Before Kiss became a 1970s pop culture phenomenon, the rock band struggled to break through to the mainstream with early albums “Kiss,” “Hotter Than Hell” and “Dressed to Kill.”
While the music world slept on the theatrics of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, Terre Haute teenager Bill Starkey rallied a following for Kiss.
The Kiss Army fan club co-founder—now a Speedway resident and an Indianapolis Public Schools educator—will be recognized for his efforts to popularize the eventual Rock and Roll Hall of Famers when the band plays what’s billed as its final Indianapolis show Saturday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
The band, which presently includes Simmons, Stanley, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, will bring its “End of the Road World Tour” here en route to a two-night finale Dec. 1-2 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
“It’s going to be a funny feeling Saturday, really kind of a melancholy feeling for me,” Starkey said.
Word leaked to Starkey that he will be given a plaque, perhaps during the afternoon soundcheck at the arena.
A new plaque could be paired with the one Starkey received on Nov. 21, 1975, when he received “Kiss Honorary Member” hardware onstage during a show at Terre Haute’s Hulman Center.
By November 1975, Kiss was catching on thanks to relentless touring and the success of live album “Alive.” Starkey’s belief that the band should be huge also had something to do with it.
Starkey caught the band for the first time at Evansville’s Roberts Stadium in December 1974 and he traveled to Indianapolis for a show three weeks later at the Indiana Convention Center.
He invited Jay Evans, a classmate at Terre Haute North Vigo High School, to attend the Indianapolis concert, and the duo hatched the idea for the Kiss Army.
Members of the do-it-yourself fan club bombarded Terre Haute radio station WVTS with phone calls and letters demanding airplay for Kiss. The antagonistic campaign transformed into an orchestrated promotion once Kiss was booked to headline the 9,000-capacity Hulman Center.
Starkey met the band at the airport, hung out after the show and even ate breakfast with Kiss the next morning. Although Starkey’s version of the Kiss Army picked up steam, a California company took over the concept in 1976 and made it a highly profitable enterprise for the rest of the decade.
Despite not becoming wealthy in the Kiss Army, Starkey maintains a level of celebrity among the band’s fans who circle the globe.
He mentioned a recent enjoyable interview on the Kiss Army Iceland podcast.
“I had no idea what they were saying, but they sure sounded like they were having a lot of fun when they were interviewing me,” Starkey said. “They had a good sense of humor. To me, you have to have a sense of humor with Kiss. I don’t want to do those interviews where people think there’s some deep-seated meaning. This is four guys in makeup and high heels in their 70s.”
Saturday’s show at Gainbridge Fieldhouse will be the first Kiss performance Starkey has attended since a 2012 concert in Chicago. Guitarist Thayer provided free tickets in 2012.
This time, Starkey was invited by Carmel-based hydrogeologist Dan Kelleher—a Kiss loyalist who’s also headed to New York for the final tour’s final shows.
“Concert tickets are not like they were in ’75, when any of us riffraff could spend $5 and get into a show at the convention center,” Starkey said.
Credit the accuracy of Starkey’s memory. When Kiss made its Indianapolis debut in 1974, sharing a bill with Blue Oyster Cult and the James Gang at the Indiana Convention Center, tickets were priced at $6 or $5 if purchased in advance.
At midday Wednesday, a smattering of face-value tickets for the Gainbridge Fieldhouse show were available for $349.50 each. The asking price on Ticketmaster’s verified resale market ranged from $99 for an upper deck seat to $2,000 for a spot on the arena’s floor.