KISS Guitarist TOMMY THAYER: 'Being In KISS Was Never My Intention At All'

Writer/photographer John Harrell recently conducted an interview with KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer for a cover story in the Japanese magazine Burrn! An excerpt from the second part of the chat follows:

Burrn!: How long have you known Gene Simmons?

Tommy: "I've known Gene for almost 25 years. The first time I actually met him I was in BLACK N' BLUE; we had just come out with our first album and we all went down to Long Beach Arena to see KISS play with QUEENSRŸCHE opening up. It was the 'Animalize' tour and Bruce Kulick was new in the band. We were lucky enough to get backstage for a meet-and-greet before the show and Paul and Gene walked in and we were introduced and that was a big thrill for us. When we were introduced to Gene, he said, 'BLACK 'N BLUE, oh, good band, good band.' Then about six months later we came out with our second album 'Without Love' and our manager Warren Entner called me and said that we were going to be opening up for KISS on the 'Asylum' tour starting in a month and that was so unbelievable to me. We got on tour with KISS and that's when I started getting to know them. We were really intimidated by Gene because he kind of comes off with that whole aura of intimidation, which he does on purpose just to keep people off guard. The first night was Little Rock, Arkansas and the next show was in Nashville or Memphis. Jaime and I were sitting out in the arena watching their sound check and Gene walked offstage afterwards and started walking over towards us and we were like, 'Oh, here comes Gene.' So he came over and asked us how we were doing and then said that he had one little thing to talk about. He says, your intro — we had this intro that was like (in a deep, gruff voice) Alright, from Los Angeles, BLACK N' BLUE!!!!' Some kind of thing like that and he goes, 'There's something about your intro; it kind of reminds me of this band that's been around since about 1902 and it's too similar to their intro and it would be a good idea if maybe you guys changed that up a little bit,' and we were like, 'Sure, no problem.'"

Burrn!: I want to talk about the "Rock The Nation" DVD. I understand that you produced it.

Tommy: "I've been fortunate to do about three or four of the KISS DVDs now, not just this one. After the reunion tour I did the 'Second Coming', the double-set I produced/edited. And a couple of VH1 documentaries I've done; 'The Last Kiss', which was a pay-per-view that came out in 2000 on the Farewell Tour, I did that; uh, and 'Kiss Symphony'."

Burrn!: How did you get into that?

Tommy: "I tell you, it was really just by accident. When I was in high school I use to take my 35-mm camera to all of the concerts in Portland and I even took my dad's movie camera to a lot of them, because back then you could just walk in with it. So I just walked in and was standing up front with my dad's Super-8 movie camera and there was no security up there, nobody cared. So I've always been into media and film, never went to school for it, but I've always been around it. When we were organizing the KISS conventions in 1995, Paul said that he was going to put together a TV ad and he asked me to come down and help. Since we did the KISS conventions ourselves, that's when I really started working full time with these guys because I was kind of the tour director or the tour manager and I helped Gene and Paul put the whole thing together. So I met Paul at a video-editing studio and I had never been in a video editing session before and I thought it was real interesting. And then typical Paul says, 'Oh I've got to get going, I've got an appointment, so here Tommy, you finish it; you know what to do.' That was essentially it! Just take over and it was about halfway done and I said this would be cool here, that would be cool there and I just kind of started rolling with it so I finished that little TV ad. Then as we began to do other video stuff all of a sudden I was put into the default position of taking care of it. It's always come out okay or pretty cool."

Burrn!: Is this what you really have always wanted? Did you think about it?

Tommy: "No, no. You hear people talk about their five-year plan or their ten-year plan and that kind of stuff never made sense to me. And maybe it's because I didn't have a five-year plan (laughs) because I never roll with that kind of thing. First of all, philosophically, if you're thinking, oh in ten years I want to be doing this, I think that can be counter-productive because all of a sudden you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself to make these huge strides. I just think that things happen more naturally when you just take things with short-term goals, like what do you want to be doing a month from now or want do you want to accomplish. I've always approached things like that, just little steps towards something and then all of a sudden you end up in some kind of weird thing and you're in KISS all of a sudden or something. Secondly, being in KISS was never my intention at all and to be honest with you after BLACK N' BLUE and a couple of other bands that I was in and out I thought screw this, I want to make a successful living, I want to have some money in my life and playing guitar is such a long shot. You know most musicians just struggle along, so that's why I wanted to work more behind the scenes and get into more management, production and stuff. Working with KISS just started out as a part-time job in 1993-94 working on the 'Kisstory' book kind of as a photo editor, I just felt it was something that I was interested in and it was better than when I worked in construction there for about a year because I had to make ends meet! I was just happy to have a job. So I started working part-time for Gene and Paul literally doing anything and it wasn't even KISS-oriented to begin with. I remember being over at Paul's and he said, we need you to go through these photos for 'Kisstory' and I thought that it was amazing looking at all these great KISS photos and picking things out. But then he'd say, hey, but tomorrow come over a little early because I'm painting my bedroom so would you help me paint the house (laughs)? One day I was at Gene's and literally he said, my gutter is stuffed, could you get up there and take out the leaves? So I was just doing anything and why not? Over the next few years I guess I proved that I was just hard-working, very dedicated and on time, plus I knew KISS so they knew that here's a guy that we can have work for us that can help solve a lot of these things or coordinate or do these projects because he knows KISS inside/out and he's a really hard worker so it was kind of a natural thing. That's how it all evolved. We did 'Kisstory' and then the KISS conventions started. The whole concept was to do this 'Star Trek'-type of fan convention that the band would appear at, and do a Q & A and do an unplugged set — it was all new. We put together a KISS museum that included all the original KISS outfits, and it happened in major city ballrooms, we organized it and did it all ourselves, an in-house thing. I just happened to be there at the right time and they said, here, you go to every city and setup the ballrooms at the Hiltons and all of a sudden it was more than a full-time job. I was working almost 20 hours a day, but I loved it because it was enjoyable and interesting to me. It wasn't like work; it was just doing KISS stuff. When the reunion happened the next year (1996) and it kind of took off from there, working my way up the ladder, but there was no big goal to be the guitarist in KISS."

Read the entire part of the chat with Tommy Thayer at this location.


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