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15 Years Ago: Tommy Thayer Plays His First Kiss Show

Martin Philbey, Getty Images
Martin Philbey, Getty Images

On March 6, 2002, Kiss hit the stage for a private show in Jamaica with a new Spaceman behind the mask. Tommy Thayer made his first official appearance as the band’s guitarist, and, despite the controversy, he’d already been involved with Kiss for six years.

The departure of original guitarist Ace Frehley had been looming for some time. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley had become tired of the Space Ace’s alcoholic antics. Thayer had actually been lined up in the background, ready to take over if Frehley dropped the ball. He’d stood ready during Kiss’ performance at the February 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, although he wasn’t called up at that time.

Born in 1960, Thayer had achieved some notoriety with his band Black ’n Blue, who released four studio albums in the ’80s. They’d hired Simmons to produce the last two, and that’s how the Kiss connection was made.

In 1989, Simmons invited Thayer to co-write material for Kiss, resulting in the songs “Betrayed” and “The Street Giveth, the Street Taketh Away” from Hot in the Shade. Five years later, the guitarist was given a supervisory role in the Kisstory book project, leading to further work with the band.

“Through all the speculation on the internet, people started saying that I did all these strange jobs,” Thayer told Guitar World in 2013. “But nothing was strange. I was just a go-getter that would do whatever task was at hand, which is normal if you wanna get somewhere in your life. I’m proof that persistence works.”

The 1996 reunion with Frehley and drummer Peter Criss had seen Thayer overseeing the duo’s return preparations, helping them reach fitness goals and relearn their parts before the tour started. He then served as producer on a series of video and TV appearances. The big step-up took place against a background of increasing dissatisfaction. Frehley had become unhappy with contractual arrangements, while Simmons and Stanley felt he was no longer delivering the goods. HIs second stint ended as unhappily as his first, with acrimony that only appears to have been settled in recent years.

Insisting that he’d quit rather than been fired, Frehley said his replacement “was hired by Paul and Gene to put on my makeup and costume and play my guitar solos — a business deal. Look, if he wouldn’t have done it, they would have hired somebody else.” But Thayer was under no illusion that he’d become a permanent member of the band. “I was basically just filling in, because I don’t think they knew what they were going to do long-term,” he told Rolling Stone.

He said the gig felt “very comfortable and normal” because of his already-strong connection to Kiss. But, he added, “there was a surreal aspect to it too, thinking, ‘I’m going on stage as the guitarist of Kiss.’ I grew up loving Kiss. I was a fan since I started getting into rock ’n’ roll music when I was 11, 12 years old.”

But many fans who could understand the need for a lineup change were infuriated that Thayer appeared in full Spaceman costume and mask. Even though it had been Frehley’s garb, Simmons and Stanley owned the rights, and had no interest in creating a new look, as they had for ’80s drummer Eric Carr and guitarist Vinnie Vincent.

“That was a decision those guys made,” Thayer told Ultimate Classic Rock. “They weren’t going to introduce a new character.” Accepting the controversy was “understandable,” he continued. “If you lived in the ‘70s and Kiss was your favorite band, I can understand how it might not have appealed as much. But as time has gone by, a lot of people have changed their mind.”

While Thayer had contributed small parts to earlier albums, his big moment as guitarist came with 2009’s return-to-form Sonic Boom and the 2012 follow-up Monster. “Since I’ve been in the band, I’ve tried to be faithful and adhere to what made Kiss strong and powerful in the first place,” he said. “But in doing Sonic Boom and Monster, I’ve had the opportunity to spread my wings more. It’s always a balance between the two. You have to be faithful – but I need to show my colors too.”

Calculations from online sources reveal that Frehley played around 665 shows during his first stint, and a further 402 in his second, delivering a total of about 1067 concerts. He appeared on 10 studio albums, from their 1974 self-titled debut to 1998’s Psycho Circus. Thayer has performed around 600 shows to date, and has been heard on six studio albums, from background appearances to fully fledged contributions. But Thayer tops the scales in terms of service length, having notched up more than 15 years against Frehley’s dozen.

In 2016, Simmons insisted Kiss had played the perfect game with the new man’s introduction. He told Rolling Stone, “There’s always going to be five percent or 10 percent of people who were there at the beginning who will complain about anything. I think that’s valid from their point of view. But people get onto a train at different times.

“If you go to see the Stones today, poke the guy next to you and say, ‘Ron Wood, he’s not Brian Jones,’ the guy says, ‘Who the f— is that?’” he concluded. “He wouldn’t have a clue. He came into the Stones 20, 30 years after you did.’  So why wouldn’t we use the classic makeup? We own it.”

In 2017, Thayer said he wasn’t interested in dealing with any controversy surrounding his presence and presentation. “I chuckle and smile when I hear things like that,” he told The Aquarian. “It really has nothing to do with what’s happening in reality. Kiss continues to go out and play big shows and be the phenomenon that it is. I give more merit to that fact, than what a few oddballs say online. I don’t really care.”

Kiss Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide

Next: Kiss Albums Ranked Worst to Best

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