Gene Simmons is remembered for one catchy tune that he recorded on the Hi label in 1964, but spent many years in the music business.
He was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1937 and eventually would become one of two artists born there who would place songs in the top forty -- the other was Elvis Presley. (This is not the Gene Simmons who performed with the rock group Kiss -- the two are unrelated). Simmons began to play guitar as a teenager and formed a small group with his brothers Leon and Carl called the Simmons Brothers. Eventually he went to nearby Memphis and began playing in clubs.
Early on he met Elvis Presley through an acquaintance, before Presley broke on the national scene with Heartbreak Hotel early in 1956. Simmons would later be the opening act at a show in Tupelo given by Presley. Simmons asked Presley about the chances of his recording at Sun Records, and Presley arranged for him to have an audition. It resulted in Simmons releasing one record on the Sun label, which went nowhere, although Sun Records producer Sam Phillips liked what he heard. Simmons was actually quite a good singer, and preferred country and rockabilly type music.
Simmons did some touring nationally. He returned to Memphis and was the vocalist for the Bill Black Combo for a time in the early 60's. He released some records on the Hi Records label, and continued performing in clubs around Memphis, such as the Diplomat Club. Another performer who was doing the same thing at same time was Domingo Samudio, with whom Simmons became acquainted. Samudio performed as Sam the Sham and was getting a good reaction when he presented a song called Haunted House in his stage act. He recorded the song on the Dingo label and it went nowhere, and Simmons recorded it for Hi Records. Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs would go on to put six records in the top forty later in the decade.
Simmons -- who had by this time had acquired the nickname "Jumpin' Gene" as a result of his antics while on stage -- recorded Haunted House in the summer of 1964. It was a novelty song about a man who buys a house and moves into it only to discover that it is haunted. Although British invasion music dominated the airwaves in late summer 1964, Haunted House received a lot of airplay and was quite popular nationally, settling at number eleven on the national record charts. Jumpin' Gene Simmons was in demand for a time, and he embarked on a world tour.
The popularity of the song diminished after its eight-week run on the charts, and he would never again return to the top forty despite having recorded some rather good material, such as his Peroxide Blonde In A Hopped Up Model Ford. Simmons continued in the music business, eventually moving to Nashville to work for a music publisher and spending time as a songwriter, performer, music producer and publisher. His most notable achievement in later years was to co-write Indian Outlaw, which was a country hit for Tim McGraw in 1994.
Simmons returned to Tupelo and following a long illness, he died on August 29, 2006. Sixties music fans still enjoy his memorable novelty tune from 1964, Haunted House.
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