40 Years Ago: Kiss Signs Its First Record Contract
The greasepaint-wearing group was the first band signed to Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records. Bogart’s future wife, Joyce Bogart-Trabulus, was co-managing the band at the time, and remembers the group being floored — literally — when he made his pitch.
“When he finished his speech outlining their future and telling them how excited he was, that he thought they were stars, [drummer] Peter Criss fell down,” Bogart-Trabulus explains in the new book ‘Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of Kiss 1972-1975.’ “He just fell off his high heels and landed with great force on his rear. We all roared, including Peter. You might say it sealed the deal. And then the hard work began.”
She’s not kidding. The band rushed to the studio to record its self-titled debut album, which hit stores in February 1974. They released two more LPs — ‘Hotter Than Hell‘ and ‘Dressed to Kill‘ — within the first two years after being signed, and spent just about every other free second touring across the country.
Even though the group built a strong live following — and a reputation for blowing away more established headlining acts foolish enough to share the stage with them — none of its first three records sold well, and in 1975, Casablanca found itself on the brink of bankruptcy.
“We knew something was going on,” bassist Gene Simmons recalls in ‘Nothin’ to Lose.’ “We were selling out concerts. We couldn’t find groups to play with. Were were thrown off of an Argent tour, a Savoy Brown tour. Black Sabbath threw us off their tour. It was a live-or-die situation for Casablanca.”
Casablanca and Kiss hatched an outrageously risky plan in an attempt to rectify this dire situation: They would release a double-live album. Against all odds, ‘Alive!’ began to fly off the shelves, and the rest is history. “We went from having literally having no money to getting a check for $2 million,” stated former manager Bill Aucoin. “All I can remember is staring at those zeros … I must have counted those zeros a thousand times.”