hit from Destroyer. The sound is very hippy-dippy and directionless. Flutes and strings and overly sweet harmony vocals mire what might have ended up being some cool songs.  Indeed, “She” is about as vastly different from the sludgy version on Dressed To Kill as you can imagine.

The CD bootleg copy that I have is pretty lo-res.  It includes as bonus tracks the five songs that Kiss cut on their original Eddie Kramer demo, that got them their record deal.  These are fully realized rough and loose versions of the songs on the albums, and once again two have been released on the Box Set.  Some are quite a bit longer, with extended solos.

The cover art is the original art that the band were going to use.  The boy is supposed to be Wicked Lester, their intended mascot.  The artwork was later used by a band called Laughing Dogs.

1/5 stars (Wicked Lester)

4/5 stars (Eddie Kramer Demos)