46 Years Ago: Vince Gill’s Bluegrass Band Opens for Kiss
Vince Gill is one of the most important country musicians of his generation, but his career outlook wasn't always so rosy. In a 2020 interview, the country music icon and current member of the Eagles shared a hilarious story about an incredibly tough early gig when his local bluegrass band opened for Kiss.
Gill was living in Oklahoma City, Okla., at the time, and playing in a band called Mountain Smoke that had gained some local notoriety and performed regularly. Kiss' support act for a March 4, 1976, concert had canceled at the last minute, and Gill and his bandmates didn't know what they were getting into when they got the call to fill in, since the promoter didn't give them the specifics of the show.
"So, we ... go down there with our mandolins and our fiddles," Gills recalls to SiriusXM. "I’m driving by the Civic Center and I see on the marquee it says, ‘Kiss, appearing tonight.’ Kiss! And I went, ‘Nah, can’t be. That’s just not possible … We must be doing a Shriner’s convention in the basement or something.’”
There wasn't much time, so after the promoter confirmed that they were, indeed, opening up for the theatrical, fire-and-blood-spitting hard rock act, they set up and gamely went out onstage to face an audience that Gill describes as "ready for blood and guts and rock ’n’ roll, in their painted faces, and they’re mad."
Predictably, their set was poorly received.
"So, we didn’t last very long," Gill recounts. "The first song finished and the whole place started booing … not lightly booing, but angrily, like a bad football game ending. It was intense, and I must say I kinda liked it! You know, I enjoyed hearing that many people pissed off.”
In fact, Gill says, the angrier the crowd got, the more he enjoyed goading them, introducing the next song by saying, "'Well, thank y’all, we appreciate that. We got another one picked out for you we know you’re gonna like as much as you liked that last one.’ And I was just pouring it on, wearing them out."
The crowd started actively throwing bottles after that, and Gill and his fellow musicians left the stage after two songs and just part of a third. But the future country legend still wasn't done pushing back at the audience for their unkind reception.
"On my departure I hung the bird, bent around and grabbed my ass and said, ‘Y’all can kiss my ass!’” he recalls.
Gill's mother still has a newspaper article that confirms the whole bizarre episode, which now stands as an oddball footnote to two epic careers. According to Gill, the clipping reads, "The weirdest part of the night was the opening act. Whoever thought this was a great idea? Local bluegrass band tried to open the show and it didn’t go very well … Group member Vince Gill on his departure showed the crowd which part of his anatomy the crowd could kiss.”
Gill later joined the pop-country band Pure Prairie League, with which he scored his first-ever chart hit, "Let Me Love You Tonight," in 1980. They were signed to Casablanca Records, and Kiss were also on the roster at the time.
“I saw [Kiss singer-guitarist] Paul Stanley at some party and I introduced myself,” Gill remembers. “I said, ‘Do you by chance remember a gig some years back, where a bluegrass band ...' He goes, ‘Yeah! They were gonna riot!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I was in that band!’”
As unlikely as it seems, Kiss are not the only shock-rock act Gill has ties to. He's also good friends with Alice Cooper, who invited him to play guitar on a song titled "A Runaway Train" on his Welcome 2 My Nightmare album in 2011.
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