Eddie Balandas, whose growling South Side sneer can be heard booming out the intro for the album “KISS Alive II,” died in a fitting way for a former security chief and roadie for the grease-painted rockers.
Mr. Balandas loved to mingle with KISS fans and answer their questions about a band that took Kabuki makeup to a level exceeded only by the group’s longevity – which rivals that of a Galapagos tortoise.
After appearing at the Oct. 9 KISS Expo in Hillside – where the audience greeted him like a favorite uncle – Mr. Balandas rode his motorized scooter back to his suite at the Best Western Hotel.
He was found dead in his room the following day. Mr. Balandas, 59, who had congestive heart failure, had been in declining health.
His death prompted expressions of sympathy from Ace Frehley, former lead guitarist of KISS, who called him a “dear friend”; from Lydia Criss, the ex-wife of KISS’ original drummer, Peter Criss, and from guitarist extraordinaire Elliott Randall, whose solos on Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” reduced other famed guitarists to fanboys.
After touring the globe with KISS and other bands and working security jobs in the music industry, Mr. Balandas returned to his Brighton Park Lithuanian roots several years ago. He lived off Archer Avenue and was still friends with his buddies from Kelly High School.
In at least one way, it was as if he’d never been gone, said his brother, Bob. No matter where Mr. Balandas lived, his family still sent him Lithuanian pumpernickel bread and pastries, and White Castle hamburgers.
He’d grown up the son of Marta and Vernon Balandas, two displaced persons who sunk down roots in Chicago after World War II. They were shipped out of Lithuania to perform slave labor for the Nazis during the war, said Bob Balandas.
When Vernon Balandas was watching a WWII documentary that focused on the bombing of a Stuttgart ball-bearing factory, he told his family he recognized it because he’d been forced to work there by the Third Reich.
Eventually Marta and Vernon’s siblings settled in Chicago, and Eddie grew up surrounded by family.
A trumpeter in the marching band at Kelly High School, he became a sought-after session musician who played in a horns band, Chase, that at one time looked as if it was going to give the group Chicago a run for its money. But Chase was destroyed when a 1974 plane crash in Jackson, Minn. killed several members.
Eddie Balandas “just missed the plane,” his brother said.
He also played trumpet on the singles “Brandy” by Looking Glass and “YMCA” and “Macho Man” by the Village People, according to Bob Balandas and Lydia Criss.
But “he shattered his eardrum in the studio,” said Bob. “He was in the studio, trying to hold a high note. It just popped.”
After his injury, he began doing more roadie work.
“He got a call from Sha Na Na,” his brother said. “Bowser was a good friend.”
Randall, who once played with the greaser-rockers, recalled Mr. Balandas on a Facebook tribute page. When Mr. Balandas was a Sha Na Na roadie in the mid-’70s, whenever something was wrong, Randall wrote, “Eddie would turn around, smile, and say: ‘Mongo fix.’ ”
At about 6 foot 5 and 250 pounds, Mr. Balandas was a wall of muscle. “He ate a lot,” said his brother. “That was his workout.” He had a weakness for kugelis, that glorious Lithuanian comfort food made of potatoes and bacon.
He could pick up 100-pound speakers with one hand, “like they were nothing,” said his friend, Edwin Murray.
He was with Sha Na Na when he spotted the members of KISS in the band’s early days, at Los Angeles’ Hyatt House (dubbed the “Riot House” for its rock ‘n’ excess). He could not believe their costumes, he told fans. “Look at these rhinestone queens,” he marveled, watching Ace Frehley struggling to walk in his platform shoes.
He did work for Alice Cooper before getting a call from KISS. He worked for KISS from roughly 1976 to 1980, rising to security chief, Bob Balandas said.
The erratic nature of KISS employment perfectly illustrates the 1970s rock-star era.
“My brother apparently got fired 18 times, and they kept calling him back. I think [guitarist] Paul Stanley fired him four times.”
With his strong voice, KISS tapped him to tape an intro to the album “Kiss Alive II” that became the bane of parents everywhere. “You wanted the best, [and] you got the best,” Mr. Balandas boomed, “the hottest band in the world, KISS!”
During KISS’ breaks from the road, Mr. Balandas lived in Connecticut with Peter Criss and his then-wife, Lydia. “Eddie was like a brother to me,” she said. “We were city kids [from New York]. We went from a two-bedroom apartment to a five-bedroom mansion. He helped us put the sconces up. He chopped the wood. He took care of the animals. We bought a new Mercedes; he made sure it was shined and polished.”
Mr. Balandas went on to do security in Hollywood and worked for “Weird Al” Yankovic, according to his family and friends.
His friendliness and story-telling made Mr. Balandas a favorite at KISS conventions. “He was just, like, swarmed with fans,” said J.J. Potter, who attended the Hillside Expo.
His parents and his brother, Reynold, died before him. Services were held Monday in Chicago at Alliance-Gaidas-Daimid Funeral Home at 43rd and California.