September 17, 2010
KISS still wants to rock 'n' roll all night, and party every day

Don and Sharon Chance / Times Record News

When one of the most legendary and long-lasting rock bands in music history needs someone to replace an original member, very few musicians can step into such a position without causing obvious changes to the band and its sound.

But when Tommy Thayer was called on to take on the lead guitar chores for the departing Ace Frehley in the KISS lineup, it was as natural to him as playing in his own successful group, the moderately successful KISS-inspired band Black and Blue.

The always flamboyant KISS will headline Rock'N The Park at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas, Saturday. Other groups on the bill are Pat Green, Daughtry and Drowning Pool. The music kicks off at 1 p.m. and is set to run until 11:30 p.m. Ticket prices start at $59.92 and go up to $111.76.

According to Thayer, the KISS show features a new opening, new visual and pyrotechnic effects and even more over-the-top rock antics than ever before.

"We know that money isn't easy these days, and if the fans pay the money for a concert, we want the value to be there," Thayer said from his home Thousand Oaks, Calif. "With KISS, you don't need to worry about that. We don't stand around looking at our toes. We are out there working."

Growing up in Oregon, Thayer said he always wanted to be the lead guitarist in a successful band. And he was as surprised as anyone when it actually happened.

"It's a strange thing where life will take you sometimes," he said. "In this case, it's quite spectacular. To grow up and just be a rock 'n' roll fan in general, and a band like KISS and all the other great bands of the '70s, and then 30 years later, finding yourself playing in the band as the lead guitar player - it's mind-blowing."

Thayer said he first met KISS when Black and Blue opened concerts for the band in the 1980s. He and KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons became friends, and Simmons asked Thayer to produce several KISS projects. When Black and Blue eventually ran its course, Thayer said he was just looking to get into the business side of the music industry when Simmons offered him a job in KISS management.

In addition to filling a wide variety of roles in the organization, Thayer served as a road manager for a couple of KISS tours. Even so, he had no idea he would ever do more for KISS than work within the management team. But when the guitar slot opened in 2002, Thayer became, as he said, the "heir to the throne" vacated by Ace Frehley.

"The ironic part is I never aspired to be the lead guitar player in KISS," Thayer said, "it just happened in a very strange way. I just kind of stepped into it."

Thayer said he sees his job as being faithful to the classic KISS guitar sound as originated by Frehley, because that's what the fans expect.

"Sometimes people confuse that with being a clone," Thayer said. "But it's really important. The objective is to play these original parts as they were written and recorded back in the '70s. I take a lot of pride of actually doing that very well. But then it's a combination. When we did 'Sonic Boom' last year, the studio record, I had the opportunity then to add some of my own flavor in there, as well. We aren't trying to reinvent the wheel here, but I do get to inject a little bit of Tommy Thayer in it along the way. It's a fine balance."

Thayer said that even after eight years, he can still find himself deeply awed by his job.

"I was on stage last week doing the show," he said. "We've got 18,000 screaming crazy fans in front of us, and I look over and there is Paul Stanley, and beyond him is Gene Simmons. And I'm thinking, 'That's pretty cool.' These are guys that I grew up being a big fan of when I was in junior high school and high school, and it's very gratifying being in this position. You have to pinch yourself sometimes and wonder how you got here in the first place. It does come down to being very dedicated and working hard at things in your life."

The success of Gene Simmons' A&E Network TV show, "Gene Simmons Family Jewels," has caused a resurgence in KISS popularity, and Thayer said the response from new fans of the band has been phenomenal over the past two years. Even the band has to "step back and scratch our heads and say, 'How is this happening?'," he said.

Huge corporate tie-ins with companies such as Dr Pepper, M&Ms and 7-Eleven have made the band one of the most visible in the business, and Thayer said those connections generate even more new fans.

"You get word out there that there is this great band that's rocking it and doing this amazing show unlike any other, and kids are coming out to see that," he said. "And they are being blown away just like they were in the '70s, the '80s and the '90s. But it's not just a teenage crowd - it's not just one demographic, like it was before - KISS today is multigenerational. There are four or five generations out there, and that's what makes it so powerful for us."

But KISS is always KISS, Thayer pointed out.

"It's a very solid thing," he said. "The makeup, the outfits, the whole look has been solidified over the years now, and it doesn't change."