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This article was originally published in issue #68
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As the lead guitarist for the legendary rock band KISS, Tommy Thayer's career in music has been even more than a dream come true. With the NYC music icons embarking on their final tour of the globe, Guitar Interactive Magazine chats with Tommy at the band's London show at the O2 for an exclusive interview, and a close-up look at his touring rig.
Born on November 7th, 1960 in Portland, Oregon, Tommy grew up in the suburbs of Beaverton, Oregon amidst the sounds of the Beatles and other classic '60s pop music. Tommy's passion for early 70s hard rock bands drove his desire to pick up the electric guitar at age 13. After graduating from Sunset High School in 1978, Tommy played in many local garage and club bands, eventually forming his own serious hard-rocking act, Black 'N Blue.
With a life-changing move to Southern California in early 1983, Black ‘N Blue had immediate success packing Hollywood's rock clubs, and within six months signed a major worldwide recording contract with Geffen Records. Tommy's dream of making records, videos and touring the world suddenly became a reality.
Touring for two months as an opening act for KISS in fall 1985, Black ‘N Blue soon befriended bassist Gene Simmons and asked him to produce the band's next studio album. Gene noticed Thayer's skills and work ethic, in turn asking him to write and record song demos with him for KISS.
By the late 80s, Black ‘N Blue had run its course, leading to part-time employment in the KISS camp, writing songs, recording demos and taking care of day-to-day business. By the early 90s, it had become a full-time job.
Tommy's management of the 1995 Worldwide KISS Convention tour and KISS MTV Unplugged concert led to his playing a unique support role in the success of the KISS Alive Worldwide Reunion tour in 1996. In preparation for the tour, Thayer worked with guitarist Ace Frehley, helping him relearn his signature solos and guitar parts from the 70s.
In addition to playing guitar and contributing musically at KISS rehearsals, sound checks and in the recording studio, Tommy took over as producer and editor of KISS's film and video productions including; KISS, the Second Coming (1998), New Line Cinema's feature Detroit Rock City (1998), and Showtime Television's pay-per-view, The Last KISS (2000).
By 2002 and with the growing uncertainty of Ace Frehley's involvement in the band, Tommy stood by for a KISS performance at the 2002 Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony in Salt Lake City to fill-in on lead guitar if necessary. One month later Tommy got the call and donned the spaceman makeup for the first time, performing on stage with KISS at a private concert in Jamaica. Several TV appearances followed in 2002 and by the end if the year, Tommy was told the job was his.
Tommy officially took over the coveted KISS lead guitar spot on February 28th, 2003.
In his official debut concert, KISS joined forces with the 70-piece Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (all in KISS makeup) for a concert at the Telstra Dome in Melbourne Australia. Recorded and filmed in front of 40,000 fans, a pay-per-view, CD and DVD were released worldwide later in the year. A KISS Japanese tour in March 2003 was a forerunner to the KISS-Aerosmith World Domination tour that kicked off in summer 2003, setting sales records as one of Pollstar Magazine's top-grossing tours of the year.
Tommy was on the road again in May 2004 with the KISS Rock The Nation World Tour. The RIAA double-platinum selling DVD set, KISS Rock The Nation Live! produced by Tommy Thayer was released worldwide in December 2004.
With a desire to get involved and give back to the community where he grew up, Tommy was elected to the Board of Trustees at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon in September 2005.
Through 2006 and 2007, Tommy has continued his interest in helping inspire kids with a commitment to support school programs, particularly in music. He arranged for new musical instruments to be donated to jump-start ailing school band programs in Oregon. Tommy has made appearances at middle and high schools in Forest Grove, Hillsboro, and Lake Oswego, Oregon speaking to students with hopes that they will follow their dreams and accomplish all that they aspire to do.
Sonic Boom, the first KISS studio album in 11 years was released worldwide in October 2009, debuting at #2 on the Billboard Magazine Albums chart. Tommy co-wrote three songs on the record, including his own lead vocal debut on "When Lightning Strikes."
The final KISS studio album (to date) 'Monster,' was released in October 2012 debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard magazine album chart. Thayer co-wrote 10 songs and sang lead vocal on "Outta This World." There has never been an American rock and roll band like KISS, recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the greatest trailblazing rock bands of all time. And Tommy "Spaceman" Thayer's life story is the classic tale of a musician who knew from childhood that his future was on stage, playing a Les Paul.
Having wowed on their swansong arena tour this summer, KISS will play their last UK show ever when they headline the opening night of Download Festival 2020 at Donington Park on Friday June 12th.
Part of the band's multi-year End of the Road World Tour, bassist Gene Simmons says their UK exclusive slot at Download Festival in 2020 will be a perfect goodbye.
"I've said it before, Download Festival audiences are the best," The Demon says. "They are up for whatever is thrown at them. KISS is going to come fully prepared to rock their world in 2020 to say 'Thank You' for always showing up for us."
Singer Paul Stanley adds: "Download will be the culmination of 47 years of unapologetic bombast and spectacle. We will make this a fitting farewell to a country and its people whose music remains the blood in our veins."
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