Gene Simmons Says Van Halen ‘Destroyed’ Black Sabbath When Opening for Them, Recalls Seeing Eddie Play for the First Time

Appearing recently in an interview with Classic Rock magazine recently, Kiss bassist Gene Simmons recalled the time when he saw Van Halen play live for the first time. He reflected on the 1970s and the band’s early days while lamenting Eddie Van Halen’s passing. Simmons said:

“When I was told that Eddie Van Halen had died, it hit me like a punch in the face. He was such a kind and beautiful soul, a genuinely nice person. He was so non-judgmental. It’s impossible to think of him without remembering that ever-present smile of his, or the way that his fingers always flew across the guitar.”

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What Gene also found to be so impressive is that Eddie always made it look so effortless. He continued:

“He made it all look so effortless, but that’s absolutely the last thing it was. And it’s strange to think that Eddie began as the drummer of Van Halen. His brother Alex was the guitarist until they swapped instruments. Ed had been a classically trained pianist which is why none of the other rockers could touch his musicality.”

Going into more detail about his relationship with Eddie, Gene remembered seeing Van Halen play live all the way back in 1976. Looking back at it, he offered:

“I first met Eddie on the night that I saw Van Halen playing at the Starwood, a small club in Hollywood, in 1976. I’ve been credited as the man that discovered Van Halen. No, I didn’t. I did no such thing. I just happened to be there and witness their greatness at what was still a very early stage.

Gene Simmons Remembers ‘Gentle Soul’ Eddie Van Halen

“I saw them that night and was left incredulous. I stood at the front of the stage and couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. This was one man making all of these sounds with his bare human hands?

“Everybody in the band was singing and playing live and Eddie was a complete guitar symphony in his own right. In those early days Ed would sometimes stand with his back to the audiences because he didn’t want to give his tracks away. But even if you saw how he played those licks, how could you possibly emulate them?

Of course, Gene was one of the first people to realize the full potential of Van Halen’s talents. So he took things into his own hands and signed them to his production company. He continued:

“So I signed the band to my production company, Man of 1,000 Faces, flew them to New York and produced a demo for them at Electric Lady Studios. If you Google the words ‘Gene Simmons Van Halen demo’ you can hear the song that I consider to be Edward’s defining moment.

“Not to be confused with the re-make from the album 1984, the version of ‘House Of Pain‘ they recorded with me is the most powerful thing they ever did. It erupts from zero to 60mph in a second. Play it loud; it’s like a steamroller over your face and the band performed it completely live in the studio.”

Unfortunately, at that point, the band didn’t get enough interest from Gene’s manager:

“But despite the quality of those tracks that we recorded together, I could not get interest from my manager at the time, Bill Aucoin, who has since passed away. Paul Stanley wasn’t interested either, and of course Ace Frehley and Peter Criss had bigger thing on their minds, they were too busy making bad decisions about life.”

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“I had wanted to take Van Halen under the wings of Kiss. We should have signed them and taken them out on tour with us. Sadly, nobody else in our organization saw it and of course months later Warner Brothers came by and scooped them up.”

“And by the time Kiss went out on tour again they had taken The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ and made it into something that Ray Davies could never have imagined. They became superstars. And when that happened I was able to go back to my own band and say: ‘I told you so, you morons.’”

“But the songwriting was just as important as the music, and David Lee Roth deserves his share of credit. Nevertheless, possibly due to Roth’s swagger and acrobatics onstage, Van Halen’s songs are often overlooked.”

(RARE FOOTAGE) Eddie Van halen Playing Amsterdam on a charvel in 1985 at 5150 studios

Around that time, in 1978, Van Halen went on to open for Black Sabbath for their “Never Say Die!” tour. However, the Birmingham four that kickstarted heavy metal about 10 years before this tour was falling apart. And, according to Gene, Van Halen outperformed them. He continued:

“That’s a shame as at their absolute peak nobody could touch them. When they went out on tour with Black Sabbath in 1978, Van Halen destroyed that band. Tony Iommi admitted it, and so did Ozzy.”

Van Halen Live 1978 - Paris, France (Great Sound!)

He also added:

“What really intrigued me about Van Halen was that they came out of nowhere, it seemed like they had no lineage. The big lips and blues-laden songs meant that you could trace the relationship between Aerosmith and the Stones, but to this day I’ve no clue where Van Halen came from.

“Edward has talked about being a fan of Clapton. I’m sorry, I don’t see that. Where other guitarists were inspired by B.B. King or Albert King, Edward was playing majors and minors and flat-thirds. What he did was closer to classical music.”

Photo: V-spectrum (VSpectrum-Gene Simmons-0204), Carl Lender (Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum 2)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.