Peter Criss

Peter Criss

Peter Criss during the 1995 convention tour
Background information
Birth name George Peter John Criscuola
Also known as "The Catman"
Born (1945-12-20) December 20, 1945
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Genres Hard rock, heavy metal, jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, producer, actor, author
Instruments Drums, percussion, vocals
Years active 1964–present
Labels Casablanca, Mercury
Associated acts Kiss, Wicked Lester, Chelsea

George Peter John Criscuola (born December 20, 1945), better known by his stage name Peter Criss, is an American musician and actor, best known as a co-founder, original drummer, and occasional vocalist of the hard rock band Kiss. Criss established the "Catman" character for his Kiss persona.

Early years

George Peter John Criscuola is the oldest of the five children to parents Joseph and Loretta Criscuola; his father's family came from Scafati, Salerno, Italy. He grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York.[1][2] He was a childhood friend of Jerry Nolan, who would later find success as the drummer for the New York Dolls.[3]

He was an avid art student and a swing aficionado.[4] While playing with bandleader Joey Greco, Criss ended up studying under his idol, Gene Krupa, at the Metropole Club in New York.[5] This turned into an active musical career as he went on to play jazz and rock with a number of bands in New York and New Jersey throughout the 1960s.


Criss was involved with a number of bands throughout the mid-to-late 1960s. It was during this time that Criss joined Chelsea, who had a two-album deal with Decca Records; the group released a self-titled album in 1970. They never recorded a second album, and in August 1971 became Lips (a trio consisting of Criss and his Chelsea bandmates Michael Benvenga and Stan Penridge). By the spring of 1972, Lips was just the duo of Criss and Penridge.

In 1973, Pete Shepley & Mike Brand recorded an unreleased album which included post-Chelsea Michael Benvenga, and pre-Kiss Peter Criss and Gene Simmons as session musicians. It was titled Captain Sanity.[6][7]


After the demise of his band Lips, Criss placed an advertisement in the East Coast edition of Rolling Stone Magazine, which read:

EXPD. ROCK & roll drummer looking for orig. grp. doing soft & hard music. Peter, Brooklyn.[8]
The Catman

Contrary to the story that has been recited by fans and the band for years, there was never an ad placed that said "Drummer willing to do anything to make it."[9] The advertisement was answered by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, who were looking for new members for their band. Ace Frehley was added to the lineup in December 1972, and the band was named Kiss later that month. However, Simmons describes first meeting Criss in his book Kiss And Make-Up thus:

One afternoon I run across an ad in Rolling Stone Magazine that said "Drummer available – Will do anything." I called the guy on the telephone, and even though he was in the middle of a party, he took my call. I introduced myself and said we were starting a band and that the band was looking for a drummer, and was he willing to do anything to make it? He says that he was, right away.

Simmons later in the chapter describes going to a small Italian Club in Brooklyn to meet the drummer "The drummer started to sing, and this Wilson Pickett-style voice came out of him. Paul and I said 'That's it, that's our drummer.' His name was Peter Criscuola." Criss also decided on the "Catman" makeup he would go on to make famous as a member of Kiss, stating on more than one occasion that he felt he had nine lives to survive his rough street upbringing in Brooklyn.

Kiss released their self-titled debut in February 1974. Throughout his Kiss career, Criss was the lead singer on several notable songs including "Black Diamond", "Hard Luck Woman", and their breakthrough hit "Beth". Many of Criss' contributions to Kiss were written with the help of Stan Penridge, who was a bandmate of Criss' in Chelsea and Lips.

Criss was given co-writing credit for the ballad "Beth", a Top 10 hit for Kiss on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at #7 in 1976. The song remains the highest-charting song for Kiss in the United States and it earned them a People's Choice Award for "Young People's Favorite New Song" in 1977, tied with "Disco Duck". The song was written before Criss had joined Kiss, while he was still a member of Chelsea. Criss came up with the melody for the song while on a train to New York City from New Jersey where the band practiced. He and Penridge wrote the song together.[10]

A demo exists of the song from 1971,[11] but the song's title was "Beck", after fellow band member Mike Brand's wife, Becky, who would call often during practices to ask Mike when he was coming home. Years later, while in Kiss, both Bob Ezrin and Gene Simmons are credited for changing the song's title to "Beth". The song was said to be a tribute to Criss' wife Lydia Di Leonardo; according to interviews with Criss, he changed some of the lyrics to reflect Lydia's lamenting that she missed him while on tour, but the song actually originated years earlier.

Along with "Beth", other songs he sang as a member of Kiss were "Black Diamond", "Hard Luck Woman", "Dirty Livin'", "Nothin' to Lose", "Mainline", "Strange Ways", "Getaway", "Baby Driver", "Hooligan", "Kissin' Time" and "I Finally Found My Way", with only the first being a live staple for every tour during his time with Kiss; "Dirty Livin'", "Baby Driver", "Hooligan" and "Beth" are the only ones he co-wrote (Paul Stanley wrote "Black Diamond", "Hard Luck Woman", "Mainline" and "I Finally Found My Way"; Ace Frehley wrote "Strange Ways" and "Getaway", and Gene Simmons wrote "Nothin' to Lose").

Departure from Kiss

In 1978, Criss was injured in a serious car crash.[12]

On the 1979 release Dynasty, he only played on his own composition, "Dirty Livin',"[13] and did not play at all on Unmasked (1980). Anton Fig, who also played on Ace Frehley's 1978 solo album, was hired as session drummer for Dynasty and Unmasked.

Gene Simmons has made it clear that Criss was fired; Paul Stanley too has discussed Criss' departure in several interviews, including the commentary on Kissology 2. Ace Frehley in his 2011 book, No Regrets, also stated that Criss was fired during a band meeting in which Frehley was outvoted by Simmons and Stanley. A spoken word CD released in 1999 titled 13 Classic Kiss Stories, features Bill Aucoin (Kiss' first manager) where he also discusses Criss being 'let go'. Criss, however, has maintained that he quit the band. The video for "Shandi" was shot in one day, and Peter was out of the band at that time; Stanley said of the shoot, "We shot a video for the song "Shandi" after the decision to let Peter go had been confirmed. He came to the video shoot knowing it was the last time he would appear with KISS. At the end of the day, he took his makeup case with him and left. It wasn't tearful, but it was a big moment. Peter was leaving. We had fired him, and this was the last time we were going to see him in the band".[14]

Criss officially left Kiss on May 18, 1980. As a result, Kiss postponed the European tour until the end of August, thus giving the band enough time to find a replacement drummer, whom they found in Brooklyn-born Eric Carr.

Solo career

In March 1980, Criss began recording his second solo album, Out of Control. Released later in the year, the album was a commercial failure, despite remaining a favorite with Criss fans. The follow-up album, 1982's Let Me Rock You, which contained one song written by Gene Simmons, was a similar failure. The album cover featured Criss without his Kiss makeup, but was not released in the U.S. at the time.

For the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s, Criss was involved with a number of bands, each usually lasting less than a year. One of them was The Keep, which featured ex-Kiss guitarist Mark St. John. Criss also played with Balls of Fire from the spring of 1986 to December 1986, with Jane Booke on lead vocals, Bob Raylove on bass and JP (John Pakalenka) on guitar, who currently plays for Buckner Funken Jazz in Denver, Colorado. Balls of Fire played only 7 shows before Criss left the band to enjoy his daughter Jenilee growing up.[15] Another was the Criss Penridge Alliance, essentially Peter Criss and Stan Penridge with the 1970s jazz rock fusion band Montage (Mike Hutchens - guitar,[16] Allen Woody - bass (Govt Mule, Allman Brothers Band), John Moss - drums and Tony Crow - keyboards) who rehearsed 39 songs including from the first 3 Peter Criss solo albums, and played around 10 shows in total.[17] While Kiss was promoting their upcoming release Crazy Nights, Criss appeared on the syndicated radio program Metal Shop and discussed his time in Kiss from a more positive perspective than before; he also promoted the book he was writing at the time, an autobiography to be titled A Face without a Kiss. He also mentioned his dream of one day opening up his own recording studio and starting his own record label, to be called Catman Records. Criss briefly reunited with former Kiss bandmate Ace Frehley on Frehley's 1989 album Trouble Walkin' (singing and playing percussion on one track). In the early '90s, Criss assembled a band named "Criss," which would feature future Queensrÿche guitarist Mike Stone. This band released the Criss EP in December 1993 and the Cat #1 album in August 1994.[18] The group also supported Frehley's band on the 1995 "Bad Boys Of KISS Tour."

Return to Kiss

In 1995, Criss appeared at the official Kiss Konvention in Los Angeles that led to the Kiss live performance that was recorded for MTV Unplugged. In April 1996, Kiss held a press conference to announce a reunion tour with all four original members. The 1996–97 Alive/Worldwide Tour was an enormous success, and the reunited Kiss released a studio album, 1998's Psycho Circus. However, controversy arose when it was discovered that Criss only played drums on one track ("Into the Void," Ace Frehley's one lead vocal track). Many sources claim that Kevin Valentine performed on the rest of the drum tracks for the album. Criss did have one lead vocal, a track called "I Finally Found My Way," written by guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley and Bob Ezrin, and a co-vocal taking turns in the verses with the rest of the band for the song "You Wanted the Best".

Second and third departures

Tensions arose once again between Criss and Kiss. On October 7, 2000, at the end of the band's show in North Charleston, South Carolina, Criss destroyed his drum kit on stage.[19] Though fans thought it was part of the act, it was in reality an act of frustration on Criss' part.[20] It was his last show on the tour, as he left over a contract dispute and was replaced by Eric Singer in 2001. He rejoined the band in late 2002 and appeared on the Kiss Symphony: Alive IV DVD and CD before departing from Kiss again in March 2004. The band had opted not to renew his contract following the Rocksimus Maximus Tour. He was once again replaced by Singer, who assumed the "Catman" persona.

Criss said of Kiss performing with replacements for Ace Frehley and himself:

No matter who they get to put stuff on their face, it ain't us. You can take the mask off the Lone Ranger and put it on someone else, but it ain't the Lone Ranger.[21]

Personal life

Since 2004, Criss has kept his public appearances to a minimum. Criss now resides in Wall Township, New Jersey.[22] He released a solo album, titled One for All July 23, 2007, on Silvercat Records.

Criss is a gun enthusiast, and has stated that he has a large collection of firearms with which he target-shoots, but does not hunt with, as he told host Tom Snyder during the October 31, 1979 interview of Kiss on The Tomorrow Show. This segment of the infamous interview features Criss referencing his gun collection.

As of November 2008, Criss has been married three times: Lydia Di Leonardo (from 1970 to 1979), former Playboy Playmate and coppertone model Debra Jensen (from 1979 to 1994) and Gigi Criss (from May 1998 to present).[23] Criss is the father of one daughter named Jenilee, born in 1981.[23]

Criss was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.[24] While working out, he noticed a lump on his chest that prompted him to visit a doctor. He was successfully treated with a lumpectomy.[25]

Criss released his autobiography, Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss, co-written with author Larry Sloman, on October 23, 2012.[26]

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 as a member of Kiss.


In addition to playing himself in 1978's Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park and 1999's Detroit Rock City, Criss has appeared on two television programs in minor roles. In 1998 he appeared as "Nice Cop" on the "...Thirteen Years Later" episode of Millennium and in 2002 Criss appeared in two episodes of the HBO prison drama Oz as inmate Martin Montgomery. He also plays the role of Mike in the motion picture about the JFK assassination, Frame of Mind.[27]

Drum kit

Criss has played Slingerland, Ludwig, Pearl, and Drum Workshop drums, Zildjian and Sabian cymbals, Pro-Mark & Ahead sticks and gloves, ddrum electronics, LP percussion and Remo drumheads.[28]






Greatest Hits

See also


  1. Leaf, David (2003). Kiss. New York: Warner Books. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-446-53073-6.
  2. Marchese, David. "Peter Criss Stabbed A Guy, Gene Simmons Stinks". Spin. Retrieved October 1, 2014.
  3. "Jerry Nolan Bio'". Retrieved October 9, 2012.
  5. Leaf, David (2003). Kiss. New York: Warner Books. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-446-53073-6.
  9. Gill, Julian. The Kiss Album Focus, Volume 1 (3rd Edition). Xlibris Corporation, 2005. ISBN 1-4134-8547-2
  10. David Leaf, Ken Sharp Kiss: Behind the Mask – Official Authorized Biography Warner Books, 2005, ISBN 978-0446695244, Page 268
  11. CD, KISStory, Demos and Rare Songs, Vol 3, songs 1 & 2, 2008
  12. "Peter Criss Biography – AOL Music". Retrieved October 11, 2011.
  13. "Criss Q and A". Retrieved January 22, 2009.
  14. Stanley, Paul (2014). Face the Music: A Life Exposed (First ed.). USA: HarperOne. pp. 242–3. ISBN 9780062114044.
  15. "Kiss related recordings-Balls of Fire". Retrieved February 8, 2009.
  18. "Kiss related recordings-Criss EP". Retrieved October 9, 2012.
  19. "Peter Criss Destroys Drum Kit". October 7, 2000. Retrieved October 9, 2012.
  20. "Peter Criss Destroys Drum Kit". October 7, 2000. Retrieved October 11, 2011.
  21. "Interview by Mark Voger". Retrieved January 16, 2009.
  22. Parry, Wayne via the Associated Press."2008 resolutions from Yogi, The Donald, a rock star and more", Burlington County Times, December 28, 2007. Accessed September 1, 2008. "'I have a big mouth for a lot of people, but I never take my own advice and do it myself,' said Criss, who lives in Wall Township and is best known for the ballad "Beth" and his Catman makeup."
  23. 1 2 "Peter Criss". IMDb. Archived from the original on February 2, 2016. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  24. "Peter Criss reveals he was diagnosed with breast cancer". October 6, 2009. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
  25. Bauer, Zoe. "Famous People Who Suffered from Breast Cancer". Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  26. Peter Criss Autobiography "Makeup to Breakup" Due Fall 2012, Drummer Cafe, April 2, 2012
  27. Peter Criss – IMDb
  28. "Peter's drum page". Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  29. Criss performed on only one song, "Dirty Livin'."
  30. (Credited in the album liner notes, but does not appear)
  31. Drums on "Into the Void", vocals on "You Wanted The Best", lead vocals on "I Finally Found My Way"
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Peter Criss.
Preceded by
Drummer for Kiss
Succeeded by
Eric Carr
Preceded by
Eric Singer
Drummer for Kiss
Succeeded by
Eric Singer
Preceded by
Eric Singer
Drummer for Kiss
Succeeded by
Eric Singer
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