While speaking with Rolling Stone about the 40th anniversary of Kiss’ Destroyer earlier this month, Gene Simmons digressed to reflect on the anniversary of some other recordings he made in 1976: his demos with Van Halen.
It was 40 years ago this summer that Simmons discovered Van Halen and recorded several demos with the band, including one electrifying session (which remains completely unruly and circulated) where he enlisted Eddie and Alex to play on KISS’ “Christine Sixteen.” Here, he tells us about those magical nights and teases how he might finally release the recordings.
The bassist had caught the group when they were still in their infancy, playing the Sunset Strip club circuit, and he offered to put them to tape and consider them for a label deal. “I discovered the band,” he says. “I saw them and signed them and flew them to New York and put them in Electric Lady Studios. They were signed to my company, Man of 1,000 Faces. I produced their 24-track demo — 15 songs — which I still own, and, oh, it has everything from the first record and also faster versions of ‘House of Pain’ and stuff. It’s a lot of cool stuff, but the band just doesn’t want it to come out — you know, the back and forth with [David Lee] Roth complicated matters.”
Although those recordings have been circulating on the bootleg market for years, there are some other songs Simmons cut with the band that could see an official release at some point. In the Destroyer article, the bassist said that Paul Stanley had written “God of Thunder” as a “Gene song” (though Stanley refuted that) and that he in turn wrote “Christine Sixteen” as a “Paul song.” When Simmons decided to demo “Christine Sixteen,” he enlisted the help of the Brothers Van Halen.
“They did me a favor,” Simmons says, recalling another mid-Seventies session. “We recorded three songs I had written. I was in Los Angeles between tours, and I called Alex and Ed: ‘Listen, I got three songs. I’m going in at 2 a.m. Do you want to come down and help me?’ Usually, I play the guitars and the drums to the extent I can and put down all the parts. But I wanted to do three songs instead of one. So we did ‘Christine Sixteen,’ and I put the keyboards on, everything else. And Ed did the solo to the rhythm guitar, bass, and Alex was on drums.”
The session went so well that it had a lasting effect on the way Kiss recorded the tune for inclusion on 1977’s Love Gun. “When I brought the songs to the band, unfortunately for Ace, I forced him to learn Eddie’s solo note-for-note,” Simmons says. “He wasn’t fond of it, but in retrospect, it’s the right solo. It’s not the same old blues thing.” The other songs Simmons recorded with Eddie and Alex Van Halen were “Got Love for Sale,” which also appeared on Love Gun, and “Tunnel of Love,” a tune Simmons would re-record for his 1978 eponymous solo album.
Simmons hopes to include these songs in a massive solo box set he’s had in the works for a number of years. “It was originally going to be called Monster, but we decided to call the [2012 Kiss] studio record Monster, so it may be called Alter Ego,” he says. “We’ll include 150 to 200 songs that were never released. I’ve got one called ‘Mongoloid Man’ with Joe Perry on guitar, a lot of cool stuff.”
The only obstacle in it coming out is distribution. “I’m talking with a few nice people, Eagle Rock and the Universal people and Walmart,” Simmons says. “Unless the distribution model is right, I’ll just hold on to it until it’s right.”
Listen to Van Halen’s 10 Song Demo Financed by Gene Simmons in 1976: