They make look like musical warriors from some cartoon netherworld, but Kiss' humble origins began in New York City when Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons abandoned their band, Wicked Lester, to form a new group with drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley.
In 1973 Stanley came up with the name Kiss (Frehley adding the now-iconic 'S' lightning bolts) and the band began playing virtually empty clubs around New York. Kiss eventually caught the eye of former TV director Bill Aucoin, who by the end of the year got the band signed to Casablanca Records.
Kiss' first three albums, Kiss, Hotter Than Hell and Dressed to Kill, failed to make an impact, and the band was in jeopardy of losing their contract. In 1975 Kiss found the breakthrough they'd been looking for in the smash success of their first live album, Alive!. Alive! It propelled the band to superstar status and began a streak of gold and platinum-selling albums.
As the decade wore on, however, tensions between band members increased, and by 1980 Criss was out of the band. Frehely would depart two years later. They were replaced by drummer Eric Carr and guitarist Vinnie Vincent. But while Carr's relationship with Stanley and Simmons was amicable, Vincent's personality clashed. He was replaced by Mark St. John in 1984. He appeared on Animalize. The album was well received, but St. John similarly did not get along with other band members and began suffering from Reiter's Syndrome, which caused his hands to swell. He was dismissed after less than a year and replaced by Bruce Kulick.
Stanley, Simmons, Carr and Kulick recorded and performed until 1991 when Carr died from heart cancer. Former Alice Cooper drummer Eric Singer took over drum duties until 1996, when Criss and Frehely reunited with Stanley and Simmons as the original Kiss lineup.
After successful tours and one studio album, 1998's Psycho Circus, Criss and Frehley again parted with the band. Singer was brought back in and Frehley was replaced by guitarist Tommy Thayer.
The current lineup of Stanley, Simmons, Singer and Thayer recorded 2009's Sonic Boom and continues to tour.