Chris Lendt Interview
(Kiss and Sell: The Making of A Supergroup)
They've certainly been one of Rock's most outrageous acts, and climbed
to the Top of the charts along the way.
Kiss has sold close to one Billion Dollars in records, concert tickets,
and merchandise in their career.
Chris Lendt was Vice-President of Glickman-Marks Management, business
managers for Kiss, Diana Ross, and The Isley Brothers.
He traveled around the world with Kiss, handling their business and financial
affairs and attending mearly 800 concerts in 25 countries.
Chris has written an inside look at Kiss, in his book, “Kiss and
Sell, The Making of A Supergroup,” (Billboard Books).
What follows is a candid conversation with Chris Lendt about the band.
Q: Chris, what have the guys in Kiss been saying about your book?
A: Well, you'll really have to ask them. I'm no longer in contact with
Kiss. I've only read a few comments in a music magazine that came out about
a year ago. I don't recall anything negative been said about the book. I
don't think it's realistic to expect they're going to write me a rave review,
but, I also sense that since there was nothing that I have seen or heard
of that was in any way objectionable, I guess it's something that they just
accept as one person's account, who was very close the band, for 12 years,
and wants to present his point of view.
Q: Are you the first "insider" to write
a book on Kiss?
A: Yes I am.
Q: Why do you think that no one in the group has ever written an autobiography?
A: I think the reason is that most rock groups are not terribly interested
in presenting a candid view of what goes on inside the business. It's really
not compatible with how they want to present themselves to fans, and what
they want the public to know about them. It usually happens that artists
attempt to write about their career, long after they're gone from the scene
as the Reunion Tour of a few years ago validated I just don't think that
anybody in Kiss is interested in talking about the ups and downs of their
career with any degree of candor. I don't think that's unique to Kiss. I
think that is true with virtually all rock artists that I've had any contact
or knowledge of.
Q: I would guess that The Kiss '96' Tour made the group a lot of money,
maybe even enough to set aside any financial worries. But, prior to 1996,
did Kiss have any money, or were they close to bankruptcy?
A: Well, when I left the group at the end of the 1980's, which is where
my book leaves off, the group was besieged by financial problems. Nearly
all of the multi-millions that they earned throughout the 70's and 80's
was spent. They had pretty much reached a brick wall in terms of advancing
themselves in record sales and concert tickets. Most of the money they earned
was spent and they had a lot of tax problems, and financial repercussions
from some of the high earning years, that had long since past. So, as they
entered the 90's they really had very little money individually. Ace Frehley
for example, I understand filed for bankruptcy in 1995. Peter Criss had
long since left the group and had never been able to put himself back in
the spotlight, and also had the same financial problems that everyone else
did. Paul and Gene carried on the business of Kiss for many years on their
own shoulders. They were very hard working and dedicated but, most of the
money that was made in the 70's had evaporated.
Q: And who got it?
A: That's what Kiss is really about. There was nobody lining their pockets
at Kiss's expense. There were no bad guys or disreputable characters, involved
in the groups career. There was a lot of money spent in the 70's and early
80's when Kiss was on top of the charts and money was rolling in as if it
would never end. They spent it on a lot of personal expenses and living
expenses. They were paying very high commissions and business expenses in
their hey day to managers and business managers and agents and record producers,
and keeping the Kiss juggernaut in gear. That required an enormous amount
of production costs for tours and recording and the overhead that they had
in their organization throughout the 1980's. There were some serious tax
repercussions from a couple of the investments Kiss went into, that really
blew up at the end of the 80's. It's really a combination of factors that
caused Kiss to nearly implode at the end of the 80's financially. It's a
number of decisions, small and large that were made over the course of many
years that just went awry, As a result of that the group went into the 90's
with very little money and half the group had already disbanded at that
point. They really had to restart their career which is what the Reunion
Tour was all about.
Q: How important of a role did ATI and Jeff Franklin and Wally Megrowitz
play in the career of Kiss?
A: In the early days, an instrumental role. They were instrumental in
advancing the group, and taking them from being a club act to a supporting
act for major acts, rock groups of the time, which included everybody from
Z.Z Top to Black Sabbath, and the catapulting them to the top of the charts
as the headlining act of their own. ATI was, at that time, the leading rock-n-roll
booking agency that specialized in the booming concert market scene and
Kiss was certainly one of their most important clients, for many years.
Q: You write, "Neil Bogart (the President of Casablanca Records-Kiss's
Record Label) wanted Kiss to drop the make-up for their debut album cover." Had
they taken his advice, there would've been no Kiss!! That first album
cover was unique.
A: That's very true. I must say and I hope I made it clear in the book,
I was not around in 1973 when they were first getting their career started.
I only came onboard in mid 1976. But, you're quite right. Had they listened
to the advice of Neil Bogart and some of the record co. executives, Kiss
would never have emerged in the way that they did.
Q: Whose idea was it for Kiss to take off the make-up in the early 80's?
A: It was a collective decision. At that time the group was Paul and Gene.
There was no Ace and Peter at the time they took off the make-up. They were
influenced by Danny Goldberg who at that time was a creative consultant
to Kiss. He was brought in to help them with their marketing. He felt along
with Paul and Gene that they had really played their hand as long as they
could as being the group with make-up and costumes. It had become worn out.
It had become out dated. They were beginning to look like a 70's nostalgic
act. They decided in order to rejuvenate their career and try to get themselves
back in the public spotlight, they would have to get rid of the make-up
and costumes and appear as more of a straight forward rock-n-roll band.
They just saw it as an evolution of the act if they wanted to keep the act
together, make money, and appeal to a new generation of music buyers. So,
that's how the decision happened. It wasn't a bolt out of the sky, but it
was a recognition that their last album, 'The Elder' was a huge flop, and
the follow-up, 'Creatures of the Night', although that was a Heavy-metal
album was not much of an improvement in terms of sales. They just saw the
handwriting on the wall and it was time to change the act.
Q: Initially, did that work for them or against them?
A: Initially it worked. The follow-up album was 'Lick it up' which was
the first album they ever did without make-up and costumes. They appeared
on the cover. It sold pretty well. It sold better than the last two albums.
The follow-up albums to that. 'Animalize' and "Asylum' also continued
to increase in sales. Their ticket sales on tour were progressively higher.
They never got back to the Kiss mania of the 70's, but they were high enough
for them to play arenas and for promoters to book them and for them to make
a reasonable profit on the tours. So, financially the decision made sense
and at least put them back in the public eye and got them some degree of
credibility that they could play, record and perform which they didn't have
to that extent when they were trapped behind the make-up and costumes. So,
initially it was a smart business move and made sense financially.
Q: "While Bill Aucoin was thought of as a great
manager at the beginning of their relationship, by the end they felt that
Bill had become pre-occupied with his social life?"
A: Bill Aucoin had an important role in Kiss and when he earned a great
deal of money from Kiss he became very socially active. He had a wide range
of social and personal contacts. He liked to go out. He liked to entertain.
He liked to be entertained. And, those were all diversions. He had a lifestyle
that had really accelerated by a quantum leap, once he started making money
with Kiss. Bill was always a very gregarious, outgoing, and social person.
He was always going out to parties. He was always entertaining people. He
always had a lot of friends, whether they were all romantic or social, I
can't attest to. But, he had a lot of things going on in his personal life
that were very time consuming, and they ultimately took time away from Kiss.
Q: And today, Kiss has who, Doc McGhee as their manager?
A: I believe that's true.
Q: I think Kiss has been around a lot longer than Doc McGhee. What do
they need him for?
A: Well, I can’t answer that question. Doc McGhee has been in the
music business since the 1970's. I don't know exactly how old Doc McGhee
is, but, he's certainly in his mid 40's. The details on that I can't tell
you. I don't know what particular reason prompted them to hire Doc. I can
only speculate. My speculation would leave me to believe they did not have
a personal manager in the mid 1990's until they hired Doc McGhee. They felt
if they were going to do a Reunion Tour, most likely they would need the
assistance of somebody in the business who could help organize the tour
and guide their comeback. They probably also thought having a strong manager
would help keep the group together because they were going to bring back
two of the original members, who hadn't played with the group for something
like fifteen or eighteen years, and they had tremendous friction with those
members when they were still in the group. So, sometimes it makes sense
to have somebody around who can be a strong, guiding force, in keeping the
group cohesive and content.
Q: "The novelty of rock-n-roll wears off after a few weeks and the
monotony sets in. You feel the sameness going from town to town where the
only thing that changes is the name of the arena." So, what keeps rock
groups on the road? Is it the money? Drugs? Women?
A: Well, the answer is all three. And, the same things that keep these
groups on the road all year are the same things that drive them off the
road, and cause them to break-up. So, it actually cuts both ways.
Q: When Gene teamed up with Cher, I think in the minds of a lot of hardcore
Kiss followers, Kiss had gone Holly Wood. Did you ever hear that?
A: Oh yeah. We got fan mail that expressed that opinion. There were comments
made by people in the business and from people who had been long time supporters
of the group that really found the whole Cher and Gene public romance to
be somewhat off-putting. There was no question that fans were telegraphing
in ways large and small, that is very public and showy, that the relationship
with Cher was a negative.
Q: If you had it to do all over again, would you have joined the Kiss
A: I thought it was a terrific experience. I remember those days very
well. I had a tremendous opportunity to travel the world, and be exposed
to many things that most people never come in contact with in their life.
I had a great run. I’m sorry it ended up the way that it did, but,
I don’t regret having worked with the group. It was a unique experience.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved