Numerous historians long ago agreed that rock ‘n’ roll emerged from Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88,” but who invented the “rock on” hand gesture so associated with the genre?
That’s the hand signal fans and rockers alike hold up during shows, in which the index and pinkie fingers are extended, the middle and ring finger are curled into the palm, and the thumb either sticks out from the hand like an errant branch from a tree or is also curled into the palm.
And Gene Simmons, the co-founder of Kiss, claims he used it first.
Simmons recently filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, seeking to trademark the hand gesture. He claimed on the application that the gesture was first used commercially, by him, on Nov. 14, 1974, which would have been during Kiss’s “Hotter Than Hell” tour.
For his request to be accepted, of course, “an examiner would consider the likelihood of confusion and, possibly, whether it’s too generic to be associated with Simmons,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
While there is documented evidence Simmons liked to rock ‘n’ roll all night and party every day, he may have a bumpy road arguing he was the first to use or popularize the gesture that’s become ubiquitous among fans of loud guitar riffs and pounding drums.
Similar gestures – if not the exact same one – can be found in the world of music predating Kiss touring on its debut, eponymous record in 1974.
Consider, for example, John Lennon’s hand on the cover of the Beatles’s single “Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby,” which was released in 1966 – a full seven years before Kiss was even formed.
Then in 1969, psychedelic rock band Coven released an EP with not one but two members flashing the sign. This variation, though, does pull the thumb in, which is the more popular version of the gesture in rock music.
Many credit the popularization of the hand gesture not to Simmons but to Ronnie James Dio, the heavy metal rocker who in 1979 replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath. As the Florida Times-Union reported:
“Ozzy’s big gimmick on stage was flashing double peace signs. It had become such a Black Sabbath ritual that when Dio took over, he felt the band wouldn’t be the same unless he used a symbol as well, a former publicity agent told The Wall Street Journal. But he didn’t want to be an Ozzy copycat.
“Setting himself apart from Ozzy, Dio adopted what has become the rock music salute.”
The gesture – both with thumb curled in and sticking out – enjoyed a long history before anyone ever plugged in an electric guitar, though.
Fans of the University of Texas at Austin have been using the hand gesture (thumb in), which they call the “Hook Em’ Horns” symbol, to cheer on their beloved Longhorns on the gridiron or court ever since a group of students came up with the symbol in 1955, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
Meanwhile, superstitious Italians have used the gesture for many years to ward off the devil. Dio told Metal Rules online magazine he originally got it from his grandmother.
“I doubt very much if I would be the first one who ever did that. That’s like saying I invented the wheel, I’m sure someone did that at some other point,” Dio said. “It’s an Italian thing I got from my grandmother … It’s to ward off the Evil Eye or to give the Evil Eye, depending on which way you do it.”
It even appeared in this context in Bram Stroker’s 1897 novel “Dracula.”
Indeed, the BBC reported it is a common gesture in Italy, and has a double meaning. One might use it in a vulgar manner, flash it to a man whose wife is rumored to be cheating on him.
Here in the states, meanwhile, the gesture is known for a few reasons outside of music.
The more frivolous one is that Spider-Man makes it when he shoots sticky webs from his wrists.
More importantly, though, it’s the American Sign Language symbol for “love.”
Simmons sure seems to have a long road ahead of him, but claiming a hand gesture isn’t completely unprecedented. Dallas Page, a professional wrestler known to fans as Diamond Dallas Page, long touched his index fingers and thumbs together to create a diamond as a sort of calling card. He was able to trademark it.
Meanwhile, 3OH!3, a Colorado electronic band, made a similar hand gesture in a photo shoot. Theirs was rounder, though, creating more of a circle than a diamond. Page sued the band in district court, and the parties eventually settled.