The Melvins have made no secret of their long-standing love for Kiss. They’ve covered numerous songs from the famously face-painted group, including “Shock Me,” “Detroit Rock City” and “God of Thunder.”
In 1992, the trio released a series of solo EPs modeled after Kiss’ simultaneously released 1978 solo albums, complete with matching covers. The following year, Gene Simmons joined them onstage for a performance of the Hotter Than Hell track “Goin’ Blind,” which the Melvins covered on their Houdini album. Then in 1996, the Melvins opened for five shows on Kiss’ original lineup reunion tour.
We interviewed Melvins singer / guitarist King Buzzo, drummer Dale Crover and bassist Steven McDonald about their history and interactions with Kiss:
When did you first learn about Kiss?
Steven McDonald: Kiss was the first band I ever saw. I saw them in January 1976 on the second leg of the Alive! tour. I was 8.
So.. you had very cool parents?
No, an older brother, he would have been 11. I think we went with some neighbor kids, too. We had the good fortune of living only about five miles from the L.A. Forum, where the concert was.
Did seeing them warp you?
Yeah, that’s why I’m here right now, probably.
Dale Crover: The first time I saw them was probably around the same time as Steven, maybe a little bit later. Probably around 5th grade or so. I remember, we used to be able to play records at lunchtime in our classroom. Alive! and Alive II were big ones, as well as [Ted Nugent‘s] Double Live Gonzo! But we had to be careful with that one because of all the cussing. I saw them on the Dynasty tour in ’79. That was my first concert, I think Buzz was there as well.
King Buzzo: I was there, but it wasn’t my first concert. It was the first time I saw Kiss. That was the first time where I had wheels independently, where I could go where I wanted.
Crover: Definitely they’re the band for me that made me want to play music and be in a band. And when I started to play drums, that’s what I learned from, was playing along to Alive!
The Melvins Cover Kiss’ “Goin’ Blind’
What do you think about people who are critical of Peter Criss‘ drumming style?
Crover: I think he plays really great on that live record. His drumming definitely deteriorated over the years.
Buzzo: We played with them, it had certainly deteriorated by the 1996 Tour. He was having a hard time with anything on that tour.
Crover: But if you look at old videos, he was really good. He hit hard, and I liked his style, he used a lot of bass drums, which has definitely crept into my style.
Buzzo: One thing I can say about that ’96 tour is Kiss was definitely not playing to tapes. (Laughs) No way.
McDonald: I saw that tour, and they were awesome, early in the tour.
Buzzo: This was pretty early. The first show we played with them was at the Superdome in New Orleans.
How did the crowd treat you?
Buzzo: Fine. They were all older people who couldn’t be bothered booing us. They were credit card-wielding adults, they were sitting there drinking stadium beer, they had no interest in doing anything bad. Gene told us on that tour they were doing 50 bucks a head in merchandise. Place held 17,000 people, and they’re doing 50 a head.
Crover: They had their own Kiss ATM machines right there.
Buzzo: Yeah, they brought their own ATMs, and they were stenciled with Kiss all over them.
McDonald: Was it cash only?
Buzzo: Oh no way, no no no – they’ll take whatever you got!
Crover: ..and if you didn’t have a ticket for the concert, well there were still merch booths outside.
Buzzo: They had merchandise outside, that’s the first time I’d seen that. The only time I’d ever seen merch outside before was bootleggers.
Did you get to interact with them much?
Crover: We definitely did. Gene and Paul [Stanley] are the ones who were more aware of our band. I guess we were there because there was a connection – our product manger at Atlantic used to be their publicist. She made them aware that we had done the solo records, and paid tribute to them.
Buzzo: They thought that was cool. It was a tribute, we weren’t making fun of them. But Gene played with us before that. In 1993, he actually played with us onstage at the Palladium. We did “Going Blind” with Gene.
Crover: We were in St. Paul one day, in our dressing room. All of a sudden Ace Frehley comes walking in, with a couple of friends. They sit down and they start talking.
Buzzo: It was more than friends, they were sleazy looking girls.
Crover: He was sitting there for quite a while, and we’re just kinda looking at each other. And then all of a sudden he looks around and he was like “Oh! This isn’t my dressing room!.” And gets up and walks out.
Buzzo: We were sitting there thinking, who the hell did he think we were?
McDonald: You guys never really addressed him?
Buzzo: He was busy talking to these girls saying stuff like, ‘Yeah, I’ll get the passes all worked out.’ We didn’t know what he was doing. He was in there a good solid 10 minutes too, before he realized.
The Melvins Perform Kiss’ “God of Thunder”
Do you think Kiss get enough credit? Too much criticism?
Buzzo: They’ve always been nice to us. Gene and Paul have only been super nice to us. So I would never do anything or say anything at all that would degrade that at all. I only appreciate that. And if you had told me as a kid, that someday not only would Gene know who we were, or we’d get to meet him, but we’d actually get to play on the same stage as them, and he actually played with us in our band. It’s far more than I could have ever dreamed of, and so I’m not going to belittle that. To me that’s just an amazing thing, and I’m not going to forget it. Because I was such a big fan, and I remain a big fan.
Crover: Those guys didn’t really have any airplay besides “Beth” and they became huge. I really appreciate that, you know? They were one of the biggest bands in the world at one time, without anybody’s help.
Buzzo: And these people that were like, I like Led Zeppelin and I don’t like Kiss. And I always thought to myself, “Well, I like both!”
Crover: Kiss is what led me to Led Zeppelin. Kiss led me from Led Zeppelin to Judas Priest and to all the heavy metal stuff that I liked after that.
McDonald: I think a lot of people give Kiss shit that also love Kiss. I think that it’s kind of fun for a lot of people, whose lives have been changed for the better by Kiss, to kind of obsess on them. We had an old friend Bill Bartell [also known as] Pat Fear from the band White Flag, and he was obsessed with Kiss. He was this guy who made his way backstage at Kiss concerts when he was 14 years old, through pure obsession. But he would also do things, like in the mid ’80s, he would wait all day to get to the front row so he could throw bubblegum in Paul Stanley’s chest hair. They’re fun to do that with, for whatever reason. It’s not necessarily not a loving thing.
Was there a point where you lost interest in Kiss, or have you kept interest throughout?
Buzzo: I have not. I was done after [1979’s] Dynasty. I didn’t even buy Dynasty. But there were six albums before that that I will always enjoy for the rest of my life.
Crover: Yeah, I can listen to the early stuff, no problem.
McDonald: For me, I lost it around Dynasty. But then in the early ’80s when punk rock started becoming a bummer to me, I got back into Kiss. And Redd Kross [the band McDonald co-founded in 1980 and remains an active member of] covered “Deuce” in 1984, which was sort of a low point for them in their popularity. And then when the hair metal thing happened, I always thought Kiss were getting sort of the short end of the stick. So I had a lot of fun watching them kind of regain their throne. I would go to all those concerts – I saw the Lick It Up tour, I saw the Asylum tour, I saw them work their way back up to the Forum. Cause I saw them at the Forum in ’76, then eventually they were playing smaller rooms, like around the time of [1982’s] Creatures of the Night. I thought it was really fun. I didn’t necessarily love the music as much, but I still appreciated them. I thought that they were such pros, and really good at what they were doing, and I thought they had something to offer the landscape at that time.
Buzzo: Gene said all those records all sold over a million records – they still did good!
Crover: I liked that Redd Kross were flying the Kiss flag when it was totally uncool. We were too. The first time I ever heard them was covering “Deuce,” and I thought, “Hey! These guys like Kiss too!”
McDonald: In 1984, in our underground weirdo world, it wasn’t a very popular thing to do.
Buzzo: It wasn’t, but to us, it was the exactly right thing you should do. That was exactly what we wanted to hear.
The Melvins Perform Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City”
Have you ever listened to [1981’s ill-fated concept album] Music from ‘The Elder?‘
Crover, Buzzo (in unison): No.
McDonald: I remember their performance on Fridays, I used to watch that on VHS tape in the ’80s, with “A World Without Heroes,” their collaboration with Lou Reed. Bizarre. But that song “I,” I loved that song.
Buzzo: One thing I really liked about those guys, unlike a bunch of lower-tier rock star guys that are a bunch of assholes, is those guys never were assholes. To me they are real rock stars. And if those people can be nice to people like us, and not treat us like garbage, that just makes me hate the lower tier people even more. Kiss doesn’t have to do that.
I was at Disneyland. I saw Paul Stanley there. And what does he do – he walks right up to me, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ – he’s there with this entourage of people, his family or whatever, he goes out of his way to walk over and talk to me. That’s real class. Doesn’t blow me off or make me clear the hallway or any of that bullshit. If he doesn’t have to do that, nobody has to do that, and the people that do that can kiss my ass. We’ve been in situations where lower-tiered rock stars make us leave the hallway so they can walk to the stage – when we’re touring with them!
Have you ever had a bad experience with somebody whose music you love, and if so did it change how you felt about their work?
Buzzo: No, but I’ve had bad experiences, where I didn’t like their music in the first place, and then after meeting them I didn’t like it even more! If I were to meet Pete Townshend, I’ve never met him, I’d be really bummed out if he was an asshole to me. I don’t know if that would make me hate his music, because the Who are one of my favorite bands. But that would seriously be a bummer. To the point where I’m almost reluctant to go out of my way to meet someone like that, because I don’t want to have that experience.
The Melvins “1983” lineup, which features King Buzzo, original drummer Mike Dillard, and Dale Crover moving over to bass, have just released a new album entitled Working With God. It features covers of the Beach Boys‘ “I Get Around” and Harry Nilsson‘s “You’re Breakin’ My Heart.”
The Melvins Perform Kiss’ “Deuce”