Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of Eric Carr, the drummer of KISS who helped keep the band moving forward during the Eighties. Carr, born Paul Caravello, passed away on November 24, 1991 at the age of 41 from complications stemming from his battle with cancer. The loss was colossal to both KISS and their fan base, but he is remembered.
Eric Carr first joined KISS in 1980, when the band decided that it was time for Peter Criss to leave the group. Or perhaps Peter decided it was time to leave… (choose your side of this anecdote). Either way, substance abuse had taken a major toll on original drummer Criss by this stage of the band that it was allegedly affecting his performances both on stage and in the studio.
Prior to KISS, Carr had been in many different bands (some of which are still discoverable around the web via YouTube or bit torrents), and he had a standing of being a very solid and adaptable musician. Eric mailed in his application and demo to KISS management in a bright fluorescent orange envelope, making it stand out to the selective staff working for manager Bill Aucoin, Rock Steady Management, and Casablanca Records. He gained an audition with the band, and legend has it that upon completing his audition, he asked KISS members for their autographs. While tall tales might indicate this was what scored him the gig; the actuality is far more important: Carr blew the band away with his solid approach to drumming.
It should be remembered that Eric Carr’s drumming style was very different from that of Peter Criss. While Criss certainly had a rock flavor, his influences truthfully came from jazz, blues, swing, and big band, which affected his approach to drumming in KISS. Carr on the other hand shared many of the same heavy rock influences the other founding members had, and consequently, was more solid and harder than Criss. The resulting grouping eventually pushed KISS to become a heavier sounding band, a resonance that is evident on Creatures Of The Night and Lick It Up.
As opposed to today’s KISS standard where it seems anyone can slap on the Space Ace or Cat grease paint, the band and management insisted that Carr be given a unique persona from Criss. Initially, the concept of “The Hawk” was forced upon Carr from the group – with a costume that looked like Big Bird. Once the other band members saw how ridiculous this became, Eric Carr came through at the 11th hour with his own persona: The Fox. Following this, the new KISS (or KISS Mk. II, if you will) hit the road beginning with a debut performance at The Palladium in New York; finally leading to a successful European tour.
But all this would be eclipsed by the exceptional Australian tour in 1980. It was KISS’ first venture down under, and the band was bigger than The Beatles there – and their accomplishment excelled beyond that which they experienced in Japan in 1977. To put things in perspective for American fans, in Australia during 1980, KISS had their own ice cream, their own showbag at the “Royal Show” (main fairs/carnivals across the country), front cover news stories DAILY, and so on. It was estimated that 1 in 14 Australians were purchasing KISS records in 1980. Talk about an incredible introduction to the world of KISS for Eric Carr!
Although 1980 was a highlight for KISS in Australia, the following years weren’t so generous. Music From The Elder would follow, an unusual moment of KISStory for the band during 1981, before the band would reclaim their musical distinctiveness with their most aggressive album (thanks in part to Eric Carr’s drumming and insistence) to date called Creatures of the Night. It signaled an unusual period for KISS, however, and placed Eric Carr in a situation where he would be partly responsible for keeping the band alive.
Fans that have followed the history of the band KISS for several years would know and remember that the 1980s were reasonable to the band, but by no means comparable to the heights they were able to scale during the late Seventies. However, during this time, the line-up of KISS was dealing with some difficulties.
After original lead guitarist Ace Frehley left the band in 1982, KISS had to deal with rotating guitarist lineup changes for several years. There was no major balance in that area for the band. On the other side of the coin, Gene Simmons was eyeing Hollywood – taking his chance at acting in films, and concentrating on other projects, such as Simmons Records. At a time when his band needed him the most, he was busy focusing on external goals that had no bearing on KISS, but nonetheless affected the band because of his dwindled input.
In a very real way, while KISS was dealing with these instability issues, the band was truly held together by the other two members. Paul Stanley transferred forward with the direction of KISS, stepping up as producer for several of the band’s albums released during that decade. Meanwhile, Eric Carr stood by him in attempting to keep the band together and moving onward. Carr took a (still small but) slightly increased role in the songwriting, but was notably stepping up more in PR for the band in the form of interviews.
This increased role lead to what now (in retrospect) seems inevitable. Carr commenced gravitating towards the fans as a part of his continual promotion of the band he so truly believed in. Stories permeate KISStory of numerous fans telling tales on how Carr went out of his way simply to just meet them. Through backstage and hotel meetings while on tour, Carr – more than any other member of the band – would spend a lot of time with the fans: signing autographs, taking photos, and having discussions.
This extended even further still when fans began expanding where the defunct KISS Army newsletters left off. Fanzines began to be produced and mailed across the world, with more major independent fan clubs becoming established (I, myself, was a strong and supportive member of the KISS Crazy Knights in Australia!). Carr started interacting with the fanzine movement, and often would participate in interviews and questionnaires for the fans – as much as he possibly could.
In a very real way, during the Eighties, Stanley and Carr held the band together. While Paul Stanley drifted to the more business directional side of KISS, Eric Carr put himself out there for the fans – and his dedication to and love of the fans has never been forgotten.
Unfortunately, one of the side effects of not being a founding member of KISS is being underplayed or being second fiddle to everything. This is perhaps most evident in the longform home video the band issued in 1987 (filmed in 1986) called KISS eXposed. Carr (and then-guitarist Bruce Kulick) gets a grand total of about 5 seconds on screen out of the 90-minute video, with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley quite literally hogging the limelight.
Notwithstanding being a member of KISS for 11 years, it would only be in his 9th year with the band that Carr would be asked to provide vocals for a song (in the studio that is – Carr did provide vocals in live shows) on Smashes; Thrashes and Hits, and yet that was for Peter Criss’ “Beth.” The following year he would finally have his own piece recorded for Hot In The Shade in 1989, with his own singing, called “Little Caesar.” The band went on tour for Hot In The Shade for the duration of 1990, with a stage set that was perhaps the biggest and most original creations done by the band for several years.
While the tour was generally a success, towards the end, it became problematic for Carr. He found himself feeling congested frequently, and during the last few nights began coughing up blood. After the tour finished, he went for medical check-ups, and it was discovered that he was dealing with a very uncommon form of heart cancer (which in and of itself is considered rare as well). Carr had numerous surgeries – including open heart – and as 1990 progressed into 1991, it seemed the cancer was in remission. As far as the fans were concerned, it was a narrow escape, and by all appearances with Carr being in the music video for “God Gave Rock And Roll To You II” (originally covered for the Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack), things were back on track.
But this was far from the case.
Behind the scenes, 1991 was a tense year for Carr and KISS. While it was understood the cancer was in remission, it is said that Carr’s health was still questioned by the band during the year, and there was some question and concern about the possibility of the cancer coming back. On the KISS side of the coin, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley intended to move forward with a new recording and further touring, which Eric Carr would not have been well enough for.
Things boiled to a point where the group had decided they were going to let Carr go so they could move forward. Carr and his family may have gotten wind of this, and they avoided contact with KISS for several months. It was a difficult and tense interval.
By September, however, things were starting to look up. Carr was healthier and was out and about promoting the band as before. KISS, by all appearances, had seemed to patch up with Carr, as plans were moving ahead for the band’s next album, Revenge, their first with producer Bob Ezrin since The Elder. Carr represented KISS at the MTV Video Music Awards during the same month. The whole kit and caboodle seemed fine.
Unexpectedly, during November 1991, Carr suffered from an aneurysm, and was taken to hospital. Initially, things looked recoverable, but days later it was ascertained the cancer had returned. Carr suffered a brain hemorrhage (caused by cancer cells transported by his circulation system to his brain). He never regained consciousness after this point. On November 24, 1991, Eric Carr, drummer of KISS, passed away.
His day of passing away was a major day of mourning for KISS fans – but the event was eclipsed by the additional news on the same day that Freddie Mercury from Queen had passed away.
In tribute and in memory of Eric Carr, KISS incorporated a drum solo from 1981 on their Revenge release. While with his band Union, Bruce Kulick recorded a song dedicated to Eric called “Dear Friend”; and in 1999, Eric Carr finally had his first solo album release: Rockology, a retrospective compilation of unreleased songs, demos, and songs recorded for his Rockheads cartoon project. A new album, Unfinished Business, has been compiled, released for the 20th anniversary of Eric Carr’s passing, and is anticipated to be obtainable to fans by early December this year.
Despite often playing second-fiddle to the original founding members, Eric Carr was a significant and solid member of the band. His contributions to their music and dedication to the fans have made him an extremely memorable part of KISStory, never to be forgotten.