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Throughout a career that has lasted almost half a century KISS have endured a regular change in their ranks which first began in the early 1980s with the departures of drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley. During the following decade, which many fans considered their hair metal years, the band performed with an array of talented musicians that would include Eric Carr, Mark St. John and Bruce Kulick but perhaps the most infamous of these was Vinnie Vincent, whose contributions to two successful albums cemented his place in their history books.
Vincent’s introduction to the world of KISS was a difficult one, having to step into the footsteps of Frehley who, by the time of his departure following the recording of 1981’s Music from The Elder, had developed his own loyal fanbase, affectionally known as the Spaceman due to his trademark makeup. With both Frehley and Criss now out of the picture Carr had already been hired as the group’s new drummer but for Vincent he had even bigger shoes to fill, with Frehley having penned such KISS classics as Cold Gin and Talk to Me.
Vincent entered the Record Plant in Los Angeles in the late summer of 1982 to commence work on his first album with the new line-up, contributing both lead guitar and his songwriting skills on several tracks with frontmen Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons. When the record’s first single I Love It Loud was released it ushered in a new era for KISS, leaving behind the garage rock of their roots and embracing the new style of the 1980s in all its heavy metal glory. The subsequent album Creatures of the Night would receive mixed reviews from critics but the band continued to tour the world to great success.
The following year they would remove the makeup that had come to define the band and returned with Lick It Up, a record that would be greeted with even more cynicism than its predecessor due to its clear attempt at creating radio friendly pop hits. The title track would prove to be a modest hit but it seemed that fans had started to lose interest and had instead turned their attention to a new group that were carrying their mantle, Mötley Crüe. Lick It Up would become Vincent’s swansong with KISS and would be replaced by St. John for another Platinum-selling record, Animalize.
Vincent’s time with KISS may have been brief but, for better or worse, he remains one of the most spoken-about members outside of the original line-up. ‘His performance should have been a shot across the bow for us – it was torture working with him. He didn’t like to be told what or how to play,’ claimed Simmons in his memoir KISS and Make-Up. ‘We eventually caved in and accepted Vinnie. If we had hoped that taking him into the fold might lessen the headache of dealing with him those hopes were not fulfilled.’ Vincent, meanwhile, formed a new band entitled Vinnie Vincent Invasion and released their eponymous debut just a few weeks before Animalize, gaining modest acclaim on the metal scene during the late 1980s.
Yet despite the controversy that surrounded his time with KISS Vincent recently admitted in an interview with Rock Talk to recording every single show that he performed with the band, all of which he has kept in his private collection. I have every single show we ever played, I recorded every single Creatures show, I recorded every single Lick It Up show. US and Europe. I’m the ultimate tourist! he explained to host Mitch Lafon. ‘I recorded them from the stage. I recorded them on cassette and they virtually sound identical because we were that polished. There was really no variation from show to show. They sounded great! They sound like you’re in the venue.’ Vincent did not confirm, however, whether or not these will one day be made available to fans, either officially or via self-released bootlegs.