The Real Reason Peter Criss Left KISS

A lot of rock bands that stand the test of time do so amid loads of interpersonal drama and a sort of revolving door policy when it comes to band members leaving, being replaced, and occasionally returning. KISS is no different. Drummer Peter "The Catman" Criss left the band for the first time in 1980, revealing what Ultimate Classic Rock called the "first fissures in the original lineup." In a chat available on Famous Interview, when asked why he'd left the band, Criss replied, "I wanted to do my own thing, my own music and 10 years in KISS was enough for me. I got tired of playing the heavy metal stuff. I like writing love songs." Indeed, the Criss song "Beth" was KISS's first top 10, Gold-certified song, "an uncharacteristic, orchestrated ballad," according to AllMusic, which is "told from the perspective of a musician who is torn between going home to his wife/girlfriend or keep on practicing with the boys in the band."

Ultimate Classic Rock noted that Criss "deliberately sabotaged three of his final five shows with the original lineup of KISS" in December of 1979. They quote Criss himself from his 2012 memoir Makeup To Breakup. Criss got angry when frontman Paul Stanley motioned for him to slow down his drumming, writing ,"What that says to everybody in the arena is that I'm the one f****** up the band." Criss admitted he was high on cocaine and "a little edgy and probably playing too fast."

'Kiss, as the world knew it, was over'

Criss responded by slowing down to a crawl. Stanley asked him to pick up the pace. Criss responded by yelling, "Make up your motherf****** mind!'" and later noted, "People in the audience could hear me screaming that at him. I just stopped playing; I didn't care anymore." In his own memoir, 2014's Face The Music, Paul Stanley called out Criss's onstage antics: "It's one thing to sabotage things offstage — and God knows he'd done plenty of that. ...This was in front of people who paid to see us." Stanley, bassist Gene Simmons, and guitarist Ace Frehley voted to kick him out, but they all played one last week of shows together. 

Things didn't improve. Within those few days, Criss stopped playing in the middle of a song with no warning, stormed off the stage after singing "Beth," hit Simmons in the back of the head with a drumstick, and attacked Simmons with a broken champagne bottle. At the end of the last show, Criss and Simmons "begrudgingly" shook hands but, remembered Criss, KISS "as the world knew it, was over." The band replaced him with new drummer Eric Carr; to add insult to injury, Carr started performing "Beth" live and the band eventually re-recorded the song with him as well. According to the fan site KissMonster, Paul Stanley proudly proclaimed, "It was wild we brought up the tapes of 'Beth' and Eric sang it in the very same studio."

'A nightmare of ego and money woes'

Criss launched a solo career, but never reached the success he'd enjoyed with KISS and, specifically, "Beth." Per Ultimate Classic Rock, his 1980 album Out of Control was "met with indifference from record executives and music fans alike." His follow-up, 1982's Let Me Rock You, was another commercial flop, despite its guest appearance from Gene Simmons, which was perhaps a signal of what was to come. 

Criss rejoined KISS twice — first in 1996 for an original KISS lineup reunion world tour. His return "became a nightmare of ego and money woes" when he "was no longer returning as a full member, but as a paid sideman," reported Ultimate Classic Rock. Upon finding out that he was paid $10,000 less per show than Ace Frehley, Criss threatened to quit, but stayed on until the last night of the tour in October 2000, when he joined Paul Stanley in his "usual end-of-show guitar-smashing ritual" by destroying his drum set, remembering "Everyone stood up and cheered, and Paul thought the cheers were for him until he turned around and saw a huge floor tom-tom coming down at him." Somewhat unbelievably, Criss returned one last time in 2003 for a series of tours, leaving for good in 2004 when his contract wasn't renewed. The original KISS appeared together onstage when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but didn't perform. All things considered, that was probably for the best.