Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) students, instructors and alumni are celebrating the 50th anniversary of a concert held in the school’s gymnasium by one of the most iconic rock bands ever.
On Feb. 6, 1974, the post-secondary institution played host to a little-known band from New York City called KISS.
This was the second show of their very first North American tour, which began with three stops in Canada.
Frank Shufletoski remembers the performance like it was yesterday.
A SAIT journalism student at the time, Shufletoski was working toward a career in photography and was among the very first to snap pictures of the band.
“It started out with just this very little crowd in the corner of the gymnasium and then these guys came out with their painted faces and their six-inch platform heels. It was kind of intimidating,” he said.
“First, it was quiet – real quiet – and then the wall of sound just hit you. Wow. They just cranked it right up.”
Shufletoski wasn’t aware at the time that no photography was allowed for the event, and he started taking photo after photo.
He certainly didn’t realize this was the beginning of a new era in rock ‘n’ roll history.
“If I had known they were going to be this famous, I probably would have taken more pictures, but I only took a couple rolls of film. Maybe not even that,” he said.
“From their very first presence on the stage, they were so polished. They were just bang-on, all the way through to the end of the show, and you kind of guessed they’d maybe make it big, and did they ever.”
The Canadian KISS shows on the tour kicked off with the University of Alberta’s Dinwoodie Lounge in Edmonton, then SAIT in Calgary and Taché Hall at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
It’s believed to have been a dress rehearsal for the band before taking on shows in larger venues.
The men’s locker room at SAIT was in fact one of the very first places where rockers Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss first put on their iconic black-and-white makeup.
In honour of the now famous anniversary, SAIT students and instructors in the Radio, Television and Broadcast News program are getting in on the fun.
SAIT’s campus radio station will change its name for one day only on Tuesday to ‘KISS 103’ as students host a full-day lineup of KISS-themed programming from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Listeners can tune in to RTBN.ca for a complete day of KISS music through the airwaves, complete with exclusive interviews and programs featuring a history lesson on the rock band’s journey to superstardom.
The concert that almost wasn’t
The concert almost didn’t happen.
Ron Scheurkogel, president of the SAIT Student Association (SAITSA) back in 1974, thought it would be a fun idea for the campus to host a concert.
“Every student council is new at the beginning. Nobody knows anything, but we wanted to promise everything,” he said.
Scheurkogel and his fellow student council members went to the Canadian Entertainment Conference in London, Ont., where they hoped to book a performer through Columbia Records.
That’s where they were able to hear from artists like Michael Quatro, Valdy, Gordon Lightfoot and MacLean & MacLean.
One that really struck SAITSA as the best, however, was Michael Quatro.
He was well-liked at the time for his unique sound that came from a Moog synthesizer and a Hammond b3 organ.
“We made up posters and we did everything to advertise the fact that we were going to have this big concert, but Columbia Records cancelled,” Scheurkogel said.
“They said, ‘Quatro doesn’t want to come, but we’ll give you this other group’ and it was KISS and we said, ‘Well who’s that? We’ve never seen or even heard of these guys.'”
Dan Murray, who was SAITSA vice-president of communications at the time, was especially disappointed because hundreds of multi-coloured Michael Quatro posters had been printed out as part of a project done by students in the graphic arts administration lab.
“It was really just such a jumble to now fill this void,” Murray said.
“We were told this new outfit KISS was coming. We knew they were coming from New York, which was kind of exciting, but there was a lot of mystery around it and we were told we weren’t allowed to advertise for it.”
Murray found the idea of not being able to advertise for the concert absurd, being told he couldn’t make announcements to local radio stations or the Emery Weal student newspaper.
“The other problem for us though was that this concert couldn’t happen anymore at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium,” he said.
“That’s when the people that actually run SAIT stepped in to help us out.”
The president of SAIT in 1974 was the late Fred Jorgenson, who offered to host the concert in the SAIT gymnasium in the Student Activity Centre.
An agreement was made in a matter of hours and KISS now had a venue in Calgary.
‘All sorts of power requirements’
As with any large rock ‘n’ roll concert, the logistics behind setting it all up can take hours of planning and hundreds of staff members.
SAIT students weren’t expecting much from a concert held in their school’s gymnasium, but KISS was different.
It took more than two days as semi-trucks showed up with workers to set up the stage.
“All of a sudden, we start getting into the technical details of KISS and it turns out that they needed all sorts of power requirements,” Murray said.
“We had no concept of what their show was or what the audience was going to see. We knew most bands just plugged into a wall socket and they were good, but now we needed long cables, 30-amp service. There were even hydraulics involved.”
The pyrotechnics that went off throughout the performance led to several noise complaints.
Sounding the alarm
Scheurkogel regrets not being able to watch the KISS concert, as he was busy helping to host the event.
But he definitely heard it all.
“Wow, was it ever loud,” he said.
“My job was to sit outside and because there was a bank in the same building, it was so loud that their alarm system went off.”
Scheurkogel and a nearby bank employee who had to be called in couldn’t shut the alarm off and eventually, some Calgary police officers showed up to respond.
“So the bank manager, myself and a couple of policemen, we sat on the counter, listening to the concert. … It was such good fun,” he said.
“We sold it out. A lot of people came and they really didn’t understand who it was, but wow, it was such an amazing concert.”