Legendary KISS guitarist, Ace Frehley, says he remembers the day he saw his future “distinctly.”
Growing up, not only was Frehley a passionate guitar player, but he was also a skilled graphic artist. So, before earning fame and fortune as the face-painted lead riffer of the over-the-top rock group, Frehley had designs on becoming a commercial artist full-time. His father, who was a musician and also taught Sunday School, got Frehley an interview with a friend that owned a deign firm. But, upon entering the company for the visit, Frehley might as well have witnessed a massacre. All he saw were cubicles – and he walked away fast. Ever since, Frehley has gone on to become one of the world’s most famous and successful shredders. That streak continues with his latest LP, Origins Vol. 2, out Sep. 18th.
“I saw all these artists in these little cubicles drawing designs for magazines,” Frehley says. “I said to myself, ‘This seems kind of boring.’ Then I said to myself, ‘Well, if I become a rock star, I’ll be able to tour the world, get laid and party.’ It wasn’t too hard of a choice.”
If you ask Frehley, he’ll tell you that he wasn’t born with any great socio-economic advantages. The virtuoso player was the son of working-class parents and he was pushed to go to church. Frehley first discovered music and performance there, singing in the choir (“I hated having to wear that collar,” he says). His mother and father both played piano and his older brother and, later, sister played together in a folk band. At 13-years-old, Frehley got his first guitar for Christmas. And while it may not seem like religion and faith are important to a guy whose guitar seemingly breathes fire, Frehley credits that upbringing with keeping him alive today.
“Later in life, it actually helped save my life,” Frehley says. “Because I was brought up in a religious household, so when shit hit the fan, I always had God to turn to. Oh yeah, I never lost my faith – just take a look around this world. You think this happened by accident? Someone is responsible for creating us and it wasn’t Mickey Mouse.”
Before officially earning the gig as lead guitarist in KISS, Frehley worked as a liquor store delivery person in New York City’s Greenwich Village. At the time, the Hall of Fame guitarist remembers, there was a liquor strike. So, he had to travel with his boss overnight to a warehouse to pick up booze in a different state – Pennsylvania or Connecticut, mot likely – to fill up a rental truck and take the stuck back to the city. Frehley also remembers working as a cab driver, a job KISS’s Paul Stanley also held for a time.
“We did anything we could to pay the bills,” Frehley says. “In the beginning, we weren’t millionaires. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.”
As a guitarist, Frehley has a beautiful tone. It’s bright and thick and pulses line a vein on a forehead of a person about to cross the marathon finish line. To achieve it, Frehley says, he uses a Marshall amp with a Les Paul guitar and turns the volume up to ten. But to achieve his signature vibrato, that took years and years to develop, hw explains. Practice is key for anything.
“If you’re a stock broker,” he says, “you’re not going to be as good your first year as you are in your tenth year because you’ve learned the ins and outs of the business. If you know what you’re doing and you’ve got talent, time will improve your performance.”
To achieve KISS’s Ringling Brothers-worthy stage epics and antics, Frehley says the group just watched what was happening around them at the time and took it to the next level – or, rather, to the extreme. Flames, pyrotechnics. It was all part of the show. Just as Frehley’s amp was set on the highest point, so was the band’s push towards maximum WOW in every way possible.
“I saw The Who’s first New York appearance one day when I was cutting school,” Frehley says. “At a theater in Midtown. They were using smoke bombs and I thought that was really cool. Other groups were using fire, too. Jimi Hendrix used to set his guitar on fire with lighter fluid. Alice Cooper wore some makeup around his eyes but never the whole nine yards with the Kabuki look. We just said, ‘If we’re going to be a theatrical group, let’s be a theatrical group.’”
For his latest solo album, Origins Vol. 2, Frehley recorded twelve famous covers, from “Good Times Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones to “Lola” by The Kinks and “Manic Depression” by Hendrix. He even includes his own version of the KISS song, “She,” at the end as a bonus. The album is tasteful-yet-huge, full of lighting-quick rock licks and drums that might cause an avalanche. That Frehley, decades into his long career, can still manifest such power remains a testament to both his honed ear and love of music.
“I tried to get the vintage sounds as much as I could,” Frehley says. “Old mics, old amps. I use older guitars when I record. But ultimately, when I’m doing music, I forget about everything else. I forget about my problems that are bothering me. I have tunnel vision. Some love being on a motorcycle on the open road. Music does the same thing for me.”
Pre-orders are available today at www.acefrehleyorigins.com — which includes an exclusive 180g Opaque Gold Double LP variant (limited to 1000 copies + download card).
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