It was a phone call Dean Dinning would not soon forget.
"I was just sitting around my house when I got a call from our manager," recalls Dinning, bassist with the band Toad the Wet Sprocket. "He said, 'I just got off the phone with Gene Simmons from Kiss. And he is a Toad fan.'
"I couldn't believe it. [Simmons] really liked 'Walk on the Ocean' and he bought 'Fear' and liked the whole album. He wanted us to be on the Kiss tribute album, and he was waiting for me to call him back. Out of the blue one day. It was unbelievable."
Dinning wasn't the only one to hear the call. Toad the Wet Sprocket is just one of more than a dozen acts that wound up contributing to "Kiss My Ass" (Mercury 314 522 123, the CD and cassette of which arrives in stores Tuesday). A truly bizarre tribute album, it features cover versions of Kiss tunes by an un likely cast of Kissoholics, including Garth Brooks (who does "Hard Luck Women"), Lenny Kravitz with Stevie Wonder ("Deuce") and the Lemonheads ("Plaster Caster").
Garth Brooks and Stevie Wonder on a Kiss album? Whose demented idea was that?
Ours, answers Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, the two remaining original members of Kiss. As Simmons tells it, the concept of a Kiss tribute album had been kicking around for some time (in fact, an unauthorized tribute called "Hard to Believe" came out independently a few years back), but the band balked at letting label executives call the shots.
"I just wanted to keep the record company at arm's distance," he says. "The only way to have a party that you're going to enjoy is to throw it yourself. Because the record company -- if you're going to let your mom throw your party for you, all of the corny people are going to be there. Nobody that you want to talk to."
Coming up with names to invite wasn't difficult, Simmons adds. "I'd been reading interviews in magazines, same as everybody else does, and I was stunned to see how many different bands point to a Kiss record as something that changed their lives," he says. "Or changed their point of view, or something.
"Whether it was Dean Dinning getting dressed up in Kiss makeup during Halloween and then deciding to put a band together, or the guys in Metallica -- I mean, Lars Ulrich used to stand outside our hotel room in Denmark for hours, waiting for an autograph. Jason Newsted, the bass player, wanted to be Gene Simmons, if you believe everything that's written."
"When I met Garth [Brooks], backstage at one of his shows," adds Stanley, "he literally got misty-eyed and said, 'If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here doing this tonight,' and he put his arms around me. Well, call me a sap, but I got misty-eyed, too. I find stuff like that very, very flattering and humbling."
"I was stunned that, all of a sudden, after years of being the black sheep of rock and roll, people were coming out," agrees Simmons. "The confessional was happening: Yes, I was a Kissoholic, I don't want to hide in the closet anymore."
Respect is something of a sore point with the band, in large part because the band for many years didn't get any. It wasn't just that critics dumped on Kiss, calling them "heavy-metal clowns" and worse; even rock fans got their digs in. Back in the early '80s, for example, it was not uncommon for one would-be cool teen to dismiss another's musical opinion with the words, "Yeah, well, you probably like Kiss, too."
Such antipathy mystifies Stanley. "I don't like to draw comparisons, but when Townshend smashes a guitar, or Springsteen jumps up in the air, it's artistry," he says. "If I break a guitar onstage, it's to cover something up. The double-standard is so obvious, it's bewildering to me.
"But who really cares, you know? In terms of awards and adulation, you can go to Tower Records, and our awards are under 'K.' There are 25 of them. That's the people speaking, and ultimately, they're the ones who count."
It's that "people's choice" aspect to the tribute album that most pleases Simmons and Stanley.
"This is the graduating class of the Kiss Army," says Simmons. "The fans who went on to form their own bands. That's what this story is really about. I thought only a couple of people would come, but we had close to 100 different artists who wanted to be involved, from Sir Mix-a-Lot to Cypress Hill to Smashing Pumpkins. You name it. Even Kurt Cobain and the Melvins did a track together. Ironically, it came in too late, and another group, Dinosaur Jr., had already recorded the same track."
Traffic management was probably the trickiest aspect of the project. For the most part, Simmons and Stanley let the bands do what they wanted. "The only role I played in it was juggling the balls, and letting each artist know what the other artists were doing," says Simmons. "Actually, Garth Brooks wanted to do 'Detroit Rock City,' and at one point, Lenny Kravitz and Stone Temple Pilots with Ozzy were both going to do 'Deuce.' So it got fairly complex.