The KISS, or more specifically, Gene Simmons' connection with Van Halen has become something of a matter of urban legend
with most stories going, something to the effect: "In 1976, Gene Simmons of KISS caught the band playing at a small
club in Hollywood and liked them so much he offered to produce and pay for demos for them. Soon afterwards,
Warner Brother's house-producer saw the band, and convinced label executive Mo Ostin to sign them". Close, but not
quite. This little editorial shall explore the connection between Gene and Van Halen...
Some sources list the show where Gene discovered the band as being the Starwood in Hollywood, however the story does not begin there. Another contemporary band playing the Los Angeles rock scene was the "Boyz" which included future Dokken members George Lynch and Mick Brown. The band's vocalist, Michael White recalled, "in 1976 we played a Halloween show at Gazzarris on the Sunset Strip. The club was packed and most of the kids who came to the show that night were dressed up in KISS makeup. We played mostly our own tunes, but in order to get gigs we played some ZZ Top, KISS, etc. We ended our first set with 'Firehouse', a KISS song. As we were walking off the stage, I noticed an extremely tall guy approaching me. To make a long story short, the man was Gene Simmons. He was at the club partying with Paul Stanley. They weren't wearing any makeup and really enjoyed seeing all these kids dressed up like them. They really liked our version of their song. Gene said that their label Casablanca was looking to sign some new bands. He asked where we were playing next so he could bring the record company out to see us. I told him that we were playing the following week at the Starwood, another infamous club in Hollywood. Van Halen had the good fortune to be on the bill with us (we shared billing with Van Halen at several shows in the mid 70's). Gene showed up with the record company, but our show was really off that night. On the other hand, Van Halen had a great set. They impressed Gene so much that he flew them to NY to record some demos. Casablanca didn't sign Van Halen, but after returning to LA with those tapes, Van Halen shopped them to WB and the rest is history" (Michael White). The Halloween show the Boyz would have played would have occurred either on the weekend of October 29-30th, or perhaps even Monday October 31st. This "the following week" could have meant the week of 10/31 to 11/6 or 11/7 to 11/13. The likelyhood is that the show that Van Halen played with the Boyz fell on the weekend of November 4th or 5th (Fri/Sat). Van Halen's official site dates Gene's discovery of the band as occuring in May 1976 at the Starwood. However, according to the band's own official tourdate chronology the band didn't play there that month. The only date in that part of the year at the Starwood would be June 1st - when Gene would have been in Europe on KISS' first visit! Gene would recall going to see the Boyz with Bebe Buell and immediately taking a liking to Van Halen within the timeframe of them playing a couple of songs. After the show he introduced himself to them and persuaded them to let him back them...
Not all of the demo of the Van Halen demo recording was done in New York. The band had initially been taken to The Village Recorder studios in Los Angeles, with "two guitar solos were later recorded at Electric Ladyland Studios in New York... While in New York, Simmons setup a showcase performance for S.I.R's Bill Aucoin, but Aucoin saw no commercial potential in Van Halen" (Van Halen.com). This demo includes: "On Fire", "Woman In Love", "House In Pain", "Runnin' With the Devil", "She's the Woman", "Let's Get Rockin'", "Big Trouble", "Somebody Get Me a Doctor", "Babe, Don't Leave Me Alone" and "Put Out the Lights". Gene Simmons recalled that thee were 13-15 songs recorded, so there may well be other songs out there. Those listed simply circulate in excellent sound quality for collectors to hear the development of Van Halen's sound. Those demos would evenutually be very valuable, though Eddie recalled, "we made the tape... but nothing really came out of it because we didn't know where to take it. We didn't want to go around knocking on people's doors, saying, 'Sign us, sign us', so we ended up with just a decent sounding tape" (Guitar Player, Nov. 1978). That decent sounding tape he would sometimes refer to as sounding "bitching" in other early interviews, and couldn't be that bad since they didn't have to pay for it! While Casablanca, and every other label that the band shopped the demo to would pass on the band, including Bill Aucoin, the band would finally hit another streak of luck in March 1977, "when Mo Ostin, then president and chairman of the board of Warner Brothers, and producer Ted Templeman saw their act at the Starwood club in Los Angeles. With Eddie's brother Alex on drums, Michael Anthony on bass, and lead singer Dave Lee Roth, the band recorded 40 songs in three weeks, including 'Running with the Devil', a searing guitar solo aptly titled 'Eruption', and a remake of the Kinks' classic 'You Really Got Me'" (Guitar Player, Nov. 1978).
Later Gene Simmons would be recording his own demos for KISS' next studio album, which would become "Love Gun". While Gene often simply recorded his demos on his own he called on the Van Halen brothers to back him recalling, "I would usually go in and play all the instruments myself, but on this occasion I decided to call up the Van Halen brothers and ask them to come down and play. So both Alex and Eddie came down and played on cut 'Christine Sixteen', 'Got Love For Sale' and 'Tunnel Of Love', which later wound up on my solo record. We cut it live as a trio and Eddie came up with some solos afterwards. I liked his solo for 'Christine Sixteen' so much that when the band recorded it for 'Love Gun', Ace pretty much copied Eddie's solo note-for-note" (KISStory). While David Lee Roth has asserted that Gene had his eye on Eddie, hoping to get him into KISS, perhaps with Alex as well, with Ace and Peter becoming erratic, the band's signing with Warner Brothers and the success of the first Van Halen album killed off that plan. Gene would later claim that Eddie had been interested in joining KISS as they went through their guitarist trials in 1982.