KISS, the “Hottest Band in the World,” will be bringing their Freedom To Rock tour to Youngstown’s Covelli Centre on Friday August 26th.

Long time KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer took some time out of his schedule to chat with NEO Music Scene  about his career and the band’s upcoming appearance in Youngstown.

Greg Drugan:  Hey Tommy, where are you calling me from today?

Tommy Thayer:  We’re in Springfield, Illinois; we had the day off yesterday and are getting ready to fly to Des Moines for a show tonight.

GD:  How has this tour been going so far?

TT:  The tour’s been excellent.  We’re having a great time and the crowds are lovin’ it!  The tour is called Freedom To Rock and we are doing mainly secondary markets on this tour In North America.  Places that we haven’t really been to in the last ten or twelve years.  Seems like the people are more enthusiastic than a normal KISS concert; not that a KISS concert is normal.  They’re real excited and over-the-top to have us in their town.  There’s a “home-town” feel to this thing because we are doing the Hired Heroes program where we bring in one or two veterans or National Guardsmen to work with the crew during the day.  Then we bring those people on stage with us at the end of the set to honor them and say thanks to them in front of the audience.  So it’s been a lot of fun!

GD:  That’s fantastic!  I didn’t realize you were doing that.  I saw the 40th anniversary tour two years ago in Cleveland and during the show Paul pointed out that they weren’t going to be playing any ballads that evening; are there any slow songs in this tour’s set list?

TT:  Actually, we’re featuring one.  It’s one of KISS’ all-time hits “Beth” and we’re playing it towards the end of the set.  Eric Singer comes out from behind the drums and does a great job.  We have a nice arrangement; we play it very low key as sort of a back-up to Eric.  I think in the old days, Peter Criss used to sing it with a taped backing but we nixed that and we do it all live.

GD:  That’s great.  You guys released Monster in 2012, are there any plans to record any new music?

TT:  We discussed it, but honestly with the state of the record business we aren’t as motivated to record a new record.  The problem is; the amount of time writing and recording and producing a record and promoting it the payoff is next to nil, unfortunately.  That’s the sad state of the record business.  With Spotify and Pandora, every kid today is signing up and subscribing to music and not buying it.  To be honest with you, the record business has been a disappointment anyway because there is no incentive for anybody to buy and collect music.  There isn’t any great packaging like there used to be.  In the days of vinyl and even CDs there would be great booklets and inserts and liner notes and photos that would add to the mystique of owning records, and that’s all gone.  

GD:  Exactly!  I remember buying a record and looking at the lyric sheet and reading who played what instrument and reading the liner notes.  Kids today don’t know what that was like.

TT:  You are right and that’s unfortunate.  Maybe somehow that will come back.  I don’t know how, but I hope it will.

GD:  Let’s go back in your career; who were some of your musical influences growing up?

TT:  Great question.  Going back when I was a very young kid, we had a lot of music around my house.  My mom was very musical and artistic.  She played a lot of great music around the house; classical and Broadway show stuff.  My older brothers played Beatles records and a lot of pop stuff.  I was immersed in that so that was a great influence.  By the time I was in my early teens I liked rock and hard rock.  Bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, KISS and Led Zeppelin.  They really captured my attention and drew my interest into playing guitar and going to concerts and chasing girls and all of that stuff.

GD:  Speaking of concerts; what was the first concert that you attended?

TT:  (Laughs) The first concert I attended was Black Sabbath.  It was a three act bill.  The first band on was Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush.  The second act up was Montrose; who by the way was one of my favorite guitar players and still is, and then Black Sabbath.  It was in Portland, Oregon where I grew up and it was mind boggling to say the least.  I couldn’t believe I was seeing a concert!  Back in those days we didn’t have YouTube and all these 24/7 social media outlets where you see everything.  Back then there was more mystique and it was more exciting because you never got to see bands that much.

GD:  Your first band Black ‘N Blue had some success in the ‘80s; are you still in contact with any of the guys?

TT:  Well, they weren’t my first band but it was my first professional band that I was in.  Yeah, I still talk to those guys, not as much but we have a kinship, we are like brothers.  There’s a lot of meaning to the five guys who were in Black ‘N Blue; we do stay in touch and I talk to them on a pretty regular basis.  

GD:  How did you end up working with Gene and Paul on the “KISStory” book?

TT:  (Laughs) Good question!  Black ‘N Blue put out some records and we were lucky enough to get on the KISS Asylum tour.  We did about 25 or 30 dates with those guys and that’s when I met Paul and Gene in the fall of ’85.  Eric Carr was the drummer and Bruce Kulick was on guitar at that time.  They were great guys and they liked us.  They took us under their wing and gave us attention.  During the course of the tour  we were talking to Gene and  asked him if he would be interested in producing our group.  He did, and he produced two records of ours.   By the late ‘80s early ‘90s, Black ‘N Blue had run its course and we lost our record deal.

I was looking for a job and Gene asked me if I wanted to work for them part-time.  I started working for their organization and the first thing they had me do was sort through all of their photo archives and select photos for this coffee table book that they were putting together called “KISStory.”   Essentially I became the photo editor of KISStory and I couldn’t think of a better job!  After I did that I kind of hung on and it became a full-time job.  It just took off from there and I started doing all kinds of stuff behind the scenes.  When they did the reunion tour, I did work on the road with them.  Actually they had me come in and show Ace and Peter their old guitar and drum parts because they weren’t playing them right.  I had to help them get re-acquainted.  I started editing video and putting together documentaries and all kinds of stuff.  I was even playing a little guitar behind the scenes as well.  Things came full circle in 2002 when they were having some of the same problems that they were having with these guys back in the ‘70s and I became the lead guitar player, which was almost 15 years ago.

GD:  What was it like to put the “Space Man” makeup on for the first time?

TT:  (Laughs) Well of course it was a monumental experience, but it was strange though because we were playing a private show in Jamaica in 2002.  That was the first show I played with them and I wasn’t officially a member of the band, I was just stepping in.  It was for this rich Russian guy who was turning 30 years old and he had all these girls down there.  There were about 150 to 200 people there for this party and we had a full stage with full production set up on this private driving range.  There were 150 people sitting on blankets in front of the stage.  It was crazy!  It was the first unique experience I had with KISS playing on stage.  

GD:  You have been in the band for over 14 years, what is your favorite song to play live?

TT:  I’d say it might be “Black Diamond,” going all the way back to the first KISS record.  I asked for the first KISS record in 1974 and my parents got it for me for Christmas.  The song I liked the best after listening to the whole record was “Black Diamond.”  Obviously playing it live, it’s a big epic tune and it’s the grand finale in our set.  It’s a great song and I love playing that one.

GD:  Do you ever wish that you could just go out and play a show without costumes and flash pots?

TT:  We’ve done that.  We’ve done some things in theaters for fund raisers and benefits.  We did one a month ago that was a private event and a big fund raiser for an organization called MATTER.  We played a short set with no makeup.  I’m also involved in a lot of philanthropic events.  The things that I organize have a musical component where I get some of my friends and people in the music business where we jam and play a set of some great tunes, which is fun to do.  We get to do a lot of those kinds of things but people just don’t realize it.

GD:  You guys will be playing in Youngstown next week, what can the fans expect from the show?

TT:  Even though we are playing smaller cities and towns, we are bringing the full KISS production.  We are cutting no corners.  Full fire-power, full pyro, full KISS stage and we are packing it in an arena.  It’s KISS in its full glory.  It’s a show that we’ve made famous over the last 40 years and every bit of it will be in Youngstown that night.  So be prepared!

GD:  Sounds excellent!  Tommy, thank you so much for your time and we look forward to seeing you next week.

TT:  I sure appreciate it and it was great talking to you!  See you next week!

Catch KISS at the Covelli Centre along with special guests The Dead Daisies on Friday, August 26th.

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Greg Drugan has been attending concerts since 1982 and has seen everyone from AC/DC to ZZ Top. Classic rock is his forte, but he is also well versed in alternative and pop music. When not attending concerts, Greg can be found teaching history, psychology and the history of rock n roll at a rural high school where he also serves as the head track coach. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with his family.