Tommy Thayer Reflects on Going from Kiss Fan to Spaceman to the End of the Road

Tommy Thayer with a Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul in metallic white

Tommy Thayer with a Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul in metallic white (Image credit: Jen Rosenstein)

When Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons pull off their platform heels for the final time, they’ll have been at the helm of Kiss for almost 50 years — an amazing experience, to be sure. But what might be an even more amazing experience? To be in the space boots of Tommy Thayer, who grew up in Seventies Oregon worshipping Kiss, only to eventually find himself a fully costumed, full-fledged member of the band.

“It is almost cooler in a way,” Thayer says with a laugh. “Because I’ve come full circle. As a kid I used to look at their photos in the pages of Circus magazine, like, ‘Here’s this incredible band with cool hair and makeup and outfits and stacks of Marshalls and pyro…’ I was blown away, just like everybody else at the time. And now, decades later, here I am.”

Thayer’s path, of course, was not a straight shot from the bedroom to the Kiss stage. He first rose to prominence as the guitarist in Eighties hard rock act Black ‘N Blue, who opened for Kiss on tour and for whom Simmons produced a pair of albums. Post-Black ‘N Blue, Thayer also performed as Ace Frehley in a Kiss tribute act, Cold Gin. He was brought into the Kiss organization in an administrative capacity in the mid-Nineties and assumed the role of the Spaceman in 2002 after Ace Frehley parted ways with the band following their reunion.

When it comes to straddling the line between staying true to Frehley’s original sound and style and injecting some of his own unique guitar voice into the band, Thayer, whose primary guitar and amp setup on the End of the Road tour will be a Les Paul through his Hughes & Kettner Tommy Thayer DuoTone heads, says, “That’s always been a little bit of a trick. But my guitar style has always been very much in line with the classic original Kiss style, because I think Ace and I came from the same school of those late-Sixties, early-Seventies English hard rock blues players like Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore. So it came very naturally to me to play that early Kiss stuff true to the way it was written and recorded.”

As for what songs he most enjoys playing? “ ‘Black Diamond’ would be an obvious one, because there’s a lot of guitar interludes and solos,” Thayer says. “ ‘Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is great, too, and ‘God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to You II’ has some very signature melodic lines which are a lot of fun. But honestly, I get off on playing all of them.”

As for how he feels about possibly playing alongside Frehley or Eighties-era guitarist Bruce Kulick, were they to show up as surprise guests on this final run? “I think if it happens kind of organically, it would be great,” Thayer says.

The guitarist is also sympathetic — to a point, at least — toward the rigid stance some longtime fans have about seeing anyone but Frehley wearing the iconic Spaceman makeup. “I’ve been a fan for longer than probably most of these people, so I understand,” he says. “But you can’t expect things to be exactly how they were 40 years ago. That’s a fantasy. So I don’t let it bother me. I’m comfortable and confident with where I am and what I do.”

What’s he’s doing right now, of course, is helping Kiss celebrate a four-decade-plus rock ‘n’ roll legacy.

“This is 45 years of a phenomenon, really,” Thayer says. “And I’m just honored to be a part of it.” And he promises that, with the End of the Road tour, “we’re going to do it bigger and better than we ever have. Kiss aims to go out with a huge bang — figuratively and literally.”

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.