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It had to happen sometime, Kiss fans. We knew the proverbial End of the Road was coming, even though – partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic – it's taken the band five years to wrap things up.
Back in September 2018, when Kiss announced the End of the Road tour, saying, 'We've got time' was easy. And some über diehards, who hated the idea of letting go of their kabuki-clad heroes, hoped that Kiss – currently featuring a lineup of founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, along with longtime holdovers Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer – would change their minds, and let the good times continue to roll.
But alas, Kiss fans, this time, it's really it – we're going to have to say goodbye to our beloved band of masked superheroes, who took the world by storm back in 1973, and from there embarked on an incredible 50-year run of blistering bombast.
So, after five years, one global pandemic, 13 legs, and over 250 shows, Kiss will meet the End of the Road on December 2, 2023, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the same city where Kiss's original four members – Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss – were born and raised, and where the band began all those years ago.
Nostalgia and bouts of fire-breathing denial aside, it goes without saying that Kiss's music has been influential, particularly from a guitar perspective. Though they couldn't have possibly foreseen their impact as young men brandishing six-strings in the early '70s, Stanley and Frehley changed the world. And later, despite the band's trials, Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick, and Tommy Thayer did their part to add to the band's legacy.
In retrospect, Stanley is all too aware of what he's served up, recently telling Guitar World that his vision for Kiss is and always has been to create the sound of “one big guitar.”
“I've had some well-known guitarists at my house, and inevitably, we'd start playing, and I remember a couple of them on different occasions saying, 'Hey, wow, you can really play!' They were surprised, which maybe made sense early in Kiss's career, because back then, it was easy to be dazzled by what we do live and have my ability be overshadowed.
“But at this point,” he continues, “you'd have to be shortsighted and perhaps more than a little hard of hearing not to get what's going on. So, if you don't get it, then you've probably never seen Kiss.”
Though his viewpoint often differs from Stanley's (he reportedly will not be on hand for Kiss's final NYC shows, either) Ace Frehley's reverence for what he created remains. “Aside from Deuce and Strange Ways early on, and Shock Me later, which are probably the three best ‘70s Kiss things I did, my favorite times came through what me and Paul were able to do together.
“Our use of octaves in the type of music we were doing wasn't that common, and I don't think people gave us enough credit for it. And even though most people would correctly tell you that the Kiss sound was kinda bred from my guitar style, I don't think people ever gave Paul enough credit. He's a really good player, and kinda glued things together well.”
Stanley and Frehley might have created the beast in the '70s, but any dyed-in-the-wool Kiss Army veteran will tell you that without Bruce Kulick, Kiss wouldn't be here today. Through his clear-toned solos, catchy riffs, and dependable songcraft, Kulick held Kiss's lead guitar spot from 1984 through 1996, before the return of Frehley unseated him.
When asked to recollect his favorite guitar moment from his era of Kiss, Kulick tells us, “During the Crazy Nights tour of Japan in ‘88, we performed at Tokyo's Budokan Hall. That legendary venue was a thrill for me. But even better was that we were captured on film by NHK, the main TV network of Japan.
“This tour had a fantastic spot in the set list for me to do an extended guitar solo with my red ESP Horizon,” he explains. “A recent viewing of this performance made me very proud of what I was contributing to Kiss in that era.
“I was able to showcase tasty riffs, some Eddie Van Halen-inspired flash, and I used plenty of rock star pointing and pouting, too,” he laughs. “And, my radioactive suit was looking good as well. It's a guitar moment that I'm super pleased with!”
While Kiss fans may be sad, this is a time to look back with fondness at four kids – Stanley Eisen, Chaim Witz, Paul Frehley, and George Criscuola – who, in 1973, came together through smears of grease paint and glory and transformed themselves into the Starchild, the Demon, the Spaceman, and the Cat, respectively. In doing so, they would change rock music, and guitar theatrics, forever.
In that spirit, Guitar World has rallied the troops, asking them to recollect their favorite guitar moments from the grease-painted New Yorkers who were, are, and will remain, the Hottest Band in the Land.
“My favorite Kiss guitar moment is Let Me Go Rock 'n' Roll, from the Alive! album. This is when Ace Frehley made generations want to play guitar. His soloing is memorable and simple, but with a lot of rhythmic sophistication and great tone. Paul Stanley's riffing is full of swing and swagger, almost with a Jimmy Page-type feel. The combination of the two is classic rock at its finest.”
Bruce Bouillet (Racer X)
“My favorite Kiss guitar memory is a two-part memory. It was my first concert. I was 12, and Kiss was on the Dynasty tour with Judas Priest opening. The show was in Evansville, Indiana, at Roberts Stadium. I was a young kid and seeing that was unbelievable – I bought my first guitar the next week. But this ties into the second part, where we need to flash forward into the ‘00s, when I got to work with Paul Stanley.
“I engineered many demos for his solo records. It was me, Bob Kulick, and Paul Stanley working on demos, and I got to talk to him about that concert. I found that Paul has such an incredible memory and is such a nice guy to work with, which was so cool. I got to talk to him about my first show, and he remembered many details about it. So, that's probably my favorite Kiss memory.”
Vito Bratta (White Lion)
“White Lion toured with Kiss in the late ‘80s, and those guys were great. One night, we were on stage, and the giant Kiss logo was behind us, but not lit up. But, during one of our songs, we felt all this light behind us, I looked back, and saw the Kiss logo was totally lit up. It was totally wild.
“As for my favorite guitar moment – I have to go with a moment from Gene. One night, he walked in with his bass, and, impromptu, did that thing where slid his hand down the neck, made that descending sound, and said, ‘Hear that? That’s what sells records,’ and walked out. Gene doesn’t get enough credit as a bass player.”
Alex Grossi (Quiet Riot)
“The first time I heard the opening riff to She is by far my favorite Kiss guitar moment, no question. Mötley Crüe got the inspiration for Shout at The Devil from that – it's just so heavy.”
Jeff Schroeder (formerly of Smashing Pumpkins)
“I'm such a big Kiss fan that it was impossible for me to pick just one great guitar moment from their 50-year history. I could only whittle it down to three. Also, Ace Frehley is one of my all-time favorite players, but since his era of Kiss is the most popular and influential, I chose three post-Ace era moments.
“The first is Tears Are Falling, from Asylum, featuring Bruce Kulick. After the quick appearances of Vinnie Vincent and Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick brought stability and high musicality to the lead guitar position in Kiss. Kulick bridged the gap between the Frehley era of melodic, blues-based leads and what was taking place within '80s hard rock and metal playing.
Somewhere in an alternate universe exists a version of Kiss with a wild, avant-garde metal lead player named Mark St. John
“His whammy dives, finger tapping, and melodic content traveled outside the boundaries of the pentatonic scale. The Tears Are Falling solo is one of Kulick's best. From the tasteful melodic motifs to the flashy bits at the end, the solo is extremely well-composed and elevates the song to a higher level, and he did this time and time again.
“The second is a live moment from Vinnie Vincent – Calling Dr. Love from Kiss' Rio de Janeiro performance in 1983. I'm a big fan of Vinnie Vincent, both his work with Kiss and the first two Vinnie Vincent Invasion albums. This live version of Calling Dr. Love is from one of the last shows the band did wearing the makeup.
“Along with Eric Carr, Vincent injected a fire, passion, and intensity into the band that reminds me of the classic Winterland 1975 show found on Kissology Volume 1. The solo that Vincent plays, starting at 1:47, is brilliant. He demonstrates that he was not intimidated by replacing Ace Frehley or playing in front of a stadium full of people. He made the solo his own and didn't even try to reference any part of the original version played by Frehley.
“My last pick is the entire Poughkeepsie, NY 11/28/1984 show, featured on the recent Kiss: Off the Soundboard album with Mark St. John. The official release of this show by Kiss was a monumental gift to us fans. I'm sure some collectors already had this, but the small bits floating around the internet for years seemed less high quality and complete than this board tape, which is still missing a few minutes of the show.
“This is the only complete show Mark St. John played with the band. In addition to this, he may have played half of another show. Because of a medical issue that left Mark unable to play, Bruce Kulick filled in and eventually became Kiss's guitar player through most of the ‘80s and into the '90s.
“This show allows us to hear what Kiss would have perhaps become had Mark St. John been able to develop with the band. His playing was quite different, and it most likely didn't really fit the aesthetic of Kiss. He sounds more like a Holdsworthian fusion player gone metal than someone born and raised on a steady diet of Page, Clapton, and Beck. Throughout the show, he doesn't sound entirely comfortable with the band, which is understandable, considering he wasn't playing onstage every night.
“With in-ear monitors, things are very different now. When I first joined the Smashing Pumpkins, we still used wedges and side fills, and I knew first-hand how bad it can sound on big stages. Yet, besides all this, the show is still exciting to listen to, and there are flashes of brilliance. Somewhere in an alternate universe exists a version of Kiss with a wild, avant-garde metal lead player named Mark St. John.”
Jeremy Asbrock (The Ace Frehley Band)
“Even though my favorite Kiss guitar moment is always changing, 100,000 Years always occupies the top spot. Ace's counterparts, especially the solo, are some of the best, especially in the second half. It's very impressive, considering he was only 22 years old. Paul's work in that song is fantastic and gives a great foundation for Ace to shine.”
Mick Sweda (formerly of BulletBoys)
“I was never much of a fan, but Ace is remarkable. Though he may not have pursued the mastery of the guitar that so many have, he made excellent use of his talents – great taste, an effort toward melody over calisthenics, and one of the finest vibratos in rock. That vibrato was deliberate and effective, and always complimented and even augmented his phrasing. Plus, he had really cool boots!”
Ryan Cook (The Ace Frehley Band)
“I received Kiss Alive II as a birthday gift in the fourth grade. The immediate feeling was of shock and awe from the front and back covers of the record – emblazoned with closeups of their fierce, sweaty faces – the live, breathtaking gatefold shot, the booklet, and the tattoos. And let's not forget the most important part – the music!
“As I listened to Calling Dr. Love and Shock Me, I stared at the album and its contents, intensively visualizing the Demon and the Spaceman in their full, live glory. I'd sit and dream of the day that I'd finally get to see them in person, but until then, I would study the band and their music. They were, and are, the reason I picked up the guitar.
“Little did I know that this was a manifestation in its truest form. In 2017, I was hired by Gene Simmons to play guitar in his solo band. We'd perform what I considered a Kiss fan's dream set list, which consisted of the classics and gave a heavy nod to the deep cuts. One evening, a special guest joined us – the one and only Spaceman, Ace Frehley.
“This would be the first time the two had performed together in 13 years. As I stood between my two heroes on stage, I flashed back to my young self, sitting on my bed, staring at Alive II. And now here I was, with the Demon and the Spaceman, playing Calling Dr. Love and Shock Me. A dream fulfilled, and forever my favorite Kiss guitar moment.”
Michael Kelly Smith (formerly of Britny Fox)
“My favorite Kiss guitar moments are the guitar solos in 100,000 Years – they were very influential, and a great inspiration.”
“My favorite Kiss guitar moment and one of my favorite Kiss songs is Detroit Rock City. One of my favorite moments is when it breaks down, and it's Ace and Paul playing the harmony guitars together. That was iconic. If you want to get technical, one of the reasons I love that solo so much is the surprise you get when Gene comes in halfway through with the chordal change underneath. That's a perfect example of what I call 'simplexity.'”
Ronni Le Tekrø (TNT)
“Thanks for asking me. I feel honored to help send Kiss off. My favorite Kiss guitar moment dates to the first time I heard Detroit Rock City. Some 30 years later, I covered it with Tony Harnell for the Norwegian Kiss Fan Club, which was amazing!”
Colin Clive (Mustard Plug)
“I know for an absolute fact that I'm not alone in saying that Kiss is the number one reason I wanted to be in a band and why I wanted to play the guitar. It was the killer songs, unforgettable album covers, crazy merchandise, incredible photos, insane video footage, and that darn poster of Ace Frehley leaning back with his smoking Les Paul that firmly planted that dream in my head. I owe Kiss 100 percent of the credit that I do what I do to this day. Thank you, Kiss.”
Richard Fortus (Guns N' Roses)
“I always thought that Parasite was such a funky riff, and I love how the verse groove breaks up. Then the chorus is straight ahead, and the middle section riff is great, but the way the solo enters is just classic, and exemplifies the percussive genius of Ace.”
Travis Stever (Coheed and Cambria)
“My favorite Kiss guitar moment has to be Ace's guitar solo from Love Gun. It's total air-guitar city, and it gets me every time.”
Peppy Castro (Blues Magoos)
“Well, in keeping with my history with Ace, and being his first inspiration to becoming a guitar god, I'd have to say the solo in Love Gun, in which he took guitar solo inspiration from my first hit record, We Ain't Got Nothing Yet!”
Ryan Wariner (Ann Wilson)
“My favorite guitar moment is the intro to Detroit Rock City. When it starts, and those guitars kick in, it's like a race car revving up. It sends my adrenaline up immediately every time.”
Frank Hannon (Tesla)
“The first guitar solos and riffs that got my attention by Kiss was in their song Larger Than Life [played by Bob Kulick] from Alive II. I've always loved that one. The halftime rhythm of the song and the four-step over-bending note of the middle solo section scream rock ‘n’ roll. Some fiery pentatonic bliss in that one.”
Grayson Stewart (Norma Jean)
“A lot of my appreciation for Kiss came from their influence on Dimebag Darrell, which he was very vocal about. His love for Ace led me to a live video of Kiss from 1977 playing Shock Me.
“What stood out was how powerful Ace's tone was. It's sharp and visceral, and his octave effects during the solo are a perfect example of how to use non-time-based effects creatively. And to cap off the performance, few guitar moments are as iconic as when his Les Paul began smoking out of the pickups. And he was still shredding until the solo was finished, and all that was left was an unsettling delay loop of feedback and the guitar exploding with more fireworks. True badass rock 'n' roll moment.”
Jackie Parry (Dianthus)
“My favorite Kiss guitar moment is during Ace's guitar solo at Madison Square Garden in 1996. It was pretty epic when he let go of his guitar, which twirled up in the air high above the stage with smoke coming out of the pickups. That moment never gets old for me! It's just so epic!”
Franz Stahl (Scream, formerly of Foo Fighters)
“I'd have to say, and I'm sure I'm not alone, every budding guitar player [got] their mind blown every time Ace's guitar went up in flames while he continued to rage on through the solo! As a teen, I was mystified how his pickups weren't melting down to his knees and torching his balls [laughs]!”
Alex Skolnick (Testament)
“It's hard to pick just one, but since I've ‘got to choose,’ I will go with this as my favorite Kiss guitar moment: the second solo of Deuce from Alive!, which happens just before the 2:40 mark. Ace is absolutely going wild, but he's also in complete control and 100 percent locked in timing-wise.
“His licks, tone and vibrato define the term ‘screaming solo’. And just when you think it can't get any more intense, a literal vocal scream happens underneath. This moment is as air-guitar inducing as anything in rock 'n' roll history.”
Punky Meadows (Angel)
“The first time I saw Kiss, Angel had just signed a deal with Casablanca Records. Neil Bogart and the Casablanca staff invited us to come and see Kiss in Anaheim, California. Of course, I was blown away. I remember Ace held my attention the most. I loved how he played slow, slinky and tasteful but could shred when needed.
“I remember liking how he looked – he'd stumble when he walked across the stage. I thought it was cool because you were on the edge of your seat waiting for him to fall, but he never did. Ace is 'cool' personified! Being on the same label, we got to hang out at certain events and cross paths on the road. I really like Ace – he has a wicked sense of humor and is a super nice guy and an inspiring guitarist.”
Philip Shouse (Accept)
“The solo section in 100,000 Years always stuck out for me. Even in a catalog as diverse as Kiss's, this song flies in from beyond left field. I particularly love the solo section, which features some of Ace's best playing because of his unbeatable phrasing! And, of course, there's the great rhythm playing by Paul, who stays locked around a cool Minor 7 sound. It's a true guitar highlight in a catalog full of guitar highlights! We indeed got the best!”
Isaiah Mitchell (Earthless, formerly of the Black Crowes)
“I love Ace's guitar solo on Shout it Out Loud. It's so musical and simple. It's a great example of perfect melody in motion.”
Charlie Starr (Blackberry Smoke)
“My favorite Kiss guitar moment is Ace's solo in Got to Choose. It's very underrated. It's a stutter-chicken pick masterpiece.”
Michael Sweet (Stryper)
“When I saw Kiss for the first time in 1977 at The LA Forum, I was mesmerized by Ace's performance and the pyrotechnics displayed throughout the show. Although my brother was the bigger fan who brought me to the show, I also became a lifelong fan from that night forward. Kiss are a staple in our rock 'n' roll history and always will be.”
“Believe it or not, the Electromagnets [Johnson's early band] opened one show for Kiss in the late ‘70s! We came out, playing fusion music, and the first two rows were young kids dressed up like Kiss. I don't think we went over well, but that was a fun moment!”
“My favorite Kiss guitar moment was seeing them live in 1976 at Anaheim Stadium. I seem to remember seeing Ace Frehley's guitar lighting up and start smoking out of the pickups. It was one of those moments you never forget… unless you forget.”
Nikki Stringfield (The Iron Maidens)
“I think the ultimate Kiss guitar moment for me is the solo from Detroit Rock City. It's so simple, yet memorable and powerful. As a kid, I just had to learn it and rock out!”
Kenny Hickey (EYE AM, formerly of Type O Negative)
“My favorite Kiss guitar moment is Ace Frehley's epic lead on Black Diamond, especially the 1/2-time breakdown from the Alive! version. It's full of tension, release, iconic power and depth, and written with Ace's unforgettable, straight-to-the-point style and phrasing.”
Kane Roberts (formerly of the Alice Cooper Band)
“There are many favorite Kiss guitar moments, so it's hard to choose, but being in the studio with Gene and Paul while Bruce Kulick recorded the guitar parts for Take It Off has to win the day for me!”
Richie Ranno (Starz)
“In 1974, when I was in the band Stories, our producer, Richie Wise, gave me the first Kiss album, which he also produced. I loved it, recorded it on cassette, and played it all the time when we were on the road. Then, when we got to L.A., we stayed at the same hotel as Kiss on Sunset Blvd. I put them on the backstage list at one of our gigs at the Whisky, and when they came backstage, I was playing my guitar warming up. I played Nothin' to Lose, Strutter, and Firehouse, and all four members of Kiss were singing along with me!”
“The Very Best of Kiss was the first CD I ever bought. I have a lot of favorite Kiss guitar moments, but as a Detroit native, I have to go with the solo from Detroit Rock City. It's a beautifully crafted solo.”
“On Alive II, Ace Frehley has infallible feedback magic! The intro feedback note of King of the Night Time World quickly transforms into its high harmonic, and Ace sustains it at full force with soulful, dramatic, and perfectly controlled vibrato.
“Ace's unaccompanied solo at the end of Shock Me has more of this beautiful guitar feedback and vibrato. I love it! Ace's solos on the first two Kiss live albums [Alive! and Alive II] are so perfectly composed that they remind me of what Bach would do if he had a Les Paul, a Marshall, and a space alien costume.”
Scotti Hill (Skid Row)
“I perfected the art of air guitar on a tennis racket to Kiss's Alive! record, but the standout moment for me would be when the band breaks into Black Diamond after the quiet picking part. It's a monster riff and is absolutely huge!”
Ryan Roxie (The Alice Cooper Band)
“My favorite Kiss guitar moment has to be watching them in Vienna, Austria, with Paul Stanley laying down some of the best rhythm guitar on Love Gun I've ever heard. People underestimate the power of rhythm guitar, discounting it as something that is 'just supposed to be there'. Sorry, but that's not true! Rhythm guitar is the sound of the band – the heart, soul, and signature. Hats off to Paul for providing it decade after decade for the Kiss fan in all of us!”
Steve Brown (Trixter)
“My favorite Kiss guitar moment is Ace during Shock Me from Alive II. Without question, this is the defining moment for me as far as this goes. The song and guitar solo are just spectacular and show Space Ace at his absolute best. His tone, phrasing and ferocity are all showcased here.
“But, one cool thing people don't talk about is hearing Ace do his pick-tapping thing, where he uses the side of his pick rather than his finger at the end of the solo. Considering this was recorded in the late summer of '77 and was before Eddie Van Halen did Eruption, this technique is even more mind-blowing. If there's one song that personifies Ace Frehley during his Kiss years, the Alive II version of Shock Me would be it.”
Max Cavalera (Sepultura)
“My favorite Kiss riff is on the song War Machine, from the Creatures of The Night album. It's one of the heaviest riffs ever! I sold my Kiss vinyl collection to get a tattoo, my first ever, but I got it back years later when a fan gave me the Kiss final collection! Kiss was one of my first favorite bands – I met Ace once, and he was so badass. War Machine aside, my other favorite Kiss riffs are Parasite, Love Gun, and Making Love.”
Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal (formerly of Sons of Apollo and Guns N' Roses)
“I've got two favorite Kiss guitar moments. The first is when I played Madison Square Garden in 2006, the same venue where I had seen my first big concert – Kiss on the Dynasty tour in '79. Hearing Alive! at age five, I became a musician, so as a tribute to it all, for my guitar solo that night, I played a rendition of Ace's solo from Alive!.
“The second moment came in 2013 when I was the house band guitarist for an event in NYC, where I played a bunch of old Kiss songs with Ace and Peter Criss. We did Hooligan, and Peter told me he hadn't performed the song in over 30 years. And Peter and Ace hadn't played together in over a dozen years. It was a wonderful, memorable Kiss guitar moment.”
“I'll go with Ace's solo on Got to Choose, from the Alive! album. Ace's playing is incredibly melodic here, and he really nails the shift from minor to major harmony. The Les Paul into Marshall tone simply barks here, and Ace pulls out tremendous harmonic overtones. It's a remarkably well-structured and memorable solo.”
John 5 (Mötley Crüe)
“I would have to say that my favorite Kiss guitar moment would have to be the Alive II version of Shock Me. The guitar solo at the end of the song is amazing, and I loved it. I had just started playing guitar the first time when I heard it – I loved Kiss so much!”
“My first concert was Kiss while they were on the [1976-1977] Rock and Roll Over tour. I had been a fan for a few years, but nothing could have prepared me for how exciting that show was.
“I believe that era was their aggressive energy apex and the peak of their live chemistry and charisma. Put that together with a 13-year-old stoner, who was an open canvas just waiting for a clue about what to do with his life, and the impact was immediate and life-altering. I got a guitar the very next day and got to work. That show was the most motivating thing I had ever seen.”