Friday, November 27, 2009

Newest KISS Guitarist Comes Into His Own

By Doug Pullen, El Paso Times, Texas

Nov. 26--EL PASO -- Kiss guitarist Tommy Thayer's heard it all before. He's just imitating Ace Frehley. He's just a lackey for Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.

The reality is that the 49-year-old Portland, Ore., native has been a part of Kiss' inner circle for more than 20 years, but only a member of the group -- whose "Kiss Alive 35" tour comes to the Don Haskins Center Wednesday -- since 2002, when Frehley left for the second time.

"People say I got their coffee. Yeah, I went and got the coffee. Other times, if we were meeting at the studio, Paul might call and say, 'I'm going to get the coffee today. What do you want?' " the guitarist, more amused than defensive, said during a tour break in Florida.

And, yes, it's true that Thayer once helped Stanley paint his house. Thayer was staying with Stanley while sifting through hundreds of the band's photos for "Kisstory," their limited-edition, 440-page memoir published in 1995.

"I was in Paul's guest house doing the photo thing and one day he walks in and says, 'Hey, can you help me paint my master bedroom?' It wasn't all of the sudden I'm painting his house," Thayer said. "Paul and I were painting his bedroom. ... It wasn't just me. He was painting, too."

Thayer knows there are Ace fans who don't like him, who criticize him for donning Frehley's "The Spaceman" makeup and costume (owned by Simmons and Stanley) and re-creating Frehley's guitar solos.

As a Kiss-loving kid, Thayer was an Ace fan himself. He later played Frehley

in Cold Gin, a Kiss tribute band. He also helped Frehley relearn some of his own guitar parts for the original lineup's reunion tour in 1996.

"These things take time," Thayer said of fan acceptance. "You can't expect to walk in on the first tour and own the world. There's a certain reverence to the thing I'm doing, the position I'm coming into in the first place. It's Ace Frehley; a big shoe to fill."

But with Kiss' new album, "Sonic Boom," Thayer feels he's come into his own. It's his first studio effort with the group, which also includes Eric Singer on drums. He's been credited by fans and critics alike for helping make it one of the group's better albums in a long time.

"I feel almost a little more liberated now, because when I joined this band I had big shoes to fill replacing somebody like Ace, which is not an easy thing, and everything that goes along with that," Thayer said. But he noted that "I can say (the album's) as much mine as anybody's."

Thayer said the band has been re-energized by the first three legs of its "Kiss Alive 35" world tour, which was launched last year to mark the band's 35th anniversary. The North American leg contains much of the material included on its breakthrough "Kiss Alive!" concert album, plus plenty of the pyro for which the band is famous.

It's the band's first extensive tour in several years, and the longest one that Thayer has been a part of as a member.

The idea to make a new album grew as the band toured Europe and other parts of the world for the first time in years.

"We had a gut feeling that maybe we should do this now," Thayer said, noting Simmons' and Stanley's reluctance after their last studio effort, 1998's "Psychocircus," tanked.

Thayer first met the band when his former group, Black 'n' Blue, opened for Kiss in the 1980s. Simmons took them under his wing, producing two of their four studio albums that decade.

Simmons later asked him to help write songs for Kiss, the first in a "long list" of duties the guitarist has performed over the years, including working as Simmons' assistant, road managing for Kiss fan conventions in the '90s, and contributing to various projects, such as the "Kisstory" book and "Kissology" DVDs.

"Sometimes people don't realize that I've been in their inner circle for quite a long time and I've seen a lot. I've done a million different things in and around Kiss and really enjoyed every aspect of it," Thayer said.

The "Kiss Alive 35" tour has been good to tour openers Buckcherry, who last toured with Kiss in Europe after their debut album came out a decade ago.

"We were excited. We've been touring 10 years and they're celebrating 35 years," singer Josh Todd said. "It's just kind of a rock 'n' roll event. At this time, there are not a whole lot of rock 'n' roll events."

Thayer understands the importance of being in a band as big, and notorious, as Kiss. He prefers the detractors to the alternative.

"The day when nobody is talking about it anymore," he said, "is when we need to be concerned."

Doug Pullen may be reached at dpullen@elpasotimes.com; 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at www.elpasotimes.com/blogs.

make plans --Who: Kiss, with Buckcherry.

--When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

--Where: Don Haskins Center, UTEP.

--How much: $19.50, $39.50, $80 and $130, plus service charge, on sale at the UTEP Ticket Center and through Ticketmaster, www.ticketmaster.com and 800-745-3000.

--Information: 747-5234, www.utepspecialevents.com.

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