Rus Towne Professor Grace Schwanda Music 110 April 24th, 2013 Artist Chosen: Gene Simmons
Towne Family Musical Heritage
The Music History of the Towne Family This is a story about two individuals born in two different decades, from half a world apart. One was born in Haifa, Israel in 1949 and the other was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1963. Both were interested in music, but only one would become a superstar in the world of entertainment and play the Bass guitar for the rock band Kiss. That person is Chaim Witz, also known as Gene Simmons. The Beginning This story begins on October 23, 1963 during the blizzard of 63. Born eight days early, Al and Roberta Towne welcomed their 10 lb. 8 oz. with fire engine red hair, son Russell Towne. Not all was well with their son; I was born with a double hernia and under developed lungs. I would spend the next two weeks in the hospital in an oxygen tent. Music was introduced to me at an early age, and being a sick infant, somehow music would control my crying fits. As the months passed, my health improved and my journey was about to begin. My mother played the saxophone for years and my father loved Elvis music. You could only imagine what our house sounded like. The loudness of Boots Randolph on alto saxophone in one corner verses jail house rock of Elvis on the HI-FI system in the other corner. We had a Motorola 4 Speed Stereo Turntable High Fidelity (HI-FI) Stereophonic Console. It had a record player console stereo with speakers built in. The top would open up to reveal a record player, Stereo AM / FM, 4-speed automatic record changer, 45 rpm spindle and an album storage compartment. At that time, it was the state of art sound system. It wasnâ€™t very loud, but it was cool looking. I was told that my first steps would be in unison to the beat of the Beatles.
When I turned five years old, the record players were becoming smaller and portable. Instead of listening to LPs records (Long Playing) on the console, we listened to 45’s on the record player. The 45s were smaller and you didn’t have to buy a whole album for just one song. The problem then, you needed two different types of needles to play the records. For the first five years of my life, music changed along with me. The Surf music an instrumental dance music, almost always in straight 4/4 time, with a medium to fast tempo, would be replaced by the British Invasion. The new beat had a separate lead singer, who sang both verses and choruses in close harmony, and backing vocals. The Beatles along with the Rolling Stones, the Who and Moody Blues were the leaders of this new sound. I liked the Beach Boys genres, but there was something about this new beat. It was snappy, hip and for a five year old whose family heritage came to America via Canada it was the beginning of the Towne Family Heritage. Having no interest in the saxophone at the age of seven, I was introduced to the snare drum by a neighbor. Thinking this was a cool idea, but I am sure my parent thought other; I saved my money and found an old Sapelli Wood Shell Snare Drum at a garage sale. The neighbor’s name was Carl and he would spend the next six weeks teaching me how to play the drum. I was taught the single stroke, double stroke, diddle, paradiddle, drag, flam, and the roll. I would put on a headset, plug it into the stereo and play along with the LPs, not losing a beat. Being a kid, I was horse playing at school one day and broke my arm. I didn’t just break my arm, I shattered my elbow, and the surgeon told my parents that my drum playing days were over. I would never be able to hold the drum stick properly again. It would be 3 years before I
had any interest in playing an instrument again. Two surgeries later, I could play some sports again, but my drum sticks would never play the Sapelli again. The era was the 1970s and a new rock band was founded by the only child of a Nazi Concentration camp survivor. Born in 1949 in Haifa, Israel and named Chaim Witz. This person would become one of the major reasons why I returned to music. Witz would become known as Gene Simmons from the genres type of music called heavy metal or hard rock, and the band became known as KISS. In the book KISS and Make-up, the author Gene Simmons described his life with his mother Florence Klein as dirt poor and the family survived on bread and milk. Chaim and his mother moved to Jackson Heights, the Queens area of New York City at the age of eight. Chaim changed his name to Eugene Klein or Gene Klein. Gene said that his ethics, morals and drive on life are what his mother passed on him. His mother would say “Every day above ground, is a good day”. (Simmons) As a teenager Simmons worked numerous jobs to help make ends meet. He started trading comic books, worked as a lifeguard at the Pines Hotel during the summer and starting to learn how to play the bass guitar. Simmons became an excellent typist, which gained him employment as an assistant to editor for Vogue magazine. Simmons attended Sullivan County Community College and started his first band called Lynx. Gene continued to be a Lifeguard at the Pines Hotel, the “place where I had my first sexual escapades in which I actually took the bull by the horns”. (Simmons) He also talked about one of his rescues that he had to perform on a 300 pound Jewish woman. The woman came to the pool with her 100 pound husband, verbally torturing him. She entered the pool as her husband sat
down on a chair. The women quickly sank to the bottom of the pool, causing Simmons to quickly act as a lifeguard and rescue the women. “She was fighting me all the way to the side of the pool, while her husband just sat there, not moving a muscle to help me”. (Simmons) Once she got out of the pool, she sat down next to her husband and not a word was said by either of them, they both just sat there looking straight ahead. Simmons said that “he graduated from Sullivan County Community College and headed off to New York State University where he lived at a rundown property called Green Acres Hotel”. His idea of impressing a date was “a hot plate with a can of beans on it and Twinkies”. (Simmons) Gene’s next stop on his educational journey was City University of New York and earned a Bachelor degree of Education. Simmons would spend time teaching sixth grade in New York City, the Spanish Harlem school district. In the 1970s, Simmons formed a band called Wicked Lester with a friend named Stanley Harvey Eisen. The band recorded one album, but Eisen and Simmons were not happy with the way the band was sounding and their look and walked away from Wicked Lester. Eisner and Simmons set out on a journey to form the new ultimate band and started searching for new members. The two searched the bars in Brooklyn for a drummer and found Peter Criscoula. The trio started to think of a name for the Heavy Metal band and it all came together when Paul Frehley joined the group. On 1974 a new rock band would enter history, on lead guitar Ace Frehley, hitting the skins of the drums Peter Criss, lead vocal, and rhythm guitar Paul Stanley and playing bass guitar is Gene Simmons. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to the band KISS.
In his book Simmons stated that “the group needed a look that would stand out among the hundreds of other rock bands”. The group decided on black and white face make-up and crazy stage outfits. Each band member will have a comic book name and unique outfit to go along with the names. Stanley was Star child, Simmons was Demon, Frehley was Space Ace and Criss was Catman. Each concert included Simmons with his trademark tongue spitting blood everywhere, Ace’s smoking guitar, Criss’ levitating drum set and Stanley’s fireworks filled guitar. In 1975 a friend of mine was walking down the hallway of Lowell Middle School and I took notice of his shirt. There were four big letters and four faces with white and black makeup on them. The letters spelled out the word KISS, and Robert said to me “You gotta hear this group”. So, now I was on a musical journey to finding the music from this new band. With a little help from my AM/FM radio and radio station WLAV, I was introduced to the Album “ALIVE!” and the song “Rock and Roll All Nite”. It was at this time, I “found my Elvis” and I would be spending the next Thirty-Eight years following this group. “We were now playing in front of 55,000 screaming fans and only having released our first album two year earlier, we are now playing at stadiums that no other groups have done since The Beatles”. (Simmons) In his book, Simmons talks about how music was only part of the plan, the next big step was to get their merchandise out there. “The Master plan was to create merchandise that would become as iconic as Disney”. (Simmons) In Simmons’ words “we know something was going on and it was very clear what was going to happen”. “All of sudden we were one of the biggest bands in the world and a lot of the bands that we grew up with, The Who, Stones and Queen were huge world-wide, but in America, we were outselling them two to one”. (Simmons) KISS had a warehouse full of merchandise like T-shirts,
belt buckles, and posters. They would become the front runner of selling rock and roll merchandise. This did not go over well with other rock bands; the theme of music was replaced by money. Gene Simmons was more than just a bass player made up to look like the comic book superhero Bolt, he is an entrepreneur. Toward the end of the 1970s, rumors started to spread about the group in the southern Bible belt states. “KISS stood for Knight’s in Satan’s Service and that the four of us were devil worshipers”. (Simmons) It all started from an interview that Simmons did with the magazine “Circus”. Simmons made the comment “I wondered what human flesh tasted like”. This started the whole idea that KISS was aligned with the devil worshiping groups. “When I was asked whether I worshiped the devil, I simply refused to answer for a number of reasons: first being, this was great press for us and second was the disregard for people asking the question. These religious fanatics didn’t deserve the time of day and that the uneducated people point to principles of religion. An idiot is an idiot, even if they quote verses from a bible”. (Simmons) Simmons used the Satan-worshiping nonsense as a way to come up with his own hand signal, “the middle finger and ring finger pressed against the palm of his hand. To the Bible thumpers it looked like the devil’s horns”. (Simmons) The crowd picked up on this and this rock and roll hand gesture would become part of KISS’ trademark, along with Simmons tongue. KISS’ next album was called Destroyer and became the group’s second gold album, the first being ALIVE! The band produced its first rock and roll ballad song with “Beth”. The song spent time in the Billboard Charts as number seven, and with this push, Destroyer album became Platinum status by the end of year.
The KISS army was growing and I was part of the wave. I was now buying their albums, 45s, and cassettes. I just purchased a Panasonic sound system, which included two large box speakers, record player, AM/FM stereo and cassette player. Now KISS was being played in style, and KISS’ next hit “I was made for lovin you” from the album Dynasty was being played all the time. My dad wasn’t too impressed with the music genres, but my mom thought it wasn’t bad. I even had a great aunt that was part of a bible group and was convinced that I was a devil worshiper. The best part is when I dressed up as Gene Simmons for Halloween and paid my great aunt a visit. My grandma thought it was funny, but the great aunt was looking for holy water. As my KISS collection was building, the tension in the group was growing. In 1980 drummer Peter Criss was fired. “Criss’ usage of drugs affected his drumming skill, making them noticeably eroded, and he was slowing down or even stopped playing during concerts”. (Simmons) The album Dynasty would be Criss’ last appearance with the band until 1996. As the band was looking for a new drummer, I started playing the Alto Saxophone with the Lowell Middle School Marching Band, toning my skills with the Tenor Saxophone and moving on to the Baritone Saxophone. I would play along with my KISS songs, and I wasn’t just listening to the songs, but hearing them too. I even tried out for Drum Major and would lead my 35 piece marching band down the streets of Lowell for the Memorial Day parade. KISS found their new drummer named Paul Caravello, “a little know drummer, and singer from Brooklyn. Caravello was given the stage name Eric Carr and wore the Fox makeup”. (Simmons) The next album was called Unmasked and the group removed their face paint
and stared touring Australia and New Zealand. This would become the bands biggest crowd following in the history of KISS. As KISS was putting out more albums, I continued to build my musical heritage. Along with the saxophone family, in high school I expanded to the Tuba, Baritone, and Bass drum and marched with the band. I even tried out for drum major, but was out voted by an upper-class man. I enjoyed playing this assortment of instruments, but I was getting bored with this music beat and decided to end my music career in 1981. Again tension was brewing with KISS and in 1982 Ace Frehley departed from the group due to conflict with album creation and drug usage. To fill the vacancy, the group held auditions and “Eddie Van Halen from the Heavy Metal band Van Halen wanted to fill the lead guitar spot, but Eddie’s brother Alex convinced him to stay with the band”. (Simmons) Others who audition for the band included “Doug Aldrich from Dio and Richie Sambora from Bon Jovi”. (Simmons) The band settled on Vinnie Cusano, and would go by the stage name Vinnie Vincent. “Cusano sounded too ethnic, more like a fruit vendor and rock and roll is about image”. (Simmons) Vincent would be called the Egyptian Warrior and his make-up would be based on Egyptian symbols. Vincent would appear on Creatures of the Night and Lick it up, but Vincent didn’t work well with Simmons and Stanley and was released. “I named Vincent Cusano, Vinnie Vincent. That’s the only gift he’s allowed. Vinnie was fired for unethical behavior, not because of his lack of talent. Vincent is very talented, but unethical, that is way he was fired”. (Simmons) KISS’ next album was Animalize and Mark St. John replace Vincent, but this would be St John only appearance on a KISS album, he developed sever hand arthritis and was forced to
quit the band. Bruce Kulick would become the bands fourth lead guitarist in three years. “The lineup of Stanley, Simmons, Carr and Kulick turned out to be the most stable since the original members got together”. (Simmons) The album Hot in the Shade would produce their next ballad called “Forever”. It peak at number eight on the 1990 Billboard Charts. These non make-up years caused a decline in the popularity in KISS, causing Simmons to become less involved with the group and pursued other interest. “Stanley would have to step up and become the new driving force behind the group”. (Simmons) Before the next album could be produced, drummer Eric Carr developed a tumor on his heart and pass away in 1991 from a cerebral hemorrhage. “The loss of our drummer Eric Carr was left unnoticed with the same day death of Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury”. (Simmons) The band was devastated with the loss of Carr. The song "Forever" is a power ballad with Stanley playing an acoustic guitar intro, and with the full band coming in for the first refrain. This is a special song to me, having played at Debbie’s and mine wedding. “I see my future when I look into your eyes; it took your love to make my love come alive”. (Lyrics from Forever) Eric Singer from the band Black Sabbath would take over the role of drummer for the next album Revenge. In 2002 KISS would preformed in full stage outfits and in black and white make-up during the closing ceremonies for the XIX Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. The band included Ace Frehley on lead guitar and played Rock and Roll all Nite. One month later, Frehley left the band again and was replaced by Tommy Thayer from the group Black n Blue. While touring Australia, the band performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for Kiss Symphony: Alive IV. The 60 piece orchestra was dressed in either black tuxedoes or black dresses, with traditional KISS make-up on, and accompanied the band for a 21 song track.
"Beethoven and Mozart will rise up dancing with fists raised as we unleash a spectacle that will be both classic and classical. This time its black tie and black leather”. (Simmons) I have the complete CD set loaded in my IPod player, and listening to the tracks as I write papers for my college courses. Gene Simmons is a musician, songwriter, producer, actor, and entrepreneur. He can play the bass guitar, vocals, guitar, and piano. Gene speaks English, Hebrew and German. Simmons is married to Shannon Tweed and has two children. “I wanted my kids to share both of their parent’s last names; I find it insulting for women to take their husband’s last name. Why would a woman throw away her last name and take her husband’s like property”? (Simmons) Music has come a long way since the Stereophonic system that I listened to years ago. You can listen to satellite music in your car; listen to music on an IPad, IPod, MP3 player, and computer. The days of albums, 8 track tape player and even cassette have been replaced by better music sound systems. Years ago I forgot what music was all about, but thanks to MUS 110, and Gene Simmons, it is all coming back to me. I believe my family heritage would be proud of me. “KISS has scaled the heights of careers, been on the cover of Forbes magazine, broken every box office record, just behind the Beatles with Gold Records, have our own Hollywood Walk of Fame. We even have wax figures in the Hollywood Wax Museum. We have done everything that we could imagine”. (Simmons)
Works Cited Simmons, G. (2001). KISS and Make-up. (1st ed.). New York,New York: Crown.