Thayer's wild ride with KISS
It's been a "blessed" experience for Tommy Thayer as guitarist for the legendary rock 'n' roll band KISS — 20 years of tours all over the world and playing next to Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley as "The Spaceman" in the group known for its makeup, costumes and explosive stage shows.
The days of KISS may be coming to an end, as Simmons and Stanley have announced the final U.S. stretch of the "End of the World Tour," starting Aug. 18 and ending Oct. 9, would be their last. The group known for "Detroit Rock City," "Rock and Roll All Nite" and "Shout It Out Loud" and scores of other hits does plan to do a residency in late December to early February at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.
Then, it's over, supposedly, nearly 50 years of music and showtime greatness.
Meanwhile, for all his work with KISS and going back to his time with Portland band Black 'n Blue, which also earned national fame with the help of Geffen Records, Thayer has been inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. The ceremony, ironically, will be Oct. 9, but inductees already have been informed of the good news. For Thayer, a Beaverton native, it's his second induction, having been admitted with Black 'n Blue.
Thayer, 60 and living mostly in Las Vegas, said it's been nostalgic knowing KISS could be calling it a career.
"The last year and a half, it's given me time to take pause and step back and really appreciate the great opportunities and things I've been been able to do," he said. Thayer found a lot of memorabilia when moving recently from Los Angeles to Vegas and "it blew me away, and it dawned on me, 'I've done a lot, more than I thought.' All the different steps that took me to where I went … I sat back and said, 'I'm kind of proud of myself, because I have accomplished so much.'"
A Sunset High School grad, and son of late U.S. Army Brig. Gen. James Thayer, Thayer started pursuing music as a student under the guidance of his mother and instructor Dell Herreid and then chased a dream to be a rock 'n' roller.
"To see that young kid who was a go-getter and really had a stick-to-itiveness and perseverance … life isn't linear. You go left and right, meet somebody, it presents new opportunities, and I was always good at working hard and being flexible, seeing where the flow takes me."
The band's lengthy documentary, "Biography: KISStory," aired on the A&E Network this summer, and told KISS stories, including the issues that Simmons and Stanley had with guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss. Eventually, they replaced Frehley with Thayer in 2002 (and Criss with Eric Singer as drummer a short time later).
Thayer had been working for the band in various capacities for several years before his ascension to the stage. He was a steady musician who never went down the path of drug and alcohol use, and Thayer actually had eyes on management and production as his next step in music.
"I was doing anything and everything (for KISS), and I never had a problem with that," Thayer said. "I was happy to be here." He didn't have designs on replacing Frehley, adding "I wasn't rolling the dice."
Thayer could be trusted, and he has proven his worth to Simmons and Stanley through 20 years of guitar play, showmanship and dependability.
There are rockers, and then there are people such as Thayer, who serves on the board of trustees for Pacific University in Forest Grove and as president of the Thayer Family Foundation. Pacific brought in Thayer on the recommendation of his father, and he has helped raise thousands of dollars for the small, private university. The family foundation works for veterans' causes.
Not exactly the stuff of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Twenty years with KISS has been a lot of fun for Thayer, and it's time to go out on top.
"We want to go on tour while we can still kick butt, while we're still red hot and not diminishing," he said. "KISS is a band where the show is physically demanding. The physicality and demands of the show, you don't know if you can continue doing it. I'm the youngest in the band, and we're all getting up there in age.
"I try to stay in good shape and work out. And, I spend a lot of time working on the guitar at home. The music business is so competitive."
Working with Simmons and Stanley has been a pleasure, he added.
"I've been blessed to be in an organization like this, where everyone is so professional, from Gene and Paul on down," Thayer said. "They are dedicated and committed," and they have helped KISS stay relevant for part of six decades and, "Who else can you attribute that to?"
KISS has stayed relevant and kept its fame despite rarely putting out new music, including "Psycho Circus" in 1998, "KISS Symphony: Alive IV" (2004), "Sonic Boom" (2009) and "Monster" (2012). On tour, KISS plays hits. Why mess with success?
"For any band, even with the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, (fans) don't want to hear new songs, they want to hear the classics," Thayer said.
Even before he joined KISS, Thayer could play the songs, having grown up listening to KISS in the 1970s and '80s.
"It's in my DNA," he said. "The most complex arrangement is 'God Gave Rock and Roll to You.' Lots of chords and changes, an interesting song, epic tune."
Thayer once said that, "At its core (KISS) is a great rock 'n' roll band with rock 'n' roll songs. It's a lethal, viable, legit rock 'n' roll band. … (The following) is multigenerational. It's like a tribe."
Stanley and Simmons said in the A&E documentary that they briefly considered changing Thayer's persona in the band — Frehley had been "The Spaceman" and he had devoted fans — but decided to let Thayer continue as "The Spaceman."
Thayer has never been bothered by needing to put on the makeup and costume every night.
"It's kind of every kid's dream to be in a band like KISS and be on stage in front of 20,000 people," he said. "I feel very fortunate, very lucky to be in that position."
Thayer had a lot of time to reflect on his KISS career since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down touring last year. He said it actually was a positive to slow down and do other things. And, something significant happened: Thayer found out he had a daughter from a past relationship. She's Sierra Sanchagrin, 31 and living in Phoenix, Arizona.
"I met her indirectly through 23andMe (genetic history service), through a second cousin," he said. "She was in the Navy, stationed in San Diego and assigned to the USS Pearl Harbor as an IT and communication specialist.
"We've had time to get to know each other, and done a lot of things in the last year. I brought her to my beach house at Cannon Beach, and I took her to Hawaii."
Life at the end of KISS only got better with Thayer's realization that he had a daughter.
"I couldn't be happier. It's incredible," he said.
The "End of the World Tour" by KISS starts Aug. 18 at Mansfield, Massachusetts, and concludes Oct. 9 in Tampa, Florida. It includes a stop at RV Inn Style Resorts Amphitheater in Ridgefield, Washington (Sept. 17), the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington (Sept. 18) and ExtraMile Arena in Boise (Sept 21). For tickets, see www.kissonline.com.
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