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InterviewWith Victor Cohen
By ByronFogle


Victor and Eric have been in many bands from 1967-1979 and remained close friends. Above is a photo of Eric and Victor, when they played togeter in Salt and Pepper. Victor still has his owned band today.
What you are about to read was myvery first contact & interview with one of Eric's band mates fromthe Cellarman & Salt & Pepper, Victor Cohen.

Thanks to the KISSASYLUM bulletin board I was able to contact Victor and wedid the interview below. This by far has to be the most detailedand fact filled interview I've done to date on Eric.

My heartfelt thanks go out to Victor, who not only provided thisgreat interview but a massive amount of private photos some neverbefore seen.

Thanks also to Victor's brother in law for countless hours ofscanning of those photos for all of us to enjoy.

Now on to the interview...

Byron Fogle: How did you meet Eric Carr aka Paul Caravello?

Victor Cohen: In the spring of 1966, I was playing guitar withmy friend David who played bass. We had rehearsed together forseveral weeks, knew about 10 songs and were ready for the bigtime. We went to our local music store on Utica Ave in Brooklynand saw an ad placed by Eric looking for musicians and thoughtwe'd call. Eric was interested and we set up a meeting for theweekend. Eric and I were 15, Dave was 16. My father drove Daveand me to Belmont Ave in the East New York section of Brooklyn,about 10 miles away. Eric lived upstairs in a two family house.We carried the equipment upstairs to Eric's living room. There,Eric had his drums set up. They were an identical set to Ringo'sLudwig drums and already had the name "The cellArmen"printed on the bass drum. He explained how he had tried to starta group that rehearsed in his cellar, ergo the name. The big "A"in cellArmen was like the big "T" in Beatles on Ringo'sdrums.

This is what the name looked like on the drum:

THE

cellArmen


We played a few songs together. This was the first time Dave andI had ever played with a drummer and it sounded great. When Ericstarted to sing, we were knocked out! We all agreed that we wouldstart a band together. Of course, the name would be the cellArmensince buying a new bass drum head was out of the question. Eric'smom made a delicious dinner for all of us, and we agreed to meetagain the next weekend. A few weeks later, Dave introduced usto a lead guitarist named Bob who played mostly instrumental surfmusic (e.g., "The Ventures").

He was also a good singer and the cellArmen were complete. Weplayed our first job in August of 1966 at the East New York "Y".Eric's mom made us matching vests, black on one side, burgundyon the other. We wore those vests at every job for a long time.



Eric and victor in 1974 Salt and Pepper


BF: What role did Eric play in songwriting in bothThe Cellarman & Salt & Pepper?

VC: Both groups were cover bands and did very few original songs.One day, Eric showed us two songs he had written, "I Cryat Night" and "Your Turn to Cry". We learned themand Eric's dad arranged for us to get access to a recording studioin someone's basement. We went there and recorded the songs. Fourplastic records were made, one for each of us. I think I havethe only remaining copy. Salt and Pepper did about six or sevenoriginal songs but they were all written by John Henderson. Bothbands were 'live' performance cover bands and we rarely performedany of the original songs on stage.

BF: What are some memories you have upon first meeting Eric?

VC: I remember his hair, which was long for the time (1966). Itgot a lot longer later. He was a much more serious musician thanthe rest of us. He wasn't happy when the rest of us would goof-offat rehearsals. Eric's sisters would bring us food (tuna sandwiches)during rehearsals. Eric would always prefer to keep working. Daveand one of Eric's sisters started dating and Eric was not happywhen Dave would want to spend more time with her and less timepracticing. They later married. Eric was much quieter and shyas a teenager than he was later on, especially when it came togirls. He always had a great sense of humor.

BF: What were the lineups of both Cellarman & Salt & Pepperand what instruments did everyone play?

VC: The cellArmen consisted of Eric on drums (Ludwig) and leadvocals, Dave on bass guitar (Hoffner, Beatle bass), Bob on leadguitar (Gretch Country Gentleman) and backup vocals and me. Istarted on rhythm guitar but quickly switched to keyboards (HammondM3). Salt and Pepper consisted of Eric on drums and backup vocals,Bart on bass guitar, John on lead guitar and lead vocals, Georgeon lead vocals and percussion, Serita on lead vocals and me onkeyboards. 

BF: Are there any funny stories or practical jokes Eric playedon you or other band members?

VC: One of the cellArmen's first jobs was to play at a Caravellofamily outing in Belmar, New Jersey. It was the end of the earthas far as we were concerned. Eric's dad rented a U-Haul trailerand attached it to the back of his truck. The Caravello familyrode in the truck and the four of us rode in the U-Haul with theequipment. We spent the weekend in New Jersey. It was great fun.I think I have a photo from that day. 

BF: Are there any other Cellarman songs besides I Cry At Night,& Your Turn to Cry

VC: No, that was it.

BF: How did the Crystal Collins gig come about where the Cellarmansang back-up vocals?

VC: Eric's dad somehow got it for us. There was a tiny recordlabel called 'Jody' records. I think Crystal Collins was payingthem to record her. They paid us to learn two songs and recordthem with her. Thankfully, I believe all copies have disappeared. 

BF: What were the names of the songs recorded at these sessions?

VC: I can't remember.

BF:  How many live shows did the Cellarman perform?

VC: Back in the late 1960's and early 1970's there was a veryactive live music scene. There were dozens of clubs that had livebands every Friday and Saturday night. There were no DJ's. TheCellarmen worked every weekend for about three years, mostly atsleazy bars. We had some regular gigs at places called 'The Pad'and 'The Colonial House'.

BF: Were you involved with any of Eric's other projects Smackor Things That Go Bump In The Night after he left the Cellarman?

VC: (See my earlier note. I guess that "Things That Go BumpIn The Night" was the name of the new band Eric formed whenhe left the Cellarmen and before he came back to SMACK.)

Paul with Victors family, Radio City Music Hall
BF: Is it true a group of nuns were called Salt & Pepper,which led to the name change to Creation?

VC: John Henderson was the leader of Salt & Pepper. I seem torecall that he told us one day that there was another band usingthe name Salt and Pepper so we would have to change. I don't rememberanything about any nuns...could be. We started using the nameCreation, but Salt and Pepper was so popular at certain clubsin Westchester, that the club owners would not advertise the newname. They insisted that we still use Salt and Pepper to bringin the fans. That's why we used both names.

BF: What do you remember about the night the fire broke outat Gulliver's?

VC: I left the band in August of 1973. I was replaced by a keyboardplayer named Damon (I'm not sure if this is the correct spelling).The fire happened about nine months later. I remember hearingabout the fire on the news the next morning. They did not mentionthe name of the band. I immediately called Eric. He was frantic.He had been up all night. His first words to me were "Wecan't find George or Damon." They had checked all the hospitals.Eric was still hopeful they would turn up. Unfortunately, theyboth died in the fire. Eric had double bass drums. When he replacedthe set that was destroyed in the fire, he had the name "George"painted on one and "Damon" on the other. Some peoplewho saw him play thought his name was George Damon.

BF: Eric's van was very instrumental in getting the band andits equipment to the early gigs what do you recall about the van?

VC: If you had asked this question of Eric, he would have madea bad pun about the van being very "instrumental". Infact, it carried the guitars; drums and all the "instruments"...get it?

Anyway, Eric's father was a stove repairman and had an old blueFord Econoline van that he used for work. He would carry our equipmentto all our jobs until we got our driver's licenses. After Ericgot his license, Eric's dad traded in the old van and a with afew hundred dollars, got two, slightly newer, blue Ford Econolinevans. He kept one for himself and gave the other to Eric. Ericloved his van. He painted it with "hippie" flowers andkept it in great shape. I have a photo of it.

Frankly, Eric ended up doing most of the equipment lifting/movingbecause of this.

I know he always resented it.

BF: Is it true Eric was asked to join Salt & Pepper cause hehad a van? Eric was quoted later that he believed that was thereason he was asked to join can you shed light on this?

VC: (See my answer in my last note) When I joined S&P, theyhad a guitar and bass player, two singers and a place to rehearsein the Bronx. They didn't have a truck or a PA System. I was akeyboard player with a PA system and Eric was a drummer with atruck. It was a match made in heaven. Eric often joked that heonly got the job because of his truck. Partially true. But makeno mistake about it; Eric was an excellent drummer, even then.The rest of us were lucky to have him.

BF: Ironically Salt & Pepper played the Academy of Music in1971 a few years before Kiss did and also was the place Eric madehis debut with the band in 1980 what do you recall about thatshow?

VC: We actually played there twice. Once, S&P was a backup bandto a group of singers from the Broadway show "HAIR".They got together and formed a singing act that I think was called"The Shades of Black". We were their back-up band. Theshow was a benefit for "Phoenix House" the drug rehabgroup. I think we also got to do a few songs on our own. I haveno recollection of who else was on the show.

The other time was an interesting story. The band had a friendnamed Carvel. He was a promoter and put together a show with NinaSimone as the headliner, LaBelle (with Patti Labelle) as the secondact and Salt and Pepper as the opener. He spent a lot of moneyon the show but it did not sell out. I heard that Nina Simonewould not perform until she was paid and Carvel didn't have themoney. So the show went on with just the two acts. S&P was verywell received. Patti Labell was great, but Carvel took a financialbath.

BF: There is some footage of "Sundays" the TV showEric appeared on the day after the fire at Gulliver's on the DVD"Inside the Tale of the Fox" Were you at the tapingof the interview and if so do you have any memories of that?

VC: No, I was not in the band at that time.

BF: Did you ever notice Eric drawing characters which laterbecame the Rockheads around the time you played in bands withhim?

VC: Yes, Eric always loved cartoons. He would watch them on TVand would always be drawing cartoon figures.

BF: If you had to sum up Eric Carr in one word, what wouldthat be?

VC: Friend

BF: It has been documented that Eric while in Kiss got togetherwith some former band mates to jam what songs were played andwere you a part of those jams? If so what songs did you play?

VC: These jam sessions were in my house. I believe there wereonly two. The first one was a 'free for all' with lots of people.We played old rock songs like Mustang Sally, Twist and Shout,Good Lovin', etc. This is the one that my brother-in-law videotapedbut the tape is lost. The second time was a smaller group. Itwas Eric and me, John and Bart from Salt and Pepper and Dave fromthe Cellarmen. (Dave is married to Eric's sister.) We played someof our old S&P songs, Sly, Santana, etc. It actually sounded prettygood. These were just for fun; at no time did we attempt any KISSsongs.

BF: How much were you in touch with Eric after he joined KISS?

VC: By the late 70's Eric and I didn't have much contact. I stayedfriendly with his sister and Dave. I was living in Texas and gota call from Dave who told me Eric was in KISS. I couldn't believeit. They swore me to secrecy. No one was supposed to know hisreal identity. I didn't see Eric again until I moved back east.He got us tickets to a KISS show at Radio City Music Hall. Itwas probably 1985. I brought my wife and young kids. My wife andI were dating since 1966 and she also was friends with Eric andhis family. We had a nice reunion backstage and got to see Eric'sfamily and meet the other band members. It was great. This wasthe only time I saw Eric perform in KISS.

BF: Did you ever see Eric while he was in KISS?

VC: Eric and I would occasionally get together when he was intown. I worked in NYC a few blocks from KISS headquarters. Onetime we agreed to meet for lunch. I worked as an attorney fora large, conservative corporation. He came to my office in a typicalEric Carr outfit and his classic hair. He made quite a scene.Nobody knew who he was but they knew he was not our typical visitor.When I introduced him, he signed autographs and chatted with allhis new KISS fans.

BF: How did you find out Eric was sick?

VC: My wife and I were having dinner at the home of some closefriends. The wife showed me a newspaper article, which said thatEric had cancer. I told her that it couldn't be true, or I wouldknow about it. I immediately called Eric's sister who confirmedthat it was true. I was devastated. On Labor Day weekend 1991,Eric came to visit us at my house, with his sister and Dave. Helooked good. The five of us had a barbecue and spent a lot oftime reminiscing. At that time, the cancer had spread to his lungsbut he told us that his last checkup showed no signs of cancer.He kept telling us not to worry and that he was going to be allright. He had already been replaced in KISS with Eric Singer.At one point I asked him if he wanted me to put on some KISS musicand he asked me not to. He didn't want to hear it. He was veryhurt and didn't want to talk about it. We had a very nice dayand I remember giving him a hug good-bye in my driveway. Thatwas the last time I saw him. A few days later, I called him andleft a message on his machine. He did not call me back. I foundout later that he had collapsed and was in the hospital. He stayedin the hospital, in and out of consciousness until he died. Iwas honored when his family asked me to be a pallbearer at hisfuneral. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley showed up for the funeral,but only Bruce Kulick came to the funeral home to pay his respectsto the family.

BF: Have you heard Eric's album Rockology if so what is yourfavorite song?

VC: I liked everything on Rockology it's hard to pick a favorite.

BF: Have you seen the DVD Inside Tale of the Fox or heard Kissfan Ralph Carle's cover of Your Turn To Cry, which was done acousticallyon his record? If so what are your thoughts on these?

VC: I helped Loretta with the video. I gave her lots of photos,and recordings, some of which showed up on the video. I saw thefinished version and thought it was great. I thought Ralph's versionof "Your Turn to Cry" was really great. I'm sure Ericwould have loved it. Maybe he will do "I Cry at Night"on his next CD (I'm available on keyboards).

BF: Do you have any message to pass along to Eric's fans thatare reading this interview?

VC: I think that if Eric were here today, he would tell his fansto enjoy life, respect their parents, and have fun. I know thathe was upset with the number of KISS fans who abused alcohol anddrugs. He never got into those things and I'm sure he wouldn'twant anyone else to. For those musicians out there, his life isproof that with hard work, anyone can make it in music. Don'tever give up.


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