American Rock Story: How Gene Simmons Saved the Rock 'N' Roll Allstars From Annihilation in Peru

He attacked like a ninja from the shadows, wielding a 9-inch Rambo knife. The small brown-skinned Ecuadorian wasn’t built like Sly Stallone, but he was as quick as he was silent. Appearing as though from nowhere, and taking Jeff Smith, a Dallas music publicist, completely by surprise as he prepared to go to his hotel room in Lima, Peru.

Smith, a former Dallas game developer who now works as a music publicist, had just landed and his clients — all legendary rockers — headed toward their rooms to unload their bags.  They’d come to Peru, the third of their 10-stop 2012 South American tour, as part of a super group called the Rock 'N' Roll Allstars.

The super group included Guns N’ Roses veterans Matt Sorum, Duff McKagan and Gilby Clarke; Joe Elliott of Def Leppard; Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple; Steve Stevens of Billy Idol; Sebastian Bach of Skid Row; Ed Roland of Collective Soul; Mike Inez of Alice in Chains; Billy Duffy of the Cult; and the God of Thunder himself — Gene Simmons from KISS (without the black-and-white demon makeup).

Simmons and the rest of his companions were treated like gods in South America. Fans arrived en masse, climbing the security fence just to be close to the rock ‘n’ roll legends as if they were the Beatles visiting the U.S. in the 1960s. All Smith and his friend Paul Salfen, the band’s social media handler, could do was stand back, take pictures and watch the chaos unfold as their security team, some of whom were former Navy Seals, rushed them toward white vans awaiting to take them to their hotel.

They’d been excited and hopeful flying from Los Angeles. Salfen, who’s the Laurel to Smith’s Hardy, says he could feel the buzz and the good vibes — until they started finding out shows were getting canceled in places like Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. He’d heard a rumor that tickets weren’t selling, which didn’t make much sense, he says, since the shows on the tour so far seemed well attended.

Fans stood outside holding guitars and albums for Simmons and the rest of the rock legends to sign. There were so many fans, some crying, that a police motorcade had to escort the Rock 'N' Roll Allstars like foreign dignitaries. But it didn’t deter fans in Paraguay from figuring out that the police motorcade stopped at every red light. Fans, Salfen says, were soon waiting at the stoplights. When the light turned red, and the motorcade stopped, fans got out of their cars and danced in front of the vans, singing a soccer chant for Simmons who encouraged them by waving his hands as if he were directing a choir.

"That’s a real culture thing that comes from their love of soccer," Smith says. "That became the hit of the tour, and Gene was soon leading the chant at the shows."  

Despite fans chanting for Simmons, concerts were being canceled, leading concert promoters like the knife wielding Ecuadorian to seek out the U.S. promoter, whom neither Salfen nor Smith wish to name, who canceled the shows and, the knife-wielding assassin alleged, stole money that belonged to people whom no one in their right mind would want to piss off. “There are people over there not to be messed with,” Salfen says.

Only six inches before the Ecuadorian’s 9-inch Sly Stallone-style Rambo knife stabbed through Smith’s chest and into his heart, security swarmed Smith’s small knife-wielding assailant like a bunch of angry samurai, breaking his arm as they grappled him. “I heard it break,” says Smith, who did not book any of the shows but simply worked as a publicist for the rock legends.

The desperate concert promoter, though, wasn’t the first or the last to pick up a blade to make the U.S. promoter pay with his life. Another knife wielding concert promoter from Venezuela had also attacked. Security foiled his attempts, too. There was clearly something going on.

Smith says he ended up in a mini-conference room with the U.S. promoter and the Ecuadorian concert promoter while Simmons acted as a mediator. They learned that the U.S. promoter, Smith says, had “fucked all of us” by booking a bunch of shows only to cancel them and pocket $1.37 million.

But that wasn’t the worst news. The Ecuadorian concert promoter, who was crying and begging that they still play the show in Ecuador, pulled out his cellphone and showed them a picture of military guys pointing machine guns at his mother’s and wife’s heads. They were taking them to jail, Smith says, until the concert promoter paid back the stolen money, which he didn’t have. Simmons, he points out, tried to work something out with the Ecuadorian concert promoter but to no avail.

Security took Smith to his room and locked the door, telling him that he wasn’t safe for the rest of the day or night until they could sort everything out. So he decided to make the most of it and ordered expensive entrees like duck and lobster, then called his mother to tell her that he loved her.

Later the next evening, the all-star band blew fans completely out of the water, Smith says, with classic hits from the rock legends’ music portfolios. The set list included hits like “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns 'N Roses, “Man in the Box” by Alice in Chains and “Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night” by KISS, all songs that should not be heard in one concert sitting. It was an amazing show, he says, and the perfect way to end the night: with thousands of fans pleased.

At 4 a.m. the chaos resumed. Smith claims he began receiving text messages from the security team. Trouble was brewing. “I’m like, ‘Oh shit, they killed Gene Simmons,’” he says.

Simmons, though, was fine. (The KISS frontman couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.) 

The U.S. promoter, on the other hand, had paid off one of the local guys, Smith says, to smuggle him out of the hotel, using blankets, and take him to the airport where he caught a flight back to Los Angeles.

“We confirmed that the rest of our shows had been canceled because he had stolen the money and took off,” Smith says. “All the partners got weird, so they just canceled the rest of the tour. We played three shows out of 10, then put our tails between our legs [and returned to the States].”

The band issued a press release after they received confirmation that the rest of the tour had been canceled: 

“Rock ‘N’ Roll Allstars regret to inform our fans that the shows we had scheduled in Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala and Venezuela have been cancelled. An incredible effort was made to work with local promoters to bring our show to the fans but they made it impossible for us to do so. We are saddened that we will not be coming to Central America and will do everything possible to ensure that our fans receive refunds for all tickets purchased. We are in South America and just had amazing shows in Paraguay and Argentina where thousands of fans came to hear the hits of Guns N’ Roses, Kiss, Def Leppard and more. The show in Lima, Peru is still on sale and the band is still playing this show. Thank you for your support and we hope to see each and every one of you soon.”

Since 2012, Smith says they’ve tried to find the U.S. promoter, but it’s been like tracking a ghost because he’s been using 20 different aliases with different mailing addresses. No one can find him, he says, even though he has federal lawsuits filed against him.

“A lot of people really got screwed down in South America,” Smith says. “Gene Simmons tired to make it all right. He was our star.”

Smith later learned that the Ecuadorian concert promoter was released from jail. The U.S. promoter eventually pulled some similar tricks in Russia, but still hasn’t been captured. Rock 'N' Roll Allstars eventually formed under another moniker called Kings of Chaos. They’ve played shows in Mexico but have yet to return to South America.

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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.