August 10, 2010
By Jeffrey Ougler

Some howled.

Others pounced.

Packs of critics and Kiss fans were far from content with Eric Singer's having - they would contend - the temerity to take on Peter Criss's Catman character, previously solely portrayed by the flamboyant rock band's original drummer. Even the late Eric Carr, the first to replace Criss in the early 1980s, didn't go that far; he was the Fox until the makeup-clad rockers dispensed with the war paint for a spell.

The mere mention of such cynics these days still brings Singer's claws out - a bit.

The accomplished drummer - he's also beat the skins for the likes of Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath - contends he's become very comfortable in his cat skin, so to speak, since putting it on in 2001.

"I'm totally fine with it. . . . I mean it's like all things in life," Singer said recently from his L.A. home.

"(In sports) people can love your team, and there's going to be people on the other side of the country that hate your team.

"No, I don't have an issue at all, and I know you can't make everybody happy.

Singer said he's confident many initial wounds have healed.

"Well, you still have a few naysayers. . . . There's no doubt about it," he said.

"That's one thing I tried to learn to accept many years ago, that no matter, I don't care if you are the nicest person in the world, there's going to be people in your life that are just not going to like you for some reason that they've decided, or for no reason. It's just the way it works. You can't make everybody happy."

Enough fans are evidently "happy" with the legendary rockers and the current lineup, which includes originals Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, as well as relative newcomer, lead guitarist Tommy Thayer (who, by the way, took on original member Ace Frehley's Spaceman character and, no doubt, took a few lumps early on).

Nearly 40 years after the band's humble genesis, Kiss concerts, complete with blinding light shows, deafening volumes, support-beam-skaking explosions and Simmons's notorious blood spitting, remain huge attractions. Indeed, there were lean years in the 1980s and some curious roster shuffles. New players were recruited and originals Criss and Frehley, in particular got the platform-heeled boot, were brought back and then later dismissed. But the band has re-emerged, partly thanks to its masterful merchandising and media manipulation.

Kiss products range from credit cards to caskets, and the A&E television show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, receives more than respectable ratings and has introduced the Kiss brand to a new generation that considers reality TV as the holy grail of entertainment.

Musically, the band has returned to its roots. The latest studio album, 2009's Sonic Boom, harkens back to the group's mid-1970s hard-rocking style. The formula evidently worked: Sonic Boom debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, selling 108,134 copies in its first week of release.

If there if is any doubt about Kiss's drawing power, just ask fans in a city where the band planned a show then pulled out.

It was announced in June the makeup-clad quartet would make good on its promise to play Essar Centre in a makeup date for its postponed Dec. 15 show. The Sault placed third in an online contest last year that let fan votes route the band's fall North American tour, but bad weather cancelled the final show of the tour.

Black ice be damned, some said. Reactions by fans quoted at the time ranged from "disappointed" to "pissed off."

But it appears all is patched up now, with faithful gearing up for Tuesday's sold out show. There's even pre- and post-concert gatherings slated for a couple of local pubs, and fans are encouraged to show up in all their Kiss glory: makeup, hairspray and all.

Singer and the boys weren't oblivious to discontent here.

"I remember reading some comments when the show got cancelled and they felt like, 'Oh we're going to get blown off, they'll never come back here.' " the drummer said.

"No. The only reason we cancelled the show was because the weather was bad. There was black ice on all those roads. We were in Pittsburgh at the time and the truckers all said, 'We don't want to take a chance. We don't think we can get there in time, it's really dangerous,' and we were advised to not do the show. So that's why. So we said, 'Well, we'll make it up at some point,' and here we are to make it up to everyone."

The show is part of Kiss's North American tour, dubbed The Hottest Show on Earth, which started on July 23, and Singer vows the Essar gig will be a dandy, with "bigger and better' effects, "more pyro" and "a third" of the set list shuffled from last year's tour, with three Sonic Boom selections tossed in.

"I don't want to give away too much," Singer said.

"Let's say people (will) walk away, as they say in England, gobsmacked. Their jaws will drop. They really will. The show is a great show and I would say that even if I wasn't in the band. We don't just look good. . . . You close your eyes and Kiss sounds good. We're not all smoke and mirrors, is what I'm saying."

On the day of this interview, Singer is on a break - sort of.

Although the band has been off for a few days, most of his morning has been spent on the horn doing interviews with various media outlets. And the next day, Singer is expected to be up with the birds to catch an 8 a.m. flight for Philadelphia, where Kiss resumed the current leg of the tour.

He's not complaining. The current tour schedule allows for breaks every two weeks or so - something sort of foreign to touring rockers, Singer said.

"It's almost like stop, start, stop, start. . . . . But I kind of like it because I can sleep in my own bed and drive my car and go eat at all the places that I want," he said, the sound of a microwave beeping in the background indicating his cold coffee has been reheated. "You know, I do the things I want go to the gym and work out with my friends and do that kind of stuff. It's kind of weird. I'm on tour, but I'm not. You know it's kind of weird. It's just a different mindset for me. Something I have to get used to."

The 52-year-old might be described as a living testament to the old adage about persistence paying off. His on-again, off-again tenure with Kiss - Peter Criss was brought back a couple of times during Singer's nearly 20-year relationship with the band - became permanent when, in 2003, Simmons and Stanley opted not to renew Criss's contract.

Singer's been touring and recording with Kiss ever since, even claiming lead vocal credit for one Sonic Boom selection, All for the Glory.

Pretty heady stuff for a guy who, as a budding drummer in his late teens, worshipped Kiss and other powerhouse groups for which he's worked. In 2008, he actually toured with both Kiss and Alice Cooper, but has since devoted his drumming to the former.

"It's pretty amazing, because I was actually, in all honesty, a fan of both bands. . . . I love both the bands," Singer said.

"I always have Alice Cooper's Billion Dollar Babies on my Top 10 desert island list. I love that record, and still do to this day.

"Alice is a great guy and, look, I had a lot of great years playing with Alice. I don't rule out that I may not play with him again, but right now, Kiss is too busy and I'm happy to say we're very active in doing a lot of stuff with Kiss. So right now my focus and all my energy is all strictly on Kiss."

Working cheek by jowl with Stanley and Simmons also affords Singer an opportunity few have in seeing firsthand what really makes these rock legends tick.

"These guys know what they are doing," Singer said.

"They know music. They are unbelievably knowledgeable about music. Paul, out of anyone I've ever met in my life, probably knows more music trivia and minutiae. It's unbelievable his knowledge of songs. This guy knows more songs, the most obscure stuff. It's unbelievable. He's a real music aficionado, and so is Gene. They both really know their music theory, chords and voicing. (Simmons) always tries to tell you, 'Well, I don't really know what I'm doing, I don't believe I'm that much of a bass player.' He always tries to play it down and act like he doesn't know. He'll try to act like he's more about business and more about, like, presenting a product in a show and all that, but that's just posturing. Believe me."

And and far as showmanship, it doesn't get much better than Simmons.

"Gene is, pardon my French, f-----g nuts, I've got to tell you," Singer said.

"He really is. When he's on stage, he's out of his mind. I'll sit there and look at him and I've got to laugh, he's so intense and so into what he's doing. It really is sincere. He's really genuine. . . . He's very sincere about what's he doing. He loves being in Kiss. He loves doing the Kiss show, absolutely."