In 1985 Peter Criss was pretty much a new man. Fairly little in his autobiography is factually correct but for the most part he seems to have been brutally honest about his feelings. Thus we know that he felt relatively at ease with the then-recent move to California and felt like playing music again. Enter the obscure band Balls Of Fire. Now, when it comes to Peter’s pre- and post-KISS bands pretty much all of them are more or less obscure, but Balls Of Fire have been in a league of their own. Thankfully, in recent years, as sharing over this whole internet thing has started to blossom, more information has become available and the picture has become a little clearer.
So we begin here, with the hitherto written word on Balls Of Fire. In his 2005 book The KISS Album Focus Volume 1: Kings Of The Night Time World 1972-82, Julian Gill wrote three and a half pages about the band but some of the facts about the shows the band played have since been ”adjusted”. Most of those pages were taken verbatim from a 1986 interview in the fanzine KISS Force. In 2009 Alex Bergdahl wrote a two-part biography of Peter’s post-KISS history called Kattens Historia for KISS Army Sweden (only available in Swedish) which brought out some new information. In Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of Kiss (2012 hardcover), Peter devoted two-and-a-half pages to the band and, compared to sources from the late 80s, managed to get about half of the information completely wrong.
After a lengthy phone interview with bassist Bobby Raylove in 2017, on April 3 to be exact, Alex Bergdahl put together a podcast episode devoted to this period and, in the 2019 book Partners In Crime: Vår Livslånga Jakt På Sanningen (with Carl Linneaus), he wrote the thus-far most complete account of the band over five pages. (Both of these accounts are, unfortunately, only available in Swedish.) And that’s pretty much it. In the coming text I will put all of this information together, add in some new things, and try to deduce a decent timeline based on actual facts. The focus here will be on sources that are as close to the events in question as possible—a 1986 or 1987 interview will always trump, say, a post-2000 account—but the available material from that time is unfortunately relatively scant. In addition, the few magazine articles about the band from 1986-87 are generally low on information about Balls Of Fire, interviewers throw out a question or two about this new band and then the questions inevitably veer towards KISS. The material presented here will still have a number of gaps but it will be, shall we say, complete-ish. A big thank you goes out to Alex Bergdahl, Johnny Roxx, and David Snowden for graciously sharing photos, information, and recordings.
The move to California
In Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of Kiss, Peter, by way of a dictation that opens chapter fifteen (p. 233), suggests that he moved to California in 1984. This is obviously possible but if he and Deborah had indeed moved there in 1984, the events of June 11, 1985, and their reporting in the press, don’t make much sense. Nor does a 1986 interview. But, let’s start in June, 1985. According to an Associated Press report—which was published nation-wide on June 14—Peter was arrested on June 11, 1985, after an altercation with Deborah in Stamford, Connecticut: ”According to accounts given by police and Criss’ wife, Deborah, 27, the couple had an argument while she was driving. Criss is accused of getting out of the passenger’s seat, walking around to the driver’s side of the car and punching Debra in the face several times. He then allegedly yanked her out of the car and drove off with his 4-year-old daugther, leaving his wife in the road.” (News Press of St Louis, MO 85-06-14 p.A-8)
Peter was released after posting a $500 bond and was set to appear in Stamford Superior Court on June 24. Despite having been beaten badly enough so that she ”was treated for minor facial injuries” at Stamford Hospital (St. Petersburg Times of St. Petersburg, FL 85-16-14, p. A-12), one report mentioned that ”a woman who identified herself as his [Peter’s] wife said she would drop the charge”. (Hartford Courant of Hartford, CT 85-06-14, p. A-2) In all of the reports Peter is identified as being from New Canaan, Connecticut which seems odd if they had indeed moved to California in 1984, which would be at least six months before these newspaper reports. This incident alone is enough to suggest that the move to California happened sometime during the fall of 1985.
In the interview that Peter did with David Snowden for KISS Force Vol. III No. 1—quoted at length in Julian Gill’s book and later partially reprinted in the Dutch fanzine KISS Explorer Army Explosion—he mentiones that ”we moved out here seven months ago”. (KISS Force Vol. III No. 1, p. 1) This particular issue of KISS Force was for March 1986. If we count backwards seven months from February or March 1986, and knowing, as we do, that Peter most probably was a resident of New Canaan, Connecticut in June 1985, we can deduce that Peter and Deborah probably moved to Palos Verde, California some time in August or September 1985.
Jane, Steppenwolf and Ron Rainey
According to Peter, the band Jane ”had been playing together for a year or so before I met up with them” (Hit Parader March 1987, p. 12) and that seems to be accurate. Jane Booke and Robert Raylove had started writing together, possibly some time in 1981-82 but, according to Booke, didn’t really try to put something serious together until much later: ”We were writing; not looking for a deal.” (Rock Scene December 1986, p. 46) Eventually, after a series of auditions, they hooked up with Pakalenka who apparently connected with the other two immediately. The drummer they found at the same time was short-lived as was his replacement who lasted ”two months, maybe”. (Rock Scene December 1986, p. 46) Both these drummers are, unfortunately, unknown to us.
During the short-lived tenure of the second drummer, in late 1985, Jane seems to have been playing small gigs around the Los Angeles area. The local culture and entertainment paper L.A. Weekly had them listed as playing three shows in October and November. (As we’ll see when we get to the Balls Of Fire shows, that doesn’t necessarily mean that these were the only three times Jane played during this period.) The first was at a club called FM Station on October 1. (L.A. Weekly of Los Angeles, CA 85-09-27, p. 80) Just over a week later, on October 9, they played The Music Machine (L.A. Weekly of Los Angeles, CA 85-10-04, p. 105), and the last mention of them are for a show at The Central on November 16. (L.A. Weekly of Los Angeles, CA 85-11-15, p. 90) This period of time fits fairly well with the roughly two months Jane claimed that the second drummer lasted. Why the first drummer was let go or quit we don’t know but the second simply didn’t fit musically with the others. ”He was a wonderful person, but not the musician we needed.” (Rock Scene December 1986, p. 46) According to Raylove, they stated working with Ron Rainey just after they fired this second drummer. (Interview with Alex Bergdahl)
Can we be sure that this is the Jane that Peter ended up joining? No. There is nothing in the L.A. Weekly that mentions any band members or even anything about this band beyond the shows I’ve mentioned here. However, there are no other mentions of a band of this name, before or after, and it seems very coincidental if there had been a different band of that same name. Especially since the band name survived well into 1986 as evidenced by the interview in KISS Force (and a mention in KISS Explorer Army Explosion no. 15 from April 1986). All we can really say is that a band by the name Jane were slated to perform at a few minor clubs in the Los Angeles area in late 1985. Moving on.
In a way the Steppenwolf and John Kay story in Peter’s book (p. 234-235) bothers me. I don’t necessarily think that Peter is lying about it, if anything it’s such a strange detail that it might actually be stupid to put it in writing if it wasn’t true, but it’s a little odd that Peter didn’t mention it in the 1986 fanzine interview with Snowdon nor in any of the other interviews with Hit Parader or Rock Scene. But, playing devil’s advocate for a minute, if Peter really wanted to invent a good story for the book, he almost certainly would have chosen a more high-profile band. In late 1980 and early 1981 there was a ridiculous rumour that he was a possible replacement for John Bonham in Led Zeppelin and, knowing what we do about Peter’s quite high regard of himself as a musician, that type of story seems more likely if it was a fabulation. In 1985 Steppenwolf were little more than a tribute act to themselves so it wasn’t a high-profile situation to get into.
That said, the available facts surrounding Steppenwolf in 1985 and 86 fits my constructed timeline of Peter moving to California and ultimately finding a new band a little too well not to mention. John Kay and Steppenwolf, as they were mostly billed at the time, started a minor tour with The Guess Who as support act in Stillwater, Oklahoma on October 31 (The Daily Oklahoman of Oklahoma City, OK 85-10-25, p. 15), and then played regular shows at least until December 13 when they played the Shrine Mosque in Springfield, Missouri. (Leader and Press of Springfield, MO 85-12-12, p. E-5) After that there was a month-long break and then Steppenwolf resumed touring on January 16, 1986, at the Orpheum in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (The Sun of Vancouver, BC, Canada 86-01-04, p. C-8) That month-long break is a decent window to at least look for a new drummer. (If there were problems they would have been known earlier and probably communicated to the band’s management to start the search while the band was still on tour.)
This also fits very nicely with Peter’s comment about his new band in the David Snowden interview: ”I went down and played with them [Jane] and it was great!! We’ve been together for about two months”. (KISS Force Vol. III No. 1, p. 2) Since that issue of KISS Force was for March 1986 the interview was probably done in February (although early March is possibility) meaning that Peter would most probably have contacted Ron Rainey in December 1985. This timline—Peter contacting Ron Rainey about the Steppenwolf gig around that band’s brief touring hiatus in December 1985 and instead ending up with a different band—means we have to slightly adjust the hitherto accepted guess that Peter joined Balls Of Fire (at the time Jane) some time in February. Because…
The 1986 installement of Winter NAMM—or, as it was more accurately called, the Winter Music & Sound Market—was at the Anaheim Convention Center over the weekend January 17-19, 1986. This might seem to be much too early to factor into the Ball Of Fire story, we are, after all, still months away from any public mention of the band, but this is probably the first appearance of the re-structured Jane with Peter. First, the people who are in these photos. Below we see two shots of Ace beside Peter (and also displaying his then-new signature Washburn AF-40). Note Peter’s glasses, his laminated pass, and the hideous belt.
Above we see Peter with the members of Jane at the same event (note the glasses and the belt), left-to-right: Raylove, Peter, Booke, and Pakalenka. These photos were taken by Pat Lucero and the black-and-white ones appeared in that issue of KISS Force that I have been referencing ad nauseum so far. In his interview with Alex Bergdahl, Bobby Raylove mentioned him and Peter running into Ace at a guitar convention but didn’t mention which one or when. According to Lucero these were taken at NAMM 1986 where he ”walked around […] with Ace for 2 days. Very few recognized him”. (Personal communication 2020-01-16) I for one think it would be exceedingly odd if Peter and the three members of Jane posed together for photos if he wasn’t in the band.
Every single account of how Peter joined Jane is more or less the same. Peter was managed by Ron Rainey who, when Peter was looking for some work, suggested that he check out a band on Rainey’s roster that was looking for a new drummer. ”[O]ur manager, who also managed Peter Criss, sent him our tape and he loved it. We had auditioned 35 drummers, and when Peter came and played with us, it clicked instantly”. (Rock Scene December 1986, p. 46) ”He [Rainey] sent me their tape and I went fuckin’ crazy!! I thought it was incredible. I went down and played with them and it was great!!” (KISS Force Vol. III No. 1, p. 2) In order for Jane version 3 to appear together in mid-January 1986 it seems likely that most of this would have to happened at the very least just after the new year, and a late December meeting might be more likely.
Balls Of What now?
The name Balls Of Fire first appeared in a brief interview with Peter conducted by J. J. Jackson for MTV during the Rock & Bowl Tournament on April 5, 1986. This interview doubles as the the first known mainstream mention that Peter was in a new band. Shortly thereafter a press release seems to have gone out to nation-wide print media (possibly through one of the wire services) because in late April a few papers published a small news item about the band: ”Peter Criss, formerly the drummer for Kiss, has shed his greasepaint and is now with a group called Balls of Fire. ‘I was looking for some hungry, fresh musicians and I’ve found them,’ he says of his unknown bandmates”. (The York Dispatch of York, PA 86-04-27, p. 48) About two weeks later part of the music press got in on the act. In Vol. 98 no. 19 of Billboard, Steve Gett noted in his On The Beat column that ”Ex-Kiss drummer Peter Criss has joined the new L.A.-based rock combo Balls Of Fire”. (Billboard 86-05-10, p. 22) David Adelson’s Points West column in Cashbox was, however, completely silent on the matter.
Kerrang, displaying an example of British wit, welcomed the new band to the world with the wonderfully low-brow headline ”Criss grabbed by Balls”. (Kerrang no. 120 86-05-15, p. 3) In the short text the band’s music is described as ”a merging of rockabilly, R&B, HM and pop” which, with the exception of HM, sounds about right. The most extensive mainstream press mention of the band that I’ve found so far came in the Daily News in late May, 1986. Part of the text, the quote about ”hungry, fresh musicians”, is the same one that was used in the small news items and the Kerrang blurb mentioned above, and that’s why I assume that it came from a press release from Ron Rainey. Here the band members were identified for the first time and it was noted that ”The group is currently playing at a downtown Los Angeles loft”. (Daily News of New York, NY 86-05-25, City Lights section p. 23)
Interestingly enough, both Kerrang and Daily News mention the song title My Heart Stopped the Bullets. Unless we’ve grossly misunderstood a song title or two from the live shows, this song seems to just disappear. It’s clearly favored here—otherwise it wouldn’t have been singled out in the press release—but it’s never mentioned again and doesn’t appear in any of the live recordings we have. One wonders what could have caused it to fall completely out of favor once the band started playing live.
Peter is on record saying that he hated the band name (Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of Kiss, p. 235) so he probably wasn’t the one who came up with it. As strange as it may sound, the name seems to have been taken from one of the most iconic movies of all time. The three known recordings of Balls Of Fire—don’t worry, we’ll get to those in a minute—have an intro that’s a collection of dialogue samples from Gone With The Wind, including one of Scarlett O’Hara’s most memorable lines: ”Great balls of fire! Don’t bother me any more, and don’t call me sugar!” Call me biased or sexist but I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to think that Jane might have been behind the new name. (I prefer to think that the name came from Gone With The Wind and not, for instance, from Pautzke’s fishing bait which is still sold under that brand name.)
If anyone agrees with Peter and think that the band name is, well, crappy, there are a few things to consider. First, the ”new” band needed a new name. It was, after all, fairly improbable that the band would continue under the name Jane after Peter joined. Jane Booke may have had an ego large enough to name a band after herself but we can be certain that Peter’s ego was much larger and, despite his relatively positive statements about Jane’s attributes that spring, he wasn’t going to play second fiddle to her under her name. Ron Rainey was smart enough to know that adding a ”star” to the band was a sure-fire way to get noticed (even if both he and Peter almost certainly overestimated the general public’s, and most KISS fans’s, actual interest in Peter at the time), and it’s not at all unlikely that a new band name was one of Peter’s demands for joining.
Second, having browsed more pages of L.A. Weekly than I care to remember I can honestly say that Balls Of Fire was very much in line with the mostly ridiculous names that were part of the Los Angeles club scene in 1986. At the very least it wasn’t any worse than some of the bands that were playing the clubs, or how about Tomorrow’s Game In Vitro, The Porch Monkeys, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, or, my personal favorite, Explosive Broomhandles? Balls Of Fire doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
Some time in March or April, probably right after the new name had been decided upon, Ron Rainey contracted Michael Levine Public Relations to take some promo shots of the new band. There were at least two band photos, the one in color that starts this blog post and one in black-and-white which accompanied virtually every magazine story about the band. Individual shots were also taken even though I’ve yet to see one of Pakalenka.
Rehearsing and showcase shows
Balls Of Fire rehearsed in downtown Los Angeles in what was an industrial section previously occupied by Pabst Brewery. Although there were individual addresses to the different buildings, the entire block—which is at the intersection of N. Main Street and S. Avenue 21—was sometimes referred to as the Old Pabst Brewery Grounds. There were several artist’s lofts on the premises under the collective name The Brewery, as there are to this day, and it’s probably safe to assume that the band had been rehearsing there in its earlier incarnation as Jane.
As noted above, we don’t know the name of the drummer that Peter replaced but the remaining band members were singer/songwriter/guitarist Jane Booke, bassist Robert ”Bobby” Raylove, and guitarist John ”JP” Pakalenka. Booke had spent the late 70s ”in Europe contributing backup vocals to assorted artists, including teen idols like Bay City Rollers”. (Rock Scene December 1986, p. 46) This may account for her professed ignorance of KISS that Peter recounts in his book and her question if they were ”bigger than the Bay City Rollers?” (Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of Kiss, p. 235-236) It seems unbelievable that anyone could have escaped the influence of KISS in the late 70s but it is at least easier to imagine it for a person living in Europe. European pop and rock magazines still featured the band now and then but they certainly weren’t in the mainstream press like they were in the US. Had Booke lived Stateside her claim would be ludicruous, if she was in Europe it is at least feasible.
Raylove had a ”history playing with Todd Rundgren, as a lead singer and other bands”. (Interview with Alex Bergdahl) There are some listings in late 1980 at the Troubadour under the name Raylove but, like the late 1985 mentions of Jane, it’s not at all evident that it’s the same person. That said, Raylove is not a common name and this short period in 1980 is the only time I’ve found any mention of it in newspapers. (It’s entirely unknown whether the single Mind On The Money credited to a Bobby Raylov has anything to do with Robert ”Bobby” Raylove but it seems unlikely since the record company it was issued on, Lovinn Records, was based in New York.) Thus far, all we know about Pakalenka’s activities before Jane/Balls Of Fire is that he was a member of a Seattle-based band called Shadow in 1978. (El Paso Times of El Paso, TX 78-02-03, p. C-1)
In interviews from 1986 Peter’s only had good things to say about the members, even though he evidently had some doubts that he shared privately with Raylove, and it is obvious that Peter really was all in on this band. ”We rented a big studio in downtown L.A and we’re putting in five days a week, six hours a night rehearsing.” (KISS Force Vol. III No. 1, p. 2) ”We kept rehearsing all the time at their downtown loft.” (Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of Kiss, p. 235) According to bassist Bobby Raylove, him an Peter also put in additional time at Peter’s house, just the two of them, trying to become a great rhythm section. The two of them apparently clicked both musically and personally.
Say what you will about Peter Criss, in public the man has never been shy about his own abilities and in 1986 he was obviously feeling good about his skills after suddenly practicing for several hours a day: ”I’m playing at my peak. I’m doing things I’ve never done on drums. I’m told that it’s so original that no one has ever heard that type of drumming.” (KISS Force Vol. III No. 1, p. 2) In another interview he claimed that he had become ”a better drummer thatn I ever thought I could be”. (Rock Scene December 1986, p. 46) Judging by the available recordings of Balls Of Fire, he didn’t bring all that innovation into their music but it must be said that Peter’s playing at this time was really good. For the most part his playing was both fitting, relatively tasteful and, at times, had a very compelling groove. For the most part the rhythm section is really good; the band was really tight. However, there’s nothing spectacular, innovative or even surprising about his playing (except the almost infantile use of synth drums but that isn’t the right kind of surprising).
On two days, April 29 and 30, the rechristened Balls Of Fire performed showcases at their rehearsal space at The Brewery. There were fans present at these showcases, presumably to add some ambience, and we have photos from both shows. Some circulate online and they are generally easy to spot, just look for Peter’s 40″ Sabian Taiwan gong mounted on a very conspicuous Sabian frame. This part of his setup seems to have been left at the rehearsal space once they started hitting the clubs. (Peter had moved to Sabian cymbals in early 1985, a move that was noted in the company’s newsletter The Sabian Switcher vol. 1 no. 1.) According to Raylove these showcases were for the Atlantic representatives and were, in his words, very disappointing.
The lengthy feature in the December 1986 issue of Rock Scene had interviews that seem to have been conducted in the time between these showcases and their brief stint on the L.A club scene. Unlike the interview in the March 1987 issue of Hit Parader, there is no mention of a record deal in Rock Scene, not even the usual bravado that several labels are interested. (Much like Ace, Peter has had a tendency to always overstate label interests and wildly inflate his plans for the future.) Really, the only mention of the showcases in the Rock Scene interview is that Peter had been ”getting sick before every show. I thought I was over it, but even in our showcases I’ve been nauseous”. (Rock Scene December 1986, p. 47)
The club days
After those two showcases at the loft at The Brewery the next sign of life from Balls Of Fire was when they started working the Los Angeles club scene. In total the band (possibly) managed seven shows during June-August 1986.
86-06-17 The Roxy
This was the premier of Balls Of fire as a ”proper” live band and it was an opening slot for San Fransisco-based Wire Train who were fresh off a recent tour in Europe and played a number of shows in Los Angeles and San Fransisco over the course of the month. Balls Of Fire were actually the first act, as seen in the ad below Monkey Rhythm was the ”proper” opening act, and wasn’t mentioned in the ad or any of the local listings. They were, however, mentioned in Steve Pond’s review in the Los Angeles Times: ”Made up of a vampish lead singer backed by a power trio (Criss is a recent addition), Balls of Fire started out playing raw, commercially designed rock that needed sharper hooks. By the time Criss took over lead vocals on a Gene Simmons song, though, it was edging uncomfortably toward the territory you’d think he’d gotten enough of in his alma mater”. (Los Angeles Times of Los Angeles, CA 86-06-20 p. VI-17)
A second review by writer Cary Darling—unfortunately from an unknown paper—saw neither appeal, nor promise in the performance. ”[I]t was their first show together and a clutch of erstwhile Kiss fans in the audience lapped up every move by either Criss or lead singer Jane Booke. Still, there’s no reason for making soulless rock music that doesn’t just plod but hobbles.” (Darling did freelance work for a number of California papers in the mid-80s and later worked at the Orange County Register in the early 90s.)
In issue number 5 of the Swedish fanzine KISS News (published by the Swedish fan club KISS Centre) a small news item noted the following setlist as having been played for this show:
- Blue Don’t Look Good On You
- Private Dreams
- Dance With Me
- You Can Have Me [sic.]
- Feel Like Heaven
- Next Stop My Heart [sic.]
Notes: The songs with a [sic.] were printed like this in the fanzine but, judging by Jane’s presentation of the songs on the available recordings, they actually had slightly different titles. See further info below.
86-06-30 Whisky A Go-Go
Judging by the comments in Peter’s book this was almost a third showcase since there were representatives from Atlantic Records in attendance but, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, Peter’s account is the only one that has specifically mentioned this show as one the reps attended. In his communication with Alex Bergdahl, Raylove suggested that Atlantic attended the showcases at the Brewery but that’s not really contradictory; there is obviously nothing that prohibits that the Atlantic reps were at the showcases and this show. Maybe they felt that they needed to see the band in an actual live setting.
So far there has surfaced no ad for this show and it’s unlikely that there ever will. The listing in L.A. Weekly has the recurring Guitar Center Jam Night happening June 30 at the Whisky A Go-Go, and these shows were billed as a way for local musicians to get on stage and ”play through big, shiny, brand new equipment” courtsey, you guessed it, Guitar Center. (L.A. Weekly of Los Angeles, CA 86-07-11, p. 88) This explains a certain quirk in the photos from this show: Peter playing a black kit. In all other photos of Peter from this time he has (what probably is) a Pearl Fiber Glass kit in Snow White, this show at the Whiskey is the only one with another kit. Why they would choose this event is anybody’s guess.
What we do have in lieu of a concert ad in any of the local papers is a concert poster. This poster shows that the tactic from day one was to use Peter’s name to draw a crowd. As the available recordings show this backfired a little as the crowd ended up being almost completely KISS fans.
Based on the noted song titles from KISS News, songs that were presented by Jane at the three shows, and some educated guesses, the setlist for this show appears to have been as follows:
- I Found Out
- Blue Don’t Look Good on You
- Dance With Me
- You Can Have Me, Baby
- Hurry Up
- Private Dreams
- Love Will Surely Find You
- Feel Like Heaven
- Make Your Next Stop My Heart
- Mr. Pretender
Notes: Calls from the KISS fans in attendance include 100,000 Years and Out Of Control… There is a bona fide super fan in attendance who actually calls out ”King’s Lounge, Brooklyn!”… Jane mentions that this is their ”second time in public… ever!”… The song Private Dreams is presented as ”this is a song that we all wrote together, it’s very special to all of us”… When presenting Feel Like Heaven, Jane mentions that Peter’s parents are in attendance at this show and—somewhat oddly considering the subject matter of the song—dedicates the song to them… Before Make Your Next Stop My Heart Jane says ”we’re going to be at The Palace July 24″… After a large part of the audience chants ”Pe-Ter Criss!” before the encore, Peter gets on the microphone and makes a point of saying ”this is OUR new band, it’s called Balls Of Fire”…
In his autobiography Peter tells a story about how Jane threw a fit on stage at the Whiskey and literally walked off in anger (Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of Kiss, p. 236-237), and this story was one he has told in various forms over the years. It did, however, start out as a more general story, not one specifically about the show at the Whiskey: ”[E]very time we went to do a gig there was like a million Kiss fans there. The singer (Jane Booke) lost it on stage due to that fact.” (M.E.A.T. no. 45 September 1993, p. 35) Nothing of this is evident on the tape above (nor any of the other recordings). Jane doesn’t sound very enamored with the crowd, if anything her demeanor is a bit caustic, but she seems to comport herself. She certainly doesn’t storm off stage. My guess is that there was some serious tension backstage before the band returned for an encore and that this is what Peter has reconstructed into a ”better” story.
86-07-24 The Palace
This show was as the opener for Boys Don’t Cry and the first time Balls Of Fire was noted on the ad albeit as a late addition. Since the band themselves obviously knew about the show almost a month in advance, which was right after Boys Don’t Cry had been added to the Palace ad in L.A. Weekly, it’s a little odd that their name didn’t actually appear in the ads until July 18. Their name also appeared in the listings of both the Los Angeles Times and L.A. Weekly, the latter trying to be mildly funny as seen below. There was a review in the Los Angeles Times after the show but it failed to mention Balls Of Fire. (Los Angeles Times of Los Angeles, CA 86-07-26 p. V-8)
Setlist based on the recording:
- I Found Out
- Blue Don’t Look Good On You
- Get Off My Back
- Dance With Me
- Private Dreams
- You Can Have Me, Baby
- Love Will Surely Find You
- Feel Like Heaven
- Make Your Next stop my heart
Notes: Calls from the audience include Cold Gin and, believe it or not, Getaway… Perfectly in line with the anouncement of this show during the show at the Whisky, Jane present this as being the band’s third show ever… Jane presents both Get Off My Back, which is a brand new song, and Make Your Next Stop My Heart…
86-07-25 The Timbers
The Timbers was a small club in Glendora, California, and it was apparently pretty much a dump. I’ve yet to find any mention of it in newspapers but we have the poster below. According to a fan in attendance there were hardly any people in the audience (estimated 30-40) and Peter threw a tantrum after the third song due to lighting issues—apparently a tantrum so bad it embarrased both the band and the audience. However, Johnny Roxx, then of the band Tarrga, doesn’t remember any of this. ”I saw them [Balls Of Fire] at a place called The Timbers Club too. The night before our Waters show with them. [Peter] was in a better mood at Timbers.” (Personal communication 2020-01-27)
Although not as overt as the poster for the show at the Whiskey or the next show, this still leaned heavily on Peter being a former member of KISS which, even if we disregard the hilarious spelling of the names of the remaining band members, had to have rankled a little. The Rock Scene interview (probably conducted after the showcases in later April) noted that ”Criss is striving to balance the media’s conception of past and present, to keep from being Balls Of Fire’s single focal point” (Rock Scene December 1986, p. 46) so having to depend so heavily on this tactic must have hurt as Johnny Roxx has suggested.
The Waters was a club in San Pedro, California which, for some unknown reason, was still listed in L.A. Weekly as being ”formerly Dancing Waters” despite having re-opened under the new name in October 1984. As seen below the ads were for Balls Of Fire but the listing in L.A. Weekly actually had King Kobra playing Waters on July 26. (L.A. Weekly of Los Angeles, CA 86-07-25, p. 76) The advertising was once again mostly about ”Peter Criss, formerly of KISS”.
As seen on the concert ad on the right below, one of the opening acts for this night was Tarrga. Tarrga guitarist Johnny Roxx remembers Peter being pretty moody at these shows because the attention directed at him was detracting form the band. As the recoding below attests Peter wasn’t exactly in a glowing mood this night and it probably stemmed from the issue with fans but also from an incident at soundcheck. According to Roxx, ”Peter was in a great mood at soundcheck until one of the opening band drummers asked him if he’d strike his drums off the riser for all us openers. He was livid.” (Personal communication 2020-01-27)
The setlist for this show was the same as for the one at The Palace two nights earlier:
- I Found Out
- Blue Don’t Look Good On You
- Get Off My Back
- Dance With Me
- Private Dreams
- You Can Have Me, Baby
- Love Will Surely Find You
- Feel Like Heaven
- Make Your Next Stop My Heart
Notes: Jane presents this as the band’s fifth show making life a whole lot easier for those of us trying to research the band… Calls from the audience include 100,000 Years and Black Diamond but for the most part the calls are for a drum solo from Peter. Jane acknowledges this before Love Will Surely Find You by saying ”I suppose you want a drum solo” and you can literally hear her rolling her eyes. Peter’s response? ”I ain’t doing no f**king drum solo.” This is highly ironic since the song that followed actually had a planned instrumental section where first Pakelenka and then Peter got to stretch out with individual solos… At one point a person in the crowd who identifies himself as Mike actually asks Jane to pass something on to Peter… Jane presents the song as You Can Have Me, Baby… Before Feel Like Heaven there is some mild confusion as Jane think that the next song is the last…
This was the show that was most widely advertised. There were two ads in the Los Angeles Times (August 3 and 10), three similar ads in L.A. Weekly (August 1, 8, and 15), and listings in both papers. We also have a concert poster/handbill and the photo below of the billboard at the club. Every single one of them really focus on Peter’s previous involvement with KISS.
One may say that the jury is still out on this show but it seems unlikely that the band actually played. It is listed in L.A. Weekly and was advertised in an unknown local paper as seen below, but during his interview with Alex Bergdahl, Robert Raylove didn’t remember playing this show and was incredulous that it happened. I’ve also heard from a source close to Ace that this show never happened because Peter didn’t want to participate in Gazzarri’s pay-to-play policy. Pay-to-play originated in 1985 after some clubs experienced increased insurance rates after violence between police and club-goers (SPIN June 1990, p. 22), and in its early incarnation it meant that bands had to buy a set number of tickets to sell themselves as a way to ensure income for the club. (L.A. Weekly 86-10-31, p. 51) Pending any evidence to the contrary, say, a recording, I will consider this a cancelled show.
The possibility of a demo and the end
In one of the most titillating parts of his autobiography, Peter mentions that Balls Of Fire actually entered the studio: ”Ron got some money for us to do a demo at A&M, and it was like a homecoming for me. The demo came out okay and Ron started shopping it around.” (Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of Kiss, p. 235) Unfortunately that seems to be completely untrue. In the lengthy feature in Rock Scene (December 1986) there is no mention of any demo tape and in a later feature it is dismissed entirely: ”Criss went undercover for a couple of years and then resurfaced in Los Angeles as the drummer for a group called Balls of Fire. It was, however, a very short-lived stint. You see, before the band even got around to making a demo tape, Criss was gone.” (Rock Scene February 1988, p. 18)
This is corroborated by two more sources. In early September Cashbox reported that ”Peter Criss has bailed out of Balls of Fire, the L.A. band he teamed up with a few months back, and the reason is common, if not down-right boring, admits rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist Jane Booke. The reason? ‘Creative differences’ (snore).” (Cashbox 86-09-06, p. 8) This small mention went on to say that ”the as-yet unsigned Balls of Fire, a new drummer already tagged, is recording at A&M with producer Gordon Fordyce”, information that was later repeated in Billboard (86-09-20, p. 58). There may actually exist a demo with Balls Of Fire but it almost certainly doesn’t feature Peter Criss.
During these demo recording sessions ”producer Gordon Fordyce and singer Jane Booke were involved in an automobile accident on their way home from the studio”. (Rock Scene June 1987, p. 13) Both escaped with minor injuries and were able to return to the the studio the very next day. The lead time for Rock Scene was obviously hideous so we can’t be quite sure when this actually happened but September 1986 seems relatively likely. Undeterred by their game of musical chairs or accidents, Balls Of Fire seems to have soldiered on for just over a year after Peter left. In early 1987 they apparently severed ties with Ron Rainey and decided to more or less manage themselves. Daily Variety reported that ”Balls of Fire, producer Harrry Maslin and singer-songwriter Jon Hyde have been signed to Raylove Management”. (Daily Variety 87-02-27, p. 78)
In his book The KISS Album Focus Volume 1: Kings Of The Night Time World 1972-82, Julian Gill noted that ”on July 27, 1987 Balls of Fire obtained copyright on a five-song demo, titled ‘The Balls of Fire Suite’. Jane was responsible for the lyrics and, parts of the music along with John Pakalenka, Bobby Raylove and Mike Seifrit”. (p. 341) This, and the Billboard mention we’ll get to shortly, seems to indicate that Raylove had already taken a step back to focus only on managerial duties—something he would go on to work with for several years, long after Balls Of Fire ended—and that the band had brought in Seifrit to handle the bass duties. Mike Seifrit had played with a re-united Three Dog Night in 1981 and then spent a number of years as the bass player for Rick Springfield’s band both on albums and tours, but the last mention of him in that capacity was in the middle of 1985. (The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, OH 81-08-16, p. D-7; Daily Variety 82-08-11, p. 13; The Herald News of Passaic, NJ 85-05-10, p. D-5)
The aforementioned copyright seems to have come at a time when things were looking up for the re-formed band. In June and July a band called Balls Of Fire were listed for shows at The Central on Sunset Boulevard. These two shows, on June 13 and July 31, are the last known live appearances of the band. For completist purposes I should mention that there was a country-style backing band going by the same name in Los Angeles at this time but they always appeared with a featured singer, as in Bobby Williams and the Balls of Fire. (L.A. Weekly 87-01-09, p. 76) As such they are fairly easy to distiunguish from ”our” Balls Of Fire and they didn’t play the same clubs.
Right after the latter of these shows comes the last mention in the press. ”Balls Of Fire were in Studio A at Sound City to record an album for Modern/Atlantic. The project was produced and engineered by Don Smith. The band features singer/songwriter/guitarist Jane Booke, lead guitarist John ‘J.P.’ Pakelenka, bassist Mike Seifrit, and drummer Don Oldfield.” (Billboard 87-08-08, p. 58) Unlike on the copyright registration where he was listed because he had been one of the primary songwriters for the band, there’s no mention of Raylove actually working with the band in the studio. Alas, there is nothing to suggest that the album was completed and, if it was, that it was ever released.
In the year’s since the band’s demise Peter has had relatively few positive things to say about his time in Balls Of Fire. He has continued saying that he liked the band and thought their demo was good but he has focused a lot on what he felt were lofty promises made by the management, promises that weren’t fulfilled. ”Back around ’85, I got into a band called Balls Of Fire, who were on the verge of signing a deal with Atlantic Records. They offered me so much and I couldn’t believe it, because it was such an easy gig”. (M.E.A.T. no. 45 September 1993, p. 35) ”They promised me the world! The band were really good, so I joined”. (Kerrang no. 226 89-02-18, p. 13) These sentiments were, in a way, echoed by Bobby Raylove: ”He wasn’t 100% with JP’s playing or having a female lead singer—these feelings he confided to me when we were alone—but Ron Rainey convinced him that he would get us a record deal and that Peter would be able to ‘stretch-out’ [sic.] creatively.” (Interview with Alex Bergdahl)
Apart from Jane’s physical attributes, which Peter did comment on in almost every single interview, he had fairly little to say about her in 1986. The only real reference to her musical abilities—if one can count it as such—is a throwaway comment in the middle of praising the other two members: ”He [Bobby] and Jane work so well together”. (Rock Scene December 1986, p. 46) Alas, when the band had ended he had no problems finding fault with his former band mates. ”The problem was the band wasn’t open for suggestions from me. This chick was a c**t [sic.], and her husband’s the bass player. The lead guitarist was an alcoholic who had been on the wagon for four years.” (Rock Scene February 1988, p. 34) ”It got to the point where it was like I had my mother in the band telling me what to do.” (Kerrrang no. 226 89-02-18, p. 13) In the end Peter seems to have written the failure of Balls Of Fire off on the fact that Jane was a woman and that he was unable to work with her for that reason.