Read an excerpt from They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll

Clark Collis
·16 min read

Hachette Books

Doug Brod was around 11 when he first saw KISS performing on the television.

"I was into monsters and horror movies and science fiction and comic books," says the former EW and Spin editor. "They had all of that. I was totally in love with the visual aspect. I started getting into rock and roll and they were my band for probably four years, from ’75-’79."

Four decades on, Brod has detailed the career of the make-up-wearing music act and three other classic rock bands in They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll' Remade Rock and Roll.

"These are four of my favorite bands, all of whom had many connections," says the author. "The starting off point was that on Gene Simmons’ solo album of ’78, he had members of all three of the other bands play with him. As I dug deeper, I realized there was a lot of intermingling amongst these bands and they also toured together."

Not always happily. In the book, Brod details problems between the road crews of KISS and Aerosmith.

"The were coming up together around the same time, they were struggling for the same audience," says Brod. "KISS and Aerosmith played shows together. I heard stories about knives coming out. No one got stabbed, but there were threats."

Hachette Books is publishing They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll' Remade Rock and Roll Dec. 1. Exclusively read much more about the strained relationship between KISS and Aerosmith in the excerpt from the book below:

Not only did KISS perform as if they were the headliner when they were merely a support act, but they also traveled with a production to match their colossal sense of self, an idea that wasn’t exactly embraced by their contemporaries, who’d constantly push back on some of the band’s extraordinary demands. This, coupled with the common practice of headliners limiting the support acts’ volume and/or stage space, often led to confrontations between road crews. “It was a struggle,” says early KISS sound engineer Jay “Hot Sam” Barth, who later did a number of tours with Cheap Trick. “It was like, ‘You’re gonna put all that shit in front of our shit? You want bombs and fire? We don’t have any bombs and fire.’ You had to fight for what you got a lot of times.”

When KISS opened for Dutch rockers Golden Earring in New Jersey in 1974, Sean Delaney had heard a rumor that the headliner’s crew intended to unplug KISS while they played. “The Delaneys are Irish and we had a meanass father who taught us well, so we were waiting for them,” says Sean’s brother Leon Delaney, who roadied for KISS in the early years. “We were punching and kicking the shit out of them, and Gene, onstage, looked around the amps and saw the fight. Needless to say, they weren’t unplugged.”

On Saturday, March 23, 1974, KISS supported Argent and Redbone at New York’s Academy of Music on Fourteenth Street. When the next evening’s show with Argent in Washington, D.C., got canceled, KISS managed to secure a slot opening for Aerosmith, whose Get Your Wings had just been released, at the Painter’s Mill Music Fair in Owings Mills, Maryland, a 2,500-capacity theater in the round, twenty miles northwest of Baltimore.

Joe Perry, who has alternately, and mistakenly, placed this gig at either a dinner theater or a parking lot in Marion, Ohio—where KISS have never played—saw KISS’s set and was stunned by the audience’s response. “People went nuts because it’s impossible not to when some guy is breathing fire,” he recalled. “It wasn’t about the music at all.” After Aerosmith finished their set and left the stage to modest applause, the guitarist became enraged. “We’re busting our asses trying to write great songs and play them right,” he fumed. Was his band now going to have to dress up like clowns to get a reaction? He was also envious of the fact that, despite having a pair of fuckups in their ranks, as a group KISS appeared to be able to hold things together. “They’d have their pyro and smoke and then we’d come out,” Perry said, “five drunk guys arguing between songs about what to play next.”

Tom Hamilton, likewise, wasn’t keen on having to follow that spectacle. “It felt like we were going out with our pants down,” the bassist has said. “The impact of what KISS was doing was undeniable, even though I felt it was kind of corny. We had a rivalry from then on.”

Whatever animosity may have been shooting off of Aerosmith was not felt by KISS. “I thought their vibe live was terrific, and they wore their influences well,” Paul Stanley says. “It was very comfortable for them. They were much better than their first album.” Stanley did, however, see the other contenders for America’s hard-rock throne as competition. “That’s the nature of the beast,” he says. “It doesn’t make necessarily for uncomfortable rivalry, but you ultimately are rooting for your team. We tried to be friends with every band because we were fans of a lot of the bands. But we drew the line when we went up the steps to the stage. That’s when we were there to kick ass and knock everyone else out. That was not personal. That was about guardianship of the mantle.” And KISS had foot soldiers ready to die, figuratively or otherwise, defending the band’s honor.

On this tour, KISS brought with them a drum riser comprised of a platform and a motorized forklift-like contraption framed by seven-foot-high, half-inch-thick steel, which, when it worked, and it sometimes didn’t, lifted Peter Criss some six feet above the stage. But no way was Aerosmith’s tour manager, Bob “Kelly” Kelleher, going to allow KISS to use it and show up the headliner. And no way was KISS tour manager Sean Delaney going to take no for an answer. “I got into several shoving matches with Aerosmith’s guys over being told that we couldn’t use Peter’s riser,” Delaney said. “They wanted him to set up on the floor, which we never did.”

“We had a fight” is how Kelleher characterizes the altercation in Maryland. “We had a knock-down, drag-out brawl.” And from his perspective, the fight was hardly fair. The KISS crew, he says, were “a bunch of New York goons with black T-shirts, leather wristbands, and knives, though I’m not sure knives were actually pulled.” According to Kelleher, Delaney (“a gravel-voiced, abrasive New York asshole”) cold-cocked Aerosmith crew member Nick Spiegel, setting off the melee: “It was like, ‘Okay. We’ll deal with this.’ ” Perry shared Kelleher’s estimation of KISS’s road crew. “They had a cutthroat scene going,” he said of the band. “They were good people surrounded by shit.”

Peter “Moose” Oreckinto, the KISS roadie in charge of operating the drum riser, doesn’t recall ever having to shut it down. “It’d shut itself down,” he says of the temperamental device. “We didn’t know what was going to break on that thing, and we didn’t have the parts—bearings, pulleys, any of that junk—that thing needed.”

Reflecting on the period years later, Brad Whitford admitted that he felt KISS had an unfair advantage, but also that “they were playing my favorite kind of music, which is guitar hard rock, really simple. It was a really powerful show.”

“KISS was in the same place as us,” Perry has said. “I always looked at it as us having a friendly competition.” Tyler, however, did not agree with this perspective. From that show on, the Aerosmith frontman saw KISS as nothing less than an existential threat. “I remember when we went out with KISS in ’76 or something,” Tyler later said, off by a couple of years, “one of our roadies got into a knife fight with their guys. So, I hated them ever since.”

When Casablanca executive Larry Harris worked his industry contacts to land KISS on the bill of a promotional concert for Detroit radio station WABX two weeks later, again opening for Aerosmith, tensions between the crews had hardly abated. The city, home to a proudly, defiantly blue-collar scene—rich with homegrown heroes like Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, the MC5, the Stooges, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, and Grand Funk Railroad from nearby Flint—was for greenhorns like KISS and Aerosmith crucial Midwest ground they needed to conquer.

One story goes that Harris wanted to persuade deejay Mark Parenteau, a Boston buddy of Aerosmith’s, to start playing KISS on the station. Parenteau had seen the band perform at the Casablanca launch party in L.A. and walked away knocked out by the show but disliking the music. Harris told him the label would pay the production cost for a KISS radio concert and WABX could book the other bands. If the audience responded favorably to KISS, he stipulated, Parenteau had to agree to put their debut album in heavy rotation.

The April 7 concert, which also featured the Mojo Boogie Band from neighboring Ann Arbor and Michael Fennelly, formerly of two underrated bands that sounded nothing alike—the Millennium and Crabby Appleton—was supposed to close out the sixth annual WABX Kite-In and Balloon Fly, a daylong event to benefit the cleanup of Belle Isle, an island park located between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Rain and temperatures in the low forties put a damper on the afternoon’s outdoor activities, but not the concert, which was held later that evening at the Michigan Palace, five miles to the west. Aerosmith were familiar with the grand former movie theater, having opened for the New York Dolls’ Detroit debut there seven months earlier.

WABX, 99.5 on the FM dial, was, in 1974, one of the most influential freeform radio stations in America. Freeform, by design a sort of anti-format, relied on the personality and taste of deejays as opposed to the commercial considerations of a program director. It was a haven for adventurous disc jockeys who, if the mood struck them, could segue from the Rolling Stones into Benny Goodman into the Last Poets into Tim Buckley into Ken Nordine word jazz. “We survived on the premise that we would play what we wanted when we wanted,” former deejay Ken Calvert says, “and we would base it on nothing other than the integrity of the artist, the air staff, and the content.”

“We were the guys in town,” says Dan Carlisle, one of the station’s founding deejays, “so for us to sponsor a show for you, it put you on the map with people who bought records.” For the headliner, it was a different story. “Aerosmith were repaying favors,” he says. “At one time playing Aerosmith wasn’t making us any friends. And we did for at least a year or two before they broke nationally.”

The night before the show, Kelleher was called into a meeting with some of the WABX jocks. Walking in with two crew members, he was surprised to find ten people, including Larry Harris, waiting for him. He immediately thought, I’m being ambushed. Harris made it clear he wanted KISS to have access to whatever lights and sound they required. Kelleher agreed to the request, but the next day at the theater, he dropped a metaphoric sandbag, prohibiting KISS’s crew from using Aerosmith’s upstage, or rear, lighting. “They bitched and moaned,” he says. “But we put our backdrop on the rear lighting truss and raised it like the American flag during the first song. It was our special effect.”

His move incensed the Casablanca executive. “If you don’t work this out,” Harris told Kelleher, “you’ll never get another record played in the country.” Kelleher called David Krebs from the lobby to communicate the threat. “What should I do?” he asked the band’s comanager. Having gotten the response he expected, Kelleher relayed the message to Harris: “Larry, with all due respect, David Krebs says, ‘Go fuck yourself.’”

Being part of a road crew in the ’70s typically involved all manner of strategic brinksmanship. “When Aerosmith opened for Mott the Hoople, they didn’t get backlighting either,” Kelleher says. “It’s part of the game.” To achieve his goals, he applied skills he learned playing hockey in Boston: “You don’t slash back at the opponent when he hits you. You wait till you get him in the corner, when the referee’s not looking, and you drop him. That was my logic. ‘You can use the lights: There’s some on the left, there’s some on the right. That’s it.’ ”

In his recollection, KISS crew member Oreckinto says the big issue involved the amount of space Aerosmith were allotting KISS on the stage. “Aerosmith wouldn’t move their amp line back so we could set up, so buck knives came out,” he says. “Not that we would ever hurt anybody.”

Paul Stanley was proud of how his loyal crew protected KISS’s territory but places the knife fight in Maryland. “It’s not uncommon, to this day and certainly back then, for the headliner to handicap or sabotage the other acts,” he says. “I’ve always believed that if you need to tie someone’s hand behind their back to beat them in the ring, then you should be in the gym more.” Stanley remembers Aerosmith’s amps being moved so far downstage in Maryland, KISS were left with virtually no room to perform, “except to basically walk like crabs sideways.” The band and their roadies weren’t going to stand for it since there was more room to be had. “So, when push came to shove, push came to shove,” says Stanley. “I certainly don’t condone it, but when things escalated a bit, our crew made it clear that Aerosmith’s gear was going to be moved back to make way for us to have a fair and fighting chance.”

“KISS wanted to dominate the stage,” says Steve Leber. “It was much easier to work with AC/DC, who also blew Aerosmith off the stage. KISS was a show, Aerosmith wasn’t. It was something new and different. We should have said, ‘If you want to open for Aerosmith, we want half the management.’ We should have made Bill Aucoin give us a piece.”

Michael Fennelly, who was promoting his debut solo album, Lane Changer, recalls that he also fell victim to a band’s technical demands at Michigan Palace, but they weren’t Aerosmith’s. That afternoon, he and his group found themselves sitting in the auditorium waiting to do their soundcheck. And then waiting some more. And then some more. It was a soundcheck they never got to do because of KISS. “We watched their rehearsal and they weren’t in all their regalia,” he says. “They were just guys running through some songs. We were surprised at how terrible they were, that they were playing out of tune.” After KISS were done, their difficulties extended to a piece of malfunctioning gear, which their roadies attempted to repair right in the center of the stage. “Not carrying it off and working on it,” says Fennelly. “They just set it in front of the drum kit. We thought that was pretty fucking rude.”

While all of this drama played out backstage and onstage, outside had the makings of a disaster movie. Steve Glantz, who routinely booked rock acts at the Michigan Palace, was the nominal promoter of the show, but since it was a station-sponsored affair, the WABX staff had been drafted to coordinate the event on the ground. “We were perhaps the worst people in the world to run a concert, because we don’t like alienating people,” Dan Carlisle says. “We may ask you to not do something, and if you continue to do it, what are we going to do about it?”

The trouble began when dozens of kids who had come early to take refuge from the lousy weather pushed forcefully against one of the theater’s glass doors, smashing it. The organizers opened up another entrance to alleviate the strain and prevent injuries, and in the process allowed some three hundred kids to rush the venue. “A bunch of them were sitting in the fucking theater while the rehearsals were going on,” Carlisle says. “Right away, we weren’t in control of the situation.”

The role of de facto stage manager fell to this station veteran. “I would say to the two hundred people that were wandering backstage, ‘Please don’t go back there. We’re trying to set this thing up,’ ” he says. “It was a free-for-all. We were lucky nobody was killed.” As for Larry Harris and Mark Parenteau’s purported deal, “that’s bullshit,” Carlisle says. “We were already playing KISS. Harris wanted the band to be seen, and this was a good way to achieve that.”

KISS’s and Aerosmith’s sets, which were simulcast on the station, and now can be heard on the internet and via bootlegs, reveal two young bands just hitting their strides yet fully in command of their craft. Tyler oozes sexy menace with his feral yowling, at one point telling the crowd, “If you keep touching me, I’m gonna shock off your balls.” Donald Handy was a sixteenyear- old high school student when he dropped acid before attending the concert. “Near the end,” he says, “someone announced that the next song would be their last, to which I shouted something like, ‘No, it’s not!’ I then felt everyone turn around and stare at me, along with the band members. They did come back out for one more encore.”

While this would be the last time the two bands played together for nearly thirty years, sound mixer “Nitebob” Czaykowski recalls KISS members attending an Aerosmith show in the ’70s as observers. “KISS were playing two nights before,” he says. “I’m sure they wanted to see them because when you’re on tour, you don’t see the other guys’ show. They were like runners in a race, and KISS were a little behind until their fourth record.”

KISS returned to Michigan Palace a week after they played with Aerosmith, to open two sold-out shows headlined by Blue Öyster Cult. And while KISS would release two records, Hotter Than Hell and Dressed to Kill, within a year, in the battle between the rock behemoths, Aerosmith ultimately prevailed when their third album, 1975’s Toys in the Attic, spawned the Top 10 hit “Walk This Way” and eventually sold eight million copies. But the batwinged freaks remained close behind, nipping at their Cuban heels. Soon, Detroit would be theirs.

Excerpted from They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll by Doug Brod. Copyright © 2020. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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