INTERVIEW WITH GREG PRATO — AUTHOR OF THE BOOK ‘TAKE IT OFF: KISS TRULY UNMASKED’
Date: December 19, 2019
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
“I first discovered KISS in the late ’70s, and the ’70s era remains my favorite. But… I remain intrigued by the ’80s or ‘non-makeup’ era. I went to all the KISS concerts in the ’80s, I took a break from KISS in the ’90s. In writing this book, since I was such a fan, I didn’t have to do any major research,” comments author Greg Prato. The book which he references to is ‘Take It Off: KISS Truly Unmasked,’ which chronicles the ’80s through ’90s ‘non-makeup’ era of KISS. He goes through each album, the making of it, the tour to promote the record and other great tidbits and facts corresponding to the album. This book is jam-packed with guests which include the likes of Bruce Kulick, (producer) Ron Nevision, Curt Gooch, Charlie Benante (Anthrax), Brent Fitz (Union, The Conspirators), Eddie Trunk (SiriusXM personality) and Wednesday 13 amongst others. Prato took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with Sleaze Roxx about the book ‘Take It Off: KISS Truly Unmasked.’
Sleaze Roxx: The book gives comprehensive details on each album, tracks, singles and production. You intro each album, then include people who were involved in the making of the record as well as fans and a synopsis of the tour or live shows for the corresponding album. It’s brilliant! And an easy read!
Greg Prato: Thank you! It really makes the hard work putting a book like together worthwhile when I hear stuff like this. I pretty much knew when I started to work on this book that I wanted to go album by album, then I realized how many albums were part of the ‘non-makeup era’ [laughs]! There’s been a lot of talk about my inclusion of the ‘Creatures of The Night’ album in this book. The 1982 release is a makeup album. It was reissued by Mercury Records with a new cover of the band in no makeup. It was due to the fact that ‘Animalize’ sold well and they wanted to capitalize on it.
As I said, I wanted to go album by album. There were 12 albums covered and I wanted to find the most cohesive way to put this together. I wanted to talk a little about each album, then talk to someone that had something to do with the making of the album and fans of the album. I’m also a big fan of a book titled ‘KISS Alive Forever’ which was co-written by a gentleman by the name of Curt Gooch. I contacted him and he was very interested in being featured in the book. So, I asked him about each tour which supported each album. With each book that I have written, I want it to appeal to newcomers as well, as the diehard fans, so I wanted to include something that the long-time fans might have never heard about and didn’t know. That’s where some of the details of the specific tours came in and added that to the book.
Sleaze Roxx: As I was prepped for this interview, one of the thoughts that popped into my mind that this book is like ‘Non-Makeup KISS for Dummies!’
Greg Prato: Yeah! Which was pretty much how I envisioned it to be. Thank you.
Sleaze Roxx: You covered the ‘KISS My Ass’ Tribute album, which I actually had overlooked. It’s crazy that KISS did essentially a tribute to themselves!
Greg Prato: Back in the ’90s, it seemed like there were two kinds of records that the record companies were really keen on — probably because it didn’t cost much money to make them — it was tribute albums and ‘unplugged’ albums. In my opinion, KISS are responsible for one the best tribute albums of the ’90s and one of the best ‘unplugged’ albums of the ’90s. ‘KISS My Ass’ was put together by the band, themselves. In most cases, these type of albums were put together by the label. The bands were not involved. I thought it was funny at the time, but looking back now, it was very, very wise on their part, because they had quality control over it, Gene [Simmons] & Paul [Stanley] did. They got the bands that they wanted involved. They chose the songs.
By in large, I’m not a huge fan of covers of classic rock songs, but what I think made ‘KISS My Ass’ work so well, was the artists that didn’t do a straight reading of the songs. I liked that there were artists that injected their own sound into them and reworked them. I think the Garth Brooks cover of “Hard Luck Woman” was great. He made it his own and still to this day, I don’t understand why that wasn’t released as a single. The only thing I can think of is that maybe it was Garth Brooks’ wish to not have that released as a single? The other great track on that album was “Calling Dr. Love” by the band called Shandi’s Addiction, which featured members of Tool, Rage Against The Machine and Faith No More. That sounds just like what it would sound like if all three of those bands got into a room and jammed.
Then a year later, KISS did ‘MTV Unplugged’ which I put up there with Nirvana and Eric Clapton’s appearances. I think ‘MTV Unplugged’ showcased Gene and Paul as great songwriters and showed people what great vocal melodies they have. I think KISS on ‘MTV Unplugged’ settled it once and for all that KISS had great songs and they had the musicianship as well.
KISS performing “Sure Know Something” (from KISS Unplugged):
Recorded on August 9, 1995 at Sony Studios in New York City.
Sleaze Roxx: You noted Gene Simmons’ acting credits, even including his appearance on Miami Vice, which I had completely forgotten about! In addition, you also put together a comprehensive list of the non-makeup era interviews. It’s the highlights, you could have excluded that but you went the extra mile.
Greg Prato: Yeah, Gene had gone Hollywood, which left Paul Stanley steering the ship. Gene launched Simmons Records. He had a management company. He was producing bands like Keel and Black ‘N Blue. He just wasn’t as ‘focused’ on KISS. I think the quality of the songs ‘dipped’ in comparison to the songs from the ’70s. That was the first problem. The second problem was, if you look at KISS in the ’70s, they were ‘trail blazers.’ In the ’80s, when they took off the makeup, they were following trends. Even though this was happening with each KISS album, I think you could always count on one or two really good songs. They got re-established in the ’80s. You have to remember that they had plummeted at the end of the ’70s into the early ’80s.
Several of my KISS fan friends and myself had VHS recorders. We would all stay up late taping ‘Headbanger’s Ball,’ trying to catch a KISS interview on TV. It was hard back then, because you wouldn’t know when they’d be on the news or whatever. Now it’s easy because bands will announce on social media what they’ll be appearing on. Back then, it was a shot in the dark trying to catch KISS appearances like on Oprah or something like that. If I had missed an appearance on some show, chances are a friend at school got it, so we would trade tapes. During the ’80s, my friends and I would try to hunt down these ‘KISS clips’ so I was aware of them before I even started the book. Now with YouTube, there’s all these other clips that I never knew existed. I included those just because I associated those clips with my childhood. I wanted to make a little guide. By no means is that definitive. I focused on clips from the United States.
Sleaze Roxx: Is there someone that you would have loved to have featured in the book?
Greg Prato: Yes, there’s two — Mark St. John and Eric Carr. Both as you know are deceased. Mark St. John, once he left KISS, he never sat down and did a ‘tell all’ expose type interview. I would have liked to have heard what exactly happened, from his point of view. We have only heard Gene and Paul’s point of view as to what really happened with him. Eric Carr, who I’m a huge fan of, I wrote a book about him about ten years ago — ‘The Eric Carr Story.’ I think Eric Carr was one of the best replacement players ever for a rock band. He was a major reason for what made ‘Creatures of The Night’ so special. It was very heavy, ‘John Bonham’ type, drums [which] was a huge component to the ‘Creatures’ album, which made it so special.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s prized KISS non-makeup era piece of memorabilia, in your opinion?
Greg Prato: Honestly the ‘KISS merchandise machine’ died down in the ’80s when they took off the makeup and I think that was [when] they split with Bill Aucoin as their manager. I think one of the main reasons that they split with Bill Aucoin, was because Bill Aucoin wanted to keep doing merchandise. At that point, Gene and Paul thought that it was making their fanbase dwindle. I think they were right, because by 1980, KISS were being marketed as a ‘kiddie band’ where before it was a teenage hard rock audience. In the ’80s, as far as rare merchandise, I’d say there was a rare promo called ‘First KISS Last Licks.’ It was a four track promo only record and that was kind of rare. For the ‘Lick It Up’ album, there was a picture disc album that was shaped like a tank, which looked like the tank on the ‘Creatures of The Night’ tour. I think the good thing about ’80s KISS is that it was back to the music and records, and there were no comic books or dolls or anything like that.
Sleaze Roxx: Being that you’ve been a KISS fan going back to the ’70s, what’s a non-makeup tour that you’d like to relive and why?
Greg Prato: I did attend the ‘Hot In The Shade’ tour and that was great, because it featured the best setlist of any ’80s KISS tour. They balanced that very well by bringing in the ’70s classics and balancing it with their better ’80s material to that point. I think I would have really loved to have seen the ‘Lick It Up’ tour because that was one of two Vinnie Vincent tours and ‘Lick It Up’ is by far my favorite KISS non-makeup era album. They had the tank stage and the setlist was great on that tour. I think for me, it would be either the ‘Lick It Up’ or ‘Hot In The Shade’ tour.
Sleaze Roxx: Earlier, you mentioned that with each KISS ’80s record, there’s at least two great tracks on each record. I’ll name the studio albums featured on ‘Take It Off: KISS Truly Unmasked’ and you give me the best song on the album.
Greg Prato: Alright, I’m ready.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Creatures of The Night.’
Greg Prato: Well, the best known song on that one is “I Love It Loud” but my favorite song on that is a song called “Rock N’ Roll Hell.” That’s a very underrated track.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Lick It Up.’
Greg Prato: The best song on ‘Lick It Up’ is “Not For The Innocent” and it is also my favorite non-makeup era track as well. Gene was still focused and he was still singing from his ‘demon’ persona and if you close your eyes, you could easily picture him singing that on the ‘Creatures of The Night’ record.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Animalize.’
Greg Prato: I like the riff on the song “Murder In High Heels,” which was a song that was co-written by Gene and Mitch Weissman. It’s an underrated song, plus Mitch is a great songwriter and he was a part of ‘Beatlemania’ where he played the part of Paul [McCartney].
KISS‘ “All Hell’s Breaking Loose” video (from Lick It Up album):
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Asylum.’
Greg Prato: That’s a tough one, but I think I will have to go with “King of The Mountain” from that record. Actually, I’ll take it back! I’ll go with “Tears Are Falling” because that’s the biggest hit on that album and it features my favorite Bruce Kulick guitar solos.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Crazy Nights.’
Greg Prato: I will go with a song called “Thief In The Night” that is once again a co-write between Gene Simmons and Mitch Weissman. Once again, another underrated track. The production is a bit ‘too poppy’ for my taste, but if it had a ‘Creatures’ type production, it would have been a heavy, stellar track.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Hot In The Shade.’
Greg Prato: I will go with “Little Caesar” which was sadly the only song that Eric Carr ever sang on a KISS studio album. What made the KISS ’70s records so great was that not only did you have Gene and Paul singing songs, but you also had Ace [Frehley] and Peter [Criss] singing songs. In the ’80s, it was basically Gene and Paul singing everything 50-50. I think not having Eric sing [lead vocal] on albums was a mistake, because he had such a great voice.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Revenge.’
Greg Prato: I will go with “Unholy” because that marked the return of the heavy KISS. They were focused. Gene was focused. In fact, he was back singing from the ‘demon’ persona. I love the riff and the solo is just great on that song.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Carnival of Souls.’
Greg Prato: I will go with “I Walk Alone” because Bruce sings that. Gene and Paul are some of my favorite singers. Now, they’re not my favorite but they’re on my list of top ten or top twenty. Like I said before, I always appreciated KISS more when it was all four members contributing in the vocal department.
Sleaze Roxx: KISS are wrapping things up. Do you really think this is the end? And will there be a resurgence of the non-makeup era of KISS?
Greg Prato: I think we have witnessed with the Mötley Crüe situation that money talks. I think in the future, if someone offers KISS enough money, I just can’t see Gene and Paul saying no to that. They’re getting up there in age. I don’t think it would be as extensive of a tour. I guess we’ll just have to see how this all plays out. As far as a resurgence for the non-makeup era, I think that’s happening already, which is one of the reasons why I wrote this book. When I do a book, I look to see if there’s demand for the subject. I can definitely get a vibe from the feedback of the KISS fans. I know there’s new interest in non-makeup KISS because Bruce Kulick has been doing non-makeup era sets on the KISS Kruise and those have gotten great reviews and have been highlights of the cruise. KISS themselves include non-makeup songs in their sets. If you look on Spotify right now and look at the top ten KISS songs, four of the ten are from the non-makeup era. That shows me that there’s a whole new appreciation for that era and this book is doing great which is another sign.
Bruce Kulick and his band performing Animalize medley on KISS Kruise IX on November 1, 2019: