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.