Peter Criss has had more than his share of goodbye Kisses.
He’s on his third marriage, and his third breakup from Kiss, the glam-rock legends he co-founded 34 years ago. Best known for crooning the ballad “Beth,” about how the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle ends a marriage, the drummer has made peace with his tamer life as another transplanted New Yorker who moved to the Jersey shore.
Now 61 and about to become a grandfather, the jungle cat has become more of a house pet, with a solo album full of heartfelt ballads, “One For All,” coming out Tuesday.
Many of his songs deal with the pain of the breakups he’s endured.
“I sing about the band, I sing about the good times, the bad times,” Criss said in an interview. “I’m re-creating me to be comfortable with me again. This is about what I’ve really felt. I tore a lot out of my heart to get to this.”
Much of the album is light-years away from what he recorded with Kiss, such as a cover of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns.” Criss got the idea soon after ending his final Kiss tour.
After quitting the band in 2000, Criss signed up for a summer tour in 2003 under the impression that his dearest friend, guitarist Ace Frehley, would be there as well. But talks with Frehley fell though and Kiss put road manager Tommy Thayer into Ace’s makeup and had him play Ace’s solos note-for-note each night — a move that still rankles many Kiss fans.
“Ace not being there was tough for me,” Criss said. “So that last night, I just knew it was my last night with the band. I think they knew it, too. It just wasn’t working without him. Putting other guys in our costumes and makeup is to make money. It’s not the real deal. It’s not The Lone Ranger, not Hopalong Cassidy, it’s not Santa Claus.”
Criss went home to his basement recording studio and started tinkering with the Sondheim classic.
“It’s a really heavy breakup,” he said. “It’s kind of two people who both find out what they wanted is really what they don’t want anymore, and they’re totally now in different places, and I felt that’s where we were as a band.”
The title track deals with Criss’ memories of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the need for people to come together and support each other like they did in the aftermath.
It’s all done in a subdued, laid-back style, with an able assist from Paul Shaffer, David Letterman’s “Late Show” bandleader. But it’s sure to knock Kiss fans raised on the likes of “Dirty Livin”’ and “Strange Ways” for a loop.
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“I miss being what I am, the real Peter Criss, the guy who loves R&B, the guy who loves jazz, the guy who loves Motown, the guy who loves to use a lot more pieces than three guitars,” he said. “I have no one over my shoulder screaming, ‘I don’t hear a hit!’ or ‘This is too long for the radio!’ or ‘This song is too schmaltzy!”’
That’s exactly what his bandmates and producers said in 1976 when Criss submitted “Beth” during the sessions for what would become their defining studio album, “Destroyer.”
“They hated it!” he said. “We had the New York Philharmonic on it, all these strings, a beautiful ballad. (They said) ‘This ain’t Kiss. We’re about leather and studs and ripping your head off and chasing around millions of women.’ Well, it sure got us on the radio!”
“Beth” remains Kiss’s biggest hit.