George Varga | San Diego Union-Tribune
For many musicians, joining the right band at the right time can be a life-changing experience that leads to fame and fortune. For Ace Frehley, leaving Kiss in 1982 was a life-changing experience of an even more dramatic nature.
“I was on a downward spiral and really needed to get away from the whole music business, and try and get a grasp on reality and take a step back. I’d really lost my identity, being ‘The Spaceman’ in Kiss for so long. I needed time to be away from that character and the whole crazy world of touring. So I think it did save my life.”
One of the most influential rock guitarists of the 1970s and ’80s, Frehley rejoined Kiss in 1996 for six years. That stint also ended in acrimony between him and Kiss co-founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons.
Happily, he and Stanley buried the hatchet last year when Stanley sang the classic Free song “Fire and Water” on Frehley’s latest album, “Origins Vol. 1.” Their chemistry seemed better than ever
“When we were shooting the video for the song, it felt so natural being next to Paul onstage,” Frehley said. “Because we have so much history together and I think it came across in the video. He told me he had a lot of fun. I sure enjoyed it. Who knows what lies ahead?”
In a separate interview from his Beverly Hills home, Stanley was equally enthusiastic, if more doubtful of any further reunions.
“It really was terrific. It was great to go full circle and it was great to see each other again,” said Stanley, whose own Feb. 3 show at the Belly Up with his Soul Station band was canceled Monday as a result of his mid-January skiing accident at Mammoth Mountain.
“When Ace called me to ask if I’d be on his album, I didn’t hesitate,” Stanley continued. “He was thrilled when he heard the results and asked me to do the video. … It turned out to be a terrific thing. It was great to see him. I had a great time — and I’d leave it at that.”
A New York native, Frehley quietly moved in San Diego about six years ago.
He settled in a condo overlooking Balboa Park with his then-girlfriend Rachael Gordon. The couple, now engaged, recently relocated to Rancho Santa Fe.
“We lived in a penthouse overlooking the park,” he said. “Now, we’ve got an acre of property and I have a much bigger (home recording) studio and a private backyard with a putting green, a pool and a trampoline.
“It takes me longer to get to the airport, but I like it better because we have more room and it’s much more peaceful. I think I’ll be very creative here. I just finished (installing) my studio and think I might start recording next week.”
Frehley has made seven albums as a band leader. The first was his self-titled 1978 solo debut, which was released when Kiss was one of the most popular bands in the world.
He has since been cited as a key influence by everyone from Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine to Garth Brooks and Guns N’ Roses alum Ron Thal.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Frehley said. “I think that the ‘Kiss Alive’ album was the one that really inspired most guitar players; it had that live edge and rawness to it.”
Now 65, Frehley has been been sober for nearly 10 years. Does music mean something different now than it did in the past?
“It means the same thing,” he replied. “I guess I’ve become more confident; it took me a long time. Even when Kiss was at its pinnacle in the late ’70s, it hadn’t hit me that I was making money and doing it with music.
“Because I was never technically trained — I never took any guitar lessons or music lessons — I always felt like I didn’t deserve it. Because so many other musicians I’ve met were schooled and could do this or do that. … I felt like I’d slipped by and somehow someway got all this recognition that, a lot of times, I didn’t think I deserved.”
Kiss was inducted into the Rock and roll Hall of Fame in 2014, although the band’s four original members did not perform. Frehley delivered a memorable acceptance speech.
“Oh, god! I was feeling a little faint when I got up there and hoping I wouldn’t lose my balance,” Frehley recalled. “I had taken a diuretic in the morning and I guess my potassium was low. I really started feeling faint and hoped I wouldn’t get up there and faint.
“Gene and Peter were trying to talk to me and I was in my own world, wanting to stay focused on what I said when I got to the podium. I made some notes. But, as I said in my speech, I couldn’t read them because the glasses I was wearing weren’t prescription. So I had to wing it from memory.
“I wanted to mention some of the people who came to mind that I thought were responsible for Kiss’ rise to stardom. Then I mentioned my sobriety.”
Frehley estimates he owns between 60 and 70 guitars. He expects to use half a dozen of them when he performs at the Belly Up. He also features a good number of his prizxed instruments on his “Origins Vol. 1” album, which features such high-profile guest artists as Stanley, Pearl Jam’s McCready, Slash and Lita Ford.
The album finds Frehley performing such classic-rock songs as Cream’s “White Room,” Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic” and Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald,” along with such Kiss favorites as “Cold Gin” and “Parasite.”
Was there any cause and effect between his latest album and Frehley’s earlier solo albums, which included his memorable versions of The Move’s “Do Ya” and The Sweet’s “Fox on the Run?” The guitarist offered a candid response.
“ ‘Origins’ was the record company’s idea,” he said. “I had just come off the success of my ‘Space Invader’ album, which (sold) over 100,000 units, Originally, I wasn’t that excited about the ‘Origins’ concept. But once I got into the swing and started thinking about doing songs that influenced me and getting other celebrities to play on it, the album really started taking on its own life.
“I was really surprised by how ‘Origins’ took off. When you approach a studio album that’s all-original material, it’s like your baby — you wrote the majority of the songs and its much more personal. When you’re covering other people’s material, you have to think out of the box. You don’t want to do it exactly like they did; you want to put your stamp on it.”
Ace Frehley, with Enuff Z’Nuff
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Belly Up, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach
Tickets: $38 (must be 21 or older to attend)
Phone: (858) 481-8140