TONGUES WERE WAGGING
June 14, 2009
FAMILY JEWELS TONIGHT - GENE'S VISIT TO MEMPHIS

Tongues Were Wagging As KISS Star Visited Memphis

By Michael Lollar

Gene Simmons paid his respects to Memphis music last fall with a visit to the home of rock and roll for tonight's episode of his A&E reality show, 'Gene Simmons Family Jewels.'

The tongue-wagging lead singer and guitarist for KISS, Simmons visited Graceland, Sun Studio, Beale Street and The Peabody, where he served as honorary duck master and signed autographs for fans in the hotel's famous lobby.

Spokesmen for the Memphis attractions said they were sworn to secrecy about Simmons' visit and learned only this week the air date is set for 8 tonight.

'They don't give you the air date until close to the time it's going to run,' said Peabody public relations director Kelly Earnest.

She said A&E network scouts arrived in the city prior to Simmons' visit in early October. On the day of the taping, he arrived an hour before the famous 5 p.m. duck march.

'So he spent the time in the lobby talking to people and signing autographs. He seemed to especially like talking to the ladies,' Earnest said.

The rock star's partner is actress and former Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed, who also is Simmons' reality show co-star, along with their children, Nick and Sophie.

Graceland spokesman Kevin Kern said the Memphis trip was partly inspired by Nick Simmons' love of the blues and rock and roll, and his father's promise to expose him to the music's origins.

A scene from Elvis Presley's Graceland is on a brief promotional video of the show on the A&E 'Family Jewels' Web site, with Simmons and Nick getting an after-hours tour of Graceland. Allowed beyond ropes that block access to most visitors, Gene Simmons is repeatedly warned by Kern not to touch The King's things.

While the video gives Simmons a bull-in-a-china-shop look, Kern said the warnings were partly 'for effect.' Simmons was actually 'very reverent and respectful. He kept saying how he was honored to be there and how he paled in comparison to Elvis.'

At Sun Studio, Simmons arrived telling his son: 'As a serious lover of the blues, Sun Studio is important. I mean it is the mecca of blues. This is where it all happened.'

Studio manager and recording engineer James Lott conducted the Sun tour, which he said began a little shakily.

'He started out grumpy,' but Lott said Nick Simmons told his father to relax, and they began to have fun.

'It was surreal and fun at the same time,' Lott said. 'We started telling him a little bit about the history of the place. Then it developed into some mad, crazy thing where we played and jammed a little bit, with me playing the Dobro and (Gene Simmons) playing the electric guitar.'

Lott said Nick Simmons loved the sound of the Dobro and offered to buy it.

'He paid me $700 for it,' Lott said. 'It was a great deal. I only paid $250 for it.'

Lott said he was surprised to learn that Simmons, originally an Israeli named Chaim Witz, had adopted the stage name Gene Simmons from rockabilly singer 'Jumpin' Gene Simmons,' a former Sun star who later had a top 20 single with the song 'Haunted House.'

'Gene Simmons Family Jewels,' an episode about a visit to Memphis, airs on A&E at 9 EST tonight.