July 28, 2010
By Michael Machosky

It's not easy to step in and replace a legend.

When Tommy Thayer was asked to assume lead guitar duties for KISS -- replacing the legendary Ace Frehley -- those were some big boots to fill.

Big, shiny silver platform spaceman boots.

"When I came into the band eight years ago, I was well aware of that," says Thayer. "And I like to say to people, 'Good things take time.' I didn't expect to win over the world the first concert out. But I've always been confident and I know KISS inside out."

The KISS combination of fist-pumping hard rock and catchy pop melodies -- combined with outlandish costumes, makeup, pyrotechnics, fire-breathing, blood-spitting, etc. -- has worked since 1973.

When Frehley left the band, Thayer was the obvious choice to step in.

"It's the rocker's dream position," says Thayer. "I was very much a KISS fan growing up. They were one of my favorite bands. I got the first KISS record for Christmas in 1974. I even have me in the spaceman makeup for Halloweein in 1976. I've always been a huge fan. That's why it's such a joy to be in KISS. It's in my blood, and has been for a long time."

Thayer had a band in the mid-'80s called Black 'N Blue that did fairly well, and ended up on tour opening for KISS. KISS' main man, Gene Simmons, produced a few of their records.

Simmons and Paul Stanley are the only original members left. But Simmons' larger-than-life personality tends to draw most of the attention his way.

The makeup helps add a little anonymity to a rock star's life, as well.

"People don't immediately recognize you when you walk into Starbucks or something," says Thayer. "On the other hand, the way I look, I'm almost 6-3. I have long dark hair. People look at me and ask, 'Okay, who is that guy? He's in one of the bands.' "

Even a member of KISS has to have a hobby, something to fill the downtime between packed arenas. Thayer's into golf.

"Next week, I host my own celebrity pro-am golf tournament in Oregon," he says. "Gene and the 'Gene Simmons Family Jewels' (his reality TV show) will be shooting an episode at my golf event next week, which should be very interesting. Actually, a Pennsylvanian native friend of mine, Rocco Mediate (of Greensburg), will be there to help Gene learn how to play golf. Rocco's been a good friend, and he's a huge music fan. His two favorite bands are Rush and KISS."

The show in Pittsburgh tonight at the First Niagara Pavilion should deliver the goods that KISS fans have come to expect, claims Thayer.

"Well, there's surprises, but every tour we push the limits and try to make it bigger than the last," he says. "I won't describe it, but it's pretty over-the-top. This one tops them all. The pyro is, believe it or not, bigger than ever. The video presentation has really taken over the stage. We have a massive video wall that's probably bigger than anyone's ever had on tour. It goes from one end of the arena to the other."

"It's a bit over the top, but that's what we do."