Hi dolls, I had the pleasure of spending a little quality time with KISS guitarist Spaceman, the unparalleled Ace Frehley. I interviewed him for RS Italy, but of course, got waaaaay more great stuff that I could use, so will share it with my dolls!
Back in 1978 when all four members of KISS simultaneously released their solo albums, $2.5 million bucks (a whole lotta dough back then!) was spent on the publicity campaign with much frantic hubbub and fanfare. Expectations that bassist Gene Simmons and rhythm front man Paul Stanley would outsell drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley was were shattered when the big winner among the four turned out to be none other than “Spaceman” Ace. If you dolls haven’t seen the outrageous Halloween ’79 interview from the Tom Snyder talk show, please check it out and get some chuckles. Ace (who was then an alcoholic and joyous drug user) gets manic giggle fits and overtly pisses off the uptight, long-tongued, business-man monster Gene. Check out the wicked looks he keeps shooting his stoned guitarist! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jzve-Tmd70
God bless YouTube for reviving these long-lost, special moments in rock history.
Here we are 30 years later, and the now sober Ace is releasing another raucous, fret-shredding solo album, “Anomaly,” which gives me the opportunity to sit down with him at the House of Blues and have a little chit-chat.
Ace is the very special guest at tonight’s Really Big Rock Show at Hollywood’s House of Blues, along with Ozzy Osbourne, and my Sex Pistol pal, Steve Jones. Their high profile back-up band is L.A.’s renowned Camp Freddie, featuring members of Guns n Roses, the Cult and my old Jane’s Addiction flame, Dave Navarro. Before the festivities begin, Ace and I sequester ourselves in a dim little, cosmic nook to catch up.
Pamela: How many times have you played this club? How many times have you actually played THIS club?
Ace: Oh, probably… at least four.
P: In all kinds of different incarnations
A: I played it, I think, with Frehley’s Comet in the 90’s… I did a benefit here for Dimebag Daryl when he got inducted to the Rock Walk of Fame… I played here last year with my band, on tour in 2008… and I guess tonight is the fourth time. There might have been one more I’m leaving out…
P: But you’ve visited here many times.
A: Oh yeah, it’s a great place to hang out. It’s a great atmosphere.
P: Yeah, it is! Sai Baba pictures and all…
A: You live in town?
P: Yeah! I hear you’re moving here. Are you just moving in here? Or are you bicoastal?
A: I’ve had three different places. I stay for a couple years, then I get too crazy here and I leave. But now I’ve pretty much got my act together on that end.
P: Yeah, you’re about three years [sober]…
A: Actually, the release date of the CD is going to be three [years].
A: It just worked out that way. It’s amazing the way things happen.
P: What made you finally, actually take that big step? It is a big step!
A: I wanted to live! I’ve had so much fun— you know, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, we’re both in there, but you get to a certain age and then if you don’t stop, you’re gonna die. I chose life! I think my fans want to see more records from me. I had reached my quota.
P: I’ve lost so many friends, I always feel so lucky to still be alive. I’m older than you— I’m going to be sixty-one in a couple of months.
A: You don’t look it.
P: God, what a life, huh? So, the record is great. Are you excited? Do you have jaded feelings at all, since you’ve been in the business so long, or does a new record like this get you all excited?
A: I was a little— not jaded, just a little confused. I was so surprised when I started shopping the album and trying to figure out… Everybody’s saying, “Don’t go with a major record label because they’re all going bankrupt,” or, “They’re all going through transitional periods and your record will get lost,” and I’m just starting to completely understand the whole digital revolution much better. I wasn’t really an internet kind of person. I mean, I’ve been working on computers since my very first apple computer with a tiny screen, but I didn’t like going on the internet. I had a couple of hacker friends who said, “You go on the internet, you get viruses and everything gets corrupted…” And the times I did go on, my friend would show me a site—now, this was years ago—and say, “You can download this or that…” And it took forever! Broadband is a whole different animal. I have no patience, so the past couple years I’ve really gotten an education in digital recording, not only in how the record business has changed, but also in the studio. This is the first album I’ve done totally digital.
P: And do you think it measures up to the analog days?
A: The more I work with ProTools, the more I understand that if you know what you’re doing, you can make it sound as good as the old records. There’s always that little difference, but it’s like the difference between a high-resolution recording and an MP3. Most people can’t tell the difference. So it’s about that much of a difference.
P: These days it’s all about quickness, downloading it and having it NOW, instead of waiting in line at the record store.
A: The album wouldn’t have gotten done nearly as fast if we’d done everything on tape, especially when it comes to editing. I remember working with Eddie Kramer in the old days with Kiss, cutting up pieces of tape and putting them off to the side, reattaching the tape and playing it and then, if it wasn’t right, taking it apart again and putting it back together five different times. It was nuts! Today, with ProTools, you click a mouse and it’s done, and if it’s not perfect, you hit “undo” and you redo it. It’s as simple as that.
P: And so instead of going with any major label, you put it out yourself on your own label, right?
A: It’s on my label, but I got together with a great company, Rocket Science, which kind of takes the place of a label. They have a whole marketing team. They’re doing a great job, and they’re making deals for me with different distributors all around the world. I was going to do it myself, but I don’t have time for that. I need to get ready for a tour! So I had to let it go. I had to let my baby go! It was like putting my daughter on the school bus the first time she went to 1st grade, and waving goodbye.
P: Oh, I remember that feeling! My son is about the same age as your daughter. Is she in the music business at all?
A: No. She works with children, and she works with clothes. I don’t have the inclination to push her in the direction of this business. It’s kind of crazy. It’s a lot harder on women, too.
P: Oh yeah, it is still much harder for women. You have been through pretty much every incarnation of the business. Hasn’t it changed a lot? Have you noticed the huge shift in the way things are done?
A: There are just so many more groups than there were in the 70’s.
P: And so few of them last. You have lasted; you’ve been through so many different generations of fans, from your age and older to kids. That’s awesome. There are very few people like you left. You know, the bands from the 60’s and 70’s are still revered. And, I hate to say it, but most of the bands from now are not going to be revered in forty years or so.
A: I did an interview the other day and was asked, “So, who are you excited about that’s new?” And I tried to explain to him: When I was a teenager, I had Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Jeff Beck Group, the Stones, The Beatles, Cream…
P: The Who, The Doors…
A: …It goes on and on. And then you wake up today, and you listen to the new stuff that’s out there… I mean, there’s nobody!
P: And it’s a flash, too. It’s going to be gone. So you are in this hallowed place, and that’s why bands like yours and the older guys’ bands are still the biggest-drawing bands. It’s sad to me, because I’m a rock-loving chick.
A: I guess I’m an elephant— an end of an era!
P: It’s true! But it’s so cool that you’re still out there doing it. I love that. And you sound great.
A: I’ve never felt better. I just turned fifty-eight in April, and I still feel like a kid. I think like a kid.
P: I do, too. So do you have any stand-out memories of a favorite band you saw, that maybe triggered your career moves?
A: I remember, when I was about fifteen, cutting school and going to a Murray the K show. He used to have shows in New York. There was a band called the Blues Magoos who had a hit, “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet.” The rhythm guitar player in that band, Peppy, grew up two blocks from me, and he used to teach me how to play bar chords in the basement of an apartment house. I remember hearing his song on the radio at the beach and going, “Wow, this guy grew up in my neighborhood. If he can do it, I can do it!” Then I remember going to see him at the Murray the K show and, lo and behold, were The Who and Cream. I was blown away. I was sitting there going, “They’re great. But I can do that too, and I’m going to.”
P: Good! That’s a lot of confidence.
A: I always kind of knew this was my destiny.
P: Were you already playing when you saw that show?
A: I started playing when I was thirteen. I grew up in a household where everybody played an instrument. Everybody was a musician: my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister. I was the youngest of three kids, so I always heard music, from as far back as I can remember.
P: Did you have lots of groupies.
P: Did you hang out with them? I mean, I’m “The World’s Most Famous Groupie” so I have to ask that.
A: Gene more so than anybody in the band; and he brags about it. I don’t talk about it too much.
P: I’ve known Gene forever, and I KNOW some of it is hot air! But, you know, the groupies love you guys.
A: Yeah, I mean, in our heyday, it really wasn’t hard.
P: But what did you think of them? The girls who loved the music and wanted to get near you?
A: They loved the band. When you love something, you want to get as close to it as possible. I didn’t see anything wrong with it. We were just exchanging pleasantries.
P: I love that! People put groupies down, still, to this day.
A: A lot of bands might not have continued on if it wasn’t for the groupies keeping up their morale when money was tight or shows got cancelled. At least they had somebody to lean on and be consoled by.
P: Yeah! I was there. I was devoted And it was all about the music for me. That’s a real groupie, someone who loves the music. It must have been cool for you, when you guys all put your solo records out and you had the biggest-selling solo record.
A: It’s funny you say that, because I remember finishing the mix on that record. It was in the can, and I was driving around listening to it, and I remember saying to myself, “I think I have something really good here.” That was— what, 31 years ago?
P: Wow, was it really? [laughs]
A: And I feel exactly the same way now as I did back then, and hopefully history will repeat itself. Because I’m really happy. I’ve had parts of this album remixed three times by different people, and finally I was lucky enough to get a hold of Marty Fredrickson and Anthony Fox, and I think they did a spectacular job. I think they got that analog sound. They got the big reverb sound, which is what I think the kids want to hear. They don’t want to hear stuff compressed to hell without any ambience on it, like a lot of records sound today.
P: Yeah, they sound constricted somehow. So, you’ve been this guitar god forever and ever. That’s what I mean: are you jaded at all about any of this?
A: You know, I never thought I was that great a guitar player. I think I’m a good guitar player.
P: Really? But you’re so revered as a great guitar player.
A: Kids put me on a pedestal. But, you know… I never really practiced that much! If I knew I was going to influence as many people as I have, I probably would have practiced more and studied more.
P: No, that’s what it is— it’s the feel, and the sincerity, behind your playing that they relate to.
A: There are plenty of other guitar players who are more technically inclined.
P: But fans know if you’re feeling it or not, and I think that’s what they’re responding to.
A: A lot of it is attitude, yeah.
A: Somebody said to me, “What would you recommend to somebody starting out in the business?” And I said, “Well, practice a lot. You need to have the image, you need to have the talent, but attitude goes a long way.” And self-confidence: if you don’t have that, forget it.
P: It’s hard to get. You obviously had self-confidence at 15, to be able to say, “I can do that.”
A: I knew when I was 15 I was going to be doing this my whole life, as crazy as it sounds.
P: Not many people can make it work their whole lives, that’s for sure. This is for Italian Rolling Stone. How about Italy. Have you spent any time there?
A: I’ve spent time in Italy. We did some outside shows there.
P: It’s a very outdoors culture.
A: I’m fascinated with Italian art and architecture, Florence and Rome…
P: Me too. I just came back from there, and it’s so beautiful. It’s so ancient. We’re such a baby country. Then you go to a place like that, with the forum just standing there in the middle of the town…!
A: When you’re in the Coliseum, you think about what really happened there, and that was the center of the universe back then, sort of like New York is today. It’s mind-boggling. I love Europe. I can’t wait to go back. I was in Europe twice last year. Actually, we didn’t get a chance to play a show in Italy, but I’m going to remedy that this year, hopefully! I need to give my agent a pep talk and have her put it together.
P: I think when we first met was when you guys opened for Silverhead in New York in February of 1974. Do you remember that?
A: I remember opening for Iggy Pop at the Academy of Music in ’73.
P: It may have been the Academy of Music.
A: Was it Iggy Pop, Silverhead and Kiss?
P: It could have been Iggy Pop. That’s right, it might have been.
A: At the Academy of Music on 14th Street?
P: Yes, I think it was the Academy of Music. We were filming a terrible movie—that’s how [ex-husband] Michael and I met.
A: How is Michael? I haven’t seen him in a while.
P: Oh, he’s great! He just got 29 years sober.
A: God bless him. I heard he was sober.
P: He’s inspired so many people.
A: Is he still acting?
P: Yes, he’s still acting, he’s writing great songs, and he’s just hanging around.
A: I just had a great opportunity to help a fellow musician on VH1 show, Sober House. A bass player from the original Alice In Chains band was in there.
P: I love that show. I’m obsessed with those reality shows.
A: He was struggling, and he made a contract with the people there that if I showed up, he’d continue there for another 90 days. They called me and I showed up, and he signed a contract, and he’s continuing his journey in sobriety. I was so happy that I could be instrumental in his recovery. You can’t keep it if you don’t give it away; that’s the way it works.
P: Well, that’s all I’m going to need from you, you sweet, wonderful man, you! You’re a really nice guy. I knew you would be.
A: Thank you. I don’t even know who’s playing tonight. I heard Ozzy’s going to do a couple of songs.
P: I heard Ozzy’s playing, and the kids from The Darkness.
A: You gonna stay for the show?
P: I’m such an old fuddy-duddy! Not really, but I live at the beach and I’d have to wait around Hollywood for five hours now before you play; that’s the thing. I would love to, though. I want to watch the sound check for sure.
A: Well, thank you so much. It was really great to meet you.
P: Yes, great to meet you.
A: I forgot how cool this room is.
P: Anything could happen here. I’m sure many, many interesting things have happened in this room.
A: If only walls could talk, right?
P: Oh, yeah!