text and photos by Buko
This is an article I wrote in 2004, after KISS’s performance at the Ridgefield Amphitheater, in Ridgefield WA. This was Tommy Thayer’s first appearance as KISS gutarist in the Portland Area.
How many of us dreamed when we were young of becoming a rock star? You can replace rock star with basketball star, football star, actor or actress, but how many of us actually ended up living the dream? Many try, but after doing what we dream of for a while, reality hits and we realize it was never meant to be.
For some, not making it just isn’t an option. Tommy Thayer is one of these people. Tommy was born in Portland, Oregon on November 7, 1960. In 1973 Tommy picked up a guitar and knew what he wanted from life, to be a rock star. Tommy remembers standing in line outside the venues in Portland waiting to see his guitar heroes, including that wild rock ‘n’ roll act called KISS. Who would guess that one day he would join them onstage to be both adored and hated by KISS’s loyal fans around the world?
Black ‘N Blue, circa 1984, outside the backstage entrance of the Portland Memorial Coliseum. This is when B’N’B opened for Whitesnake.
The band L to R is; Pete Holms, Jaime St.James, Pat Young, Jeff “Whoop” Warner, Tommy Thayer.
After playing in many garage bands Tommy ended up in a band called Black ‘N Blue. They were quite popular in Portland’s club scene, opening for the established club bands. During this period Black ‘N Blue recorded a couple of demos. One of the songs, “Chains Around Heaven,” ended up on Brian Slagel’s Metal Massacre, a compilation of new, up-and-coming acts that also included an unknown band from San Francisco called Metallica. At the time Portland wasn’t really ready for heavy metal in the club circuit so Tommy and the band packed their bags and headed for a place that would appreciate their music—Los Angeles.
Now that Tommy was in LA it was a battle to stand out and be noticed in a very big pond. Yet Tommy stayed true to his dream. He and Black ‘N Blue worked hard, made a name for themselves, and recorded a demo produced by Don Dokken. After shopping the demo they finally signed with Geffen Records. (On a side note, the first band signed by Geffen in 1982 was Quarterflash, whose song “Harden My Heart” made it to #3 on the Billboard charts.)
In late 1983 Black ‘n Blue headed off to Germany to record their first album with Scorpions’ producer Dieter Dierks at his studios in Strommeln, West Germany. When they came back to the States tour support for the album started. After a small tour with Whitesnake Black ‘N Blue got the opening slot with Aerosmith on their 1984 Back In The Saddle Tour. After Black ‘N Blue’s second album was recorded, their tour included a short stint opening for KISS’s Asylum Tour. Little did Tommy know that this fateful meeting with KISS and Gene Simmons would be so important. Black ‘N Blue’s third and fourth albums were produced by Gene. From this and the tours, Gene had become impressed with Tommy’s work ethic.
So after Black ‘N Blue disbanded in 1989 Tommy began working with Simmons, as well as doing a few projects of his own. Since joining the KISS family fifteen years ago, Tommy has worked with KISS on many musical projects, even as a contributor. Tommy is credited with the production of KISStory Volume 1. He also coordinated and managed the official 1995 Worldwide KISS Convention Tour, directed and produced the double-platinum The Second Coming DVD, and created the opening title montage featured in New Line Cinema’s Detroit Rock City.
Gene, Tommy, and Paul.
In 1991 for a bit of fun Tommy started a KISS tribute band with his old band mate Jamie St. James. They were doing the makeup thing during KISS’s unmasked period. They did so well that they were invited to play Paul Stanley’s 40th birthday party in 1992, which probably planted the seeds of a KISS reunion. By 1995 Tommy was working full time for KISS and doing side projects, including running his own record label, EON Records, with his brother, John Thayer.
When KISS did put the makeup back on in 1996 for the KISS Alive Worldwide Reunion Tour, Tommy was there as the road manager, and even re-taught Ace Frehley his old licks and solos. After Ace fulfilled his commitment to KISS, Tommy was the logical choice to fill his shoes and what an excellent choice it was. I asked Tommy how he was chosen as the new member of KISS and he replied, “There was no audition, no long decisions, it was almost like nobody told me. KISS was getting ready to play a concert in Jamaica back in February 2002 and Doc McGhee (KISS’s manager) called and said to get ready for the trip, etc…, ‘Oh and by the way, Ace has decided not to go, so you’re playing guitar.’ So that’s how it went. I was actually filling in for an absent Ace for the first two or three things. By the time we left for Australia in February 2003 for the monumental KISS Symphony show in Melbourne, I was officially on board.”
How does it feel coming back to Portland and playing as a member of KISS?
It’s incredible, not bad for a geeky kid from Beaverton. Believe it or not, KISS was one of the earlier bands I saw live in concert when I first started venturing out to the Paramount Theatre and the old Memorial Coliseum in the early to mid 70s. KISS was the opening act once for Savoy Brown and another time for a band called Ballin’ Jack, at the Paramount. I used to stand outside in line with every other kid out there, freezing my ass off anticipating the rock ‘n’ roll magic that we couldn’t wait to witness inside—it was a magical time those days. I never would have imagined that I would be able to do all the things I’ve been fortunate enough to experience playing guitar. Coming back now to play in Portland as a member of KISS is mind boggling, to say the least.
Were you a little disappointed on the last tour, that the closest you got to Portland was Seattle?
No, not really. In that case all of our closest friends made the road trip north to Auburn.
How have your responsibilities and interaction with the band changed now that you are a band member?
After Black ‘N Blue ran its course over ten years ago, I started working for Paul and Gene doing anything that needed to be done. I needed a job at the time and I was lucky enough to get one doing something that interested me. So I’ve come up through the ranks in the KISS organization, starting at the bottom and working my way up. It was never a conscious thing though. I always cared a lot about what I did, so most of the time it wasn’t like working. To be honest, the transition of coming into the band was seamless. I’d done so much recording, sound checking, and rehearsing with KISS through the years that it was very natural to step up onstage and be in the band. I actually came very close to subbing for Ace onstage when he almost missed a couple shows on the 2000 tour, but that’s another story!
Are you still doing the same things behind the scenes or has somebody else taken over those jobs?
I wouldn’t have the time to do much else. We have new people that have taken over the road management that are getting the job done well. As far as the video production work goes, I’m still very much involved with that. I put a lot of time into the KISS Symphony CD and DVD.
What other rolls do you play within the KISS organization?
Since I’ve been on the team for so many years, in many situations I might have a point of view or an opinion that others might heed to. Or in other situations, I might run with the ball and take care of business. Paul and Gene have said at times I’m the glue that holds things together, so to speak.
You said “I’d done so much recording, sound checking and rehearsing with KISS through the years that it was very natural to step up onstage and be in the band.” Have you filled in for Ace in the studio?
Yes, I have at times. At other times I’ve recorded with the band on tunes I might have written on a certain KISS album.
Gene Simmons just released his second solo album “Asshole.” Did you work on this project in any capacity?
No I did not, on purpose. I believe that Gene wanted to use musicians outside of KISS (even Eric at the time) exclusively so that there were no conflict-of-interest issues, so that his solo record was defined as being a separate project outside of KISS.
I was reading somewhere that a live recording is made of every show and you can buy a CD of this recording after the show is over. Will KISS be doing this at the Portland show?
Yes, I think it’s called ‘instant live.” It’s a new thing that other bands like The Who have done successfully, where you can take a CD recorded live of the show home with you, a great concept!
Its the morning of the show, how do you feel? Are there any extra jitters knowing you are playing Portland tonight?
Feeling good, no extra jitters!
How was the Portland show? How did it go for you? Do you have any stories you can share?
The Portland show was amazing. It was honestly one of the loudest crowds so far on this tour. It was a particularly special night for me because my mom was there and it was her 80th birthday. I had about 25-30 close friends and family backstage for pre-show dinner, drinks and a huge birthday cake with the 4 members of KISS leading the singing of “Happy Birthday!”
Can you talk a little about the tour?
The band is far tighter and more powerful than ever, so says everyone. This is a new high-octane KISS and we’re taking it to the next level. The stage show is better and more advanced than ever before. Everyone’s excited!
KISS is a phenomenon, whether its with Ace or Tommy playing Guitar. KISS is the one band that presents the most extravagant show on the planet. So even if they are not your particular cup of tea take the time and make an effort to see them the next time they come to your town.