By Johnny Griffith
So I have this video in my head of me being on Jeopardy! that goes a little something like this:
Me: I’ll take Music Trivia for $1000, Alex. (Of course it’s the Double Jeopardy question, and of course, I wagered way too much money.)
Alex: What band liked to play obnoxiously loud music by night and engage in frivolity by day was started by Stanley Eisen, Chaim Witz, George Peter John Criscuola, and Paul Frehley in 1972?
Me: Who is Bachmann Turner Overdrive? (which would be stupid because no one Alex Trebek just mentioned is named Bachmann or Turner)
Alex: Oh sorry there, Johnny, the correct answer would be the hottest band in the world: KISS!!!
At least that’s how it goes in my head when I think of the guys who would eventually become household names as Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, and Ace Frehley. KISS would go on to create a marketing empire, making music, merchandise, movies, and embarking on bombastic tours that became their trademark. KISS would see many evolutions over the years, but the one that always comes to mind is the original quartet in full makeup and in character as their alter egos. Not coincidentally, this is also the version you’ll get to see when you catch a show by LOVEGUNNER, a KISS tribute band based here in East Texas.
No longer viewed as second-class gigs, tribute bands have turned into well-oiled machines in which
hours of, not only practicing the original music note for note but additionally, hours of studying mannerisms and the stagecraft necessary to give fans the experience they want. No one knows this better than Marshall Hance, Mark Shepard Hill, Jarod Frank, and Randy McDonald as they have spent the better part of the last two years developing themselves into an exacting replica of KISS when they take the stage. Even more impressively, they’ve done this while being scattered all over East Texas and being involved in other gigs.
I managed to track everyone down to find out who they are behind the makeup and what exactly goes
into duplicating such a complex act:
Johnny: So let’s start with what character you play and a bit of background.
Marshall: I pay tribute to Paul Stanley, the “Starchild,” and I’ve been playing music since I was 10 years old. My dad and mom introduced me to music at a young age and have encouraged me ever since. I have my own personal group under the title of “Marshall Hance,” and we play all original music I have written.
Mark: I play the role of the “SpaceAce,” Ace Frehley, in LOVEGUNNER. I grew up in Longview and really got deep into listening to music around 1983 in the early days of MTV. I got serious about guitar around the age of 20 while at SFA in Nacogdoches. As the desire to become a professional grew, I decided to go to a music school and found the commercial music program at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas and attended from ’01-’04. Around 2007 I moved to Austin and got a gig playing bass for Gary P. Nunn for a while, then decided to move back to East Texas and played in the Escape Artists, a 60’s- 00’s cover band with the versatile and talented pair of Wes Odom and Jay Baker. After the Escape Artists became defunct, I began to look around for a new project to get involved in. I scoured Craigslist every evening and eventually saw an ad that read “KISS Tribute seeks ACE,” I absolutely had to look into it.
Jarod: I take on the role of Peter Criss who was the “Catman” on stage. I’ve been in the tribute band scene in Houston for close to 10 years playing in tributes to Ozzy, Foo Fighters, Poison, Mötley Crüe, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Weezer, Bon Jovi, and of course, KISS. KISS is the band that first got me into music, having bought Double Platinum on 8-track when I was 6 years old. I started playing drums when I was 9 and was in original bands from middle school through college. After a break, I joined some original bands around 2005, but after a couple of years, I realized that tribute bands were really starting to take off and could actually be more financially successful than bands doing standard covers or originals.
Randy: During the show, I’m the “Demon,” Gene Simmons. I’m from College Station and have been playing several instruments since high school. In addition to LOVEGUNNER, I’m also involved in a blues band and an old-time string band.
Johnny: So whose idea was it to start a KISS tribute band, and how did that get brought up in a conversation?
Randy: Well, we didn’t actually start out to be a full-fledged tribute band. While playing at a Blues Jam one night, Marshall and I were talking and discovered that we were both KISS fans and made a comment in passing that it would be fun to get together and jam on some KISS songs. We started thinking about drummers we knew and brought in our friend, Blake. Our first idea was just to pick a few songs to jam on and have fun. We picked about five songs, got together one night, and were surprised at how good it sounded and how much fun it was to play these songs. We continued getting together and enjoying it more and more to the point that we finally decided to start searching for a lead guitarist to try to put together the full tribute show. After a few interviews and auditions, we found our SpaceAce, and after about five months of work eventually did put together our first short show. As we continued to progress, it became apparent to everyone that due to other obligations, our drummer was not going to be able to devote the time required by an ongoing tribute act, so we parted on good terms and located our current drummer, Jarod, who was able to step in as a rock solid KISS drummer and really advance the band quickly.
Johnny: Was this just another project to be in, or did the appreciation for KISS go beyond that?
Mark: Everyone in the band is a bona fide, lifelong fan of the group. I think it’s essential that everyone in the band be a serious fan of (whatever group) if you are to partake in a tribute band. The level of dedication and diligent study required to get elements correct is incredibly demanding, and if someone doesn’t have the conviction, desire, and pride to do the band justice, I just don’t feel you’re going to get a professional entertainment product.
Johnny: What have been the challenges up to this point of pulling this off and doing it with the execution necessary not to be a caricature of KISS, but rather a genuine tribute band that captures the essence of a KISS show in their prime?
Randy: Two challenges, really. One is that we all live in different towns, so even getting together to rehearse means travel and a commitment of at least a day or two. That’s one reason we work hard to make the most of our rehearsal time. The other challenge has been dealing with the complexity of many aspects at once. A lot of people think of KISS as being simplistic, but when you try to replicate it, you quickly begin to realize that it is a very complex act. Just playing the music and singing the harmonies correct is challenging enough. Then, you have to find or make the costume, learn what makeup is used, and how to put it on correctly. Also notable, the stage show is not just a collection of random movements. A lot of it is choreographed to happen at certain times and at a certain location on stage, and that all has to be worked out. Additionally, each signature shake of the head, facial expressions, and the unique way each individual moves around on stage is all studied and done for a purpose. Then, trying to do it all while wearing seven-inch heels and accurately playing your instrument is a whole new ball game. There’s a lot to think about at the same time.
Johnny: You guys recently did a big show at Clicks in Tyler that was amazing to watch. What did that show do for the band as far as confidence and exposure?
Marshall: Clicks was a great show! They have an amazing stage, easily one of the largest I’ve played on and definitely the best light show. Exposure-wise, we got amazing photos and videos to be able to showcase how we look and what we’re about.
Mark: That show was, by far, our best up to this point! That was the first venue where we could truly get the audio and visual aspects of a KISS show correct because they have the proper technology and ample stage space to accommodate a true rock show. It boosted our confidence immediately when we glanced back at the footage and saw what it looked like. I’d like to stress how professional and accommodating Tyler Johnson and David Wilson (sound and light techs at Clicks) are. They are true pros and went above and beyond to help us put on a professional show. We cannot thank David, Tyler, and Clicks enough for allowing us the opportunity to perform. They are a class act over there, and we’re fortunate to have a venue like Clicks in East Texas.
Johnny: When it comes to KISS the look is as important as the music. Where did you find the costumes, and who is doing your makeup?
Mark: Randy’s wife is a very handy seamstress, and she did an excellent job manifesting the outfits for the Demon and Catman. Marshall’s costume is an officially licensed costume that KISS made available for purchase. My outfit was acquired from a costume builder out of Ft. Worth, named David McBrayer, who has a business called Metal Mayhem Tribute Gear and can be found on Facebook. David is fanatically passionate about what he does, and his main products are KISS tribute costumes. As far as our makeup, just like the real band, we do it ourselves. A lot of people assume that KISS, being millionaires, just have people sit in front of them and do their makeup, but that’s not the case and never has been.
Johnny: With more than 40 albums of material, how did you go about deciding what songs would be on the set list?
Marshall: Currently, the setlist is a combination of what we already knew and what was from KISS Alive 1 and 2. And a few from the 3rd and 4th alive tours. We plan to expand on to deeper cuts once we get the ball rolling with the set we have.
Johnny: What’s on the horizon for the rest of 2017 and into next year?
Randy: We’ve got our sights set on some bigger markets and traveling a bit, but we want venues in East Texas to understand that we really want to come out to the smaller venues too and let people be able to relive that original experience of the people who saw KISS from the front row when they were just starting out. Some venues may think that this show is too big for their venue, but they should give us a call. KISS played in all kinds of venues when they were starting out, and it’s fun for us to relive some of that same experience.
LOVEGUNNER on the Web:
*Photos by Travis Tapley