Standard KISSTORY will tell you that before he joined KISS in 1982, guitarist Vinnie Vincent (AKA Vinnie Cusano) was in a band called Warrior with some of the members of the band New England. Not much else seems to be said about this band except that their demos have turned up in collector's circles and online.
Vinnie Vincent live with KISS, 1983
This brief bit of information always left me curious with many unanswered questions. Who were Warrior? What was their KISS connection? Did they do gigs? How serious was the band? Is that really Vinnie Vincent singing lead vocals on those alleged Warrior demos? And the one that has caused the most debate amongst KISS fans for years, is Vinnie as unpredictable and crazy as KISS like to make out?
Vinnie is notoriously shy of the press and public comment these days but luckily I tracked down the rest of the band and from interviewing them I've been able to piece together a little of Warrior's history and an insight into Vinnie, his creative talents and his personality.
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In interviews KISS have always maintained that while Vinnie is a very gifted musician he's also very difficult to work with. Gene Simmons said of him in the KISS Extreme Close Up video:
"Vinnie Vincent? Talented player and about the most self destructive person I've ever met. This guy would hang himself as somebody's offering him the keys to the kingdom."
Is that really what Vinnie's like? Or is that just the KISS press machine trying to twist the truth to their own ends?
The other members of Warrior were Jimmy Waldo on keys, Gary Shea on bass and Hirsh Gardner on drums. Together with John Fannon on guitar and lead vocals, they had been New England. The story of Warrior actually starts not with Vinnie but with New England.
New England: (L-R Gary Shea, John Fannon, Hirsh Gardner and Jimmy Waldo)
Drummer, Hirsh Gardner told me, "I guess a little back story is needed first. New England was managed by Bill Aucoin who also managed KISS. Paul Stanley produced our first album and we were well known around the office and had a good relationship with the KISS".
Despite a having a Top 40 Hit with 'Don't Ever Want To Love Ya', a heavy touring schedule and three albums released, the band never quite had the big time success that many had predicted for them.
Bassist, Gary Shea told me: "In the spring of 1982 New England was writing and rehearsing for our fourth album at our studio in Braintree, Massachusetts. Arrangements were made with Todd Rundgren to return and record us at his Utopia Sound Studios in Woodstock, New York. Then without warning, guitarist John Fannon announced that he was leaving the band for personal reasons.
"New England immediately began looking for his replacement and got positive feedback from guitarists Charlie Huhn (Ted Nugent), Mike Slamer (City Boy) and Cary Sharaf (Billy Squier) among others."
Hirsh: "So when John departed New England Jimmy, Gary and I were looking for a replacement. We had two calls that same week, one from Lennie Petze, then head of Portrait/Epic records and one from Gene Simmons- both about this kid Vinnie Cusano who was looking for a band."
Gary: "Gene Simmons called to say we should check out a guitarist named Vinnie Cusano, who had made their very short list to replace Ace Frehley and was co-writing with Kiss in Los Angeles. Gene told us that Vinnie was hot, but too short to be in Kiss."
Jimmy Waldo, says that it was him that made the calls: "I called Gene, he suggested Vinnie. So I called Vinnie."
Vinnie Cusano c1981
This Vinnie was of course Vincent Cusano, later to be KISS guitarist, Vinnie Vincent. At the time he was a relatively unknown session guitarist and songwriter. He had written music for TV shows such as 'Happy Days' and appeared on the Dan Hartman hit 'Instant Replay'. Vinnie had also recently been writing some material with Gene and later Paul for the upcoming KISS album, 'Creatures Of The Night'.
Dan Hartman: 'Instant Replay' 1978
The original intention was for Vinnie to join or at least continue the band in the style of New England.
Hirsh: "In our minds that is exactly what it was, the new New England. Jimmy, Gary and I have a sound, a vibe, a personal and musical connection that we'd developed over many, many years. Gary's melodic, yet thundering bass lines, Jimmy's creative layers of sounds and his rhythmic connection with whatever it is that I'm playing on drums. It just all meshes together into an undeniable sound."
But as Jimmy said: "Vinnie did not like the New England material, so our only choice was to do his stuff, which at the time was really good. He sent us a cassette of four or five songs."
Gary: "Vinnie sent a tape to us and the we loved the material."
Jimmy: "So we called Vinnie and invited him to Boston to jam with us. Hirsh, Gary and I just learned the songs."
Hirsh: "All the songs were Vinnie's and we were happy to do them, they were great songs, (some of) which ended up on the KISS record. We did not collaborate with him on the first batch."
Jimmy: "Vinnie flew to Boston with his guitar, walked into our rehearsal space, plugged into a Marshall and we just played the songs like we had already been together, it really sounded great. The fit was perfect."
Vinnie was on guitar and lead vocals for all songs. Jimmy and Hirsh sang backing vocals.
Hirsh Gardner on drums
Hirsh: "Together the four of us immediately had a sound that was powerful, melodic and progressive, all the while being very commercial. The band could have been huge... except for... ego!
"Jimmy, Gary and I are extremely easy to work with. In that band situation it was always about the band first and individual egos second. Hell, we all have tremendous egos. You have to, to do what we do.
"But I have always believed that egos come in two shades, positive-using your special abilities to move the collective art form forward and negative-moving your art form forward at the expense of others. Based on all that you've heard... which do you think Paul, Gene, Jimmy, Gary and I encountered?"
"Vinnie asked us right on the spot to come to LA. We only worked together a day or two with Vinnie in Boston. He was not interested in being a replacement for John or being in New England, so we went to LA soon after that."
Jimmy Waldo on Keyboards
Jimmy: "The decision was made that we relocate to LA and inside of a month we were living there putting the band together."
Gary: "When Vinnie flew to Boston to play with the us it was decided that we should merge into a whole new group with the working title of Goliath or Warrior."
I asked Hirsh who had come up the name, Warrior: "I think Vinnie. We didn't care what it was called. No logo or artwork was designed."
Gary: "Choosing the name Warrior we set off for Los Angeles and began rehearsing with Vinnie at S.I.R. Studios on Sunset Boulevard. We rehearsed in the day and Vinnie worked with KISS at night at The Record Plant."
Bassist, Gary Shea
This was during the summer of 1982 when Kiss were recording the 'Creatures of the Night' album and Vinnie was recording guitar parts for them in the absence of Ace Frehley. At this time, Ace continued to be an official member of KISS but had contributed nothing to the new album.
Gary: "Songs such as 'I Love It Loud' and 'Boys Are Gonna Rock' were discussed as to whether or not to keep them for Warrior or sell the songs to KISS."
There have long been rumours that along with 'I Love It Loud', KISS also recorded 'Back On The Streets' for the 'Creatures of the Night' album with Paul Stanley singing but decided not to include it in the final release. This recording, if it exists, has not yet turned up in collector's circles.
I asked Jimmy if 'Back On the Streets' was also already in place at this point: "Yes this song and all the songs were done when we got together with him in Boston."
While rehearsing in SIR Studios, Warrior made their first recordings. Jimmy told me "they were just cassette live demos to work out the arrangements." These recordings have not cropped up in fan circles as of yet.
As the four of them did no live shows together and no press or photo sessions, I asked Hirsh, if this was really a band or a just a studio demo project. His answer was emphatic, "No, no shows, photos or press but yes it was absolutely a band. For the short time we were together we rehearsed, wrote, recorded music daily."
At that point CBS records offered to fund a demo recording of the band with a view to possibly signing them up to a record deal. They recorded six songs at The Record Plant in Los Angeles: 'Boys Are Gonna Rock', 'Gypsy in the Her Eyes', 'I Need Love', 'Back On The Streets', 'It's Not Pretty' and 'Baby Oh Why?'.
I think these songs sound great (well, the recording quality is very poor having been passed around on cassette several times by the sound of it) but the actual song writing and performances are great on all levels. I love Vinnie's vocals and whole band does seem to compliment each other musically. Also interestingly you can hear some parts or whole songs that later cropped up on KISS and Invasion records.
So, let's hear the demos...
BOYS ARE GONNA ROCK
"I'm a rocker of the modern times, I never let my engines cool"
This is probably the most interesting song from a KISS fan's point of view. The verse ended up in the KISS song 'On the 8th Day' on the 'Lick It Up' album and the chorus ended up on the later 'Vinnie Vincent Invasion' album, entitled 'Boyz Are Gonna Rock' with a newly written verse.
Jimmy told us: "When Warrior got our demo deal with CBS and went to the Record Plant to record, KISS was in the next room cutting new material. Gene came in to hear our stuff and later after Vinnie joined KISS, they ended up doing some of those songs."
GYPSY IN HER EYES
"There's a light that shines in New York City,
I swear it feels like years since you've been here."
This is a great song that was never released. This and 'Back On the Streets' are the oldest of the songs, having been originally demoed by Vinnie in 1981. The prominent keyboards of Jimmy Waldo on this version are a key feature of the track and make it probably the most similar to the former New England sound.
Hirsh: "Vinnie wrote all the songs that Warrior did. The arrangements were all four of us which is why the songs still maintained a lot of the New England signature sound. Its been too long since the recordings happened so I don't recall a lot but Jimmy, Vinnie and I did all the background vocals and each played their respective instruments."
I NEED LOVE
"At the speed of sound,
She's driving me insane
Turn me on break my candy cane"
This song was re-written for the 'Vincent Vincent Invasion' album as 'Shoot U Full of Love'. I personally prefer this slower more soulful version and think that Vinnie's vocals suit it perfectly.
Jimmy Waldo agreed, "Vinnie was a great singer but he always felt that to compete we needed some screamer, which was not true at all. Vinnie was by far the best singer HE ever had for those songs, he had more soul, emotion than anyone who sang them in the future, KISS included.
"But he could not get it through his head that you don't have to sing high to be a great singer and deliver a great song, Vinnie wrote those songs in his key, he played and sang them at rehearsals effortlessly, and sounded like no one else."
Interestingly the phrase 'candy cane' re-appears in the lyrics for the KISS song, 'Gimme More', written by Vinnie and Paul Stanley on the 'Lick It Up' album.
BACK ON THE STREETS
"Someone has taken your love it's true isn't it?
It's not just talk that I hear.
And when I see him build his wall around you
I know the end is near."
This is the only one of the Warrior songs not credited entirely to Vinnie Cusano as songwriter. 'Back on the Streets' was co-written by Vinnie and Robert Friedman.
Hirsh told us about when he first heard the song on the cassette that Vinnie sent him in Boston: "Yeah, 'Back On The Streets' was a complete song with a not so hot demo. Once we put the song together it was pretty cool, with rockin' drums and bass and screamin' keyboards. Quite frankly I've not heard a better version."
And there are indeed many versions to be heard. This song ended up having a very curious history all of its own being recorded by several artists including Vinnie Vincent's Invasion, KISS, Frehley's Comet, John Norum, Jay Miles and even for a Sci-Fi B-movie soundtrack 'Voyage of the Rock Aliens' by the band 3 Speed. Yet the song never achieved the hit that it deserved with any of these artists. There's links to some of these versions of the song further down this page.
IT'S NOT PRETTY
"Girl I'm hungry for your loving."
Another great song that was never released, featuring Hirsh, Jimmy and Vinnie's backing vocals and a short but sweet outro solo from Vinnie.
BABY OH WHY?
"You're a double-barrel cardiac arrest.
Street-demon, I see right through your dress"
This was song was later recorded on the Vinnie Vincent Invasion album in a very similar format. Once again I find myself preferring the original Warrior version with Vinnie's lead vocals though.
CBS eventually passed on the demos and about that time cracks were beginning to show in the band itself. Jimmy Waldo said "Rehearsals were fun in the beginning. Then as things progressed, in true Vinnie style, he went kind of psycho on us. He and I went to several record companies but he couldn't deal with them."
Soon after Vinnie was offered the chance to join KISS as Vinnie Vincent, the Egyptian Wizard for the upcoming 'Creatures of the Night' tour. Naturally he leapt at the chance and Warrior was disbanded or at least put on hold.
KISS with Vinnie Vincent on the right
Jimmy: "It could have been really amazing if he would have stuck with Gary, Hirsh and myself, and did the singing himself, the songs were great, the band sounded killer from day one, I understood why he joined KISS, he had a family and needed the $$$. Nobody would turn down a gig like that, but Warrior could have been a really bad ass band, the timing was perfect."
Vinnie played with KISS on the 'Creatures of the Night' tour and then recorded the 'Lick It Up' album with them in their newly unmasked format. Eight out of the ten songs on the record were co-written by Vinnie, including the aforementioned 'On the 8th Day' featuring the verse of the Warrior song 'Boys Are Gonna Rock'.
During his time in KISS Vinnie stayed in touch with the guys from Warrior. Jimmy told me: "He would call me from the road and he and I did a few song demos at his apartment in Hollywood. I did a song or two with him after that at my studio in Massachusetts, then he went to the east coast and worked with Hirsh."
In 1983 Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea moved on to form Alcatrazz with vocalist Graham Bonnet (Rainbow) and the young Yngwie J Malmsteen on guitar. Malmsteen left the band after one album and was replaced by Steve Vai. Jimmy Waldo also later played keyboards for Quiet Riot.
Hirsh: "When Vinnie was asked to join Kiss after we finished our Warrior demos I left LA for Boston to continue with my producing career. We did keep in touch and towards the end of the tour he called and invited me to the show at the Worcester Centrum just outside of Boston. Before the show he and I went into a dressing room and just started jamming on some of his newer material.
"Once again, the vibe was great and Vinnie asked if he could come and stay with me and record some songs at my studio. I didn't know it then but this was the geneses of the Invasion project that would come out in the next year (after my legal battles with Vinnie).
"After the Kiss tour and while we were recording in Boston, Vinnie was constantly on the phone with Gene. I assumed from his comments that there were major disagreements about pay, royalties, his performances etc. I should have seen the writing on the wall. It was pretty obvious what I was dealing with."
Sure enough, Vinnie didn't last long in KISS. After the 'Lick It Up' tour ended in early 1984, he was unceremoniously fired from the band.
Paul Stanley said on the KISS 'Extreme Close Up' video: "I think Vinnie has a lot of demons and a lot of stuff going on inside himself which ultimately come out and do him harm, we had to cut him lose when it was doing us harm."
Eric Carr on WCWP radio in 1989, said: "It was pretty obvious from very early on that he was not really into being a member of a band. He wanted his own band. One of the reasons he didn't stay with us was that he tried to kind of turn things around and make it his band and that's not the way it is."
Vinnie admitted as much in an interview in Kerrang! issue 130: "I'm the sort of person who has to be in control of my own art. I'm a problem child- especially with them because I always wanted to do things my way."
Throughout this time Vinnie and Hirsh kept working on new material. Hirsh remembered "We continued to work, write songs, produce and arrange some amazing tracks."
Vinnie Vincent in the studio
Around this period Vinnie spoke to Dante Bonutto at Kerrang! magazine and was quoted in issue 73 as saying "Hirsh and I have a special magic together. Everything's feeling and sounding so good. I've let myself be really free with the solos and there's tons of them."
He might have been free with his solos but not with his vocals. Hirsh told me: "We would constantly be looking for a lead singer, much to my dismay. I would record Vinnie's lead vocals and they were simply amazing. But he was obsessed with having someone who could sing high C's, D's and E's in natural voice. That's way up there and as a producer, in my opinion the songs did not need that. They were great songs and simply needed a voice with passion and belief.
"Quite frankly, its annoying to listen to the Invasion albums. I know what Vinnie did with all those vocalists and they are all much better singers than what is represented on those albums."
I asked Hirsh if this new recording project after KISS was just picking up where Warrior left off?
Hirsh: "Most definitely. And if Jimmy and Gary weren't doing Alcatrazz they would have been in the band too."
So, why did it not work out with Vinnie that time?
Hirsh: "Long story short, Vinnie let his demons get the best of him. One day I arrived at the studio to find all my tapes and Vinnie gone. Word has it that he picked up and just left.
"I contacted Vinnie a few weeks after he left and mentioned that I had just spent six months recording, engineering, producing and performing the bulk of what was to become the Invasion album and that he would need to compensate me for my time if I wasn't to be a partner in the project.
"He offered me $1000! I laughed and filed a law suit at the Municipal Court in Dedham, Massachusetts."
And there you go. That was the end of Warrior. Like many of Vinnie's musical collaborations it started with some great tunes and ended up in the courtroom.
Vinnie went on to form a new band called Invasion still using many of the same songs that he'd written for Warrior. He got a deal with Chrysalis records and with Dana Strum on bass and Bobby Rock on drums he recorded the debut Invasion album. (Incidentally Bobby Rock now plays with Jimmy and Gary's former band, Alcatrazz).
Vinnie also found a series of "screamer" style singers to record with. Firstly, he recorded and released the album with Robert Fleischman singing. Then after a falling out with Robert, he tried to recruit the Norwegian Göran Edman (who later sang for John Norum and Yngwie J Malmsteen).
After re-recording some album tracks with Göran singing, he changed his mind and hired Mark Slaughter as the new singer to film the promo video and go out on tour.
Vinnie then again started recording the old album with Mark Slaughter replacing Robert Fleischman's lines. But thankfully someone must have told him to stop as this project was never completed or released.
Vinnie Vincent Invasion: (L-R Bobby Rock, Mark Slaughter, Vinnie Vincent and Dana Strum)
A second Invasion album followed named 'All Systems Go' but the title was not as prophetic as Vinnie had hoped and the band folded soon afterwards. Chrysalis let Vinnie go and took up the option of re-signing the remaining Invasion members as the new band Slaughter.
Mark Slaughter told Classic Rock Revisited: "You know, Vinnie was difficult, and the record company was not happy with some of his business dealings."
This seems to echo what members of KISS, Invasion and Warrior said about him.
In 2001 Gene Simmons stated: "He was probably the most talented of all the new guys that came in the band. To this day in my estimation he can play rings around Ace, is a better songwriter in lots of ways than I am, is a better singer and is one of the most difficult people I ever met in life, very unethical."
Robert Fleischman told John Parks of Legendary Rock Interviews in 2012: "I thought Vinnie had some really great rock and roll.
Obviously, he’s a monster on guitar but then there is the self-destructive side which eclipses everything that makes him great."
Jimmy Waldo told me: "Seemed like a good guy, at least at first but Vinnie is and always was just out for Vinnie. He never had any intention of sharing anything with anyone else, or having a real band. It was always all about him."
Vinnie has promised several returns to the public stage but has never made a full length release or tour since the Invasion split. He has been involved in several failed lawsuits with KISS and other parties and has also suffered a string of personal misfortunes in his home life. He now prefers to live a private life and we wish him all the best with it.
Vinnie Vincent 1983
We must remember that throughout this article we've not heard from Vinnie himself. He no doubt has his side of the story and we'd be happy to publish it if he wants to tell us. If you're reading this Vinnie, feel free contact us for your chance to set the record straight.
Meanwhile New England have recently reformed with Hirsh, Jimmy, Gary and John Fannon. Their first single in thirty years is released this month (as of June 2015). See http://www.newenglandrocks.com/ for details.
The Re-Formed New England 2015: L-R Gary Shea, John Fannon, Jimmy Waldo and Hirsh Gardner
Although Warrior only lasted a short while as an active band (Hirsh: "It wasn't that long. I thought it was six months but Gary seems to think it was only a few months") their legacy lived on in the songs that they demoed later being recorded by numerous other artists. There cannot have been another unsigned band in rock history that had their songs covered often as Warrior. I think that alone deserves them a place in the Rock and Roll section of the Guinness Book of World Records.
Let's have a listen to some of the other recordings of their songs.
Here's the KISS song, 'And On The 8th Day' that uses the original verse from Warrior's 'Boys Are Gonna Rock'.
Most obviously these songs were later recorded by the Vinnie Vincent Invasion. I really enjoy how Robert Fleishman does some amazing vocal gymnastics on the record but somehow I prefer Vinnie's original vocal on the Warrior demos.
This isn't to disrespect Robert in any way. I wouldn't be surprised if Vinnie told Robert exactly how he wanted to hear the vocals and Robert just followed orders. Robert's recordings with other bands (such as Journey and more recently his excellent new band The Sky) show a far more mellow and controlled approach. Here's the version of Baby-O that was released with Robert Fleischman on vocals.
Now here's the version that Mark Slaughter recorded of 'Shoot U Full of Love' (originally 'I Need Love' on the Warrior demos). If you're familiar with the Fleischmann version on the Invasion album, you'll notice that Mark's been quite pointlessly told to follow every single slight inflection in the original recording.
Still unsure about his choice of singer, Vinnie recorded some more demos with Jeff Scott Soto (who also sang for Yngwie J Malmsteen and later the Trans Siberian Orchestra). The Kiss Related Recordings website writes that these demos were recorded between 1987-88, which would have been while Mark Slaughter was the singer in Invasion. Jimmy Waldo is also credited with playing keyboards on these sessions. The demos include a version of Warrior's 'Gypsy In Her Eyes'.
Then let's hear Göran Edman singing 'Back On The Streets'. This is the singer that you'll remember Vinnie first got to replace Fleischman on the Invasion album but later changed his mind about in favour of Mark Slaughter. Göran also later went on to sing for Yngwie J Malmsteen and John Norum. This version is one by John Norum from his album 'Total Control'. Norum decided to cover the song after he heard Göran's version of it that he had recorded for Vinnie.
Ace Frehley also covered 'Back On The Streets' for his new band Frehley's Comet in 1984. This is a demo version with Richie Scarlet on vocals. In a further confusing twist to the story Göran Edman and John Norum played their version of the song while opening for Frehley's Comet at Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1987.
Here's a version of 'Back On The Streets' by the Swiss singer Jay Miles featuring former pornographic actress Traci Lords in the video.
And finally here's the version of 'Back on the Streets' by 3 Speed for the 'Voyage of the Rock Aliens' soundtrack with Linda Chase on vocals.
If you've just listened to all of those in a row, you've probably got 'Back On The Streets' permanently fixed in your head. To help clear it up, have a listen to Jimmy and Gary playing in Alcatrazz with Graham Bonnet and Steve Vai. This one is the classic 'God Blessed Video'. That should do the trick.
Thanks very much to Hirsh Gardner, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea for taking the time to be interviewed in depth about this minor obsession of mine and KISS fans like me.
Thanks also to Julian Gill of the KISS FAQ for his special help on this feature, the helpful members of the Vinnie Vincent Forum for correcting my earlier mistakes and to Alex Dickson for re-mastering the demos.
OTHER SOURCES AND PHOTOS
Kiss Related Recordings- lots of information on KISS and Vinnie Vincent demos
Links to many Vinnie Vincent Demos and Interviews
Kiss Monster Demo List
Paul Stanley Interview Extreme Close Up
Gene Simmons Interview Extreme Close Up
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