By Chris M. Junior
It started innocently enough with KISS trading cards when he was in grade school. Since then, Seether drummer John Humphrey’s collection of KISS memorabilia has grown tremendously in size and value — and it also includes items that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley no longer have.
Intrigued by the band’s look, and without even hearing a note of KISS music, Humphrey started collecting the KISS bubble gum cards manufactured by Donruss in the late 1970s. Luckily for Humphrey, a relative worked at a convenience store, so he had someone who could supply him with a steady stream of the 15-cent card packs.
For his eighth birthday, Humphrey received a copy of the 1978 K-Tel Records collection “Star Power,” which contained the KISS hit “Christine Sixteen.” By the time the band released “Creatures of the Night” in 1982, Humphrey was pretty much immersed in all things KISS. He finally saw his makeup-wearing, costume-clad heroes in person, when the tour supporting that album came to the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.
Humphrey says his KISS memorabilia collection is insured and valued at $60,000 to $75,000. He has various items on display at home, and one of the more prominent pieces is the KISS pinball machine (made by Bally and introduced in 1978) that he purchased for $2,200 around 1999.
“I was smiling from ear to ear when I got that thing,” Humphrey says. “It was broken and needed a little love. It’s still the crown jewel of my collection.”
Humphrey said an auction house has been in touch with him about his KISS collection, but he remains an active collector. He really hasn’t parted with too many items over the years.
“I’m trying to upgrade,” he says. “I’m picky about mint and still-sealed items. Occasionally I’ll eBay something when I’m home, which isn’t too often — I’ll sell some stuff if I’ve upgraded — but I haven’t really let go of anything. All of the important pieces I still hold onto and still have.”
Humphrey has KISS items from all over the world, but he does have standards beyond those related to their condition.
“I don’t really get into all the new stuff — the lava lamps, the teddy bears,” he says. “Some people get everything. With me, it’s the vintage stuff.”
It would be hard to imagine Humphrey ever parting with two items in particular. One is an autographed outtake poster from the first KISS album. When the original KISS lineup reunited for a tour in 1996, The Nixons, Humphrey’s band at the time, opened for KISS, so he had Simmons, Stanley, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley sign the poster for him.
The other item is the gold record for “Creatures of the Night” that was posthumously awarded to Eric Carr.
“Being a drummer, I loved Eric Carr, and I was right there at that time when he came into the band,” Humphrey says. “I have since met his sister Loretta via the Internet and have talked with her. I told her that ‘Creatures of the Night’ was my favorite album. She gave me his gold plaque for that album. So in my hallway with my gold plaques for Seether, in the middle I have Eric Carr’s gold plaque for ‘Creatures.’”
Humphrey also has some very rare photos of KISS recording its first album in New York that he recently passed along to author Ken Sharp, who is working on a book about the band’s history from 1971 to 1975.
“Gene and Paul had lost their disc with the photos,” Humphrey says. “They had bought the rights, and Ken needed my copies, so I actually contributed the photos I had from my collection, among a few other things, for that book. It was cool to be able to do that.”
When Seether is on tour — the band has done a bunch of shows already in 2011 supporting its new album, “Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray,” which contains the hit “Country Song” — Humphrey says he spends his off days seeking out KISS vinyl.
“I love doing that and finding really cool stuff in little stores here and there all around the country and in Europe,” he says. “You can find shops with used records that are stacked up like [you’d expect to see] on the set of ‘Sanford and Son.’”