No surprise: Gene Simmons ate up a lot of our interview time singing the praise of his biggest fan. Yep, Gene Simmons.
More surprising, Kiss’ tongue-wagging, demon-faced co-founder also had nice — or at least not entirely antagonistic — things to say about two of his least favorite subjects of late, Kiss’ ex-members and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also a bit of a shocker, he actually had a memory of the band’s very first Minnesota show 40 years ago, a reminder of his status as one of rock’s greatest teetotalers. (Most rock legends can’t remember last week’s gigs.)
The 65-year-old bassist, singer, reality-TV star and man of 5,000 groupies called two weeks ago from Los Angeles minutes before hopping on a jet to make weekend gigs in New Jersey. As the group has done for the past several summers, Kiss paired up for the summer with one of the ’80s bands it influenced, Def Leppard, a tour that lands Sunday at Target Center.
Simmons’ usually feisty demeanor was tempered by news that morning of the death of Dick Wagner, an Alice Cooper and Lou Reed sideman who played “ghost guitar” on Kiss’ most revered album, “Destroyer.”
The conversation still turned a tad fiery over the hall of fame, which finally inducted Kiss in April after years of snubbing the band — but Simmons and singer/guitarist Paul Stanley are still hotter than you-know-what that only the original four members were included.
The Kiss co-founders now tour with fill-in members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer wearing the makeup and playing the parts of the other two originators, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.
Q: What do you remember about Dick Wagner’s contribution to “Destroyer,” and how he came to play on it?
A: He was a sweet, gentle man who quietly went about his business and did it very effectively. And, of course, the reason we needed him was because by our fourth record, our guitar player Ace Frehley had succumbed to the clichés of rock ’n’ roll and was letting alcohol and drugs get the best of him. He wouldn’t show up. And then when we got a hold of him, he said, “I can’t come now, I’m in a card game.” That’s a true story. So that’s when [record producer] Bob Ezrin gave Dick a call and said, “We need you to play these parts.” He did, and they were great.
Q: Do you follow the popular belief that “Destroyer” is Kiss’ best album?
A: Oh, it’s tough, like being the mother of 10 kids having to name your favorite. I like “Destroyer.” I like “Monster.” I like “Creatures of the Night.” I like “Revenge.” The interesting thing is, those are all records from four different eras of Kiss. I think we’ve made great records throughout our 40 years as a band.
Q: Speaking of Ace Frehley, he has a new solo album out. Is that something you’ll make a point of listening to, or is it just another record to you?
A: Oh, sure, I’m interested. He and I have talked now and again over the years, and I wish him well. I’m a fan of his work, sure, and I look forward to hearing it.
Q: The four original members were all together again at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, but you and Paul refused to perform. Any regrets about that?
A: No, not at all. Listen, Kiss is the Olympics of rock ’n’ roll, and those guys couldn’t cut it anymore. It’s as simple as that. They lost their right to be in the band. Yes, they deserved to be there at the induction ceremony and have their say. They were there from the beginning and helped make the band what it became. But there’s more to the puzzle than just them.