November 24, 2009
Kevin Waschuk scored a big coup for garage guitarists everywhere who fantasize about playing with their favourite rock band.

The Red Deer resident and KISS fanatic got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play guitar with Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and the boys, when the KISS musicians did a sound check before their Nov. 12 Calgary concert.

Waschuk recalled the surreal experience of standing on the Saddledome stage, playing Cold Gin and Detroit Rock City with KISS members, before they donned their studded costumes, big boots and pancake makeup. "It was a very laid-back casual thing, but I was anxious, nervous, excited..." he said.

The moment when KISS guitarist Stanley gave his playing an approving look, Waschuk knew his eight years of guitar lessons were worth it.

"It was very intimidating to be up there in the middle, with Paul Stanley looking down at my fingering, but I nailed it - or at least I thought I did. I practised those two songs so much, I drove my family crazy," recalled Waschuk with a laugh.

It took the 50-year-old - who first joined the KISS Army as a teenager in Stettler - 35 years to make his fantasy scenario happen. But Waschuk said, "I'm proof that anyone can live their dream. It can actually come true... Things can happen if you really want to make them happen."

The owner of a pipeline construction company jumped at the opportunity to play with his favourite band when it was offered at a 2008 benefit he attended in Portland, Ore.

Waschuk won't reveal what he bid for the honour.

"People would say, 'You fool!' But to me, it's like the commercial says: It's priceless," said the local resident, who noted the benefit was for a good cause - to help a sick buddy of KISS member Tommy Thayer pay for his medical costs.

"That's how I justify it."

Waschuk's monumental KISS paraphernalia collection fills an entire room of his Red Deer home. It includes a full-size pinball game, multiple dolls, shirts, posters, guitars, lunch hots, watches, golf balls, busts and a pair of replica thick-soled boots.

With the support of his classical music-loving wife Ann and their kids, he's attended about 40 of the band's North America concerts and has met the band a half dozen times at various meet-and-greets.

Waschuk described the musicians as always being down-to-earth and gracious - just as they were before the Calgary concert. Group members signed quite a few KISS items Waschuk presented, including photos, posters, a large painting and a guitar that Stanley actually played onstage.

Simmons, the group's outspoken bassist, continues to love the spotlight and is big on band merchandising, said Waschuk. Stanley is the opposite - he described the guitarist with the black star makeup as more of a low-key guy who focuses on the music.

KISS also consists of lead guitarist Thayer, who replaced "spaceman" member Ace Frehley, and drummer Eric Singer, who replaced cat-faced Peter Criss, when the original members left the band years ago over artistic differences.

Waschuk liked the band's old formation and also likes the new.

While the "superhero" aspect of KISS appealed to him as a teenager, he said nostalgia continues to draw him in.

Waschuk remembers getting withering looks from adults whenever he revealed his preference for the band with demonic overtones and a member who spits blood. "They’d say, 'Oh my God, you can't listen to that music! He spits what?'" said Waschuk, with a laugh.

"It was another side to life, an escape."