Making KISStory

By: Tammy Andrews

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Rhonda, me, and Shannon with KISS

Good times….you just can’t put a price on them. Making amazing memories with friends and family is something that stays in your heart forever and puts a warm smile on your face whenever you think about them. Well, I was about to embark on the Granddaddy of them all….so far, anyway.

For years, I have wanted to go on a cruise, but never had the opportunity…but that was about to change. And not just any cruise…KISS Kruize IV. That’s right, the hottest band in the world- KISS, along with a fantastic lineup of other fan-picked artists, making more than just waves in the ocean.  Five days of the most intense music you’ve ever heard on a ship, which was so nice that you were just in awe the entire time. It was nothing short of incredible….but let me back up a little bit here and give you some KISStory….

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KISS lovers way back in the day

On my 11th birthday in May 1979, I took my birthday money and bought my sister and me, Rhonda, a ticket to the KISS concert at the BJCC and my father and stepmother took us.  From that moment on, we were lifelong fans. Now, I loved KISS music, but for my sister, it went much deeper than that.  She just had a rock-n-roll soul from the very beginning and her love for it continued to grow throughout the years. To her, it was more than just music; it was the anthem of her life. Rock n roll was always there to calm and soothe her soul, regardless of whatever circumstances were going on in her life. Through the good times and the bad, she could always count on her “rock n roll therapy” to comfort her.

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Gene autographing Rhonda’s back, which was later made into a tattoo

Because I married young, I never got the opportunity to see all the bands that she and her “wingman” (or should I say woman) did, which was my cousin, Shannon Willingham. They went to concerts every chance they could get and they saw just about every one of the 80’s rock bands, more than one time. From the heavy metal to hardcore, you could usually find them rocking somewhere in the crowd.  Neither of them could be considered your standard groupie, they were just true Fans. Both held down full-time jobs and paid their bills on time, but they both just shared a great love for the music. I tagged along whenever possible and never lost my love for it either, but I never shared the same depth they did.

Had it not been for Rhonda, I would have never been able to go to as many concerts as I did, because you could rest assured that if she knew a big name band was coming within a 100 mile radius ( and sometimes even further), come Hell or high water, she was going to get us there. She would call me up and say, “You up for a road trip to see X band?” and of course, I always was. I have financed more than one concert ticket with her too, paying her off in what I called “easy weekly installments”. But it was always worth it. The round trip conversations, which always included lots of laughs and reminscing, the memories made along the way made the actual concert the icing on the cake. Not to mention, the traditional breakfast at the Waffle House or Ihop in the wee hours of the morning, whether you were hungry or not.

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Shannon, Rhonda, Allison & Darlene in their “I see KISS people” shirts

Rhonda has been to countless KISS concerts, several meet-and-greets, and has been on every single KISS Kruize to date and will be aboard for their final cruise next year, God willing. She is not your standard fan; she has a KISS collection of memorabilia that is quite impressive.  She has traveled all over the United States to see them, and she also has ALL FOUR of the original members autographs tattooed on her back. She is a real asset to the KISS Army.

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KISS playing acoustic on the Lido deck

She has been criticized by many about her love for this band, but she does not let this bother her. She just keeps rockin’ on. I always tell her not to let any of the criticism bother her because most of it is stemmed from jealousy. I mean, most people have had to give up their teenage dreams and hobbies because we get sucked into this thing called life, which is loaded with responsibilities and expectations. Well, Rhonda has the same responsibilities as everyone else, but she makes sure to take the time for her “therapy” because it makes her happy.  Now, who wouldn’t be jealous of that? Anyway, getting back to the story…

From the minute we took off on the plane, Me, Rhonda, Shannon, my niece, Rhanda and nephew, Russell, had a BLAST!! Yes, Rhonda passed her love for music to her children, I mean, how could they not?

I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about flying, but I managed to make it through without throwing up on anyone, because this country girl ain’t never been on a big ole plane before! Movies like LaBamba and Sweet Dreams echoed in my head, but I had to remind myself that I wasn’t a famous singer, so surely it would be okay.

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Us crazy women ready to take on Nassau!

I was in awe of the view of the Miami skyline from the beautiful ship, the Norwegian Pearl, where we treated like royalty every day of our stay. Our destination was the Bahamas, but we were more interested in journey, rather than the destination. Cheap Trick rocked the stage as we pulled out of the harbor, and we didn’t stop rockin’ until we pulled back in five days later. A vacation with such intensity that you needed another vacation just to get over it.

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Russell & Rhanda Rowell meets KISS

Now, I don’t know what kind of mental image you are getting, but I can assure you, this ship was full of nothing more than regular Joes from many different countries who just all shared the love of music.  The people on the KISS Kruise weren’t weirdos or sleazy rocker types trying to relive the glory days. They weren’t even drunks or extreme partiers. They were just regular people on vacation. They were families, couples, friends, and the occasional loner.  Everyone was courteous and friendly everywhere you went.  I even made a few new friends along the way, including two very precious ladies, Darlene Rios and Allison Ballenger (aka The Southern Belles) from South Carolina. We were all just part of the KISS Navy, who were just proud to be a part of this international party.

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Darlene & Allison with KISS

Now, all this time, I thought my sister was the BIGGEST KISS fan out there, but I came to see that there were many who shared her same love and came to the realization that KISS music just has that effect on you. They have some of the most loyal fans I have ever seen. From the impressive tattoos they proudly displayed, the lookalike makeup, to the expensive attire they wore just to show their love for this historical rock band, it was a sight to behold. But then again, when you’re riding the Pacific waves with the hottest band in the world, what more could your expect?

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Formal was incredible

KISS took the stage two different times during the cruise, once in full makeup and draped in expensive dress suits, and one in casual wear, acoustic on the deck. Both concerts were amazing! “Dressed to Kill” was the theme of the high seas party and these legendary artists were their attire as part of this exclusive event. There were interactive activities with the band members several times throughout the cruise, which provided a personal touch by seeing these famous band members in a casual environment, where they just seemed to be having fun.

We attended a book reading by Paul Stanley, and I loved listening to his stories about when he and Gene were struggling to make it as artists in the 70’s. I thought that it was ironic that many people were under the impression that back in the day, KISS was a devil-worshipping band, when nothing could have been further than the truth. All they wanted to do was be original and build a dynasty, which they have more than accomplished.  Now, 40 years later, they are still going strong, if not stronger, than they were then. But I think the empire they have built speaks for itself, along with their massive fan base. They are no longer mocked, they are admired and envied. It’s a rags to riches story that is nothing short of incredible.

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Gene…need I say more?

Perhaps it’s time to take a KISStory lesson here….There are many lessons to be learned from this band; how to adapt to new things to survive, how to stay true to your roots, to never let anyone to get you down, and most of all how to never give up. Because being able to survive forty years at the top with a massive international fan base and timeless music that can never be topped ain’t too shabby….

I will never forget this rock n roll fantasy as long as I live and I am thankful to have had the chance to experience with my sweet family.  If possible, I left this trip an even bigger fan….counting down the days until next year 🙂


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