Kiss’ Paul Stanley likes to note that “I’ve only written one song about a city.” And that would be “Detroit Rock City.”
The song, which kicks off Kiss’ triple-platinum 1976 album “Destroyer,” is an acknowledgment of a mutual love affair between the theatrical hard rockers and Detroit that goes back to the early days of the group’s career and was cemented on May 16, 1975, when the group recorded most of its breakthrough “Kiss Alive!” album at Cobo Arena. Released four months later, it became Kiss’ first gold album, launched the hit “Rock and Roll All Nite” and turned Kiss into a worldwide phenomenon.
That will be very much on the band members’ minds this weekend, when Kiss returns to Cobo to open the latest leg of its “Kiss Alive 35” tour, celebrating the 35th anniversary of its first album.
“Something happened in Detroit,” says bassist Gene Simmons, 60, who was born Chaim Witz in Israel and formed Kiss with Stanley in 1972 after the two played together in the New York group Wicked Lester.
The group has gone on to sell some 80 million albums worldwide and have 24 gold or better in the U.S., and it’s become a “the juggernaut of all licensing and merchandising,” according to Simmons, with more than 3,000 products bearing the group’s distinctive logo and band members’ likenesses — including, condoms and, yes, a Kiss Koffin. It’s also been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But before that, the bassist says, “There was a connection there between the people (of Detroit) and what it was that Kiss did. We played the Michigan Palace (in 1974) and sold it out ... when most people were like, ‘Who’s this Kiss?’ And then, in the days we were doing an average of about 2,000 to 3,000 tickets, we played Cobo Hall.
“And in response, Paul went off and wrote ‘Detroit Rock City.’ So yes something about Cobo, and Detroit, tugs at our hearts.”
Stanley, who considers Cobo “hallowed ground,” agrees that “Detroit always got us from the get-go.” But he says the success of “Alive!,” which not only established Kiss as a phenomenon, but gave Detroit greater stature as a music market, was a surprise.
“My expectations were certainly much lower than what happened,” says Stanley, 47 (real name Stanley Eisen). “I remember talking to our manager at the time and going, ‘Do you think we might sell 350,000 albums? And he looked at me and said, ‘It’s possible.’ So that was our measure for success.
“What we got was much bigger than that.”
The reasons for the success of “Alive!” was two-fold. One was that the album finally captured what the band really sounded like. “We couldn’t seem to capture in the studio what the fans got from us live,” Stanley says of Kiss’ three studio albums before “Alive!” “We wanted to create something that put you in the middle of the audience, that made you witness to the bedlam.
“So we created something every fan experienced, and it went on to be a mega-selling audience because of it.”
But, Simmons adds, the fact that the bedlam took place in Detroit only enhanced the vibe of “Alive!”
“It’s a meat and potatoes town,” Simmons explains, “and Kiss is a meat and potatoes band. We don’t look like it; we like to dress up and we make a spectacle of ourselves ... but at the heart of it Kiss is meat and potatoes, and in that way, we have a lot more to do with Detroit than New York, even though we’re from there, or Paris.”
So there will be plenty of nostalgia when Kiss rolls into Cobo this weekend before the arena’s date with a wrecking ball as part of the convention center expansion. But the group is looking ahead, too. “Sonic Boom,” Kiss’ first new album in 11 years, comes out Oct. 6; it was produced by Stanley and is the first to feature the current lineup with drummer Eric Singer, on his third tour of duty in the band, and guitarist Tommy Thayer, who joined in 2002. Kiss plans to shoot a video for the first single, “Modern Day Delilah,” in Detroit, as well as footage that will be used for KISSonline.com exclusives and, according to Simmons, an eventual DVD.
The film crew from A&E’s “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” is in town filming for future episodes, and a network TV program also is planning to break into tonight’s show live.
Stanley and Simmons hope to release another Kiss album in less than a decade — “Everybody is so focused on the band now, it makes everything stronger,” Stanley says — but other projects also are afoot. Simmons says discussions continue about a Broadway-style jukebox musical built around Kiss’ songs, as well as an animated TV series.
But, he adds, “everything takes time. The Kiss Broadway show has been in development for 15 years, and the cartoon show about as long. Like anything, you don’t stop. You keep looking at things and working on ideas ... and in the meantime, Kiss just keeps getting bigger.”
Kiss and Buckcherry perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Sept. 25-26) at Cobo Arena, 301 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets, $25-128, remain for Saturday’s show. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www. olympiaentertainment.com.
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