Acclaimed artist Ken Kelly, creator of the most iconic KISS album covers (“Destroyer” and “Love Gun”), received a huge surprise at the recent Rock ‘N’ Con expo in London Ontario.
Tom Feeley, director of the Bill Aucoin Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Committee and manager of Four By Fate (featuring members of Frehley’s Comet), and longtime friend to antiMusic, explained how Kelly received over four decades delayed recognition for his work with KISS at the event.
He recalls, “It happened l month at the Rock’n’Con expo in London, Ontario for legendary artist Ken Kelly, whose works have graced many album covers including Manowar, Rainbow, and the iconic KISS albums ‘Destroyer’ and ‘Love Gun’. Doing what he does at many conventions and expos, he was greeting fans, taking pictures and signing items, when one fan approached him with a statement that changed the look on his face.
“‘Have you ever received any gold album awards from your work with KISS?’ Ontario resident and long-time KISS fan Greg Ortbach casually asked. Ken reached for a copy of his book, ‘Escape’ and proudly pointed out pictures of the two awards he received back in the 1970’s. ‘Would it surprise you to know I have a different gold record for Destroyer with your name on it?’ Ortbach queried.
” Kelly’s jaw dropped. ‘Can you repeat that?’
“‘I have a gold record with your name on it- and it’s been on my wall for the better part of 20 years.’
“The album was certified gold by the RIAA on April 22, 1976. Kelly never knew this existed, nor was he informed he had been awarded the framed honor. As a recipient of a gold album award for KISS ALIVE III himself, Ortbach had originally approached Kelly to ask what would make someone relinquish such a treasured article.
“A bit skeptical, Kelly asked how he got it. Greg, who was meeting Ken for the first time, replied that he was once a fervent KISS collector, and owned many rare KISS pieces, which included a Gold & Platinum record award collection he had acquired in the early 2000’s. This particular piece, as he understood it, was sitting in a warehouse somewhere, and he bought it through an online auction.
“‘Oh my God. I never ever received it!’ exclaimed Ken after looking at a picture on Greg’s smartphone. Then came the shocker…
“‘Would you like to have it? I can’t imagine being able to enjoy looking at this on my wall knowing that you never received it. I don’t live too far from here, I can get it, and give it back to its rightful owner.’
“Kelly, blindsided by this information and invitation, immediately said yes.
Ortbach and Kelly made arrangements to meet in the lobby of the hotel where many of the artists and vendors of the Rock’n’Con were staying after the Expo ended that day. Ken and yours truly were in the lobby when Greg returned with the prized possession.
“Taking the framed album out of a box, Ortbach presented Kelly the gold award for his artwork on the Destroyer album…. 42 YEARS LATER.
Ken is repaying Greg’s kindness and honesty with some original art pieces that he can place where the gold record once hung.
“‘What are the chances that in London, Ontario Canada, I meet an honest guy who at the first opportunity to speak with me, and returns such a one-of-a-kind item that I didn’t even know existed?’ an enthusiastic Kelly mentioned while holding the long lost treasure.
“KISS fans are truly some of the best fans in the world….”