No surprise: Gene Simmons ate up a lot of our interview time singing the praise of his biggest fan. Yep, Gene Simmons.

More surprising, Kiss’ tongue-wagging, demon-faced co-founder also had nice — or at least not entirely antagonistic — things to say about two of his least favorite subjects of late, Kiss’ ex-members and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also a bit of a shocker, he actually had a memory of the band’s very first Minnesota show 40 years ago, a reminder of his status as one of rock’s greatest teetotalers. (Most rock legends can’t remember last week’s gigs.)

The 65-year-old bassist, singer, reality-TV star and man of 5,000 groupies called two weeks ago from Los Angeles minutes before hopping on a jet to make weekend gigs in New Jersey. As the group has done for the past several summers, Kiss paired up for the summer with one of the ’80s bands it influenced, Def Leppard, a tour that lands Sunday at Target Center.

Simmons’ usually feisty demeanor was tempered by news that morning of the death of Dick Wagner, an Alice Cooper and Lou Reed sideman who played “ghost guitar” on Kiss’ most revered album, “Destroyer.”

The conversation still turned a tad fiery over the hall of fame, which finally inducted Kiss in April after years of snubbing the band — but Simmons and

singer/guitarist Paul Stanley are still hotter than you-know-what that only the original four members were included.

The Kiss co-founders now tour with fill-in members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer wearing the makeup and playing the parts of the other two originators, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.


Q: What do you remember about Dick Wagner’s contribution to “Destroyer,” and how he came to play on it?

A: He was a sweet, gentle man who quietly went about his business and did it very effectively. And, of course, the reason we needed him was because by our fourth record, our guitar player Ace Frehley had succumbed to the clichés of rock ’n’ roll and was letting alcohol and drugs get the best of him. He wouldn’t show up. And then when we got a hold of him, he said, “I can’t come now, I’m in a card game.” That’s a true story. So that’s when [record producer] Bob Ezrin gave Dick a call and said, “We need you to play these parts.” He did, and they were great.


Q: Do you follow the popular belief that “Destroyer” is Kiss’ best album?

A: Oh, it’s tough, like being the mother of 10 kids having to name your favorite. I like “Destroyer.” I like “Monster.” I like “Creatures of the Night.” I like “Revenge.” The interesting thing is, those are all records from four different eras of Kiss. I think we’ve made great records throughout our 40 years as a band.


Q: Speaking of Ace Frehley, he has a new solo album out. Is that something you’ll make a point of listening to, or is it just another record to you?

A: Oh, sure, I’m interested. He and I have talked now and again over the years, and I wish him well. I’m a fan of his work, sure, and I look forward to hearing it.


Q: The four original members were all together again at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, but you and Paul refused to perform. Any regrets about that?

A: No, not at all. Listen, Kiss is the Olympics of rock ’n’ roll, and those guys couldn’t cut it anymore. It’s as simple as that. They lost their right to be in the band. Yes, they deserved to be there at the induction ceremony and have their say. They were there from the beginning and helped make the band what it became. But there’s more to the puzzle than just them.


Q: When all was said and done, though, and you were up there at the podium, did you feel proud being inducted, despite your issues with the hall of fame?

A: Yes, to a point. It’s an honor to be in there with many of our heroes. But that doesn’t change the fact that the hall of fame is a sham. They inducted 25 or so different members of the Grateful Dead, but only four members from the first seven years of Kiss? Why? That night [of our induction], they inducted all the various members of Bruce Spring­steen’s E Street Band, ones that even as a fan I didn’t remember.

And it’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, not the Rap Hall of Fame or Disco Hall of Fame. I was a good friend of Donna Summers and admired her work greatly, but it wasn’t rock ’n’ roll. And you don’t see AC/DC getting inducted into the Rap Hall of Fame, do you?


Q: Oh, I don’t know. “Dirty Deeds” and some of Bon Scott’s other vocals edged on being rap.

A: What?! Nice try. That’s pure rock ’n’ roll, not rap.


Q: I found Paul Stanley’s new book [“Face the Music: A Life Exposed”] to be surprisingly touching. What did you think of it?

A: I loved it. And it was very touching. He did a great job with it, and I’m proud of him. He was the last of us to write a book, and so now we’ve all had our say. Ace’s and Peter’s books were pure fantasy. I mean, no wonder those guys couldn’t get anything straight from those days. But Paul’s book was accurate.


Q: Rolling Stone’s long-overdue cover story on Kiss around the hall of fame induction seemed to suggest that Paul is and always has been the captain of the ship. Is that true?

A: Yes, sure. Somebody has to be the captain, but that doesn’t make them the only driving force. It’s like people used to debate about the Beatles: John is the lead Beatle; Paul is the lead Beatle. And then you had Harrison come along and write “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which was obviously huge, too. We have that same sort of thing in Kiss. We’re a true band.


Q: Kiss’ first concert in Minnesota wasn’t in the Twin Cities but actually at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on the Hotter Than Hell Tour (Nov. 3, 1974). Any chance you remember anything about that?

A: Yes, I do, in fact. I remember the encore back at the hotel. There was a very nice woman there from a small town somewhere outside of Duluth, and she was explaining to me the difference between Minneapolis and Minnesota. I couldn’t keep them straight. They both have a lot of letters and start with M. I kept saying we were “in Minneapolis.” She explained to me that’s the city 150 miles south of there. And, of course, once we set that straight there wasn’t much talking after that.