Forty years ago this month Kiss made their way to the small northern Michigan city of Cadillac for an event that would become one of the greatest moments in rock 'n roll history.
In 1974 Cadillac Vikings High School assistant football coach Jim Neff was looking for a way to motivate his players, as the team had gotten off to a rocky start, losing their first two games of the 1974 season. Neff had seen Kiss perform in Flint, Michigan and he thought that their loud high-energy music would be a perfect way to motivate his team and get them back on track. Plus in football terms KISS stands for "keep it simple, stupid" so it made perfect sense. Neff, who was 28 at the time, began playing Kiss music in The Vikings locker room before games and he could see that it was getting the guys fired up before they headed out to the field. After the Kiss music was introduced into the locker room, The Vikings went on to win their next seven games and became the North Central Co-Champs. Coach Neff was so impressed with the effect that the music had on his team, he decided to contact Kiss management to share his team's success story and see if he could get Kiss to come to Cadillac, so he and the team could thank them. Kiss management responded to Neff and negotiations & planning began. Initially the idea was just to bring Kiss to town and thank them but Kiss said if we are gonna do this let's do it right. In the end Kiss became part of the Vikings 1975 homecoming parade, they received the key to the city and they also played a concert in the high school gymnasium. The whole city of Cadillac got involved in the Kiss visit and Gene Simmons has said when they arrived in town it looked like they had stepped onto Planet Kiss. Cadillac held nothing back for Kiss - even changing street signs to read "Kiss Blvd." Looking back at the event today, it seems like a manufactured PR stunt but this event was all about the city of Cadillac thanking Kiss and Kiss thanking the city of Cadillac.
Forty years later the city of Cadillac once again came together to celebrate their love of football and all things Kiss with a weekend full of events and I was lucky enough to be there! When I first heard that Cadillac was planning some festivities surrounding the 40th anniversary of the Kiss visit I had considered going but had not made any real plans. Then my friend Brett Ruland who owns a record store in Columbus, Ohio called Spoonful Records reached out to me and said there was no way we could miss this event, so we packed up the car and headed north. The six hour drive from Columbus to Cadillac seemed to fly by and I'm sure that was because of our anticipation of reaching our destination or it could have been the stack of Cheap Trick CD's I brought along......either way, it was a fun trip up to Cadillac.
We arrived in Cadillac Friday afternoon October 9th just in time for the Cadillac Vikings Homecoming Parade which had many Kiss-themed floats, just like in 1975. The excitement could be felt as soon as we started walking up & down the streets of downtown Cadillac, running into other Kiss fans that had traveled far & wide to get close to iconic landmarks that had only been witnessed in magazines from decades ago. Once the parade started the streets were filled with not only visiting Kiss fans but also residents and alumni that were there for the original event and you could tell that Kiss had left a long-lasting impact on this small Michigan community. The residents and alumni were all happy to say hello and tell their memories of the 1975 events, their sense of pride about their Kiss connection was very evident. After the parade concluded it was time to head to Veterans Memorial Stadium to watch the Cadillac Vikings in action for their homecoming game. Unfortunately The Vikings did not win their game this year but that did not effect the excitement in the stadium. Cadillac residents love the Vikings and they were out in full force Friday night.
Saturday morning October 10th it was back to Veterans Memorial Football Stadium for the unveiling of a permanent Kiss monument located right next to the football field across from Lake Cadillac. Several people spoke prior to the monument unveiling, including Jim Neff and current Cadillac mayor Carla J. Filkins. Filkins really embraced the spirit of the event and had appeared in full Kiss face paint the previous evening during the homecoming parade. The fans cheered as Neff and fellow Vikings coach Dave Brines unveiled the stunning tribute to Kiss and Cadillac football. The six-foot tall black granite monument features photos from the historic 1975 Kiss visit on the front & back along with the complete 1974 and 1975 football schedule. After the monument was unveiled many alumni from the "Kiss Class of 1976" posed for pictures in front of the monument including former football players and cheerleaders.
Next it was off to the Cadillac High School gymnasium where fans would be treated to a concert by Kiss tribute band Mr. Speed performing on the same stage that Kiss had four decades ago. Before the concert I had the opportunity to walk the halls of Cadillac High School and check out all the Kiss-related memorabilia, including some rare photos from the original concert that had recently been unearthed at an estate sale. These pictures had not been seen in many years and really captured the excitement of the 1975 concert. Mr. Speed delivered a high-energy Kiss experience and they really know their stuff. Although they didn't try to meticulously recreate the 1975 Kiss concert they did manage to deliver tons of Kiss spirit and you could tell that this event meant a lot to them. During their set Mr. Speed vocalist Rich "The Starchild" Kosack mentioned that only two bands had ever payed the Cadillac High School gymnasium, Kiss and Mr. Speed and you could tell that was an emotional moment for Kosack and his band. In 2002 Mr. Speed was named "The Best Kiss Tribute Band In The World" and they definitely lived up to that accolade during their Cadillac performance.
Being at Cadillac High School was pretty amazing for me, it was a place that I had read about in magazines as a kid and often fantasized about being MY school. All these years later to be standing in the gymnasium of Cadillac High School with hundreds of other Kiss fans, it actually felt like MY school. Not to overstate it's significance but Cadillac High School is kinda like going to Graceland for an Elvis fan or to Abbey Road for a Beatles fan. Kiss fans love the story of Cadillac and it was an honor to be there for this celebration.
After the concert it was time to head back to Columbus but I have a feeling this will not be my last trip to Cadillac. There were many highlights during my brief visit but the memories that will stick with me the most are getting to know the people of this charming little city. Coach Neff is one of the nicest people you will ever meet and he is always ready to talk about his story. It's been forty years since Jim brought Kiss to Cadillac and he is still there. And, he still loves Kiss. I met other Cadillac residents who were happy to share their stories as well, some even shared personal pictures of their kids in Kiss make up from 1975.
Cadillac got the rare chance to see Kiss during a period just prior to them breaking big on a national level. At that point the band had just released their album, Alive! that would eventually make them superstars. Cadillac already knew Kiss were superstars but after Alive! became a million-seller on the charts, there was no way an event like the one that happened in Cadillac in October of 1975 could ever be repeated.
During the original Kiss visit in 1975 the members of Kiss attended a civic breakfast at City Hall the day after the homecoming football game that was attended by city leaders & politicians, all of whom were all wearing Kiss make up. During the breakfast Kiss was presented with the key to the city and Paul Stanley said, "I just wanna say on behalf of Kiss after getting the key to the city, I hope you never change the locks." Forty years have passed and it appears that the doors to Cadillac are still wide open for Kiss. After the civic breakfast the band took part in the homecoming parade, which led them back to the football field. The band said their goodbyes to Cadillac there and everyone assumed the band would be whisked away in limousines, but to the shock of everyone in attendance a helicopter landed in the middle of the Vikings football field and the band made their way to the awaiting whirlybird to make their exit. As the copter made its way off the ground the band had one last surprise for Cadillac: leaflets began droppingout of the helicopter, thousands of them, and they read "Cadillac High - Kiss Loves You." I talked to several people while in Cadillac that still have their leaflet/souvenir from that day and have cherished it all these years, just more evidence of the impact that this event had on the people who were there.
Click HERE to view photos that I took during my trip to Cadillac...
One last interesting tidbit - after Kiss left Cadillac on October 10th, 1975 their next stop was in Columbus, Ohio on October 11th to perform a concert at Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
Scott Carr is a guitarist who plays in the Columbus, OH bands Radio Tramps andReturning April. Scott is also an avid collector of vinyl records and works at Lost Weekend Records. So...if you are looking for Scott....you'll either find him in a dimly lit bar playing his guitar or in a record store digging for the holy grail.