As Kiss nudge closer to the end of their career with each passing day of their farewell tour, we’re invited to look back on their legacy; one full of arena-filling hits, an instantly recognisable aesthetic and live performances as theatrical as any Broadway show.
In fact, the face-painted hair metallers have become synonymous with their louder-than-life performances, which tend to usually include everything from eccentric costumes to pyrotechnics and fire-breathing.
But back in 1973 when the band formed and were just beginning to discover the world of pyro, Gene Simmons' first experiment with harnessing fire led to his hair being set alight.
On New Year’s Eve of that year, Kiss played the Academy Of Music in New York in support of Blue Oyster Cult, and were instructed to “spit fire” by their manager Bill Aucoin, most likely in hope of pushing the entertainment factor even further.
Accepting the challenge, when the band played the fittingly-titled Firehouse (which later featured on their 1974 self-titled debut album), Simmons tried his luck at spitting a fire-ball into the air with a mouthful of kerosene, but set locks of his hair alight in the process.
Fortunately, before things got too out of hand however, a roadie immediately smothered his head in a wet towel, extinguishing the flames in one large swoop.
In a clip from the two-part Biography: KISStory documentary which first aired in 2021, Simmons discussed the pivotal moment, which thanks to Aucoin, helped transform them into the fiery, show-stopping icons they are today.
He recalled: “Bill Aucoin said, ‘You guys are doing a song called Firehouse – one of you guys has to spit fire.’ Literally the very first show we did, my hair went up like a fucking matchstick. And the fans loved it.”
In a 2022 interview on Dean Delray’s Let there be Talk podcast, Simmons elaborated on how the moment came to unfold.
“We were in our manager’s office, Bill Aucoin, and there was a guy named, I think, Amazo or something like that. He came in, “Hey, check this out, guys.” We’re in a small office and he’s sitting on the couch, and he goes, “Phewwww,” and singes the ceiling. We went: 'Wow, that’s cool. Is he going to be like an opening act?' Because we were open to any of it.”
“No. One of you is going to spit fire during the show.”
"We’re like, “I don’t think so,” and I thought he said, 'Ok, which one of you doesn’t want to spit fire?' What he actually said was, 'Ok, who wants to spit fire?' So, I put my hand up. The other guys didn’t because they heard right. 'Ok, you’re spitting fire.'
He continued: “It was a month before the first record even came out. Nobody really knew who we were. So, we get out there. We had the flash pods. We actually had the levitating drum set, although it only went up six feet because guys are in the back cranking it. And we had bombs and everything.
“It’s the third song, we’re doing Firehouse. It’s time to spit fire. I catch fire right away. The audience goes nuts. ‘Wow, these guys are going to kill themselves. That’s cool.’”
Simmons’ fire-breathing debut would also be the first of many unfortunate pyro mishaps for the bassist. In a 1999 online chat, Simmons estimated that he'd set his own hair aflame "probably six or seven times." Two decades later, we imagine that number has increased quite a bit.
Check out the Biography: KissStory clip of the 1973 show below: