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Vinnie Vincent



Vincent John Cusano (born August 6, 1952), better known as Vinnie Vincent, is an American guitarist and songwriter most famous for his brief membership in the band Kiss. A relatively unknown singer-guitarist named Vincent Cusano was brought in as an uncredited studio replacement for Ace Frehley during the recording sessions for Kiss' Creatures of the Night album. Vincent was chosen out of hundreds of tryouts of the cream of the country's lead guitarists who were vying for the lead guitar position in Kiss. After playing on the Creatures album, Vincent was asked by the band to be a member of Kiss and tour with Kiss for the upcoming Creatures of the Night Tour , an album in which Vincent had a vested interest as a co-writer of the band's songs, such as "I Love It Loud", "Killer", and "I Still Love You." Vincent was the last member of Kiss to join during the original "makeup" era and toured as "The Ankh Warrior". Vincent stayed with Kiss for two albums, The "Creatures" album and tour as well as the Lick It Up album and tour.

Replacing Ace Frehley in Kiss

In addition to most of the lead guitar parts of the songs, Cusano also contributed to the writing of some of the songs, including "I Love It Loud", "Killer" and "I Still Love You", which became hits later. The video for "I Love it Loud" featured Frehley rather than Cusano because at the time, Kiss wanted fans to believe that Frehley was still in the band due to a pending lawsuit which involved two of the members. Frehley also appeared on the cover art for the album for that same reason. But once Kiss was ready to go on tour, Frehley refused to join them.

Cusano originally wanted to use his birth name in the band, but this was vetoed by Simmons, who instead suggested the stage name of Vinnie Vincent. Cusano has used "Vinnie Vincent" as his professional name since. When the band chose Vincent as Frehley's replacement, Vincent refused to sign the contract, which remains unsigned to this day. Kiss, facing many tour dates, asked Vincent to join them on tour despite the fact that the contract remained unexecuted by Vincent. Vincent ultimately used the Ankh makeup design and persona as "The Ankh Warrior" for which he is exclusively identified with to this day.

From 1982 to 1983, the new line-up of Kiss became Simmons (the Demon), Stanley (the Starchild), Eric Carr (the Fox), and Vincent (the Ankh Warrior). This incarnation of Kiss was to be the last incarnation of the original make-up era. At the end of the Creatures Of The Night tour, the band removed their make-up on MTV.

Aside from songwriting credits under his birth name, Vincent's involvement with the recording of Creatures Of The Night was not widely publicized for several years. When the album was re-mixed and re-released in 1985 with a non-makeup cover and a slightly different song order, Vincent was again absent from the album cover due to disputes over royalties which currently remains in dispute to this day, (then-current lead guitarist Bruce Kulick appeared there instead). The liner notes accompanying the re-mixed LP, however, have credited both Ace Frehley and Vinnie Vincent with lead guitar performances on the Creatures of the Night album.

Vincent did appear on the Lick It Up album cover and is credited as the lead guitarist. He also was credited as a co-writer on 8 of the 10 songs on the album.

Vincent's personality meshed well with Stanley and Simmons, which is readily apparent when evaluating not only the quality of the songwriting, but the live performances as well, especially the Lick It Up tour. However, Vincent's refusal to sign the employment contract strained the relationship. Due partly to disputes over what his role in the band and his pay would be (some reports indicated that Vincent had asked for, and was flatly denied, a percentage of the band's gross profits), and despite the exhortations of both Simmons and Stanley, all through his tenure with the band Vincent refused to sign any contract making his employment official. This, along with a growing public attitude that Vincent was responsible for the resurgence of KISS was natural given Kiss's rise to success was based mainly on Vincent's songwriting. The cumulative result of these factors would ultimately lead to Vincent leaving the band after the European leg of the Lick It Up tour.[1]

With the band unable to secure a replacement guitarist on such short notice, Vincent was enticed to return for the American leg of the tour with the promise of payment of Vincent's royalties which were owing and overdue. A major rift developed between Vincent and the rest of the band over his guitar solos; what were once 5-8 minute solos timed to finish on a cue so that Stanley could introduce the next song suddenly expanded, in some instances leaving the rest of the band impatiently waiting on stage for Vincent to finish. At an LA Forum show in January 1984 Vincent continued playing despite Stanley's cueing him to finish the solo; the two nearly came to blows in the dressing room afterward, with Stanley accusing Vincent of showing him up and Vincent accusing the other three members of ruining his solo and trying to hold him back as a performer. They were separated by Carr and Simmons. At a March show in Quebec, Canada, as the band prepared to close out their set, Vincent broke into an impromptu solo, leaving the other band members standing onstage with nothing to do. After the Lick It Up tour ended in March 1984, Vincent was terminated from the band, and replaced by Mark St. John (birth name Mark Norton).[1]

Despite parting on bad terms, Vincent was later utilized by Kiss as a songwriter on the 1992 album Revenge, contributing to the songs "Unholy", "Heart Of Chrome" and "I Just Wanna". In 1991, Vincent and Simmons had repaired their differences and began writing on what was to be the Revenge album. The result of their musical union were the songs "Unholy", "I Just Wanna", and "Heart of Chrome." Before long however, Vincent again fell out of favor with Simmons and Stanley, as they claimed that Vincent again began "making all kinds of crazy demands and pulling the same kind of crazy stuff all over again".[1] However, the truth was that because Vincent was continually on call for nearly one year during the making of "Revenge" Vincent asked for an advance against royalties to compensate him for his time, especially since he was not a member of the band at that point.[citation needed] The usual tantrum erupted at Vincent's request marking the third and final time which permanently severed their musical and personal ties, In 1997, Vincent sued Simmons and the band's management over songwriting royalties and other matters. The lawsuit was not settled until 2001.[citation needed]

I named Vincent Cusano, "Vinnie Vincent". That's the only gift he's allowed. It's interesting that Vinnie hasn't changed his name back to Vinnie Cusano. —Gene Simmons[2]

Court records show that as recent as 2007, Kiss publicly confirmed Vincent was never under contract as stated by Simmons in the Kissology Volume 2 DVD.[citation needed]

In 2009, Cusano sued Kiss and A&E Television for using his image without his permission in an episode of "Gene Simmons Family Jewels." [3]

Before and after Kiss

Vincent was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In the early mid 1960's, many of Vincent's groups were generally winners of the battle of the band contests, the most popular being "the Younger Generation." In the late 60's/early 70's, Vincent formed "Hunter" a heavy metal band patterning their style after Led Zeppelin with original songs written by Vincent. In 1972 Vincent toured as guitarist with Little Anthony and The Imperials whose hits included "Tears On my Pillow," "Hurt So Bad" (a song covered by Linda Ronstadt), "Goin Out Of My Head" and "Shimmy Shimmy Koko Bop."

Before joining Kiss, Vincent was in several bands, the most popular being Treasure (1977–1978). During the mid 1970's Vincent began a period of work as a session guitarist for Connecticut Recording Studio, owned by Paul Leka. Leka was best known as a producer of hits such as "Green Tambourine," "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye." It was during 1975 that Vincent the studio guitarist, played on albums which included the "Five Satins" whose 1950's staple "In the Still Of The Night" was re-recorded with Vinnie on guitar. Vincent also played guitar on an album by the HITCHHIKERS, an R&B group who recorded one of Vincent's songs titled, "This Songs For You, Mama" which is now sought after by Vincent fans today. It was during Vincent's stint as a session guitarist at Connecticut Recording Studio, that Vincent was called in to play guitar for Felix Cavaliere who was producing an avant garde jazz album for Blood Sweat and Tears original member and horn player, Fred Lipsius. The album also featured Jack Scarangella on drums. During the Lipsius recording, Vincent, Cavaliere and Scarangella formed an immediate friendship and bonded musically.

It was during this friendship that the group "Treasure" was born, fronted by Felix Cavaliere. Treasure featured Cavaliere on vocals and keyboards, Vincent on guitar, Jack Scarangella on drums and Mahavishnu bassist Rick Laird on bass. Felix, was the amazing voice, keyboardist, (Hammond B3 and piano) and writer of hits by THE RASCALS. The Rascals timeless hits included "Good Lovin" (the only Rascal Hit not written by Cavaliere), "It's a Beautiful Morning," "It's Wonderful," "A Girl Like You," "(I've Been)Lonely Too Long," "Come On Up," "You Better Run" (covered by Pat Benatar and "How Can I Be Sure" Ironically, Vincent's early band "The Younger Generation" who idolized the Rascals, opened up for the Rascals in Connecticut's Oakdale Theater in 1967 paying tribute to their favorite group by playing the Rascal hits. The "Treasure" album has now become a highly sought after collector's item and has recently been re-released on Wounded Bird Records with includes live performances at the Bottom Line recorded in 1978.

Cavaliere also produced Laura Nyro's "Christmas and The Beads Of Sweat" album. It was at Felix Cavaliere's home that Vincent met Laura Nyro, whom Vincent worshipped and adored. Laura was a friend of Felix's and frequent guest at Felix's home during the many social gatherings during the Treasure days. Vincent fell in love with Laura at age 14 when he discovered her "More Than A New Discovery" album. Laura's music and voice had a lasting deep emotional impact on Vincent at an early age as Vincent would come home from school and play her album over and over for hours on end. It is believed there are photos on the internet of Vincent playing acoustic guitar with Laura Nyro on piano taken on Christmas Day 1976 at Felix's home. In 1978, Cavaliere recommended Vincent for Laura's upcoming album. Vincent performed with Laura Nyro on her "Nested" album and is credited on both acoustic and electric guitars. "Nested" was recorded in Laura's home over a six month period during which time Vincent formed a lasting friendship with Miss Nyro. Vincent has said "Nested" was a milestone in his life and has spoken fondly of sweet memories of sitting with Laura on the piano bench, with Vinnie on acoustic guitar and Laura playing piano with Laura singing her songs to Vinnie. Vinnie has said this was the most incredible, important and spiritual experience of his life, in being moved by the most haunting, unique voice and talent Vincent ever heard. Vincent was devastated when Laura died and has never got over her death.

In 1978 Vincent toured with the multi talented Dan Hartman, whose 1978 release Instant Replay produced an international single by the same name as well as a promotional video in which Vinnie performs. "Instant Reply swept the disco charts and Vincent toured Europe and the U.S. extensively with Hartman in support of the success of the hit single.[4] Vinnie also provided background vocals and lead guitar solo on the album's closing track, "Time and Space". Dan Hartman was best known for his impressive musical talents as a writer and vocalist for the Edgar Winter Group during the early 70's with hits like "Free Ride." Following Vincent's tenure with Dan Hartman and prior to moving to LA in 1980, Vincent toured as a guitarist for the Edgar Winter Group for most of 1979. Edgar Winter was a jazz giant and best known for his unique jazz and rock stylings, as vocalist writer, keyboardist and sax work. The Edgar Winter Group was best known for the rock instrumental hit "FRANKENSTEIN" written by Winter and "Free Ride" written by Hartman. Vincent has noted that Edgar Winter's talents also had a lasting impact on him. It is unknown if any live recordings exist with Vincent and Winter's musical union.

In 1980, Vincent moved to LA where he became a staff songwriter for the television series Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi where many of the series songs were written on Vincent's acoustic guitar, while sitting at the "Cunningham's" kitchen table on the "Happy Days" set, during offtime from the show's rehearsal schedule. Vincent has said the times of working at the Paramount lot were genuinely "happy days". [5] According to the site "Kiss Related Recordings" Vincent has also played with the bands Hunter, Warrior, Hitchhikers, and Heat going as far back as 1970.

In 1981, Vincent co-wrote, with Adam Mitchell, the song "Tears" under his real name. It was later recorded by former Babys lead singer John Waite, whom Ace Frehley wanted as lead singer for his post-Kiss band Frehley's Comet, for his No Brakes album which was released on EMI America records. Waite also released the song as a single and it reached #37. Peter Criss also recorded a version of the song for his album, Let Me Rock You, which was released outside of the USA in 1983. Columbia Records recording artist Rex Smith also recorded "Tears".

After being terminated by Kiss or leaving (which ever story is to be believed), following the Lick It Up tour, Vincent formed Vinnie Vincent Invasion (also known as VVI), and released two LPs: Vinnie Vincent Invasion (1986) and All Systems Go (1988). The VVI line-up included original lead singer Robert Fleischman, briefly the lead singer of Journey, and Vinnie's singer during the 1990s. Due to contract complications Fleischman did not tour with the band and was replaced by Mark Slaughter.

Slaughter and Dana Strum (both of whom would later form the band Slaughter) as well as drummer Bobby Rock, who would join the band Nelson after Vincent made the conscious decision in 1988 to disband the "group" after Vincent's disenchantment with VVI's second recording, "All Systems Go", and with Chrysalis's pandering to the then current "music scene". In late 1988, Vincent, unhappy with Chrysalis's handling of his recordings and career, refused to extend Chrysalis the option for third record when Chrysalis accidentally breached their option deadline to renew Vincent's contract in late September 1989. Chrysalis had a leaving member option on the salaried employees Vincent used as supporting band mates. Left without Vinnie Vincent under contract, Chrysalis picked up the option on two remaining employees who formed the band Slaughter.

Vincent briefly became involved with fighting censorship against rock music. In January 1987, he and Dana Strum visited the city of Goshen, Indiana in support of Marianne Hatfield, editor of a local rock magazine called "Rock Rag Plus". Hatfield alleged that she was being harassed by the minister (Paul McGechie) and members of an Assemblies of God congregation, who believed Hatfield's magazine was "satanic". This event was covered in the local news media and in Rock Scene magazine. He also helped The Bangles with songwriting and played the electric 12 string guitar on the 1988 album, Everything for one song, "Make a Play For Her Now" which Vinnie wrote with Vickie Peterson.

As a solo artist, he has released an EP (Euphoria, 1996, with Robert Fleischman)with Vinnie on bass, vocals and drums. Vinnie also released a collector's CD in 2001 entitled Speedball Jamm which consisted of his own private recordings of the VINNIE VINCENT INVASION jamm sessions recorded during rehearsals in 1986 which included moments of just Vinnie soloing alone. In 1990 Vinnie Vincent was to release an album entitled "Guitars From Hell" on Enigma Records but due to business complications "Guitars From Hell" was never released. To this day, Vincent's inferior sounding bootleg demo tracks from "Guitars From Hell" remain one of the most coveted bootlegs among Vinnie Vincent fans. It is rumored that the master recordings of "Guitars From Hell" may be available, however it remains unconfirmed. Vincent was also to release a solo album called "Guitarmaggedon" in 1997-1998 which is unconfirmed as to its release date.

A tribute album entitled Kiss My Ankh: A Tribute To Vinnie Vincent was released by SplitScreen Entertainment on August 27, 2008. The album consists of new recordings of songs from Vincent's careers with Kiss and the Vinnie Vincent Invasion. Featured artists include Steve Brown of Trixter, Troy Patrick Farrell of White Lion, T.J. Racer of Nitro, Mike Weeks of Robert Fleischman's band, Sheldon Tarsha of Adler's Appetite, Chris Caffery of Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Ryan Roxie from the Alice Cooper band and rock & roll comic C.C. Banana, who performs a parody of the Kiss song "Unholy" (rewritten as a roast of Danger Danger vocalist Ted Poley).[6]




Vinnie Vincent Invasion

  • Euphoria (EP) (1996)
  • Archive Volumes I: Speedball Jamm

Peter Criss

Tribute albums


"My chemistry with the band helped put them back on top and gave them a musical credibility that they'd never had before, yet I couldn't get the recognition I needed. I felt like I was imprisoned in a small cubicle, like it was someone else's house..." (Vinnie about leaving Kiss in Kerrang! Magazine. Black Diamond (writer: Dale Sherman), 1997)


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