Gene Simmons once had to talk Eddie Van Halen out of leaving his namesake band and joining up with Kiss, potentially altering the course of rock n' roll history. In a recent interview with Guitar World, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee confirmed the rumor that around the time of Kiss' 1982 album, Creatures of the Night, the virtuoso guitarist was "very serious" about making the change.
"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," Simmons said. According to the Kiss founder, Van Halen took him out to lunch at a diner across the street from New York's record plant studio, with Vinnie Vincent (who ended up joining the band shortly afterwards) tagging along. "Eddie said, 'I want to join Kiss. I don’t want to fight anymore with Roth. I’m sick and tired of it,'" Simmons recalled. "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."
Simmons also admits that he was going through his own identity issues with the band in the early Eighties, and that Paul Stanley was left to take on a lot of the heavy lifting in Kiss as Simmons pursued an acting career in Hollywood.
"It was starting to affect the band. It was not rock and roll," he said, noting that former guitarist Ace Frehley was among the bandmates rightfully complaining about his extracurricular ambitions. "But maybe I just wanted to be appreciated outside of Kiss. My life in Kiss is like being a girl with huge tits. 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?'"
Stanley recently told the same publication that his decision to reinvent the Kiss by removing their makeup ended up hurting the band. But Simmons says that previously unthinkable move actually saved them. "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."
Kiss' upcoming induction into the Hall of Fame has been the subject of some intra-band strife lately as questions over the lineup – whether the current replacements for Frehley and drummer Peter Criss would be included – derailed plans for a Kiss performance at the ceremony. But Simmons concedes that he still takes pride in being recognized for the honor.
"Mostly it matters because it matters to the fans," he said. "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."