Inside The Time Gene Simmons Tried Recruiting Eddie Van Halen Into KISS

While it's fairly common knowledge that Gene Simmons of KISS fame was instrumental in the "discovery" of the rock group, Van Halen, what isn't as well known are Simmons' true intentions behind sponsoring the young band way back in the mid-'70s. According to the book, "Van Halen Rising" by Greg Renoff, the legendary KISS bassist's intentions for Van Halen may have not been as altruistic as history remembers.

As Van Halen lead singer, David Lee Roth, tells it, Gene Simmons got his first real look at the group, Van Halen, back in 1977 while Eddie Van Halen was just 21 years old. Playing at the now-defunct Starwood Club located in West Hollywood, California (via Rock and Roll Road Map), Simmons watched in awe as the Van Halen boys ran through yet another blistering down-and-dirty performance. Afterward, Simmons stopped by the band's dressing room to inform the group that he was so impressed, he wanted to record a demo with them ASAP (via Van Halen News Desk). Shortly after that meeting, Simmons flew Van Halen to New York and quickly recorded the promised four-song demo.

Greatness spotted

With demo in hand Van Halen, along with Gene Simmons, met with KISS manager, Bill Aucoin. Up in Aucoin's penthouse office, the highly in-demand manager laid it out to the band straight (via "Van Halen Rising"). While he loved the music, Aucoin wasn't thrilled with frontman David Lee Roth's vocals. According to Roth, Aucoin told them during the meeting (via Van Halen News Desk): "Guys, I think the music is great but I don't think the vocals hold up. I just don't hear the melodies, the hits that are required in this day and age ... Gene has his own career, he's in KISS, and barring any other permutations, I don't think I can work with you." 

It turns out Roth suspected that Simmons really wasn't just into the band from the start. In fact, Roth knew that the KISS bassist was quietly grooming the guitar virtuoso, especially when Eddie got a call from Simmons a few days later, asking him to come down and record a solo with him. Eddie showed up at the studio on the agreed-upon day, guitar in hand. However, much to Simmons' chagrin, Eddie brought something else along with him — David Lee Roth. According to Roth, "... Simmons would look at me with horror. Horror. 'Cause I was on to his game way early."

No fooling Diamond Dave

Then there was the time Simmons ran into the Van Halen boys on a break from KISS' Japanese Rock and Roll Over Tour in 1977 (via KISS Concert History). After chatting it up with them, Simmons asked the band if they were interested in seeing KISS at the legendary L.A. Forum. Of course, the band excitedly agreed. However, when Roth showed up at the ticket window for his passes, there was nothing waiting for him. According to Roth, "The Van Halens would be inside, comfortably ensconced in the back room with Gene and his pals. Of course I knew what was up, and I was super protective of the band at the time ..."

Roth, however, returned the favor to Simmons a few years later. According to the book, "Van Halen Rising", Diamond Dave ran into Simmons again in LA circa 1984. With Van Halen a firmly established hard rock act by this time, and the huge KISS Army fandom long ago fizzling out, Roth offered tickets to Simmons to see Van Halen play the Forum. Gratefully accepting, Simmons turned up at the ticket window the night of the sold-out show, only to find out there were no tickets left under his name. Years later, Roth had finally gotten his revenge on Simmons.

An unhappy band

Undeterred, Simmons continued to pursue the young guitarist. According to Brag Media, the KISS bassist finally managed to recruit Eddie to play on KISS' 1977 album, "Love Gun." In a video for Gene Simmons Vault (via Ultimate Classic Rock), the bassist recalls, how he finally got Eddie into the recording studio without Roth: "In the middle of the night, I wanted to go in and record the three songs that I'd written, I called up Edward ... and literally in the middle of the night, the Van Halen brothers came down, and it was a trio, the Van Halen brothers and Simmons." And while the Van Halen brothers managed to record three demos for "Love Gun", only "Christine Sixteen" made it onto the album, effectively ending the collaboration between Gene Simmons and Eddie Van Halen.

All the while Simmons was spending time working over Van Halen was not going unnoticed. The rest of the members of KISS were not nearly as thrilled with Simmons' new distraction. In fact, KISS lead singer Paul Stanley tells it that the other members of KISS were more than annoyed. In a question and answer session on one of the band's KISS Kruises, Stanley explained it this way (via Blabbermouth): "... sometimes that means reining him [Gene Simmons] in, especially early on in the band's career where getting involved in other projects was really going to hurt the band" Simmons finally relented and begrudgingly let his pet project do its own thing. And a few short months later, Van Halen released their self-titled debut in 1978.