We’ve got an exclusive from Van Halen biographer Greg Renoff for VHND today … some pretty exciting news! Here it is:
The list of “Holy Grail” archival rarities that Van Halen fans dream of is a long one. Frequently wished-for items include early studio demos, film footage drawn from Van Halen’s 1981 performances in Oakland, and concert recordings from the band’s golden age. But considering that Van Halen has refused to release bonus tracks with their album reissues, much less a box set, the idea that fans would ever get their hands on this kind of rare material seems like a pipe dream.
So in that sense it’s not surprising that what is potentially the most exciting Van Halen archival release ever isn’t coming from the band’s archives.
This past week, KISS bassist Gene Simmons announced that he will soon release a massive, limited-edition box set called The Vault. Among its one hundred and fifty tracks are three long-lost KISS demo recordings that feature Edward and Alex Van Halen playing alongside Gene, who sings and plays bass on the material.
To understand how these three tracks came into being, we need to revisit Van Halen’s history with Simmons.
Back in October 1976, Simmons saw an unsigned Van Halen performing at the Starwood Club in Hollywood. Knocked out by the band’s potential, Simmons took the four musicians into the studio to record a demo of Van Halen material and attempted, unsuccessfully, to get them a record deal.
In the months that followed, Simmons went on the road with KISS. In April 1977, he returned to Los Angeles to find that Van Halen had signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records. Simmons, of course, had his band’s own recording career to worry about, and toward that end, called Edward and Alex and asked them to go into the studio with him to lay down demos for KISS’s upcoming Love Gun album.
The brothers agreed, and entered Village Recorders studio in Los Angeles alongside Simmons. With an irked David Lee Roth (who believed Simmons had designs to persuade the brothers to abandon Van Halen in favor of some sort of KISS-related endeavor) looking on, Edward and Alex cut “Tunnel of Love,” “Got Love For Sale,” and “Christine Sixteen” with Simmons. Perhaps most notably, Edward composed the melodic solo that became the centerpiece of the latter tune; reportedly, KISS guitarist Ace Frehley replicated Edward’s solo note-for-note on Love Gun.
In the forty years since these three recordings were made, they have remained tightly under wraps (unlike the Gene Simmons-produced Van Halen demo, which leaked into collector’s circles back in 2002). Simmons had planned to release the three songs before; in 2001, he hinted that the brothers had blocked him from putting them on KISS’s box set. Assuming Simmons doesn’t get cold feet and decide not to release these songs, they should provide a fascinating sonic window into some vintage Edward and Alex performances. Keep in mind that this session with Simmons took place just a few months before Van Halen recorded their debut album with producer Ted Templeman at Sunset Sound. To hear additional studio performances by the brothers from that crucial period — playing KISS songs, no less — would be a special treat for rarity-starved Van Halen fans.
Much less exciting is the price tag Simmons will likely place on The Vault. Although he hasn’t officially announced its cost, the fact that he intends to literally “hand-deliver” these box sets to buyers as part of “meet-and-greet” style events suggests that the cost of each box set could run into the thousands of dollars.
Still, there is hope for those of us who aren’t independently wealthy. Knowing Simmons’s capitalistic mindset, it seems reasonable to speculate that he might make a cheaper, bare-bones version of the set available after the initial demand for The Vault runs its course.
With so many details still up in the air, it seems premature to get outraged about whether the average Van Halen or KISS fan will be able to afford a copy. Instead, let’s celebrate the fact that it looks like some treasures from the Van Halen vault — albeit via Gene Simmons — will finally see the light of day.
— Greg Renoff
The screen capture above, taken from the website GeneSimmonsVault.com, states that the Eddie and Alex Van Halen tracks are included in the upcoming ‘The Vault” release. However, that website subsequently took this information down, and currently lists no specific details about the release.
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