By Ken Sharp
Tom Shannon is widely known in the music world for his impressive books on KISS, most notably Goldmine KISS Collectibles Price Guide and his three-volume set, KISS MY Wax - The KISS LP Bible and work for Universal as Vinyl Catalog consultant. His deep love of vinyl and understanding of the collector’s world inspired him to start his own Rockologist label and since kicking into gear they’ve issued exclusive vinyl records by Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick of KISS. His latest limited edition vinyl release is Rockology by late KISS drummer Eric Carr. We spoke with Tom who provided the back story behind his label and corresponding releases.
GOLDMINE: First, let’s discuss your latest release spotlighting the late KISS drummer Eric Carr. You’re forging new ground with the introduction of various configurations aimed at collectors—Standard, RockRelix 1 and RockRelix 2, which feature exclusive personal memorabilia. Describe each edition.
Tom Shannon: When I was presented with the idea of working with Eric’s sister Loretta Caravello my initial concern was how can I make this a true Rockologists edition? How do I reduce the divide between artists and their fans? Eric Carr, the former drummer for KISS had tragically died November 24, 1991.
Almost immediately during our initial call Loretta and I hit on the concept of including a significant memento from Eric directly to his fans. We eventually settled on Loretta providing a drum stick Eric used for KISS rehearsals, the shirt Eric wore in his very last appearance in public at the MTV Video Music awards, and three signatures written as Paul Caravello. The items will be cut, sliced and sealed in Rockologists trademarked RockRelix cards. Similar cards can be found in sports card collector circles.
The Standard version will be pressed on Orange vinyl. In addition to all of the great demo’s from Eric Carr with assistance from Bruce Kulick, it will include a four page Booklet full of rare photos and liner notes, an exclusive hype sticker, Standard version Rockology card and an Eric Carr merchandise sheet. A bonus Rockheads collector card will be included in the shipping container. The standard version will sell for $28.99, and will be limited to only 500 copies.
While the Standard version will be an awesome addition to any Eric Carr fan’s collection, The Rockologists trademarked “RockRelix” versions are going to introduce a bonding level for fans and artists never before seen.
“RockRelix” Version Oneand Version Two will both be pressed on a stunning Orange, Black and Silver Starburst vinyl and will include a Custom OBI, custom hype sticker, four page Booklet full of rare photos and liner notes, a “RockRelix” version Rockology card specific to version one, a Rockheads collector card, and Eric Carr Merchandise sheet. Each of the two version will be limited to only 250 copies total.
In addition, Both “RockRelix” versions will include an extremely limited The Rockologists “RockRelix” card containing personal items from Eric Carr.
The Rockologists “RockRelix” Card Version I will contain an actual piece of the shirt that Eric Carr was last photographed in public wearing to the MTV Music Awards show. The fabric sample is authenticated by The Rockologists and Eric’s sister Loretta. The hype sticker on Version I will specify the matching card contained inside.
The Rockologists “RockRelix” Card Version II will contain an actual slice of an Eric Carr KISS era rehearsal drumstick. The drumstick sample is authenticated by The Rockologists, Bruce Kulick and Eric’s sister Lorretta Carr. The hype sticker on Version II will specify the matching card contained inside.
Randomly inserted in “RockRelix” Version One and Version Two will be three “RockRelix” Card Version III. These three chase cards will contain cut signatures of Paul Caravello. The Rockologists always provide 100% authenticated in person autographs in our releases, and these signatures authenticated by Loretta Carr continue this tradition.
The costs for The Rockologists “RockRelix” Version One and Version Two LPs will be $79.99 each. The Rockologists always strive to bring their customers the top value for their money.
A limited bundle was available for the first day of sales (in October). The bundle (now sold out) includes copies of The Standard version, “RockRelix” Version One, “RockRelix” Version Two a promo 8x10 photo, and a Rockologists LP bag to hold all the items. The Bundle's limited to 50 sets, only available the first 24 hours of presale.
Tom, run us through your background as vinyl collector/historian.
I began hardcore collecting vinyl in 1977 when I was 17 and the first used record store opened near the University of Kentucky campus in my hometown of Lexington. I was buying LP’s strictly to listen to the music, with no collectability in mind. I had no concept they could even be collectible. The records were cheap, and all I cared about was the vinyl not skipping. I probably bought 500 LPs that first summer, but only have a handful left today from that time frame. The store would write the $1 price with an ink pen in the upper right hand corner of the front cover. The guy said at the time that it was so he knew how much to offer the buyer when they brought it back in to sell. It made sense to me at the time, but it devastated me years later when I realized how badly my LPs had been devalued because of the writing.
Before that store opened I was buying new releases of bands I was deep into like KISS, Boston, The Eagles, ELO, Led Zeppelin. The used store offered me the opportunity to check out bands I might not have been wiling to pay $7.98 to hear. Jethro Tull, Elton John, Air Supply, Jefferson Airplane. My horizon was broadened.
I married my soul mate Tammy in 1981, and somehow all of my extra spending money dried up. I would occasionally buy LP’s at another store in town called Cut Corner Records. The name stated exactly what the store was full of, LP’s with cut corners. These irritated me somewhat because they were blemished in my eyes. Little did I realize at the time that while many of the releases were marked or cut for discount reasons, many of the LP’s were promotional copies. I had no clue that in twenty years and I would be chasing all of those promo records down to add to my collection. You can’t get any more first pressing than a promo record.
Around 1990 I was working as a plumber and had torn the ligaments in my right thumb, so after the surgery to repair it I had nothing to do all day, so I started going to the Library daily. One day I find an LP price guide and checked it out. The KISS listings floored me. I had by that time thrown out a stack of KISS magazines that stood up to my hip, but I still had my records. Alive II was listed at something like $20, and other LPs had also gained value, especially compared to the $3 - $5 values I saw on Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin LPs. I went to a flea market that summer held in a massive tobacco barn and saw a bootleg KISS LP titled “LUNCHBOX”. It featured the KISS Lunchbox from the seventies on the front cover. I mentioned that a pharmacy in town had that lunchbox still sitting on the shelves for sale. The dealer told me it was worth $500 (it was not), and I beat a path to the store and bought it for $7. That purchase started me on the road to collecting KISS memorabilia in addition to my then ratty LP collection. I still have that Lunchbox, but the LPs would all be replaced over the years with better condition copies. Then I added promos. Then I began adding LPs from other countries.
You’ve published several books on Kiss vinyl and Kiss collectibles.
My first book was the Goldmine KISS Collectibles Price Guide, published in 2000. I had become a fan of price guides in general. Music, Star Wars, football cards. It didn’t seem to matter what it was, I liked reading price guides. I had bought a KISS Collectibles book by Karen and John Lesniewski titled Kiss Collectibles: Identification and Price Guide published in 1993. The book was fascinating to me, but I could tell it could be much larger. I corresponded with John Lesniewski, asking how prices were determined, why was one item worth more than another. It all seemed to make sense to me. I look forward to their next book, but it never came. I was at a KISS Convention in Nashville Tennessee in the late '90s and saw a KISSmobile (Honda motorcycle) poster that had the same signatures as one in the price guide. I asked the seller if they were all signed like the one in the book, He told me that was the same poster and that the Lesniewski’s had divorced and sold off a lot of their collection. That was the moment I decided to write my own price guide. If they were divorced there was no way they would be writing another book, so I started writing.
The first thing I did was put the Lesniewski’s book into a drawer. I vowed to never use anyone else’s book as reference material. That’s plagiarizing, and I would later encounter others that would use my books in that manner.
I made a handwritten template of information that I would want to see in a KISS collectibles book and began documenting my own collection. All my LPs, all my singles, all of my newly acquired memorabilia. I started entering the information in my computer. I got all of my correspondence with other KISS fans and dealers from around the world and started a list of every item. When I finished typing all of that I did a page count and came up with 350 or so pages. I decided I was finished. Goldmine was the first publisher I contacted, and they bought the project immediately. They printed 7,500 copies, and paid me a fair royalty rate.
The second book I wrote was Warman’s KISS Collectibles Field Guide, published in 2005. It was part of a series of pocket-sized collectibles books. I had been accumulating more information on more items. My earlier book had given me enough legitimacy that I was even able to get samples and press kits from various KISS license holders. I was even able to convince Keith LeRoux, an influential KISS dealer who held KISS conventions to introduce me to former KISS manager Bill Aucoin and KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick so I could interview them for the books. Bruce was kind enough to talk about his KISS guitar picks, even giving me what at the time was a rare and valuable pick from his wedding reception. Bill Aucoin consented to doing an incredible interview that I included in the book.
The internet came of age after the second book came out, damaging the effort to sell small book projects to publishers, but 10 years later another opportunity became clear thanks to the internet. I had been invited to defend myself on Facebook in 2013. Someone was talking crap about the rarest and most valuable KISS 45 in the world, which I happened to own. “Let Me Go Rock And Roll / Hotter Than Hell” with an original stock Blue label. At that time only two copies were confirmed to exist in the world, and that had been the case since 1992 or so (a third copy in VG- condition was confirmed and sold in 2018 for over $5,000).
Soon after I joined a Facebook KISS Vinyl group and started sharing my information. I had my eyes opened to all of the crazy variations around the world. Soon myself and a brilliant KISS vinyl expert named Mad Ace determined that there was an entire pressing run of the KISS LP catalog that was pressed between 1983-84, and no one had ever noticed it. That was when I decided I would write a Worldwide KISS LP book. I made the announcement in the group to claim my turf, so too speak, and began compiling what would turn into 540 pages listing over 1,800 confirmed variations of KISS LPs. Every single entry was confirmed by examining images submitted by collectors around the world. I self-published under the name The Rockologists, 1,000 sets of the three volume set titled KISS MY Wax - The KISS LP Bible. One and a half years later only 15 sets remain unsold. There will be a follow up at some point.
How did you become the Universal/Kiss vinyl consultant?
One day in the spring of 2011 I received a call from an out of breath gentleman who was trying to make his way through the Dallas airport. He told me he worked for Universal Music and had been given my name by Keith LeRoux and some guy named Ken Sharp. He told me Universal was working on a box set of the entire American KISS 45 catalog, they needed help with obtaining images of the KISS 45 picture sleeves from around the world, and would I be interested in assisting him?
My job was two-fold: obtain the images, and protect his privacy. I completely understood. I know plenty of people that would inundate him if his name got out. I personally had about a third of the sleeves that were needed. Eventually I contacted a couple of collectors around the world and combined the best of their sleeves with mine. When KISS - The Casablanca Singles box came out It was an awesome feeling seeing my name twice in a KISS credit list, and the other contributors as well.
As the project was coming to an end my contact said he had been told I had written a KISS collectibles book. I told him I had, and sent him copies of my Goldmine and Warman’s books, but told him my LP book was still in the writing stage. I didn’t think twice about it.
About six months later I get a call from my contact. They had been using my Goldmine book to rebuild the KISS catalog. All of the original art was long gone and they were starting over from scratch to build a road case with every KISS USA LP. The original idea was to release the entire catalog as the KISSteria box set, with no individual LP sales. Luckily cooler heads prevailed and they decided to release the entire catalog and then follow up with KISSteria.
As I began shipping inserts and entire LPs for Universal to work with, I was asked to send some promotional items for possible inclusion in the box set. I forwarded the infamous Unmasked promo cube which didn’t make the cut, as well as a slew of promo posters. Some of the posters eventually ended up in the KISSteria box, including a concert poster for a KISS reunion show in my hometown of Lexington. Because of contract terms my name was not able to be included in a credits listing on the LPs or the KISSteria box, but I know. Participating in the relaunch of the KISS catalog on vinyl is one of the proudest achievements in my life.
What was the impetus behind starting the Rockologist vinyl label?
Of all the strange ways to have an epiphany, The Rockologists began as a concept that came to me one hot summer day floating around in my pool drinking beer. It started as a reality TV show concept that I am going to keep to myself for just a little bit longer, but essentially it came about as I contemplated what a great time I had participating in the Universal / KISS projects. I knew I had a ton of ideas that I kept pushing to Universal that would work. I just needed credibility. For example, I was pushing both Universal and KISS to do the solo LPs in a color vinyl box set in conjunction with The Rockologists. Eventually the KISS organization did put together the box set without my assistance, but I can say with all honesty that because of all the calls made back and forth beforehand discussing concepts that my DNA is all over that release. I would have loved to do a Rockologists version with signed LP jackets from all four members, but it was just not meant to be.
So, bottom line, I knew I needed a background story for my TV show pitch. I was working on my KISS LP book, and made the decision to not edit it down. I wanted this massive book set to be able to be thrown down on a table with a thud in an opening sequence for the TV show, so on the top of this massive three volume book set went the Rockologists logo.
Then I decided I needed more background credibility, so I thought about it and realized that no one was making what I considered a full blown, no way in hell it can be forged, artist signed LP. I had bought autographed LP’s from artists web sites before, but what did I really have? I knew it was authentic, but what if I ever decided to sell it. How could I authenticate it to a potential buyer?
The KISS world is blighted by several prolific forgers. They have an unlimited supply of signed items, usually photos or cheap LPs signed by the original four KISS members, despite the fact none of the four have hung out together in the last 15 years. Paul Stanley is almost impossible to get a signature from unless you do a paid meet and greet, and even then he is not going to sign an unlimited number of items. Ace Frehley released his LP Origins Vol I. The day before the vinyl was shipped Ace had to enter a hospital. Two days later one of the prolific forgers showed his beautifully signed Ace Origins LP on Facebook. I asked how he got it signed since Ace had been in the hospital since before the release of the LP and was still in the hospital at that point. He immediately pulled his post. THAT is the garbage that is going to kill autographed LP collecting, and I was determined to find a way to break that up. A way to insure that if I buy a signed Ace LP I can authenticate it for any buyer in the future. That is what my system does. The Rockologists authenticate any signature as being obtained in person with a certificate that includes a numbered Rockologists hologram sticker. A matching numbered hologram appears on the item. The item is authenticated for life.
So now I needed an artist with an LP who would be willing to sign the LPs and let me add items to the release to make it special. Enter Bruce Kulick.
I had met Bruce in the late '90s as I mentioned previously. I had been reintroduced to him by a gentleman named Michael Edwards who had seen my postings at a popular KISS forum called KISS FAQ. I was looking for any promo posters of the KISS LP Carnival of Souls. Universal had none of the art work and were trying to build the LP jacket as it had never been pressed before. Bruce and I were connected and we started looking through his archives.
Bruce had recently done a pressing of his LP BK3. I asked if he had any inventory remaining. He had 60 copies. I laid out what I was wanting to do, offered him what we agreed was a fair price for signing the LPs, and we made the deal. I designed an OBI, a poster and showed Bruce. He was very questioning, as he should be, but eventually I convinced him that I was going to be legit to deal with. I used the Facebook KISS vinyl group that I helped found to promote the pre-sale for the release. I literally took orders via email. First come first served. The 60 copies sold out in less than an hour. I had emails for over 300. I told Bruce and he let me have another 20 copies and arranged for me to buy back the inventory of another 16 copies that a KISS dealer had remaining that he had bought from Bruce.
I was glad for the successful launch, but was even more grateful that I had such a small pressing count to process. There were many, many, many hard lessons to be learned. This stuff looks easy, but there is a ton of work once the LPs are sold. Shipping and packing safely and securely… handling missing packages…dealing with defects. The worst problems I ran into were sealing and shrinking the wrap. Problem number 1? My sealing machine was defective right out of the box. I learned that on a Sunday. I had to be out of the state the next day, with all the orders in my car so I could start purchasing and applying shipping labels. After hours of frantic trips to hardware stores to find some way to seal those LP’s I bought a soldering iron as a last resort. It worked! Then I tried shrinking the wrap with a heat gun. It turns out OBI’s do not do well in shrink. The OBI wrinkles up. So now I had to make 192 seals with the soldering iron. They turned out fine.
Those original BK3 released by The Rockologists are now the most valuable KISS member’s solo LP, selling consistently when sealed for at least $250 to this day.
Explain what differentiates the label from other small vinyl labels.
The Rockologists create a bond between artists and their fans that is not duplicated by any other record label or distributor. There is a lot of psychological needs met for buyers to which other companies are either oblivious or have to make their margins too high to achieve all the fine points. I won’t get into deep details here but putting a generic “Collectors Edition” hype sticker on the shrink, or putting a handwritten “#3685 of 4000” handwritten notation on the jacket is going to give no buyer a sense of security about authenticating their purchase later. The Rockologists also price every release with the impetus on creating immediate value for our customers. We price our product below what the buyer will be able to sell for immediately on the secondary market. None of The Rockologists releases will ever see a discount on pricing. I would rather destroy the remaining inventory rather than undercut our customer purchase values.
But probably the best thing I ever did was give a buy back guarantee on our first release, Bruce Kulick’s BK3 on black vinyl. Every buyer received a buy back certificate that guaranteed that if they decided they were not loving the LP at a specified time period in the future, I would buy back their LP for the original cost of the LP. I wish someone would have returned theirs, but at the market value today no one ever did.
Run us through the first batch of releases on your label.
So far The Rockologists have released in chronological order:
Bruce Kulick BK3– Autographed jacket - Black vinyl with custom poster. 10% of the posters were signed – Sold out day one
The Rockologists KISS MY Wax – The KISS Wolrdwide LP Bible 3 volume book set – less than 20 sets remain
Ace Frehley Origins Vol I – Autographed jacket - Blue Starburst vinyl with custom smoking guitar poster and exclusive silver trim on the jacket. The Signed Deluxe version of 250 sold out in 5 minutes – The 250 unsigned copies sold out in less than one hour
Ace Frehley Bronx Boy– Autographed jacket – White vinyl - Standard (unsigned), Deluxe (signed) and Bundle including both Rockologists versions as well as the eOne retail version with black and white vinyl and a custom poster. 10% of the posters were autographed
Bruce Kulick BK3 – Autographed jacket – Red vinyl – Includes a 4-page booklet 10% autographed), two Rockologists / Bruce Kulick collector cards, merchandise order sheet.
From your perspective’s the state of vinyl in 2019?
On one hand I think we are in a solid renaissance period for vinyl, but I wonder if we are at the front end of a market bubble. You can find vinyl LPs in such diverse locations as your local record store, Cracker Barrel restaurants and Walmart. But oddly I see vintage original pressings that have stood the test of time in NM condition selling for less than the cost of a new pressing. That wouldn’t be a problem other than the fact that not every LP is pressed with the greatest quality control. Thin jackets, pixilated cover art, pre-sold marbled vinyl that ends up looking nothing like the proposed version strictly due to someone at the pressing plant line not giving two craps how it turns out. These are bad signs in general, but LPs are priced as a premium commodity now. People do not mind spending extra money for top quality or more value, but just like with restaurants, you cant be successful charging top price and delivering low quality goods.
As a seasoned vinyl collector, can you identify the Kiss vinyl Holy Grails?
Unfortunately I can because I still need some. The top 20 most collectible KISS LP’s in my opinion are:
- Greatest KISS – USA 2014 from the box set KISSteria
- The Originals 1974-1979 – Japan 1999 - Box set with Red box
- The KISS Collection – Brazil 1983 – 6 LP box set
- Creatures of The Night Picture Disc – USA 1995 – Prototype picture disc with glowing eyes
- Four Individual Albums from KISS – UK 1978 – Box set of the four solo LPs.
- KISS Killers – Ecuador 1982 – Red vinyl
- Music From The Elder – USA 1981 – contains a paper lyric sheet (not the lyric sleeve)
- Unmasked – Mexico 1980 – Red vinyl
- Dynasty – USA 1978 – White shirts showing around Paul and Gene.
- Creatures of The Night – Iceland
- Any Solo LP – El Salvador 1978 – Color vinyl matching the member
- Double Platinum – Colombia 1982 – Elder photos inside
- Alive IV – Chile 1978 – Second disc of Alive II
- Alive III – Chile 1978 – First disc of Alive II
- Burns Media Rock and Roll Over With KISS – Radio show
- Lo Mejor De KISS – Argentina 1978 – Greatest hits package
- Alive! – France 1976 – Unique inner gatefold with low, low low distribution
- Double Platinum – Taiwan 1978 – Because all Taiwanese LP’s were not authorized, they are classified ad counterfeit’s. Still doe not make them uncollectible since that was the only way you could get a KISS LP in that country
- Double Platinum – Australia 1978 – White and Red jacket
What’s the rarest Kiss vinyl release?
- Greatest Rock Artists 4: The Best of KISS – Japan 1982. This mail order only LP is the Holy Grail. I still need it if someone has a spare couple of copies 😊
As the head of your label, is there a bucket list release you’d like to do?
A lot of KISS stuff I will never get a chance to do, but beyond that I would love to do Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive. That’s a release I feel I could do great justice with that his fans would love to be able to get their hands on a certified signed copy, and would sell thousands of copies. It would generate a lot of revenue for Peter as well that is just sitting there unclaimed. Give me a call Peter. (laughs)
Go to https://the-rockologists.myshopify.com for more info.