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A Review of Nothing’ to Lose: The Making of KISS

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 17, 2015

Nothin' to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975)Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS by Ken Sharp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, this was a fascinating book! It’s a behind the scenes look at the creation of KISS and their rise to fame, circa 1972-1975. It’s co-authored by two band members, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, so you see a lot more of their viewpoints than others, but they have good stuff to share, so it works out. It’s interestingly presented in that it’s 99% interviews. The primary author, Ken Sharp, sets up a chapter or section with a brief paragraph and then there is page after page of interviews with band members, managers, record company owners and employees, producers, DJs, fans, concert attendees, and other bands, some of whom liked KISS and some of whom hated them. Very interesting.

KISS got its start in Queens with Gene and Paul wanting to start a band. They found Peter Criss, their drummer, through a newspaper/magazine ad, and I think they found Ace by guitarists trying out and him standing out to them. The band started out named Wicked Lester and they only played at the Coventry. Apparently, in the early ’70s, there were only three clubs in all of NYC that would take bands playing original music — all of the rest wanted covers. KISS wasn’t about covers. KISS was about heavy metal partying. They were about girls and love and lust and life. Nothing subtle. Nothing to think about. Not your thinking man’s band. But they played the hell out of the Coventry. Then they got a gig at a club in Amnityville, out on Long Island. Yep, that Amnityville. And by this time, they were wearing early versions of their makeup, although Paul was just wearing red lipstick and rouge. (Even after reading this book, it still isn’t clear to me who came up with the kubuki makeup thing. It happened early. It was obviously a gimmick. I just don’t know.) Glam was popular at the time, and KISS wanted to out-glam all of them. They found a manager and then started doing gigs at an old hotel in NYC, a place where other decent bands had played, but was run down. By then, several people had heard of them and were started to come see their shows. Their manager sent them on the road. To tiny little places no one’s ever heard of to play at places like high school cafeterias and barns. I’m not kidding. And they went all out, pretending they were at Madison Square Garden every time. They thought they owed it to the audience and they were trying to build an audience one person at a time. They went on a three city Canadian tour and froze their pants off. Again, they played in odd places. They were glad to get home.

A fellow came into their lives named Neil Bogart, who was a record company owner. He loved KISS and could envision big things for them, so he started a new company called Casablanca, aligned it with Warner, and signed KISS. KISS made a record. The record didn’t sell. They continued to tour. They opened for just about anyone. They opened for folk artists. They opened for comedians. They opened for Manfred Mann, who hated them. They opened for ZZ Top. They opened for Slade. They opened for Black Oak Arkansas, which was a strange combo. They hated each other. They opened for Black Sabbath. Sabbath hated them and dropped them from the tour midway through. Still, they soldiered on.

By this time, their show had gotten big. They had their makeup and costumes. Gene was breathing fire and spitting blood. They had huge amps and could blow the sound of just about anyone off the stage. They had drums on risers. It was pretty professional, especially for an opening act. It got to the point where not many bands wanted KISS to open for them cause they were concerned about being upstaged.

A side note. The band were not partiers. Gene and Paul didn’t drink or do drugs. Ace drank a lot, but kept to himself. Peter enjoyed the girls. They all enjoyed the girls, actually. The rumors about the groupies are apparently true. Lines and lines of girls waiting to be let into the hotel rooms of these guys just for a quickie. Bizarre. I’ve never understood groupies. Still, they didn’t trash hotel rooms or do crazy things like Zeppelin did and other bands.

A second album came out. Sold about the same amount as the first. Not much. They couldn’t get radio airplay. They weren’t a singles band. They also couldn’t get press. Rolling Stone detested them. About the only magazine to cover them was Creem, based in Detroit, the city KISS made their home. They considered themselves to be a blue collar rock and roll band playing gritty, real life stuff and they thought they would appeal to blue collar workers who had shitty jobs who would like to bang heads for a few hours. And they were right.

Sometime along the way, Neil cut ties with Warner because he didn’t think they were promoting KISS sufficiently, so he took a big gamble and mortgaged his house and maxed out his credit cards. KISS was losing money like crazy. Still, everyone thought they’d make it. Big. It was just a matter of time. There were more and more fans. The shows were getting sold out. You’d see t-shirts and posters. People would call up radio stations and ask for KISS.

Third album — Dressed to Kill. Had “Rock and Roll All Nite” on it. Didn’t chart. They couldn’t buy radio airtime. It did sell better than the first two albums, but not enough to generate enough money so that they’d go into the black. What to do?

Someone came up with the idea to capture the intensity of their live shows on an album, because they just didn’t think it was happening with the albums they had put out so far. So Alive was born. It was a double live album and had a great cover shot of the band and it sold — in the millions! And “Rock and Roll All Nite” (live) made the top 20. All of a sudden, they were international stars. Someone in middle America, a schoolboy, decided to start the KISS Army, to which I belonged as a kid, and it grew to become huge. All of a sudden, they were headliners. Pre-Steve Perry Journey opened for them. Rush opened for them. Rush and KISS came out about the same time, KISS perhaps a year or two earlier, so they could each relate to how things were going for each other. KISS loved Rush and Rush loved KISS. They had nothing but great things to say about each other in this book. Some kids at a high school in the midwest wrote KISS to ask if they’d come to their homecoming and they did! The whole town came out for it. Everyone dressed as a KISS member, babies and old people. The mayor gave them the key to the city. This, after the local clergy had taken him to task for allowing them to come to town. Hah! It was fun to read about.

One of the great things about this book is all of the pictures. There are hundreds of pictures of KISS, of liner notes, scrawled lyrics, fliers from early shows, etc. Real collector item stuff. The reason I’m giving this book four stars instead of five, however, is the incredible redundancy. The author would raise an issue, there would be an interview quote about it and then something like 10-15 more just like it. It’s like he was beating you over the head with it. It really ticked me off. Just give us a few. Some of these interview quotes were completely unnecessary. Did he have a page count he had to make? It just went on and on. The book gets a five for the photos and a three for the redundancy and a four plus for the story, so a solid four overall. Recommended.

View all my reviews

3 Responses to “A Review of Nothing’ to Lose: The Making of KISS”

  1. Interesting! I was never much into KISS.
    I like a couple of their songs. And Paul is still cute! 😉
    Oh, and Gene is quite the money maker!
    HUGS!!! 🙂

    Like

    • I think Paul’s had some work done, to be honest. 😉 And, yep, Gene is a mega-money maker. His greatest talent. I used to enjoy watching his show. Thanks for reading this review, even though they’re not your favorite band. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ha! That doesn’t surprise me about Paul.
        I watched a few of Gene’s family show and found him to be a very interesting man. What they shared about his upbringing and childhood was very moving.

        Like

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