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Guns N' Roses guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal became a KISS fan early. He was just five years old when some of the older kids in his neighborhood played him the band's classic 1975 live album, KISS Alive! "It was one of those life-changing moments," he says. "I was immediately inspired. All at once, I knew that I wanted to play the guitar and do what KISS did."
Borrowing a friend's guitar, which he banged like a drum ("I had no idea how to actually play guitar at the time"), Thal began writing songs about space exploration for the rock band he dreamed of forming one day. "I called it The Solar System," he says with a laugh. "It was all KISS and Star Wars – the kinds of things a little kid knows."
Thal's KISS obsession extended into his adolesence – he had the records, the dolls, the posters and the requisite KISS Army decal on his bedroom door. One year, he made a convincing Ace Frehley for Halloween. "I was pretty good-looking," he recalls. And his first concert? "KISS, Madison Square Garden, 1979. I was too young to see them in '77, but I went to the Dynasty tour. And it was great because it was the original dudes in the makeup, doing the whole show. They were remarkable.”
Now that he's a grown-up rock star playing arenas himself, Thal is paying tribute to his boyhood heroes. He recently donated a cover version of Detroit Rock City to a KISS 40th anniversary tribute album called A World With Heroes. "That was the track I just had to do," he says. "I told [album producer] Mitch Lafon, 'I'm in, but I've got to do Detroit Rock City.' Luckily, nobody else claimed it yet."
Former Whitesnake drummer Brian Tichy and Kill Devil Hill bassist Rex Brown played on Thal's original guitar, vocal and click-track recording, which immediately caught the attention of concert promoters. "The thing was mixed and mastered, and suddenly people are asking me about dates," says Thal. "We all talked about it and decided, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ We’re all KISS fans, we know the songs – let's play some shows."
Pulling Kill Devil Hill guitarist Mark Zavon into the fold, Thal, Tichy and Brown formed A.L.I.V.E.!, a tribute band dedicated to early KISS. The band has three West Coast gigs coming up (24 July at the Whiskey in Hollywood, 25 July at the Las Vegas Country Saloon and 27 July at the Tiki Bar in Costa Mesa, CA), and Thal promises a no-frills, kickass set geared around the albums KISS Alive! I and II. "We’re not going to wear the makeup, so it’s not those other KISS tribute bands," he says. "You see that with Beatles tribute bands, too – they dress up in Sgt. Pepper outfits. We’re not going to do that. We’ll just play great music and have a good time."
On the following pages, Thal runs down his five favorite KISS songs, some of which very well could end up in the A.L.I.V.E.! setlist.