Wicked Lester

KISS WEEK! The peck before the KISS

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 | musiX | No Comments

[Editor's Note: This post was originally published on April 17. It only seems fitting to run it again as part of KISS WEEK. Besides, before I tell you about last night's KISS show at the Rose Garden, you should read about KISS before KISS was KISS. Right?]

KISS fans are a peculiar bunch—willing to shell out hundreds of thousands of their hard-earned dollars to see the band play in makeup 35 years on, or to get their grubby little paws on ultra-rare bootlegs or a still-sweaty Gene Simmons codpiece. Kooky, I tell you.

Any KISS fan can also tell you that there was life before the makeup and codpieces … it was more facial hair and bell bottoms. After all it was 1970 when Gene Klein (born Chaim Witz, who would later become Gene Simmons) and keyboardist Brooke Ostrander formed a band called Rainbow in New York. After recruiting drummer Tony Zarrella and guitarists in Stephen Coronel and Stanley Eisen (who would change his name to Paul Stanley), Rainbow began playing mostly covers and would play their only gig at Richmond Community College in Staten Island.

By 1971 the band changed its name to Wicked Lester and began writing more originals. Wicked Lester went into the studio later that year (after performing only two shows). In the process Coronel was given the boot, and session guitarist Ron Leejack was brought in to record the leads. The record—made up of mostly originals and a few covers—took a year to record. When it was brought to prospective label Epic Records, the album was turned away and would never be officially released.

The Wicked Lester record has circulated in bootleg form for years. Two tracks—“Lover Her All I Can” and “She”—which would resurface on KISS’ Dressed To Kill album in 1975—appeared in a box set a few years ago. I actually like the Wicked Lester songs. It just sounds like a band trying to figure out what the hell they’re trying to do … some sort of Motown-acid rock-psych concoction (flutes and horns fluttering and squawking over folky guitars and funky basslines). Which is probably why it didn’t last. I love the Simmons-penned “Simple Type” with vocals from both future KISSers and the cover of Infinity’s “(What Happens) In the Darkness,” an Ike and Tina-inspired burner punctuated by Stanley’s sassy (and underrated) vox. And “Molly” (“Molly, my pal, you’re my gal … “) reminds me of something you’d hear on The Electric Company, which was some of Morgan Freeman’s best work.

You know the rest of the story. Gene and Paul (second and third from left respectively in the photo) recruited Peter Criscuola (later the Catman Criss) and Paul Frehley (Space Ace) and conquered the world 10 times over, put their faces on pajamas and lunchboxes, had their way with thousands of groupies, released a concept album, dropped the makeup, reunited, did four, five farewell tours … there’s nothing left to do. So, Gene, when’s the Wicked Lester reunion? Could be a money maker.

“She”Wicked Lester

“Simple Type”Wicked Lester

“(What Happens) In The Darkness”Wicked Lester

“Molly”Wicked Lester

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Going back to Cali

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 | musiX, pdX | 6 Comments

Five straight days. I haven’t been away from a computer that long in, let’s see … hmm … carry the two … 1,943 days. After traveling almost as many miles to sunny (and windy) California I have returned, exhausted but unscathed.

Packing for such a journey typically consists of five minutes of stuffing clothes into a bag and another 45 spent choosing the music (Old 97′s, The Strange Boys, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Wicked Lester, Clap). And this trip, like many previous, involved one or more of the following:

Great friends, Hot Tamales, Indian-food comas, Jack Daniels, lamenting the collapse of journalism with old college friends, Pale Bock, shuffle board, the Hemlock, G&Ts, hugs, a Bobby Flay marathon, Bud Light, baseball games (Little League and Major League; A’s 7, Rays 1), covert guitar amp deliveries, Anchor Steam, High Fidelity, pork products, family, coffee, and a slobbering, but lovable buffoon named Lucas. I was asked what the totally hawt, rad, new up-and-coming band was, for which I could only reply: “Shit if I know … Willie Nelson?”

The drive home consisted of me asking if it was “sandwich time” every 15 minutes, referring to the pastrami-and-pepper jack grinder we picked up earlier from the Countryside Café, a brilliant little eatery in the Northern California podunk of Red Bluff. We passed places that sounded like they would be fun to go to—Turntable Bay, Soda Creek, Electric Avenue, Easy Street—but that I will unlikely ever visit. I did, however, finally say hi to the new TDoL mascot (pictured above). Stonewall Jackson was shot in my passenger seat by his own men just a little past Yreka. The Indian casino looked inviting (“Two hands of black jack and the trip pays for itself … “). And I came very close to finally stopping at Jiggles, just north of Salem. It’s a Jello factory, right?

Now we’re home. Things are back to normal. And I’m singing the song that was playing in my head well before we hit Multnomah County:

“Portland Oregon”Loretta Lynn and Jack White

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Wicked Lester: The peck before the big KISS

Friday, April 17th, 2009 | musiX | No Comments

KISS fans are a peculiar bunch—willing to shell out hundreds of thousands of their hard-earned dollars to see the band play in makeup 30 years on, or to get their grubby little paws on ultra-rare bootlegs or a still-sweaty Gene Simmons cod-piece. Kooky, I tell you.

Any KISS fan can also tell you that there was life before the makeup and cod-pieces. Gene Klein (born Chaim Witz, who would later become Gene Simmons) and keyboardist Brooke Ostrander formed a band called Rainbow in New York in 1970. The pair soon recruited a couple of guitarists in Stephen Coronel and Stanley Eisen (who would later become Paul Stanley), and drummer Tony Zarrella. Rainbow played mostly covers and would perform only one gig at Richmond Community College in Staten Island.

By 1971 the band had changed its name to Wicked Lester and began writing more original material. Wicked Lester went into the studio later that year (after performing only two shows). In the process Coronel was given the boot, and session guitarist Ron Leejack was brought in to record the leads. The record—made up of mostly originals as well as a few covers—took a year to record. When brought to prospective label Epic Records, the album was turned away and would never be released.

The Wicked Lester record has, of course, circulated in bootleg form for years with varying quality. Two tracks—“Lover Her All I Can” and “She”—which would resurface on KISS’ Dressed To Kill album in 1975, appeared on a KISS box set a few years ago. The Wicked Lester songs aren’t horrible, just unfocused, with flutes and horns fluttering and squawking over folky, slightly funky, psychedelic rock. My favorites are the Simmons-penned “Simple Type” with vocals from both future KISSers and the cover of Infinity’s “(What Happens) In the Darkness,” a rollicking Ike and Tina-inspired burner punctuated by Stanley’s sassy (and underrated) rock vox. And “Molly” reminds me of something you’d hear on The Electric Company (some of Morgan Freeman’s best work). It also boasts this gem of a lyric: “Molly, my pal, you’re my gal … ”

You know the rest of the story. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley (second and third from left respectively in the photo) recruited Peter Criscuola (later the Catman Criss) and Paul Frehley (Space Ace) and conquered the world 10 times over. So … when’s the Wicked Lester reunion?

“She”Wicked Lester

“Simple Type”Wicked Lester

“(What Happens) In The Darkness”Wicked Lester

“Molly”Wicked Lester

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