Mark St. John

The Lost Kiss Interview
Mark St. John
Mark St. John: David Plastik.

With the release of Kiss’ recent live album, Off The Soundboard: Poughkeepsie, New York, 1984, fans hear one of precious few concerts featuring guitarist Mark St. John.

A member for less than a year, St. John played on the Animalize album, but fate intervened when he experienced a bout of arthritis that forced his departure. Later years were marked by minor band projects (including one with former Kiss drummer Peter Criss) and his tragic, mysterious death. Here, in a previously unpublished 1990 interview, St. John recalled his tenure with Kiss and contribution to its legacy.

You were an unknown when you joined Kiss.
Before Kiss, I was a guitar teacher and played in a Top 40 band – your basic starving musician. I was also doing seminars for Jackson Guitars at NAMM shows, so when Kiss asked if he knew any hot players, Grover Jackson said something nice about me. You see, when a major band needs a guitar player, they usually call up one of the in guitar companies. Grover gave Kiss a list of about 10 players and I guess of all the tapes that came in, they liked mine best.

What was it like, recording Animalize?
In the studio, Paul played most of the rhythm guitar while I did the leads. I did play some bass because Gene was making a movie called Runaway. They wouldn’t let me write songs because mine weren’t in Kiss’ genre, so my contribution was mostly solos. But Animalize did great – it went double platinum, hitting #19 on the charts.

Were you essentially a guitarist-for-hire?
Yes, I was a salaried musician, much different from when Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were in the band. As a Kiss guitarist, sometimes I had a lot of freedom, other times I had none. They wouldn’t say, “Play these notes,” but maybe “Play this way” or “Play it like Ace would do it.” I’m a pretty busy guitarist, note-wise, and my playing was more linear and melodic. If they said, “Play like Ace,” it meant slow down and play more of a heavy-rock thing. I had never owned a Kiss album, so I wasn’t too familiar with their music before I joined.

Kiss puts a massive emphasis on their shows. Were you coached before heading onstage?
Just the opposite! Since I didn’t play live with them much, we didn’t rehearse for the gigs – they just threw me in front of 10,000 Kiss fans and said, “Play!” I had never performed in front of that many people. Also, Kiss songs are typically behind-the-beat and I usually play on top of the beat, so I had to listen to the drums a lot to know where we were. I rushed sometimes because I’d never played in that groove, which Gene calls “the monster plod.” The rest of the guys had been doing this for years, but I couldn’t tell what was going on half the time. The whole thing was like a huge wall of sound, with no distinction. Still, I had a great time doing it.

Describe your guitars with Kiss.
Mostly a pair of black Jackson Soloists with Floyd Rose vibratos, as well as a yellow one with a Strat-style headstock. Later, I got a G&L Rampage.

Why did you leave Kiss?
I got arthritis. Kiss’ first world tour in two or three years was scheduled and all of a sudden, the new guitar player’s hand starts to swell up. That freaked them out, but there was nothing anyone could do – the show had to go on – so they got Bruce Kulick to come in. There’s no hard feelings or anything; we’re all still friends. But the doctor said that if I played on the tour, I could have ruined my hand forever. Before I was in Kiss, I used to do all the Paganini and difficult violin and cello pieces; then I joined a band that plays all barre chords and my hand swells up. It was really weird.

Even though you had a short tenure, what do you see as your contribution to Kiss?
I think it was giving them a more-modern sound, so they could compete with all the guitar slingers in the other bands. Vinnie Vincent had just left and I had to follow in his and Ace Frehley’s footsteps, but Gene and Paul knew they needed a guitar hero to compete with Yngwie Malmsteen, Randy Rhoads, and Eddie Van Halen. Bruce continued the contemporary style that I injected into the band. But after Kiss and all I’ve been through, I know where I stand with my own talent. I’m not very competitive these days and don’t want to get caught in that trap – I just want to do my own thing.

This article originally appeared in VG’s July 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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