02/21/2014

FORBES: THE FAR REACHING TENTACLES OF KISS

By Richard Finger

“You want the best, you got the best”, his signature voice thunders as the preface to every KISS musical and pyrotechnic spectacle. Casually attired in jeans, black shirt, cowboy boots, and requisite standard issue dark glasses, Gene Simmons appeared the quintessential American icon that he is. The genetic gods have looked favorably upon this legend as somehow through all the thousands of concerts, and hard living, Mr. Simmons trademark hair remains intact. He insisted I tug at the famous pelage for verification. I dared not make inquiry as to whether any additives had been necessary to keep it signature “KISS” black.

Casually attired in jeans, black shirt, cowboy boots, and requisite standard issue dark glasses, Gene Simmons appeared the quintessential American icon that he is. The genetic gods have looked favorably upon this legend as somehow through all the thousands of concerts, and hard living, Mr. Simmons trademark hair remains intact. He insisted I tug at the famous pelage for verification. I dared not make inquiry as to whether any additives had been necessary to keep it signature “KISS” black.

Judging by the 90,000 or so KISS Army fans who showed up in Vienna, Austria (see photo below) on June 15 past, senescence seems not to have dimmed this bands popularity in the slightest. After 40 plus years of the peripatetic life I asked Simmons if he was just plain tired of performing. “To this day, hearing…seeing the fans, I get such a high every single time we perform……it’s an adrenaline rush that never gets old”. Since the commencement of the 1997 Reunion Tour and the following iterations, KISS has played to over 5 million loyal fans. Once you get him going Simmons is effusive. “We offer salvation through rock and roll……the depth and power of Fourth of July fireworks……. we have gone where no band has gone before.”

On April 10, KISS will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Simmons downplayed this grand honor a bit, even sidestepping my question. “Our reward is our incredible fans, to them I am most grateful…..this (Hall of Fame) is not our main validation. We only get the respect we demand. That said, I have been an extremely fortunate person……the worst days of my life are great.” Despite his reticence to say it, I sensed there was a deep pride beneath his stoic veneer.
By Richard Finger

“You want the best, you got the best”, his signature voice thunders as the preface to every KISS musical and pyrotechnic spectacle. Casually attired in jeans, black shirt, cowboy boots, and requisite standard issue dark glasses, Gene Simmons appeared the quintessential American icon that he is. The genetic gods have looked favorably upon this legend as somehow through all the thousands of concerts, and hard living, Mr. Simmons trademark hair remains intact. He insisted I tug at the famous pelage for verification. I dared not make inquiry as to whether any additives had been necessary to keep it signature “KISS” black.

Casually attired in jeans, black shirt, cowboy boots, and requisite standard issue dark glasses, Gene Simmons appeared the quintessential American icon that he is. The genetic gods have looked favorably upon this legend as somehow through all the thousands of concerts, and hard living, Mr. Simmons trademark hair remains intact. He insisted I tug at the famous pelage for verification. I dared not make inquiry as to whether any additives had been necessary to keep it signature “KISS” black.

Judging by the 90,000 or so KISS Army fans who showed up in Vienna, Austria (see photo below) on June 15 past, senescence seems not to have dimmed this bands popularity in the slightest. After 40 plus years of the peripatetic life I asked Simmons if he was just plain tired of performing. “To this day, hearing…seeing the fans, I get such a high every single time we perform……it’s an adrenaline rush that never gets old”. Since the commencement of the 1997 Reunion Tour and the following iterations, KISS has played to over 5 million loyal fans. Once you get him going Simmons is effusive. “We offer salvation through rock and roll……the depth and power of Fourth of July fireworks……. we have gone where no band has gone before.”

On April 10, KISS will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Simmons downplayed this grand honor a bit, even sidestepping my question. “Our reward is our incredible fans, to them I am most grateful…..this (Hall of Fame) is not our main validation. We only get the respect we demand. That said, I have been an extremely fortunate person……the worst days of my life are great.” Despite his reticence to say it, I sensed there was a deep pride beneath his stoic veneer.

KISS lead vocalist and songwriter Paul Stanley, in an interview with Classic Rock magazine publicly insulted the Hall of Fame calling it “tainted, corrupted, and distorted”, a reaction to his perceived political nature of the organization. He has a valid point in that KISS has been eligible for entry into the Hall of Fame for fifteen years. Mr. Stanley rightly suggests KISS has been unfairly ignored. Regardless, at the end of the day, it is an honor and their legacy is now secure. Stanley’s long awaited autobiography “Face the Music” is due out in April of this year. Sir Elton John commented: “Both honest and inspirational. Amazing tales from one of rock’s great frontmen.”

Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame transcends respect only for the repertoire of KISS music. It also necessarily sends a signal about artists’ overall influence….it is about longevity……..it is about power to shape ideas and cultural trends.

It is in this overall context that “KISS” separates itself from the pack of other Hall of Fame legends. Yes, KISS has 45 gold albums and is in the select group of bands that have sold 100 million records worldwide. While some legacy bands like KISS, The Rolling Stones, and the Eagles still play to packed houses and can make big money touring, selling recorded music is not the panacea it once was.

With the internet, downloadable music, I-tunes, and the like, royalties for recording artists are down 80 to 90 percent or more over the past decade. Sadly, the corner record store is but an antiquity, a relic…..and indeed there are perhaps millions who have never seen a vinyl record or the turntable upon which they were played.

Licensing, Endorsements, and Promotion Marketing

KISS, simply put, is the number one marketing and licensing music act of all time. At the retail level they have generated more than $1 billion selling t-shirts, coffee mugs, hats, posters, toys, action figures, dolls, KISS fragrance, leather jackets, motorcycle helmets, over 2,000 products in all. Gene Simmons is perhaps the only person to have been asked at one time or another to endorse Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper. The list of other promotional endorsements is equally impressive: NASTAR, Hasbro toys, Mars Candy, Cannon cameras, Holiday Inn Express, Universal Orlando Resorts, Miller Lite, Cingular Wireless, and i-Tunes. More recently Hello Kitty dolls, complete with the famous Simmons red tongue has been a gigantic success. There are KISS Marvel comics, Topps Trading cards, KISS pinball machines by Bally, and a famous Nike commercial with Michael Jordon and Spike Lee. There are even KISS slot machines and KISS postage stamps and a KISS Visa card. Now 40 years later the Kiss brand and signature logo permeates so many zones of life and it shows no signs of exhaustion.

Once virtually the face of A&E Network, there was the Gene Simmons Family Jewels, at seven years, the longest running celebrity reality T.V. show. There have been publishing deals, Nickelodeon Channel‘s Simmons produced “My Dad the Rock Star”, and VH1 Gene Simmons “Rock School.”

Very recently there has been announced the Kiss L.A. Arena Football team, a KISS “Dressed to Kill” fashion promotion with designer John Varvatos, and in what could be one of their most audacious business moves, planned opening of a large chain of family restaurants aptly named “Rock & Brews”.

“Rock & Brews”

Currently there are five “Rock & Brews” locations the most recent just opening in the Paia area of Maui in Hawaii. Simmons and KISS lead vocalist Paul Stanley are assembling a team with the capabilities to spread this brand ultimately to over 100 locations over the next few years. The concept has been honed at the company-owned El Segundo, California flagship location and three franchised locations in Redondo Beach, CA, LAX Intl. Airport, and Cabo San Lucas in the Baja Peninsula, Mexico. By the end of 2014 at least nine locations, including Kansas City, Phoenix, AZ, Albuquerque, NM, and Orlando, FLA will be in operational, with several others in development. Each restaurant will be tailored to fit local custom as exemplified by the native hand painted Hawaiian murals gracing the new Maui location. Each location will be styled as a family-friendly rock & roll dining experience with a special focus on craft beer, offering more than fifty two flavors of local and international brews . Lyric rock and roll custom created programming will stream videos not only continually broadcasting vintage rock and roll concerts (not just KISS) but also talking about rock and roll history as well as a menu of upcoming local area concerts. Hand tossed pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and rock and roll memorabilia will round out the ambiance. Both Paul and Gene are very involved in this project and attend all restaurant openings. (see photo)

Simmons and Stanley at opening of Rock & Brews, Paia, MauiThe landscape of celebrity restaurant ventures is a rusted junkyard of failure. Success is the exception that proves this rule. For every one of Robert DeNiro’s Nobu and Tribreca Grill triumph there is Brittany Spears’, Nyla, Hulk Hogan’s Pastamania, Kevin Costner’s The Clubhouse, Stephen Spielberg’s Dive! and Fashion Café by super model’s Turlington, Schiffer, Campbell, and Elle McPherson. Along with dozens of others, these eateries are all past tense, fireworks opened to much acclaim only to meekly flame out.


Risks and Why This Idea Might Succeed

Simmons and Stanley reveal an equal gravitas whether holding court on issues of music or expounding on the enormous Kiss licensing and endorsement empire. Talking about his business ventures, their excitement is palpable. Like everything they undertake Simmons and Stanley are assiduous planners. For the first major rollout, they have taken on a joint venture franchise partner of veteran restaurant operators from the Outback Steakhouse chain. It is a well-capitalized group that has a drawing board of a minimum of twenty locations over the next five years. This group has rights to develop Rock & Brews in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Florida. There are already talks with other well financed qualified restaurant operators.

The other powerful partners that will bring this to fruition include Dell and Dave Furano. Dave is a longtime concert promotion veteran and has worked with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and many others. Dell has worked with Kiss for the last 25 years and has been a key cog in building the KISS empire of promotions, endorsements, and licensed products. It will be their expertise that will promote and brand label Rock & Brews as a “Cathedral of Classic Rock and Great Food”


The final spoke in this well-oiled wheel is well-known successful Southern California hotelier and restaurateur Michael Zislis. Mr. Zislis started his entrepreneurial career at age 13 brewing beer in his garage for a school science project. World renowned expert on micro-brewing, Mr. Zislis has built and designed over 150 breweries around the globe. His “Brewco.” is a famous Manhattan Beach, CA hangout for over twenty five years.

Having assembled this team, the process is well along to hire an operations executive from a major restaurant chain with expertise in rolling out franchises in large numbers. It’s all a great plan, well capitalized with top notch people, so what can go wrong?

A lot…..Restaurants by their very nature are fickle and trends change. Micro-breweries which are all the rage now may lose some of their appeal. As a rock and roll thematic concept, maybe the name KISS will dim or the classic genre of rock and roll that is being marketed will lose favor. The one concept that is somewhat similar to “Rock & Brews” is the Hard Rock Café. For over two decades this brand has successfully rowed the ups and downs of economic cycles, changing music tastes, and importantly have managed to appeal to an entirely new generation of people. This chain remains popular among a group from Gen-X that weren’t even born at its inception. It remains to be seen whether this team has the execution skills to realize these big plans.

Designed to be a gathering place for “rockers” of all ages, Rock & Brews locations will be neighborhood suburban and avoid the “cookie cutter” tourist attraction approach of Hard Rock Café. A tribute to craft beers, the restaurants are long on rock and roll history and short on Hard Rock Café plexi-glass encased guitar gimmickry.

A Well-Tended Garden

Perhaps it all began when the band uniquely set themselves apart in 1975 attracting attention applying face makeup to be a centerpiece to their stage persona…..then the elaborate costumes, platform heels, and pyrotechnics that evolved into a “greatest show on earth”. Keep in mind none of this would have been possible without great music and the oversized charisma and duende of the face of KISS, the “Demon” himself, Gene Simmons. Since those early days KISS has grown and developed into a religion, a cult, with a fiercely loyal KISS Army, and the thousands that assiduously paint their faces for concerts. Somewhere along the line perhaps in the early eighties KISS transcended beyond just a very famous heavy metal rock band and became a brand, a label, an iconic symbol with marketing and endorsement power. With great live performances and great marketing the KISS brand, like a well –tended garden has been nurtured and fertilized, image cultivated, and transformed and solidified into the perfectly manicured paradigm…… the model for brand licensing across the entertainment spectrum. It is this continual refining, fine-tuning, the constant savvy use of online marketing and social media that has kept the Kiss brand more relevant today than 30 or 40 years ago.

While Simmons and Stanley are prospering more than ever at their “day job”, to me it this empire with far reaching tentacles that may be even more impressive than their music………but then it was the music that made it all possible. Still the kid at heart, Simmons left me with these words, We celebrate life…..I grab life by the nape of the neck……I am what I am, that’s all that I am, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man”.
Collectables
Shop Official KISS Merchandise