Written By Terri Bey, June 1999
Many thanks to Terri for her work!
Known as the "Celestial One", "Mr. Excitement" or simply to the legions of KISS fans as the Spaceman, Ace Frehley with his impressive lead guitar riffs and stinging vibrato has been a major influence on rock guitar for over two decades. Artists such as Pantera's Dimebag Darrel, and Skid Row have named him as in influence. Ace also creates excitement onstage with his spaceman persona with his 6 foot , one inch, 175 lb frame staggering around the stage, his knees bent, and his back arched, totally aloof from his surroundings. He is of course also known for his stage theatrics, which include the burning guitar during his solo which is then put on a wire and sent up into the air, and then he gets another guitar with a rocket launcher and shoots rockets.
Offstage, Ace Frehley is quiet and keeps to himself, but however has had a long battle with alcohol and other substances but is now healthy. His current interests are computers, science fiction ( his interest in science fiction inspired his Spaceman persona), and reading about the International Space Station. A beloved member of KISS due to the fact that he has come from humble beginnings, to make it big in one of the greatest rock bands in the world.
Paul Daniel Frehley was born in the Bronx, located in New York City on April 27, 1951. He also grew up there. Ace was born with brown hair and brown eyes His father, Karl, was an electrical engineer, and his mother Esther was a homemaker. Ace was born the youngest of three children. He has a brother Charles, who is a classical guitarist and a sister Nancy.
Growing up right off of 200th St. and Webster Ave , Ace graduated Grace Lutheran School at age 13. However, he got thrown out of two high schools and dropped out of the third. Two of the high schools he attended were DeWitt Clinton High School and Roosevelt on Fordham Rd. It was in his high school years that he got the nickname, "Ace" when he had the ability to get his friends dates. His friends said, "You are a real Ace." It was also in his high school years that a guidance counsellor encouraged him to get into graphic arts. ( On a side note, Ace did well in the arts department in high school. Later in 1993, he would use his graphic arts skills to produce art work from a computer and sell the work in an art gallery in New Jersey. ) His family did not have a lot of money, and in his teen years, Ace would get involved in streetgangs.
He would later credit guitar playing for "saving his life" as a member of KISS. Ace was always surrounded by music. His father played piano as did his mother. His father was the church organist. Both his brother, who is a classical guitarist, and sister both played piano so according to Ace , "guitar didn't come hard to me at all." Ace first started playing guitar at age 13. He lists Jimi Hendrix, Albert Lee, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and the Who as his main influences.
What made Ace really want to make guitar playing his career however, was when at age 16 he saw Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels with the Who and Cream as the opening acts. In fact, Ace considers Pete Townsend to be his all time favorite guitarist. ( On a side note, Ace acted as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, he set up Mitch Mitchell's drum kit. Sadly, it was to be Jimi's last New York appearance). From then on, Ace knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. Self taught, he did learn from his friend Peppy Castro from the Blues Magoos how to play barre chords. The first song Ace ever learned was "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter", by Herman's Hermits.
Prior to Ace's joining KISS, he played in bar bands, and the like. In 1969, Ace played for a band called , Magic People. According to KISSTORY, Ace played in other bands such as The Muff Divers, The Exterminators, and Four Roses. The only recording experience Ace had prior to KISS was with a band he joined circa 1972 or so named Millemo. Millemo had a contract with RCA records and recorded several tracks but they were never released. Ace also worked as a cab driver for a time to support himself. It was also during this time period while Ace was trying to establish himself as a musician that in 1970, at age 19 he met his girlfriend, Jeanette. They later married on May 10, 1976 and on July 9, 1980 , became the parents of their daughter , Monique who will be 19 this July.
On January 17, 1973, Ace went to a loft on 10 E. 23rd. St. near Fifth Avenue in Manhatten, New York City where Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, and Gene Simmons were auditioning for guitarists to finish creating their ultimate band. He was answering an advertisement for a guitarist in the magazine " The Village Voice" which said, "Guitarist wanted with flash and balls. " He walks into the audition with an orange sneaker and a red sneaker. He walked in, ironically enough, on Bob Kulick's audition. After Bob Kulick auditions, Ace, Paul and Gene talked for a bit and then the group jammed on "Deuce". Gene told Ace that it was in the key of "A" and as for the solo, "go for it". Well, Ace played a ripping solo and a week later, he was in the band , which later named itself: KISS.
In the early days of KISS, when they played clubs like, Coventry, the Daisy, and started experimenting with makeup, Ace created his Spaceman persona. One idea he had was to spray his hair silver. He also designed the KISS logo (refined by Paul Stanley) which is still used to this very day. The double s in KISS were to be like lightening bolts. (This comes from Ace's talent in graphic arts. In fact, on the 1996-97 Reunion Tour, Ace designed the 4 solo faces morphing on the screen from his computer.) It was at the Hotel Diplomat, where KISS met Bill Aucoin who promised them a record deal within two weeks.
For the first few albums in KISS' career, Ace wrote only one or two songs, and did not have a lot of confidence in his singing. He wrote " Cold Gin" for the first album,"KISS" (1974), but had Gene sing it. Paul and Gene always pushed him to sing but he wouldn't. For "Hotter than Hell" (1974) the second album, he wrote "Parasite" and "Strange Ways" but Gene sang the former and Peter sang the latter. Both songs contained blistering guitar work by Frehley, as did the whole album. He also co-wrote "Coming Home" from that album as well with Paul a song which Paul sings. For "Dressed to Kill" (1975), Ace wrote "Getaway" which was sung by Peter as well as the acoustic part of "Rock Bottom" which Paul not only sings but wrote the hard rock part.
"Shock Me" from the 1977 KISS classic "Love Gun" features not only great lead work by Ace but his first lead vocal. (On a side note, technically, Ace first sang lead on a song called "Queen for a Day" for the Rock N Roll Over album that did not make the final cut). He recorded his singing in a rather unique way, by lying on his back, in the dark. The reason this was done was because he was nervous and did not want anyone to see him sing. "Shock Me" is a fan favorite and a concert highlight. After Ace would sing "Shock Me" on tour in the 70's, he would start his guitar solo which featured his guitar being set on fire and explode. He would then come out, and finish the solo with a second guitar.
Ace did eventually become more comfortable singing lead. He sang "Rocket Ride" on the fourth side of ALIVE II. When KISS recorded the solo albums, Ace sang lead on all his tracks. He played all guitars and bass with the exception of two tracks, which were done by Will Lee, who is the bassist for the band on David Letterman's show. Playing drums was Anton Fig, who comes into the KISS picture also. (Fig, not only plays in Letterman's band, but played on most of the tracks on "Dynasty", except for "2000 Man" and "Dirty Livin" and the entire "Unmasked " ( 1980) album).
It was also during this time that Ace's battle with the bottle was getting to dangerous levels. With the success of the ALIVE (1975) record, Ace who liked to drink started to become lackidasical, and unfortunately fell to the excesses that came with being a rock and roll musician (alcohol, drugs, sex, friends, "so-called friends). He missed a couple of recording sessions for "Destroyer" (1976), because he wanted to leave early and play cards with his friends and the producer, Bob Ezrin, who Ace did not get along with, replaced him on a couple of tracks, one being "Sweet Pain" with a sessions player named Dick Wagner. Also, Bob Kulick played on all songs on the Alive II( 1978) record due to Ace's inebriation, with the exception of Rocket Ride.
Ace's relationship with the rest of the band, particularly Gene and Paul were strained at best. The one member of the band that Ace was the closest to, was Peter. Like Ace, Peter grew up in gangs and liked to party. The two were kindred spirits. Gene and Paul on the other hand were straitlaced, in the sense that they were very businesslike and didn't partake of any drugs or alcohol. ( On a side note: by the time the group toured to support Dynasty, the whole band were not speaking to each other).
The recording of his solo album was a definite musical release for Ace who at the time felt Gene and Paul were holding him back. Not only that, he had a hit from it (the only KISS member to have one from all of the solo albums), " New York Groove", written by Russ Ballard which charted to #13 on the charts.
On "Dynasty"(1979) Ace wrote two songs and sings three. He wrote, "Hard Times", and "Save your Love" and sings the cover of "2000 Man" from The Rolling Stones' "Their Satanic Majesties Request" album. It is during "2000 Man" where Ace places his guitar solo on the Dynasty tour with new stage theatrics: after the guitar burns, it goes up in the air on a wire that Ace hooks the guitar on. Then with the second guitar, he has a rocket launcher which he uses to shoot a "rocket" into the light trussle. (He also used "2000 Man" on the 1996-97 Reunion instead of "Shock Me" in some shows. Now, he uses, "Into the Void" from "Psycho Circus" (1998) ).
The recording of "Unmasked" ( 1980) had Ace writing and singing "Talk to Me", "Torpedo Girl", and "Two Sides of the Coin". Unfortunately, Peter and KISS went their separate ways in May of 1980, and Ace lost not only his buddy in the band , but since each member had an equal say in the band's business, he lost a voting member. The new hire, Eric Carr , while an excellent musician was just a hired musician and had no say in any major decision. While Ace and Eric got along ( in fact, Eric Carr co-wrote "Breakout" which appears on Ace's solo album post KISS with his band , Frehley's Comet, titled "Frehleys Comet" ), Ace felt increasingly isolated since he was easily outvoted by Gene and Paul on major decisions. This situation helped to set the stage for Ace leaving the band.
If anything was a catalyst for Ace's leaving the band, it was the recording of " (Music from) The Elder " ( 1981). This is Ace's least favorite album. Ace disagreed with the overall direction of the album which was a concept album ala Pink Floyd's "The Wall". He also was unhappy with the choice of the producer, Bob Ezrin, who he did not get along with at all during the "Destroyer" sessions. He sings on one track , "Dark Light", and wrote it as well. He also wrote the instrumental, "Escape from the Island." Ace did not want the album released because he felt they should be doing a harder sounding album, but he was out voted by Gene and Paul. He was also angry that Ezrin cut out alot of his guitar solos. "The Elder" is KISS' least selling album in its catalog.
During the recording of "Creatures of the Night" (1982), Ace got into a car crash in July of 1982. He had already decided to quit KISS and did not participate in the recording of the album. He took part in the promotional tour for the album and his departure was announced in November 1982.
During the years following his leaving KISS, Ace went through peaks and valleys, both personally and professionally trying to establish himself as a solo artist. In 1983, he formed a new band which consisted of John Regan ( Peter Frampton) on bass, Richie Scarlet on Guitar and Vocals, Anton Fig on Drums, and Rob Sabino on Keyboards. Arthur Stead also played keyboards for a time. Also in that year, he got into another car crash with his 1983 DeLorean where he drove 110 mph against traffic on the Bronx River Expressway. He was drunk and lost his license for a couple of years (repeat offence).
Ace went on a club tour circa 1985 with his band and continued to shop demos to record labels. In 1986, he signed a record deal with John and Marsha Zazula of Megaforce Records. On May 5, 1987, Ace's band, now known as Frehley's Comet releases their first album, "Frehley's Comet". There is a lineup change, Tod Howarth , replaced Richie Scarlet, who left to pursue a solo career, on guitars for the album and for the tour. Howarth also played keyboards as well. Billy Ward replaced Anton Fig, who was contractually obligated to the David Letterman show. They also drop the keyboardist, and leave the lineup as a quartet.
The first single from the album is, "Into The Night." which is shot in San Francisco, and also features the Washburn AF-40 model guitar that was designed for Ace. (Ace never played this guitar in concert, he always used his Gibson Les Pauls). The album features the anti drinking song, "Rock Soldiers" which was inspired by his 1983 DeLorean car wreck. The song was co-written by Chip Taylor who is the brother of actor Jon Voigt and the writer of the song, "Angel of the Morning".
The next release for Frehley's Comet was 1988's Live + 1, the "1" being the recorded track "Words are Not Enough". The live portion was recorded on Sept 4, 1987 in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom and the live songs on the record were: "Rip It Out " from Ace's 1978 solo album, "Breakout" and "Something Moved", both from the Frehley's Comet album , and " ALIVE II""s "Rocket Ride". This gig featured Anton Fig on the drums.
On March 19, 1988 the band recorded a live concert in London's Hammersmith Odeon. Jamie Oldaker was the new drummer at this point. Several songs from this live performance were put on an official tape titled "Live + 4" which included songs such as "Rip it Out", " Something Moved", and KISS classics such as "Cold Gin" and "Shock Me" along with the video for " Into the Night," "Rock Soldiers", "Insane", and "It's Over Now". The video was released in early 1989.
At the end of May, 1988, Frehley's Comet released its second album, titled "Second Sighting". Some of the songs featured are , "It's Over Now", and "Insane" The band in July of that year opens for Iron Maiden. The album does poorly whereas the first album was in the top 50 on the American charts. The band unfortunately goes through another personnel change as Tod Howarth leaves the band.
In 1989, Ace releases "Trouble Walking" under the name Ace Frehley. Since the predecessor , "Second Sighting" did not do so well, it is possible the record company felt that maybe the new album will sell more copies under the name , "Ace Frehley". The album features "Do Ya" a song originally done by ELO , and the Move. Richie Scarlet is back in the band, and Anton Fig is playing drums on the album on all tracks with the exception of the title track which is done by eventual touring drummer, Sandy Slavin. Interestingly enough, old KISS comrade, Peter Criss sings backups on the album. Eddie Kramer produces the record like he did the first one, along with Ace and John Regan. "Trouble Walkin' " does not do very well on the charts. The band tours in 1990 to support it. John Regan leaves the band, and Ace loses his record deal.
Ace continued to tour clubs. He did the KISS expo circuit to for meet and greets with fans and for the q & a sessions. His tours were called, "Just for Fun" tours. He went through many lineup changes. After John Regan left , he had bass players such as Mark Normand, and James Lomenzo (White Lion) before finally getting Karl Cochran who co authored "Into the Void". He also had drummer Sandy Slavin leave in 1992, and Greg D' Angelo (White Lion) replace him , until Steve "Budgie" Werner in 1993 was the drummer until Ace returned to KISS in 1996. The one person who stood by Ace from 1989 or so was the man who was in the original Frehley's Comet who left to pursue a solo career: Richie Scarlet. Richie stuck with Ace through thick and thin for over 15 years.
In 1995, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss hooked up for a North American tour titled, "The Bad Boys Tour". The title of the tour obviously played on their reputations as the KISS member who partied a lot and trashed hotel rooms etc. On the tour, Peter's band, "Criss" would go on first, then Ace's band and then Peter would come on during the end of Ace's set and jam for a couple of encores. On both of their parts, there was apprehension, but as the tour went along, they started to feel more comfortable with each other.
In July, 1995, Ace was inducted on the Hollywood Rock Walk of fame by himself. The reason this happened was when in May, 1993 when KISS was being inducted in the honor of KISS' 20 year anniversary, Ace was not wanted there. In fact, Gene and Paul were said to be willing to boycott the ceremony if Ace showed up. At that time, circa 1992 or so, Ace was in a war of words with Gene and Paul which was unprovoked by him ( Ace). However, the tempers appeared to have cooled because at the same time Ace and Peter were doing the Bad Boys Tour, KISS were conducting their own "Official KISS Conventions" where they would have a q & a and an acoustic set of songs of anything the fans wanted to hear. At the Los Angeles KISS Convention in June 1995, Peter attended and sang "Hard Luck Woman". Peter and Ace both were invited for the New York KISS Convention but could not because the convention conflicted with the club tour. However, another opportunity rose when MTV asked KISS to perform for their "Unplugged" Series. Ace and Peter were asked to come and they did, they met in August of 1995 at the SIR studios and rehearsed and in Ace's word's " the magic was there again". There was some doubt since the original members had not played in 15 years, but once they got it together, it worked. At the Unplugged, they performed "2000 Man", and "Beth" with just the four originals and Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer sitting out. Bruce and Eric came back for "Nothin' to Lose" and "Rock n Roll All Night" (confetti and all).
The "Unplugged" Special was a catalyst for the full fledged reunion tour, along with the apparent goodwill amongst the original members. During 1996, they practised putting on the makeup and went through weight training. Ace had to relearn all his solos and leads. The band made a surprise appearance on the 1996 Grammy Awards and did a pre-tour show at the KROQ Weenie Roast.
Before a sold out show in Detroit's Tiger Stadium on June 28, 1996, Ace Frehley, after going through all the ups and downs of his personal and professional life, took the stage with KISS and reclaimed his position as a true guitar great. From that first day on the tour to end, night after night, he showed the world how a true rock guitarist does it. I would like to add a personal note if I may, I had the pleasure of seeing the last night of the four night run at New York City's Madison Square Garden. It was on July 28, 1996, and just watching Ace perform was an experience I will never forget. I will always remember his singing "Shock Me" and "New York Groove" and his stage moves. One thing he did do that will make what was my first KISS show ever, unforgettable, was that he pointed up at me, not once, but TWICE!!! That I will never forget. He was also playing sober on the tour, which was a great thing to see.
After the 1996-97 tour concluded, KISS recorded "Psycho Circus" which was released September 22, 1998, and produced by the late Bruce Fairbairn. The song, "Into the Void", by Ace Frehley and Karl Cochran is the only song written by Ace to make it on to the U.S. release of the album. "In Your Face" is on the Japanese release and has Ace singing but Gene wrote it.
It is believed that Ace plays on two tracks on the US release of "Psycho Circus", "Into the Void", and "You Wanted the Best, You Got The Best". Ace also sings part of "You Wanted...." Ace also plays on "In Your Face". The tour in support of the cd started Oct 31, 1998 with a 3-D show during certain songs. Ace, along with his bandmates, appear on "MadTv," an episode of "Millennium", right before the tour. They also shoot their scenes for the upcoming feature film , "Detroit Rock City." and do a photo shoot for a Playboy issue during breaks in the tour schedule.
In conclusion, Ace will be remembered not only for his body of work with KISS but for
his originality as a guitarist and a major influence on guitarists over the world. He will
also be remembered for his comeback from the abyss of personal problems and professional
disappointment to reunite with one of rock's greatest bands.. He has made an impact on the
lives of many people and will always continue to do so.
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