By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks
Ed Kanon stepped in as KISS drummer in 1997 when Peter Criss fell ill during the ”Alive/Worldwide” reunion tour. Roppongi Rocks has a chat with “The Fifth KISS drummer”.
Since Peter Criss joined Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley in 1972 (a band which shortly thereafter became KISS when Ace Frehley joined), KISS has had three long-serving drummers, Peter Criss, Eric Carr and Eric Singer. There’s also South Africa-born Anton Fig who (at the time secretly and without credit) played drums on the KISS albums “Dynasty” (1979) and “Unmasked” (1980). But there is one more, perhaps a bit less well-known, drummer who has played with KISS: Ed Kanon. Roppongi Rocks decided to have a chat with Kanon about his brief stint as drummer for KISS.
The show must go on. The KISS machine doesn’t stop for anything and when Peter Criss was unable to play shortly before one of the gigs on the ”Alive/Worldwide” reunion tour, KISS took a drastic measure and went onstage with Peter Criss’ drum tech Ed Kanon as a fill-in drummer to avoid having to cancel the show at the Columbus Civic Center.
On 5th April, 1997, in Columbus, Georgia, you stepped in for an ill Peter Criss and played drums for KISS for one gig during their reunion tour. Can you tell us the story of how it happened?
“Well, we – the crew – were doing our normal routine. We had the stage set up, and ready to go for the band’s soundcheck. We were waiting extremely long for them to show up. They are usually pretty prompt with their schedule. They have managers around them keeping them on time. After quite some time, the vans that they were riding in pulled into the venue. I see the band party walk directly into the dressing room area instead of coming to the stage. The band’s manager Doc McGhee, came onto the stage. He walked right up to me. He had an unusual look on his face. He said ‘Nice goatee’ and then said ‘Shave it!’ I still wasn’t quite sure what was going on. He told me to come with him. We walked to the dressing room. Paul Stanley was in there. He came up to me and said ‘We have good news and bad news. Bad news is Peter can’t do the show tonight. Good news is, you are.’ I asked what was wrong with Peter. He said his arms were bothering him and he couldn’t play. He said it was too late to call off the show. Without really thinking about it, I said ‘OK, I’ll do it’. I didn’t have time to really contemplate it. It was time to start getting into makeup. As Tommy Thayer did my makeup, and David Mathews did my hair, I had a set list in front of me. I was going through the beginnings, and endings of songs. I felt pretty confident that I could pull it off. So then we are all in makeup, sitting there ready to go onstage. Gene was nervous. I could tell by his body language. Paul was making jokes, and keeping it lighthearted. Then, we start the walk to the stage. Once we got onstage, behind the KISS curtain. There I was in the Catman costume, looking down at the three original members of KISS looking at me. It was very surreal. Then it started: ‘Alright, Columbus! You wanted the best…’ And then the show started. We started with ‘Deuce’. It took a second to get used to everything. The pyrotechnics were extremely loud. Smoke all over the place. A lot of people screaming and cheering. All that good stuff. Once I settled in, it was rolling along quite smooth. All you have to do is watch Gene. He is great with hitting all the cues. He makes eye contact a lot, and keeps you locked in together. Song after song, we hammered through the set list. It seemed to go really quickly when you are up there doing it. The adrenaline pumping and the crowd going nuts make it move pretty fast. Then, we are on the last song, ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’, and I was glad that I was able to successfully get through the show without any problems.”
How did you feel when you were told to put the makeup on and play the KISS gig? Did you even have a chance to think about it?
“It was all so quick. I remember thinking to myself ‘You can either freak out about this, and probably screw it up, or just focus and get through it, and think about it later’. Fortunately for everyone, I chose the second option.”
Was there any song during the KISS gig where you were thinking, “Shit! I don’t remember how to play that one”?
“Fortunately at that point, I had actually played with them a few times in rehearsals and soundchecks. Peter didn’t always show up for those things. They knew I could play the drums well enough to carry their set. I hadn’t done it in a live situation, but I was somewhat familiar with most of their tunes. Some of the songs have different breakdowns in them for the show for Paul to talk to the crowd. Those songs are where you are just following along. They ended up working out well. Thank God!”
You have worked with Peter Criss for many years. How did he feel about you stepping in for him?
“From what I understand, he was a bit upset at first. Then once it did happen, he lightened up. He actually told me ‘Good job’ and we got past it. Ace was mad too. He didn’t want to play without Peter. Once we got rolling, he was OK with it too. Paul and Gene really have a ‘The show must go on’ attitude toward the whole thing. It’s really commendable.”
KISS has some of the most loyal and fanatic fans in the world of music. How have you been welcomed by them?
“I am very aware of the loyalty of the KISS Army. They are fanatical about these guys. I understand. I used to dress up like them when I was a kid too. Most were very welcoming. There are the haters out there, but you can’t please everyone. People that are true KISS fans should be OK with all the doing of KISS. No matter who is in the band, or who sits in for who. It’s all part of KISS. There are people out there that are pretty hard on Tommy and Eric. They are part of KISS. KISS put them in the band. KISS decided to use them. Like a sports team. There are ups and downs. Different players come and go. You still remain a fan of the franchise. It’s similar. What if KISS asked you to be in the band? Would you say no because you only want the original members? Hell no, you would say ‘Fuck yes, Let’s do this!’”
As a drum technician with major acts such as KISS, ZZ Top, The Cult, Slayer, Marilyn Manson and many more, has it ever happened on any other occasion that you have had to fill in?
“Nothing like the KISS thing has ever happened with any other gig. I have done a lot of rehearsals and soundchecks with bands. Never even close to doing a show. That was a very rare occasion. Not as rare as Keith Moon falling off the stool passed out, though. That was a very lucky fan,” says Kanon referring to a The Who concert in San Francisco in 1973, when 19-year-old fan Scot Halpin ended up filing in for Moon halfway through the gig. “I do know that Nico Beard – Frank Beard’s son and drum tech – tries to put sleeping pills into his dad’s drinks so he can take over on the drums. Just kidding!” jokes Kanon about life on the road with ZZ Top.
You have spent most of your career as a drum tech. Since the KISS gig back in 1997, do you pay extra attention to a band’s live set just in case you’ll be asked to fill?
“When you are a technician for the instrument that you have been playing your whole life, it’s hard not to memorise the songs. You hear them, and see them played so many times. Every band is different. For instance, Slayer’s Dave Lombardo is a monster! You couldn’t play that stuff even if you wanted to. Nobody can play like Dave. Manson, I wouldn’t – at the time, he’s more mellow now – want to play that gig. He would destroy the stage, the drums, everything. Poor Ginger Fish would get tortured constantly. That is why that was a very short stay for me. It wasn’t my kind of gig. I would have loved to play for The Cult. I love their music. I can play every song. ZZ Top – I have jammed around with Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill quite a few times, just messing around. Frank is a great drummer too. Legendary shuffle man. Nobody can play his shuffles – ‘La Grange’, ‘Tush’ – like he does.”
What are you currently working on?
“Currently I am running a production company, Showroom Productions, out of California. Producing new talent. Working on different styles of music. We have some hip hop, country, pop, electronic, metal. Some very good things getting ready to happen. I have been focused on producing. I love the studio. I always have, even though most of my career was spent on the road. I got to spend a lot of time in some great studios with some great producers. I have learned many things in my years.“
For more KISS history, visit the KISS Expo which will come to Tokyo in October.