In 1976, the rock group KISS came to town for their first concert in El Paso at the County Coliseum. I elbowed myself to the front of the crowd who were all pushing against each other in the pit and stationed myself in a good location—in front of the stage, off center—and I shot one roll of black-and-white photographs. I used a Minolta Single Lens Reflex 101 camera with a standard 55 mm lens. I pushed Kodak Tri-X film to 800 ASA using available light (no flash). I developed and printed the photographs in my high school darkroom. A photo essay of the images was printed in the school newspaper. I kept the negatives as a reminder of the concert and my early days of photography. Photography provided me with an entre into my involvement in the arts. The concert was quite a spectacle.
Writing in the July 17, 1976 issue of the El Paso Herald Post, Reporter Dennis Kincaid in his column “Sounds and scene” told readers that the group’s August 15 concert at the Coliseum was to “be more electric than anything that has ever hit the Southwest.” By comparison, he stated that Alice Cooper and David Bowie were quite mellow. This was information he stated he had gathered from their press materials because in 1976, few El Pasoans had seen KISS in concert.
By 1976, KISS was riding high on the concert circuit, so much that Kincaid went on to say that it took “seven 45-foot tractor trailer trucks, 2 custom cruiser buses, a private plane and a road crew of 40 to put on the show.” Kincaid added that just 3 years before, KISS had played their first concert as the opening act for Blue Oyster Cult and a year later, BOC took the back seat as the band’s popularity increased.
The KISS concert even caught the attention of the late art reporter Betty Ligon, who in in her July 31, 1976 column named “Curtain Call” wrote that it would be “a show to feast your eyes on as it is for the music.” She went on to say that the band had a snow machine and that the bass player did a fire-breathing act and occasionally singed his hair.
On August 7, 1976, a photographic teaser ran in the El Paso Herald Post Showtime entertainment supplement. The photograph featured KISS Guitarist Paul Stanley jumping in the air in full concert dress catching a football with the caption asking: “Can You Identify This Personality?” The answers were—A: A U.S. Olympic athlete; B: Tiny Tim sporting the newest 1976 spring fashions; C: A UFO pilot who is only pretending that his parachute is a football; D: A member of KISS saving a Michigan high school’s spirit or E: A member of STAR hoping to hitch his football to one. The answer that was the caption for the photograph was: “You are right if you guessed D. Kiss, America’s hottest band, will be in El Paso Sunday, August 15, in concert in the El Paso Coliseum.”
The KISS Destroyer Tour (the 5th tour for the band) also known as The Spirit of ’76 Tour, coincided with the United States Bicentennial (the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence). The Spirit of ’76 Tour was held July 3 through September 12, 1976. The band played 34 shows as part of the tour. In Texas, the band played in Fort Worth at the Tarrant County Convention Center, on August 11, 1976, in Houston at The Summit on August 8, 1976 and in El Paso at the Country Coliseum on August 15, 1976. The concert in El Paso was their first concert in the city. Five days later, a video of their concert was recorded in Anaheim, Calif. on August 20, 1976. In the video, like in the El Paso concert, the stage featured a towering wall of speakers with 2 large cats on each side of the drum set. Pyrotechnics were a large part of the close to hour-and-a-half show. In between El Paso and Anaheim, which was their most famous show of the tour, they played in Tempe, AZ on August 17th.
On February 5, 1985 the group returned to El Paso for a concert at the Special Events Center (presently, the Don Haskins Center) as part of the Animalize Tour (than toured September 30, 1984 to March 29, 1985). Their final El Paso concert on was September 19, 1990 at the Special Events Center as part of the Hot in the Shade Tour (that toured March 11 to November 9, 1990).
To commemorate the 40th year anniversary since the band played their first El Paso concert, a photograph of KISS band member Ace Frehley will be printed as a single color poster in a 10 x 16 inch image on 12 x 18 inch French Paper (Muscletone Cover Construction Pure White 140#) as part of Proper Printshop’s “Art en Vivo” Print Series. The image was shot during their show in 1976 at the El Paso County Coliseum. The photograph is part of a set of 36 images that have not been seen in 40 years. A limited edition of 50 posters will be on sale. Profits from the sales of any prints are split between Proper and the featured artist and remaining prints are also split between Proper and the featured artist.
Photo + Text: Miguel Juárez
Miguel Juárez is doctoral student in Borderlands history, U.S. history and world history at the University of Texas at El Paso. His research focuses on historical issues along the U.S.-Mexico border. He was formerly an academic librarian from 1998 to 2013 at SUNY Buffalo, the University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA, and the University of North Texas. You can follow him @miguelJuárez