The bassist and singer Gene Simmons was born in Haifa, Israel in 1949, moving with his family to the United States at the age of eight. Based in New York City, he grew up insterested in music and inspired by his favorite bands like The Beatles, that were a huge inspiration when he saw them at the Ed Sullivan show.
In 1973, alongisde Paul Stanley, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley he helped to form Kiss that would become one of the most successful bands of all time. For more than five decades, they have sold an estimated amount of more than 75 million records worldwide.
But Simmons didn’t only focused on his band over the years, he was always interested in other acts and even was one of the first famous artists to see a guitarist that in his opinion was the best one since Jimi Hendrix.
The guitarist that Gene Simmons said was the best since Hendrix
Kiss released their self-titled debut album in 1974, one year after they were formed and were performing in the New York City bar circuit. In the following years they quickly became one of the most famous bands in the United States. They created a huge fan base that only grew bigger with the release of classic albums like “Dressed To Kill” (1975), “Destroyer” (1976) and “Love Gun” (1977).
Their success was a mixture of their music, with their look and of course, their live concerts which had things than no other group had ever done. But at that same era, new bands were appearing and Simmons accidentally discovered one when he went to a bar to see another band.
It was 1976 and he went to a place was called “Starwood” in Los Angeles to see a group called Boyz, which was the headliner that night. But the opening act called Van Halen was really what shocked him. Especially because of the guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who Simmons later said it was the best since Jimi Hendrix.
The Kiss member made that statement after Eddie’s passing in 2020 at the age of 65, after years battling cancer. “This is a heartbreaking day for me. Eddie was a beautiful soul. A sweetheart of a guy. You can say he’s the finest guitarist on two legs since Hendrix.”
“All those superlatives, which of course are true. But for me the most memorable image when I heard he passed today was Eddie smiling from ear to ear,” Gene Simmons said.
His favorite Van Halen song
After the show that first night he saw them, Simmons told them he would try to help them to get a record deal. He managed to get them studio time to make a demo. Although the group recorded a few songs it wasn’t enough to convince the record companies to sign them.
But obviously, they were so good that was only a matter of time until they had the chance to make their first album, which happened in 1978. Although they released many classic songs over the decades, Simmons’ favorite Van Halen still is one that was recorded on the demo he helped them to make.
He revealed that in an interview with Guitar World in 2021, saying: “My favorite Van Halen song of all time is that unreleased ‘House of Pain’. There’s nothing better, and that includes Eruption. That thing is like a locomotive that’s going down the track without being able to stop,” Gene Simmons said.
He had also praised that track when he talked with Jeremy White Podcast in 2020. “(Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage) The original version of ‘House Of Pain’ is like a locomotive that doesn’t stop. Your jaw would drop.”
“The ‘House Of Pain’ that was recorded by them (On the ‘1984’ album) is tame compared to what this is. You will be shocked and mostly is live in the studio,” Gene Simmons said.
The last time he talked with Eddie
Gene and Eddie remained friends over the decades. But they didn’t saw each other much in the last years of the guitarist’s life. He recalled in a conversation with Classic Rock in 2023, that they final meeting happened in Los Angeles by accident.
The two legendary artists bumped into each other at the famous Sunset Boulevard and it was Van Halen who first spotted Gene in the street.
“My friendship with him is something that I will always treasure. In the beginning we saw one another a lot, but less so as the years passed by. Our final meeting was in Los Angeles, we bumped into each other on Sunset Boulevard. He was already deeply affected by cancer. I had read that he blamed his condition on using a metal guitar pick, putting it in his mouth. In my view that wasn’t the case. Ed smoked all the time.”
“All the same, when I heard that familiar voice calling my name on the street. ‘Hey, Gene!’ I wasn’t sure what to say. His condition was wellknown at that point. He brought it up at the start of the conversation. ‘Hey, man, how you doing? I’ve got cancer’. I was embarrassed and wanted to reach out and hug him.”
“But standing there on the street with a cigarette in his hand he opened his mouth and smiled. ‘Check this out’, inviting me to look at the space where his upper palette should have been. He just shrugged: ‘I’ve got this disease, watcha gonna do? I’ll see you around’. It was typical Ed; happy-go-lucky,” Gene Simmons said.