KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer rocks for charity

Jul 27, 2007 | Posted in News & Updates

By Nancy Townsley
The Forest Grove News-Times, Jul 25, 2007

In or out of makeup, Tommy Thayer is a colorful guy.

The Beaverton native and lead guitarist for the rock band KISS has no shortage of gigs on his electronic calendar.

Last week he was on stage in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., performing in a concert during the four-show KISS Hit and Run Tour.

Tommy Thayer

Sunday and Monday he’ll host the Pacific Legends Golf Classic, a star-studded fund-raiser at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains.

And on Sept. 15, Thayer will serve as grand marshal of the 50th anniversary Beaverton Celebration Parade in his hometown.

The parade’s theme, “Everything is Golden,” is an apt metaphor for Thayer’s life. He is, after all, a local boy who just may have been born – on Nov. 7, 1960 – to be wild.

“I grew up in Beaverton, listening to the Beatles from my older brother’s record player,” said Thayer, who had developed a raging passion for rock-and-roll by the time he entered Sunset High School.

After graduating in 1978, Thayer and some of his buddies were deep into the garage band scene, playing in Beaverton, Lake Oswego and Portland. They eventually put together a hard-rocking band called Black ’N Blue.

Inspired to pursue a life of music, Thayer took his long, flowing tresses and square-jawed good looks to Los Angeles in 1983.

“There were no major labels or management in Portland at that time, so we went to southern California to try to get discovered,” Thayer recalled.

While playing at an old high school in Hollywood, Black ’N Blue caught on. Geffen Records signed the band in 1983.

“Within six months we had a record deal,” Thayer said. “It was the stereotypical young American dream come true.”

In the mid-1980s, the band landed a gig touring with Gene Simmons and KISS, already famous for their raucous on-stage antics and heavy metal lyrics in songs such as “Cold Gin” and “Strutter.”

Simmons, the band’s bass guitarist and lead vocalist, produced Black ’N Blue’s third and fourth records.

“We’d run our course by 1990,” Thayer said, and when KISS managers asked him to come to work for them, he jumped at the chance.

“I was really interested in producing by then, so I did some of their DVDs and played guitar on some of their records,” noted Thayer.

In the wake of waning popularity, KISS members had taken their makeup off. The band put the black-and-white back on for its 1996 Alive Worldwide Reunion tour, and in 2002, Thayer donned the Spaceman persona for three KISS performances.

“I’d been a huge KISS fan when I was 14 or 15,” he said. “I even put makeup on at Halloween to look like them.

“Things really came full circle for me.”

So much so that in 2003, Thayer officially took over the coveted KISS lead guitar spot, replacing Ace Frehley.

“It was definitely a dream come true,” he said.

A strong market brand, KISS members have been immortalized on lunch boxes and as action figures. More than 30 years have passed since the band released its first album, but Thayer insists KISS is “bigger than ever.”

The group will launch another worldwide tour next spring, Thayer said, and plans to go on the road every other year.

“We still fill huge arenas, and it’s still fun, so why not?,” noted Thayer, who has been married to his wife, Amber, for one year.

While he admitted he got caught up in the fast life of a rocker early on – “I’ve been through all the kid-in-a-candy-store stuff,” he said – Thayer mostly lives a balanced existence these days.

Last March, he and Simmons visited Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force troops at various locations, including Camp Pendleton in California, to honor them with a rally and live performances.

He supports music programs at Oregon schools, organizing donations of instruments to kids who can’t afford them. Last year, he appeared at Neil Armstrong Middle School in Forest Grove, signing autographs for adolescent fans.

Hosting Monday’s golf tournament is a natural extension of Thayer’s service on the Pacific University Board of Trustees, which he joined in 2005.

“I was honored and flattered that they wanted me as a member, and it’s been a great experience,” he said. “It’s such a wonderful and diverse group of people.

“We get together and have great discussions – it’s really enlightening to hear the different points of view,” noted Thayer, who has worked on a number of Pacific projects, including the first phase of a health professions campus in Hillsboro, new residence halls on campus in Forest Grove and an expanded athletics complex.

The golf tournament, which he called “a world-class event,” will feature actor Dennis Quaid, former Chicago drummer Dennis Sephire, football All-American Eric Dickerson and baseball great Chuck Finley.

“We’ll go out there and have a lot of fun,” said Thayer.

He also hopes to raise lots of money for Pacific athletic programs during a pre-event auction and dinner on Sunday night.

“It’s going to be an event that Portland – and certainly not Forest Grove or North Plains – has seen before.”