The goodbye Kiss

Karmen Hall-Miller used to fend off the lascivious advances of Gene Simmons. Back in the '70s, musician Craig Moore kept coming up a day late and a dollar short of opening for Kiss.

Rick "Danger" Brown scored a beloved childhood souvenir, only to see it turned to junk. And what Jay Goldberg has seen, he can't talk about.

With Kiss paying its (allegedly) final visit to Peoria Monday, a handful of fans reminisced with us about their first-hand brushes with "The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World." Their Kiss-and-tell stories:

Now a teacher at Richwoods High School and a part-time newscaster for WWCT-FM Rock 106, Karmen Hall-Miller was once the host of a cable-TV show in San Francisco. And whenever Kiss came to town, its skirt-chasing bass player came calling.

"Gene Simmons has a thing for my body," says Hall-Miller, who says she has "a Mae West body: I'm curvy on top, thin in the middle and curvy on the bottom."

And her form never failed to warm Simmons, apparently. "Gene Simmons loves women," Hall-Miller says. "He doesn't care what you look like as long as you have something that intrigues him."

Whenever Simmons saw Hall-Miller, she says, he would raise an eyebrow and purr, "Kaaarmen: Child-bearing hips, all-natural wonder."

Not that the Demon ever enticed his prey. "He's always called me 'The Angel' because I wouldn't do anything with him," Hall-Miller says. "He's been chasing me for years, but he hasn't gotten the goodies."

She hasn't seen him in a while. But come Monday, who knows where he'll pop up?

Craig Moore, owner of the Younger than Yesterday record shop and long-time maven of the Peoria music scene, always seemed to be this close to playing on the same stage as Kiss.

In the early '70s, bassist Moore hooked up with a Quincy-based band called Smokehouse, which, like Kiss, had patterned itself after the New York Dolls, donning face paint, masks and other adornments.

In 1974, Smokehouse's agent invited Kiss to a show at the Springfield Armory promoting the "Hotter than Hell" album. The band worked the crowd into a tizzy, with kiddie pyrotechnics jerry-rigged from paint cans, wood blocks, copper wire and gunpowder - the same kind of stuff Moore's band used. Kiss used a forklift to make the drum riser float into the air.

The gimmicks were rudimentary, but Moore's jaw dropped as he watched the show.

"They were just a bad-ass rock 'n' roll band," Moore says, still chuckling. "It was the coolest thing we'd ever seen."

The members of Smokehouse soon realized that they would soon be viewed as Kiss knock-offs. Still, as Kiss skyrocketed in popularity, Smokehouse kept buying face paint.

The next year, Smokehouse was booked to warm up for Kiss in Burlington, Iowa - but was booted when the other camp realized how similar the bands were. Still, Moore got to emcee the show and meet the band.

"Gene Simmons was the nicest guy, Ace Frehley didn't come out for sound checks. . . . Ace is always Ace. Paul Stanley was a (jerk). And Peter Criss didn't say a thing."

In 1976, Smokehouse finally opened for Kiss in Pekin. But Moore didn't. In a snit over something he no longer remembers, Moore had quit the band two weeks before.

Peoria promoter Jay Goldberg has worked with Kiss many times over the years. "Some anecdotes . . . I couldn't really repeat," he says.

Goldberg does remember the 1976 Kiss concert at Pekin Memorial Stadium that Smokehouse (sans Moore) opened. Goldberg wasn't promoting that show, but he went to see it. He recalls Ted Nugent and REO Speedwagon being on the bill, too. "I'll bet there were 15,000 people," he said.

"There were a series of different security agencies involved, and none of them were really coordinated with each other," says Goldberg. "It got to where there was nobody performing any of the actual security (functions) of gate control. . . .

"Somebody threw a bottle from the top of the grandstand, and it hit a security officer on the head. (The guards) started chasing this guy, who snuck in, and the guy who was running ran into the crowd, and the crowd just separated, kind of like the Red Sea. . . .

"The rent-a-cops were chasing him, and the crowd engulfed these (guards) - just closed in on them."

According to Goldberg, the Pekin school board, which oversaw the stadium, was so horrified that it didn't allow another concert there for years. He couldn't even persuade them to let soft-rockers Fleetwood Mac in.

Apparently the wounds have healed, though. "One of the police officers from that day called me (about Monday's Kiss show) and asked me if I could get him a pair of tickets for him and his daughter," Goldberg said.

Rick "Danger" Brown went to a Kiss concert as a boy and came away with a prize souvenir - at least, for a while.

Brown lives in Chicago, but often treks to Peoria for concerts because he has better luck with seats here. When Kiss was here three years ago, he was fifth row, center; on Monday, he'll have to settle for the lower bowl.

Of all the Kiss shows he's seen, Brown best remembers a 1977 concert at the Chicago Stadium, which he and his kid brother Danny attended with their mother and Mom's new boyfriend - who was all too happy to ingratiate himself.

"He knew what it meant to get in good with the family," Brown says.

So, near the end of the show, this sizable boyfriend - about 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds - grabbed the Brown brothers and pushed their way to the front of the stage. As Kiss played its last song, Peter Criss hit the last rimshot, wiped his painted face with a hand towel, walked to the stage's edge and handed the towel to the insane crowd.

A sea of adolescents groped for the souvenir, but the boyfriend easily snatched it. Rick and Danny Brown went home the envy of 20,000 fans.

In their bedroom, covered ceiling-to-floor with Kiss posters, they hung their new prize from a shelf: a cream-colored towel streaked with black, red and white make-up.

Weeks later, they came in from play and realized the towel was gone. "Grandma," Rick said, "where's that towel?"

In her Irish brogue, she innocently replied, "Oh, it had some paint on it. So I washed it."

The stunned youths checked the linen closet, but couldn't even recognize their former souvenir. The boyfriend didn't last much longer, either.