10/08/2015

When KISS Visited Cadillac High School in 1975

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40 years on, people still relive the days of a Northern Michigan event when mega-band KISS visited Cadillac High School with a homecoming concert. Read on for the story originally featured in the October 2015 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine by Lou Blouin.


This story sounds made up. But it isn’t.

There’s no doubt in Jim Neff’s mind that the Cadillac High School gym held only about 1,500 people in 1975. So the tens of thousands of people who claim they were there the night KISS played Cadillac are, frankly, inserting themselves into rock ’n’ roll history. As are the ones who say they partied all night with KISS after the concert. “I was with the band the whole night, and they slept maybe just three or four hours,” Neff says. “So if they were partying, I’m wondering why I wasn’t invited.”

But that’s the way it is with legends. When people want to put themselves in your story, that’s how you know you’ve really got one deserving of the word legend.

This is Jim Neff’s story. And there’s no dispute about that. In the fall of 1974, Neff was a 28-year-old English teacher and assistant football coach at Cadillac High School. The football team was coming off an undefeated season the previous year, which earned it a top-five statewide ranking among Class A teams. The 1974 team looked just as promising, but when the season started, the Vikings surprised everybody by dropping their first two games.

“It wasn’t a lack of talent,” Neff says. “The kids were just so tight trying to live up to the 1973 legacy that they just weren’t playing the game that they were capable of playing.”

So Neff, who’d grown up on rock ’n’ roll in Flint—who’d sung lead in his brother’s band alongside amps formerly owned by Iggy and the Stooges—came up with a plan to loosen the kids up. With a record player he borrowed from the high school library and his own vinyl, he decided he’d blast the nerves out of the locker room with a barrage of rock ’n’ roll during practices and before games. KISS—the face-painting, glam metal band famous for their circuslike stage shows—seemed to provide the right mix of absurdity and energy for busting the tension. Neff’s copy of Hotter Than Hell, the band’s second album, which had just been released that October, quickly became a pregame ritual.

“The other teams that we played thought we were crazy. Back then, you had to have your game face on and be all grim before the game. And coming from our locker room was ‘Hotter Than Hell’ and ‘Nothing to Lose.’”

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