ACE FREHLEY (Live at The Corporation, Sheffield, U.K., April 10, 2008)
Photo: Mick Burgess

As lead guitarist in the hottest band in the world, KISS, Ace Frehley helped to create the soundtrack to a generation and influenced a legion of guitarists along the way. Mick Burgess called Ace for a chat about his influences and the reasons behind his new covers album as well as looking at his career in KISS and plans for the future.

A couple of months ago you were taken ill. Are you OK now?

I had done three shows in a row on the East Coast and I had to fly to California to shoot the video with Paul on a day off. I then had to fly back to Atlanta, Georgia and do a sold out show 3000 miles away. That was one of the reasons why by the end of the leg of my tour I ended up with exhaustion. I’m much better now, I just needed some rest. A lot of people aren’t aware that prior to the beginning of my tour in Florida I had done 10 days of press in New York so I started the tour tired and doing the video on top of that and doing a lot of shows in a row just wore me out but I’m feeling much better now, thanks.

Your latest album Origins Vol.1 has just come out and has landed on the US charts. Are you pleased with the reaction so far?

I’m very pleased. It’s been overwhelmingly positive. I’m surprised it’s doing as well as it is doing as it’s just a covers record and there’s no original material.

You’ve covered a song or two in the past from New York Groove, 2000 Man and ELO’s Do Ya, what made you decide to record a whole album of covers this time?

It was actually an early idea of the record company. It was part of my record contract. They wanted an album of covers and an album of original material. Space Invader was the first step of the contract and this was the second. I wasn’t that excited about the idea initially but as the process continued to evolve it became a lot more fun than I thought it would be especially when I started to get guest artists involved.

There’s so many great songs to pick from a whole range of incredible artists. What criteria did you use to draw up your short list of songs?

I made a big list and started narrowing down my choices. My only regret on this record is that I didn’t do a Who song. Ironically when I was on the phone to Paul Stanley about what to record he came up with the idea to do My Generation. I love that song, it is such a great song but I just thought it was too popular and it’s been covered so many times. When you think of a band like Free you think of Alright Now, their big hit. That’s why I chose Fire and Water, it’s a song I’ve always loved and I don’t believe anyone else has covered it so with The Who I wanted to choose a song that wasn’t their big hit so maybe we’ll do one of theirs on Vol. 2

You kick off with Cream’s White Room. Cream were the forefathers of Hard Rock and one of the pioneers of the music we love so much. What did they mean to you as a kid growing up in the Bronx?

I saw Cream’s first New York appearance. I cut school one day and went down to a show DJ Murray The K. was putting on at a movie theatre in midtown Manhattan to see Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels and lo and behold Cream and The Who were opening the show. That was a very special day and it kind of changed my life. It was a pivotal point in my life especially with The Who, they were so theatrical and that influenced me so much. I went on to be in one of the greatest theatrical groups ever.

There’s a great cover of The Stones Street Fighting Man. You could almost do a whole album of Stones covers. Why did you pick that one?

I’ve always loved that song. Actually when I was recording Anomaly in 2008 we recorded that song but it just didn’t sound right to me at that point so it took me 8 or 9 years to re-track it and I think this time around I nailed the rhythm guitar part and got a nice groove going.

You’ve included Spanish Castle Magic by Hendrix. As a guitarist, what impact did seeing and hearing Hendrix for the first time have on you?

Hendrix was a huge influence on me, I actually roadied for Hendrix in 1970. I set up Mitch Mitchell’s drums and was on the stage crew for a Peace concert at Randall’s Island in New York. That was pretty amazing to do. It wasn’t actually my idea to do Spanish Castle Magic, my drummer Scott Coogan suggested the idea. I didn’t know how to play it. I knew I was going to get John 5 into the studio to play on Parasite so I told John to learn Spanish Castle Magic. We laid down the drum track first and John put on the rhythm track and I doubled it and threw on the solos then I added the vocal. It just came together all in one day.

How did John 5 first get involved?

I met John 5 when I was rehearsing for the Reunion Tour in 1995-96. We hit it off right away and over the years we came friends and have jammed together a few times. I thought this album was the perfect opportunity to get John in the studio and it turned out great. I love the solo he did on Parasite.

It’s always great to hear Thin Lizzy. They weren’t as big in America as they were here. Emerald is the archetypal Lizzy Celtic epic. How did it feel recreating those wonderful trademark harmonies with Slash?

It was a lot of fun. Slash is an old friend and once I had decided to do Emerald I thought Slash would be the perfect guy to trade off with on that song. We solo’d together in the studio. Actually what I’d originally done was already recorded some solos and I left holes for Slash to fill in. We tried doing it that way but Slash wasn’t really motivated so he looked at me and said “Ace, let’s just do this live” We scrapped all the old guitar work and just did a bunch of passes and what you hear on the record is the end result.

What do you think about him being back in Guns n’ Roses?

I haven’t spoken to Slash since he did those first concerts with Axl. So I don’t know what he thinks but I think it’s great for the fans. I’m sure he’s having fun. It’s always nice to get back with people that you started out with. Hopefully they’ll do a lot more shows. Then I’ve heard that Axl is singing with AC/DC. Will it work? Only time will tell.

You’ve always had the knack of choosing songs that fit your personality. New York Groove and 2000 Man spring to mind. They could have been written for you. You’ve done it again with Wild Thing.

I’m good friends with the guy that wrote the song, Chip Taylor. He actually co-wrote Rock Soldiers with me. I’d met Chip through a mutual friend. It’s ironic how we wrote that song together all those years ago and now I’ve recorded Wild Thing which is Chip’s biggest hit. Chip’s heard it and he loves it.

I love the way you haven’t gone for the obvious Led Zeppelin song. What’s the connection you have with Bring It On Home?

I’ve always loved that riff, especially when the harmony comes in. It’s a song that has always got me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sing the verses like Robert Plant so I got my drummer, Scott Coogan, to take care of that. I decided to tackle the front which was much easier to sing. As I can’t play harmonica and don’t know anybody locally who can play good harmonica I ended up replacing the harmonica parts with lead guitar and that seemed to work.

That has a lovely Bluesy opening before the big riff kicks in. Would you like to explore more of your Bluesy side in the future?

I’m a Blues based guitarist so the Blues comes naturally to me. I might do more of that at some point.

Did you think about asking Jimmy Page to show up on your album?

I’ve never met Jimmy so it’s unfortunate that we’ve always missed each other over the years. Once I was at a club and he was sitting at the bar. I know how I am, I don’t like to be bothered by anybody when I’m sitting at a bar alone so I didn’t go up to him and say Hi. I think maybe I should have gone up to him and introduced myself. I know that Paul Stanley knows Jimmy but I don’t. Maybe we can meet sometime in the future.

Probably the one everyone’s talking about is Fire and Water. Did you just call Paul Stanley and ask him if he wanted to do it or did he ask you?

Originally I tried to get hold of Gene and he never got back to me. Then I decided to give Paul a call. I’m really happy that I did as he was very receptive to the idea from day one. The only problem we had was figuring out what song to do. He was originally thinking about doing Little Wing but Eric Clapton’s version of it. We also talked about My Generation like I said earlier and then I came up with the idea of Fire and Water. He thought that it was a great idea as Paul is a huge Paul Rodgers fan. I really think he did a great vocal on that. I’m really happy it turned out so well.

Hearing you playing together shows just how well you work together. There’s a real natural chemistry between you. Do you feel that when you strap on those guitars and play?

It has been about 14 years since we last played on stage together but it didn’t feel like so much time had passed. It was very natural and felt great. I didn’t think Paul was going to do the video at first but when he agreed to do it I was very excited.

Do you hope that maybe this could lead to you working together in the future on a project, not necessarily KISS?

I’d love to work with Paul again. The chemistry is undeniable. When we shot the video it just felt like all the years that we worked on separate projects just disappeared. It felt very natural and I just felt that chemistry was still there that we’d had since day one.

What about Peter Criss? Did you put out the feelers there about him playing on your record?

I haven’t been in touch with Peter recently. He’s 3000 miles away from San Diego now and that’s where I did most of the recording but I’m going to try to get Peter on Volume 2.

You’ve covered 3 KISS songs on Origins Vol.1. Cold Gin was one of the first songs you wrote for the band. What do you recall about writing that one?

Not much!! Ha Ha!!! It started off with the riff and it evolved around that. It was Gene that came up with the breakdown section but he was never credited for that. I offered him a credit but he said don’t worry about it.

Did you sing on the rough demo that you first presented to the band?

I came up with the melody and the lyrics and Gene reworked it once we decided that Gene should sing it. At that point I didn’t consider myself a lead vocalist and I probably still don’t. I’ve been faking it all these years. I enjoy singing lead but I think right now in my solo band, I’m singing too many songs.

Is your version of Cold Gin, now how you originally envisaged it?

Yeah, but I don’t really stray that much from the original version. There’s just an extended solo that Mike McCready performs. I think it’s really cool.

Mike McCready has been on record since day one as a huge KISS fan. When you first heard Alive from Pearl Jam’s Ten album did you hear your influence on his solo? It was a dead ringer for She from the Alive version?

Well, I actually stole that solo from Robbie Krieger of The Doors from their song Five To One.

You also chose Parasite from Hotter Than Hell. That is one of the great KISS riffs. What inspired you to write that riff?

Most of the stuff from the ’70’s is kinda blurry but I think it came out pretty good.

Talking of great riffs on Hotter Than Hell, you’ve played Strangeways at your solo shows and not only has that a great riff but also one of you best solos. Why did you choose Parasite over Strangeways?

Strangeways was a very special solo. I remember recording that like it was yesterday. That was one of the few solos I recorded standing in front of a Marshall stack. I turned it up to 10 and I had these headphones that cancelled out most of the sound but it was just so damned loud that it overwhelmed me. I did that with Eddie Kramer in the control room in one take. It just turned into one of those crazy solos. I don’t think I’d want to re-record that. I think it should stay there for posterity. I don’t think it should be touched.

The big surprise of the 3 KISS songs you’ve chosen is Rock and Roll Hell from Creatures of the Night. That was quite a turbulent time for you. Why did you go for something from that album?

The Vice President of Marketing at the record label in The States flew into LA to spend some time with me to help me choose the final songs for the record and he came up with the idea for Rock and Roll Hell. I didn’t perform on that record.

Did you not have any involvement at all in the writing or recording of Creatures?

Not really, although someone that was around when the record was made said that I did but I don’t remember. I was in the exit mode at that point.

You were dissatisfied with the direction of the band with Dynasty and Unmasked but The Elder was really the last straw. Did hearing the initial songs that ended up on Creatures not tempt you to stay and see how the new harder edged sound developed?

Creatures had some really good songs on it. I always think to myself that if Paul and Gene had wanted to record Creatures of the Night instead of The Elder then maybe I wouldn’t have left the band.

Talking of The Elder, that has become something of a guilty pleasure for a lot of fans. Has your view of it mellowed over the years?

I was just so against The Elder because I thought it was the wrong album at the wrong time. It turned out to be our least successful record. I actually think it was a good record but just not for KISS at that time.

You did contribute Dark Light which is a great track. Did you have more lined up that didn’t make the album?

I have a bunch of solos that were edited out from tracks written and recorded for The Elder. One day I might release them down the road.

You produced Origins Vol.1 yourself. What things have you learned from working with the likes of Eddie Kramer and Bob Ezrin that you have brought into your own production work?

I learned some tricks from Bob Ezrin but I learned a whole lot more from Eddie Kramer. As well as working on all of those KISS records Eddie Kramer worked with me on my first solo album that I did in 1978. Eddie took a special interest in me. I always asked questions like “why are you doing this” and he took time to explain miking techniques and how to use compressors and limiters. He helped me put my studio together that I built in Connecticut where we recorded a lot of The Elder.

Was that the Ace in The Hole studio and do you still have it?

Yeah that’s right. I sold that years ago. It was too much too soon. I was out of control.

This is Origins Vol.1. Do you have Vol.2 planned?

I guess with the success of Volume 1 that I’ll do a Volume 2 at some point but my next record will be a studio album of original material to follow up Space Invader. I’ve already written a few songs. I don’t use any formula. If I get motivated I’ll throw something down. I have 3 or 4 songs that I’ve been fooling around with that are new that no one’s heard. Over the summer there’ll be several more songs that I’m going to write. I’ll see what happens but I’ll probably collaborate with my fiancé who co-wrote two songs with me on Space Invader. We co-wrote Change and Immortal Pleasures together.

I could imagine you doing great covers of Chinese Rocks or Born To Lose by Johnny Thunders, Mississippi Queen by Mountain or I Wanna be Your Dog by The Stooges. Would any of those be on your list for Vol. 2?

Yeah possibly. They are great songs. Maybe I’ll do a poll and get fans to write in and get feedback from my fans. My fans buy my records and I want to make them happy so maybe I’ll ask them. I’m already receiving ideas from fans so we’ll see what happens. I was actually interviewed a couple of months back by an English chap who suggested I do a whole album of Stones covers but variety is the spice of life in my book.

It’s been a while since you played a couple of shows back in 2008. Do you hope to come back to the UK to play some shows soon?

We’re trying to put some dates together at the end of the year and hopefully they’ll materialise. I’m just trying to make the numbers work. My agent has also mentioned a festival called Giants of Rock in the UK in January that might be on the cards. Will it be cold in the UK then? We’ll just have to wait and see but I am certainly hoping to play for my UK fans very soon.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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