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ONU's First Kiss

With all due respect to Detroit, on May 9, 1975, Ada, Ohio, was the real Rock City.

On that day 40 years ago, the newly christened King Horn gymnasium hosted a triple-bill rock 'n' roll concert featuring Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Kiss, The James Gang and The Flock. It was by far the most notable lineup to ever play at ONU, and would have been even greater had fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Rush played instead of The Flock, as was intended.

It was one of the loudest, rowdiest, most unforgettable events to ever take place on campus.

But don’t take our word for it. These alumni were gracious enough to share their memories of the concert:

Roger McKinstry: I remember this concert well. As a member of the Center Board of Governors, I was responsible for actually booking several acts at ONU. I didn’t book this show though.

Patricia (Ream) Phillips: I do remember that it was billed as a grand-opening type of event for the new King Horn Center.

Dave Hanneman: There was much buildup for this band and this event. I think mostly because Kiss was not the type of band you’d ever expect to see at ONU. For some perspective, Harry Chapin had performed earlier at McIntosh Center, and I believe Loggins and Messina played on campus as well.

Tom Stein: One of the band’s handlers approached my fraternity (Phi Kappa Theta) about the possibility of Kiss preparing for the concert by utilizing our second-floor restroom facility. The Phi Kap house was just across the street from King Horn and the restroom had a bay of four sinks with a large mirror that was exactly what the band needed to apply their make-up. They spent about two hours just relaxing and talking before and during their preparation. They were very receptive to us. We tried to get them to commit to spending time with us after the concert but they had to be on the road.

Lois Birkhimer: I was part of the "Zoo Crew” that ran lights and sound for concerts on campus, and we worked on this one. The production company gave us t-shirts to wear and I actually still have mine.

Janet Reed Plank: As a member of Celebrity Series, I was selling/taking tickets that night. I’ll never forget that the very first guys through the doors had their faces painted just like the Kiss band members.

Carol Gramm: I had not originally intended to go to the concert. But I decided to go, and when I arrived at our brand new King Horn Center, I was appalled that I had to open my purse at the door for security to check for beer. I was even more appalled that several dumpsters of beer had ALREADY been confiscated.

Roger McKinstry: I didn’t get to attend much of the concert at all. Instead, McIntosh Director Sam Beckley and I spent a fair amount of time outside King Horn picking up trash during the show.

Tom Mallow: As you might imagine, the concert drew a huge audience. This was the biggest concert Ohio Northern had sponsored on campus at that time!

Carol Gramm: When I entered the gym, I was shocked to see so many people there. They had to have come from way off-campus. I took my seat but found that if I were to see anything I would have to stand on my chair – all evening!

Janet Reed Plank: The floor of King Horn was covered with brown paper and rows of chairs. As the evening went on, the paper was torn. I remember the floor had to be re-finished after the concert. Kiss had these huge Bunsen burner-like fire torches they used during their show. It was rumored they scorched the ceiling.

Michael Sabol: I was at that show that night. I was near the end of my fourth year, and I went with some dear friends. We sat on the side, towards the back of the gym. I could still feel the heat from the fireballs that Kiss used in their set, and I think my ears are still ringing to this day from the decibels.

Tom Stein: The pyrotechnics they used in the concert went from the floor to the ceiling. You could feel the fire throughout the venue.

Lois Birkhimer: I don't really remember the concert itself since I was busy working as part of the Zoo Crew, but I do remember being amazed that the concert was actually ever approved. We figured that whoever approved it had no idea what Kiss would be like.

Roger McKinstry: Kiss used pyrotechnics and singed the roof of the new King Horn. Administration had a fit over this and said they would never do anything like that again.

Tom Mallow: Kiss did use a lot of fire on stage. I'm pretty sure it was a curtain that caught on fire that evening. The fire was contained quickly, however, and did not disturb the flow of the performance.

Michael Sabol: The only damage I ever heard about was that one of the basketball nets was singed even though the hoops were retracted up into the rafters. I was a regular jogger in the track in the rafters in those days and remember looking for signs of it, but the nets were either replaced or it never happened.

Tom Mallow: The overall experience was absolutely fabulous! That evening, Kiss performed a fabulous show for us, and I remember what an exciting and memorable time it was for the entire ONU student body. It’s truly something I’ll never forget.

Dave Hanneman: There was a lot of negative feedback following the Kiss concert. Except from Kiss fans of course.

Carol Gramm: It was quite an experience. For that, one my fingers took up residence in my ears as the sound was SO VERY LOUD. Even so, I must say that attending the Kiss concert is an experience I shall always remember.

Michael Sabol: It was a very special night, and it holds a special place amongst my ONU memories. I have told both of my sons (both current ONU students) about that night numerous times.

Tom Stein: What stands out to me is how big they became nationally just after being at Northern. It was not a year later that they were offering monetary gifts to anyone who had a picture of them without their make-up. Of course, none of us had cameras at the time to even consider a picture when they were in the house.

Patricia (Ream) Phillips: Sorry to say that I did not attend. I didn't care for that type of rock and roll at the time. Boy, was I dumb.

The ‘Nite’ Ada changed history?

According to numerous sources, Kiss performed their hit song “Rock and Roll All Nite” during the May 9, 1975, concert at ONU. What makes this interesting is that the book Kiss Alive Forever: The Ultimate Touring History lists a concert in Largo, Md., the following day as the first live performance of this song. Without a recording of the ONU concert, there may never be a way to prove where it was performed live first, but we have some compelling evidence to suggest that it was at ONU.

On Monday, May 5, 1975, 17-year-old high school student Ben Eicher from Wauseon, Ohio, wrote in his journal that he “got Kiss/James Gang/Rush tickets.” He also recorded the weather for the day (it was sunny with a high of 75 degrees), and that South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam, thereby ending the Vietnamese civil war.

Eicher kept a journal every day of his life and shared it with ONU professor Jimmy Wilson, who has been working with students on a documentary about the concert. Another page of Eicher’s journal is from Friday, May 9, 1975, the day of the concert. Not only did he make note of what a beautiful day it was and that he had 17 days of school remaining, he also recorded the set lists for the James Gang and Kiss. The 11th song on his list for Kiss is, indeed, “Rock and Roll All Night” (sic).

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While Eicher’s journal pages are tantalizing clues to this mystery, had the batteries in his smuggled-in tape recorder not run out after recording nearly all of the James Gang set, we’d all know for certain what many who were there believe to this day.

Michael Sabol, BSPH '77
I totally remember Gene Simmons giving the intro to the “Rock & Roll All Nite.” They DID play it that night!

Tom Mallow BSPh '77
I believe I do remember hearing "Rock & Roll All Nite" performed.