Interview With LYDIA CRISS

Peter and Lydia Criss
Photograph used courtesy of Bob Gruen

Lydia Criss was married to KISS drummer Peter Criss before the band formed, right through their 70s heyday. Lydia spent some time chatting to Metal Express Radio about her new book, Sealed With a Kiss, which tells a must read story …

You have just released your new book, Sealed With A Kiss. How long has it been in the making?

It’s been in the making for 9 years. I started the manuscript back in ’97, and then it was put aside for a couple of years as the publisher I was working with went bankrupt and I had to get my stuff back and start looking for another publisher. I started the design of the book in 2005 and finished a year later in 2006, so it took a year to do the design.

The book is 368 pages long and features 1500 photos from your own personal collection, many of which have never been seen before. It must have been a painstaking task pulling everything together?

It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, even harder than going to school!

Was there a time when you thought the book just wasn’t going to happen?

Yeah, there was a time somewhere around 2000 when I wasn’t working on it and I was looking for a literary agent and had to sign contracts, so I wasted a year there and wasted another year looking for publishers. Finally, I literally sold my entire Kiss collection and used the money to publish it myself. I didn’t think I could do it, but everyone kept saying I could. I hired four guys, who were all KISS fans and they knew what the fans wanted to see and encouraged me and kept saying that this was what the fans wanted. When I finally finished it, I sent a book unannounced to the person who did all of the scanning of the photos. He called me and all he could say was “Wow!” He had seen every photo about 3 or 4 times and he was still amazed with the book.

There has been a plethora of books about KISS over the years, but this one is different in that you were in the inner circle, not just from the early days, but actually before the band were formed right through to the end of the 70’s, so you had unparralled access to KISS stories in which to use in the book. This is going to be a goldmine of information for Kiss fans then?

They are all amazed. I get so many e-mails from fans that have bought the book and they say it’s awesome. They say it’s like Kisstory. In fact, when we were doing it we called it Kisstory’s Sister! I’ve always said it’ll be like Kisstor, but with the correct facts.

Is there anything in the book that may surprise people?

There are certain things that people get back to me and remind me what I wrote. I did write the manuscript back in 1999 and I did review it recently, but when fans mention things I’m thinking, “Did I write that?” So there’s things in there that surprise me too! There’s some things in there that I’m a little embarrassed about, and I think whether or not I should have taken it out, but that’s how it happened. One of the things the fans say to me is that it’s a really honest book. So, to answer your question, you’ll have to read it to find out!!

The book has been divided into three main chapters. Can you talk our readers through these?

The first section is pre-KISS. It starts when I saw The Beatles at Shea Stadium, and that was my childhood. I got the tickets and took my camera. This camera cost about $20 and I took pictures and that’s what started me with photography. Then it moves to the time I met Peter, which was about a year later, and then it covers my life with Peter in the beginning.

The second part is the main part, which is the KISS years from the struggle on the way up, then the divorce from Peter, and the final part is the post-KISS years with me reflecting back on my life a little bit and also continuing my life.

How difficult was it to recall the events of these times? Did you keep a journal or did you carry out new interviews with key players in the story?

I didn’t do any interviews, but my editor did do an interview with a guitar player from one of Peter’s pre-KISS bands, but that’s about it. Most of the stuff that was written was from my memory. I do have a book that I kept, but I stopped it once Kiss joined with Aucoin Management. I basically kept a record of every single job that Peter ever worked. It showed how much he made, how many people were in his band and how much the roadies got paid. It was like a book-keeping journal and that kind of guided me a bit. I did have some notes, but it was mostly from memory.

How did you feel when you held the finished article in your hands?

The printers sent it to me unannounced. I almost had a nervous breakdown at the end of working on the book; I was up ’til 7 O’clock in the morning and would sleep in the day, wake up, and start all over again. I told my friends and family not to expect to see me for a year. It was a lot of work, but when I finally saw it I was in shock. At first, they sent it to me un-bound, just the pages and then they sent it to me bound and I’m still in awe. I’m still looking at it saying “I can’t believe I did this.” My design guy was out in Seattle, the scanning guy was in Baltimore, and the other guys helping me out were in Oklahoma City and Tampa, Florida. So they were all over the country. I’m here in New York City, so the book kind of went from one computer to another. We worked with an amazing program and were able to talk to each other at opposite ends of the country and were able to work on the book saying what we liked, what we didn’t like, and if these pictures needed lightning or whether that picture was better, and so on. It was amazing how it came about, so it was great to finally see the finished book.

Why did you decide to release the book now rather than in the 80’s or 90’s?

I really never intended to do a book. Peter always used to say that we’d save everything and one day when we get old we’d sit in our rocking chairs in front of our fire place and just reminisce. Obviously, that’s not happening as we got divorced, but I have all this stuff saved in scrap books in chronological order. That helped me with my book as well. I was actually encouraged by fans to write this book. I have friends who were KISS fans and I’ve shown them the scrap books over the years and I’ve brought some of them to KISS Expos and Conventions and everyone has said that I should write a book. I’ve never had the time to think about doing it until I finally stopped working. I quit my job and only then did I have the time to do the book.

Do recall your first meeting with Peter?

Oh sure, it was at a club in Brooklyn. It was a bar that had a band. My best friend was going out with the bass player and she said that I should go and see this band. She was actually unavailable that weekend as it was the 4th July weekend. I had gone to the beach and got too sunburned. Her cousin encouraged me later to go to this club even though I had sunburn and was dressed all in white so I stood out. Peter said he spotted me a mile away. Basically, he gravitated towards me and we started talking and the next day we went to the beach again but luckily I didn’t get burned again, I covered up a lot this time.

Were you together long before KISS arrived?

We were together for about 6 years. We dated for 3½ years and we were married for about 2 ½ before he ever met Gene and Paul. I was with him the day that he met them. I answered the phone the day that they called to ask him to join the band.

What did you think when you first saw the band play?

When I saw their first dress rehearsal, that’s when I knew that they were going to make it and I started crying. I was sitting by myself in the rehearsal theatre and I sat there with tears rolling down my face saying “This is it!” It took them a while after that, but they did make it.

What did you make of Gene, Paul, and Ace on your first meeting?

When I first met Gene and Paul, I didn’t realise it was them at first. It’s funny as the other day someone said that we seemed like the “Glam Couple” of the band. We had been to England and we bought some really cool clothes from Kensington Market, and we were walking down the street to meet them and they were just dressed up like normal people. The only thing that made them stand out was that they were wearing platform boots. Peter was dressed like he was in Queen or something; actually this was even before Queen were around.

I got on really well with those guys. They were very decent, real funny guys and they were sweet. They were always really nice to me; there was never a time when I had an argument or anything with any of the band. Gene liked me because I knew how to keep my mouth shut, I wasn’t always in their faces, I knew when they needed their space. Actually, when they came off stage, Gene would get into the limo on one side of me and Peter on the other and I’d sit in the middle and just be quiet until I was asked to say something.

It took until Alive was released in 1975 for the band to really hit it big. Was there anytime prior to that when you wished that Peter would call it a day and get a regular job?

Well, not at that point, but earlier Peter did get a “proper” job at Brookes Brothers, which was a very stuffy Madison Avenue store like the type you have on Regent Street. He didn’t last very long as a stock boy, but once he was in Kiss, I never thought he would turn back. To me, they were more successful than they actually were. I thought their albums were doing real good when in fact they weren’t doing that well. I still held onto my job right until the end of ’75. I worked on getting fired as I didn’t want to quit. On the day I got fired,, I went home, it was the day after my birthday. Peter was on the road and I got a call from Paul Stanley’s girlfriend, Carmen, and she said that Alive had gone Gold, so it was perfect timing. I was told that I had a new job and that was to find an apartment in Manhattan as we lived in Brooklyn at the time, and when I stopped working … that’s when Peter started paying the bills. I supported him for the six years before that.

When the band became more and more popular it must have been a very exciting time, but also rather overwhelming. Did you ever feel like you were being crushed by the KISS juggernaut?

No, it didn’t happen as fast as people thought it did. It kind of gradually worked towards that. They started playing smaller places and they started getting bigger and bigger and you adapt. We were in the middle of it all, and it didn’t seem as big as everyone on the outside thought it was.

You must have been so proud when Peter’s song “Beth,” which was dedicated to you, became such a huge hit and won songwriting awards?

I felt proud every time he sang it at a show. If I was there, I’d be on the sidelines and to me it was the highlight of the show.

Do you think he was given a fair crack of the songwriting whip in the band?

Well Gene and Paul were the two that basically wrote most of the songs and Peter and Ace would get a song or two on an album. Peter wrote some songs, but not a lot. Peter was more interested in having a good time.

Being a hugely popular Rock band can cause tensions in itself. How did the personalities of the band change over the years?

I didn’t really notice anything until maybe towards the end when they were doing their solo albums, when it was the end of my time with the band in 1978, when we started to get divorced. I started seeing the personalities change then, not really Gene and Paul as they didn’t do drugs, and I can’t really speak for Ace, but with Peter I think the drugs were clouding his vision by that point.

Did the attitude of the other band member’s change towards you at any point in the sense that they were part of the boys “gang” and you were cramping their style?

Not really, because I didn’t go to every show. Peter and I would make sure we weren’t away from each other for more than 2 weeks. I’d go on the road with them at least every month and stay on the road for a couple of weeks, but he also had his own space.

It was different for Peter as he was married, but do you think he was under pressure to be one of the lads by the single band members?

I think Gene has his own little thing with his girlfriends and Paul had his girlfriends, but they didn’t really stay together after a show, they each went their separate ways except if we went out to club together or something like that. We all had our own separate rooms on the road, so each person would bring their own friends to their rooms. The road crew were always in our room.

Do you think he should have left the band before he did?

I always said he should have stayed with the band and I’m sure that if he’d stayed with me he would’ve stayed with the band.

Were you involved in the design of the costumes at all?

At the very beginning, I made some of their clothes. I made a T-shirt for Gene and Peter and I made the very first KISS T-shirt. It was made with glitter and glue and there’s a picture of it in the book. Paul made his own clothes and Ace’s mother made him a shirt. Once it got into the Aucoin days with the real costumes, I was never involved in that. Everyone created their own costumes.

When you and Peter split in 1978, you pursued a career in photography. What sort of photography did you focus on?

I had been to see the Rolling Stones in a club around ’78, and I was sitting in the 13th row and I had got a real 35mm camera and I sat there and took some pictures. A friend of mine said that they were really great and when I look back on them now they are really not that good. My friend said that I should become a photographer, so I thought about making that my career. My Uncle was a professional photographer and my mother took photos, so it was in the family and I’ve always loved photos. At the very beginning, no-one really wanted to take photos of the band, so at the time as I didn’t have much money I took maybe a roll of film per show. When they were playing the small clubs, like The Daisy and The Diplomat, I took shots of them there. After Peter and I split, I needed to have something in my life as I had to survive, so I decided to become a photographer.

Did you get any good commissions?

I had some photos of Rod Stewart that I had taken at Madison Square Garden, and I think at that time it was some of my best work. I went to studio 54 where KISS were doing a broadcast via satellite to Italy for the song “I,” which I wasn’t even familiar with, and Bob Gruen was there and he’s photographed John Lennon and the New York Dolls and he also took the Dressed To Kill cover, and I’ve known him for years. I approached him and showed him some of my photos and he suggested an agent who was called Virginia, who I had met some years earlier as a fan, and he re-introduced me and she became my agent.

Bob Gruen is quite a name in Rock photography and I would expect a great person to learn from?

I still work with Bob a couple of days a week. I always ask him for advice and he helps me out.

Have you got any tips for any aspiring Rock photographers?

It’s not an easy business. You have to be a bit cut throat about it, and it’s not as easy getting in to concerts as it used to be when I first started. At one time, you could sit in the audience and if you had the right lens and were sitting far away you could get some good shots and you didn’t need permission, but now they search everything and there’s metal detectors. In fact, I remember when they were first starting to check people, I went to see Rod Stewart and I had a big coat on with my camera under one arm pit and my lens under the other! I think it’s better now to be booked up with an agency as they get you jobs and into concerts.

You also studied law at college. How far did you go with that?

I studied law for a short period of time, then my mother got sick so I had to drop out of college. I’ve spent so much time with lawyers since my divorce I feel I’ve learned more from reality than from a text book.

Did you follow the respective careers of KISS and Peter over the 80’s and 90’s?

I saw Kiss in 1980 at The Palladium in New York, which was Eric Carr’s first show, and I photographed them and then, believe it or not, I didn’t see another KISS show until Eric Carr’s last show in 1990 on the Hot In The Shade Tour. I never saw them in the 80’s, but in the 90’s I saw them on the Revenge tour.

I got re-married and I was trying to change my life, and I wanted to forget KISS, and now it’s back in my life bigger than ever.

Did you see any of the shows when they reformed in 1996? Did it bring all of those memories flooding back?

Yes I did. I saw them on their first show and the 3D shows on the Psycho Circus tour. I didn’t see them after that as I was waiting for a big stadium show, which was going to be the really last farewell goodbye, but it never happened, so I’m still waiting for that.

Are you still in touch with Peter or any other of the band members?

I haven’t really spoken to Gene or Paul in years, even Peter. The only one I really talk to now is Ace. Ace is like my brother. I haven’t spoken to Peter for 10 years. The last time I spoke to him was the Monday before he signed contracts to do the Reunion Tour. That was back in January 1996. We had an IRS problem, the whole band did, and I was involved as I was married to Peter, so he needed some paperwork as some of his paperwork was ruined in an earthquake. He called me as he knew I would have the paperwork as I keep everything. I sent what he needed to his L]lawyer and that’s really the last I heard from him. I still talk to his family. I talk to his family a lot … in fact his brother gave me some photos of Peter as a baby to put in the book and he loves the book.

Looking back on those years, what can you pick out as particular highlights?

Oh, definitely 1977 was the best year of my life. I did The People’s Choice in February, then in March we went to Japan for the first time. We came back from Japan and we were told to buy a house and we bought a Mercedes and an Old English Sheepdog. They played Madison Square Garden, I think for three nights in December, and that was definitely the best year.

You’ve recently held an auction to sell your KISS related memorabilia. You must have had mixed feelings letting some of that go?

I sold almost everything, but not everything as there were things I still wanted to keep like The Peoples Choice Award and some tour books and magazines that I was in. I got rid of boxes cluttering up the basement in my house and in my parents house. It was stuff I said I’d never miss.

Were there any items that you sold that you now wish you’d held on to?

The one thing I really regret getting rid of in the auction was my wedding gown. I figured I’d never wear it, and I don’t have children to pass it down to a daughter, so I thought I may as well get rid of it, but my mother made it so that’s why I shouldn’t have gotten rid of it. At the time, all my friends said I had to let go, so I sold my wedding band and my wedding photos. Everything else has been photographed for the book, so I could always look at my stuff in my book.

Were you surprised at the level of interest?

Absolutely. I can tell you of one example, which I thought was amazing. I keep absolutely everything. I’ve even got my tax records from when I was first married, and when looking through the folders I came across four truck rental receipts signed by Stanley Eisen for the first gig that KISS ever played at The Coventry, and at the auction I made almost $1000 for a piece of paper!! The auctioneer said I could get “X” amount of dollars and I thought he was crazy, but he wasn’t!!

All my stuff was in really good condition and I kept everything in pristine condition as much as I could. Some of the stuff was a little dented at the corners, but on the whole, everything was in great condition, especially the albums. I had every single album unopened and every single Eight Track and Cassette. It didn’t bother me to get rid of it as I have everything on Compact Disc.

Is the book and the auction your way of finally closing this chapter on your life?

Yes, definitely. That’s kind of what I was saying; KISS has been more in my life than not in my life, even though I’m not involved with them. Peter once said “If we ever break up, believe me I will haunt you for the rest of your life,” and it’s true. Kiss has been so much a part of my life that it was getting to the point that I couldn’t wait to finish the book when I did the book. When I did finish I was so relieved. Finishing the manuscript was the biggest relief. I wanted to clean up that part of my life and my next move might be to move out of New York City.

Now that the book is finished, what work are you currently on with or is it time for a breather?

The book was finished in October and I haven’t stopped. I had a little bit of a breather when the book was being printed, but then I had to hire a company to send out the book and sort out ways of shipping. I get a massive amount of e-mails and it takes up my whole day. There’s also a lot of books to sign as believe it or not most people want the books signed. I thought that they wouldn’t, but they do.

As for my future, I might do another book of my Rock photos. I’ve also an interest in doing a children’s book, not that I’m going to do one like Madonna, but I have an idea of what I want. It may never happen, but the Rock book probably will. I just want to break out and do other things and try to get away from KISS.

Sealed with a Kiss, by Lydia Criss, is available exclusively from the Lydia Criss Official website, and a signed copy can be purchased on request.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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