What are Bob Seger, Helen Reddy, Donna Summer, Grace Slick, Janis Ian, and the Doobies guitarsit Jeff Skunk Baxter all doing on Gene Simmons, the first solo album from Kiss' tongue-flicking, fire-breathing bassist?
"They want to be part of the excitement," says Simmons, tall, dark-skinned and droopy-lidded without his famous stage makeup. "It's wonderful to be a virtuoso on your instrument, but it's also exciting to be a rock and roll star. I mean, Skunk is wonderful, he's a terrific human being and he plays terrifically, but I don't wanna buy a Skunk Baxter lunchbox, ya know what I mean?"
Indeed. So did Cheap Trick's Rick Nielson, Aerosmith's Joe Perry, and Detective's Michael Des Barres, all of whom turn up at various junctures on Gene's album, along with his lady love, Cher, and both the Los Angeles and the New York Philharmonic Orchestras. Even the noble Lassie puts in an appearance.
"We sent a mobile unit out to Lassie's farm," Gene drily explains. "Lassie performed direct for our mobile unite five different kinds of barks and growls. She also lifted her paw, which we unfortunately didn't get on tape..."
Even this all star lineup was only the beginning, at one point. "Initially," says Simmons, "I was gonna have people like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dinah Shore...people like that that agreed to be on the album. Every track was a party. We'd always have anybody that would come down. Even the L.A. Philharmonic all had Gene Simmons masks on." Interestingly, though, he also recut "See You in Your Dreams," a two-year old Kiss song ("It's now a far more powerful tune"), the solo track that Gene most identifies with is the album's closer, an all-orchestrtal version of Ukelele Ike's "When You wish upon a star," from Pinnochio.
"That's really the secret of what I'm all about," simmons says seriously. "The lyrical content of that song sums up everything that I've always believed in." Not too surprising coming from a man who, as a kid, edited and published his own sci-fi and fantasy magazines, one-man rags with names like Cosmos and Faun (the mythical creature whose "sole purpose in life," Simmons says admiringly, "is the pursuit of pleasure.").
He wasn't bitten by the rock and roll bug until the Beatles appeared on the old Ed Sullivan show in 1964, and his mother remarked that "They look like apes."
"I went straight to the bathroom and started to comb my hair over my ears," he recalls. "What there was of it." In 1965, he started singing with a local band, the Long Island Sounds. And by 66, when rock began getting heavier, he realized that, "Wow, you really didn't have to play too well, you just kind of followed the bass paterrn from one chord to the next. " After earning a bachelor's degree in eduation, Gene spent the first half of 1972 teaching sixth grade at an upper Manhattan school, an experieince he describes as "pretty rotten - I wanted to kill those little pricks."Then he met Paul Stanley, and together they started rehearsing a band called Rainbow. By late '73, it had evolved into Kiss. But now, with all four members solo albums shipping platinum, might they not be tempted to off their makeup and costumes?
"I don't want to," says Gene. "And I don't think our fans want us to. I think when the makeup goes, then Kiss goes as a concept."