Kiss frontman Paul Stanley has admitted that he and his manager Bill Aucoin turned down the opportunity to work with Van Halen in 1976 in order to protect Kiss. Stanley’s story is shared in the forthcoming Eddie Van Halen biography Eruption (opens in new tab) (UK) / Unchained (opens in new tab) (US).
Having decamped to Los Angeles in late October ’76 in order to tape a three song Kiss performance for ABC Television’s The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, Stanley and Gene Simmons decided to stick around for a week or so in order to check out Hollywood’s nightlife and party scene. On November 2, at the invitation of DJ and club impresario Rodney Bingenheimer, the pair visited the Starwood club to check out two unsigned local acts, The Boyz and Van Halen. And it was the Pasadena quartet who truly captured the attention of Kiss’ Demon and Starchild.
“I was thinking, ‘My fucking God, listen to these guys’,” Simmons later told the LA Times. ‘As soon as Eddie started playing, the thing that struck me right away was that the guy was amazingly fast and light on touch… Eddie was just swimming over that fretboard, and I couldn’t believe the control he had. Everybody’s head just turned around like Linda Blair in The Exorcist: what is that?”
Rodney Bingenheimer took Simmons backstage after the show to introduce him to Van Halen, and the bassist immediately expressed a desire to work with the group, offering to sign them to his management label, Man Of 1000 Faces, and to produce a demo for them to shop to record labels. True to his word, the bassist booked studio time for the quartet at Village Recorders in Santa Monica the very next day, and then paid for the band to fly to New York to finish the tape at Electric Lady Studios. To Simmons’ astonishment, however, upon being played the demos, featuring future Van Halen classics such as Runnin’ With The Devil and Somebody Get Me A Doctor, his manager and his best friend claimed not to hear anything special about the Californian group.
“Everybody shrugged their shoulders and went, ‘So what?’” Simmons recalls to writer Paul Brannigan. “And I’m going, You’re killing me! Whaddya mean, ‘So what?’ Listen to that!”
“I tore up the contract and said, You guys are free’,” Simmons tells Brannigan. “I said, We’re going out on tour, and when I get back, if you don’t have a deal, I’ll come back and I’ll try to help you. But right now, I don’t feel ethical in shopping your tape because the rest of the guys don’t get it.”
This assessment, Paul Stanley admits to Brannigan, was nothing to do with Van Halen, and everything to do with managing Gene Simmons.
“We didn’t want to take Van Halen on because we were trying to hold Gene in check,” Stanley reveals. ‘Gene is often more concerned – and this is just part of his personality – with Gene, and it wasn’t going to be to our benefit for him to run off and get involved with something else. Were Van Halen undeniable? Absolutely. Were they fabulous? Yeah. Did they have what it took? Absolutely. But we had to take care of Kiss, and the way to protect Kiss at that time was to pull the reins in on Gene, it’s that simple.”
At the insistence of label executive vice-president/producer Ted Templeman, Warners would sign Van Halen just four months later.
Titled Eruption in the UK, where it’s being published by Faber & Faber on September 23 (opens in new tab), and Unchained in the US, where it’s being published by Permuted Press on December 14 (opens in new tab), the Eddie Van Halen biography is now available to pre-order. The book is already available in Germany, where it is published by Ullstein as Eddie Van Halen: Ein Leben (opens in new tab).