Part One

Leading the Camel to Water, 1974-1975

by Christian John Wikane

16 August 2009


Casablanca Comes 'Alive'

KISS live

KISS live

Casablanca Comes Alive

Aucoin: I had put the last tour of KISS on my American Express card, wondering if I was ever going to be able to pay it.  Neil actually produced Dressed to Kill (1975) himself because we couldn’t afford a producer. It really got to the point where we were at the end of our rope, financially. During that time we were even asked by other labels, “Well why don’t you just leave Casablanca and come with us, we can do this for you, we can do that”. In truth, we hadn’t gotten paid any royalties and I then went to Neil and said, “You gotta pay the royalties and you got to give us the royalty statements”, which he hadn’t done, “or we’re going to have to take some legal action”. Neil took that as an offense. It wasn’t supposed to be, it was protecting my management contract. Now we’re in a legal struggle. We’re fighting Neil, Neil’s pissed off at me. He even called the group and asked the group whether or not they’d leave me and go with him. It got a little ugly there. The truth of the matter is I never really wanted to leave. He had done way too much for us. No one else would have done what he did. There’s no way.

Sain: KISS became a “this must happen”, which was really intense. KISS was not the music that Top 40 radio wanted to play. What was going on was that Larry Harris (Senior Vice President/Managing Director) was usually out on the road during the week with KISS. Then, I would go out on the weekends and go to get my radio guys, take them to dinner, and then take them to the concert. They didn’t want to go and I said, “You’ve got to go. We’ve got to do this. We don’t have to stay but you have to go”. The point was that when we walked in I said, “This is your audience”. The audience was screaming and yelling and standing up on their feet the whole entire time. I said, “I know you don’t like this, you’re 30-something—- neither do I necessarily—but this is your audience”. That was the way I approached it. I was educating the radio guys that you may not want to listen to KISS but your 18-24 year old males do. FM radio, that was their demographic. KISS got better. Each piece of product got better. They were not that fabulous to begin with. They were capable of it but like everything, it takes practice.

Perry: KISS had such a huge following—the KISS Army, man, they were shameless self-promoters. Radio was not keen on KISS. Back then, in the ‘70s, you had progressive rock, and they weren’t jumping on the KISS bandwagon. It was cool to slam them but you just couldn’t ignore them.

Aucoin: Now we come to the next album. Neil said, “I don’t think we can afford to go into the studio, maybe we could just do a live album”. I said, “Can we do a double live album? If we’re going to do it, can we do it with a double face and the booklet and everything?” He said, “Alright, you can do that”.

Nathan: Being a live album, and coming off, essentially, three stiffs, it wasn’t as if the world was waiting for KISS Alive (1975). However, we got lucky because just a couple of months before we went after “Rock and Roll All Nite”, Warner Bros. had rather unprecedented success at Top 40 radio with Deep Purple and their live version of “Smoke on the Water”. There was a radio station in Pittsburgh called 13Q and it was an AM Top 40 station, as most Top 40 stations were back in 1975 (this was really before the proliferation of music on FM and the migration to FM for all music). 13Q had gone on the air and one of the statements it had made was that it broke “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. This was in an era obviously before computers or Internet, so I literally sent a telegram via Western Union, which I still have a copy of in my files, and it was to Bill Tanner who was the program director of 13Q. All it said was, “As you did with ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple, I suggest you check out ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’ by KISS”. He did. The same way 13Q broke Deep Purple, starting it at nighttime, it started playing “Rock and Roll All Nite”. Then, a number of other radio stations picked up on it pretty quickly. At that time, Bill Tanner and 13Q were extraordinary indicators. It was a different time in terms of the way you broke Top 40 records. There were certain programmers who were very well-respected. We caught that break and we were able to get it played. The fact is, it was a huge reaction record right from the very beginning.

Perry: “Rock and Roll All Nite” was a monster. We were still selling records but we sold a whole lot more after that.

Sain: That record for KISS was a hit record product. You can’t deny that. You can listen to it today and it’s a hit record. There’s just no two-ways about it. It wasn’t about Casablanca manipulating. It was about their product finally got the play it deserved and it sold. It was a genuine hit. That gave money. That’s the fuel to run a business.

Aucoin: We did the live album and it turned out to be a major success. In days when people were selling 800,000 units if they were lucky, all of a sudden we sold 3.5 million. It became a huge success and Casablanca had its first major success in the industry.

Goldman: Boy, was Warner Bros. licking their wounds after that one!

KISS “Strutter” (1975)

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