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A journal aboard the KISS Kruise V

Ken Sharp jumps aboard the KISS Kruise V and gives Goldmine a lively journal of the rock 'n' roll events and behind-the-scenes goings-on.

A journal of the KISS Kruise V 

By Ken Sharp

Pet an ax? Gene Simmons’ AXE Bass display beckons. Photo by Christina Vitagliano.

Pet an ax? Gene Simmons’ AXE Bass display beckons. Photo by Christina Vitagliano.

October 30, 12:25 PM, Spinnaker Lounge, Ax Petting Zoo

Enter the Ax Petting Zoo. This isn’t an enclosure for wild animals but a showcase for Gene Simmons’ personal bass line. Who else could pull off brandishing an Axe shaped guitar that would make Lizzy Borden proud than Gene Simmons? Other bass guitars in Gene’s deep arsenal sport exquisite design/handiwork teeming with gleaming studs, animal-like scales and even one emblazoned with the U.S. flag. Fans from Brazil, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Russia and Japan mingle and have the opportunity to try out these monster 4-string basses. “It’s like a history of Gene Simmons seeing his evolution through the various bass guitars he uses on and off the stage,” marvels David Latt, 54, owner of an automotive dealership from Houston, Texas.”

Christina Vitagliano, coordinator for Gene Simmons' bass line fills us in on “The Demon’s” 4-string arsenal: "Because Gene and KISS have become so iconic, so have his basses. He has three standard basses, an acoustic Punisher, his standard Axe bass and his standard Punisher bass. But there are also tons of custom models like a Dragon scale Axe and Punisher bass. Ken Kelly, the artist who did the covers for "Destroyer" and "Love Gun" does hand-painted Punisher and Axe basses for Gene as well. "

John Upshaw Downs, a 56-year-old resident of Charleston, South Carolina took his fascination with Gene’s basses all the way to a Washington, D.C. prestigious institution. “I have always loved Gene’s iconic Axe bass. I read an article on how Eddie Van Halen got his Frankinstrat put into the Smithsonian. I thought, why not put his iconic bass into the Smithsonian as well. I contacted the curator of the museum, Eric Jontz, and with his help the Gene Simmons Axe bass is now proudly part of the Smithsonian museum where fans from all generations can come and enjoy this unique one-of-a-kind instrument.” For more info on Gene’s line of basses, check out

October 30, 5:15PM, Pool Deck, KISS “Unmasked” electric set

Fans from over 30 countries gather together on the pool deck; hanging off the upper tier are a multitude of large banners from Germany, Spain, Australia, France, Brazil, Finland, England, Denmark, Canada and others proudly displaying the flag of their country. The band clambers onto the stage like conquering heroes and Paul Stanley exclaims: “We’ve always done the sailaway show acoustically; this is like we’re in a rehearsal with 3,000 people!” They kick off the set with “Flaming Youth” as the ship leaves port and begins its seaward jaunt to Jamaica. This rare airing of “Flaming Youth,” a fist-pumping anthem culled from the band’s 1976 album, "Destroyer," indicates that this is no normal set but rather one which finds the band dusting off lesser or never before performed gems in their vast catalog, many voted on by this year's KISS kruisers. Other jewels plucked out of the KISS canon including “Ladies Room” and “Mr. Speed” from "Rock ‘N Roll Over" —  plus several deep cuts gleaned from the group’s second album, "Hotter than Hell": “Strange Ways,” “Mainline, “Coming Home,” and “All the Way.” “This is my fourth KISS Kruise,” raved Kjell Solberg, an office worker from Elverum, Norway. “I was so excited to hear all the real obscure deep cuts and celebrate with the entire KISS Navy!”

October 31, Halloween, 7:45 PM, Spinnaker Lounge, KISS meet and greet and photo op

A long line of fans, an Army (or should that be Navy) of KISS t-shirts is the evening’s chosen attire by most; there are also some fans adorned in KISS makeup and some wearing elaborately designed costumes mimicking their musical heroes. Fans of all ages file through waiting in anticipation for the moment they can meet Paul, Gene, Eric and Tommy and pose for a photo of the band in makeup and decked out in their "Alive!" costumes. Yumiko Nemoto, a 53-year-old office worker, from Tokyo, Japan is radiant and overcome with joy. “I can’t believe I just met these superheroes of rock! I first saw KISS play at the Budokan in Tokyo in 1977 and here I am, many decades later, meeting them in the flesh. Being able to meet the band and have my photo taken with them in full kabuki makeup is a dream come true!”

October 31, Halloween, 9:30PM, Stardust Theater, electric show, full performance of 1975’s classic "Alive!" album

Inside a small theater with a capacity of 900, fans converge and take their seats or highly prized places in the pit located right in front of the stage. The excitement is contagious as they wait for their heroes to kick out the jams in an intimate setting, KISS-style rockin' high seas. What makes this show particularly historic is that the band is performing the entire classic KISS "Alive!" album in its entirety for the very first time. From set opener “Deuce” to closer, “Let Me Go, Rock & Roll,” the masked marauders decimate those in attendance with an incendiary set paying homage to the album that made them global superstars. Not only is the group performing all of the songs on the album but they're upping the ante both visually and sonically, decked out in the same "Alive!"-era costumes and using the same signature instruments as well — Gibson Flying V for Paul Stanley and Gibson Grabber bass the weapon of choice of Gene Simmons. For those used to seeing KISS in their normal concert setting, a huge arena or stadium, catching the action up close and personal in such an intimate setting is surreal, adding to the excitement generated and communal energy exchange from band to audience. "The highlight of the KISS Kruise for me happened during the first indoor concert at the end of 'Let Me Go, Rock & Roll,'" enthused San Juan Capistrano resident Roger Bernard, 55, who serves as a captain at a 5-star restaurant when he's not kruisin' it. "The fact that it was an intimate venue with tons of confetti flying everywhere reminded me of the picture on the back of the booklet in my 'Alive!' album. It transported me back to 1975, when as a teenager I could only dream of how it would feel to be there. It was exhilarating to finally experience it in person 40 years later during a show which ironically featured the band playing the 'Alive!' album."

November 2, 1:15PM, The Stardust Theater, Paul Stanley pizza party

Not only a master showman and gifted painter, Paul Stanley also knows his way around the kitchen. A SRO crowd watches as Stanley lends tips on how to make meatballs and how to create the perfect pizza pie. Walking onstage to thunderous cheers, Stanley jokingly remarked, “Last night I was up onstage shakin’ my ass and now I’m throwing pizza dough.“ Six lucky fans sat at an adjoining table partaking in Stanley’s meatballs and pizza of choice. Two-time KISS Kruise veteran Nick Lalli of Columbus, Ohio, said, “To see Paul Stanley in a non-rock star element and a more human moment made this a must see, plus I got turned onto a killer recipe for pizza.”


November 2, 2:35 PM, Atrium, “A Very Fairy Affair”

Guests are taking advantage of the chance to wear the trademark KISS face paint and transform into their favorite member. In separate chairs a 40-something sits patiently as his face is decorated with the makeup of “The Demon,” Gene Simmons, while a 15-year-old girl is checking out her face in the mirror which is sporting Paul Stanley’s trademark star and bright red lips. Ashley Penny, Atlantic, Georgia-based makeup artist, is in charge of applying her handiwork and remarks “This is a fan’s chance to be somebody for the rest of the day and let loose!”

November 2, 11:30 AM, Spinnaker Lounge, Gene Simmons Master Class

Dozens of cases of bass guitars emblazoned with the visage of Gene Simmons, tongue unfurled, sit off to the side of the stage. Hardcore fans who purchased one of the basses from Gene’s bass line, were given the opportunity to take part in a special once-in-a-lifetime Gene Simmons Master Class. Over 100 fans assembled inside the intimate venue to watch Gene share the secrets behind the science of songwriting. He explained, “Songwriting starts with the bare bones, which is the foundation and then you add the flesh.” Picking up a black Gibson Les Paul, Gene played various riffs stressing that simplicity serves as the bedrock of a great song; he used KISS’s “Lick It Up,” “We Will Rock You” by Queen, AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” and the Beastie Boys “Fight For Your Right” as examples of popular songs sharing similar musical DNA. Each class was limited to 10 students, from beginner level to advanced. Gene ran each group through the fundamentals of songwriting, singing nonsensical lyrics hot wired to boogie guitar riffs to demonstrate how to construct a song from initial idea to final product. I took part in the second class alongside nine other fans, each armed with a different Gene Simmons bass. With Gene driving the musical ship and firing off meaty guitar riffs and occasional lead guitar solos, we crafted a song titled “T.K.O,” which sounded like the bastard child of KISS’s “Rock & Roll All Nite” and “Lick It Up.” Gene sang along with me and another student with whom I shared a microphone, helping us hone in on the correct high harmony. By the time we had nailed the song with Gene’s patient guidance — and make no mistake, we weren’t gonna make KISS or AC/DC lose any sleep — we actually sounded half-decent. Orwigsberg, Pa resident Joe Lagana purchased a Gene Simmons acoustic Punisher bass and gushed, “By day I’m an environmental safety manager so my job isn’t that exciting. So to be able to learn how to write a song from one of my biggest musical idols is mind blowing; the experience is priceless.”

For more info on Gene’s bass guitar line

November 2, 5:45 PM, Spinnaker Lounge, Paul Stanley exclusive private event

A small contingent of approximately 150 fans who purchased a Paul Stanley special-commissioned limited edition KISS Kruise guitar, smashed or intact, converge to bear witness to an intimate acoustic performance by “The Star Child,” mixing performance with compelling storytelling. For this special one-off performance, Stanley dusted off a bounty of never before heard jewels including “Hold Me, Touch Me,” a song Stanley explained that he hadn’t played in over 30 years, “Nowhere to Run,” (“one of my favorite songs and one that we’ve never played”), snippets of gems culled from Paul’s 1978 self-titled solo album — “Ain’t Quite Right,” Tonight You Belong to Me” and “Wouldn’t You Like to Know Me.” Perhaps the biggest surprise of the set was the first live performance of “Mistake,” a song the band laid down as a demo for a KISS album back circa ’74, ’75, which was ultimately never released. Paul regaled the faithful with stories behind the songs. Describing the origin of “Shandi,” Stanley revealed, “I heard a song called ‘Sandy’ by Bruce Springsteen and a friend said, ‘How about Shandi?’ I also heard another great song by Joe Walsh called ‘Tomorrow’ and took a little bit from each one to write that song. You always steal from the best; that’s what it’s all about.” One of the lucky members of the KISS Navy in attendance is Dr. Jamie Downs, a forensic pathologist from Savannah, Georgia. “I’ve been a KISS fan since 1977; KISS was my first concert ever — hooked! When Paul smashed his guitar, I just wanted my own so much! So at a Tonight Show filming with Jimmy Fallon, I was lucky enough to take Paul’s smashed guitar off the stage. I finally had one — for two minutes, until security took it for Fallon. So, what to do? Replace it with the real thing, a smashed guitar from KISS Kruise V concert. I finally got one and it all goes back to the beginning. I got him to inscribe “Fallon stole yours—take me!” laughs Downs. Luthi Didier from Switzerland is also the proud owner of a Paul Stanley KISS Kruise guitar. He explains, “I already had a Gene Simmons bass and needed to add a Paul Stanley guitar. Look at it; this guitar is magnificent and will be the centerpiece of my growing collection.” For more info on Paul’s guitar line visit


November 3, 8:45AM, Port of Miami, Miami, Florida

Disembarking on dry land in Miami in the early morning, the exhausted but happy bleary throng of 2,300-plus passengers sleepily depart with grand stories and adventures to tell and heartfelt promises of returning next year. “This year’s KISS Kruise is the best one yet,” contends Frank Rademaker, 58 from Melbourne Australia.” Looking like he got up to more than his share of mischief on the cruise, he explains, “You’ve got sex, depravation, craziness and killer music. It’s all in good fun and I’ll definitely be back.” Five time cruise veteran, Scott Balkun, a communications specialist from Stamford, Connecticut, had the time of his life: “It’s the best vacation you could ever have. All the different events, the concerts to “Name that Tune” with Tommy Thayer to Paul cooking pizza to Eric Singer judging an “Almost Famous” competition, has made my KISS Kruise V experience so memorable and amazing. I count down the days to each KISS Kruise and I’m already starting to count down the days until KISS Kruise VI.” Another happy customer is Roz Cartwright from Queensland, Brisbane, “I’ve been on a few KISS Kruises and each year it gets better and better. The best part of the KISS Kruise all comes down to one thing; reconnecting with my KISS family, my lovely friends from all over the world, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Sweden, Norway, Japan, U.S.A, We are one! I say to everyone, stop bumpin’ your gums you gum bumpin’ wally, and don’t miss out on the KISS Kruise, it’s the experience of a lifetime.” Paul Stanley has upped the ante and promises, “This year’s KISS Kruise has been great, but wait until next year, KISS Kruise VI is gonna blow this one away.”

Ken Sharp is the author of New York Times Best Seller "Nothin' to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975)."



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