May 19th, 2012 will mark the 20th anniversary of the brilliant KISS Revenge album. BraveWords.com will mark the passing of this landmark record with a five part series of interviews conducted in the last couple of weeks with the major players on the disc as well as a few musicians that you may not know took part in the album’s recording sessions. Our second such surprise is drummer, Kevin Valentine (DONNIE IRIS & THE CRUISERS). Like Tommy Thayer before him, Revenge was Kevin’s second appearance on a KISS album (having come in to cut the drums for the track ‘Take It Off’). His drum work can first be found on the track ‘You Love Me To Hate You’ from the band’s 1989 Hot In The Shade album. After Revenge, Kevin continued as a ghost musician for KISS playing on the entire Psycho Circus album save for one track (Into The Void) and before the recording of that album, he served as Peter Criss’ drum coach on 3-D Psycho Circus tour that came on the heels of the highly successful 1996 Reunion tour. Kevin has kept quiet over the years about his involvement with KISS, but in this exclusive interview with BraveWords.com, he finally breaks his silence.
BraveWords.com: How did you get involved with KISS? It’s been suggested that you first played with KISS on their Hot In The Shade album.
Kevin Valentine: “Correct. I did play on some stuff, but let me back up. Eric Singer and I are friends from high school in Euclid (a suburb of Cleveland). So, the Hot In The Shade record - he’d been playing live with Paul and doing demos with Paul, but he had to go back on the road with ALICE COOPER. He said to Paul, ‘Kevin’s a good guy, why don’t you give him a shot.’ So, I went in a played on a lot of Paul’s stuff. That was with Pat Regan at Fortress (studios). It was an electric kit except for the cymbals. Supposedly, my drums were replaced even though Pat said that most of my drums ‘weren’t quite replaced’. I don’t really know.”
BraveWords.com: But if you listened to the album, would you be able to recognize your parts?
Valentine: “Well, yeah I recognize my parts because it’s what I played when Paul and I put them down, but it’s hard to tell if they were actually replaced or not. There’s an issue of ‘feel’, but if someone is playing the same exact parts - it’s tough to tell.”
BraveWords.com: The accepted truth is that you played on the song ‘You Love Me To Hate You’. Does that sound reasonable?
Valentine: “Yeah. There’s always the craziness with the band, but sure it’s reasonable. I view the drum track and rhythm track as the foundation of the house and sometimes it’s hard to just rip out that foundation and put another one underneath there - no matter who is playing the foundation. It just doesn’t work and sometimes the demo has a certain feel over the master. So, you keep the demo because of that.”
BraveWords.com: Then you went in and did CINDERELLA’s Still Climbing album?
Valentine: “Cinderella’s Still Climbing was in ’93.”
BraveWords.com: So, the next thing was KISS’ Revenge. Did you play on any of the demos?
Valentine: “No. It was Eric Singer. I just got a call that he had to go back on the road with Alice Cooper. He wasn’t a full fledged member (I might be wrong), but he had to go back on the road with Cooper and do his deal. The band had known me from Hot In The Shade, so they called me in. It was a little strange working on a song that just didn’t feel right. I’m sure if Eric had time, they would have done some more takes and it would have been fine, but he had to go. In that situation, I listened to Eric’s parts and I thought they were all great. I then went in and started to re-cut the drums.”
BraveWords.com: This is only for the song ‘Take It Off’?
Valentine: “Yes. Eric’s kit was set up and everything was ready to go. The track was already down and (Bob) Ezrin is really a brilliant guy. If you can’t come up with the parts, he’ll think of them for you. He was scary, but also quite nice to work with because of his talent. So, he played the track and when he thought something was not quite right; he’d stop the tape and say ‘okay - we need a more energetic fill into this chorus. Let’s back up the tape and punch you in... Do it again - it doesn’t work... Okay, let’s try another one.’ That’s how you’d cut the track with him. The assistants would layer (after having done multiple takes) and piece it together to get one continuous track, but I can’t say enough about Ezrin. I, of course, knew about his history, and to work with him was a real pleasure and honor.”
BraveWords.com: Eric had done the track, so do you know if the drums on ‘Take It Off’ are all you or did maybe some of his parts make the final cut?
Valentine: “I’m assuming it’s me only because... Well, I’m assuming. Of course, you can cut things together. Had Eric cut it weeks before, the drum tunings may have changed, but there’s no telling.”
BraveWords.com: Before doing these two ghost appearances, were you a KISS fan?
Valentine: “Yeah, I was. I played in a wedding band for years (which is better than working at a car wash on Saturday mornings) and I slowly got into a cover band. The manager would always tell us to write some material and he was a major KISS fan. He said we had an opening slot for KISS and we really needed to get our asses in gear. Of course, we didn’t get our asses in gear and there was no warm up slot for KISS. It’s undeniable that their appeal is so widespread.”
BraveWords.com: You had also been in a band (with current KISS guitarist) Tommy Thayer before all of this...
Valentine: “Yeah. The band was HARLOW. It was Tommy and I with Tod Jensen on bass and Teresa Straley (she was a brilliant singer), but I didn’t do the record. I came in after the fact.”
BraveWords.com: Tommy’s band, Black N’ Blue, was signed to Gene’s label. He played a little on Hot In The Shade, did some backing vocals on Revenge and has played a little on almost every thing after that. Did you continue your career with KISS in any capacity such as drum teching or...
Valentine: “On the Unplugged tour they did in ’95...”
BraveWords.com: The Kiss Konvention tour?
Valentine: “Yes. I ran sound for that tour. I was running sound for a club on Sunset Strip and Tommy asked me if I wanted to do the tour, so I did that and out of that came all the original guys playing again. After Psycho Circus came out, they needed to tour the record...”
BraveWords.com: You had to teach Peter all of his drum parts...
Valentine: “I did.”
BraveWords.com: But before we get to that story - let’s talk about your work on their Psycho Circus ‘reunion’ album. It took them over a decade after the album came out to admit that it wasn’t Ace and Peter playing on the album. It was you and Tommy Thayer with Bruce Kulick playing bass on some tracks. How did that happen? The band had just finished the highly successful reunion tour. Everything was working on high octane for the band. They announce that they are doing a brand new ‘reunion’ album with the original band... but then you get the call. Did they try with Peter and it just wasn’t working?
Valentine: “There’s always been two camps: Gene and Paul and Ace and Peter. Peter was haggard. I don’t think they did try him; maybe Bruce Fairbairn (producer) had something to do with that. He probably said, ‘if we’re going to do the record, I can’t use Peter,’ but I’m not quite sure what the deal was. I don’t know why they didn’t use Ace. They always knocked heads and that might have been part of it, but maybe they just thought it was easier to have Tommy play and me play. I’m sure it was easier. There was less drama.”
BraveWords.com: Did Eric Singer play on Psycho Circus?
Valentine: “No, he didn’t.”
BraveWords.com: What was it like showing up at the studio on the first day of recording. Was the music all done or did you actually create the drum parts?
Valentine: “That’s a good question. By that time, Cinderella had ended.”
BraveWords.com: Still Climbing was a great album and a great song.
Valentine: “Cinderella were always funky with drummers in the studio. Tom is just a sweetheart. I had my son because I was in the band and thought it was a fairly stable situation, but then I got let go. Gregg Bissonette did the record in L.A. with Andy Johns producing. They cut the tracks in seven days and it was a total mind fuck. I’m thinking, ‘God, I thought I had the ability.’ Anyways, my head was spinning and a bass player friend of mine said that Greg had gotten my tapes and thought they were great and that he didn’t know what to do. ‘They sound fine. I don’t get it,’ he said. After Greg did his parts, there wasn’t one usable track, so that made me feel somewhat normal. (Kenny) Arnoff got my tapes and Bissonette’s tapes - he called up Greg and said, ‘tell me what to do because this sounds fine.’ They dragged him through the mud and made him play things that I did not know a human could play. I got to give him credit. It was quite amazing and I know I can’t play like that. Nonetheless, after that I felt totally sane and I have some of the drum tracks on cassette and they were totally good.”
BraveWords.com: This all happened on Still Climbing? I always thought you played on the entire album. So, they re-cut the songs?
Valentine: ‘They re-cut the album three times. I cut half to three quarters of the record and they said it’s not working. We put up the second record with Cozy’s parts and played the drum tracks... I think I sound a lot like Cozy Powell. On the second album, they used the guy that played on the first record. They used Cozy Powell. They used Paulinho da Costa and Denny Carmassi (who’d played with Heart). They were also going to use a drum machine because Tom wasn’t happy with the tracks. They were really weird with that kind of stuff. It’s insanely crazy. It was weird.”
BraveWords.com: Did Andy Johns say that your drums tracks weren’t good enough?
Valentine: “No, it was the whole band and Andy. He called me later and said, ‘I got fired.’ Here’s the deal with Andy - it took us three or four days to get a drum sound. I found out later that the day after he got a package of heroin from somebody that ‘we’ve got a drum sound in an hour,’ so he was on good behavior. I guess ‘good behavior’ couldn’t get us a drum sound and he was fired. By the time the album came out I had already joined another band (here in California), grunge had taken over and Cinderella went away.”
BraveWords.com: That album had a lot of potential, but getting back to KISS. You’re in the studio for this ‘reunion’ album. There were a lot of expectations from the market place and KISS fans. Are you nervous, excited...
Valentine: “Definitely excited... We were in a great studio. I had had my daughter and then run sound for the band on the road for three months. I just couldn’t do that anymore. If I’m not going out as a KISS member or member of another band...”
BraveWords.com: Were you ever asked to be a KISS member?
BraveWords.com: So, after Hot In The Shade and Eric Carr’s passing, it didn’t come down to a choice between you and Eric Singer?
Valentine: “No. Eric had toured with Paul and he’s a great guy. He sings Peter’s stuff rather well (which was beneficial). So, I went in an auditioned for Bruce Fairbairn and there was a few other people. Oddly enough a lot of the songs were off of Hot In The Shade that I played on, but hadn’t made the record. So, I knew the songs and it all went well. They said, ‘do you want to do it, ‘ and I said ‘sure’. I had been mixing sound for TV and movies, so that I could stay home with my family. I had been doing that like a second shift thing from 4PM to midnight. This was going to be a difficult thing because I wasn’t going to be home all day. I could do tracks from nine in the morning to four in the afternoon and then I have to go make ‘TV’ for the rest of the world. So, I worked with Gene in a very small rehearsal room for about two or three weeks. He would bring in songs that he had demo-ed up with a drum machine and I don’t remember how I worked on any Paul songs. I think I demo-ed them at another studio.”
BraveWords.com: So, how does the album come together? Is the whole ‘band’ working in the studio together?
Valentine: “After the rehearsal... I think the place I worked with Paul was called Tone King. Also, worked with Ezrin again. Paul or Gene was working with Ezrin. Then we went into the studio and started cutting tracks and everyone was there.”
BraveWords.com: Were there any leftover tracks from the Psycho Circus sessions (that didn’t appear on the album)?
Valentine: “Oh, yeah. We cut about twenty tracks.”
BraveWords.com: And only eleven came out including the ‘bonus track’ for Japan. Were the leftover songs completed?
Valentine: “They were completed rhythm tracks with drummers or people that play on basics. I’m sure they worked them up and either discarded them or they’re in the ‘can’ somewhere. I’m not sure what happened to them.”
BraveWords.com: Then Tommy Thayer came in a did his parts.
BraveWords.com: After the album comes out, you’re obviously not allowed to say that you played on it. Was that contracted or did they simply trust you?
Valentine: “They knew me well enough to know I’d not blab. Someone sent me a run down of the tracks and said, ‘ok, that’s not Peter,’ and I simply passed it along to Paul. I told him that I felt somewhat under the microscope, but that it wasn’t me that said any of this stuff. He said, ‘don’t worry about it. They’re ravenous avid fans. They figured it out.’ But no, there was nothing (contracted).”
BraveWords.com: Were you told to ‘sound like Peter’ on the album?
Valentine: “No. Sometimes, I wish I had because I liked what I played on, but I also like that tune that Ace and Peter played on, ‘Into The Void’. Truthfully, I like it more than the stuff I played on because it sounded like the early original KISS stuff.”
BraveWords.com: Were you happy with the Psycho Circus album overall or did you think ‘these songs are weak’?
Valentine: “I was happy with the tunes. I wasn’t happy with the sound. I was wanting to go for the early KISS sound and I know you can’t go back in time, but (as an engineer) I had ideas. I would have liked it to sound more like that (the early years) than it did. I didn’t care for the way, at least, the drums sounded. I would have liked to have a more vintage drum sound, but it wasn’t my call.”
BraveWords.com: The band then embarks on the 3D Psycho Circus tour. Obviously, Peter doesn’t know any of the new songs and there is a concern that he won’t be able to play them live. Did you have to sit down and teach him these songs?
Valentine: “Yeah, what we did was rehearse at West L.A. Rehearsal... I don’t know what Peter did, but he was damaged from years of abuse. He had to have a roadie drive him there because he couldn’t get to the place (which is kind of strange). So, we’d sit down with the records, two drum kits and headphones and we’d go over the stuff.”
BraveWords.com: The records? The whole gamut of KISS...
Valentine: “Oh, yeah.”
BraveWords.com: So, you’re not just teaching him the Psycho Circus stuff? You’re teaching him ‘Parasite’ and....
Valentine: “Yeah! I’m teaching him the beginning of ‘Love Gun’ and I was like ‘dude, you made this fucking part. You have to be kidding me.’ It was weird. I, of course, had to teach him some of the newer songs, but yeah - we were going over the old stuff.”
BraveWords.com: I’ve heard that Tommy had to do the same thing with Ace...
Valentine: “Tommy even worked with Peter.”
BraveWords.com: Teaching him drum parts?
Valentine: “Yeah. When Peter and I were playing, we had to play to the tracks, but the tracks had his original parts on them and he relied on them and on me. But Tommy had his guitar and he’d play them with him (hums Love Gun) - and Peter would have to come in with his parts on his own without any drums as a reference. So, Peter and Tommy worked together, too.”
BraveWords.com: On the Psycho Circus and Farewell tours, Peter’s drumming had gone... well, a car goes from 0 to 60, but Peter’s drumming had gone from 60 to 0.
Valentine: “It was disappointing.”
BraveWords.com: It really was. I prefer KISS now with Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer because it’s four guys that can get up on stage and play. They can make an album with no ghost musicians. KISS now is a real band. Even in the ‘80s, people that played on a KISS album included you, Jean Beauvoir, Allan Schwartzberg, Tommy Thayer, Bob Kulick, Anton Fig, Robben Ford, Jimmy Hasslip, and the list goes on. That’s not a band. So, I prefer KISS now because it’s a band again.
Valentine: “I was jazzed to see the band at that Dodger stadium gig. Peter was in better form and as the band would come around again and again - Peter was... In my opinion, the drummer has to ‘kick’ the band. Not rush the band, he’s got to fucking kick the band, but Peter was not leading. He was following and it was very lacklustre. I stopped going to see them because of that. It was very disappointing, but when Eric returned to the band - there was some fire again.”
BraveWords.com: Eric can play, there’s no question about that. I saw eleven Reunion shows, but by the time they got to the Psycho Circus tour - the thrill of seeing the four original guys had been replaced with the reality that they sounded slower and tired. They weren’t having fun. I was actually thrilled when they announced the Farewell tour because it was time to put this thing to rest.
Valentine: “You’re right.”
BraveWords.com: As a lifetime fan, I should not have been thinking ‘it’s time for KISS to end.’ After having taught Peter his parts in ’98, did you have any other involvement with KISS? Did you work with them on the Farewell tour?
Valentine: “No. I went back to playing with Donnie Iris And The Cruisers. The ‘glove fits’ and I have a good deal. I’m not saying I’m Buddy Rich, but when I was working with Peter and he couldn’t remember his parts or play them. I was his teacher. I think I have the gig now with Donnie because I’m the right guy.”
BraveWords.com: Back to Revenge. What’s your opinion of the finished album and what do you think it meant for KISS at the time?
Valentine: “Song wise, vibe wise and even sonically - Revenge is really one of my favorite records from them and I know that it had to do with Ezrin because he does not accept ordinary. He pushes and shapes things until they are more special and Revenge was. I told Eric that it was some of my favorite drumming and I know Ezrin had something to do with that. The record is great - it just is. Sonically, I thought it was brilliant and I said that to Paul and he thought it was a nightmare. I guess they had problems with gear or tape. I guess it was a real difficult sonic record, but to me it sounded like a million bucks.”
BraveWords.com: It still does. Bruce Kulick has often said, ‘this is the one KISS album I would not remaster.’
Valentine: “Yeah and I know what they did to my track with punching in and cutting it up, but that’s the way Ezrin works and that’s how he gets the best for the song. It’s the technology you use to make a great record. I love that record. It had the vibe, the songs and I just thought it was brilliant.”
BraveWords.com: Do you ever wish you could have played on more tracks on the album like ‘Unholy’?
Valentine: “You know what? No. I’ll tell you why. If I see or hear an opening where there is room for improvement - I migrate there and would say, ‘I wish,’ but Eric did such a good job and that’s why I say no.”
Coming soon - KISS Revenge the 20th anniversary Part III.