By the end of ’76, Kiss had become a pretty big deal. We’d come back to L.A. to write and take two weeks off, and my phone rang and a guy named Rodney Bingenheimer said, “You’ve got to come with me to the Starwood tonight.” So I said, “Sure, I’m not doing anything.”
I think I grabbed some Popeye’s chicken on the way. Greasy stuff, but great. I get to the club and they stick me in the asshole section on the second floor, where the general public can’t go. I was toward the wall and there were people in front of me looking over the railing. I was waiting for the Boyz, who were the headliner and the band everybody was talking about.
They had George Lynch on guitar. But the first band came on and it was, “What the hell is that?” It sounded like three or four guitar players playing, some of them in harmony, and with speed and melody. It was like a guitar symphony.
I hurried up to the railing and couldn’t believe what I saw: There was a lead singer with long blonde hair and no shirt doing splits and all kinds of physical stuff, like an acrobat. And the bass was rocking out and the drummer was pounding away with a double kick.
And I was searching for the other guitar players, but it was just one little guy. Looked like a kid. And when this amazing noise was coming out of his guitar, his pick hand wasn’t always picking. He had both hands on the neck and I didn’t understand what was going on. I was thoroughly knocked out.
Within a few songs the band stopped and this kid stepped out to the front of the stage and started playing by himself. But he was doing the kinds of runs that most guitar players didn’t do. None of this old-fashioned blues – it was more classical music. B.B. King may have been in Eddie’s DNA someplace, but I didn’t hear it.
I wound up taking the guys to New York. I put them up in hotels, bought David [Lee Roth] leather pants and some high-heeled shoes. And we recorded 15 songs at Electric Lady Studios. Almost all of those songs wound up on the first Van Halen record, excluding House of Pain. Different version, which kicked the recorded House of Pain's ass.
Now, lots of people say, “Hey man, you discovered Van Halen.” I did no fucking such thing, okay? That first person who looks up and sees Mount Vesuvius can’t say they discovered Mount Vesuvius. It’s always been there. You just happened to be the person that came by and said, “Look at that!” When Kiss went back out on the road about a year later, we turned on the radio and what did we hear? Da-da-da da-da [sings the riff from You Really Got Me].
I’ll tell you, one of the most satisfying things in life is to turn around to everybody and say, “I told you so…” My favorite Van Halen song of all time is that unreleased House of Pain. There’s nothing better, and that includes Eruption. That thing is like a locomotive that’s going down the track without being able to stop.
I love Jamie’s Cryin’ because of that hook. Which, of course, was sampled by Tone Lōc. The funny thing is the other song Tone Lōc sampled was [Kiss’s] Christine Sixteen, which also connects to Eddie and Alex [Van Halen], because they were with me in the studio doing the original demo.
In fact, Edward’s solo on that – one take – was so good that when Kiss went to re-record the song I forced Ace [Frehley] to copy it note-for-note. He hated that. Not since Hendrix did anyone change the game like Edward. But don’t kid yourself – it wasn’t just his guitar.
Those are legitimate songs. It’s great, classic songwriting. And besides being a monster on his instrument, there was such a pure soul in there. None of that ego stuff. Even when you see the videos of him onstage, when he solos, he looks like he’s in heaven. He’s smiling his face off while he’s just destroying the fretboard. When I heard Edward had passed, the image I got in my head was a big smile.
Gene Simmons was speaking to Richard Bienstock