Max Blau | Rolling Stone
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. The town of 42,000 people is roughly 25 miles southeast of Nashville, and full of non-descript McMansions and farmhouses kept watch over by lazily grazing goats and cows. There are cozy residential subdivisions, too, where children’s bikes are strewn across the well-manicured front lawns of one-story brick ranch houses.
One property near the outskirts of town, though, sticks out amongst all the idyllic sameness. 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.
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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.”
But Kiss fans being Kiss fans, that is, somewhere between Deadheads and Trekkies on the obsessiveness scale, means that interest in Vincent is still strong. 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.