For the one-time assistant football coach/English teacher seeking out his 15 Minutes was never the objective. Neff was simply looking for a way to motivate the football team that had named their defense KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). But the results of one special 24-hour period on October 9, 1975 went beyond motivating a football team; it brought students and administrators together and inspired a whole community. It also helped to shape the legacy of one of rock musics all time greatest bands, KISS.
It brought the high school together, said then principal John Laurent. For years, we had been trying to unite the student body and our faculty. Kiss accomplished that in one night. Its also unlikely the impact the band had on Cadillac will ever be repeated.
Their time in Cadillac also had a lasting impact on the band.
We came to Cadillac because we loved football and we were excited that our music was the inspiration behind a winning football team, said bassist Gene Simmons. However, we (the band) were the ones who left Cadillac inspired. That concert, the parade and everything else from our time there will go down as one of the most important moments in our bands history. We have performed hundreds of concerts in lots of cities all over the world and the Cadillac performance will never be forgotten by any of us.
The Cadillac KISS concert continues to rank as one of the greatest rock and roll publicity stunts of all time, but Neff (the event/concert mastermind) laughs at that because it was never about the publicity for KISS or Cadillac, but was simply about celebrating the success of the football team as a result of being inspired by the bands music.
These guys were so sincere that getting publicity out of this was the furthest thing from their mind, said Neff. The publicity came after the fact and not during. Basically, we had some local media coverage but there wasnt even one professional photographer at the concert. After this happened it became international news and, without knowing what we were doing, it resulted in millions of dollars of publicity for KISS.
Even 30 years later Neff continues to receive inquiries from fans and media all over the world and figures he has received a couple thousand requests for information. Some of those requests have come from VH-1 for their documentaries on the band, including most recently When KISS Ruled The World, that features interviews with Neff and in-depth details on the Cadillac concert. The 2002 KISS biography includes a detailed account and 16 pages of photos from the Cadillac visit.
As with any rock and roll event of historical significance, the stories and participation become as mythical as the event itself.
At best 2,000 people were at the concert, but if you count all the people who claim to have been there, then more than 10,000 people were packed into the gym that night, laughs Neff. Heck, I have had people claim to have been at the concert who were only three years old when it happened.
Another thing Neff finds interesting is the hundreds of people who claim to have been involved in coordinating the event, when actually there were only about a dozen.
Years later I would have students come up to me, often students of the kids who were from the class that has become known as The KISS Class, and ask me if I was around when Kiss came, said Neff. Before I could respond they would tell me how their uncle or dad organized the whole thing. One of my favorite stories was a boy who told me how his mom partied all night with Kiss. Well, I was with the band from the time they arrived to the time they left and there wasnt an all-night party.
The schedule was tight for the band when they arrived in Cadillac at noon on October 9, 1975. They headed to their rooms at Bill Olivers Caberfae Motor Lodge, put on their makeup, had lunch, and then headed to the fire and police station for an official escort to Cadillac High School. Upon arriving at the high school, the students had formed a tunnel along the walkway to welcome the band. Principal Laurent was on hand for a ceremonial ribbon cutting as the band entered the school.
Inside the school the band was treated to a screening of a film about KISS made by students; then it was off to meet the famed KISS defensive unit and the rest of the football team. KISS even took time to hang out with the marching band before heading into the gym for a sound check.
As I reflect back on some of the memorable moments, the fact that they allowed several people from the community with small children to watch their sound check spoke volumes of the character of these guys, said Neff. Then they took time to take pictures with these young kids aged three to 12 and their parents. At homecoming there is always a ceremonial bonfire and it was before the concert. The band came for that and Gene jumped out of his limousine and blew two flames from his mouth. These guys did everything and more than we asked of them.
NO BLOOD, PLEASE
Everything and more meant some special requests from the school administrators. Neff remembers that there was a lot of uncertainty about this, especially from some of the religious leaders from the community. The school administration was concerned as well, but Neff said despite whatever preconceived bad boy reputations that the band had, they were absolute gentleman during their visit.
First coach Brines went to Paul Stanley over concerns to the introduction to the song Cold Gin, explaining that this was a high school and they could play the song, but just pull the intro, and Stanley said sure, whatever you want, coach, said Neff. Another example was when Principal Laurent approached Gene Simmons about his legendary blood-spitting during concerts. He told Simmons that Cadillac was a conservative community and the blood-spitting might offend a lot of people. He also told Simmons that it was the bands concert and that he should do what he felt was most appropriate. Simmons responded, Out of respect for the school and the community, I wont do it. He kept his word.
Simmons speaks with pride at the fact that in the history of hundreds of KISS concerts, the only time he has ever skipped his blood-spitting was in Cadillac.
Look, we were guests in their home, reflects Simmons. If someone asks me to take off my shoes to enter their home I am going to respect that. There has always been this take on rock stars and in particular with Kiss that we are a bunch of self-centered egotists that didnt have any respect for others. In the early days of the band we use to hear that we worshiped Satan and that the band stood for Knights in Satans Service. I didnt have to think twice when they came to me because they had enough respect to talk to me about it. They didnt ask me not to do it, they respected my artistry and my ability to make the right decision.
The band proved to Neff and Cadillac that their visit was sincere long after the concert.
Every Friday night, no matter where they were at, they would have us call them or they would call us to find out how the team did, said Neff. This continued for at least a couple of years.
I could remember on several occasions our manager telling us that Cadillac had won their game and we would be giving each other high-fives backstage, said Simmons.
Drummer Peter Criss feels that at times it is almost like the band attended the high school.
Every so often someone from that class would show up backstage with the yearbook from that year, said Criss. We would flip through the book and look at the pictures, and while we were there just for the day, it was like we were there for the whole year.
The Cadillac class of 1976 yearbook features several photos of the KISS experience and is a definite collectors item. Occasionally one appears on Ebay, selling for hundreds of dollars.
As for pulling it off again, Neff feels it would be impossible.
We didnt tell the students about the band coming until two days before it actually happened, said Neff. We only charged $2 to get into the concert and we kept 50 cents to pay for all the make-up we used (all the students, teachers and community leaders had their faces painted) and gave the band the rest. We only gave then $3,000 and that didnt even come close to covering their expenses. They picked up the rest. The costs to do something like this again would make it prohibitive.
BACK TO THE FUTURE?
So what about a reunion concert?
The band and I have talked about it, but they are so big and their production is so large it would really be impossible, said Neff. Where would we hold it? How would we determine who gets to come? I guess we all agree that we wouldnt be able to truly capture that moment again.
Since 1975 only one member of KISS has returned to Cadillac.
I had my own band, said Criss. We had played Detroit and were headed to Northern Michigan (Upper Peninsula) for a concert. This was I think 12 years ago. As we were headed north I asked my bus driver if we were close to Cadillac. He said yes, so I said lets go there for the night.
Neff remembers getting a call from Criss.
I was at school and they had me come to the office and Peter says to me, hey I am in town with my band and we would like to play here tonight, said Neff. I had him go over to the Pines and boy was the owner surprised when Peter Criss came in and said, Hey, how would you like to have my band play here tonight.
As for Neff, he remains friends with the band and their management. Anytime KISS performs in the Midwest he is offered tickets and backstage passes. He has attended numerous concerts and has lots of memories.
A couple years after they came to Cadillac they had this big New Years Eve concert in New York City (at that time a Gallup Poll had KISS as the number one band in the world) and they flew my wife and I to the show, said Neff. They gave us VIP treatment and after the show we hung out together. I even snapped a photo of Gene without his make-up. Gene said to me, You know Jim, that picture would be worth a lot of money. I told him I would never sell it or show it to anyone. He told me he believed me and I kept my word.
It has been a couple of years since KISS has toured and since Neff has last spoken to any of the members. He is not sure if they will tour again and jokes that maybe for the 50th reunion of the Cadillac concert, the band could come back and do an unplugged show (the band members would be in their late 70s by then).
But for Neff what is really important these days is spending time with his grandchildren, though a day doesnt go by that he doesnt give some thought to that magical 24 hours with KISS.
My 15 minutes of fame has extended to 30 years, laughs Neff. I guess what makes me most proud is to know that at every concert since the one in Cadillac, our community is honored during their encore when the famous KISS Snowstorm takes place. Yes, we invented that at the Cadillac show and they have used it ever since.
After a breakfast with civic leaders KISS particpated in a parade through down before heading back to the school to say goodbye. As KISS boarded their helicopter at the high school around noon the next day after enjoying a breakfast with community leaders, they paid Cadillac back by giving them a snowstorm of leaflets. The band members leaned out of the helicopter and threw out 4,000 fliers that read, Cadillac, KISS Loves You!
Its a love affair that has lasted for 30 years.
For an in-depth look at the KISS in Cadillac experience visit Jim Neffs website, www.neffzone.com