Ace Frehley on Covering Eddie Money: ‘I’ve Been a Fan Since His First Album’
Ace Frehley is back: this Friday (October 19) the legendary guitarist will unleash a new album that shares his nickname -- Spaceman. We recently spoke with Frehley, digging into some of the key tracks on the upcoming album, the personal nature of some of those songs and how they've evolved over the years.
Frehley also spoke on his relationships with KISS members past and present, his standing amongst the younger generation of guitar players and his involvement with the "Best Man" package at the wedding chapel at the KISS Mini-Golf course in Las Vegas. The guitarist also offered an update on what projects he'll take part in during 2019. As we start our chat, Frehley was admiring the artwork on a vinyl version of the album that has been laid on a table in the room.
That's an interesting cover you have for the new album ...
I'm holding the Les Paul like a waiter's holding a plate of food and I'm serving it. I was only able to hold it for a few shots, because you know how heavy Les Pauls are. The customs are the heaviest Les Pauls, because the wood's a little thicker. And I don't help it because my first AFS, Ace Frehley guitar that came out years ago, those are really heavy because the back plates on the Les Paul are plastic, but mine were metal. They were nickel silver with my autograph with the Gibson logo engraved so those were super heavy.
While we're on guitars and guitarists, I know you played a show earlier this year with John 5, who was quoted as saying that the number one reason he picked up a guitar was Ace Frehley. What does it mean to you to know there is such reverence for what you did from the younger generation of players?
It's very flattering. I get it constantly. I feel a little weird about it because I never took a guitar lesson and here are all these multitudes of musicians who modeled their style around me, and I never even was professionally trained.
I grew up in a household though where my older brother and sister took piano lessons, so I had to listen to them with the piano teacher teaching them, and my mother and father both played piano. My father was a really good concert pianist who could do Beethoven and Chopin, so it was in my blood.
My brother one day got a folk guitar and started doing folk music with my older sister and he taught me three chords -- E, D and A -- the three chords that most songs are made out of, and I just started practicing one day on his acoustic guitar. One day I went to a friend of mine's house and he had bought a cheap Japanese electric guitar with a little amp, like a six- or eight-inch speaker. So I asked if I could try it and he said yeah, so I turned it up to 10 and hit an E chord and I was in love. I go, "That's it. That's what I'm gonna do."
That Christmas my dad brought me an electric guitar and I got a small amp and before I left my parents' house, I had a big Marshall in my bedroom. (laughs) The rest is "KISStory," you know.
On "Bronx Boy" from your new album, you talk about being a street kid in that song. It could have been easy to get caught up in that life. What was the turning point for you where music became the goal?
Well, you know I'm a graphic artist and I designed the KISS logo. I excelled in art in high school. I went to Dewitt Clinton High School and the head of the art department, his name was Doc Goldberg, he loved me and respected my talent ... and I had worked on the cover for the high school [year]book, you know, and it was a very involved cover. Doc recognized I had talent and in fact, my guidance counselor recommended that I go down to Music & Art for art and design in Manhattan. But I just didn't want to take the train every day because I lived in the Bronx. At Dewitt Clinton, I could walk to school, plus I didn't want to leave all my friends. I didn't know anybody there, so I guess I was a little insecure about that. So I never ended up going to art school, though I think Paul [Stanley] did.
But when I was a teenager at 15 or 16, I was at the crossroads. I had already played with a couple of rock groups. I already knew I was a great artist. I had two talents and they usually go hand in hand cause there's a lot of musicians who can draw and paint. It's that side of the brain, the creative side. Gene [Simmons] can draw. I've seen him design stuff. But the point I'm trying to make is when it came time to decide what I wanted to do with my life, it was either going to be music or art.
So my father set me up with an interview to see his friend's son who ran an advertising agency and there was an art department there. So you have a dozen people sitting there in little cubicles drawing, doing art, doing ads, doing fashion. I brought some of my artwork with me to show him that I could draw and he said, "This is not bad but it's not quite what we do here, but there could be a place for you." So I said, "Let me think about it, I'll get back to you."
I went home and I realized, what am I gonna do -- be a graphic designer and sit in a fucking office 9 to 5 taking orders from some schmuck or go on the road, party, have beautiful women throw themselves at me, get on the stage and be adored by millions of people (laughs). It wasn't a hard decision.
You worked with Paul Stanley on the last album. You've got Gene Simmons on this one ...
Yeah, Gene wrote this and this [points to "Without You I'm Nothing" and "Your Wish Is My Command"]. He came up with both titles and I wrote probably 90 percent of the lyrics. He wrote most of the music, but I think I wrote the bridge and the solo and rearranged it and so on and so forth. They're both great songs.
This one here, ["Rockin With the Boys"] has been kicking around forever. I wrote this in the '70s. Unfortunately, I was never happy with the verse and the bridge of any version I wrote. I'm continually writing. I'll pick up a song I wrote 10 years ago, listen to it and go, "Well this song has some flaws." That's why it never made it on a record. It ends up having to be rewritten. That's also what I did with "The Pursuit of Rock and Roll."
Another great song off this album and a fun one at that...
I have three different versions of that song and they were all okay, but they're not great. So this time around I listened to it with my engineer / co-producer and I said, "How can we make this song better?" So we changed the chord structure so there's three turnarounds of the chorus. "I want life ... liberty ... and the pursuit of rock and roll." The second one, we changed the chord structure so it goes up instead of descending, so it breaks up the musical chorus. So we made the chorus more interesting musically and then I rewrote the verses and I rewrote the bridge, with interesting lyrics, funny lyrics, talking about the people who influenced me -- Chuck Berry and the Stones, Elvis -- so it's kind of a hoot.
The main structure of the song is pretty much the same as when I recorded it with Anton Fig, so basically what we did was import the version from tape into the hard drive with ProTool and we erased everything but the drum tracks, and I just played all the music to Anton Fig's drumming. That's the beauty of digital recording. It's so great. I can revive a song I did 30 years ago.
Same with "Off My Back." Anton's an amazing drummer and I basically kept the drum track and rewrote all the lyrics, and I kept the guitar solo. The solo was recorded in the '80s or early '90s in my home studio.
I also wanted to ask about "I Wanna Go Back," which obviously is an Eddie Money cover.
I've been an Eddie Money fan since "Two Tickets to Paradise." Ironically, when Eddie Money first came out, I went down to Manhattan at this club I hanged out at and unbeknownst to me Eddie Money was performing. His first album had just come out and he was playing little clubs, and I loved him. I thought he was great. I liked the style and the way he looked and I was with this chick and she goes, "Hey, he's cute." Jimmy Lyons, his lead guitar player, was a great guitar player, and the song structures were good. So I picked up the album, fell in love with it and played it a lot, so I've been a fan of Eddie Money's since his first record, and then he made his comeback with that album that had "I Wanna Go Back."
That song just hit home because I saw the video and watched him in the video go back to his high school. I've done that. I did that with the Village Voice, who did a special on me a couple of years ago. They said, "Take us to the Bronx and show us where you went to school and hung out." So this hit home and not only did it hit home, but it's a great song. Lyrics are great, the melody is great, song structure is great, but his version is all saxophone and keyboards and bass.
There's very little guitar and it's mixed way down, so I knew I could sing it. I figured it out on acoustic guitar and I'd sing along with it and I said, "I can sing the shit out of this song." But what we did was me and my engineer made a click track in his home studio and I cut the rhythm part and we started overdubbing and I threw down a bass line, did a scratch vocal and thought, "This is gonna be great." The solo always comes last and I think I did a great solo on it.
The fact that that song was a comeback hit was a big plus. I keep telling the record company, "'Rockin' With the Boys' was the second single release but the next single should be 'I Wanna Go Back.' You'd already be ahead." There will be people who aren't even fans of Ace Frehley who will go, "Oh, I've heard that song before." I think it's gonna get built in airplay.
The instrumental traack, "Quantum Flux" at the end is absolutely amazing.
This is a song I wrote around 2000-something. It was originally acoustic and I had done a weird tuning. Like I said, I'm not a trained musician, so I'll just change the tuning of one string and start playing something and it comes out quirky. The opening guitar chord [mimics guitar], I don't know what the hell that is. I don't even know what it's called, but it sounds different.
[Producer] Warren [Huart] actually helped me on this track, playing a little guitar on it. I had the choice of doing this or I recorded a bass song that I wrote called "Empty Bed Blues" and I tracked it with KISS' drummer, Eric Singer, at Warren's house. It came out great, but in retrospect, I was sitting with Warren and I'm saying, "Warren, every album I've put out has had an instrumental. We've gotta do an instrumental." So I started playing "Quantum Flux" to him and that was it.
I just like that spontaneity. When it comes to music, you really have to be flexible and one thing that's really important is spontaneity. When I do guitar solos, I empty my head and just play. I keep in mind what key I'm in, but I just empty my head and then I'll do five more takes and my engineer will say, "Get out of here for half an hour," and sometimes he'll take the front of one, the middle part of another and the ending of a third take and blend them together.
So, how are you feeling about being a "Best Man" for someone in Las Vegas?
(laughs). Well, Ken came up with that idea. He was helping me set up the signing at the KISS Mini-Golf. He sent me the offer and asked, "Do you want to walk down the aisle and pick up a nice chunk of change?" Originally I thought, isn't that kind of weird? But then I thought if I do four, five or six, it'll pay my rent (laughs). I thought, "Hey, it could be fun. Let's do it. What the hell."
I see you have the KISS Kruise coming up as well. I know the Kulick brothers are going to be on there ...
Yeah, good friends of mine. I was with them at the KISS Expo in Indianapolis as well.
You're part of the original KISS lineup, but there have been plenty of members over the years. What type of relationship do you have with those who came after you and what does it mean to be part of that KISS family?
I'm friends with everybody. I don't like conflicts. I don't like negative feelings. I've worked with Bruce [Kulick] in the past and done some guitar clinics with him and some Rock and Roll Fantasy Camps with Bruce. Me and Bruce are great friends. He's a great guitar player and I played on one of the albums he put out with Eric Singer and my old guitar player Carl Cochrane. They invited me to do a solo.
There's really no more bad blood, and there's also no more bad blood between me and Gene [Simmons] and Paul [Stanley]. I just got back from Australia with Gene and we had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs. Everything's cool.
What are your thoughts on Paul and Gene recently announcing the KISS farewell tour?
I haven't really heard anything. I haven't been invited, so who knows what's going to happen. If they want me to do it, they'll have to write me a big check, so (laughs).
Do you think KISS could go on without those two guys in the band?
I don't know. I hate to speculate. Paul and Gene are running the band, because I quit twice which gave up my rights. I actually really lost my power in KISS when Peter Criss left. We were a democratic band, and once Peter Criss left it was two against one. Even if I wanted to do something different than what Gene and Paul wanted, I was outvoted. So I realized I'd lost all my power and that was one of the reasons I quit the band. The second, I wasn't happy with the Elder, but that's been documented. During that whole record, I told those guys this record's gonna bomb and it did. But when people have a deaf ear to you and your knowledge and your gut feelings and you turn out to be right, it makes you think that maybe you're working with the wrong people.
Given your extensive history, do you have a most rewarding album and tour cycle to you personally?
Well, my '78 solo album still holds up after all these years. That was a great record and still is to this day. People love that record and the songs on it. Me and Eddie Kramer just went crazy and rented the Colgate Mansion in upstate New York and set up drums in here, I was putting Marshall amps in the marble bathroom, I was recording acoustic guitars in the wooden library. We were just having fun experimenting like little kids.
That album, plus Anomaly was a big album for me because it was the first record I'd done in 20 years. Space Invader was fun, did very well. Origins, Vol. 1 was accepted very well, but this album I think is going to do better than all of them.
What's next for you?
After this album, I start Origins, Vol. 2. That's going to be fun, and it's not going to take that long to do because I don't have to write the songs. The beauty of Origins, Vol. 1 is I'm just putting my stamp on someone else's material. I got Lita Ford, Slash, Mike McCready from Pearl Jam, I got John 5 and I got Paul Stanley on it, which is five people who are very recognizable in the rock business.
So I just have to figure out some good catchy songs from the past that influenced me and invite some of my friends to play on it. It's gonna be a gas.
I just bought a new estate in Rancho Santa Fe, 9,000 square feet, and we're putting together a studio with a lot more room, a separate drum room, and it'd be a great place to do a record. I'm probably going to start recording that record in November.
With the covers record, there's a tendency to pick what you like and know that you can do, but I'm curious if there's a song for you that you love so much that you wouldn't want to touch it because of your reverence for it?
Well, I'll tell ya. When I called up Paul [Stanley] and said I'm doing an album of covers, and I'd like you sing a song on it. He said, "That sounds like fun." He was very receptive from the very beginning, but we didn't know what song to do. We both loved The Who and he said, "What about 'My Generation'?" I said, "It's a great song and I think we could do a great job, but that's the kind of song you don't touch."
So we kicked around some ideas for different songs and in a day or two I called him back and I said, "What about 'Fire and Water'?" I know he's a huge Free and Paul Rodgers fan, and he said, "I think that's a good one."
Looking ahead, what else do you have on the schedule?
I'm doing some shows up around Sacramento in January, playing a casino and two or three other shows, and that's all I have booked, but what I really want to do is knock off Origins, Vol. 2 and I have a folder filled with stories that I've written down of their last several years for my second book. No Regrets 2 is the working title, and I wanna get cracking on that. If somebody asked me to produce them that I thought were really great that I loved, I'd take that. I've never done a film score, but I'd love to do that. I'd love to do a film score for a sci-fi movie. That'd be so much fun.
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