By Ace Frehley
Ace Frehley – a guitar god that defined the instrument for a generation of musicians lays out what he can remember of a mostly misspent life in this autobiographical account of being a member of the “hottest band in the world,” and his ultimate departure from KISS.
Paul Frehley was born into a middle class home in Bronx, NY. His father was an electrical engineer and his mother a homemaker. He had an older brother and sister who did well in school and went on to successful professions. Paul was the Frehley family black sheep.
He was a good student in his grade school days, but soon had to cope with the realities of life in the Bronx. It was either join a gang, or get beat up by gangs. The skinny kid joined a local gang called the Duckies and engaged in his share of petty crimes.
The Frehleys were a musical family and that gene got passed along to Paul. He discovered guitars and women about the same time when he was 13 years old. He learned about the two in much the same way – by trial and error. Ace proudly states that he knows nothing about music theory. He just knows how to play.
Ace also discovered drugs and alcohol in his early teen years. While hanging out with local musicians, he passed most of his time drinking and smoking pot. At that time, he was afraid of cocaine and other harder drugs. That would soon change.
He acquired the nickname Ace from his buddies for whom he was often able to arrange sexual liaisons. While most people still called him Paul (and he preferred that his close friends called him Paul), the moniker stuck.
Ace worked hard as a musician, joining as many bands as his schedule could accommodate just to make money and be seen in the New York music scene. He dropped out of high school just shy of earning a diploma, but his girlfriend talked him into going back and finishing his education. He proudly boasts that he has an IQ of 163.
While Ace worked daily at his craft, sometimes playing two gigs in one night just to make extra money, he wasn’t getting anywhere and was still living at home with his parents who did not share his dreams of rock stardom. That would change when he saw an advertisement in the Village Voice.
A local band wanted a lead guitarist with “flash and ability.” They claimed to have a deal for an album. Ace says he’d heard that line before, but was curious. His mother drove him to the audition, hauling his Marshall amps and Gibson Les Paul in the family truckster.
It’s an often told story that Ace showed up for the audition wearing two different shoes. The story is often told to show what a flake Ace was. He acknowledges that he was wearing one red sneaker and one orange sneaker. It was not purposeful. He was in a hurry and didn’t take his time to make sure he was wearing the right shoes.
At the audition, Ace began warming up while another guitarist was auditioning. Gene Simmons stopped the audition to tell Ace to knock it off. The members of Wicked Lester – Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and Peter Criss – were not immediately impressed with young Paul Frehley.
When it came time to jam, their opinion changed. Ace showed off his chops with some of his own material before being asked to perform with the rest of the band. The song was Deuce. Ace learned the chord progression and laid down an impressive lead. The members of Wicked Lester politely thanked him and told him they would get back to him.
Ace was eventually invited to join the new band that would soon be changing its name. Although stories vary on who came up with the name, Gene Simmons credits Peter Criss with blurting it out during a car ride through New York City one afternoon.
The band began to play locally under the name KISS. Most of their gigs were lightly attended. That didn’t matter to the band. They played loud, hard, and were working out many of the stage gimmicks they would employ later. They soon caught the attention of television executive Bill Aucoin who desperately wanted to manage them, promising he’d get them a record deal within 30 days. Aucoin arranged for the band to record a five song demo with legendary producer Eddie Kramer. Frehley was thrilled to be working the producer who'd produced the legendary Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.
It took a bit longer than 30 days for Aucoin to land that recording contract, but he finally got the band signed to a new label called Casablanca. The band began recording their debut album over the course of three weeks.
The record did not do well in initial sales. Ace tells the story of how the band was talked into covering the Bobby Rydell song, Kissin’ Time to be used to sponsor “kissing contests” across the country. The band laid down the cover track and unanimously hated it. But when the album was rereleased prior to the release of the second KISS album, Kissin’Time was on it, much to the band’s chagrin.
Ace’s lone contribution to KISS’ first album was Cold Gin. Ace explains he wanted to write a drinking song and “Cold Beer” just didn’t work as a song title. Even though he was not a gin drinker, Cold Gin it was. Ace, lacking confidence in his own singing ability, turned the vocals over to Gene Simmons.
Before the end of 1974, the band was back in the studio working on a new album. This time, they recorded in Los Angeles which the band hated. The result was Hotter Than Hell. Musically, this may be the best KISS album. It certainly represents Ace Frehley’s best work with the band. Parasite is probably the best guitar riff Frehley ever conjured. In Strange Ways he plays what is by far his finest solo.
What hurts Hotter Than Hell is the poor quality of the recording. The drum sound is just atrocious!
It was in Los Angeles during the Hotter Than Hell sessions that Ace Frehley would have the first of his many alcohol induced car accidents. The accident delayed shooting the album’s cover art when the band was rushing to get new material to the market.
The band toured again, but could not generate album sales. They went back into the studio for the third time in less than two years and cranked out the Dressed to Kill album. Dressed to Kill had some solid tracks such as She, Rock and Roll all Nite, and Rock Bottom (with Ace Frehley performing a beautiful and lush intro on the acoustic guitar). But much of the music was pedestrian – the result of a band being forced to rush new material.
The release of Rock and Roll All Nite got the band some national exposure, but the song and the album failed to crack the Top 20. The members and management of KISS were feeling the pressure from Casablanca which was being kept afloat by Aucoin and owner Neil Bogart’s credit cards. They needed to break through with their next album or fold up the tent. Break through they would.
Reasoning that KISS was primarily a live band, the band decided to put out a live album to show audiences what KISS was all about. This was unconventional as live albums were usually put out by established bands and did not fare well in sales. They were usually double albums which meant higher prices. KISS was taking a huge risk.
They toured the Midwest through 1974 and 1975, each concert being recorded and the best of each song was incorporated into the album. Frehley admits what most music fans suspected. Alive! wasn’t entirely alive. Each song was retouched and redubbed in the studio to eliminate missed notes, bad drumming, and bad singing. Eddie Kramer, who had produced so many legendary albums, was called in to clean up the live performances and produce yet another legendary album. Alive! was released in September 1975.
Alive! was exactly what KISS needed. The album took off and the money rolled in. KISS was now a huge success. Ace Frehley began living the life of a wealthy rock star. He graduated from beer and weed to pills and cocaine. He bought a fleet of expensive cars. He hired an entourage and bought a mansion in Westchester County New York.
Alive! brought Frehley (and all the members of KISS) the fame and fortune they had worked so hard for. It was also the start of Ace Frehley’s disillusionment with KISS.
KISS’ management wanted to follow up on the success of Alive! with something extraordinary and different. So, they brought in production guru Bob Ezrin who had a stellar track record of producing albums for Alice Cooper and others. Right away, Frehley and Ezrin were at odds. Ezrin was a perfectionist and rather dictatorial in the studio. Simmons and Stanley would later claim Ezrin was precisely what KISS needed at that stage in their careers.
Frehley felt differently. As the recording of Destroyer progressed, Frehley absented himself regularly. Instead, he binged on drugs and booze. He admits that as much as he loves the guitar solo in Detroit Rock City, he didn’t write it. He wasn’t there to do the job.
Frehley complains that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley were hypocrites about drug use. Their producer on Dressed to Kill, Neil Bogart, smoked joint after joint at the mixing board during the recording sessions. Bob Ezrin, according to Frehley was quite open about his cocaine use. Simmons and Stanley frequently complained about Frehley’s (and Peter Criss’) use of drugs, but tolerated it from others.
Destroyer took the band to whole new levels of success. While singles such as Detroit Rock City, Shout it Out Loud, and Flaming Youth didn’t do well, the B-side of Detroit Rock City contained a ballad called Beth that was a smash hit and won KISS a People’s Choice Award and propelled them into the mainstream of society.
As one reads past the recording of Destroyer, evidence of Frehley’s increased drug use is apparent as he seems to remember less and less about his song writing and recording and more and more about his drug and alcohol induced misadventures. He barely discusses the writing and recording of Rock and Roll Over and Love Gun. Rock and Roll Over, like Destroyer, contained no Frehley songs. Love Gun had one Frehley song – Shock Me.
Shock Me is a mix of thinly veiled metaphors borne of his nearly being electrocuted by a poorly grounded guitar. It also contains allusions to S & M which would (to the normal person) have no connection to a near death electrocution.
Shock Me marked Ace’s debut as a vocalist. For as much as they seem to clash in KISS, Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley seemed to have an artistic connection. It was Simmons that Frehley turned to to sing his songs. It was Simmons that convinced Frehley that he sang well enough to sing his own songs.
Frehley was quite excited by the prospect of recording his own solo album. Each member of KISS produced an album of their own songs independent of the rest of the band. They invited their own guest musicians and wrote their own material. Frehley's album sold the best of the four and generated the only hit from the four albums -- a cover of Hello's New York Groove.
Unlike Gene Simmons, Frehley is able to look back on the KISS movie, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park with some humor. Ace acknowledges the movie was badly scripted, badly acted, and badly produced. He hated acting and walked off the set more than once. Usually, he returned to his trailer to do drugs. One day, he left to take in more intellectual pursuits -- touring the King Tut exhibit. Despite his humor regarding the movie, he hated Simmons' and Stanley's new found obsession with commercialism. He just wanted to play rock and roll music, get stoned, and bang groupies.
By the time the band began working on the Dynasty album, Ace knew his days in Kiss were numbered. Peter Criss was voted out of the band, his skills on drums badly deteriorated by pain killer and alcohol abuse. Despite his disillusionment and ever escalating abuse of cocaine, valium, pain killers, narcotic cough syrup, and alcohol, Dynasty represented Frehley’s best work as part of KISS.
Frehley's rearranged cover of the Rolling Stones' 2000 Man is the best track on the album. Frehley also contributed Hard Times which talks about his time in The Duckies, and Save Your Love. Frehley despised the album’s lone hit track, I Was Made For Loving You because it was disco when KISS was supposed to be the very antithesis of disco.
Frehley has little to say about the recording and writing of Unmasked. When it came time to record Music from the Elder, Frehley had about all he could take. Bob Ezrin was back, using more cocaine than ever. The album was loosely based on a concept developed by Gene Simmons and Frehley hated the idea of doing a concept album. When it came to making decisions for the band, he was frequently outvoted by Simmons and Stanley. Frehley was seldom in the studio with the band and actually recorded the lead guitar parts on his own in his home studio.
Frehley also complained of the production that became a KISS concert. Ace just wanted to play rock and roll. Shows became increasingly choreographed, requiring him to be in certain places at certain times during the show. Ace says, that just wasn’t rock and roll as he understood it.
Ace decided to leave the band after Music from the Elder, although his likeness was used on the Creatures of the Night album that followed it.
What follows is mostly a chronicle of drunken, drug crazed misadventures. Ace being pursued by dozens of cops as he fled at high speed through Manhattan. Ace crashing this car or that car. What is disturbing is his tone which is almost braggadocio regarding these lawless acts. I know rock stars are prone to lawlessness, but a reasonable person shouldn’t brag about risking lives.
Frehley embarked on a number of solo projects -- most notably Frehley's Comets. While the music produced by Frehley's Comets was musically sound, it did not generate much in the way of excitement or sales.
Ace’s recollection of the reunion of KISS seems to be drawn from press releases and news clips. He relates very little on what was probably quite an emotional event for him. Everything that is in Ace’s book regarding this era seems to be drawn from press clips and others accounts.
Ace tells us he’s sober today and has been for five years other than one lapse in Las Vegas. His AA sponsor is one of the cops that arrested him in his flight through Manhattan.
Ace Frehley comes across as the very guy Gene Simmons describes. When I hear Simmons talk about Frehley, it’s with disgust. Not because he doesn’t like Ace or doesn’t respect Ace as a musician. He thinks Ace is lazy, unmotivated, and wasted a lot of his talent with alcohol and drugs. Yes, Simmons has always needed to loosen up a bit and can be an insufferable ass, but what he says about Ace is true based on Ace's own account of his life.
Ace did not say much about his relationship with other members of the band, which is disappointing. He was quite fond of Peter Criss personally and they did that “Bad Boys” tour together. But he doesn’t describe any of his personal interactions with Peter Criss. I was curious about how Frehley reacted when it was reported in a tabloid that Peter Criss was destitute and living under a bridge. Frehley had nothing to say about this.
He states that he believes Gene Simmons is a sex addict and that for Gene, rock and roll was not art, but just a means to riches and women. With that said, he has very few bad things to say about Simmons and points out that Gene saved him from drowning twice.
He has even less to say about Paul Stanley who always seemed, according to Gene, to be the peacemaker in the band.
Eric Carr, with whom Ace Frehley seems to have had a positive relationship, died at a young age of a congenital heart defect. Frehley does not mention his passing.
He says he loves Simmons, Stanley, and Criss because of all they went through together. He does not indicate whether or not he stays in touch with them. He did say on his book tour that he lunched with Simmons to give him a preview of the book as Simmons had done for him when Gene wrote his autobiography. He said they parted on good terms and are friends.
The first half of Ace Frehley’s book gives us a great deal of insight into his development as a musician and a person. It also gives us another perspective on the development of KISS. The second half of the book reads like Frehley quit working on it and let his ghost writers finish it from other sources. Much like his musical career, it seems that Ace started his autobiography with great insight, but allowed it to fizzle with lackluster disinterest.