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Alternate Kisstory: Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer & Bruce Kulick Speak Out

Kiss’ other members dish on replacing Ace and Peter, Gene and Paul’s feuds and more

Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss and Gene Simmons of KISS onstage at the 29th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
May 31, 2014 10:00 AM ET

Rolling Stone's first-ever Kiss cover story mostly focused on the original lineup of the band: Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. The Rock and Hall of Fame also chose to induct only those members – a decision Simmons and Stanley made quite clear that they opposed. They invited current Kiss guitarist Tommy Thayer, current drummer Eric Singer and former guitarist Bruce Kulick (who played in the band from 1984 to 1995) to join them at their table for the April 10th ceremony, and thanked them from the stage for their contributions. In that spirit, here are Kisstory-spanning conversations with each of those musicians, culled from the cover-story transcripts.

20 Best Moments at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2014 Induction 

Tommy Thayer

When Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent wore makeup in Kiss, they had new characters. Did you have any discomfort about simply wearing Ace's makeup?
No, first of all, I didn't have any input on that. That was a decision that those guys made. There was not even a conversation about it, because I think it was so obvious, that they weren't going to introduce new characters 30 years into the band. I never thought that there should be some new designs or something. I thought that would have been ridiculous. And the only thing is, you've got a lot of push-back from some of the diehards. And that's understandable. Hey, you know, if you lived in the Seventies and Kiss was your favorite band, and that's what you grew up with, and suddenly there's another guy wearing that makeup, I can understand how some people, it might not have appealed to them as much. But as time as gone by, a lot of people have changed their mind.

You can imagine what Ace has to say.
He probably wouldn't agree with that, would he?

He told me, "A supergroup has one of the most dynamic, greatest lead guitarists in the world leave the band, and who did they hire to play lead guitar? Their road manager, who used to be in a Kiss cover band. How insane is that? You can't make this shit up."
[Laughs] You know, that's one way to… that's one way to put it, I guess, even though that's not really accurate. These guys like to say that, oh, he was the road manager. He never paid his dues. Well, you know, if you look back, I've been in music professionally for over 30 years now, and I've made just as many records as they have, probably. And it's not to detract from what he's saying as far as, he was iconic in the Seventies, you know? And he did influence a lot of guitar players, and he did record and write some great stuff. Specifically, the first three or four Kiss albums, up to Kiss Alive!

He feels that it's almost like trying to trick people that he's still in the band.
Yeah. Well, you know, I can understand him saying that, too, but I don't think that's really accurate. I don't think there's anybody going to a Kiss concert thinking that it's Ace Frehley on stage. I really don't. And if it is, then they're really not paying much attention at all. But the vast, 99.99 percent of people that are there, they know what's going on.

What Happened to Ex-Kiss Guitarist Vinnie Vincent?

Your Eighties band, Black and Blue, opened for Kiss. What was that band like?
I started to play guitar about 40 years ago. I grew up in Portland, actually, Beaverton, Oregon, which is a suburb of Portland. And I had all the garage bands and played school dances and did all the typical stuff and played clubs in Portland. But by the time I was probably 22, 23, I had put together this band called Black and Blue. And we were kind of an Eighties hard rock band, on Geffen Records. We were the opening act on the Kiss Asylum Tour in 1985, and we did probably 25, 30 dates in all of 1985 and that's actually when I met Gene and Paul. Towards the end of that we were working on some demos for our third album, and we asked Gene if he would be interested in producing it. And as it turned out, he ended up producing our third and fourth album. So that's kind of where the main association with Gene started. And it just evolved from there and grew a lot.

Did you ever play in a Kiss cover band?
[Laughs] Yeah, I did, I actually did. One of the guys from Black and Blue, and a couple other friends, we were all Kiss fans, obviously, growing up, so back then when Black an Blue had kind of run its course, we said, let's get onstage at a club in Hollywood and play Kiss songs. And this is kind of before tribute bands became kind of common. People went crazy, because nobody had kind of done that thing. And then it was Halloween and for a goof we put makeup on, just for a laugh. And we did that for a while, but it was never like a serious career move or something.

People kind of use this fact against you.
It can be kind of misleading, because it was just for goofs. But then Gene and Paul and the guys came to a few of the club shows we were doing and they got a kick out of it. But I always tell people, it was like the minor leagues or something. It was my segue into Kiss, because I think once they finally decided they wanted a new lead guitarist around 2002, they knew I could do it. Because they had known me for a long time, they knew I was quite capable on the guitar, but they also knew I could put Kiss makeup on and get onstage and do a great job. So I think, in the back of their minds, I think that might have stuck a little bit.

You went to work for Gene and Paul, and in the Nineties you did everything and anything for them, right?
You read internet blogs, "Tommy, he got the coffee" and all these things, and people have a laugh about that, but it's true. I did whatever needed to be done at the time, and I'm proud of it. It's just my personality. When I jump into something, I don't have any limitations in my mind in terms of ego or something like that.

And where did you think this was all leading at the time?
You know, it's funny. I've heard people say, "Well, Tommy had this grand plan and he knew what he was doing all along," and that's really not true either. When I started working for those guys behind the scenes, I was completely committed to working as hard as I could to do that and be successful in the music business. And actually when [manager] Doc McGhee came on board, Doc kind of took me under his arm, and I think he had designs for me as well, possibly in management and being part of his company. I never was thinking, "This is all a means to an end to be the lead guitarist of Kiss."

You worked with Ace and Peter to help them prepare for the reunion tour.
They were off track and they weren't playing the stuff in the classic, signature way. So we had to help get those guys back into shape and it took a long time. It wasn't like it took a week. We spent a month or two working on that, before the actual four of them started rehearsing together as a unit. Ace was a little more on track, and his attitude at the time was a lot more easygoing that Peter's was, to be honest with you. Peter on the other hand would get more uptight and actually, he would get upset sometimes, with me giving him direction. At least, initially he was, and then he got more comfortable with it once we got going. But I couldn't believe how upset he got, because he basically said, "Don't you fucking tell me what to do."

You did eventually become the road manager. How did you get along with Ace and Peter in that role?
I started having to spend a lot of time and energy, extra time and energy, on things I would consider to be almost like dysfunctional. Not showing up, and being late, and suddenly we'd be sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for Ace for an hour just to come down so we could go to the gig, and everybody would just be sitting there. And it just became very difficult just to tour. And Peter's attitude was not great after a while either.

There was that one show where they had you in makeup ready to go because Ace was so late?
After a while, I did have an outfit, I did have boots, and stuff made and ready, just in case, as an insurance policy really. Because you can't go on tour, and start canceling shows potentially when there's millions of dollars on the line. I remember one gig in Irvine, California. I think it was the summer of 2000, and I was completely made up and ready to go because we didn't think Ace was going to be there. He was in another city still. So twenty minutes before we're going onstage, we're all standing there in makeup, and here comes Ace walking in. It was the weirdest thing. He just looked at me, and he goes, "Hey Tommy, how are you doing?'" Like any other day! It was really weird.

How did it start to become clear that Ace might be leaving and you might be taking over?
Well, there were a few more gigs where there were close calls. Finally, the band was scheduled to do this private concert down in Jamaica. Doc called me. He said, "Tommy, you gotta come to Jamaica. You're going to be on stage, you're gonna be on." He goes, "Ace is not coming." And I was just basically filling in, because I don't think they knew exactly what they were going to do long-term. But we all knew I was going to go down and do that gig, and step up, and do my first whole, real gig with Kiss. And that was really interesting.

And how did that feel for you?
Well, you know, in one way it felt very comfortable and normal, almost, because I'd been around these guys at that point for years, sitting in the dressing room when they're putting makeup on. And to be honest with you, I put makeup on as a kid also, you know, for fun, for Halloween. And then we did that tribute band. So it wasn't like it was totally foreign. But then there was a surreal aspect to it too, thinking, "I'm going on stage as the guitarist of Kiss in an hour." And that's kind of a mind-boggling feeling, because I grew up loving Kiss. I was a fan ever since I started getting into rock & roll music and playing guitar when I was 11, 12 years old, you know? It's like, "Wow." I was sitting there thinking, "Man, things have really come full circle, and this is almost unbelievable."

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