George Peter John Criscuola (born December 20, 1945), better known as Peter Criss, is an American drummer and singer, best known as the original drummer for the rock band Kiss. Criss established the "Catman" character for his Kiss persona.
Of Italian-American descent, Criss is the oldest of the five children of Joseph and Loretta Criscuola; he grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. He was a childhood friend of Jerry Nolan, who would later find success as the drummer for the New York Dolls.
He was an avid art student and a jazz aficionado. While playing with bandleader Joey Greco, Criss ended up studying under his idol, Gene Krupa, at the Metropole Club in New York. This blossomed into an active musical career as he went on to play jazz and rock with a number of bands in New York and New Jersey throughout the 1960s.
Criss was involved with a number of bands throughout the mid-to-late 1960s. It was during this time that Criss joined Chelsea, who had a two-album deal with Decca Records; the group released a self-titled album in 1970. They never recorded a second album, and in August 1971 became Lips (a trio consisting of Criss and his Chelsea bandmates Michael Benvenga and Stan Penridge). By the spring of 1973, Lips was just the duo of Criss and Penridge.
EXPD. ROCK & roll drummer looking for orig. grp. doing soft & hard music. Peter, Brooklyn.
Contrary to the story that has been recited by fans and the band for years, there was never an ad placed that said "Drummer willing to do anything to make it." The advertisement was answered by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, who were looking for new members for their band. Ace Frehley was added to the lineup in December 1972, and the band was named Kiss later that month. However, as Gene Simmons describes first meeting Criss in his book 'Kiss And Make-Up' "One afternoon I run across an ad in Rolling Stone that said "Drummer available - Will do anything." I called the guy on the telephone, and even though he was in the middle of a party, he took my call. I introduced myself and said we were starting a band and that the band was looking for a drummer, and was he willing to do anything to make it? He says that he was, right away." Simmons later in the chapter describes going to a small Italian Club in Brooklyn to meet the drummer "The drummer started to sing, and this Wilson Pickett-style voice came out of him. Paul and I said "That's it, that's our drummer." His name was Peter Criscuola."
Kiss released their self-titled debut in February 1974. Throughout his Kiss career, Criss was lead vocalist on several notable songs including "Black Diamond", "Hard Luck Woman", and their breakthrough hit "Beth". Many of Criss' contributions to Kiss were written with the help of Stan Penridge, who was a bandmate of Criss' in Chelsea and Lips.
Criss was featured on the album sleeve for the 1979 comedy record Lenny and the Squigtones, collection of novelty songs by Michael McKean and David L. Lander, performing as their Laverne & Shirley personas of Lenny and Squiggy. Criss was billed as drummer "Ming the Merciless," and appeared without his Kiss makeup, although he did not play drums on the album.
Criss is given co-writer credit for the ballad "Beth", a Top 10 #7 hit for Kiss in 1976. The song remains the highest-charting song for Kiss in the USA and it earned them a People's Choice Award for "Young People's Favorite New Song" in 1977, tied with "Disco Duck". The song was written before Criss had joined Kiss, while he was still a member of Chelsea. Criss came up with the melody for the song while on a train to New York City from New Jersey where the band practiced. He and Chelsea guitarist Stan Penridge wrote the song together. "
A bootleg exists of the song from 1971, but the song's title was "Beck", after fellow band member Mike Brand's wife, Becky, who would call often during practices to ask Mike when he was coming home. Years later, while in Kiss, both Bob Ezrin and Gene Simmons are credited for changing the song's title to "Beth". The song was said to be a tribute to Criss' wife Lydia Di Leonardo; according to interviews with Criss, he changed some of the lyrics to reflect Lydia's lamenting that she missed him while on tour, but the song actually originated years earlier.
Along with "Beth", other songs he sang as a member of Kiss were "Black Diamond", "Hard Luck Woman", "Dirty Livin'", "Nothin' to Lose", "Mainline", "Strange Ways", "Getaway", "Baby Driver", "Hooligan", "Kissin' Time" and "I Finally Found My Way", with only the first being a live staple for every tour during his time with Kiss; "Dirty Livin'", "Baby Driver", "Hooligan" and "Beth" are the only ones he co-wrote (Paul Stanley wrote "Black Diamond", "Hard Luck Woman", "Mainline" and "I Finally Found My Way"; Ace Frehley wrote "Strange Ways" and "Getaway", and Gene Simmons wrote "Nothin' to Lose").
Criss struggled with drug abuse through many of the years he was in the band. Although he was always credited as drummer, 1977's Love Gun and Alive II were the last Kiss albums on which he played throughout.
In 1978, Criss was injured in a serious car crash.
On the 1979 release Dynasty, he only played on his own composition, "Dirty Livin'," and did not play at all on 1980's Unmasked. Anton Fig, who also played on Ace Frehley's solo album (and is now David Letterman's house drummer), was hired to play on both records.
Gene Simmons has made it clear that Criss was fired; Paul Stanley too has discussed Criss' departure in several interviews, including the commentary on Kissology 2. Criss, however, has maintained that he quit the band. The video for "Shandi" was shot in one day, and Peter was out of the band at that time; said Stanley, "After we finished shooting, Peter packed up his things, and went home."
Criss officially left Kiss on May 18, 1980. As a result, Kiss postponed the European tour until the end of August, thus giving the band enough time to find a replacement drummer, who they found in Brooklyn-born Eric Carr.
Although Criss officially left Kiss in May 1980, his involvement with the band had ceased by December 1979. In March 1980, he began recording his second solo album, Out of Control. Released later in the year, the album was a commercial failure, despite remaining a favorite with Criss fans. The follow-up album, 1982's Let Me Rock You, which contained one song written by Gene Simmons, was a similar failure. The album cover featured Criss without his Kiss makeup, but was not released in the U.S. at the time.
For the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s, Criss was involved with a number of bands, each usually lasting less than a year. One of them was The Keep, which featured ex-Kiss guitarist Mark St. John. Criss also played with Balls of Fire from the spring of 1986 to December 1986, with Jane Booke on lead vocals, Bob Raylove on bass and JP (John Pakalenka) on guitar, who currently plays for Buckner Funken Jazz in Denver, Colorado. Balls of Fire only played 7 shows before Criss left the band to enjoy his daughter Jenilee growing up. While Kiss was promoting their upcoming release Crazy Nights, Criss appeared on the syndicated radio program Metal Shop and discussed his time in Kiss from a more positive perspective than before; he also promoted the book he was writing at the time, an autobiography to-be-titled A Face without a Kiss. He also mentioned his dream of one day opening up his own recording studio and starting his own record label, to be called Catman Records. Criss briefly reunited with former Kiss bandmate Ace Frehley on Frehley's 1989 album Trouble Walkin' (singing and playing percussion on one track). In the early '90s, Criss assembled a band named "Criss," which would feature future Queensrÿche guitarist Mike Stone. This band released the Criss EP in December 1993 and the Cat #1 album in August 1994. The group also supported Frehley's band on the 1995 "Bad Boys Tour."
In the early 1990s, an urban legend circulated that Criss was a homeless alcoholic. Star Magazine published an article that appeared to lend credence to the notion. Jeffrey Scott Holland paid tribute to Criss's alleged plight by painting his portrait in an alley with a bottle in his hand, and Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold began a campaign to try to rescue Criss. Barr and Arnold had discovered a homeless man living under a bridge who had claimed to be Criss, but it was later revealed to be a hoax. The hoaxer, Christopher Dickinson, appeared with the real Criss on The Phil Donahue Show in 1991. On the same show, there was a woman who claimed to also have had an affair with Criss back in 1982, which was denied by Criss, then-wife Debra and, via telephone, ex-wife Lydia. For years afterward, the rumor still persisted that Criss was broke and sleeping on the streets. Criss later sued the Star and they settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
In 1995, Criss appeared at the official Kiss Konvention in Los Angeles that led to the Kiss live performance that was recorded for MTV Unplugged. In April 1996, Kiss held a press conference to announce a reunion tour with all four original members. The 1996–97 Alive/Worldwide Tour was an enormous success, and the reunited Kiss released a studio album, 1998's Psycho Circus. However, controversy arose when it was discovered that Criss only played drums on one track ("Into the Void," Ace Frehley's one lead vocal track). Many sources claim that Kevin Valentine performed on the rest of the drum tracks for the album. Criss did have one lead vocal, a track called "I Finally Found My Way," written by guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley and Bob Ezrin, and a co-vocal taking turns in the verses with the rest of the band for the song "You Wanted the Best".
Tensions arose once again between Criss and Kiss. On October 7, 2000, at the end of the band's show in North Charleston, SC, Criss destroyed his drum kit on stage. Though fans thought it was part of the act, it was in reality an act of frustration on Criss' part. It was his last show on the tour, as he left over a contract dispute and was replaced by Eric Singer in 2001. He rejoined the band in late 2002 and appeared on the Kiss Symphony: Alive IV DVD and CD before departure from Kiss again in March 2004. The band had opted not to renew his contract following the Rocksimus Maximus Tour (which had them co-headlining with Aerosmith). He was once again replaced by Singer, who assumed Criss' "Catman" persona and who continues to perform with the band today.
Peter Criss on Kiss performing with replacements for Ace Frehley and himself:
"No matter who they get to put stuff on their face, it ain’t us. You can take the mask off the Lone Ranger and put it on someone else, but it ain’t the Lone Ranger."
Since 2004, Criss has kept his public appearances to a minimum. Criss now resides in Wall Township, New Jersey. He released a solo album, titled One for All July 24, 2007, on Silvercat Records.
Criss is a gun enthusiast, and has stated that he has a large collection of firearms with which he target shoots, but does not hunt with, as he told host Tom Snyder during the October 31, 1979 interview of Kiss on The Tomorrow Show. This segment of the infamous interview features Criss referencing his large gun collection and Simmons becoming annoyed with Criss because of it.
According to an interview with 40º74º Magazine, Peter Criss is working on a follow-up album to One for All, and currently has 15 songs recorded for the release. Additionally, Criss is working on his autobiography.
As of November 2008, Criss has been married three times: Lydia Di Leonardo (from 1970 to 1979), former playboy playmate and coppertone model Debra Jensen (from 1979 to 1994) and Gigi Criss (from May 1998 to present). Criss is the father of one daughter named Jenilee, born in 1981.
In addition to playing himself in 1978's Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, Criss has appeared on two television programs in minor roles and is set to appear in an upcoming film. In 1998 he appeared as "Nice Cop" on the "...Thirteen Years Later" episode of Millennium and in 2002 Criss appeared in two episodes of the HBO prison drama Oz as inmate Martin Montgomery. He also plays the role of Mike in the motion picture about the JFK assassination, Frame of Mind.