Rock and Roll all Nite

KISS performs at Hellfest in 2013. (Photo by Llan We via Wikipedia Commons)

KISS performs at Hellfest in 2013. (Photo by Llan We via Wikipedia Commons)

Without the fans that listen to the records (or mp3s), go to the concerts and buy the merchandise, there would be no rock stars, only struggling musicians toiling in anonymity. And if it were not for one dedicated fan, a bass guitar from the rock band KISS would not be at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

John Downs of South Carolina was like many fans in the KISS Army—unhappy that the group was not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. A veteran of about 20 KISS concerts and a fan of the band since 1977, Downs decided to take matters into his own hands and contacted Eric Jentsch, deputy chair of the Museum of American History’s Division of Culture and the Arts. Largely inspired by Eddie Van Halen’s donation of his Frankenstein II guitar to the museum in 2011, Downs wanted to donate his autographed, custom-painted Gene Simmons Axe bass to the museum. Happily, Jentsch is always looking to increase the Smithsonian’s holdings of popular music in America, and the bass was added to the collection in fall 2013.

“Not only are they a successful group that has stood the test of time, they have made a significant impact on popular culture outside of music,” said Jentsch. “We don’t just want to collect the highest-end guitar; we want to show the American experience of the guitar. We like to tell broad stories, and Gene Simmons is a story unto himself.”

Downs must be doubly pleased: On April 10, the band that has adorned lunchboxes, comic books and even coffins gets some overdue respect for the more than 100 million albums sold worldwide and the influence they have had on generations of rockers with its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is a fitting tribute to the rock group that is known for their song “Rock and Roll All Nite,” and the National Museum of American History is a fitting place for an instrument from one of the most popular American bands.

Get another KISS from the Museum of American History.

Gene Simmons autographs a guitar for John Downs

Gene Simmons (also known by his stage persona, The Demon), co-founder of KISS, autographs a bass guitar for John Downs, who has donated it to the Smithsonian. (Photo courtesy of John Downs)

Posted: 14 April 2014
About the Author:

Marilyn Epstein is an editor in the Office of Communications and External Relations.