Kiss and Tell

It’s the morning after the July 11, 1976 concert in Hyannis Port’s Cape Cod Coliseum. Once again the limousine doesn’t show. Annoyingly, this has become a regular theme on the Kiss Destroyer tour. I’m Kiss’ road manager so I’m the one who has to deal with it.

I’m standing in the empty parking lot of the beachfront hotel as the band starts coming out of their bungalows. They walk over to me and Paul Stanley, the co-lead singer and rhythm guitarist asks me, “Ken, why did this happen again?” Honestly, I didn’t have an answer, but, cancel the morning limo and the promoter saves two hundred bucks, and besides, the show is over and what’s anyone going to do? In the end, the only person irritated is me.

I have to move fast or we’ll miss our plane home. I go to the front desk and they call a couple of cabs for us and we head off the airport. We just make the flight and an hour later we’re landing at LaGuardia. Three limos are waiting to pick us up: one for drummer Peter Criss to take him to his East 30th Street apartment, another for lead guitarist Ace Frehley, who is heading to Tarrytown, NY, and the last one for Paul, me and bassist Gene Simmons, the guy who spits flames and is famous for sticking out his big tongue.

Ah, the glamorous life of a rock and roll road manager.

At this point, the tour is about a quarter of the way though and while my job is on top of the Kiss organization food chain, the pay won’t make me rich and it’s not that much fun either. And the tour is such a big operation that, unlike other road managers, I don’t have control over how the tour runs. When I was the road manager for mid-level rock groups like the Byrds or Jefferson Airplane, I was the go-to guy handling everything – the box office, road crew, travel arrangements, money, salaries, solving problems.

Ken contemplating life on the road.

With Kiss I just deal with the group and their logistics only. The guys in the band are nice enough, but I’m strictly hired help, their hand-holder.

Rehearsals for the Destroyer tour in support of the album of the same name started in the late spring of 1976 at Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh, NY, an hour’s drive north of Manhattan. Because of the size of the production we had to rent a whole airplane hangar. It was an impressive sight – a big coliseum-sized stage with full lighting gear inside that humongous building.

With a production of this scale, rehearsing the performance, working out lighting cues and timing the special effects was crucial for both the band and crew. I have to say, the show was pretty amazing, with explosions, smoking guitars and tricks like Gene breathing fire and Peter’s drum kit levitating twenty feet over the stage.

All this required a big crew of 63 techs and roadies. There’s so much equipment that it takes three tractor trailers to lug the gear, lights and sound. The set up is so involved that we needed to more than a day for load-in and setup. As a result, there were never shows on two days in a row, unless they were at the same venue.

In late May the rehearsals end and we load up for the road. That’s a rehearsal in itself. The band and I head back to Manhattan. We’ll fly to the first show in two days.

Here’s a video of Kiss live in 1976:

Before a show, I generally stand on the right side of the stage and watch the audience file in. The most interesting thing at a Kiss show for me is that the first couple of rows were always these ten and twelve-year-old boys in full Kiss costumes and make-up, accompanied by their parents. Who would want to go to a concert with their parents? Then again, they were too young to go alone.

No one outside of the crew has privy to our travel plans (it was in the days before cell phones and news traveling instantly on social media) so for the most part, we’re not stalked, but there were a few times when the fans and groupies found us. There were a lot of groupies.

One night was particularly memorable for me. It was getting close to the 4th of July and in celebration, the audience is joining in throwing firecrackers and M-80s (really big firecrackers that were about the size of a thumb) at the stage. Times were wilder then – it wasn’t even considered wrong or dangerous.

We’re playing Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s the middle of the concert, the part where the drum kit rises twenty feet in the air. An M-80 goes off near the raised drum kit platform – and drummer Peter Criss slumps over.

The crew frantically lowers the drum platform. A uniformed Tennessee state trooper (who is moonlighting as concert security) and I grab Peter before he falls off the drum stool. He’s unconscious as we rush him into the back seat of a limo. I don’t see the limo driver anywhere and there are no keys in the ignition. What am I going to do?

The state trooper dives head first into the front seat and somehow he gets the limo started. He stomps on the gas and we drive out of the coliseum, heading for the nearest hospital.

Suddenly, Peter regains consciousness. “Where am I?” Peter says. I tell him what happened and he says, “I’m fine, let’s go back.” The trooper does a screeching U-turn and we’re heading back to the coliseum, driving back down the ramp to the backstage area.

The dressing room staff is standing there and as they take Peter to the dressing room. I ask, “is the band here?” “No,” the make-up girl says, “They went back to the hotel.”

I turn to the trooper and ask, “Can you drive me there?” “Let’s go!” he says with a big grin on his face.

With the smell of rubber burning and tires smoking the limo slides sideways into the lobby entrance. I run into the lobby – and both of the elevators are on the top floor. With no time to spare I run to the stairs and sprint up the six flights to our floor.

I get to Gene’s room just as he just started undoing his knee pads and leggings. As luck would have it, Ace and Paul are in Gene’s room. I tell them, “Peter’s OK and we have to go back!” My concern was that the audience might have left – and we’d have to forfeit the $35,000 due the band, a huge amount of money in those days.

Gene asks me to help put his leggings back on and, out of breath with my hands shaking, I clip on his knee pads and leg covers. The band and I take the elevator back down and jump in the limo. The trooper, who has been waiting, swiftly drives us back. We rush to the dressing room, checking makeup and costumes, making sure that everyone is ready to go back on.

Everyone set? Yup, so I have Peter go out first. He starts to bang the drums, the lights dim and the place goes crazy, stamping their feet and cheering as the band walks back on stage.

Who would believe it? Fifty-two minutes have passed and not one person has left the coliseum.

What was that I said about the job not being very much fun? This is why I love the road. Now I’m having fun.

Ken then…

…Ken now.

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