Peter Criss’ Ex. Wife Lydia Criss “Peter is very dramatic, he’s an exaggerator, he’s a complainer, he’s a liar!”
I spent a nice chunk of time talking to Lydia Criss, ex-wife of KISS drummer Peter Criss but I’m sure I barely scratched the surface of her wealth of stories about the hottest band in the land and her incredible experience during the 70s. Lydia, a seasoned rock photographer in her own right, documented her relationship with Peter and his rise in KISS with her coffee table book “Sealed With a KISS”. The book, which has come out in several pressings, is now currently available via her website, www.lydiacriss.com (including a special “cyber monday” deal today only!). I think you’ll dig the book and will get the scope of her unique experience based on the following interview, read on…..
Legendary Rock Interviews: Your book, “Sealed With A KISS” is a great backstage pass to that classic KISS era and obviously I want to talk to you about your experience but I would be a fool to avoid asking you about Peter’s book which came out last year. Gene’s book was kind of predictable, Ace’s kind of felt stifled but Pete really let loose. What was your reaction to or your reaction to everyone else’s reaction? (laughs)
Lydia Criss: Yeah, I’ve heard a lot from other people for sure. I’m sure you know (author) Ken Sharp. He was the first one to call me, he was in Florida and was like “Lydia, you gotta call me, this book is crazy” (laughs). Then I had an ex-boyfriend that called me and said “Peter’s delusional, what is wrong with him??!!” (laughs). I know Peter, I was with him for 13 years, I’ve known him for 40 years. Peter is very dramatic, he’s an exaggerator, he’s a complainer, he’s a liar…as we all can see and I….when we were married there was a point where I was actually uncomfortable with him putting me on such a pedestal and then his book comes out and he basically says he didn’t care for me that much (laughs). I suppose with Peter’s comments in his book, he’s trying to get even with me for what I wrote, which was the truth, in my book. Peter’s book is not the truth and that’s proven even by stupid little things like him saying that me and (New York Dolls drummer) Jerry Nolan didn’t get along. I LOVED Jerry, Jerry was an inspiration in my life, he was the one who taught me how to stand up to my parents. I grew up in a strict Catholic, Italian home. Jerry made me realize I didn’t have to do that, I didn’t have to go along with what my parents say as long you’re not killing somebody or something.
LRI: But there are some elements of truth in Peter’s book when he says your parents weren’t exactly keen on him?
Lydia: No, my parents definitely weren’t keen on him in the beginning. I mean, nobody had long hair back in those days. I lived on there borderline of Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant, everybody had short hair, he was the first long haired guy I ever went out with. I had a few boyfriends before Peter but that was when I was like 13, so it’s like you have a little crush on a kid in school or something. Peter even writes in his book that I’d only been with two guys before him, he wrote that I was bad in bed and the thing is; I probably was (laughs). I was, kind of a virgin (laughs). Peter boasts about all of his cheating but I’ve heard from multiple people, including Ace and his wife that while he did cheat, he was the least “active” cheater of the bunch (laughs). Again, Peter exaggerates.
LRI: I don’t doubt that but entertainment wise. it does make a nice 1-2 punch coupled with your book. I hope Ace’s next book is a little more revealing.
Lydia: People ask me all the time what I thought of Ace’s book. I read it in its entirety when I went to Brazil and read it on the plane and some of it while I was there and I will say that at least I know all of those stories. At least Ace told the truth in his book, Peter didn’t. There are stories in Ace’s book that I knew should be in his book and they were there, there are things in Peter’s book that just don’t add up. I never really read Gene’s book, I looked at the credits and looked for my name in there but that was about it (laughs).
LRI: Well I know that you mentioned you were there during the “Hotter Than Hell” photo sessions and that it wasn’t as wild as it was rumored; Gene and the photographer, Norman Seef also kind of reinforced that it was a little more business-like than we were all led to believe. Peter’s book had him once again going back to that original wild, crazy party story (laughs)
Lydia: I was there. He did not get a blowjob and Ace was not screwing; there was NO sex going on. The most sexual thing there was Paul Stanley because he was drunk. There was a girl all over him but that was about it, there was no real sex and certainly no “orgy”. Also, there’s a story he tells about a manager from the early days and guns in the house, way before KISS. He says I came along and stumbled into the scene with a friend from Massachusetts, I was IN THE HOUSE when it happened, we were in a bedroom, scared shitless, all of us, there were other people there, friends of us. It wasn’t like he writes it where I arrived and “saved him” (laughs). It wasn’t that way.
LRI: He does mention that he was really disappointed by the end result of the sound of the first few albums, which is something Paul has often said too but I definitely wanted to ask you; Did he complain about that to you or his family?
Lydia: The only thing that he always complained about was that he wanted a song or a spot, or a few songs, but in all honesty, Peter’s not a great songwriter. I mean, he wrote “Beth” but he wrote it with Stan Penridge and Stan was the main one behind that, Peter might have wrote some of the words but Stan Penridge wrote the music. I mean, everyone’s heard it on acoustic guitar, the “Beck” version. Bob Ezrin didn’t change that much of the melody but of course he turned it into a big production. As far as the lyrics, I actually wrote a line in that song and never got credit. I never got credit and I was never paid for it, I wrote “You say you feel so empty” because I did feel that way. I actually said “I feel so empty that my house is not my home” because I worked and paid all the bills up until that point. I was paying all the bills up until that point, which was fine because I am a Scorpio and Scorpios are control freaks (laughs) but when Peter started getting some money I kind of felt lost and said that, “I feel so empty, the house is not a home.” I got a gold single for the song but I really should have at least got an album. I also sang on “Rock and Roll All Nite” and I didn’t get an album for that but the gold single I got for “Beth” actually says “To Lydia” which is cool, that was my award, of course Peter had all kinds of them but that one was actually for me.
LRI: So you were a part of the gang vocals on the “Dressed To Kill” studio version of “Rock And Roll All Night”?
Lydia: Yeah, Ace’s wife Jeanette and I were both on that, people say that they can hear our voices better on the version on “Smashes, Thrashes and Hits” for some reason but we are singing there at the end.
LRI: Were you and Jeanette close in those days?
Lydia: Oh yeah, we were the best of friends. I mean, I really don’t hear from her anymore, we live on different coasts, she moved to the west coast but we were once very close, even after I was divorced from Peter. There was a while where I didn’t talk to Ace and Jeanette and then there was also a time where Ace lived two blocks away from me and I saw him all the time but they weren’t living together but I was friends with her and him. I went up to Boston with Jeanette to see Pearl Jam actually.
LRI: As a huge KISS fan that always bought into the idea that there were two camps the “Gene and Paul” camp and the “Ace and Peter” camp I was a little surprised at how Peter jabbed at Ace in the book as much as he did.
Lydia: Yeah, I was too, that was a little surprising but I will say, at the very beginning of the band I think Peter was closer to Paul than he was to Ace, only because Paul lived pretty close to us. We actually vacationed together, Paul and his girlfriend at the time and Peter and I; we went to Massachusetts, Hawaii together. At one point, they didn’t have separate rooms and Peter would room with Paul. We would always be in the limo with Paul, since we lived in the same neighborhood they would pick us up at the same time or if the two of them had to go to the airport they’d pick them up together so I really remember those early days Peter and Paul being friendly. There was a closeness between the three of us, I even saw a picture from a Clive Davis party that I had never seen recently of me, Paul and Peter together and there are many more because we used to go out together quite a bit. There are pictures in my book “Sealed With A KISS” of all of us out at clubs in those days, one I’m thinking of now was taken at Trax which was a local club in the neighborhood. Ace wasn’t really a part of that because he lived in the Bronx, he lived in Westchester so I really don’t remember them as being as close, maybe on the road but definitely not in the down time off the road.
LRI: Peter talks about how his marriage with Debra turned into a total nightmare for him and how his family was dead against it and all this. Did you read any of that with a feeling that maybe that was his Karma?
Lydia: Well, at the time I really was of course unaware of any of it. It wasn’t until I read something in newspaper about them having a fight on the highway or something; I think he was in the Criss/Penridge Alliance at that time or something. I think he beat her up and she had him arrested and that’s when he had to go to the….well I call it the nuthouse but my mother told me about it because she knew someone who was in there at the same time who had written her that Peter was in there and I believe when I was living in Greenwich, Peter’s sister had told me the story at the time. You know, at that point, I could care less, I had moved on with my life. I mean to put it in perspective, I saw KISS in 1980 and then I didn’t see them again until 1990. I saw Eric Carr’s first show and his last show and nothing in between.
LRI: In Peter’s book, leading up to the Sanitarium story there is a wild story about federal agents and a bunch of drugs and him and Sean Delaney getting into a fight but nothing about the highway fight or beating up Debra. I may be confused or….
Lydia: Well, I knew he’s not going to talk about beating up Debra just like he’s not talking about beating me up in the book but he hit me on more than one occasion and it’s in my book. He hit me and a lot of people say “Well, why didn’t you leave? Was it because of the money?” and I always say no because he hit me before he had the money. In those days you stayed with someone because you loved them, we didn’t have divorce in my family, nobody, nobody in my family was divorced, you just didn’t do that. I mean, I threw him out once and he went to his mother’s and stayed there for a while and then one day there’s a knock on my door or the doorbell would ring and it’d be him. I don’t know, we used to joke that when we’d make up that would be the best part of it all but the fact is that I know of at least three times that he hit me, my girlfriend seems to remember four. That story about Sean as he told it is not true, it may be partially true but I knew Sean and my current boyfriend Richie Fontana (Piper drummer) was in a band with Sean and if that were true Sean would have told us that story. I mean I was close with Sean, I had him staying with me for a couple of days a year before he died and there’s no way that he would not have told me about such a fight with Peter because if you knew Sean, he LOVED to tell stories and he LOVED to be dramatic. There might have been some shred of truth to what Peter said but Peter definitely used a lot of dramatic license in that book. Like I said, my book, Ace’s book at least tell the truth, Peter is an EXAGGERATOR. Also, there are tons of inaccuracies as well as things he lifted from other people’s books including mine! I don’t know if you noticed but at the very beginning of the book it mentions that the names have been changed, it’s like the first line in his book. There’s a reason for that; for instance, there’s a story about how he wanted to throw his gold albums out the window in my brownstone and he says that I called up Sean Delaney, that’s not who I called, I called Bill Aucoin. I have that story in my book and I tell the truth about how I called Bill but by him changing the name he can get away without plaigiarizing but that doesn’t lend itself to accuracy.
LRI: So you’re saying there’s lots of stories or variations of things lifted from your book, “Sealed With A KISS”?
Lydia: Oh yeah, I mean before I even knew his book was coming out I had friends who had seen advance copies and they were telling me that he copied from Gene’s book, he copied from Ace’s book and he definitely copied from my book. He copied from Curt Gooch’s touring book and probably others too, there’s not a lot of original content there.
LRI: Have you had much contact with Peter aside from when you crossed paths with he and (current wife) Gigi after Bill Aucoin passed?
Lydia: No, no I never talk to Peter, the only time I talk to Peter is when he wants something from me. Peter calls me if he needs some information for the IRS or something like that, which I was also involved with. I mean, I’m glad he paid for Debra’s IRS problem, he sure didn’t pay for mine (laughs). When I saw Peter at Bill’s funeral I had not seen him in 15 years; I think the last time I had seen him was when he was having the IRS problem which was sometime around “Unplugged”. He calls me when he needs something, there was a time that he and Debra called me for some serial numbers for some guns or something when I was living in Connecticut. I did see him at his mother’s funeral and his father’s funeral because I do still stay in touch with his family; he doesn’t but I do (laughs).
LRI: So you get along great with his family?
Lydia: Absolutely, absolutely, to this day his brother calls me “Sis” and we talk at least once a month just to keep in touch. We get together and have dinner sometimes, the family and I have had a great relationship over the years.
LRI: Any other times you remember having to deal with Peter directly after all those years?
Lydia: Again, it was when he needed something (laughs). There was a time when he was arrested and I have two brothers who are court officers, one was a sergeant and one was a regular court officer and one worked in Manhattan and one worked in Queens. I called my brother one time and said “Look, Peter’s in jail, he’s in Queens, can you get him out?” (laughs) and my brother did help him, he got him released that night, he didn’t have to stay in jail all night and my other brother stood by his side when he had to reappear in court and he received probation so they didn’t lock him up.
LRI: I know that divorce can be messy and you’ve moved on to other relationships respectively but after all this time would you be open to being friends with Peter?
Lydia: I would love to be friendly with Peter. I am friends with a boyfriend that I had gone out with for six years, we’re still friends. Whenever I see my second husband I am friendly with him and for that matter, I’m friendly with Peter when I see him or hear from him but the thing is….I never see him or hear from him.
LRI: Have you ever met Shannon Tweed or did you kind of end your associations with Gene back in the Cher or Diana Ross era?
Lydia: I’ve never met Shannon, she seems nice on TV. I was around more during the Cher time, it was when I had just met Cher, we got divorced afterwards but it was when they had just started doing “KISS Meets The Phantom”.
LRI: Did you get the feeling that Peter was annoyed by Gene dating Cher?
Lydia: (laughs) I think he was jealous but really I don’t know because at that time we weren’t officially separated but for all purposes we were separated. That was at the point that he had just met Debbie also, all I can remember is that he used to say that Cher was thin but she was way too skinny, I don’t know and I know that she used to call him “Italian” as in “Hey Italian, what are you doing” (laughs). I only got to meet her, I never really hung out with her. I spoke to her on the phone when Jeanette and I were with the band in Japan.
LRI: So Peter was making Phantom and got involved with Debra, I’m going out on a limb to say you weren’t chomping at the bit to go to the premiere of the movie (laughs)
Lydia: Oh no (laughs). I had moved on and was already well aware of what was going on with he and Debbie before that. I mean I knew that they met in April, in May I went out there and stayed for a while at the Vincent Price house and then I came home and I knew at that point that something was wrong because Peter used to call me every weekend and he didn’t call me. That was the first thing, ya know, it was like “Hmm, okay” and then on 4th of July weekend I just couldn’t find him but what I did find was a receipt for a restaurant in Malibu.
LRI: Yeah, he says in the book that you turned the hotel room upside down and then dug through the wastebasket looking for it.
Lydia: He’s so full of shit. He is SO full of shit, I don’t remember how I came across it but I know I wasn’t turning the room upside down frantically to find it. All I know is I found it, it might have even been in a Playboy magazine but I know I found it and I never went through his stuff so it wasn’t that hard to find.
LRI: I’m a big Angel fan and it’s kind of in poor taste how Peter slams you dating (late Angel bassist) Mickey Jones who is no longer with us to refute or defend himself as far as what is written….
Lydia: Oh…Angel is great, Mickey was great and I know what you’re going to say, sorry to interrupt but I know what you’re going to say….. and how DARE Peter think that because he and I broke up that I should be dating someone from Led Zeppelin and not Angel, he puts himself on the same pedestal as Led Zeppelin, really??!! I mean, gimme a break, Peter get over yourself and technically, technically Angel is a better band, they are better players and technically they’re a better band musically whereas Peter was not the best musician in HIS band so he should just shut up (laughs). I loved Angel and Frank and the guys, I remember when the Casablanca book came out we had a dinner with the writers of the book and Bill Aucoin and just having a great time in New York and we were getting everybody on the phone and we called Frank Dimino on the phone (laughs).
LRI: Obviously the story of the KISS guys “discovering” Angel in Washington and bringing them to Casablanca’s attention has been told but how did you first get to know the guys and Mickey in particular?
Lydia: Peter and I were at a club called “Ashley’s” one night and Angel was sitting in the corner table right by the window and Mickey was such a friendly guy that we wound up talking and we wound up inviting he and Barry Brandt over to our apartment. We lived about 15 blocks away from the club and we wound up sitting and talking and partying all night. I will never forget, I was sitting on Peter’s lap and Mickey and Barry are there and Barry looks at us and goes “You know Peter, you are one ugly motherfucker” (laughs) and I was just shocked but you know Barry was a little drunk. Peter just looks at him and goes “Well, you don’t have a beautiful girl sitting on your lap so you should just shut the fuck up” (laughs). The next day, Mickey calls the house and apologizes for Barry to us and that was that. That was kind of my introduction to those guys and Angel. Then, years later, Peter and I were separated for a few months and I knew that Debbie was in his life but he said he came home to kind of see if we could get it together. Now, I seriously DOUBT that was the truth, I think he was just miserable and came home (laughs). I remember his hair was cut pretty short and he had died it jet black and it just looked horrible. This was around the same time that Ace was getting some kind of dermabrasion and he wasn’t going out, Peter wasn’t going out but Jeanette and I were going out and we were going to see Van Halen at the Palladium. We were backstage or side stage and so was Mickey Jones of Angel who was with a friend of his and Jeanette kind of hung out with the friend and I hung out with Mickey and we hung out at their apartment. Then of course, I had to go home and Jeanette had to go home but Mickey and I kept in touch. Mickey moved to New York and by that time Peter was gone, he had gone to Paris with Debbie and Mickey and I just hooked up. I think Sean Delaney was working on Gene Simmons’ solo album at that time but he was in London and I was talking to Sean and told him that we wanted to come over and I will never forget, Sean books us in the most expensive room in London at the Savoy and picks us up at the airport in a Rolls Royce (laughs). I said “Sean….I didn’t ask you to go that far” (laughs). But that was just Sean!
LRI: I know that you’ve mentioned that when you ran into Peter and asked him about reading “Sealed With A KISS” you said he just kind of gave you a big smile that said it all without saying a word. Were you surprised that he said in his book that he felt your book was such a personal attack and all lies and you took all of his private, personal photos and all of that?
Lydia: Well, first of all that’s hilarious. They’re my photos because I was the photographer (laughs) and as for it being all lies I will tell you what I told a fan which is that he must have it confused with HIS book (laughs). I cannot believe that he writes that they’re his private photos when they’re ALL mine other than the ones that I had to buy from the original photographers, people like Fin Costello who shot the one of him, Joyce Biawitz Bogart and another girl who worked in the office, Fran. That wasn’t his either, that was Fin’s photo, he is delusional. I had to BUY the rights to those photos but they sure as hell weren’t his.
LRI: He basically writes that he feels you stabbed him in the back with your book.
Lydia: That’s so funny because he didn’t say that to me, he didn’t say that to my face.
LRI: He said you did exactly what he feared you would and published it all….
Lydia: Well, what I did was I told the truth and showed the truth in photos and I guess he didn’t feel comfortable with the truth. You know, it’s been so many years and after so many years I’m not gonna start lying and I’m not gonna protect him after what he did to me. Besides that, he lays out so much bullshit about how he gave me a million dollars, he’s full of SHIT he gave me 200,000 dollars and on top of that I had to buy property with that; property that we had already committed ourselves to.
LRI: Yeah, he says he gave you a million and the house.
Lydia: He gave me 200,000 and a house with a lien on it and a mortgage (laughs)
LRI: He makes it sound like he gave you a million bucks and a paid off house.
Lydia: Yeah, he neglects to give you all the details (laughs). Plus on top of the whole house thing he also screwed me with the IRS.
LRI: At least he goes on to say that after you had been separated or were with another man you were way better in bed (laughs)
Lydia: Oh my god, that’s just so funny. That wasn’t it at all. It’s not that I had been with another guy but it’s more the fact that I just wasn’t a child anymore. I had an ex boyfriend who says to me “Not only does Peter put you down and say you were no good in bed but then he goes on to say you were the best blow job he ever had”? (laughs). Well, I mean Peter did teach me a lot in terms of sex, I’m not gonna deny him credit for that (laughs). I mean, for instance oral sex, I had never given oral sex to anybody, Peter taught me how and I don’t care if you write about this or not but I’ve had guys who’ve said they would fly in from Argentina just to get head (laughs). This is also a bit of truth, Peter IS THE SLOPPIEST KISSER I have ever had to kiss. When we were finished, I had to wipe my face with a towel, or my sleeve. Another thing Peter lies about in his book is the time Gene called to ask him to join the band, there was no party going on first of all, there were three of us hanging wallpaper, you know the mural in my book, that was what we were doing (laughs). Also he says he told Gene he had a nine inch dick, that’s a lie, he didn’t tell Gene that….and for the record, Peter doesn’t have a nine inch dick either (laughs). There you go!
LRI: So what do you make of Peter writing that he was enlightened by going to the Playboy Mansion and seeing two girls get it on and that he tried to get you to do that but you weren’t down?
Lydia: First of all he’s lying. He NEVER asked me to get it on with another girl, I actually said to him at one point when Debbie was in the picture “Hey, do you wanna have a threeway with me, you and Debbie?” and he said “I wouldn’t put you through that”, that is EXACTLY what he said to me. He used to always joke and say he’d pay to see me and my cousin together (laughs). This was the cousin he refers to in his book as my “Annoying cousin”, she actually dated Paul Stanley for a little bit.
LRI: The one who annoyed him by keeping you on the phone for hours during Christmas one year?
Lydia: Yeah, he says that, which is ANOTHER lie, you know what I was doing, I was filling out Christmas cards to his office when he shot the Christmas tree. That’s the other thing about his book, besides changing the names, everyone that he lies about when he’s talking about them, they’re ALL dead so you can’t verify anything. He lies about Sean Delaney, he lies about Bill Aucoin, he lies about Eddie Balandes, Jerry Nolan I mean I am practically the only person he lies about who is alive but he just figures “Well, who’s gonna believe Lydia?” I guess. He literally talks shit and lies about everyone who I could have gotten to verify “Hey, do you ever remember this even happening?” but waits until after they died, it’s unbelievable.
LRI: Well, it might not be what you want to hear but I think owning both of your books is the best idea for the perfect “he said/she said” story, yours just has wayyyy better photos from what I’ve seen (laughs). I have also heard that you were planning on another book filled with tons of your rock photography, you were able to shoot pretty much every major rock band of the classic rock era and really had an amazing photog career.
Lydia: Well, thank you. You know I think about doing that book pretty much every day of my life, I’ve photographed so many bands, like you said classic bands and I think to myself “Why am I not doing anything with this?”, even my lawyer said to me “Lydia, you have a goldmine here in your files” and I said “I know, but I’m too lazy and I’d have to hire somebody to help me work on it all”. I have amazing photos of lots of bands including Van Halen and Cheap Trick. I need to sell a few more copies of “Sealed With A KISS” but I do plan on doing another book.
LRI: Do you have more photos of KISS which haven’t seen the light of day?
Lydia: I have wayyy more KISS, there was no way I could use all the KISS photos I have.
LRI: I had also heard you have tons of home video and 8mm film, is there any way you could put something together in terms of a DVD documentary?
Lydia: I’m not sure, we are talking about that, what we could do with that. I don’t have a lot of footage but everyone who has seen my footage has said that we have enough to do something.
LRI: Thanks so much for talking with us Lydia
Lydia: Thank you and be sure to check out my book at www.lydiacriss.com
A shout out to John Parks at Legendary Rock Interviews