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Southern Exposure: KISS guitarist reflects on education, days in Cannon Beach

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.

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