Vincent Cusano is considered by many to be one of the most creative and polarizing forces to ever find its way into the legacy of KISS. Born in 1952 in Connecticut, Cusano first rose to fame in bands like Treasure and gained a solid reputation as a songwriter by writing songs for artists such as John Waite and by being a staff songwriter on Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi.
While Ace Frehley is featured on the album cover for KISS' 1982 release, Creatures of the Night, he actually recorded no material for the album. Instead, a number of guitarists were brought in to fill his shoes. Robben Ford, Steve Farris, and Bob Kulick (future KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick's brother) all played on the album, as well as Vincent Cusano. Of this group, Cusano would contribute the bulk of the playing duties, as well as contributing on the writing of songs such as I Love It Loud, I Still Love You, and Killer.
When Frehley refused to tour in support of Creatures, Cusano was asked to replace him. The band didn't want to hire Cusano permanently at first, primarily due to his somewhat abrasive and (as some have put it) egotistical personality. With few options to go on, however, Gene Simmons suggested Cusano use the name "Vinnie Vincent" and Paul Stanley dubbed him the Ankh Warrior and the band then quickly headed out on tour.
Following the tour, KISS headed to the studio to record their next album, Lick It Up. Vincent played guitar and wrote a significant amount of material on the album, most notably the title track. The album is considered by many to be the one that put KISS back on the map. Vincent has openly claimed that he was the primary reason for KISS' rebirth. I personally think that it was a combination of the earlier addition of drummer Eric Carr (specifically his work on Creatures), the removal of the makeup, and Vincent's playing style (which was a perfect fit for the rising glam scene).
When the band went on tour in support of Lick It Up, they quickly found themselves in the eye of a storm. Vincent would expand his solos to long lengths, miss cues from bandmates (most likely intentionally), and was an all around tough person to get along with. After being fired and then rehired by the band, Vincent was officially ousted in early 1984 and replaced by Mark St. John.
Vincent would never return to the spotlight in as big a way as he did with KISS. He did start up his own band, Vinnie Vincent Invasion, however, and released two albums with the group as well as a solo EP.
Vincent has also had many legal run-ins with his former bandmates in KISS, making numerous claims against them. Despite these actions, the band called on him to write songs for 1992's Revenge. His formal relationship was finally dissolved with the band in 2001 after more legal actions against the group.
No one can deny that Vincent's brief career with KISS helped spark the group in the 80's. Lick It Up has proven to be one of the most popular songs and albums for the band. However, to claim that he is the sole reason for the band's survival during the decade of excess is a very weak argument. I bring two pieces of evidence against this claim. First of all, KISS' other albums during that decade did just as good or better than Lick It Up. Animalize, Asylum, Crazy Nights, and Hot In The Shade were all commercial successes without Vincent in the lineup. Secondly, had Vincent been such a key piece of KISS' 80's revival, wouldn't his solo career have been much more successful? That's just my opinion, folks, and you and I both know what they say about opinions.
It should be noted that Vincent's career did bear fruit with another band. Two members of Vinnie Vincent Invasion, Mark Slaughter and Dana Strum, would go on to be members of the band Slaughter.
Overall, Vincent was and still is a very talented musician. While he seems to work best when harnessed in by fellow bandmates, it appears that his ego got the best of him in the long run. It's a shame, really, because not only could he play, he knew how to write excellent songs as well.