Kiss star Gene Simmonds on sleeping with ‘5,000’ women and farewell tour
WITH a heavy heart, Gene Simmons washes off his Demon alter-ego war paint, hangs up his knee-high metal boots and, er, puts away his cow-sized tongue.
As the Kiss bassist and co-lead singer prepares to bring the band’s farewell tour to Britain, he is in a reflective mood.
“For 50 years I’ve had the privilege of wearing more makeup and higher heels than your mom ever did,” says the hard rock colossus with a knack for hilarious catchphrases.
“This is the end of the tour group, because we have enough self-respect,” he continues. “We don’t want to be like boxers who stay in the ring too long.
“If I was in the Rolling Stones, which are great by the way, I could strum a guitar in sneakers and a T-shirt and I’d be fine.
“I admire Mick Jagger for pushing the boundaries, but I can’t keep doing that with 40lb studs and armor and eight inch heels.”
That being said, Simmons is intent on bending Kiss out while they’re still on top and fighting fit.
“I’m in great shape, we sound great – and we’re introducing ourselves as the hottest band in the world!” he exclaimed.
Speaking from his home in what he calls “the hills of Beverly” between dates, Simmons proves himself to be an intriguing combination of raconteur, rock historian with just a dash of Spinal Tap.
In fact, he’s just what you’d expect from someone who loves to sing, “I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day.”
The rocker, who was born in Israel 73 years ago to Hungarian Jewish parents, also has the rare distinction of being an absolute wild man.
“I never drink or smoke and never get high. It’s just my preference,” he says.
“I’m not here to point the finger at anyone. Go to the bar all you want, but at least I don’t mind.”
In the Kiss man’s world, “party” means girls.
Although he has long been faithful to his wife, actress and former Playboy model Shannon Tweed, legendary lover Simmons is believed to have slept with nearly 5,000 women.
“I’ve heard of those numbers,” he laughs when I approach the subject.
To what extent are they true? I dared it. “Confirmed,” he replied in a low comedy rumble.
Simmons says: “To me, an insane heterosexual man, partying means girls. I was like a vulture waiting on the sidelines until all the guys got drunk.
“But the prettiest girls didn’t get drunk, so I walked in and picked whatever – as you Brits say – birds I liked.”
Now it’s time for a Simmons Kiss story lesson. It’s been 50 years since “four knuckleheads from New York City,” including fellow surviving founding member Paul Stanley, formed the band.
“We wanted to be The Beatles on steroids,” says Simmons. “We couldn’t shine their boots, not in our wildest dreams, but we were totally inspired by them.
“We loved the idea of four guys in a band where everyone is a star and everyone sings. Only The Beatles did that.”
He first saw John, Paul, George and Ringo as one of the 75 million Americans who watched The Ed Sullivan Show in the Sixties.
“That show made The Beatles in the States,” says Simmons. “You are immediately struck by the sound of girls screaming. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s a good job!’ “
However, unlike the Fab Four, Kiss decided to play fast, loud and heavy, wearing Outlandish costumes and painting their faces with the iconic makeup.
Simmons remembers how he turned into the Demon in the Seventies: “We were in a cage, a fire trap with no windows – one way in and out.
“One of the guys suggested we go to a coffee shop where they sold all kinds of stuff, including clown gear. We bought some black and white makeup and two $15 mirrors — and created a look that’s stayed on our faces for half a century.
‘My imagination dreamed’
Simmons can’t fully explain where his Demon design came from, but says, “I’ve always been fascinated by horror movies, Godzilla and comic books, so maybe I’m a result of that.”
His love for stories about monsters and superheroes goes back to his childhood.
“I was born in Israel in 1949, my mother was a survivor of Nazi Germany,” he says.
“When we landed in New York in 1958, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Buildings blown up, thousands of cars everywhere and not a blade of grass.
“I had never heard of television and had never been in a movie theater, so when I saw Superman and King Kong, my imagination soared.
“As a nine-year-old boy on the beach, I tied a towel around my neck, knowing that if I jumped high enough, I could fly through the air like Superman.”
Fast forward to 1973 and Simmons was dressed as the Demon for the first time.
He remembers seeing himself in that cheap mirror: “It was bizarre. I was aware that I was in there somewhere. I felt like one of those knights in shining armor.”
As for stepping on stage in full fight regalia for a Kiss show, he likens himself to a boxer duking it out.
“When you get in that ring, you want to beat the s**t out of your opponent. Your chest expands and adrenaline rushes through your veins.
“You are very much Jekyll and Hyde, the same person in a different body with a different mindset.”
Over the years, Simmons has nursed some wounds from his Demon antics.
“I walked off the stage black and blue,” he says. A few hours later I hurt like hell and I thought, ‘Where did I get that? Don’t you remember, you crashed into the amplifier!’ “
But it’s the face paint, which Kiss controversially dropped in the eighties, that sets them apart.
“I love U2 and Radiohead, but our images supersede all that,” says Simmons.
“For better or for worse, we’ve become part of pop culture. People might hate us, but when Halloween rolls around, you’ll see all the Kiss costumes at parties. There are huge Kiss floats at carnivals in Brazil – but no one is dressed like Thom Yorke!”
So how much time does Simmons need to get ready for a show these days?
“It takes me the longest because my makeup is the most complicated,” he replies.
Once in full Demon garb, he must remain in character for at least another seven hours.
Allowing for breaks between the various duties, he explains: “We do a sound check for about an hour before we greet the fans for another hour. Then we are on stage for two hours.
“After our shows, it takes us another hour to calm down, take off the make-up and shower. I am a real working man!
“Most bands just turn up, get out of the limo, go on stage for 90 minutes/two hours and go home.”
At the beating heart of Kiss are the two stalwarts—Simmons and Stanley.
Like all bands that last 50 years, the pair have had their ups and downs, but it’s a relationship that commands respect on both sides.
“You have to understand that you are not God’s gift and that you do not know everything,” says Simmons.
“I’m pretty good at all sorts of things, but Paul is better at other things. If you have the right combination, then one plus one equals three.”
Here, Simmons gives a fascinating insight into how they work together.
He talks about the creation of his signature anthem, God Of Thunder, which was actually written by Stanley.
“Paul told me I only wrote about monsters. Then I told him: ‘All you ever write about is silly girl stuff and falling in love’.
“Then we woke up from our dumbness. He came up with God Of Thunder and I immediately went home and did Christine Sixteen – and both were hits.”
Now, in 2023, the live Kiss tour is coming to an end, but there are plenty of other projects Simmons and Co. can still look forward to.
He says: “We’re going ahead in ways no one could ever imagine.
“There’s a Kiss museum in Las Vegas. Still to come is a Kiss movie, Kiss theme parks and a Kiss stage show going around the world, all kinds of things.”
So how does he feel about hanging up his boots?
“The saddest part is those original members Ace [Frehley] and Peter [Criss] won’t be with us at the finish line,” he replied.
“Maybe they were shooting stars. Not everyone is designed to run a marathon.
“I asked Ace and Peter personally, ‘Do you want to come out for our encores and celebrate this thing that you helped build in the beginning?’ and the answer was no.”
The End Of The Road Tour will conclude this December at Madison Square Garden in the band’s hometown of New York.
There won’t be a dry eye in the house and for Simmons it’s a mixture of “intense, deep feelings”.
“Pride is the most important thing,” he decided. “Few bands last half a century on their own terms.
“At the last show I know I’ll cry like a 12-year-old girl whose foot was stepped on.”
Even thinking about it gets Simmons up, but he signs off by quoting one of his Beatles heroes.
“All things must pass, as George Harrison said many years ago.”
KISS TOUR UK DATES
- Plymouth June 3rd
- Birmingham June 5th
- Newcastle June 6
- London 5 July
- Manchester July 7th
- Glasgow July 8
Kiss star Gene Simmonds on sleeping with ‘5,000’ women and farewell tour