F.M. Kirby Center on a guitar-fueled rocket ride
By ALAN K. STOUT
Special to The Weekender
Ace Frehley is in fine spirits. During a recent phone interview, the former KISS guitarist cracked his trademark laugh several times as he chatted freely about his most recent solo effort, “Spaceman,” his next album, “Origins, Vol. 2,” his two highly memorable stints with KISS, and his upcoming show at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre. He also spoke about his complicated current relationship with the members of KISS, his influence on younger guitarists, and of his last appearance at The Kirby Center, in April of 2016, during which he became ill and ended up spending a few days in a Wilkes-Barre hospital.
“Spaceman,” released last fall, is Frehley’s ninth solo studio album and twelfth solo release if you include live albums and compilations. It came exactly 40 years after his first solo effort, which is why he says he originally considered naming the album “40 Years Later.” But when his former bandmate Gene Simmons, who co-wrote two tracks on the album, suggested the “Spaceman” title, Frehley says he decided to go with it. The title, of course, comes from the onstage persona that Frehley had created with KISS in 1973.
“The mindset I was in during the making of ‘Spaceman’ … I was really thinking about my first ’78 solo record,” says Frehley. “It was the 40th anniversary, and I actually did nine songs on purpose, as kind of a good luck thing. (His 1978 solo album contained nine tracks, including the hit single “New York Groove.”) I approached ‘Spaceman’ kind of like I approached my ’78 solo album. On the track ‘Mission To Mars’ I was using old delay effects and it brought back memories of when I used to use an Echoplex in the studio with KISS, and live.”
One track on the album, “Bronx Boy” is reflective of Frehley’s youth and growing up in New York City, which he had also touched upon with the 1979 KISS gem, “Hard Times.” Another track, “Rocking With The Boys” was first penned in the ‘70s and, thematically, is similar to the KISS classic “Beth” in that it tells the tale of a musician that’s too busy working with the band to spend time with his lady.
“I wrote the chorus to that song before ‘Beth’ ever happened,” says Frehley. “I have like three different versions of that song. The problem with it, up until ‘Spaceman,’ was I was never really happy with the bridge and the verses. You get a good hook, but sometimes the rest of the song just doesn’t hold up. You can have a great hook, but if you don’t have good verses and a bridge, it’s not going to cut it. Finally, when I was writing songs for ‘Spaceman,” I decided to take a hard look at that song and it worked out great. I’m really happy with the end results.”
With the track “Pursuit of Rock and Roll,” Frehley sings of his love for the all-time greats, referencing Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. And, in other interviews over the years, he has cited Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton as influences. Since the late ‘70s, however, it’s been Frehley that’s been a major influence on others. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he is often named by musicians as the reason they first wanted to play guitar. He has also forged friendships with some of those disciples, such as Slash. Frehley says he enjoys the musical camaraderie.
“I’m very good friends with John 5 and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam,” says Frehley. “I was also really good friends with Dimebag. I ended up spending a weekend at his house. I was in Las Vegas when Vinnie Paul passed away. I flew down to Dallas for the funeral and gave a little speech. That came as a real big shock.”
Frehley says he appreciates the accolades he gets from other musicians, though he admits he’s still often surprised by it.
“It feels great,” he says. “I’m dumfounded by it. I’m not classically trained, and it just amazes me that I’ve influenced so many musicians. Not only superstar musicians, but just regular guys off the street. Every time I do a meet-and-greet and I meet fans, or any guitar player, they always say they picked up the guitar because of the ‘Alive!’ album.”
|Ace Frehley is a member of the|
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Frehley was the original lead guitarist in KISS and was a member of the band from 1973 to 1982. He then rejoined the group from 1996-2002. Like most bands, KISS has had its share of inner turmoil and Frehley has had his ups and downs with his former bandmates. Regardless, he looks back at both of his successful stints with “The Hottest Band In The World” with fondness.
“The ‘70s were the highlight of my life,” says Frehley. “Being voted in a Gallup Poll as the No. 1 rock group in the world. Going over to Australia and getting the key to the city from the Lord Mayor in Sidney and playing stadiums. My childhood dream had come true. And it all fell apart, partially because of drugs and alcohol. Peter (Criss) left. And then I decided to leave. But when we put together the reunion tour, it was so bizarre. I remember the first night, at Tiger Stadium, I really got a sense of deja vu. Here I am, years later, in the same make-up playing the same songs, and I’m scratching my head going, ‘Did I ever leave the band?’ What happened?’ ”
What did happen? After splitting from KISS in 1982, Frehley, at last initially, had a busy solo career. Throughout the latter half of the ‘80s, he released several solo albums under his own name or with his band, Frehley’s Comet. But, from 1989’s “Trouble Walking” until 2009’s “Anomaly” there was no new music other than his appearance with KISS on 1998’s “Psycho Circus.” Since 2009, however, he has released four new studio albums and a fifth, “Origins, Vol. 2,” will be released later this year. Frehley says sobriety has been the key to productivity.
“I was beside myself, when I got sober 13 year ago, and somebody came up to me and said, ‘Ace, do you know you haven’t done an album in 20 years?’ ” he says. “That’s what alcohol can do to you. I was completely oblivious to the fact that I hadn’t done a record in 20 years. I said to myself, at that juncture in my life, ‘It’s time to make up for lost time.’ And I think I have.”
Indeed. “Origins Vol. 1,” released in April of 2016, featured Frehley revisiting some KISS classics and putting his spin on songs from artists such as Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. One track, a cover of Free’s “Fire and Water,” featured guest vocals from former bandmate Paul Stanley. For “Origins, Vol. 2,” Frehley says he’s taken a similar approach and that it will again feature a Zeppelin tune, “Good Times Bad Times.” Other than a final mix, the album is ready to go.
“I’m really excited about ‘Origins, Vol. 2’ ” he says. “It’s surpassed my expectations. I got Lita Ford singing ‘Jumping Jack Flash,’ and she’s amazing. She came to my home and I coached her for two days with vocals and she just (expletive) killed it. I also have Robin Zander singing ‘30 Days In The Hole’ by Humble Pie. I really wanted to do the Humble Pie song, but I just couldn’t cut it, vocally, because Marriott’s just too good of a god-damn singer. I just couldn’t do justice to his vocals. But I remembered that I had bumped into Robin Zander years ago at a meet-and-greet and he had mentioned to me that he’d like to sing on one of my upcoming records, so I remembered that and gave him a call. And he killed it as well. He sounds like a young Marriott.”
Frehley’s current relationship with KISS is, as it has often been, complicated. Less than a year ago, it appeared things were better than they’d been in quite some time. In 2016, Stanley had appeared on “Origins, Vol. 1” and, in 2018, Simmons had co-penned two songs and helped name the “Spaceman” album. Frehley also made several appearances with Simmons as the KISS bassist/vocalist promoted his “Vault” box set and Simmons and Frehley actually did a short tour of Australia together with Frehley using Simmons’ band for his sets. Photos of the two, having a good time together, spread throughout social media. Frehley also appeared on last year’s annual KISS Kruise and even joined his former band on stage, sans make-up, for a few songs.
|Ace Frehley plays the F.M. Kirby Center on Saturday|
In January, however, KISS began its “End of The Road” final tour, and though the band let it be known they were open to the idea of having some guest appearances from former members, Frehley let it be known he’d prefer to be included on the entire tour. That didn’t happen. Shortly before the start of the tour, Simmons, in an interview with Guitar World magazine, rehashed some of Frehley’s past problems with alcohol, which irked Frehley and his wife, Rachel. A retaliatory post on Frehley’s Facebook page, blasting Simmons and accusing him of inappropriate behavior towards Rachel, went viral. And just like that, all of the good will that had been forged between 2016-2018 appeared to be gone.
Frehley is asked if, since the January blowup, he’s had the chance to try and mend things with Simmons.
“I have had no contact with Gene, and Gene hasn’t commented on Rachel’s accusations,” says Frehley. “He hasn’t said ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ or denied it, or apologized. It’s just very unsettling and an unfortunate situation that that had to go down. I don’t know the specifics, exactly, because I did not witness anything. In reality, talking hypothetically, if Rachel decided to sue Gene … in the court of law, I would have to have to say, if they put me on the stand, that I did not witness anything. It’s a tough situation. And that’s all I really have to say about it.”
Frehley says that he has had some contact with Stanley, who had recently written, in his new book, “Backstage Pass,” that he’s glad to have redeveloped a friendship with Frehley.
“I spoke with Paul last week,” says Frehley. “I just touched base. He didn’t really want to talk about the feud between me and Gene. I heard he’d said some nice things (in the book), and I actually sent him a text thanking him for the kind words …. That’s what prompted me to get a hold of him and thank him, and wish him luck on the European tour that they’re on right now. I always try to keep the door open.”
KISS’ “End of The Road Tour” has been a success, selling out arenas in the United States and stadiums in Europe. Stanley recently stated that the band does have a date and venue for the final show, but it has not yet been revealed. It is assumed it will be in New York. Frehley says that, despite the unresolved issue with Simmons, he’s still open to doing some shows with the band, though he admits it would be awkward to stand on stage with current KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer, who has capably held the gig for the past 15 years, dressed as the Spaceman.
“I’m not about to just show up at a KISS concert,” he says. “If the situation presented itself, and it was offered to me in the right way, sure. Even if I didn’t want to do it, I’d do it for my fans, because I know my fans want it …. But unless I was invited, and we could figure something out, where Tommy goes backstage and I takeover for a few songs - I don’t know. It’s a difficult question. And it’s an awkward question.”
What is not awkward for Frehley is playing solo shows, which he’s been doing since 1985. Even during the years when he didn’t record, he always toured. His shows are peppered with his KISS classics such as “Shock Me” and “Rocket Ride,” as well as KISS songs that he didn’t originally sing, such as “Detroit Rock City” and “Cold Gin.” There are also tunes from Frehley’s Comet and more recent numbers and, of course, some smoking guitars. (Literally.) He says his band, which was once Simmons’ backing group for his solo shows, is phenomenal.
“They all sing lead, so we can do three and four part harmonies,” says Frehley. “It’s a much more cohesive unit. I enjoy working with these guys. They’re all out of Nashville and they’re really professional.”
Frehley’s return to the F.M. Kirby Center on Saturday will be the fourth time he’s played the venue. He performed there twice with KISS in 1974, when it was known as The Paramount Theater, and he was there, solo, in 2016. That day was memorable, as it was also the day that “Origins, Vol. 1” was released nationwide. That afternoon, Frehley did a record store appearance at the Wyoming Valley Mall, where he signed hundreds of autographs. Later that night, on stage at The Kirby, just before the encores, he began to feel ill onstage. He was taken to Wilkes-Barre’s General Hospital where he would stay for several days.
Frehley remembers it well.
“I started to get palpations towards the end of the how, and I kind of had to sit on my amp a few times,” he says. “I just didn’t feel right. I started to get dizzy, and I had to cut the show short. I really didn’t know what was going on. I went to the emergency room and found out I was severely dehydrated and suffering from exhaustion. It was a little too much for me. It may not have happened if I didn’t do the in-store. I forgot to drink fluids that day and usually, when I do a concert, I just lay in bed and order room service and watch movies and save my energy for the concert. It took maybe a little more out of me than I thought it had, and it affected the show. They decided to keep me overnight for observation, because they thought something might be wrong with my heart – because of the palpations and fluttering – and they gave me an angiogram, and it came back 100% negative. In fact the doctor, who was about 45, said ‘Jesus Christ, Ace, I wish my angiogram was a good as yours. You have absolutely no blockage.' So I don’t have to worry about getting a triple by-pass anytime soon.
“Everything was fine. They took good care of me.”
Expect some encores on Saturday.
Expect some encores on Saturday.
This story also appeared as the cover story of June 26, 2019 issue of The Weekender, the No. 1 arts and entertainment newspaper in Northeastern Pennsylvania, The Weekender version can be viewed here:
Who: Ace Frehley
When: Saturday, June 29, at 8 p.m.
Where: F.M. Kirby Center for The Performing Arts, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Info: (570) 826-1100
Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org