GREENVILLE – In 1975, the hard-rock band KISS came out with a double-live album “Alive!”
One inspired 11-year-old boy, Mark, found a way to own the album despite his parents’ wishes against the purchase. He put the album on his turn-table and took a pencil eraser to the label, making it look faded.
“I told my parents I had borrowed an old KISS record and they were ok with that – I just couldn’t buy one,” he said. “That gave me more encouragement to find out why.”
Since 1978, Mark (remaining anonymous) has been in a KISS cover band called Sweet Pain Kiss, from “Destroyer”, KISS’s fourth studio album, released in 1976. Kiss is a hard-rock band that captivated imaginations of young and old alike in the 1970s. They played their first show, January 30, 1973, at a club in Queens, New York called Popcorn. The band, originally comprised of members: Gene Simmons, bass, vocals; Paul Stanley, rhythm guitar, vocals; Peter Criss drums; and guitarist Ace Frehley, were known for their bold face make-up, theatrical costumes, setting hair ablaze, fire-breathing, blood-spitting, rocket-shooting, guitar-breaking, levitating and pyrotechnics. Despite the drama, the band has talent, as according to some sources KISS has sold more than 100 million albums, worldwide, with 30 gold albums, as of July 2015. In addition, on April 10, 2014, Kiss was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has received numerous other honors and awards.
“Some guys have football teams or NASCAR drivers – my love happens to be music,” Mark said. “And KISS was so different. You could put those faces anywhere. Even if you didn’t like them, you knew who they were.”
From that passion, in 1978, a KISS cover band grew out of Mark and his teen-aged friends. Dressed in their home-aide costumes they played at local venues and events, including: Birthday parties, Greenville High School, Annie Oakley Days and the Greenville City Park’s Band Shell. Mark wanted to be Simmons because he plays the bass guitar and is the most theatrical in the show. He is also against drugs and alcohol.
“Numbing yourself is not what it is about for him, and being in that business for so long and keeping that ideology I think is great,” Mark said.
The ingenuity Mark had in making that KISS album look old, helped in getting he and his friends back-stage passes to KISS concerts for years. He memorized important names from a KISS tour book and took some laminated credentials that made it look like he was a back-stage employee, into the 1984 Market Square Arena, in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“When I got there, they let me right in,” Mark said. “I went into the production office and said I’m from a radio station, in Ohio. He said, ‘That’s great! You are here before we go to Dayton. Here is my number, in Florida, and I will be with KISS for the next three tours. Whenever you want backstage passes, call me’. For the next three years we went to multiple concerts and all of my friends got to meet them.”
Mark continues to grow in his relationship with KISS, as the band is aging; Simmons will be 68, August 25. In-between KISS dates, Simmons’s own band tours. June 9, he played at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, in Anderson, Indiana. Mark was there and something happened beyond the realm of his wildest dreams. He sang with Gene Simmons.
“Gene loves two things: himself and the American flag,” Mark said. “I had a shirt that a fan made me years ago that was airbrushed of Simmons make-up, the whole front of the shirt was his face. I also wore an American flag cap. We were 12 rows from stage and I was snapping pictures in the front. Gene pointed at me and said, ‘I want him!’ I walked up the stairs and I gave him the I’m not worthy bow, and he said, ‘Grab a mike.’ We sang “I Love it Loud” together.”
While KISS makes big money, Mark is in it for the fun and the fantasy of the show.
“Let’s pretend we are KISS for four hours,” he said. “We get to make people happy. The audience comes up dancing and singing with us. I still feel exactly like myself but I don’t look like myself. It is an unusual experience. The cool thing is, the next day I can ask someone about the concert and they do not have a clue I was Gene Simmons. I have always received great reviews. With KISS, the fans, we are members of the same family. And when you go to see KISS as long as I’ve been going to see them, it’s just like going to see four friends you haven’t seen in a while, and that is nice. And the rest is KISStory.”
Sweet Pain KISS will perform August 26, in Greenville. For more details, visit www.facebook.com/sweetpainkiss