Tommy Thayer KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer. notforsale
Tommy Thayer of the rock band KISS, a Pacific University trustee, recently earned an honorary doctorate of humane letters for his philanthropic leadership efforts. He grew up in Beaverton and frequented Cannon Beach in his youth. He worked for KISS as a producer, songwriter and business manager before becoming the band’s lead guitarist in 2003.
Q: Honored to be speaking with you, Tommy. How did you get involved with Pacific University?
Thayer: Dad (Brigadier Gen. James B. Thayer) made the board suggestion and they ran with that. They thought that would be great — Tommy Thayer, a local boy, with the profile of being in KISS — an interesting combination of background and experience.
Q: Are you a college graduate?
Thayer: No, I did not go to college. I was straight out of high school and into “rock ’n’ roll 101.” I’d had a few bands, but ended up forming a band called Black ’n Blue in 1981. It was five guys from the Portland area.
We played clubs for a certain amount of time, but then decided if we ever wanted a chance of really making it, we needed to get out of Portland and head to Los Angeles, where there were record labels and management companies.
We took a shot at the big time in early 1983. We moved and within six months we were signed with a major label — Geffen Records — and put together a real nice recording contract. Then we were on our way.
Q: Those were the glory days of heavy metal.
Thayer: The new wave of British heavy metal was happening at the time: (Iron) Maiden, (Judas) Priest, Def Leppard — these bands were coming up out of England, and making a real splash so that kind of carried over into the U.S.
Ironically, one of the early tours we did was opening for KISS in 1985, and that is when I met (singer-bass player) Gene Simmons and (singer-guitarist) Paul Stanley.
Q: Tell me about your time with KISS.
Thayer: KISS’s first record came out in 1974. And they have been plugging right along ever since, I should say “we” now because I’ve been with them for the last 15 years.
When Black ’n Blue ran its course in the early ’90s, Gene and Paul asked me to come aboard with the KISS organization behind the scenes.
I did everything from getting the coffee to directing and producing documentary videos. Then they did a reunion tour in ’96, and I became the road manager. A couple years went by and they had problems with their lead guitar player. They decided to make a change in 2002 and I was the heir apparent.
Q: Has it been a smooth transition?
Thayer: Absolutely. It’s like a four-way marriage in a lot of ways. The key, really, is being with people who are professional, can get along, support each other, and respect each other. It just doesn’t happen a lot of times.
People always ask, “What happened with this or that?” “Why did this guy leave?” “Why do they hate each other?” It really comes down to personality issues.
We’ve been able to circumvent that and make it work. Gene, Paul, (drummer) Eric (Singer) and I all get along famously. We actually enjoy being together when we tour. We love hanging out, having dinner and sharing time together. It’s a huge plus.
Q: Where do you live now?
Thayer: My primary residence is in Southern California. I live about 45 minutes outside of Los Angeles in an area called Thousand Oaks.
Q: What is your experience on the Oregon Coast?
Thayer: I grew up in Beaverton. Cannon Beach is a big part of my life and my background.
Q: In what way?
Thayer: My dad, the general, grew up in a small town called Carlton, Oregon. His parents and his grandparents took him to Seaside, Cannon Beach, back in the ’20s, when he was just a young kid.
When we were growing up, we were in Cannon Beach all the time.
Ten years ago I built a house in Cannon Beach on Jefferson Street in Midtown. I sold it just a year or two ago. It didn’t make sense for me to continue it because I just wasn’t getting there enough, so I actually sold the place.
Two of my brothers, Mike and John, have homes there. To me, it is one of the most special places in the world. It’s so beautiful and unique, and I love being there.
When I go into the Driftwood in Cannon Beach, my favorite spot, it’s kind of like old home week to see all your friends and all the locals.
Q: Bringing this full circle to your honorary degree — what do you say to kids who say he didn’t go to school and now you’re promoting education at Pacific University. What are you trying to impart to a new generation?
Thayer: For me, I had the opportunity to go to music and it worked. Whether you’re in school or pursuing a career, perseverance is the key to success.
Q: Do you have plans to come back to Cannon Beach?
Thayer: I hope so. I would love to be there for the Fourth of July, but KISS is going to Europe, to headline festivals in Spain and Portugal, so I won’t have an opportunity to be there.
Q: When do you hit the road?
Thayer: We start in Barcelona, Spain, on July 7.
R.J. Marx is The Daily Astorian’s South County reporter and editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette.