Okay, it was The South Amboy/Sayreville Times but my Mom (who had to listen to years of LOUD band practices in our basement) is sure to be proud!
First KISS Tribute?
By Michael Parker
"Mortimer Snerd may have been one of the first, if not 'the' first KISS tribute band!"
—Ken Sharp, Author, KISS: Behind the Mask: The Official Authorized Biography
One might ask why a famous author would make such a comment about an unknown Sayreville/South Amboy rock band. It's because Ken Sharp is a good friend of Bernie Hogya, the former lead guitar player for the 1970's band Mortimer Snerd. A few days after the release of Kiss Alive the members of Mortimer Snerd thought it would be a "cool" idea to do a Halloween show dressed like KISS.
Recently, I was able to locate the four members of Mortimer Snerd: Bernie; Mark Merriman, front man, keyboardist and bassist; Tom Zebro, bassist, guitarist and vocalist; and Larry Bogush drummer and speak with them about the famed KISS show and about the launch of their nostalgic website mortimersnerdtheband.com
Here's their story:
MP SA Times: At the time, KISS was big, but still somewhat of a local attraction. So the first question is why a KISS show?
Bernie: Mark was the big KISS fan in the group. One evening he came to practice with the first album. We immediately learned "Firehouse" and then "Strutter." The second and third albums came out and we learned more of their songs
Tom: But it was nothing more than songs intermingled within our sets. That was it. There was no thought of concept.
Mark: However, with the release of the live album, KISS became huge in a relatively short period of time. We in the band had seen KISS a number of times and felt this album captured the energy and power of their live performance. I immediately went to the next band practice and told the band we needed to re-learn the songs, arranging them like the live album.
Larry: Our next live show was the Saturday after the release of the KISS Alive album. We played at St. Joe's in Metuchen. There, we performed the new arrangements of the KISS songs. It just so happened that this particular performance, retrospectively was the high point in our career. There were 1,200 kids in attendance, more than three times our normal audience size—and they loved us! It was the first time we were asked to do an encore!
Bernie: Two encores, as a matter of fact!
Tom: I remember Paul Stanley's influence on Mark. That night when he was working the audience he used all of Paul's banter from the album like: "Give yourself a round of applause," "I know you can do better than that" and "catch your breath."
Mark: Really? I don't recall that!
Larry: No recollection? Shocking!
Bernie: Well after that show we were on this big high. We felt we were going places. But Larry, always thinking, felt we needed to do something bigger, something better.
Larry: We had this job coming up on Halloween at Sayreville Junior High and I thought, "what would be more appropriate than to do a KISS show that night?" I felt if we could pull this off, this would be very cool!
MP SA Times: Just for the record, how old were you guys at the time?
Mark: Me, Tom and Bernie were about 16-17. Larry was the old man; I think he just turned 18.
Tom: I recall Larry proposing the idea, and as always we thought it was out there. But so were a lot of his ideas and they usually always worked. So we all said yeah, and began creating our costumes and working out the set.
Larry: Meanwhile, I went to the school board and proposed our idea of doing a KISS show, and they gave us permission to do it!
Mark: Almost immediately, word got out and people would come up to us and ask if it was true, and our answer would be, "Come and see!" Well, they did. That night there were 500 kids at that show.
Bernie: The agreement we made with the venue was, instead of the traditional three sets with 15 minute breaks in between, we would do two longer sets with a ½ hour break in between. This would give us a chance to get made up.
Mark: I remember that night vividly. While we were getting into costumes one of our friends, Keith Kotun was working the crowd. And he was doing a great job. He had these kids in a frenzy!! When we came out the kids made a path from our dressing room to the stage, about 100 yards. As we walked through this sea of kids, they were screaming, and trying to grab us and touch the makeup. It was wild! I have to believe some of those kids thought KISS was really there!
Tom: And we played the rock star thing to the hilt! When we launched into "Deuce" and the flash pots went off, the kids went crazy—screaming, clapping, and rushing the stage. It was bizarre!
Bernie: And we did the whole thing: The choreography, smoke, flash pots, and Tom's guitar bursting into flames (intentionally). Mark even did the flame thing and the blood spitting.
MP SA Times: You did the flame throwing?
Mark: Yeah, it was kind of cool. Larry and I found this magic store in Red Bank: Doug Heller's. He had this stuff called "Dragon's breath." It was a real fine power, almost liquid and it was in this squeeze container that could fit in your mouth. The deal was when you applied pressure on the container, the powder would spray out, hit the open flame and project outwards from there. It gave the impression you were blowing flames from your mouth, but it was incredibly safe!
MP SA Times: I understand there was an incident with the blood.
Mark: Yeah, the plan was I would do the blood spitting routine, run backstage and rinse and be ready for the next song. Well, Larry started the song early and in a rush, I swallowed the blood. After the set, I read the label and in big letters it read, "DO NOT SWALLOW." I immediately got sick and drove myself to the hospital. Now imagine, I run into the emergency room still in costume, blood all over my face. I give the nurse the bottle and say, "Hey! I swallowed this stuff, what's going to happen?" She slowly examined the label then looked at me, and in a deadpan tone replied, "You know, you can't get high from this." Bottom line was she told me to get some food so I went for a burger and milkshake and lived to tell about it.
Tom: I remember the entire night sounding good!
Mark: I remember it sounding great!
Larry: The next day, I received calls from a number of venues, attempting to verify that we did a KISS show and asking if we would agree to do one for them. I said sure and made up this ridiculous price and they agreed! It was great. We hit upon something!
Bernie: Thinking back, it was pretty "cutting edge" for that time. And the thing is, we always seemed to do something that made us stand out from the other groups, like the Dark Side Of The Moon show with "Hurricane" Hilton on sax, the singing telephone, the props and pyro effects, so we just thought the KISS thing was normal.
Since Mortimer Snerd donned KISS costumes and makeup, there have been thousands of bands—local, national, and international that have performed similar KISS tribute shows. But if you were one of the many Snerd fans crowded into Sayreville Junior High that eventful night in 1975, you now know that you can say you saw it first!
I have to point out that while this interview centers around the KISS show, each member of the band brought their own musical tastes to the table. They performed the music of: Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, David Bowie, Deep Purple, Genesis (long before anyone knew who Genesis was), The Who, Jethro Tull, Mott The Hoople, Sparks, and the list goes on.
To read more about the adventures of Mortimer Snerd go to mortimersnerdtheband.com and find out more about their history, the theatrics, the schemes and gimmicks. You'll find the site pretty amusing.
—The South Amboy/Sayreville Times, September 16, 2006