Gene Simmons, born Chaim Witz ,in Tirat Carmel, Israel, came to the U.S. as an 8-year-old speaking no English, and grew up to co-found the band KISS with Paul Stanley, a group that has sold over 100 million records worldwide. The story goes that when Gene and Paul created the concept of KISS, basically a show-band with a kind of quasi-Satanic theme, every record company passed on them until they got to Casablanca and it’s brilliant and eccentric President, the late Neil Bogart, who signed them.
Gene once pronounced Arena Rock "dead" -- a big statement, but basically true. The “Rock” that he’s talking about is more a metaphor for the old record business, where hit’s were made by radio play, record stores like Tower, sold millions of records every year, and a young band could become a giant with their first record, like Boston or the Eagles. The record companies supported them on the road and they became household names in the media; try to find someone who hasn’t heard of the Beatles or Stones.
Those days are gone, and Gene does a rally good job of explaining how and why that happened. The Golden Days in rock were a short moment in musical history, probably never to be repeated, and we were all fortunate to experience it.
I spent a little time with Gene one night, there was an album release party for Cher, and I stopped by to support my friend Lee Arbuckle who was her Label Rep. I was standing around watching the folks get autographs and pose for pictures with her when Lee came over and said, “That’s Gene Simmons alone at the bar.” So I went over to the bar and introduced myself, and he invited me to sit down and bought me a drink.
I asked what he was doing there, and he nodded over his shoulder and said, “I’m with her.” We talked business for a while, and I was very impressed with his intellect and knowledge of the record companies side as well as that of the bands. He also recounted his family’s history; his mother had survived a Nazi concentration camp, and she and her brother were the only family members to survive the Holocaust, first moving to Israel and then on to the U.S. Quite a story, and a lesson for everyone that there’s often more to a celebrity’s life than we ever suspect.
Here's Gene Simmons and KISS performing their arena rock classic, "Detroit Rock City," Live on Late Night With David Letterman in 2012.