How Eric Carr Narrowly Avoided Becoming Kiss’ ‘Chicken Man’
Eric Carr was on the verge of giving up on his musical career after years of struggles in 1980 when he was suddenly offered a dream job as drummer for Kiss.
As exciting as this offer surely was for the previously unknown club-circuit musician, Carr soon faced his first big challenge: How to avoid going onstage dressed like a giant orange chicken.
The addition of Carr as a replacement for Peter Criss marked the first lineup change in the history of Kiss. It was quickly decided that he wouldn't assume the Catman makeup worn by his predecessor. "That seemed too obvious to us," Paul Stanley explained in his book Face the Music, "and maybe sacrilegious."
So a new character was needed, one that could stand alongside Gene Simmons' Demon, Stanley's Starchild and Ace Frehley's Spaceman. The first concept, a hawk, sounded great on paper. After all, they're fierce hunters and considered to be among the most intelligent birds in the world. Unfortunately, none of those attributes translated into a usable costume.
"We had a costume built with a protruding chest and feathers all over it. He painted a beak on his nose. But he looked like the mascot for a high-school football team," Stanley recalled. "All that was missing were the big foam chicken feet. It was horrible."
In Greg Prato's book The Eric Carr Story, Carr's sister Loretta Caravello concurred. "It didn't look good," she said. "He looked like a duck. If you've seen the costume, it looks awful. They would have laughed him right off the stage. It looked like something out of Sesame Street -- Big Bird." (This Pinterest photo shows a seemingly not-thrilled Carr showing off an early version of the hawk makeup. You can get a better look at the full costume here.)
With just two weeks remaining until Carr's first public appearance with Kiss, band manager Bill Aucoin was forced to problem-solve in a hurry. "The guys really got frustrated," he told Prato. "Gene and Paul at the end of the day said, 'Look, you're the manager. You take care of it ... we're leaving. They weren't sure this was all going to come together."
After an all-night brainstorm session, Carr and Aucoin came up with a costume based on a different animal: a fox. Simmons and Stanley gave their blessings, and Carr's first show with the group -- on July 25, 1980, at the Palladium in New York -- was a much-needed success for the band, which had seen its live following and record sales fall in recent years.
Future Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante was among those in attendance that night. "It was great. He was a different drummer than Peter was," he told Prato. "I thought he was a really good fit for those guys." Carr soon tweaked his original fox makeup after realizing the original design was too busy. "When he would watch videos or look at pictures, he'd say that nobody could see the definition of his face," explained Caravello. "So he came up with putting the strip of white down the middle."
While his first studio project with the band, 1981's experimental and much-maligned Music From the Elder, went over like a lead balloon, Carr's powerful drumming helped Kiss return to a more familiar hard rock sound and renewed commercial success. The release of 1983's Lick It Up marked the end of Carr's Fox persona, as the band dropped the makeup and the members revealed their real faces. It was a promotional Hail Mary -- and it worked, with the band earning itself much-coveted MTV airplay and kicking off a second wave of platinum-selling albums and successful arena tours.
See the Evolution of Eric Carr's Kiss Makeup
Carr remained with the group until his 1991 death from heart cancer. The group dedicated 1992's Revenge to his memory, closing the album with a studio drum solo he had recorded in 1981.
Half a decade later, Kiss reunited with original members Criss and Frehley, put their makeup back on and mounted three highly successful tours. But when the pair left the band for a second time, Simmons and Stanley had their replacements -- Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer, respectively -- don the Catman and Spaceman makeup.
In retrospect, Stanley said creating new characters for Carr and guitarist Vinnie Vincent was a mistake. “I think where we went astray is when we first replaced Peter and we decided we needed a new character," he told Joe Rogan in 2014. “I mean, we had a Fox and an Egyptian Warrior. Next we would have the Turtle Boy and the Frog Man.
"We really built these four images. And, arguably, you can go anywhere in the world and people know who Kiss is, regardless of whether they know who those people are. So to give up that because we found that those guys were no longer either capable or wanted to give it 100 percent, well, then who loses out? The fans. So, no. Those images are the images that will continue when I’m not here either.”