Think of KISS, and what’s the first thing you think of? Is it the music, the makeup, the pyrotechnics, or the uncommonly good business sense? I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you didn’t think of that last bit – and you wouldn’t be alone. Musicians are known for their excess, and KISS seems more like a “trash your hotel room and maybe die of an overdose in an alley, possibly while riding a flaming motorcycle” than a vehicle for prudent investment…but it might be possible that KISS defies logic and does both. The man behind it all? Gene Simmons.
Born Chaim Witz, he emigrated from Israel to the U.S as a child with his mother. He got involved with music as a teen, joining up with his first band, which was called Lynx, then re-named The Missing Links. From them, he jumped from band to band, always keeping odd jobs to make some extra cash. He formed Wicked Lester in the early 1970s with Paul Stanley (then known as Stanley Harvey Eisen), but both were disappointed in the result. They quit the band, walked away from their record deal, and decided to form the greatest rock band of all time.
Usually, the lead personality in a rock group tends to be the singer. They need to have the swagger to keep the crowd roaring, and they’re usually extroverts. With KISS, the bassist has taken the lead, and continues to run with it, becoming the driving force behind the KISS merchandising machine. He’s produced thousands of licensed KISS products and numerous ventures, including his discontinued magazine Gene Simmons’ Tongue, Simmons Records, his clothing line Moneybag, and the brand marketing firm Simmons Abramson Marketing, the machine behind the “I Am Indy” Campaign. He’s also continuing to keep his brand in the public spotlight: His reality TV show Gene Simmons Family Jewels is coming back for a fifth season, he has a new reality show called Jingles that’s been delayed, and in 2008 he released his tome on prostitution, Ladies of the Night.
Though he didn’t get his sheepskin from school, Simmons took to being an entrepreneur as a natural. Trusting his gut feelings on investments and merchandising have paid off, and now you can get everything from KISS condoms to KISS coffins. He follows the Warren Buffet School of investing – invest in what you know. A self-made capitalist, cunning investor, and fire-spitting rocker…who would have thought?