December 06, 2009
KISS lead guitarist Tommy Thayer admits that he's no Ace Frehley.

But, he says, he doesn't doubt that he is the celestial, starry-eyed "Spaceman."

Thayer's journey to replace the KISS co-founder and greasepaint-wearing guitar virtuoso was a long one.

"Being compared to Ace is only natural," said Thayer, who's been the official KISS lead guitarist since 2002, after Frehley left the band for good. "I've lived up to those expectations pretty well. The band just continues to grow."

In fact, its popularity keeps expanding.

With nearly four decades of touring under its belt, KISS isn't just a band. It's a mega-brand that markets bombast and rock and attitude to more than three generations of fans, in things including video games, comic books, soda and its newest studio album release, "Sonic Boom."

"We've never had many fantastic live reviews - ever," said Thayer in a recent telephone interview with the Tulsa World. "We've always been the band that critics love to hate."

Until now. Thayer said the band's world tour is "the biggest set KISS has ever taken out. It's bigger; it's better; it's truly kicking butt.

"Without sounding like I'm tooting my own horn," Thayer stopped
and said, then laughed.

Too late. If Thayer sounds cocky, he has a right to be. In many ways, his story is the ultimate fan story. He, too, wore the KISS makeup for Halloween when he was a kid. He, too was in a tribute band named Cold Gin. Indeed, he even played as Ace Frehley.

In about 20 years, he's morphed from a songwriter in rock act Black and Blue - who opened for KISS decades ago on a regional tour - to a guitarist in a KISS tribute band, to a KISS lackey, to the band's official lead guitarist.

"All that time, I was really working for those guys (in KISS)," said Thayer. "It evolved. It just gets more and more exciting as we go along."

Years ago, he was the first to organize the cultish, Star Trek-like KISS conventions. He helped arrange the 1996 KISS reunion and world tour. "Gene hired me as help. I wanted to get into the music business. I wanted projects and responsibility. I wanted people to know that I can do a lot more than just play guitar."

And boy, has he. He's helped with videos. Sound checks. Rehearsing. Recording. Writing. Touring. Everything. Even by doing his own makeup before every single show.

"It's a whole two-hour transition process," he said with a chuckle. The entire band closes itself in one room to get into character: Tommy Thayer as the Spaceman, co-founder Gene Simmons as the Demon, Eric Singer as the Cat and co-founder Paul Stanley as the Starchild.

"It's our nightly ritual," he said of the band's inner sanctum routine. "No one else is allowed in before the show. Nobody."