Gene Simmons Wanted To Change The ‘Jewish’ Image Of Early KISS, Jay Jay French Recalls

In a recent chat with VRP Rocks, Jay Jay French recalled an encounter with Gene Simmons, where the bassist suggested the guitarist change his name because it sounded ‘too Jewish.’

French auditioned to join a band called Wicked Lester, which would later become KISS, in its early years. Recounting the talk with Simmons after a performance, he said:

“He watched me play with this man, and then I walked off stage, and we talked a little bit, and he said, ‘My name is Gene Klein, but I’m changing my name to Gene Simmons.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay. Like the actress Jean Simmons?’ He goes, ‘No, like the guitar player for Savoy Brown, Kim Simmonds.'”

The guitarist explained the KISS member’s reasoning for the name change:

“I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Because we’re very much into British rock like Slade.’ He started talking about Slade, I hadn’t known about Slade yet. I was still into Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, or whatever. And then he said, ‘This is Stanley.’ Stanley, he called him, and he goes, ‘He’s changing his name to Paul Stanley.'”

‘Change Your Name’

Then, the focus of the chat shifted to French’s name. Coming from a Jewish heritage, the ex-Twisted Sister guitarist was originally named John French Segall. When he introduced himself to Simmons, who is also Jewish, their talk went:

“And he said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said, ‘John Segall.’ And he goes, ‘That’s too Jewish. You should change your name.’ That was like amongst the first things he ever said to me. He said, ‘You look too Jewish with your glasses on.’ I thought that was weird, you know. I hadn’t ever thought about me being Jewish or not Jewish or anything else.”

Commenting on the bassist’s suggestion, French went on:

“No one ever – especially a Jew, calling another Jew too Jewish, forget about an antisemite calling a Jew a Jew – No one ever addressed me one way or the other as being anything. So, I was like, ‘Huh. Interesting. Okay.’ But I understood. They were going for a British thing, and they were changing their image to this Slade kind of a thing.”

French Did Change His Name

The guitarist did not join Wicked Lester, which later became KISS, as the role was given to Ace Frehley. He became a part of Twisted Sister but still changed his name, first to Johnny Heartbreaker and then to Jay Jay French.

According to a chat with the Jewish Telegraph, French also renamed some of his bandmates, including Dee Snider, whose real name is Daniel Snider. With these and a few more changes in the band, Twisted Sister slowly rose to fame, as he mentioned in an interview with Stereophile:

“We immediately got jobs—immediately. That wasn’t a problem. The band was a good band.”

You can watch Jay Jay French’s full chat about his memory with Gene Simmons in the video below.