December 02, 2010

By Brian Shane

Jon bought his first KISS record at age six. Doug first picked up a guitar because of Ace Frehley's licks. Roger was a devotee of KISS comics as a kid, and Skip's seen them live 23 times.

"We're probably the four biggest KISS fans that live in this area," said Skip Dixxon, an Ocean Pines resident and founder of Rock Bottom, a KISS tribute band. "Everybody lives and breathes it."

And now, on the strength a killer set played recently at Dover Downs, Rock Bottom just signed with a national promoter. It could give them the opportunity to take their homage to their rock 'n' roll heroes on a potential worldwide tour -- if they're willing to quit their day jobs.

"That is a decision we have to make very soon," said guitarist Jon Joines. "The opportunities to play overseas and out at bigger venues is very exciting for all four of us."

When not performing, Dixxon is a DJ and music director for radio station Ocean 98. Joines works as a manager with Aflac insurance. Doug Bowers is a salesperson for Comcast. Roger Hillis is a freelance writer.

They take to the stage in expensive custom-sewn costumes -- replicas of what KISS wore on the cover of the 1976 "Destroyer" album, for the initiated -- and wear the band's famed painted faces. They play the very same instruments KISS does. Other exacting replicas include 7-inch platform boots and a 16-by-7 light-up "KISS" sign hanging behind the drum set.

"It's got to be perfect," Dixxon said, "or people are going to go away unsatisfied. It's their word of mouth that's going to make or break us."

Each member of Rock Bottom inhabits the character of an original KISS musician. Dixxon is drummer Peter Criss; Joines is guitarist Paul Stanley; lead guitarist Bowers is Ace Frehley; and bassist Hillis is famed rocker Gene Simmons, he of the iconic outstretched tongue.

"And coincidentally," said Hillis, "I've got a long tongue. The other day, somebody's like, 'Is the only reason they hired you is because you have a long tongue?'"

The band did not have this sort of runaway success in its first incarnation. The group Dixxon started in 1998 fell apart by 2006, he said, partly because he was the lone superfan, while the others were just good musicians.

"I didn't really see us going anywhere with it anymore," he said. "It's just so much work, and the costumes were really battered and beaten; they were homemade. I was getting discouraged. Without officially ending the band, I just never called another rehearsal."

A year later, Dixxon heard Joines sing a KISS song live with his band, Double Exposure. Dixxon begged Joines -- a friend he'd known from another band they were in -- to learn guitar and join him in a reincarnated Rock Bottom, named for the fifth track on the 1975 album "Dressed to Kill."

Joines didn't agree to it right away, but he came around. He took guitar lessons for nearly two years as the quartet came together with Bowers and Hillis.

"We all so much take pride in everything that we do with Rock Bottom and the whole KISS persona that we may be a notch above the other tribute bands," Joines said. "I think that's one reason that it's working. It's not a bunch of guys putting on the makeup trying to make a couple of bucks. We're all huge KISS fans and have been for well over 30 years."

Bowers called KISS his greatest musical influence since the age of 12. He jumped at the chance to portray his musical idol Ace Frehley.

"It's really fun," he said. "The people treat you like you're actually the character you're portraying. You get the makeup on, the costume -- your whole focus kind of changes. You get that whole alter ego thing going on. It's a blast."

Dixxon calls their show "the mid-70s KISS experience to a tee" with a set list that includes 1970s KISS standards like "Rock and Roll All Nite," "Shout It Out Loud," "Detroit Rock City," and "I Was Made For Lovin' You." All four are singing lead or harmonies for every song, like the real KISS.

Road manager Jeff Binnix of Bethany Beach is essentially the band's fifth member. He and the rest of the roadies assemble the risers, ramps, confetti cannons, and giant flashing KISS logo for their elaborate stage show.

Rock Bottom plays next at a stripped-down charity show Dec. 3. After that, they will headline a New Year's Eve show for a Baltimore radio station. Dover Downs also wants them back for shows in February and June.

In another noteworthy appearance, Dixxon in August earned a spot in a television commercial for the Swedish lottery featuring the real KISS. He was the drummer's body double in a wide shot and met the real band, which he called "surreal." The ad can be seen on the official KISS website, kissonline.com.

(image from goodcleanfunlife.com)