In a new interview with Ultimate Guitar’s David Slavković, Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French talked about KISS and Gene Simmons.
When asked about knowing KISS during early days, he said:
“Well, if you’re talking about Gene Simmons as a person who has a reputation of being an arrogant, self-absorbed human being, that’s probably how he was back then too.
“But you know, to be fair, I was 20 when I met them and they were 22 – Gene and Paul [Stanley], I met them together – and they were the first people I ever met who had an idea of who they were.
“Up until then, all the musicians were just hippie musicians I played with – nobody said, ‘This is a plan that we have.’ When I met Gene and Paul, this was a plan, you know, they had this plan.
“I only met them because they already had a record deal on Epic Records with Wicked Lester, and the producer’s lawyer – I used to babysit for his daughter, so he kinda got me an audition, he said, ‘You’re looking for a band.’
“He said that in the elevator one day to me, like, ‘Hey, you’re looking for a band?’ ‘Why, ’cause I have long hair and I play guitar all day long and you hear me play in the building?’ ‘Yeah,’ he goes, ‘Wanna audition for a band?’
“And I went, ‘Sure!’ So, when Gene and Paul came down to meet me for the first time, Gene was pretty, ‘Are you Jewish? You’re Jewish, right? Well, we’re gonna change our names, we’re Jews too. You look to Jewish.’
“I’ve never been – no one had ever said to me at this point in my life, especially another Jew – had ever asked me if I was Jewish or that it mattered, or that my name mattered, or that my image mattered.
“This was Gene! Now obviously, Gene and Paul had decided at that point that they were going to break up this band called Wicked Lester to do this other thing which became KISS. They just said to me, ‘The demo you got – we’re gonna break that band up. We’re gonna start all over.’
“But they didn’t talk about makeup. They just said like, ‘We’re gonna be heavy, and we’re gonna wear platform shoes,’ ’cause platform shoes were just starting to come out – you know, this was 1972.
“The Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead were hippy, but I kinda sensed this was changing – the vibe was changing, the scene was changing, you know. And I was changing.
“So, I looked forward to it, it was like a new adventure. I rehearsed with them a couple of times, and you know, it was nice, we played Zeppelin songs, we did Jimi Hendrix…
“We were very influenced by the same music. You know, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Beatles – we were all the same age. Pink Floyd, The Who, that was all a part of who we all were.
“And then, it didn’t work out – they stopped calling me, which was fine, and four months later, they were still advertising in the local paper. I was looking for a band still, and I called the ad.
“It was Gene, and he said, ‘No, no, we found a guitar player,’ and that was Ace [Frehley]. He said, ‘Paul, his name is Paul [Daniel Frehley]. But after we’ve done rehearsing for a while, you can come down and see the band.’
“So, I went down and saw them in October ’72. To put this in perspective – you know who the New York Dolls are, obviously? I don’t know what you think of the New York Dolls, but it was a band of musicians floating around NYC that were not necessarily thought of as good musicians.
“We all knew each other, but they looked the way they looked. They looked great. And so, in September ’72 I went to see them ’cause friends of mine knew them very well, and I just thought that they were terrible.
“Apparently, Gene and Paul saw them at the same time. I have a magazine called Rock Scene Magazine from 1973 and New York Dolls are on the cover – and Twisted Sister and KISS are in little black-and-white photos inside saying, ‘These are the bands that are coming.’
“Which is kinda interesting if you think about it. But when I went down to see KISS rehearse with Ace as KISS – they just changed their name – it was impressive.
“It was like they knew exactly what they wanted to do. I had never met people that focused before. So, it was interesting to see those guys, and it doesn’t surprise me how successful they got because they were that focused.”