Gene Simmons’ and Van Halen: how upper management can let the big one get away
Granted, I’m not a huge Gene Simmons fan (although I do admire how the self-made Hungarian-Jewish Israeli immigrant has carved out a successful career for himself in America), but I tell this story because it illustrated that sometimes people in management can let something big and promising get away.
In the mid 1970s, Simmons visited a Los Angeles-area club to hear a band perform. As he described on his website, the opening act floored him. He went back stage to talk to them and convinced them to sign to his record label. (If I understand right, his Man of 1,000 Faces label was a subsidiary of the one that KISS was signed to). He signed this Pasadena, Calif. band, which had been founded by two brothers—a drummer and guitarist, who were also both Dutch immigrants.
Simmons then flew this band to New York to record a 15-track demo. Once done, he pitched the band to his record label. Bill Aucoin, KISS’ manager, told Simmons he didn’t think this California band, which was hugely popular in the Southern California club circuit, would ever have any commercial success as a band. Despite Simmons’ pleadings, the bosses at the main record label decided to pass on these brothers and their bass player and lead singer.
Simmons then told the brothers and their bandmates this: he was heading out with KISS on tour. They were free to sign with someone else and if they did, he’d tear up the contract they’d signed. If they didn’t sign, when he returned he’d roll up his sleeves and get a deal in the works.
Well, this band with no commercial potential ended up with a record deal. Two of their albums would sell 10 million copies while all but one went platinum. Their guitar player went onto not only revolutionize how the guitar was played, he also introduced something new to rock and roll—synthesizers. Jump and I’ll Wait from the David Lee Roth Era and Why Can’t This Be Love? and When It’s Love from the Sammy Hagar Era are some examples.
The name of this band? It comes from the Dutch-born brothers’ surname—Van Halen.
And the rest is history.