I’ve recently been thinking about a question that comes up fairly regularly on a KISS Podcast that I listen to, Three Sides of the Coin. The question is, did Vinnie Vincent save KISS? My initial response was to say no, but the more I find myself thinking about it, the less certain I am. I say this now because I’ve been reading Paul Stanley’s book. KISS was in bad shape when Ace left. Their fan base was in decline for many reasons and they needed to find their way back to making music that people cared about. Vinnie had been cautiously recommended to the band to help out with the Creatures of the Night album. Vinnie ended up writing some of the songs and played a few of the solos. Then, with no better options, he was asked to tour behind the album.
I saw KISS for the first time on this tour, in Phoenix, AZ. The band was still in makeup, with Vinnie dressed as the Egyptian Warrior, with his golden ankh makeup design. I thought it was cool and different. As a lifelong KISS fan, I didn’t like seeing Peter and Ace go, but Eric and Vinnie were new and introduced a freshness to the band that I found exciting. I thought Vinnie was good when I saw him live; his gold makeup somehow seemed a nod to Ace’s silver makeup. I must say though, I was shocked by the size of the audience. I mistakenly thought everyone loved KISS as much as I did, and wasn’t aware of the decline that they were experiencing. At any rate, Creatures was an important step back toward a direction that fans wanted, even though it didn’t sell very well.
The true turning point was Lick It Up. Now without makeup, KISS needed to stand on their music alone, and they needed good songs more than ever. Vinnie was a big part of the writing process and played well on the album. I thought he was good in the music videos for the album too, especially in that era, where guitar playing had generally become more technical. I love Ace, but his playing wasn’t that way. Vinnie could do anything the other big guitar players could do. According to Paul, Vinnie’s solo spots live were getting longer and longer, and became an issue on tour until they finally decided to part company. Paul complains about it but doesn’t describe having any conversations with Vinnie – KISS’ employee – about trying to correct the issue. I’m not defending Vinnie, but I’m certain there is more to the story.
So, in my opinion, from the Creatures era through Lick It Up, KISS needed to transition into new territory and Vinnie helped them do that, and they recaptured some of the success that they’d lost. He wrote or co-wrote some great songs on Creatures of the Night and Lick It up, and provided some stability through a tough period. Perhaps most importantly, he was good enough to take people’s minds off of the fact that Ace was gone…not a small thing by any means. Did Vinnie actually save KISS? Aside from Paul, I don’t know that anyone else was more instrumental to the band at that time. It’s easy to discount his contributions given how it all turned out with him in the end, and his post KISS career was disappointing in many ways – to put it mildly, although KISS did bring him back years later for more songwriting help. All in all, I think you can make a pretty convincing argument that Vinnie did actually save KISS…or helped them save themselves anyway.