Drummer of Kiss
American musician Peter Criss is best known as the original drummer and lead vocalist for the rock band Kiss. He set up the “Catman” character for his Kiss persona. Criss was on the band from 1973 to 1980 and then from 1995 to 2000. He rejoined the band for a second time for their 2003 tour with Aerosmith but departed again in 2004. His discography with Kiss consists of “Kiss” (1974), “Hotter Than Hell” (1974), “Dressed to Kill” (1975), “Alive!” (1975), “Destroyer” (1976), “Rock and Roll Over” (1976), “Love Gun” (1977), “Alive II” (1977), “Double Platinum” (1978), “Dynasty (1979), “Unmasked (1980) (credited in the album liner notes, but does not appear), “ Kiss Unplugged” (1996), “Psycho Circus” (1998) and “Kiss Symphony: Alive IV” (2003). Criss co-wrote and sang leads on the band's highest charting single to date, “Beth” (1976), which peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Criss has released several solo albums, including “Peter Criss” (1978), “Out of Control” (1980), “Let Me Rock You” (1982), “Criss” (1993), “Cat #1” (1994) and “One for All” (2007). Prior to joining Kiss, he played in various bands like Chelsea (which released an album in 1969) and Lips.
Criss has been married three times, and has one daughter. Currently, he is married to Gigi Criss.
Childhood and Family:
“I'm from Brooklyn. I grew up very poor- seven people, four rooms. My dad had no education.” Peter Criss
Peter Criss was born Peter George John Crisscuola on December 20, 1945, in Brooklyn, New York. He is the eldest of five children of Joseph and Loretta Criscuola. He was introduced to music at an early age by his father, who was a jazz lover. Young Peter listened to his idol, Gene Krupa, and played an imaginary drum set made from household apparatus. He eventually got his first real drum at age 13. Around this period, he also sang with a vocal group, The Stars.
Peter had a tough upbringing in the streets of New York. He was involved in a gang and also in a little trouble. He finally could leave the street thanks to his passion for art, and went to art school. Peter, however, quickly considered that art was not his true love and made his return to drums. He worked to purchase a real set of drums, and played in various bands during the 1960s.
At age 25, on January 31, 1970, Peter married Lydia Di Leonardo, though the marriage later ended in a divorce in 1979. He then married former playboy playmate and coppertone model Debra Jensen in December 1979. His daughter, Jenilee, was born on April 7, 1981. Peter and Debra divorced in 1984. He married third wife Gigi Criss in May 1998.
Peter Criss played drums for the New York City pop/rock band Chelsea from 1968 to 1971. The band released a self titled album in 1970 through Decca Records and then collapsed during the recording of their unreleased second album. In August 1971, the band became Lips, a trio comprising of Criss and his Chelsea bandmates Michael Benvenga and Stan Penridge. Lips decreased to a duo of Chris and Penridge in the spring of 1973 before eventually broke up totally.
Criss met rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist Paul Stanley and bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons of NYC based rock and roll band Wicked Lester through an advertisement he placed in the East Coast edition of “Rolling Stone.” He auditioned for, and joined the revamped version of Wicked Lester that now played a much harder sounds than Wicked Lester played. The trio added lead guitarist Ace Frehley January 1973, and took the name Kiss a few weeks later. The band made their debut performance at the Popcorn Club in Queens for an audience of three in January 1973 and started wearing the iconic makeup designs associated with Kiss in March of that year during shows at The Daisy in Amityville, NY. In November 1973, the band became the first act signed to Neil Bogart's new label, Casablanca Records.
Kiss released a self titled debut album on February 18, 1974. The album peaked at No. 87 on the Billboard 200 and sold about 75,000 units after its initial release. It was later certified gold in the US and Canada. The band recorded a cover of Bobby Rydell's hit, “Kissin' Time,” and was released as a singel from the album. Sung by Simmons, Stanley and Criss,the Kiss version only peaked at 83 on the Billboard Hot 100. Later that same year, on October 22, Kiss released the sophomore effort “Hotter Than Hell,” which peaked at No. 100 on the Billboard 200. The album went gold in June 1977. Criss also sang leads on the album's tracks “Mainline” and “Strange Ways.” The third studio album “Dressed to Kill” followed on March 19, 1975. The album peaked at No. 32 on the Billboard 200 and was certified Gold by the RIAA in February 1977. Criss performed lead vocals on the fourth track “Getaway.”
However, Kiss did not experience breakthrough until they released a double live album, “Alive!” on September 10, 1975. The album earned mostly positive reviews from music critics, and rose to No. 9 on the Billboard 200, making it the first Top 10 album for both Kiss Casablanca. The album also became the first gold record for the band. “Alive!” produced Kiss' first Top 20 hit single, “Rock and Roll All Nite (Live).” After the success, Kiss worked with producer Bob Ezrin for their studio next album, “Destroyer.” Released on March 15, 1976, the album reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200, marking the band's second consecutive album to reach the Top 20, and also charted at No. 22 in the UK Albums chart. On November 11, 1976, “Destroyer” became the first Kiss album to achieve platinum certification. The album has since received double platinum certification from the RIAA. Criss co-wrote and sang lead on the band's highest-charting single “Beth,” which peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The fifth studio album “Rock and Roll Over” (released on November 11, 1976) reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum in January 1977. The album spawned two Top 20 Billboard Hot 100 hits with “Hard Luck Woman” (#15), on which Criss sang the lead vocals, and “Calling Dr. Love” (#16). Criss also co-wrote and sang leads on the track “Baby Driver.” “Love Gun” followed on June 17, 1977. The album reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and went platinum within two weeks of its release. Criss co-wrote and sang leads on the album's seventh track, “Hooligan.” Later on October 14, 1977, Kiss released their second live album, “Alive II,” which reached No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and went double platinum in the US.
In 1978, Criss was injured in a serious car accident. While on recovery, he was replaced by session drummer Anton Fig for the band's seventh studio album, “Dynasty” (1979). He, however, manage to play the drums and sang the lead on the song “Dirty Livin'.” Fig also played drums on the next album “Unmasked” (1980), although Criss was credited and appeared on the cover art. Criss officially left Kiss on May 18, 1980. He was replaced by Brooklyn-born Eric Carr.
While still with Kiss, Criss launched a solo career with the release of his self titled debut album on September 18, 1978. On the same day, his bandmates Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley also released their solo album each. Produced by Vini Poncia, “Peter Criss” reached No. 43 on the Billboard 200, making it the lowest charting of all the Kiss solo albums. The album was certified platinum in the US and gold in Canada. His second album, “Out of Control,” followed in September 1980, after his departure from Kiss. Produced by Criss and David Wolfert, the album sold very poorly. The only single released from the album, “I Found Love,” failed to chart. He reunited with producer Vini Poncia for his third solo album, “Let Me Rock You,” which was released in May 1982. The album cover featured Criss for the first time without his Kiss makeup. Due to the failure of “Out of Control,” the album was not released in the US until 1997.
During the 1980s to early 1990s, Criss performed in a number of bands, but none lasted for over a year. He worked with former Kiss guitarist Mark St. John in The Keep, and with lead vocalist Jane Booke, bassist Bob Raylove and guitarist JP (John Pakalenka) in Balls of Fire. In 1987, he appeared in the syndicated radio program “Metal Shop,” where he discussed his time in Kiss from a more positive perspective than before, and promoted his book, an autobiography titled “A Face without a Kiss.” In 1989, he shortly reunited with ex-Kiss bandmate Ace Frehley on Frehley's album, “Trouble Walkin'.” In 1990, he started a band called “Criss,” also featuring Mark Montague on bass guitar, Mike Stone on rhythm guitar and backing vocals and Mike McLaughlin on lead guitar. The band released a self titled EP in December 1993 and the “Cat #1” album in August 1994. In 1995, the band supported Frehley's band on the 1995 “Bad Boys Tour.”
In 1995, Criss reunited with Kiss. The four original line up enjoyed an enormous success for their 1996-97 Alive/Worldwide Tour. They released the studio album called “Psycho Circus” on September 22, 1998 through Mercury Records. The album peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and went gold in the US. However, controversy surfaced when it was discovered that Criss played drums only on “Into the Void” and contributed vocals only on “You Wanted the Best” and “I Finally Found My Way.”
Again due tensions with other members of Kiss, Criss left the band for the second time in 2000 and was replaced by Eric Singer in 2001. He reunited with Kiss again in late 2002 for the live album “Kiss Symphony: Alive IV” (2003) before departed the band again in March 2004. The band had preferred not to renew his contract following the Rocksimus Maximus Tour, which had them co-headlining with Aerosmith. He was again replaced by Singer, who has continued to perform with the band today.
Since 2004, Criss spent much of his time outside the limelight. On July 23, 2007, he released a solo album, “One for All” on indie label Megaforce Records. The album peaked at No. 36 on the Billboard Top Independent Albums. In 2009, Criss returned to acting on the drama film “Frame of Mind,” which was directed and co-written by and starred Carl T. Evans. There he played the role of Mike. Criss previously appeared as Nice Cop on an episode of “Millennium” called “...Thirteen Years Later” (1998) and as inmate Martin Montgomery in two episodes of the HBO prison drama “Oz” (2002).