An Interview with Robert V. Conte

0 0
Read Time:19 Minute, 57 Second
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is thumbnail_Original-Logo-899x1024.png

All images courtesy of the Robert V. Conte collection. Robert V. Conte’s early introduction to music included children’s records by Disney, Peter Pan, and others.

Robert V. Conte is an editor, writer, and pop-culture consultant who, armed with his vast memorabilia collection, utilizes his expertise on a myriad of officially licensed products, including Godzilla, KISS, and Sesame Street.

Robert’s newest projects include Art of Atari (Dynamite Entertainment) and Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series (Abrams ComicArts), where he wrote the Afterwords, provided commentaries and supplied incredible images included each book available now.

Robert’s future projects include the upcoming story, Rebuilding Robert, and an autobiographical graphic novel as well as My KISStory, Robert’s forthcoming book detailing his experiences working with the rock band KISS! He lives in New York and has three children.

Bio courtesy of www.robertvconte.com and wwwstudiochikara.com.

Andrew:
Robert, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Robert:
These past 14+ months have been challenging. For the most part, I have been laying low, hardly going out to minimize my risk of contracting COVID-19. Recently, I went out to dinner with a few old friends from my KISS days— the first time I had done so since March 2020. No matter what, life will be different for some time after this terrible, lethal disease
has finished wreaking havoc on Earth. I try my best to be positive and used this time to improve my physical, psychological and spiritual health. So far, so good!

All images courtesy of the Robert V. Conte collection. Robert V. Conte’s early introduction to music included children’s records by Disney, Peter Pan, and others.

Andrew:
Tell your backstory. How did you get into music? What was the gateway so to speak?

Robert:
Well, my first introduction to music was listening to Irish and Scottish bagpipes on my late aunt’s Ladybug radio on a Sunday morning circa 1973/74. I was about three years old but I remember the emotional, stimulating sounds of those compositions like yesterday. Then there was the theme from the 1966 Batman television series. Neal Hefti’s catchy tune certainly hooked you to enter the fantastical world of a superhero dressed like a bat! But the moment I realized how much music impacted me was seeing the 1976 version of King Kong in the theatre on opening day—that was the first-ever soundtrack album I bought
with my own money, followed by Star Wars then Jaws II!

Meanwhile, I would listen to all kinds of soft music via children’s records. Record companies had produced thousands of titles in this genre by the time I was a toddler in the early 1970s. My favorites from that time include Walt Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club (I had a HUGE crush on the young Annette Funicello and was devastated when I learned she was actually an adult—about my mother’s age no less!); Peter Pan Records’ Monster Mash with, in my opinion, the best version of “Dinner with Drac” ever recorded; Wonderland Records’ Alley Cat and Chicken Fat, and Pickwick’s Gingerbread Man (later released in the USA under the SHOW ’N TELL record-and-filmstrip series produced by General Electric) were among many recordings that I devoured like candy. Mind you, this was a time before home video, video games and social media existed — how did we survive?! (Laughs).

Meanwhile, my parents and extended family would also pick up new music in the forms of 7” and 12”-inch recordings of all kinds of music — Classical, Pop, Country, whatever was available. Power Records (an imprint of Peter Pan Records) issued several superhero, story-and-book sets featuring Batman, Spider-man, Six Million Dollar Man, and countless others. Those albums helped improve my reading and understanding of vocabulary and remain treasures to me.

Around 1980, I was introduced to Rock ’N Roll through various 45-RPM singles including Paul McCartney’s live version of “Coming Up;” Blondie’s “Call Me;” Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia;” Gary Numan’s “Cars;” Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown;” and Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock ’N Roll To Me.” My two brothers and I would hear all kinds of music on my father’s car radio while out with our parents or on my grandmother’s stereo located in our basement. Another important aspect of music for me was seeing how happy my parents were when singing themselves — Dad would often mimic Opera and Italian serenades from Mario Lanza, Enrico Caruso, and others. My mother would sing along to her favorite recordings by Anne Murray, Helen Reddy, and Debby Boone. One of the happiest experiences of my early life was whenever “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore,” sung by Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond, hit radio. My parents would hold hands, embrace, and sing along—acting as if they were on stage together. Those were few times I saw them genuinely happy together and I, wanting that feeling for myself, absorbed every genre of music I could get my hands on. I always wanted more and would listen to whatever was
inside my home at the time — Stevie Wonder, The Carpenters, Diana Ross and The Supremes, soundtracks to Grease, James Bond 007 Thunderball, The Godfather…you get the idea. I enjoyed such diversity.

A neighbor who lived across the street from our home, Claude Cave, was a percussionist in a group named Mandrill. That first album cover was stunning and we had multiple copies in our home (Claude’s adoptive parents were all too happy to distribute them!). He would later contribute his talent to the soundtrack of the cult-favorite film, The Warriors. Just fascinating to me that someone from my own block had done so well for himself.

All images courtesy of the Robert V. Conte collection. Conte’s parents encouraged musical diversity within him and his two brothers as shown by these examples.

All images courtesy of the Robert V. Conte collection. The 45rpm single that made Conte a Rock ’N Roller for life
—Paul McCartney’s “Coming Up – Live.”

Andrew:
You’re something of a pop culture historian, right? Tell us more about that.

Robert:
In conjunction with music, Pop Culture infected my blood ever since I can remember. Like many children of that period, I spent much of my free time in front of a television or listening to the radio and record player. It started with shows like Sesame Street, Tom and Jerry, Adventures of Superman, and others. As such, I would see, hear and absorb all kinds of minutia related to my favorite programming, actors, writers, artists, and musicians. My early career was in the comic-book business where I learned from the bottom up; retail, distribution, publishing, writing, and editing. I was the go-to person for many when it came to wanting obscure information on favorite trivia. Pre-Google was a great time!

These brands entertained me so much, I wanted to return the favor, so to speak, and contribute to their canon for future generations. Working in the business, I had seen with my own eyes and held with my own hands an amazing amount of memorabilia from the 1900s to the 1990s. I once held the very first issue of 1939’s Marvel Comics #1, an original 16mm print of 1956’s Godzilla, King of the Monsters from a film archive, and an item long thought to no longer exist but actually does (The person who owns it swore me to secrecy that I would never reveal it!). I have been blessed to have seen so many treasures!

All images courtesy of the Robert V. Conte collection. Robert V. Conte’s early introduction to music included children’s records by Disney, Peter Pan, and others.

Andrew:
As a pop-culture consultant, tell us how you use your expertise in regards to licensing products. What does that entail?

Robert:
I have worked with several licensors including KISS, Toho, Co, Ltd., Warner Brothers, LucasFilm, Disney, Atari, and more. Each company has its own way of doing business and if
you know and understand how they operate and have something to offer, you can come to a mutual agreement to produce products. Throughout my career, I have read over 100 licensing contracts.

Funny, some of these companies try to rewrite their own history. Once, I notified a major television network of a serious omission while promoting the anniversary of one of its classic shows. They didn’t believe me. To prove I was correct, I showed the program producers an old VHS tape I recorded way back when. To this day, the company still refuses to publicly acknowledge its error and continues to stand by falsity. Other companies, however, are grateful to meet and work with people who are more knowledgeable about their intellectual properties than they are! The trick is to work out a deal where you are fairly compensated for your knowledge. Colleagues have joked with me for years that I should pursue a degree in Entertainment Law. Not a bad idea!

Andrew:
You’ve got a pretty extensive history with KISS, right? You’ve been the band’s catalog consultant for over 20 albums, collaborated with the band on official merchandise, and more. Tell us how you began working with KISS?

Robert:
I wrote the first black-and-white biography comic about KISS for a company named Revolutionary Comics, published back in 1990. I first met Gene Simmons at a Revenge pre-tour show in 1992 where he knew my work and commented that I did not have permission to publish the comic. (Later, Gene worked with the same company when it published the KISS: Tales of the Tour and Pre-History comics). I met the entire band at a record store signing the following year and gave Gene a heavily researched document detailing all of the errors PolyGram Records had made on their releases of the Casablanca backlist up to that point. Soon I had an opportunity to assist Tommy Thayer (then Gene’s personal assistant, now current KISS guitarist) on a few of the early 1995 KISS Conventions and, not
too long after, was invited to become the official KISS Catalog Consultant. There I assisted in remastering and repackaging most of the albums available at that point with two new compilations. It was a dream come true!

Andrew:
Going all the way back, you’re a huge fan of KISS. How did you first get into the band? What was your KISS gateway?

Robert:
September 18, 1983, was the night KISS unmasked on MTV. The montage video that was shown right before that event just astounded me—”Rock and Roll All Nite.” Although I had known of the group from various merchandise marketed toward children like me in the 1970s including trading cards, comics, Halloween costumes, and model kits, that cable program changed my life forever. I was reborn a devout KISS fan and tried to get my hands on anything I could from that point onward. Before long, I had amassed an incredible collection of merchandise, magazines, videos, and my favorite category, vinyl!

All images courtesy of the Robert V. Conte collection. Two KISS imports Conte purchased in the mid-1980s: Hotter Than Hell red vinyl from Japan (PYE) and a UK pressing of Dressed to Kill (EMI).

Andrew:
What are your favorite KISS albums? I know it’s hard to choose, but give it your best shot. In your opinion, what is the best KISS album with makeup and the best without?

Robert:
Yikes, what a horrible question! (Laughs). I think my favorites change, but if I absolutely had to pick I would choose Hotter Than Hell and Creatures of the Night as my favorite makeup records, followed by Lick It Up and Revenge as my two favorite non-makeup albums. My two follow-ups are Alive! and Alive IV: Symphony — both cohesively well-produced “live” albums!

Andrew:
Are you only into the make-up era of the band, or are you into the non-make-up era too Regardless of era, what are your thoughts on the various lineups and why?

Robert:
Every incarnation of KISS is unique in its own way and there are things I appreciate about them all. As long as Gene and Paul Stanley remain with the group, I would rather KISS continue in some form than stop altogether. However, don’t be surprised if someday the brand is sold to some big conglomerate when those two decide to retire. KISS should outlive those who kept the flame lit, so to speak, just like Mickey Mouse and Batman. Those iconic characters didn’t stop after the retirement and/or deaths of their creators. For better or for worse, they evolved as necessary in order to remain relevant and interesting.

Andrew:
KISS is on the End of the Road Tour now. So, do you think we will finally see Ace and Peter play with the band again, even for just one show? How about Bruce and Vinnie?

Robert:
I would enjoy seeing KISS perform again with all living members. The Rock ’N Roll Hall of Fame was such a missed opportunity. When I learned the original group would not be performing and only accepting their awards, I chose not to go. KISS should have performed and set an all-new standard by showing how Rock ’N Roll deserves to be done—decimate the stage with more theatrics than the Fourth of July—leaving all attendees with an illuminated KISS logo burned into their brains. Perhaps a similar opportunity will present itself before it’s all over.

All images courtesy of the Robert V. Conte collection. The actual album that made Conte a rabid collector of KISS vinyl variants starting in 1984 — an original Casablanca, blue-label pressing of KISS ALIVE! from late 1975, full-color booklet included!

Andrew:
You were still working with the band during the Reunion Era in the 90s, right? A lot of stories have come out in recent years, that those years weren’t so rosy
after all. Having worked closely with the band, do you have insight into the inner workings at that time?

Robert:
I was not working the actual tour but would attend various concerts and go backstage where, for the most part, everyone got along well. My interactions with Gene, Paul, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss were generally one-on-one and I rarely sensed any tension between the members. One night Ace wanted to just go out and hang a bit with some friends and me after a show. We didn’t do much, just grabbed food and got some fresh air. It was funny because we’re sitting down inside someplace; KISS fans and random people kept coming by asking to take pictures. Ace was exhausted and we were worried he would fall, so we supported his back with our hands while posing. This was around the time disposable 35mm cameras were commonplace. We made sure Ace was returned where he was supposed to be and then went our separate ways. What a night!

Andrew:
Aside from the original four members, put together your dream KISS lineup. What goes into the choice?

Robert:
Honestly, I wish that KISS’s second drummer Eric Carr and third guitarist Mark St. John were still alive and well, and that they had the opportunity to see and enjoy all the appreciation and love their fans continue to have for them. It would be great if the final show for all time included all living members in some context or another. A dream of mine would be to see Ace, Tommy, Bruce Kulick, and Vinnie Vincent get on-stage for an all-guitar jam. That would be fantastic! Of course, Peter coming out to sing “Beth,” “Hard Luck Woman,” “Hooligan,” and “Dirty Livin'” would be awesome, but I am grounded in reality and realize these deep fantasies—cool as they may be—are unlikely to happen. But, who knows?

All images courtesy of the Robert V. Conte collection. One of six cover concepts Conte submitted to Mercury Records for You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best.

Andrew:
You were a big part of the Remasters Series that came out in the late 90s, right? Tell us about that process. How big of a role did you play?

Robert:
As KISS Catalog Consultant, my role included listening to every master tape in the vaults—multiple times—and then working with the sound engineer to determine how to make the most of what we had to work with at that time. The goal was to create what I hoped to be the ultimate listening experience for KISS fans—as if they, like me, were listening to these albums for the first time. One contribution I fought hard for—and thankfully succeeded in—was to push the new Digital Audio Tapes (DATs) to capture every iota of sound that existed on the master reel-to-reels. Doing so, ultimately, added seconds to several songs. Sterling Sound understood my philosophy, “If it exists, it needs to be on the Remasters!” The fans loved that — well, most of them did, anyway! (Laughs).

Andrew:
What is the true story on You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!! (the live album). It was advertised as unreleased vaulted tracks, but it sounded very current to me and still does. What is the truth regarding that album?

Robert:
The story of the birth of You Wanted the Best, You Got The Best!! will take an entire book to explain! (Laughs). In fact, I am writing my memoir about that special time in my life. It is entitled, MY KISS STORY, and will detail how I first envisioned the record, how far we got in the original process, and how, at the midnight hour, things were changed to the point that the album was almost unrecognizable from how it was first conceived. What should have been a double collection of sound-checks, alternate live performances, bonus outtakes of all kinds, with goodies like a poster and other tchotchkes, turned into a mishmash—several people mixing their favorite recipe of vichyssoise into mine. Each tastes incredible on its own. Mixing them together? Not so much!

All images courtesy of the Robert V. Conte collection. The final release of You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!! on CD in standard retail and record club formats. Can you spot the differences?

Andrew:
Music From The Elder is a very polarizing album for KISS fans. I personally love it. What are your thoughts? You had a big role in the remastering of it. How did that go?

Robert:
Hey, I love it, too! But honestly, it grew on me over time. I first bought Music From The Elder as part of a three-cassette $9.99 special at Woolworth’s. Many lost interest after hearing “The Oath,” “I” and “A World Without Heroes.” I certainly understand why KISS fans during the period of the album’s original release may have closed their minds to it. The group’s subdued image, haircuts and all didn’t help.

In the early 1990s, I bought the Japanese-import vinyl that had its original-intended track sequence. When it came time to remaster The Elder, I contacted Gene asking for his thoughts about using that version for the CD. He was all for it but one track, “Escape From the Island” was not on the imported version. Ay, caramba! We could not find any production notes in the PolyGram files about where it belonged on that particular sequence so, with The Demon’s blessing, the track was added, the original sequence was restored, and the 1997 CD and cassette became the most complete versions of The Elder to date!

As part of the overall KISS catalog, I believe The Elder holds up well today. I believe those who revisit the album will find a new appreciation for it. Today more people have listened to the remastered version with the original track sequence than how the album was originally formatted. Wow!

Andrew:
Do you think we will ever see an official reissue of Sonic Boom? Are there any interesting or vaulted items that you are aware of, that may see the light of day soon? Any you wish would see the light of day?

Robert:
Sonic Boom’s vinyl release was, in my opinion, way too conservative and now poor fans are shelling out hundreds of dollars for copies when available. It is also not streaming due to, what I understand, some legal restrictions regarding the original Walmart deal. It’s a shame because Sonic Boom is a good album and those who purchased the KISSteria box set were, frankly, gypped. In a perfect world, if Sonic Boom is ever rereleased on vinyl, those who bought the box set should have first access to it.

As for other music and recordings, I am aware of, anything located during my tenure as KISS Catalog Consultant was provided to the band directly from PolyGram for reference. I remember distinctly Gene calling me stating some of it was going to be included on the “monster” Box Set of 2001 but, to date, nothing has appeared officially.

All images courtesy of the Robert V. Conte collection. Two pages from the 100+-page Mercury Records publicity clip book for You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!!

Andrew:
Last question. Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music? What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Robert:
I love all those formats for various reasons. Let’s not forget reel-to-reel tapes, too. Today I listen to Spotify and occasionally iTunes for convenience while using my phone and laptop—though I find it criminal that those streaming services have deleted the production credits of so many people who contributed to the music they offer.

CDs, cassettes, and vinyl have special places in my heart for various reasons and I still listen to these formats, particularly when an artist’s complete discography is not available online. The only format I ever despised was the 8-track tape. (Laughs). I absolutely felt that format’s limitations was an insult to the recording artist. Changing track sequences, fade-outs, and fade-ins with “click-click-click-click” in-between still drives me nuts!

For me, the old-time used records stores remain my favorite form of shopping. The thrill of holding a 12″ x 12″ album in my hands will never disappear for me. I am happy that my children’s generation may now experience that joy themselves, though at today’s prices vinyl is not so accessible as I wish it were. A new copy of KISS Alive! in my day was $8.98. Now it’s as high as $99.99?! Criminal, I tell you! (Laughs).

As for my favorite artists, there are hundreds—everything from KISS to Journey to Depeche Mode to Culture Club to The Doors to Nitzer Ebb to Rammstein to Hank Williams to Van Halen to Fleetwood Mac to Jim Hendrix to Julie Andrews to Prince to Soul II Soul to Blondie to Def Leppard to the B-52’s…you get the idea. Music is universal and if we remain open minded to all kinds of that expression, the world will be a better place. Music saved my life, but that’s another story for another time….

Robert V. Conte and Gene Simmons in the 90s.

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
Happy
Happy
0 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

11 thoughts on “An Interview with Robert V. Conte

Leave a Reply

Social profiles
%d bloggers like this: