Saturday, April 9, 2011

When KISS Rocked My Junior High

I used to doodle the faces of all of the members of the band KISS. We’d debate among friends who was our favorite band member. Mine: the drummer, Peter Criss. He was the “cat,” in case you’re wondering.

There was something magical about a band that wore bizarre costumes and make-up. I longed to go to a concert and imagined the fireworks, the spitting blood and the sound. Oh, that sound. I could only imagine how loud it actually was. The only thing I knew was that it would have been louder than my record player.

I first became acquainted with KISS in 1976 with, believe or not, a K-Tel album called Disco Mania. That’s right---you read correctly: Disco Mania. The song “Rock and Roll All Nite” appeared late on the second side. And I loved it. I played it all the time. I got other KISS albums. I imagined what it would be like to see them in concert.

In 1976, KISS played a concert at my soon-to-be junior high. River Trails Junior High in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, had recently won a promotion sponsored by a local radio station. The contest: the school that collected the most 3 x 5 cards with the word “snickers” on it would have KISS play a show in their gym. The kids at River Trails anteed up and KISS was coming. The concert occurred on May 4, 1976.

And I did not go.

I knew kids who went. In fact, the concert became legendary. By the time I got there in 1980, people were still talking about it. Kids my age were now claiming that they had attended with older brothers or sisters. Gene Simmons killed a chicken on stage, it was said.

There’s not much about this event online. But there is a Facebook discussion and someone posted a couple of pictures:

Photo by Ken Jenks

Photo by Ken Jenks

This month on Adventures in Vinyl, we will be taking a nostalgic trip back to 1976 through K-Tel’s Disco Mania album. Like all K-Tel albums, this one contains a diverse mix of tunes. There are, of course, some big early disco hits here, such as the ubiquitous “The Hustle.” Of course, Gloria Gaynor makes an appearance.

But then there’s Styx. Bachman Turner Overdrive.

And of course, KISS.

“Rock and Roll All Nite.”

I always wondered what Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley thought about that.


Adventures in Vinyl can be heard on the Vinyl Voyage Saturday Mornings at 11 AM CT with encore broadcasts throughout the week. This is the only radio show dedicated to a K-Tel record compilation. Each month, a new K-Tel album is featured.

More information can be found here.


  1. I was there, glad to find these two photos. Are there any others? Thanks for sharing.

  2. I was also there, as was one of my brothers. Awesome concert! I remember writing "Marathon Bar," not "Snickers" on those 3 x 5 cards. Just to clarify, no innocent animals killed during the concert. :)

  3. I remember writing M & M and Marathon Bars on 3x5 cards. I wrote so many that I received a autographed photo & a signed 45. Unfortunately my basement flooded & both were ruined, but I have great memories!

  4. I too, was there - Marathon Bar was the tested favorite (fastest to write). I don't think I ever saw any pictures. Thanks. - Steve Leahy

  5. How grateful I am to be able to participate in something like this...I believe it all started over a math equation from Mr. Lebron's Math Class...Core B..Hmmm..and look where it got us!

  6. I was there..I was in 7th grade. I wrote over 20,000 Marathon bar cards and got to go to the pizza party held with the band afterwards. Gene Simmons had this awesome belt buckle with a live tarantula in it. I still have some pictures (although they are turning green from age and a guitar pick!) It was my first concert and I took my son to see Kiss too for his first concert. Great memories from River Trails.

  7. I know I have pictures somewhere. I'll have to look. They aren't great. My brother still has the candle they threw off the stage.

  8. I was there as well. I always thought the "Chicago Fix" was in on this contest and that's why we won. Anyone remember what Mr. Kukla always had in his office? That's right, Snickers Bars. Made by the M&M Mars Company, producer of the new Marathon Bar that the contest was centered around.

    The other thing that the girls won't remember was that the band used the boys locker room to get dressed and made up. There was a small room where, after you got your towel, you would stand and dry off. That was where they did the makeup and they splattered some on the walls. The janitors left it and it was there most of the next year, 8th grade for me.

    Also they left Gene's "blood" on the stage and just varnished over it during the summer so we got to see that the next year as well.

    I also remember that some parents didn't really understand the whole thing about Kiss but a few weeks before the show some did wise up about what their little kiddos were about to see at school and they started a little protest. The school reacted by setting up a showing of Disney's World's Greatist Athlete in case you didn't want your kid to see the show. As I remember it only one kid went to the movie.

  9. Hi I'm a Kiss fan in NY. I have those 2 photos, but if anyone has anything else from the show, please email me at - photos, audio recordings, etc. Was there a program or anything in the school paper about it?

  10. My neighbors attended this concert and shared terrific pics at the time. I remember they also claimed the school lost money in the end because KISS ruined the flooring of the little stage in our gym with their crazy super spiked heels from their costume boots! Still a memorable experience!

  11. I was front row center. I was president of Student Councel the year before and got to meet Gene Simmons before the concert. He autographed my blue ticket and gave me a quitar pic with his name on it.My cousin still has it as I gave it to him as a gift one Christmas because he had KISS posters everywhere in his room. My brother got pulled up on stage by Gene and draged thru fake blood onstage at the end. It was my first concert experience and I was hooked! The pyro technics you could feel I heard in the back row! It was SOO AWESOME!!!!! What a experience and it happened at OUR school.

    1. Was that Allen Blakely? We were friends and I believe that's what he told me. I got a Paul Stanley pick with his name on it and it said Pastore Music on one side. That was an experience of a life time.

  12. Another little note... It was there LAST performance with their old costumes. Gene from then on wore the cOOL shoes with teeth! When I met him before the concert he had a black widow ring(A black widow encased in plastic!) and a tarantula belt buckle...TOO COOL... H. Blakely signing off...

  13. This is awesome to find a reference to this show. As a 7th grader this was the first rock and roll show I ever saw. Holy Crap! I remember the flaming columns that were so hot i could feel the heat from the "cheap seats". I also remember the confetti during Rock and Roll All Night. Eugene Kukula was a much cooler guy than I gave him credit for back in the day. Rock On!!!

    Darryl Gregg

    p.s. Shortly after this show I sold my trumpet for an electric guitar and an amp and I still play today. Marathon Bar. . . Marathon Bar . . . Marathon Bar!!!

  14. Yes! I remember this well! Teachers were handing out cotton when entering the gym. I didn't use it of course, because I was way too cool. I think the principle asked KISS not to do the blood spitting stuff, but they did anyway. The volume seemed like amphitheater level. I got sent to the principle's office for making fun of the kids that skipped the concert. I remember a few kids needing to be escorted out of the gym after the concert because they took too many drugs. Yes, Jr. High in Illinois. Priceless.

  15. I recall being pulled into the gym for an assembly when the contest was announced months prior by the principal. I vividly remember him saying if we were going to enter it, WE WERE GOING TO WIN!! I overheard a kid say to his friend "Kiss my ass." in the bleachers. Not many of us had even heard of Kiss back then. I wrote enough Marathon Bar cards (I thought they were on also on computer cards if I remember correctly). I believe I wrote 10,000 cards, so I got to bring my sister, who was a Hersey sophomore. I also got a Kiss sticker, which I still have. I remember a teacher or nurse passing out cotton balls as we entered the gym. Looking back, I can't believe the teachers and school were allowed to give us classroom time to write down Marathon Bar over and over at the expense of math, science, English, etc. Probably wouldn't fly nowadays. Does anyone remember the roadies playing softball with a gym class before the concert. I have a fuzzy memory of that. Surreal that this whole thing happened.

  16. I was there! I remember writing "marathon bar" on so many 3" by 5" cards almost constantly during this contest that I actually think I had a symptom of carpal tunner syndrome at the age of 12 .
    Everyone was sitting in the bleachers when the band came onto the small stage. After a song or two, one of the band members gently kick a few albums that were on the edge of the stage down to the gym floor. A few kids cautiously walked up close to the stage to get the albums, and then more and more kids quickly piled onto the floor of the gym from the bleachers to get closer. I remember the fire alarms going off in the school when the stage seemed to be actually on fire from the flaming columns while they preformed, and I distinctly remember feeling the intense heat in that small gymnasium.
    The Principal of River Trails JHS at this time was Mr Kukula. He made this event happen, and I remember writing "marathon bar" on so many pieces of 3"5" cards at school because he gave us classroom time to actually do this. Incredible.

    To this day, 41 years ago now, I will occasionally tell people that I saw KISS at my junior high school in Mt Prospect IL, and most of them just don't believe it.

    Los Angeles, CA

  17. I was there. I remember it very well. And writing mars bars 1000 times.