ACE FREHLEY (KISS): “I’m A High School Drop Out But Here I Am, A Millionaire”

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

As lead guitarist in the KISS, Ace Frehley inspired a generation of kids to pick up a guitar and form a band. Mick Burgess called up Ace to talk about his new covers album, Origins Vol. 2 and those artists and musicians that first inspired him to form a band back in the ’60s.

How are you coping with Covid 19 and the lockdown?

I live in the country so there’s not a lot of cases around here. I’m in an isolated area so it hasn’t really affected me that much. Friends of mine who live in Manhattan, it’s a lot harder for them. There’s too many people in a small area.

Your latest album Origins Vol. 2 is the follow up to Vol. 1 that you released in 2016. Why did you decide to do a second one?

It was the record company’s idea to do Origins Vol. 1 so with the success of that I was really looking forward to Volume 2 because there’s so many songs and so many bands from the ’60s that influenced me as a musician so it wasn’t too hard to pick songs that were catchy that my band enjoyed playing.

Have you recorded the songs on Vol. 2 recently or are some of the recordings from the Vol. 1 sessions?

We actually recorded “Space Truckin'” and “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” a couple of years ago for Origins Vol. 1 but they didn’t make. I just rearranged them and redid the guitar solos and spruced up the vocals a little and they ended up sounding better so we decided to put them on this one and now the record company is talking about an Origins Vol. 3, it’s like a never-ending saga. These albums are a lot of fun for me as I grew up listening to the songs and performed them in my covers band and the fans seem to love them as well and I’m introducing the songs that influenced me to young fans encouraging them to go back and discover music from the ’60s which is great.

You’ve done some great covers over the years including “New York Groove.” What is the criteria for you when you are looking at a song to cover? Does it have a personal meaning, a killer riff or a solo that you like?

The main thing is that it has to be fun for me to play. If I don’t enjoy playing it then I won’t even go there. The second criteria is, can I sing it? I really don’t consider myself as a lead vocalist. I have a limited range so I have to be careful about the songs that I pick but I did really surprise myself on “Good Times Bad Times” and “I’m Down” because to sing like Paul McCartney and Robert Plant was a stretch for me.

The opening song is “Good Times Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin. You could probably do a whole covers albums of their songs. Why this song?

Believe it or not, I saw Led Zeppelin’s first New York appearance where they opened up for Iron Butterfly. I was about 16 or 17 and they completely blew me away and I went out and bought their album the next day. Jimmy Page was such a huge influence on me. He was a master guitar player, songwriter and producer. “Good Times Bad Times” was the first song on Led Zeppelin I so I thought it’d be apropos to open Origins Vol. 2 with that.

If ever there was a perfect song for you it’s “Space Truckin’” by Deep Purple. Is that one you’ve wanted to cover for a while?

I think it’s a fun song. I changed some of the lyrics a little so I say “Space Ace Truckin’” to make it more personal to me and I redid the solo as I thought the first time I recorded it, it wasn’t good enough and I beefed up the vocals a little too. My good friend Rob Sabino plays keyboards on that. We grew up together in The Bronx and he went off to play with Chic and he ended up playing keyboards on a lot of Madonna’s early songs. He’s also played with a lot of other major artists like David Bowie and Mick Jagger, so he’s an accomplished musician.

The video for the song is great. Who came up with the animation idea?

The record company came up with that. It’s kind of fun and campy and the resolution isn’t that great but it gets the point across in a silly almost like a Hanna Barbera cartoon from the ’70s. It has a bit of that Hanna Barbera movie that we did when I was in KISS, The Phantom Of The Park, in there too. I’ve read that Paul and Gene don’t like that movie but I think it’s hysterical. You can’t take it seriously. It’s fun and that’s what Rock ‘n’ Roll is all about as far as I’m concerned.

The attention to detail is great. Is that the photographer from the Unmasked album cover and Space Bear too from your past making an appearance?

The guy who did the video took certain elements from my past and put them in the video. I think it worked really well.

Curly is your bus driver and that’s a name you’ve used over the years. Where did that originate from and who IS Curly?

It used to be my nickname in my younger days. Then I started to call other people Curly. It was just one of those words that you throw around over the years. It actually stems from The Three Stooges and I’m a big fan of theirs. It was just one of those silly things that caught on.

The Rolling Stones and Keith Richard’s style just seems so compatible with your style. You covered “2000 Man” on Dynasty and “Street Fighting Man” on Origins Vol. 1. Is Keith one of your main influences?

The Stones were a huge influence on me, just like The Beatles were but I always gravitated towards The Stones more because they were more rebellious and I was always the black sheep of my family. My brother and sister were older and were more disciplined and didn’t party like I did. My sister was valedictorian and got a master’s degree in chemistry and my brother went to NYU and I’m a high school drop out but here I am a millionaire and I never even took a guitar lesson in my life.

You’ve covered the Paul Revere & The Raiders song, Kicks. What was it about these that had such an impact on you growing up?

Kicks was one of the first songs that I performed live. When I was 14 I had a band with my brother and we performed that song with several others. I’ve always loved that song and now that I’ve been sober for 14 years the message is very good. You don’t need drugs and alcohol to have fun.

Although you probably don’t realise it there’s two references to the North of England on your record. In “30 Days In The Hole” it mentions Newcastle Brown. Have you ever sampled this Ale?

I used to love drinking that. I used to drink that with Pete Way from UFO and he’s just passed away unfortunately. We were good friends and every time I was in England, he’d show up at my hotel suite with a couple of six packs of Newcastle Brown Ale but after that I don’t remember. I have no idea where we ended up. I always had a good time with Pete and Newcastle Brown Ale.

Secondly, you’ve covered “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” by The Animals and they were a Newcastle based band. What did they mean to you when you were younger?

The Animals were a great band. I loved them. Somebody once said to me that “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” is a reference to Vietnam. I never even thought about that, I just loved the song. It had a great riff and I liked the arrangement. I never thought politics and Rock ‘n’ Roll mixed and I try to keep them separate but I just loved that song so much.

You’ve never ever played in Newcastle with in KISS or as a solo artist. Is this something you will be putting right when Covid has finally gone?

I’d love to. I miss performing in England so much. I just wish this damned pandemic was over.

You have a few interesting guests on your album too. Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander sings on “30 Days In The Hole.” You must have known Robin for years. Is this the first time you’ve recorded together?

Cheap Trick opened up for KISS for a long time in the ’70s when we were touring the United States and I became very good friends with the whole band and we’d hang out together after the show and get loaded. We’d either end up in my room or one of their rooms. Me and Peter Criss partied with those guys. They were always a lot of fun. When I choose songs to record, I have to make sure I can sing it but I’m a huge Humble Pie fans but I can’t sing like Steve Marriott. I knew Robin could pull it off. I bumped into Robin a few years back and he expressed an interest in playing on one of my records and as soon as I decided to do a Humble Pie song, I knew Robin could kill it.

Lita Ford adds vocals to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Out of all of the songs on the album, this is the one where you’d have put money on you doing the lead vocal. Is this why you got Lita in, to give it a different twist?

Lita is like my sister. I’ve known her since The Runaways opened for us for a couple of shows in the early days with KISS. Me and Lita have been friends forever. Lita came over my house for a weekend last year when I was living in California and I coached her on that vocal. She was amazing, some of those notes she hit were unreal.

John 5 from Marilyn Manson’s band plays guitar on a couple of songs. What do you feel he brought to the album?

Me and John are really good friends. I met John when I was rehearsing for the KISS Reunion tour and we’ve been friends ever since and he’s worked with me on several projects since then and I got up on stage with him at the Whiskey A Go Go and played a few songs last year. He was nice enough to come to my home studio and perform on “I’m Down.” He also did a great solo on “Politician” by Cream with me. If you listen to it on headphones you can hear us both playing a solo simultaneously but they are crossfaded and you can only really hear that on headphones.

Bruce Kulick too plays guitar on a couple of songs. Bruce, of course, is a fellow ex-KISS member. Do you recall your first meeting?

Bruce is a good friend. I met him years ago. I played a guitar solo on an album he did with my old guitar player Karl Cochran in a band called ESP and Eric Singer was the drummer. When I did the KISS Kruise a couple of years ago Bruce was on that as well. When he found out I was doing Origins Vol. 2 he wanted to be a part of it so I let him pick the song and he thought “Manic Depression” would be a good one. I think he made a great choice.

Bruce’s brother Bob, who recently passed away, played on a few KISS songs while you were still in the band. Did you know Bob very well?

I didn’t know Bob that well but I was friends with him and jammed with him a couple of times. Believe it or not but when I auditioned for KISS, Bob was also auditioning for KISS and he was actually playing when I walked into the room. I was intimidated by how great of a guitar player he was. Paul and Gene decided that I fit the band better because I had the right image. Of course, I could play and I pulled everything out of my hat. When they played Deuce, I just ripped every riff that I knew and did a 5-minute guitar solo. Paul told me that they knew immediately that I was the one but they didn’t let me know for two weeks. They kept me hanging on.

You’ve also covered one of KISS’s songs, “She.” When the song was originally written it was a Wicked Lester song with flutes and strings. Did you hear that version before you recorded it with KISS?

I wasn’t even aware that there was a different version of that when we recorded it originally with KISS on Dressed To Kill. When I was touring with my band years later the record company wanted a bonus track and I thought it’d be a great song to do. I thought it’d be a great chance to showcase my touring band’s vocals.

Producer Eddie Kramer has spoken highly of you in interviews. What was it about Eddie that you liked so much?

We had the same interests and we had the same taste in music. He engineered The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. I really looked up to Eddie and when it came to do my solo album and he agreed to do it, I was overjoyed. Me and Eddie pretty much did that whole record. We rented an estate in Lyme Rock in Connecticut then set up amps everywhere. We got Anton Fig to play drums and I did all of the guitars and lead vocals and it turned out great. It was Eddie’s assistant who came up with the idea to do “New York Groove,” which was my biggest hit. I actually didn’t want to do it as I didn’t think it was indicative of my style and lo and behold it became my biggest hit. At the Yankee Stadium every time they hit a home run they play “New York Groove.” It’s crazy.

Have you had any thoughts about your next studio album of original material?

I’ve written three new songs for the next studio record and I’m in the process of building a new recording studio in my new home. It’s going to be fun and I’m working with Alex Salzman again, he co-produced Origins Vol. 2 with me. I’m really looking forward to it.

Ace Frehley’s new album, Origins Vol.2 is out on 18th September on eOne/SPV

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  • 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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