Gene Simmons Tells Stories, Plays Music And Meets Fans At The Vault- Detroit
January 27, 2018
Many things can be said about KISS bassist Gene Simmons: Hall of Famer, author, entrepreneur, reality TV star, and marketing genius quickly come to mind. Since KISS is currently not on tour, the marketing aspect of Simmons’ mind was hard at work. He decided to come up with The Vault.
The Vault is a 38-pound safe that contains what Simmons calls “the world’s largest box set.” This monster consists of eleven CDs of unreleased music that spans his career and covers over ten hours of uninterrupted listening time. It also has a 50,000 word book including 160 pages of unseen photographs, a commemorative coin, and a Gene Simmons action figure. Each vault contains a unique gift from his personal archive.
Gene is traveling to thirty different cities around the world to to present The Vault to those fans who choose to purchase this novelty. Each “Vault Experience” includes a Q&A session where Simmons will talk about his songs, his life and even play some acoustic guitar. The purchaser and their guest will then get to spend a few minutes with Gene where he will autograph a few items, answer questions, take pictures with attendees and, of course, show you what’s inside The Vault! He'll then personalize your Vault and sign the robust box that the whole set comes in as well.
My friend Rob decided to buy The Vault and asked me to be his guest as we made the trek up to Detroit to personally meet The Demon. This event was held at the John Varvatos store in the recently-gentrified downtown area of the Motor City.
The event was supposed to start at 6 pm after the store closed at 5:00. About fifteen people and their guests assembled outside by 5:45 but we were told to wait outside because Gene had to do a couple of interviews.
It was getting a little chilly outside waiting for them to let us in. Finally at around 6:30, the doors flew open and we were allowed into the warmth of the store. All the guests were treated to some complimentary beverages and hors d'oeuvres. There was a small stage with two acoustic guitars and two stools complemented by a mountain of amps that were waiting for Mr. Simmons. Rob and I positioned ourselves right in front of the stage; we would never get the chance to be closer to see him perform.
After about 20-30 additional minutes of waiting, Mr. Simmons made his way downstairs and to the stage. He fist bumped a few fans along the way and graciously thanked fans for coming. He told the audience, “I get choked up sometimes because I can’t believe this happened to me. Coming to America, because I wasn’t born here, I couldn’t speak a word of English. The fact that America has allowed me to climb the ladder and get anything I ever dreamed about. The fact is none of this could have happened without you and that’s what this is all about.”
He then talked about some of the music that's in the box set. He mentioned that the earliest song that he had ever written and recorded called “My Uncle Is A Raft” is included within the Vault. He said that he got his inspiration from the Kinks song “A Well Respected Man” and actually played it for the fans.
Gene also mentioned that he had recorded a few songs with Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop and the Van Halen brothers which are, of course, all included in the box set. He then went into detail about “Christine Sixteen” and how he had both Eddie Van Halen play guitar and Alex Van Halen play drums on the demo. When it was time for KISS to record the tracks, he made Ace play the solo exactly as Eddie had done on the demo and Ace hated it. Gene said that once Ace heard the song on the radio he loved it.
The stories-and-music part of the experience lasted about forty minutes. But before we got to spend some one on one time with Gene, Simmons spotted a young man, who was about twelve years old, in the audience and invited him on stage. Gene asked him a few questions and there was some light back-and-forth banter. Then, Simmons said the most genuine thing I have ever heard him say. He told the young man “You are a lucky man. My dad left me when I was about seven years old. You are a lucky man to have such a cool dad to be around you and share stuff with you. You are so fortunate because there are so many dads who abandon their kids.”
It was a very touching moment.
Before going upstairs to meet people individually, Gene left us with these words. “That’s what it’s all about. When I see a grandpa with KISS makeup and the grandson on his shoulders with makeup, yeah even Paul’s makeup, that’s when you realize it’s more than the songs; more than the band. It brings families together and it connects generations. That’s why I’m the luckiest son-of-a-bitch who ever walked the planet. That’s all. I’ll see you up there! “
As we waited for our turn to meet Gene. More hors ‘d'oeuvres were served as his forty-plus years of music was played over the sound system.
When it was finally our turn to approach Gene, we were eighth in line, we both had some items to be signed. Gene fist bumped us and thanked us for coming. He said “Let me sign these before we get to The Vault.” My friend brought every CD cover that Simmons had ever played on. As Gene was signing, I decided to ask a few questions.
GD: When you were playing “Christine Sixteen” was that Eddie Van Halen on keyboards?
GS: No, that was me. Although he’s a great keyboard player; he was classically trained.
GD: Right. What is your favorite song to play live?
GS: "Deuce." Not because of the song, but because it has so many memories. It was the first song on our first tour.
GD: Who was one of your favorite opening acts; you’ve had some big names open for you.
GD: Was that ‘78?
GS: No earlier than that. I think ‘77.
GD: Wow, so that was Bon. Did you get to hang out with those guys, Bon Scott and Angus?
GS: (Gene stops signing, and looks directly at me) You mean, did they get to hang out with me?
GD: That’s right, they were the young guys!
GD: Getting back to the Van Halen brothers, Is it true that you wanted Eddie Van Halen to join KISS when Ace left?
GS: It’s the other way around. Eddie called me and asked if he could join the band. He had had enough with Roth. I told Ed, it’s not easy being in a band but ride it out; you’re going to be fine.
After signing a couple of items for me, it was time for Rob to get his vault. Gene opened it up and showed us what was inside. The CD box set was sealed, as was the action figure and coin. He then opened up the bottom compartment and asked Rob if he wanted to see his special gift or if he wanted to be surprised when he got home. Rob wanted to know what it was. So Gene opened up the compartment and was surprised to see a beach towel with the the original KISS lineup with makeup. He told us that it was a unique item because it was copyrighted in 1980 in Australia for their Australian tour. He noted that Peter Criss was on the towel, but by 1980 Eric Carr was in the band but they had made the towels before the change was announced.
He then said “Now I’m going to make this worth a small fortune.” and he signed the towel for Rob.
Our time with The Demon was over as someone carried The Vault downstairs and we collected our signed items. In all, we spent about ten minutes with Simmons.
It was a very cool experience and I’m glad I got to attend.
You can have the same experience as me because Gene Simmons recently added a Cleveland date for his "Vault Experience." Gene will be in Cleveland on April 28 to personally hand out his vaults to those who are willing to pay the two grand.
For more information about this event, please click here.
Story by Greg Drugan