Smyrna, Tennessee, is not a likely place to find a guitar god, or anyone in particular, which meant it was just about perfect for Vinnie Vincent. For a while anyway.
Behind a forbidding eight-foot-tall picket fence and a padlocked gate stand two houses. Paint cans, a television set and stuffed black garbage bags litter the driveways. This is where guitarist Vinnie Vincent — who gave life back into KISS in the early Eighties, when the bandmembers had removed their makeup but seemed musically ready for embalming, and then became a hair-metal solo star in his own right — has lived in seclusion for the last 15 years. Or, more accurately, had lived. It’s hard to know where Vincent is these days.
From the looks of it, the houses have been abandoned for some time. Knocks on the front door go unanswered, and multiple calls in to Vincent’s lawyer inquiring about his client’s whereabouts yielded nothing. It’s not as if Vincent, 61, was ever a man about Smyrna. Up the road, a clerk at the gas station can’t recall ever seeing the musician who once played for 137,000 fans in Brazil — KISS’ biggest concert. A next-door neighbor, Paul Sachtjen, says he’d never met Vincent face-to-face. He had, though, endured a battle over some pruned pear trees hanging across property lines, receiving angry letters and police visits, but never at the expense of Vincent’s closely-guarded privacy. Years later, Sachtjen’s son vandalized a convertible belonging to Vincent’s wife, Diane. Soon after, surveillance cameras and mounted outdoor spotlights were installed on Vincent’s property.
“I feel bad for him,” Sachtjen says now. “He wants to be a recluse and left the hell alone.”
As the original replacement for founding member guitarist Ace Frehley, Vincent garnered a reputation as one of the band’s most talented, influential, and divisive members in its 40-year history. From 1982 to 1984, Vincent’s knack for cocky melodies and virtuosic guitar shredding revived an outfit that had limped into the Eighties with the release of the high concept, low quality Music From The Elder. 1983′s Lick It Up was the KISS first album on which Vincent was credited as a member (uncredited, he’d subbed for Frehley on the previous year’s Creatures of the Night). It was also the first time the band appeared without makeup, and as the writer of the title track and the musician responsible for the re-born KISS’ most jaw-dropping moments, Vincent helped frontmen Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons establish a post-grease paint identity, pushing the music in the chart-topping direction of Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard.
Despite his contributions, on April 10th, when KISS receives their long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Vincent is about as likely to attend the ceremony as Syd Barrett would’ve been to fly on an inflatable pig over a Pink Floyd show.
“He’s such a mysterious figure,” says Bruce Kulick, who held down the lead guitar spot in KISS for 12 years following Vincent’s departure and who will attend the Rock Hall event. “In some ways, he’s the Howard Hughes of KISS. Vinnie has laid low for so long that it adds to his legend.”
Vinnie Vincent’s fans and former bandmates have different theories about his current whereabouts: He might be in Nashville, with family in Connecticut, or with some sympathetic female KISS fan. Wherever he’s gone, believes Promoter Phil Elliott, Vincent will make his presence known once the bills start to pile up.
“I don’t know how he’s going to stay afloat,” Elliott says. “When he’s desperate enough, he’ll come out of the woodwork.”
It’s hard to imagine a situation in which Vincent would not choose to keep his connection to the music world and his fans strictly online, mostly one-way and entirely out of sight, if never truly out of mind. As Robert Fleischman — like so many alienated by Vincent long ago — puts it: “If he wants to be left alone we should leave him alone. I just don’t think he really wants to be left alone.”
If Vincent does resurface, digitally or otherwise, what kind of reception he’ll receive when he does is anyone’s guess. He drew the ire of some fans when he failed to issue refunds for pre-orders from his website. Some customers even threatened him with a lawsuit for alleged fraud for selling a product, The Vinnie Vincent Archives, which he never intended to deliver. As a sop, they received letters from Vincent’s Metaluna Records, likely a one-man operation at this point, apologizing for the lengthy delay in sending out the compilation. Those apology letters came with offers to buy a guitar pick used by Vincent on the Creatures of the Night tour. The asking price was $1,000.
On VVForums.com, rumors still swirl that Vincent will take part in celebrating the KISS legacy he helped create, whether by acknowledging the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony or through some other, more idiosyncratic means. That idea that he might show up is certainly delusional, but it’s also sweetly optimistic — the KISS Army still loves the Ankh Warrior, and as anyone who knows anything about Vinnie Vincent can tell you, stranger things have happened.
Read the entire three page story at Rolling Stone.