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                                          KISS And The Black Guitarist

                                                                 by

                                             Christopher C. Campbell

 

                                           As a kid, one of my favorite bands was the rock group KISS. The first album that I bought by them was KISS Alive. I was 8 years old. Before then when I used to play my dad's guitar, (my dad was Eddie Campbell of the 60's soul duo Eddie and Ernie) I used to always play it left handed. Although I was naturally right handed, I always played guitar left handed. Just like Hendrix. Everybody knows that Jimi played left handed. But what many didn't know was that Hendrix was actually right handed. He just played guitar left handed. There is a picture of Hendrix writing down lyrics that shows Jimi writing with his right hand. Anyway, that was the only thing I ever did left handed. Untill I saw pictures of KISS's lead guitarist Ace Frehley. Then strictly because of Ace Frehley, did I consciously switch from playing left handed to right.  Anyway, I remember getting teased by a few other black kids for digging KISS. They would come over to my house and when they walked into my room, I had so many posters and pictures of KISS, it looked like a shrine. They couldn't relate to me because I liked KISS.  They looked at me like I was a young martian and like I had a spaceship parked in the corner of my room. "That's white boy music." they said to me.  "You know what Chris? You act like a white boy.  You even talk like a white boy." Huh? "How does one act and talk "white" ?" my 8 year old mind wondered.  Anyway, I continued to like KISS, Parliament-Funkadelic, David Bowie, Hendrix and every other out of this world performer who dared to be different. I didn't know that was one of the reasons that I dug them then of course. I just knew that I dug them. That was all that mattered. From that point on, I went on to see KISS several times in concert, dressed up like one of KISS's members (Peter Criss, The Cat) for Halloween and as an adult musician, even pitched one of my songs, a rock ballad, to KISS's management at the time through Eric Singer, KISS's then and now drummer. I even ended up meeting Gene Simmons himself, the bassist for KISS, at a KISS tribute band's show called Cold Gin at The Troubadour out here in Los Angeles. I then ended up on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno as he asked me a series of questions regarding KISS at a KISS concert in the hallways of The Forum.  I stood heroically, wearing my beloved  KISS Destroyer t-shirt , as I answered easy questions like "Are Gene Simmons and Richard Simmons related?" Some years later, Gene Simmons wrote an autobiography about his life titled "KISS And Make-Up"  In this book, Gene wrote about when KISS was auditioning lead guitarists for the band. As much as I enjoyed the book, I found special interest in this chapter because of Ace Frehley and being that Ace was such an influence on me. Not just from him causing me to switch from playing left to right as a kid but also later on and how much he influenced me as a lead guitarist. While reading this chapter, before Gene got to the part of Ace audtioning for the band, which is legendary, I found another part of what Gene was telling to be even more interesting. Gene mentioned about a black guitarist who came in to audition for KISS and who was very good.  Gene wrote in "KISS And Make-Up" "One guy, a guitar player from another group, came in and really floored us. He was a fantastic player and a great guy. The only problem was that he was black, which wasn't a problem for us personally but was a huge problem for us as a band. He finished his audition, which was just phenomenal, then went downstairs, and we had an impromptu band meeting in which we decided that no matter how good he was, he just didn't fit our image. He was black, we were white, and we wanted to put together something that looked like the Beatles on steroids. I volunteered to go down there and tell him the truth, and I didn't mince words. I told him I liked him. I told him that we should hang out. And then I told him he couldn't be in the band because he was black. I couldn't believe the words that were coming out of my mouth. To his credit, he understood. In fact, he fired it right back at me. If the Temptations uncovered a great white singer, he said, they wouldn't make him an offer, no matter how good he was."

                                              Personally, I never had a problem with this. This is an image conscious business and everybody knows that. Be it the Beatles or Earth, Wind & Fire.  I myself have formed rock bands. Sure, a few of my bands have been mixed ala Sly and the Family Stone. My very first rock band that I formed, I was the only black guy in the band, ala the Jimi Hendrix Experience. BUT the last few rock bands that I have formed were all black ala The Band of Gypsies and Funkadelic.  Moving on, as a KISS fan, what I found intriguing was wonder if KISS had chosen that guitarist who happened to be black instead of Ace Frehley? Damn, that would have been a trip huh? Not to me. I mean the band ended up wearing their trademark face makeup. From  KISS's debut album in 1974 all the way up to 1983 when they stopped wearing makeup, the band hid their identities from the public. That was a huge part of their allure. That no one really knew what the members looked like without the makeup. So in that sense, would it have mattered that this guitarist was black? As a kid, looking at all of the KISS posters that adorned my bedroom walls, more than the other three members in the band, I couldn't tell what Gene really looked like. Let alone what ethniticy he was. To be honest, Gene himself looked like he could have been black more than he was white. Which he is neither. He is Jewish. But my point is, to look at Gene, then and now, Gene could possibly, depending on what angle you happen to catch him at, could perhaps pass for a light skinned brother. Let's stay with the period when KISS wore makeup, shall we? Take Gene's hair. Was it naturally straight? Nope. Did he even wear it straight? Nope. Kinky, bushy, how ever you want to call it...Those words are associated with whom? Thank you. Take Gene's facial features. Are they Germanic? Nah... And with his makeup on, combined with Gene's hair, Gene looked like he could have easily been a brutha under that  grease paint. And I can't leave out Gene's  "charisma". His stage pressence.  Have any of you ever seen Gene walk? Again, let's stay with KISS the makeup years shall we? When Gene was in full costume, Gene's gait in his boots was very...Kareem Abdul Jabbar-ish. What white guy had you ever seen walk like Gene did in his boots? Gene's got a little "soul" to his strut today but In the70's and early 80's? Onstage, Gene stalked across stage like a black superhero monster. Offstage, when the band were doing interviews, whenever they had to walk up on a platform, Gene's stroll had that "drag" that cool brothers back in the day had. Gene's walk had that  emphasized "swagger" You could tell Gene hung out with some brothers back in New York. Back in KISS's glory years, nobody knew what Gene's race was. Even the white kids didn't believe Gene was white.  I remember back in 83, when KISS was "unmasking" on MTV. it was a big thing in the media. Finally, the public would be able to see "officially" what the members of KISS looked like. While the band was being interviewed, I was looking at Gene thinking "Gene look damn near as much of a brother as J.J. Jackson!" My point to all this is the black guitarist that first auditioned for KISS could have blended in. Nobody would have had to have known he was black. That would have been cool. No, that would have been Hotter Than Hell. He would have been hiding his face with napkins leaving resturaunts just like the rest of them did. They could have...oh wait,...aaah, ....I know what you all are thinking...The hands....yes yes,...The hands. Of course. What would the poor guy  have done with his hands showing? Damn....There's no playing that off. It would have been like that scene from "Blazing Saddles" Get it?...Never mind. I don't know how many o.g. KISS fans are reading this but back when KISS Ruled The World in 1978, they starred in a made for television movie titled "KISS Meets The Phantom OF The Park" Ace Frehley's double in the film ironically happened to be...yep, you guessed it, black. Coincidence? Maybe the moon and the stars were saying something.