40 Years Ago: Onstage Sabotage by Peter Criss Ends Kiss’ Original Lineup
The first and most public of these acts kicked off a week of backstage arguments that ended with him trying to attack a bandmate with a broken champagne bottle.
Despite a half-decade run as one of rock's most popular bands, Kiss were coming apart at the seams in December 1979 as a result of interpersonal issues. After drummer Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley expressed a desire to quit the previous year, the group members instead took an extended break and recorded solo albums before trying to reunite as a happy family for Dynasty, which was released in May 1979.
It didn't work. Because of a car accident, a recovering Criss played drums on only one song. Even though the disco-influenced lead single "I Was Made for Lovin' You" was a hit, Dynasty had a more scattered appeal than previous Kiss albums and didn't sound like the work of a unified band. Plus, many of the band's original fans disapproved of the mass-appeal nature of the new sound, resulting in less-than-stellar attendance and even canceled shows on the tour in support of the album.
None of this helped improve relationships. On Dec. 8, 1979, during the fifth-to-last show of the tour, Criss took strong exception to frontman Paul Stanley gesturing for him to slow down the tempo mid-song. "What that says to everybody in the arena is that I'm the one fucking up the band," Criss recalled in his 2012 memoir, Makeup to Breakup.
Even though Criss conceded Stanley "may have had a point," seeing as how a pre-show visit from his cocaine dealer had the drummer feeling "a little edgy and probably playing a little too fast," he still considered the public upbraiding "a slap in the face."
Angered, Criss intentionally "slowed the song down to a crawl," prompting Stanley to gesture "wildly" for him to bring the tempo back up again. "I'm like, 'Make up your motherfucking mind!'" he said. "People in the audience could hear me screaming that at him. I just stopped playing; I didn't care anymore."
"That crossed a line," Stanley noted in his own memoir, 2014's Face the Music. "It's one thing to sabotage things offstage -- and God knows he'd done plenty of that. But this was different. This was in front of people who paid to see us." By Stanley's account, Frehley and Gene Simmons were also "stunned" by this "betrayal," and voted to kick Criss out of the band immediately.
"I shouldn't have sabotaged that song," Criss noted. "But Paul could have easily waited, finished the show and talked to me about it in the dressing room. I would have taken that fine. But the way he did it was so girly. He had to have everyone looking at him admonishing me."
The band was convinced to play the final week of shows, but things continued to deteriorate. At a concert two nights later in Jackson, Miss., Criss stopped playing without explanation during a performance of Stanley's solo song "Move On." "I was just so fed up with them," Criss recalled. "Later that same show, after I finished singing 'Beth,' I threw the mike on the floor and stormed offstage again."
Two nights later in Biloxi, Miss., "on a whim," Criss decided to hit Simmons on the back of his head as he was throwing drum sticks to the crowd near the end of the main set. "I didn't mean to hit him hard," he insisted. "But the thick end of the stick whacked him."
During the band's pre-encore break, Simmons repaid Criss with a swift kick to the shin. The two traded some words before returning for the first encore. Rushing backstage afterward, Criss prepared his revenge. "I found one of Ace's empty champagne bottles and broke it against the table," he explained. "As soon as Gene walked into that room, I went after him with the broken bottle, but some of the crew intervened and dragged me away."
After the band somehow regrouped for a second, final encore, Criss said he and Simmons "begrudgingly shook each other's hands, but I knew that was it ... there was no turning back. We finished the final two shows of the Dynasty tour without incident. But Kiss, as the world knew it, was over." The last show took place on Dec. 16, 1979, in Toledo.
Simmons, Stanley and Frehley soon fired Criss, replacing him with Eric Carr for the tour in support of 1980's Unmasked. Criss returned to the group for the successful 1996 original-lineup reunion tour, 1998's Psycho Circus LP and a "farewell" tour in 1999 and 2000. Criss' last show of that tour ended with him angrily destroying his drum kit after he found out he wasn't making as much money as Frehley.