In 1975, KISS was an outrageous band from New York City on the cusp of what would later become superstardom. On the other end of the spectrum was the small northern Michigan town of Cadillac. How they came together to celebrate the Cadillac High School homecoming has been called one of the greatest stories in the history of rock and roll.
This now legendary saga has been chronicled in newspapers, magazines, book chapters, videos, television specials and social media. Still, the story only exists in these bits and pieces and has never been told in one spot from beginning to end and beyond. Until now.
Jim Neff organized the KISS visit to Cadillac in 1975. He says: “I’m launching the Cadillac KISStory Project. I want to assemble the entire tale. It’s time to create the full story as told first-hand by the people who made everything happen and the students, faculty, parents and Cadillac citizens who experienced those incredible few days.”
Neff continues: “We are coming up on the 45th anniversary of Cadillac KISS in 2020. If anything, the story is more popular now than ever before. Right now, KISS is on their End of the Road Tour. At the Grand Rapids, MI concert in March, the band recognized Cadillac with a shout out and featured a dozen Cadillac photos projected on a giant video screen above the stage. Clearly, Cadillac is considered a major part of KISS lore.”
In 2015 Cadillac unveiled the only KISS Monument in the world. KISS fans from all over the country come to Cadillac to see the Monument and to experience a KISStory Tour walk. The Cadillac KISStory Project will enhance that experience.
“I want to assemble an archive of personal stories and photos from students, parents, teachers, Cadillac citizens and KISS fans. I am interested in every nook and cranny of Cadillac KISStory. If it relates to Cadillac KISS, I want it. I’ve been telling my story for 45 years and now it’s time for my story to become our story.”
More information is on Neff’s personal Cadillac KISS website. There, the project is explained in detail and formats for submitting stories and photos are available. Also on the site are Cadillac KISS related videos, articles from around the world, photos and features. Go to: www.neffcadillackiss.com.
In or around 1977 I can recall leading through a rock magazine while attending Assumption Grade School. It was a warm spring day close to the end of the school year. The images were striking yet a few really caught my attention. Those were the ones where I saw the members of KISS interacting with a football team, cheerleaders and adults whose faces were loosely painted as their own. Years would pass and my fanaticism for KISS became even stronger.
Fast forward to the mid-2000’s and the story of KISS visiting Cadillac, MI was still resonating through the folklore of fans including myself. So one day I discovered that Jim Neff was really the one person that I wanted to talk to and get all of the dirt surrounding this moment in KISS’ history that just didn’t seem like all the rest. So I reached out via email directly to Jim and waited. One day I received a reply and it was as if we’d known each other our entire lives. I told Jim about my fascination with the imagery that I had seen and he told me things that the imagery never put into words! We’ve since become very close friends.
Now during all of these years I have been managing and performing in a KISS tribute band called MR.SPEED. What surprised me was that Jim told me that in all the years since that October weekend in 1975 no one from a KISS tribute band had ever taken such an interest in the KISS Cadillac story as I have. So Jim decided that what better way to help to celebrate the connection with KISS than to have a KISS tribute band perform in Cadillac to help keep the story very much alive…if you will. So a show was organized at a local ice arena and it didn’t do very well. Then an acoustic show was put together at the Evergreen Golf Resort and more specifically Curly’s Pub. This show was sparsely attended as well. So Jim then approached me about performing at the high school for a ticketed event and I agreed immediately. This show felt like the right thing to do and in my mind would get me closer to being a part of the history between KISS and the city of Cadillac. As luck would have it through Jim’s efforts and the efforts of many others the show SOLD OUT! Now we seemed to be getting somewhere with our band and the fans there in this great little town.
In 2015 plans were were well underway for a 40th Anniversary celebration of the event and Jim was kind enough to ask us to be a part of it and help celebrate the event. So of course we agreed to do just that. We took photos with fans, we rode in the parade and then performed in the very same gymnasium that KISS had performed in 40 years earlier. It was surreal and a very proud moment for me. We met fans from a lot of different places that day, some of which are still friends with me to this day. The most striking of encounters was when we were preparing to ride in the parade celebration and we were taking our places on top of a vintage fire truck a woman approached me and asked to take a photo with me. I immediately replied “you’re that chick”! That “chick” being none other than Cadillac High Alum and cheerleader Mary Porter. She was the cheerleader that was photographed with Paul Stanley during that historic weekend 40 years earlier. So we did take a photo together, quite a few actually and remain friends to this day.
So it’s been 5 years since the 40th celebration and we have not returned to Cadillac since. I think of doing so often and hope to even more. I feel in my heart that MR.SPEED will forever be linked to the city of Cadillac as not only the only KISS tribute band to ever perform there multiple times. But more importantly the only KISS tribute band that revered the history and the passion that Jim Neff and the other school officials had in 1975. We stood where they stood and gave it our best. When the KISS Cadillac Monument & Walking Tour was set up I purchased the marker that now adorns the entrance to the very place that KISS nearly shook to the ground. We will hopefully be connected to one of the most unique KISS concerts ever in their legendary career, not only with a marker but with the true spirit of rock’n roll that we as fans have running through our veins.