American musician Paul Stanley is the co-founder, rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist of the rock group KISS.
Who Is Paul Stanley?
Raised in New York City, Paul Stanley teamed with bassist Gene Simmons, drummer Peter Criss and fellow guitarist Ace Frehley to form the iconic hard-rock group KISS in the early 1970s. Known for their makeup-clad characters and explosive live performances, KISS achieved worldwide fame through hits like “Rock and Roll All Nite” and albums like Destroyer. Along with shepherding the band through decades of lineup turnover and shifting pop culture tastes, Stanley has pursued his interests as a New York Times bestselling author, an artist with over 15 million dollars in art sales, a designer and successful restaurateur. He continues to maintain involvement in various charities including various military organizations.
Early Years and Musical Beginnings
Paul Stanley was born Stanley Bert Eisen on January 20, 1952, in New York City, to parents Eva and William Eisen.
Born with a condition called microtia, which left him with a partially formed right ear, and deaf on that side, Stanley found his salvation in the classical music favored by his parents and the doo-wop tunes coming from the radio, and by the time he got his first glimpse of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, he knew that rock ‘n’ roll was his ticket to stardom.
Stanley purchased his first electric guitar at age 14 and began jamming with friends in his Queens neighborhood. He was accepted to Manhattan’s High School of Music & Art for his drawing skills but instead devoted his energy to playing with a group called Post War Baby Boom while spending much of his junior year shopping song compositions to publishing companies and honing his skills.
Meeting Gene Simmons and Wicked Lester
Toward the end of high school Stanley met bassist and songwriter Simmons, then known as Gene Klein. Initially put off by the older musician’s strong personality, Stanley came to quickly respect his creative zest and work ethic, and the duo teamed with guitarist Steve Coronel, keyboardist Brooke Ostrander and drummer Tony Zarrella to form the band that became Wicked Lester.
Through Stanley’s persistence, Wicked Lester earned recording time at Electric Lady Studios under the watch of producer Ron Johnsen, who subsequently landed the group a contract with Epic Records. However, both Stanley and Simmons were unhappy with the group’s lack of a definitive sound, and they struck out on their own in 1972 after completing an album for the label.
Stanley and Simmons continued writing songs as they pieced together a new band with drummer Criss and lead guitarist Frehley. They found their look by establishing stage identities based on their individual personalities – Stanley became the Starchild, Simmons became the Demon, Frehley the Spaceman and Criss the Catman – and after Stanley’s suggestion all agreed on the name of KISS.
By fall 1973 KISS had signed with rookie manager Bill Aucoin and Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart, and with newfound funds from their new record label, they pushed for more pyrotechnics and theatricality that helped define the band’s live performances. KISS subsequently launched their first tour and debuted a self-titled album in February 1974, with Stanley sharing lead vocal responsibilities and earning solo songwriting credits for tracks like “Firehouse” and “Black Diamond.”
‘Alive!’ and ‘Destroyer’
Despite the increasing popularity of their shows and the rise of a devoted fan base that became known as the KISS Army, the quartet achieved disappointing sales with their first three albums.
KISS finally broke through with 1975’s Alive!, which successfully captured the high-octane energy of their live efforts and continues to be called one of the greatest live albums of all time. This record included the definitive version of the anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite.” The surging band continued its multi-platinum status with the Bob Ezrin-produced Destroyer (1976), which featured Stanley’s songwriting and vocal talents on signature tracks like “Detroit Rock City” and “Shout it Out Loud.”
Although KISS was earning more than $100 million in annual merchandise sales by the late 1970s, ongoing creative and personal tensions that were heightened by alcohol and drug abuse by two members took their toll.
Lineup Changes and Taking Off the Makeup
The departures of Criss and then Frehley in the early 1980s brought KISS into a new era with Eric Carr (the Fox) on drums and Vinnie Vincent (the Egyptian Ankh) on lead guitar. Fans offered a mixed reaction to the newcomers, however, along with a cool reception to albums like Music from “The Elder” (1981).
Seeking a creative revival, Stanley and the others ditched the makeup in a highly publicized appearance on MTV in September 1983, and KISS enjoyed a commercial comeback with that year’s Lick it Up. More lineup changes accompanied the release of albums like Asylum (1985) and Hot in the Shade (1989), with Bruce Kulick assuming lead guitar duties in the mid-1980s, and Eric Singer taking over drums by the time Carr tragically succumbed to cancer in 1991.
‘Unplugged’ and Reunion Tours
A reunion with Ezrin brought success with the critically acclaimed Revenge in 1992. In the midst of their subsequent multi-city KISS Convention Tour Criss and Frehley were brought back to perform on MTV Unplugged in August 1995.
Stanley and Simmons along with manager Doc McGhee orchestrated a series of reunion tours that featured the original KISS lineup, in makeup, for the first time in well over a decade. Although the Alive/Worldwide Reunion Tour became the top-grossing concert act of 1996, the old tensions eventually resurfaced, and both Criss and Frehley were no longer in the band again by the early 2000s.
Plugging ahead with Singer and Tommy Thayer on guitar, KISS returned to the studio for 2009’s Sonic Boom, which featured the Stanley-composed “Modern Day Delilah,” and followed with 2012’s Monster. In early 2019 the veteran group embarked on their End of the Road Tour.
Solo Music and Soul Station
Stanley and each of his KISS bandmates simultaneously released individual, self-titled albums in September 1978. He took a break from KISS to tour in 1989 and delivered his second solo album, Live to Win, in 2006.
Delving into his R&B influences, Stanley launched his 15-piece band, Soul Station, in 2015. The group’s 2021 album, Now and Then, includes covers of classics like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” as well as Motown-influenced original tracks.
Stanley has two daughters and a son with his wife, attorney Erin Sutton and a son from his previous marriage.
Art and Design
Stanley created the KISS logo based on Frehley’s original design. Stanley’s actual hand-drafted design has been used since 1974. As he told the Huffington Post in 2019, its S’s aren’t quite parallel because he rendered the logo by eye with a straight-edged ruler. The musician has also displayed his artistic sensibilities by designing many of the band’s album covers, costumes in addition to guitars and sneakers for major brands.
After decades of rocking with KISS, Stanley rediscovered a love for painting. His idiosyncratic portraits and abstracts have been featured in international exhibitions and garnered more than $15 million in sales.
Theater and Books
The longtime performer made the leap to theater in 1999 by taking on the title role in the Toronto production of The Phantom of the Opera, then in its tenth year. After nightly standing ovations, his run was extended by popular demand. Stanley went on to close the show as the final Phantom. He became an author with the 2014 publication of the New York Times best-seller Face the Music: A Life Exposed, and followed in 2018 with the memoir/lifestyle guide, Backstage Pass.
Stanley, who underwent an operation to reconstruct his right ear in the early 1980s, has spoken about the difficulties of dealing with a birth defect on behalf of the Canadian charitable organization AboutFace. He has also worked with the House Research Institute to raise awareness about the risks of exposure to loud sounds and music in addition to his ongoing work with military organizations.
A&E Biography Special
“Biography: KISStory” chronicled the band’s five decades in the business as founders Stanley and Simmons reflect on their historic career.
After 50 years of rocking and rolling all night and partying every day, the #1 Gold Record selling band of all time, KISS, shared their story of success before finally smashing their last guitar and extinguishing the fire-breathing demon. Stanley and Simmons, along with current members Thayer and Singer, as well as guests Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), manager Doc McGhee (Motley Crue, Bon Jovi), music producer Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd) and more, told the wild story of the most successful and influential band in the world. Watch a preview: