Zack Harold

freelance journalist

Carnival of Soles

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Wednesday, May 7, 2012. 

Jina Jordan has held several jobs in her life.

She owned a cleaning business and then worked as a pizza dough maker at Gino’s Pizza in Sissonville. She drives cars for the St. Albans Auction and repairs purses and leather jackets at the Fife Street Shoe Shop in downtown Charleston.

But over a decade ago, Jordan, 53, held her coolest gig of all. For one day, she was KISS bassist Gene Simmons’ cobbler.

The storied rock band played Charleston on May 2, 2000, on the first leg of their “Farewell Tour.”

KISS didn’t actually retire after that tour – they’ve embarked on seven more since then – but the Charleston date was one of the last times the band’s original lineup took the stage together.

Chris Dickerson, the Daily Mail’s city editor at the time, was eagerly anticipating that concert.

“I’m a huge KISS fan and over the years I became friends with KISS’s tour manager,” Dickerson said.

Tommy Thayer, who now plays lead guitar for the group, was KISS’s manager during the 2000 tour.

“I don’t remember all the details, but they had just got into town and there was something wrong with Gene’s boot. Tommy called me and asked me, ‘Where’s a good place I could take them?'” Dickerson said.

“I suggested the Fife Street Shoe Shop.”

That was the last Dickerson heard of Simmons’ boot problems. But it was the beginning of a very interesting day for Jordan.

On the afternoon of May 2, one of Simmons’ assistants brought the boots into the shop.

“It was a rush order,” Jordan remembers.

She had worked at the Fife Street Shoe Shop for about a year, spending much of her time repairing leather jackets and purses, mending rips, replacing zippers and fixing busted buckles. She learned to sew from her mother, Nadine.

“She sewed my sister’s wedding dress and bridesmaids’ dresses,” Jordan said. “I’ve got her old sewing machine, one of those real heavy-duty ones that you can sew blue jeans with.”

Jordan didn’t do a lot of work on shoes, though. Most of the broken heels and worn-out soles went to Andy Arthur, the shop’s manager.

But Jordan knew her client well. She graduated high school in 1977, two years after KISS got its first top 40 hit with “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

“I used to jam out to them when I was younger. I used to have them on an 8-track. We had a Cutlass, we called it a ‘Gutless.’ We used to jam to that,” she said.

The wildly costumed group became as famous for their onstage antics – Simmons’ fire breathing and blood spitting, Ace Frehley’s fireworks-spewing guitar, Peter Criss’ levitating drum set – as for hard-rocking hits like “Detroit Rock City” and “Calling Dr. Love.”

Well, Gene Simmons had aged a lot since Jordan was riding around in the Gutless.

He still was breathing fire and letting his foot-long tongue unfurl, but his ankles were swollen when he arrived in Charleston.

He needed wider zippers installed on the sides of his platform boots.

Though Jordan had done similar jobs before, replacing the zippers on Simmons’ boots presented some unique problems.

First, they were heavy. Even with all of Simmons’ metal adornments removed, the oversized footwear still weighed 35 pounds.

“I don’t know how he wore them onstage,” she said.

The boots also were wet when they arrived on Jordan’s workbench.

“That leather was real soft and the boots were still sweaty from the night before. It was hard to get them cut out,” she said.

Jordan was working on deadline, too: KISS was performing at the Civic Center that night and Simmons needed his boots fixed, pronto.

She started by slicing the threads that held the zippers to the boots’ leather. She had to be careful not to cut the soft, supple, soggy leather.

With the zippers removed, Jordan glued new ones in place. The glue normally sets up fast, but Jordan said the wet leather slowed the process. She used a fan to dry them, but that didn’t work very well.

Finally, after about an hour, the glue set up and Jordan stitched the zippers back into the leather.

“I guess he made it. He performed that night,” she said.

Jordan didn’t get to see her handiwork on stage, though.

Arthur told her he had received free tickets for helping the band, but that was just a little good-natured teasing among co-workers.

Jordan left the shoe shop about eight months after her chance encounter with the famous footwear. She got her old job back about two months ago but spent the intervening years as business-cleaner, dough-maker and car-driver.

She never forgot her most famous job, though.

“I still have the zippers.”

She put them in a plastic bag and placed it in a Pintor cigar box with newspaper clippings from the concert. For a long time, the zippers still smelled like Simmons’ sweat.

“I said, ‘I’m going to keep these ’cause someday something might happen with them.'”

If nothing else, the zippers help her prove that she’s not lying about her most famous client.

Farnsworth, a band born under a bad sign

This story was originally published in the Charleston Daily Mail on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014.

“Live it” has become a mantra for Charleston blues-rock duo Farnsworth.

It’s the name of group’s first full-length album, which will be released this Saturday. But “Live it” is also what guitarist Chris Vance and drummer Jason Reese tell one another when things aren’t going very well.

They’ve been saying it a lot lately.

On June 20, the band was scheduled to be the opening act for Live on the Levee, Charleston’s popular summertime concert series. It also was the opening weekend of the city’s annual FestivALL celebration, so the crowd was expected to be even bigger than usual.

That’s one heck of a break for an up-and-coming band.

“We felt like, this is it. It’s a big deal to play Live on the Levee,” Vance said.

But shortly before they were to take the stage, the skies opened up with a torrential downpour.

Vance tried to remain upbeat when a local television reporter interviewed him about the show. He said Woodstock went on despite the rain, so Live on the Levee would too.

He was partially right. The weather dried up just in time for the night’s headlining act, US FLOYD. Farnsworth did not get to perform. Reese looked at Vance and raised a fist in the air.

“Live it,” he said.

Last month, the band sent their new album to United Record Pressing, the nation’s oldest vinyl record manufacturer.

Vance and Reese had worked for months on the project, painstakingly recording it using a vintage tape recorder and all-analog equipment.

They sent the only copy of their master tape to a mastering house in Columbus, Ohio, where technicians cut a “lacquer” of the album, an acetate-coated aluminum disc containing all the grooves that would appear on the final vinyl record.

It’s a delicate and expensive process.

“Each individual cut is unique. It’s a very fine art,” Vance said.

The finished product sounded great. But then the mastering house sent the lacquer to United.

“They lost it. They couldn’t tell us where it was,” Vance said.

Without informing anyone, United fired the customer representative who was overseeing Farnsworth’s record. The jilted employee didn’t bother telling anyone where the lacquer was located. United eventually found the disc . . . but not before the band’s record label paid another $600 to have a second lacquer cut.

Upon hearing the news, Vance and Reese had only one thing to say.

“Live it.”

The band has plenty more bad luck stories. During a recent tour, they paid to spend a night in a 1968 Shasta camping trailer parked in a converted junkyard — but it was double-booked.

On the same tour, they landed a gig at Brooklyn, N.Y.’s noted Trash Bar nightclub. When they took the stage, there were only three people in attendance: the sound guy, the bartender and some guy from a band who played there the night before.

“The guy literally came back to get his guitar,” Reese said.

Just this week, Reese and Vance learned their new keyboard player Justin Yeats will not be able to perform at the record release shows scheduled this weekend at Sullivan’s Records and Sam’s Uptown Cafe.

“So now we are a two piece,” Vance said in a Facebook message. “Live. It.”

Vance and Reese have taken plenty of hits since starting Farnsworth in 2011, but they keep getting back up.

And for that reason, they have the occasional stroke of good luck, too.

When they decided to record “Live It” using all-analog equipment, neither Vance nor Reese knew much about vintage recording processes.

They also chose to record the album at Sullivan’s Records on Washington Street East, even though the store is not really equipped to be a recording studio.

“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Vance said.

But once recording began, Vance said it was clear something special was happening.

“The way that room sounds is incredible. It’s surprising how good it sounds,” he said.

Using vintage recording equipment also paid off for the band.

It’s much more difficult to fix mistakes on reel-to-reel tape recorders than on digital recording equipment, so Vance and Reese took their time recording the songs.

It took them an hour just to set up microphones on their first night of recording.

“You have to commit to tape,” Vance said. “You have to commit to a sound. It forces you to think about it.”

The result is a loud, eight-song album infused with vintage rock sounds. If it were recorded 30 years earlier, you would call it “classic rock.”

The album is being released by Charleston-based record label Twin Cousins Records.

Vance and Reese said the label has been extremely supportive, helping their band navigate some of the pitfalls of record-making.

“You couldn’t ask for a better partnership,” Vance said.

Farnsworth hopes to push their luck and record another full-length, all-analog album for Twin Cousins before the end of the year.

They’re hoping lightning will strike twice.

And if lightning would strike anything twice, it’s Farnsworth.