Release Date: July 24, 2007
Label: Silvercat Records
Best known to the entire world as The Catman, a founding member and original drummer of the legendary KISS, PETER CRISS has returned with his latest musical project, One For All, a collection showcasing his far-ranging talent as a skillful singer-songwriter and his vast range as a gifted vocalist.
Born Peter George John Criscuola in Brooklyn, New York on December 20, 1945, he took up drums inspired by jazz icon Gene Krupa as well as rock’n'roll heroes such as the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts. “I love bands like the Who and Zeppelin, but you could always dance to the Stones and that is so important,” says Criss. Launching his own career as a musician, Peter played in local bands around the New York area in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but his future fame truly began the day he placed a newspaper ad saying “drummer with 11 years experience, willing to do anything to make it.” That classified led to the formation one of rock’s greatest bands in history.
Peter sang the lead vocal and co-wrote what to this day remains KISS’ biggest Billboard hit, ‘Beth’, which went on to win a People’s Choice Award and became a highlight of every KISS concert, with lighters, then years later, cell phones raised high and waving in arenas and stadiums around the globe. In his Catman persona, he performed with the band through 1980, and then embarked on a solo career that resulted in four albums. In 1995, he reunited with his former band mates for a historic MTV Unplugged show that led to a 1996-97 reunion tour that encompassed the globe, followed by a new studio album. Turning to acting in 2002 with a part on the HBO prison drama Oz, Peter continued to play with KISS until 2004, and then again turned to other entertainment projects, while also crafting the songs that now appear on his new solo release, One For All.
Intensely personal and autobiographical, One For All, is a song cycle of variously styled, profoundly rich ballads that touch on all aspects of Peter’s life, looking back at his legendary music career while also turning within to reflect on family and friends. It’s the latest chapter in a life story that has given us one of rock’s greatest legacies.
For the recording of the CD, Peter worked in his home studio and New York studios with many longtime friends who are also top musicians, such as songwriting collaborator guitarist Mike McLaughlin, who goes back to Peter’s ’80s band, CRISS, and Late Night with David Letterman Grammy-award winners bandleader Paul Shaffer and bassist Will Lee. One For All also marks Peter’s debut as a producer. “I’ve co-produced KISS albums with all the greats” says Criss, “but I’d never sat in the captain’s chair until now.” He continues: “It was an amazing experience and big achievement for me. To be playing with guys I’ve always respected as musicians at my level — or even above it — I’m just so proud of that.”
With McLaughlin sending music from his home in Asia and then flying in for the actual sessions, Peter wrote all the lyrics and melodies, and also arranged the songs — many of which are textured with string passages overseen by Clifford Carter. Says Criss, “I’d be down there in the studio at two, three in the morning, playing as loud as I wanted to, and all I could think was how blessed I am in my life. Now that I’m an artist again, I’m really finally free to do what I want…and I’m not delusional about charts or hits, I know who I am, exactly what I am, and what I can do.”
Organic and elemental, drawing on Peter’s love of rock and R&B, One For All aims straight for the heart and soul. The album opens with the title track, written in the wake of an event forever burned in the mind of all Americans, especially New Yorkers like Peter: September 11th, 2001. “I went to Church that day and coming home, watching it on television, it was so surreal, but I knew I wanted to do something,” he recalls.
Peter took part in various 9/11 fundraisers, and also began working on a song to capture the feeling of a shattered world where we all find strength in each other — as One For All became an elegiac cry for unity over our diversity. For the first time, he also worked with children, who sing on the song, as hope for our future. Rather than use a well-known adult choral group, he recorded the Church of Transfiguration Boys Choir.
A searing blues-soul ballad, ‘Doesn’t Get Better Than This’, is a remarkable call-and-response duet between Peter and Jennifer Johnson, their vocals pushing each other to a climactic finish. The emotive cello for Wendy Sutter colors ‘Last Night’, a song about losses and transition, filled with aching sorrow, yet also renewal, as Peter says goodbye to past love, friends now gone, and his prior musical life — while also embracing new love, and his continuing journey as an exploring musician.
Peter pays special tribute to KISS fans that have stuck by him through thick and thin in two songs, Faces in the Crowd and Memories. “People put you on pedestal and can easily knock you off it. I’m so lucky to have the greatest fans in the world,” he says. “I would look out on the crowd at those smiling faces every night and I’m so proud to have those fans. I thank God and the fans every day for what they’ve given me; they’re the biggest stars, not me. And they’ve made a wonderful life for me.”
The album also features several cover songs, including a torchy rendition of ‘What A Difference A Day Makes’, which Peter always loved from a Dinah Washington record, and now dedicates to his mother. “There have been a lot of artists and musicians in my family; my great, great grandfather was a great painter, and my mother had a golden voice,” he says. “She sang morning, noon and night, and had the radio on 24/7 — she even took a portable radio with her when she left the house. I brought a picture of my mom and me into the studio, lowered the lights…and sang to this picture. I really went through a major emotional experience and got it on the third take, which is my lucky number.”
Another cover, a version of the classic Sondheim stage song ‘Send In The Clowns’, was the first piece Peter actually recorded for the project. “It was a very heavy time for me. KISS had finished work with the Melbourne Symphony and the song made sense,” he says. “I knew we wanted to do different things, and for me it was finally getting down to doing this album of my life.”
While ‘Heart Behind The Hands’ is from the hit Broadway musical Brooklyn, its revealing theme struck Peter to his core. “My guitarist Mike and I looked at it and it was good, but very Broadway, so we thought ‘let’s try to do this bluesy shuffle, a Zeppelin kind of thing,’” he says. “The song could be about a musician, the guy behind the hands that play, his soul. I talked to the writer and said ‘did you know me, are you clairvoyant?’”
The album closes with the atmospheric ‘Space Ace’, as Peter honors his longtime KISS bandmate and friend guitarist Ace Frehley. “He’s gone through a lot of changes, just like me and he’s happy,” Peter says.
For Peter Criss, One For All is a summation of all the places he’s been, all the wonder and tragedy he’s weathered to emerge a far more creative musician and perhaps most of all, a fulfilled human being. “I think the fans, the true KISS fans are going to get this and love it,” he says.
“The most important thing is that my fans and other people will get a whole new outlook on me,” Peter says. “I’m reinventing myself at my own pace. I’ve been to the mountain several times. I’ve been so high up in this business, I’d like to see other people, the artists-on-the-rise, get there now. For me, it’s now, more than ever, about being true. I’m old school man, I come from the heart and always will.”