A JOKER is at his worst when you don’t know if he’s joking. Ace Frehley, one time hedonistic grog-swilling, drug-taking, hell-raising, joke-cracking, constantly partying sonic acrobat for the world’s biggest band, has settled down. The Rock Soldier has heard the drum, the six string Christian has seen the light, etcetera. Down a flawless line from suburban New York, the Space Ace cackles uncertainly.
“I don’t live the life of a monk, I can assure you,” pleads Frehley, 35, married with an eight year old daughter.
Ace, once Paul, Frehley is in the enviable position of being a rock n’ roll megastar with a face about as recognisable as that of a light weight pop star. Thousands of oppressed suburban teenagers picked up their first guitar during the seventies because of Ace Frehley. The unworldly axeman from the planet Jendell with extraterrestrial fingers that helped shape a ten-times-the-size-of-life foursome KISS. If not for the injustices of rock n’ roll history and the biases of its authors,the mascara-covered Ace would be up there next to Hendrix, Page and Townshend for sheer popularity.
Yet Frehley, injured in a car crash in 1983 and charged with drug offences a couple of years later, is now trying to piece together a solo career of sorts, with his only credentials being an ex-member of a band long ago deemed un-fashionable by critics.
With the euphoria of KISS behind him, the irresponsible abandon is impossible. The practical joker persona sits uneasily on his shoulders as he toys with unbridled humour rather than wallowing in it. After playing “Insane”, “Juvenile Delinquent”” and ”Cold Gin”, he goes straight back to the hotel. If KISS is an attitude then Ace will never re-join KISS.
“It’s not that calm,” Ace insists, “Don’t get me wrong, I still go to parties and clubs occasionally, I just don’t overdo it. The only difference between now and five years ago is that I do not abuse my body with chemicals like I used to. I’ve kinda slowed down on the party side of things, that lifestyle. I’ve probably partied enough for ten people.”
Ace, born in the Bronx on April 27, 1955, has had plenty of reason to party. Since he showed up wearing one red and one orange sneaker to audition for a band called Wicked Lester in 1973, he’s become a millionaire a few times over, a superhero, a rock star, an idol. Frehley conceived the KISS logo and invented some of stadium rock’s most ingenious devises like the smoking guitar, the flying guitar, the rocket firing guitar. Bassist Gene Simmons may have slept with over 3000 women, but if the guitar is a phallic symbol, Ace has had more orgasms.
He once received an electric shock on stage, but in 1983, there was a car crash that left the drug-ridden, washed up lead guitarist with a broken nose and ankle. “I thought that was kind of a sign, you know, to slow down.”
His picture was on the next KISS album, Creatures of the Night, but not much of his guitar was. He left soon after, but remains tied to the band in more than his record company biographies.
“It was a problem finding the right band (after I left ), finding the right material, the right record label and, you know, for me to get myself together. I’m under contract with them (KISS) now, but not in the sense that I work for them. We have an arrangement as far as now we split up the KISS legacy from the time I left back to day one. It’s sort of a limited contract. From the first album to Creatures of the Night. They still own the make up and stuff.”
When Creatures of the Night was re-released a couple of years back. Ace was nowhere to be seen on the cover. Nor was his successor Vinnie Vincent, who actually played on most of the album. Instead, current unmasked KISSers Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick pouted up for the cover as they had just recorded it. Says Ace: “That doesn’t bother me. If it makes Paul and Gene feel better, if thats gonna stoke their egos,then forget it.”
When the first Frehley’s Comet album finally saw light of day in 1987, the familiarity of material was a strength, not a weakness. Perhaps it was the unmistakable Bronx drawl in the vocals, or the trademark flamboyance in the solos, but Ace was more KISS than KISS. The comic book quality that had faded in KISS had been revived. Ace was back in the New York Groove, and he told you so.
Alive mini-LP and follow-up – Second Sighting – followed in quick succession, all three on metal label Megaforce-Atlantic. The music was ballsy, infectious and – within its own bounds – adventurous. But perhaps because Frehley doesn’t look like Jon Bon Jovi, chart success has so far been restricted to North America. He seemed to have found a perfect foil in vocalist/guitarist Tod Howarth, who virtually co-starred in vocals and song-writing on Second Sighting. Will Howarth have even more influence on the next LP?
“No. It’s gonna be more of me, featuring me. I’m not sure what’s going on with Tod at the moment. I might try and get some guest appearances from some people on the record to make it a little more exciting.
“See, Tod lives 3000 miles away from me (in California), so we don’t hook up very often unless he’s in town. He’s in California working on some other projects, y’know, doing some studio work, working on some songwriting. I know he told me he’d like to do a solo project, so … I can’t speculate what might happen.”
What about the theory you sound more like KISS than KISS.
“I could see somebody saying that. Eh, it just comes down to a matter of tastes. I personally believe I was an integral part of the sound of KISS through the seventies and into the early eighties. Just listen to their records and you can hear the difference.”
The most predictable question in hard rock, will the original KISS reform, has to be asked, no matter how painful?
“Well, you know, it’s been talked about from a lot of different angles. Nothing has been put down on paper yet so I can’t speculate. All I can say is it’s a possibility it might happen, but there’s no definite maybes on that one. “Definite maybes? another cackle.
“I have my mind open to it at this point.”
Why is your live show pretty basic? A lot of people would have expected lights and pyrotechnics after what you had in KISS.
“Because with KISS it was always the show first, and I wanted people to focus more on the music. I still do the smoking guitar effect. On my next tour I’m thinking about upgrading the show as far as pyrotechnics are concerned.”
There’s no chance of you bringing it down here at any stage?
“I haven’t been offered a tour yet. If I do, I’ll look at it, I’d love to come back.” Alright, we’ve held out long enough, who are the other mystery guests for the album?
“I’m gonna try to get Gene on the record, and Peter Criss and a few others.” Paul?
“Well, Gene has said that he is already keen to do it. I haven’t asked Paul yet, but I can’t see why he wouldn’t want to. But, you know, I can’t speak for Paul.(continued below)
“I wrote a song with Gene called “Hot Lips “. I was out in California a few months back, and I went over to his place and we sat down and wrote it.”
Despite Simmons’ denials, there is little doubt Ace is more buddy-buddy with his ex-bandmates than at any time since his departure.
“Oh yeah. When I left there were some hard feelings; but over the years …
“Gene was the one who started by inviting me out to lunch.”
Simmons and Stanley recently left New York club The Limelight, speechless when they joined Frehley’s Comet on stage for an emotional rendition of “Deuce”. The first time the trio had played together in six years and the first time ever in public without makeup. “What happened was the week prior to the concert, we had both been rehearsing in the same studio. They were gearing up for their tour and I was gearing up for mine. We were popping into each other’s rooms, y’know we were just hanging out and the night of that studio – we were in the studio that afternoon – I invited them over to the show. They showed up, it was a nice thing.”
Original KISS drummer Peter Criss has reportedly not spoken to Frehley since 1980, when the skinsman claims both were about to quit the band but Ace chickened out at the last minute. Frehley, though still remains confident The Cat will make a go into the studio with him.
“As far as I know he’s forming a new band in California,” said the guitar god. ” He’s also working on a new book. I think the title of it is Face Without a Kiss .” The piercing chuckle rises in volume, and nothing has changed.
“I’m not sure. Don’t quote me on that.” I won’t or will? Is this joker serious? Does it matter? I’d rather draw an ace than a joker anytime.