Gene Simmons Talks About Setting His Hair on Fire and Convincing Eddie Van Halen Not to Join Kiss

by Richard Bienstock
Posted Mar 13, 2014 at 12:44pm

This is an excerpt from the April 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story, plus an interview with Paul Stanley and much more Kiss (not to mention the Scorpions, three kings of acoustic shred, the hottest gear from the 2014 NAMM Show and more), check out the April 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

Love them or hate them (and really, is there any area in between?), Kiss—and in particular its stalwart co-founders, visionaries and greatest proponents and protectors, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons—continue to not only exist but also scale greater heights.

Here we are in 2014, and the band, now roughly 10 lineups in with current guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, are experiencing yet another renaissance. Their most recent (and 20th) studio album, Monster, was an unusually strong effort, more energetic and enjoyable than should reasonably be expected from any band at this stage of its career.

This year marks Kiss’ 40th anniversary (their self-titled debut was released in February 1974), and in April, Stanley and Simmons, along with former, and now estranged, original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To celebrate these dual milestones, Guitar World met separately with Stanley and Simmons at their Los Angeles homes to discuss just a few of the many triumphs and tribulations that led the band here.

Below is an excerpt from our interview with Gene Simmons. In the new issue, the bassist opens up about setting his hair on fire and convincing Eddie Van Halen not to join Kiss.

Artists tend to act like they don’t care about getting into the Hall of Fame…until they get into the Hall of Fame. Now that you’re finally in, do you care?

I care about everything. If you’re in any band, you have to take a certain amount of pride in what you do in order you get up onstage, spread your legs, hold your guitar right in front of your c--- and just bash away. But mostly it matters because it matters to the fans. Because every step along the way we were lambasted—by critics, by people who never did anything—but not by them. And this room [motions with his hand to his home office, which is crammed full of 40 years’ worth of Kiss memorabilia], yeah, it’s self-worship, but it’s also a reminder that everything Kiss achieved had to be clawed and scratched and fought for. Nothing was handed to us. The mountain did not come to Mohammed. We had to go to the mountain.

Your own relationship to the band changed in the early Eighties. You were devoting less time to Kiss and more time to trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood.

We were all discovering who and what we were, because for all of us Kiss opened doors. All of a sudden you could call anybody. You could call the White House, because Jimmy Carter’s kids were fans. So the idea that anybody would give me the time of day, much less the opportunity to be on TV… I wasn’t born in America. I never even saw television until I was about eight years old. It’s nuts. So I came out to L.A. and I started taking meetings.

While all this was going on, do you think Paul felt like he was left on his own to do the heavy lifting in Kiss?

Yes.

Was it discussed?

Oh, sure. It was starting to affect the band. It was not rock and roll. Ace was complaining, too. He was right. They thought, as usual, that Gene Simmons wanted to have his cake and eat it, too. And I like cake. But maybe I just wanted to be appreciated outside of Kiss. My life in Kiss is like being a girl with huge t---. All anyone talks about is the makeup, or “Let me see your tongue.” Sometimes you want to say, “Can’t you just focus your eyes up here so that we can have a conversation?”

Paul was the one who saw the situation in the band as dire enough to suggest taking off the makeup. Had the idea of “unmasking” yourselves ever been raised prior to that point?

No. We couldn’t have imagined it. But when we did it, if it worked—and it did work—it was because of Paul. People really liked Lick It Up. The arenas filled up again. Then came Asylum, Animalize. Multi-Platinum albums. Even with all the different guitar players—Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick—it just didn’t seem to matter to the fans. We continued to chug along.

Speaking of all the guitarists who passed through Kiss’ ranks in the Eighties, is it true that Eddie Van Halen wanted to join the band around the time of Creatures of the Night?

That is true. And he was very serious. He was so unhappy about how he and [David Lee] Roth were—or weren’t—getting along. He couldn’t stand him. And drugs were rampant. And so he took me to lunch, to a diner right across the street from the Record Plant. Vinnie Vincent, who was not yet in Kiss, tagged along, too. Sneaky guy. And Eddie said, “I want to join Kiss. I don’t want to fight anymore with Roth. I’m sick and tired of it.” But I told him, “Eddie, there’s not enough room. You need to be in a band where you can direct the music. You’re not going to be happy in Kiss.” I talked him out of it. It didn’t fit.

For the rest of this story, plus an interview with Paul Stanley and much more Kiss (not to mention the Scorpions, three kings of acoustic shred, the hottest gear from the 2014 NAMM Show and more), check out the April 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

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