This season on The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands we’ve seen tributes to Prince, No Doubt, Tom Petty and AC/DC but nothing could prepare us for the LIVE show Monday, April 21, at the world famous Whisky a Go-Go when Mr. Speed, a tribute to KISS, brought the house down. Coming all the way from Cleveland, Ohio, Mr Speed was selected by Katie Daryl, the host and producer of the AXS.TV show, as the band to close out the third season of the wildly popular series that showcases tribute bands live on national television.
Contacted in April of 2013, Rich Kosak, the Paul Stanley of Mr Speed, wasted no time during the year leading up to their performance to make sure the band lived up to the title of “World’s Best KISS Tribute Band.” At their own expense, these bands put everything they have into this opportunity and none more so than the season closer, Mr. Speed. Not only did they fly from Cleveland, Ohio but they spent months having exact replicas of the KISS Love Gun costumes designed, costing them collectively $10,000.
We’ve had the pleasure to interview many of the bands this season and share in their excitement before they hit the stage. One thing all the bands have in common is their gratitude to Katie Daryl and AXS.TV for giving them this opportunity. Before the show we had a chance to sit down and ask Rich Kosak about the bands beginnings, their authenticity and attention to detail, and what being on the show meant.
Q: Rich, how did Mr. Speed get started?
RICK KOSAK: Well, the beginning of the band was pretty much just a chance meeting between myself and another fan at a record show. We exchanged phone numbers and it turns out we were both really big fans and we were both guitar players. So we got together at his house for about 6 months and just started learning the songs. And the intent was never to have a band, it was just to learn songs for our own enjoyment to see how well we could play guitar. . . but after 6 months everything started to sound really, really good between the two of us. We thought, maybe we should think about this band thing. And then from there we placed an ad for a drummer and bass player and before we knew it, we had a band.
Q: How long ago was that?
RK: That was 20 years ago.
Q: Twenty years ago, tribute bands, it wasn’t as big as it is now.
RK: No. I think there’s reasons for that. I think the mass production of KISS Halloween costumes has allowed anybody and everybody who thinks they can play an instrument and be in a tribute to be in a tribute band. We keep our eye on every single one of them. There’s a band from Argentina, there’s a band from Hungary, we feel really, really tries to go the extra mile as being as authentic as they possibly can be. A lot of the bands, you know, they’re just guys getting together for, whatever. I mean we’re so serious about it, obviously we’ve invested $10,000 in costumes collectively and keeping the band 20 years and rehearsing and playing consistently throughout the year. We really love what we do. We’re KISS fans.
Q: What was it like in the beginning getting gigs, you know 20 years ago?
RK: It was very difficult in the beginning because there was no internet. There was no email. There was no texting. There was no nothing. You had to do everything by word of mouth and by flyer and things like that. So we did what we needed to do in order to get started. And we always use to joke about being the tribute band that always practiced, never played out. Even when we did play we played these Halloween things because that was the time of year that everybody wanted a band like ours. And then we’d play these gigs, there’d be 3, 4, 5 thousand people there and we made $150 dollars, paid by check, and we also got taxed. So those were lean years in 1993, ’94.
Q: When did you make the jump?
RK: The first 10 years of it was setting the ground work and then when the internet became more popular, of course, it became a tool to take it one step further. We were able to reach more people. And we were still very green when that whole medium became available. We didn’t know how to properly use it. And, now that we’ve got it, it’s a fabulous tool. It’s gotten us from Cleveland to LA. It’s gotten us to Puerto Rico. It’s gotten us to a bunch of other Mid-west cities. We think the world is our oyster right now.
Q: You talked about your costumes, that they’re more than a Halloween costume. Tell me about that.
RK : We’ve taken the costumes to the next level. We’ve really used the best materials, researched things so much, so deeply, to find what looks the best. We drove up to Toronto to get fitted for our costumes, fitted for our boots. Ten hours round trip. And we hope that that translates on-stage, you know, when we get up there.
Q: You mentioned Puerto Rico. What other places have you played?
RK: Puerto Rico was in 2000. We played in downtown San Juan. It was for a KISS Expo, if you will. We played the Hard Rock there. We’ve done a number of KISS Expos over the years primarily in Indianapolis, because they’ve had one, I think, for 15 years now, going on their 16 year and I think we’ve played 12 or 13 of them. And pretty much we get those because the guys that put those events on, they can trust us. They know that they’re getting a good band. They don’t have to worry about anything when the band comes in.
Q: You said you’ve been watching the show every season. When were you contacted about the show?
RK: We were contacting in April of 2013. And then after that it was two weeks later the first time I’d spoken with Katie on the phone. And I was set-up to be so nervous … I just did with her like I do to everybody, I talk like me, because I know one thing when I talk about this band it’s from the heart and I’m not sugar coating anything. It’s just who I am. I’ve got such great stories from being in this band. I’ve got some lousy stories from being in this band. We’ve met some great people. We’ve met some mean people. It’s life. It’s just another part of life. I say we’re just like our fans, we just take it to an unhealthy level because we do all this.
Q: Do you have a great story you can tell me?
RK: Yeah. In our first, second year, indirectly I met a guy my age, who had Leukemia and he always wanted to come see us play. He could never come out to see us and finally he made it to a show. It was local club show in Pittsburgh. He was too sick to stay for the second set, he only stayed for the first set. Prior to that, I had learned about him, and we had gone to Chicago to play a KISS Expo where Ace Frehley was the guest. I went out into the room of deals and I bought an 8x10 of Ace and I took it to Ace and I had Ace sign it for John. When I got back home from that trip I got the photo to John and he came to see us at the show; could only stay a short while. Two weeks later he passed away. One of his wishes, he told his family, was when they buried him he wanted three KISS CDs in there and the photo that I got him. I usually cry when I say that. I got a letter from the family afterwards that told me that that’s what happened and I was touched; completely touched by the fact that John thought that much of something simple that I did. I didn’t think about myself. I thought about him and I got him something because it meant more to me to help him because I was much better off than he was. So I’ve shared that story quite a bit and it’s very touching to me. That’s my favorite story of all.
Q: Have you played with some of the actual KISS members?
RK: We’ve played with Ace Frehley. We played with Bruce Kulick. We played with Eric Singer. And, Bob Kulick, as everyone knows, was vying for the original lead guitar spot with Ace in 1973. And Bob is a hero to me because he played all the lead guitar work on Paul Stanley’s ’78 solo album and that’s my all time favorite number one album. To be able to share the stage with that guy and to have him be very complimentary of what we do and how he can feel the music coming through us when we all play together … it was phenomenal.
Q: What does appearing on this show mean to you? What are your hopes?
RK: What I hope will happen is that people will see that there is one KISS tribute band out there that really, really gets it and really does it from the heart. I also want people to know that we’re available. We’re a band for hire. We’ve been around for 20 years. We want to go to different locations. We want to meet different people. We don’t want to stay in Cleveland. We want to become a bigger and better band. You know, we’ve never had sponsorship. We’ve never had endorsements. We’ve never had any of that stuff. We’d love someone to put a little bit of money into the band and say, hey I believe in you guys and why don’t we try this. That’s what I’d like. So, I think first and foremost I want people tonight and people watching at home to really feel the passion from what we’re doing. And, when they look and hear and listen to us, they’re gonna go wow these guys they got it going on. There’s over 200 KISS tribute bands in the world. Over 200. And we’re just one of ‘em. But we really in our heart believe that we connect with the music and the spirit that is KISS.
Q: Katie picked you from all of them, so that’s saying a lot.
RK: She told me the same thing. Because again, I think going back to an earlier answer that I gave you, there’s a lot of guys put it together with bubble gum and duct tape. We’re not really making any money to do this but we’re hoping it will kick open doors that we never had before. Getting to play for people who have never seen us before. It’s where the hard work is.
Check out Mr Speed’s website
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Rich Kosak - Paul Stanley
Joe Hess – Ace Frehley
Andrew Sgambati – Peter Criss
Danny Ayala – Gene Simmons