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LOCAL GUITAR HERO

Tommy Thayer adds a KISS of community spirit to fundraiser


by: COURTESY OF TOMMY THAYER/ASH NEWELL - Tommy Thayer has played with epic rock band KISS for 11 years, and he and the boys celebrate the band's 40th anniversary next year. 'We basically take it one day, one month, one year at a time,' he says.Tommy Thayer never tires of putting on the makeup, donning “The Spaceman” ensemble, playing the classics nightly and touring seemingly every year with an American institution, rock band KISS.

The lead guitarist Thayer, 52, gets excited for any performance, whether it be in Winnepeg, Manitoba, or Tokyo’s Budokan arena.

“You can never forget how fortunate you are to walk up on stage before 14,000 people,” the Beaverton native and Sunset High School graduate says. “With this band and its amazing history, great persona and characters and show, how can you lose sight of how great that is? We’re flying on private jets and staying at Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton.”

KISS celebrates its 40th year together next year, and Thayer has played alongside juggernauts Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley for the past 11. We’re talking epic longevity for one of the hardest-working groups in music.by: PHOTO COURTESY OF TOMMY THAYER - Tommy Thayer never tires of putting on the makeup, donning 'The Spaceman' ensemble, playing the classics nightly and touring seemingly every year with an American institution, rock band KISS.

“It’s a lethal, viable, legit rock ‘n’ roll band, and we’re playing just as big of shows as ever,” he says. “It’s extremely rare for a group like KISS to continue for 40 years. I can count the number of bands on one hand who’ve done that. We’re playing arenas and stadiums and selling out, with an onslaught of new kids following us. It’s multigenerational. It’s like a tribe.”

But, Thayer, who lives in suburban Los Angeles with wife Amber and maintains another residence in Cannon Beach, has never forgotten his roots. The son of a successful businessman and a musician mother, Thayer serves on the board of directors of Pacific University in Forest Grove, for which he has provided substantial support in the past seven years.

A rural private college and a hard-rockin’ guitarist? Yeah, it’s an odd match, as Thayer has dutifully helped the Washington County school raise funds for athletics through his Legends event and golf tournament. The golfing part has been shelved for the year, as Legends leans on the musical aspect with another star-studded lineup for the dinner-auction-concert fundraiser on Sunday at Waverley Country Club in Portland.

Scheduled to appear with Thayer in a concert are: Bill Champlin, formerly of Chicago, a two-time Grammy Award winner; Danny Seraphine, Chicago’s original drummer; Billy Kimball, former lead singer of six-time Grammy winner Toto; Ed Roth, producer and keyboardist with California Transit Authority; and Patrick Lamb, Oregon’s Grammy-nominated jazz saxophone player.

Also making appearances will be rock manager Doc McGhee, who helped launch the careers of KISS, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, The Scorpions, Hootie & The Blowfish, Diana Ross and James Brown, and several prominent athletes.

For more information, go to pacific.edu/legends.

The Times caught up with Thayer, co-founder of Oregon Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group Black ‘n Blue, to talk about Pacific University, rock ‘n’ roll, his family, KISS and various other topics:

Times: Few bands rival KISS in longevity and appeal. Key to success?

Thayer: A lot of people are critical about over-promoting, going in many different directions with sponsorships and licensing. But, with a band like KISS, you can do that. Some groups can’t do that kind of stuff, because they’d be accused of selling out. We’re always able to get outside the box.

That’s the cool thing about it, the spirit of what made KISS unique from the very beginning, the early ’70s. A lot of people thought it was a joke, but KISS always trumped the norm. You always have detractors, but KISS is about entertaining and exploring new things. It continues to baffle people, even us. You see these teenagers — how do they get turned on to KISS? The heart of KISS is great music, a great show, a legit touring act.

Times: How’d you get involved with Pacific University?

Thayer: I didn’t go to school there, even though it’s a university literally in our backyard. They approached me, and I thought about it, it set me back for a second. “What?” It’s cool that they’re thinking outside the box. I liked the idea of coming back to the area I grew up, getting involved, helping out. It’s been a real gratifying experience. What I can bring to the table is fundraising and profile.

Times: The university wanted your father, James, to serve on the board, and he recommended you?

Thayer: He was a community leader and military hero (former U.S. Army brigadier general). He’s 91 now, has done great service for our community. They were interested in getting somebody from the Thayer family, and he said, “How about Tommy?”

Times: Your family has been quite successful?

Thayer: Dad and mom (Patricia) started the J. Thayer Co. in 1955, and it became the largest office products company on the West Coast. My brothers Mike and John were involved. A large conglomerate bought it in the 1990s and, when John’s noncompete (clause) finished, he started another J. Thayer Co., a web-based company in Lake Oswego that’s expanded into California, Washington and Denver.

Times: Your mother served as your inspiration?

Thayer: She was a classical musician, violinist, playing through her time in college at Washington State. She brought music and creative arts to the family. She was a great music aficionado, played all the classics at home, the great show tunes. She was a wonderful musician, and singer, too. She’s now 89, just a ball of energy.

Mom and dad live in Lake Oswego. Growing up hearing great music in the air, so to speak, it makes a difference. My older brother, Jim, too — he’d play Beatles records, pop music. Then I got involved in music programs in school.

Times: It’s probably not a stereotypical story, a rocker coming from a great family, huh?

Thayer: A lot of guys come from lousy families. Not that we haven’t had our problems, every family has their issues. There’s a good foundation there. Especially with my parents, they’ve always been supportive of what I or we wanted to do. Never heard, “Can’t do that; shouldn’t do that.” It was great (support), especially when it started popping for me.

They wanted me to get a college education. But I got involved with groups, and then I was on my way to California with Black ‘n Blue. I’ve been fortunate. I’m a very hard worker, put a lot of effort in. I just read a book, “Talent Is Overrated.” It’s more about how much persistence you have. How hard you want to work.

Times: You’ve avoided the trappings of a rock star?

Thayer: With Black ‘n Blue, we’d go on the road and have a good time. But, I never got into drugs, which some people did. Never felt compelled to do that. My tenure now with KISS — I’m not in my 20s, and you look at things differently and more responsibly. You have to. It’s a big business we’re in. You have to be a professional to make it, to get through it. It’s not like it was in the ’60s — sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, where drugs are part of the culture of rock ‘n’ roll bands. That’s long since past. It’s a different culture today.

Times: Golf had to be dropped from the Legends event because of your schedule?

Thayer: We toured Australia, had a full European tour and North America for about six weeks (ending Aug. 18 in Hollywood). We’ll go to Japan in October. We’ve been really busy. Thankfully, we carved out a weekend we could do this. (Legends) started out as a golf tournament, but we’ve tweaked it. The music element of Legends has become our niche. We’re still doing a golf tournament, but it’s more exclusive.

Times: How much have you raised?

Thayer: We gross close to $500,000 (a year), netting a couple hundred thousand. That’s why we’re tweaking things, making it a leaner event in terms of not spending too much money putting it on.

Times: But, musicians like to swing the sticks, right? Who’s the best?

Thayer: They do. A lot of artists and musicians like to play golf; a lot of pro golfers like to play music. ... (The best) would probably be somebody like Alice Cooper or Justin Timberlake. I’m decent, not quite as good as the best. I’ve had the opportunity to play with Clint Black and Darius Rocker of the country world.




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