NME investigates: who invented the devil horns symbol?

There are two main culprits for this excellent crime

Who indeed. Who first folded their middle two fingers beneath their thumb, raised the index and the pinkie, curled their face into a grimace and summoned the opening of the hell-mouth? It’s a greeting that metal fans have thrown up at their onstage heroes seemingly since the beginning of time. But even the Devil has a backstory, so we must ask ourselves: who invented the devil’s horn symbol?

The potential candidates

In metal folklore, it seems there are two prime suspects for this excellent crime. Them what might have done it, readers, are – gasp! – the late Ronnie James Dio (from Rainbow, Black Sabbath and, of course, Dio) or everyone’s favourite shlock-rock panto villain, Gene Simmons. Both committed metal overlords, but which one could have raised the devil’s horns and entered the history books? Was it Dio, in a dive bar, with pint of bitter in one hand? Or was it Gene Simmons, in a fancy dress shop, with his long tongue some place it really shouldn’t be? Let’s investigate.

Kiss frontman Gene Simmons claims to have done the deed

The evidence


Simmons claimed, in his 2002 autobiography Kiss and Make-up, to have done the deed and invented the Devil’s horn symbol. Expert Steve Appleford, formerly a hack at the alternative weekly paper LA CityBeat (RIP), conducted a 2004 investigation into this whole knotty issue and, after interviewing countless metal musicians, concluded that it was “not likely” that Simmons has really done so. Appleford put it to late grizzled metal dude Lemmy, who replied: “Well, he would [say that], wouldn’t he? He is so evil. Come on, gimme a fucking break.” Lemmy hath spoken.

On the other hand, the general consensus – anecdotally speaking – is that Dio, who died in 2010, sent this unholy handsy gift package into the world. Tommy Aldich, the legendary rock drummer who performed with Dio, once spoke to the man himself about the roots of the horn-up gesture. He told the Spanish website GoetiaMedia.com: ‘Ronnie told me the story. He said it was his grandmother [who] used to… It was called the ‘evil eye’.” Aldrich said also you’re meant to point the horns outwards, with your knuckles facing yourself, to ward off bad people.

… But most people agree it was the late Ronnie James Dio

What have Gene Simmons and Ronnie James Dio said about the devil’s horns gesture?

A good question, an excellent question. Dio said in a 2001 interview: “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. I think you’d have to say that I made it fashionable. I used it so much and all the time and it had become my trademark.” Simmons was less humble. He actually tried to trademark the symbol earlier this year, though abandoned the attempt less than two weeks after filing it.

Dio’s widow Wendy was unequivocal in her response, saying the move was “disgusting”, “a joke” and “just crazy”. She added: “To try to make money off of something like this is disgusting. It belongs to everyone; it doesn’t belong to anyone… It’s a public domain; it shouldn’t be trademarked.”

So, who done it?

Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? You don’t need to be Poirot to solve this one. You don’t even need to be Shaggy from Scooby Doo. All evidence points towards Ronnie James Dio having learned it from his grandma, before introducing it to the world of rock’n’roll. OR! In one final twist, James Hetfield might have the answer – he told Steve Appleford that perhaps the real culprit is… Spiderman. Jinkies!

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