Peter Criss rose to fame in the 1970s as the drummer for theatrical heavy metal-ists Kiss. Born Peter George Criscoula on December 20, 1947, in Brooklyn, NY, Criss got his start drumming after discovering legendary jazz drummer Gene Krupa (which he's rumored to have actually taken lessons from at one point) and such '60s rockers as the Rolling Stones. Playing in local bands throughout the '60s and early '70s, Criss was becoming increasingly fed up when none of his bands went anywhere -- especially after a tryout for Elton John's band didn't pan out and close friend Jerry Nolan landed the drum slot with trash/glam/punk pioneers the New York Dolls. But his luck was just about to change when a pair of fellow New Yorkers answered an ad Criscoula had placed in a music paper, stating "drummer with 11 years experience, willing to do anything."
The pair turned out to be none other than Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons (then known as Stanley Eisen and Gene Klein, respectively), who were in the midst of putting a new group together that would be a reaction against all the then-prevalent boring hippie bands. Criscoula got the gig, soon after changing his name to Peter Criss. After the trio enlisted guitarist Ace Frehley, the quartet agreed on the name Kiss and specialized in high-volume rock, but with a strong melodic edge (courtesy of Simmons and Stanley's admiration of the Beatles). It was also agreed that the bandmembers would choose a "character" and wear makeup and costumes relating to their choice; Criss selected a cat.
After signing with Casablanca Records in 1973, Kiss rocketed to stardom in 1975 with their classic Alive! release -- becoming one of the most popular and instantly recognizable hard rock acts of all time. When Kiss was recording their follow-up to Alive!, 1976's Destroyer, Criss dug up an old song he'd written with one of his previous bands, a heartfelt ballad called "Beck." After changing the title to "Beth," and an orchestral accompaniment was set to the lyrics, the song became a surprise Top Ten smash for the band. Later in the year, it was Criss' Rod Stewart-esque lead vocals that landed the Paul Stanley-penned acoustic "Hard Luck Woman" into the Top 20 as well.
But despite Kiss' wild success, not all was well behind the scenes. Criss admitted in later years that he "O.D.'d on fame" and developed a drug problem in the process, leading to a serious car crash in 1978 and unpredictable behavior. It was that same year that all four members released solo albums, as Criss' disco-laced release hinted that he was moving away from Kiss' familiar hard rock sound. Criss left Kiss in 1980 amid rumors of a breakup swirling (it became known in later years that Criss didn't play on most of 1979's Dynasty and not even a note on 1980's Unmasked, despite being credited on both). Criss automatically launched a solo career with such releases as 1980's Out of Control and 1982's Let Me Rock You, but fans were reluctant to embrace Criss' new, mature soft rock sound (besides the fact that Kiss themselves were experiencing a nosedive in popularity). Criss attempted to resurface with other bands throughout the rest of the '80s (such as the Alliance and Balls of Fire, both of which didn't issue any recordings), but didn't release another album until 1994's independent Criss Cat #1. On a humorous note, Criss appeared on an episode of Phil Donahue in the late '80s when an imposter appeared on the show pretending to be Peter Criss, claiming he was penniless and homeless.
A year later, Kiss fans got their wish when Criss and Frehley (who himself had left the band two years after Criss' exit) reunited with Stanley and Simmons for a taping of MTV's Unplugged. The concert was a success, which led to a permanent re-formation of the original four bandmembers. This resulted in 1996-1997's highly successful Alive Worldwide Tour and their first original album in nearly 20 years, 1998's Psycho Circus (despite the fact that it wasn't Frehley and Criss playing on the entire album). But once again, turmoil lurked right around the corner. After the U.S. leg of Kiss' Farewell Tour wrapped up in late 2000, Criss supposedly had a falling out with Simmons and Stanley over his salary, resulting in his second ousting from the band. To add insult to injury, the group continued their tour with early-'90s Kiss drummer Eric Singer taking Criss' spot behind the drums and donning his cat makeup and costume. Criss began pursuing an acting career, landing a part on the HBO prison series Oz in early 2002. The ambitious and biographical album One for All appeared in 2007. ~ Greg Prato