Happy Birthday to Chaim Witz aka Gene Simmons – born August 25, 1949!
Chaim Witz (Hebrew: חיים ויץ, [xaˈim ˈvit͡s]), known professionally as Gene Simmons, is an Israeli-American musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, actor and television personality. Also known by his stage persona The Demon, he is the bass guitarist and co-lead singer of Kiss, the rock band he co-founded with rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley in the early 1970s.
Chaim Witz was born on August 25, 1949 at Rambam Hospital, in Haifa, Israel. At age 8, he emigrated to New York City, with his mother. Simmons was raised in a Jewish household, where he practised playing his guitar hours without end. His mother, Flóra “Florence” Klein (formerly Kovács), was born in Jánd, Hungary. The name Klein, which means “small” in German, has the Hungarian equivalent Kis (a common Hungarian surname); this, however, did not give the band its name. Simmons’ mother survived internment in Nazi concentration camps. She and her brother, Larry Klein, were the only members of the family to survive the Holocaust.
Simmons’ father, Feri Witz, also Hungarian-born, remained in Israel, where he had one other son and three daughters, and worked as a carpenter. Simmons says the family was “dirt poor,” scraping by on bread and milk. In the United States, Simmons changed his name to Eugene Klein (later Gene Klein), adopting his mother’s maiden name.
Before his musical career began, Simmons worked a variety of jobs in the city. An “excellent typist,” he served as an assistant to an editor of the fashion magazine Vogue, and also spent several months as a sixth grade instructor on the Upper West Side.
A significant influence on Simmons was the Beatles. “There is no way I’d be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for The Beatles. I was watching The Ed Sullivan Show and I saw them. Those skinny little boys, kind of androgynous, with long hair like girls. It blew me away that these four boys [from] the middle of nowhere could make that music.”
Simmons became involved with his first band, Lynx, then renamed The Missing Links, when he was a teenager. Eventually, he disbanded the band to form The Long Island Sounds, the name being a pun on Long Island Sound. While he played in these bands, he worked at odd jobs on the side to make more money, including trading used comic books. Simmons attended Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, New York. He then joined a new band, Bullfrog Bheer, and the band recorded a demo, “Leeta”; this was later included on the Kiss box set.
Simmons formed the rock band Wicked Lester in the early 1970s with Stanley Eisen (now known as Paul Stanley) and recorded one album, which was never released. Dissatisfied with Wicked Lester’s sound and look, Simmons and Stanley attempted to fire their band members; they were met with resistance, and they quit Wicked Lester, walking away from their record deal with Epic Records. They decided to form the “ultimate rock band,” and started looking for a drummer. Simmons and Stanley found an ad placed by George Peter John Criscuola (known as Peter Criss) who was playing clubs in Brooklyn at the time; they joined and started out as a trio. During this time, Criss and Simmons also appeared on an unreleased album by Captain Sanity together with members from Criss’ previous band Chelsea. Paul Frehley (better known as Ace Frehley) responded to an ad they put in The Village Voice for a lead guitar player, and soon joined them. Kiss released their self-titled debut album in February 1974. Stanley took on the role of lead performer on stage, while Simmons became the driving force behind what became an extensive Kiss merchandising franchise. The eye section of his “Demon” makeup with Kiss came from the wing design of comic book character Black Bolt.