Ace Frehley explains whey he never switched from Gibson

Si Live | Tom Wrobleski

Dave Shore

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – He escaped the mean streets of the Bronx to help found one of the most iconic bands in rock-and-roll history.

And now former Kiss lead guitarist Ace Frehley brings his hard-rock groove to his hometown of New York City, appearing at the St. George Theatre on Feb. 2, with special guest Appice.

The “Space Ace” makeup that Frehley first donned in 1973 is a thing of the past, but Frehley remains one of rock’s top guitarists. His life has all the “Behind the Music” drama you’d expect: The rise to the top with Kiss bandmates Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and Peter Criss; the bitter breakup; years of substance abuse, and the band reunion that eventually went off the rails.

But Frehley has endured. Clean and sober for more than a decade, he’s put out a string of successful solo albums and gained long-deserved recognition as one of the best hard-rock players ever, recognition that eluded him back in the Kiss heyday, when the makeup and concert pyrotechnics overshadowed all. He’s even had recent reconnections with Stanley and Simmons.

Frehley spoke to the Advance recently from his home in San Diego.

So what can fans expect when they see you at the St. George Theatre?

“We still do a core section of Ace tunes, old Kiss tunes. I want to start working in more material from my ’78 solo record this year, because it’s the 40th anniversary.”

What else from the solo album are you thinking about putting out there?

“I’m not sure what songs I’m going to do. Probably do ‘Snow Blind’ and ‘New York Groove’ and ‘Rip It Out,’ and hopefully one or two others. But, you know, we’ll also be throwing in ‘Cold Gin’ and ‘Shock Me,’ ‘Rocket Ride,’ some of the Kiss classics that I’ve written and always go over well.”

You’re also playing real deep-cut classic Kiss songs, like “Parasite” and “Strange Ways” [from 1974’s “Hotter Than Hell” LP]. Is it important to you to reclaim those songs that people may not know you wrote?

“I think the hard-core Kiss fans are aware that I wrote them. Casual Kiss fans may not be aware. Paul and Gene in a lot of cases try to take credit for being the geniuses behind Kiss. But I wrote a lot of hit songs over the years … After the success of my solo album I realized something very profound, in that I was more creative away from those guys than I was with them. And that was kind of the beginning of the end for me, and the writing on the wall about that. Eventually I’d be down my own path, following my own path.”

Are you going to do another “Origins” covers album?

“At the moment I’m finishing up a studio album, which is the follow-up to ‘Space Invader,’ which was my last studio record. Then I’m contracted to do another ‘Origins Volume II,’ after the studio record comes out. Which doesn’t have a name yet, but we’re thinking about it. So two more albums in the pipe.”

What was that first song or player you heard that made you want to pick up the guitar?

“The first actually rock album we had in the house in the Bronx where I grew up was The Byrds record, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ And I thought it was good, but once I started listening to the Beatles and the Stones, that kind of took over. And I actually favored the Stones over the Beatles because I guess I was always attracted to the bad boys.”

So I have to ask the obligatory question about whether you’ll ever play with Kiss again.

“It’s been 15 years but over the last two years, I’ve kind of reconnected with Paul and Gene. I reconnected with Paul on the track ‘Fire and Water’ [on ‘Origins Vol. I’]. He actually shot a video with me. So that was a lot of fun and it was good to reconnect with an old buddy. And then more recently, I did two songs with Gene for this new studio record that will be coming out. And then I did a [Hurricane Harvey] charity event with Gene in Minneapolis. That was a big success. And just a couple of weeks ago, I was with Gene, he invited me to come up to Los Angeles because he was doing an event for ‘The Vault’ [CD box set], and he wanted me to come up and perform with him. And we exchanged some great stories. We had a lot of fun.”

How many times have you been to Staten Island?

“I remember way back when in the ’70s, when Kiss first started out, Larry DiMarzio used to live in Staten Island, and I took the Staten Island Ferry over, and I met him at the ferry to pick up one of his hand-wound [guitar] pickups. That was before DiMarzio pickups became really big.”

They still have their facility on Staten Island, still going strong.

“It’s great that they still keep it real, and keep it among the people where it all started.”

You’re still a Les Paul guitar player.

“It just has the right sound and the right sustain. It just feels right. It’s like when you get the right woman. You know you got it. And you don’t want to switch. Some guy is doing a book on Les Pauls, and he wanted a quote from me about the Les Paul … I said something to the effect that the Les Paul is like the Marilyn Monroe of guitars. It’s an icon, and it shines through.”

Final words?

“I’d just like to say I’m excited about coming to Staten Island to perform, because it’s been years … I’m looking forward to it because Staten Island’s part of the five boroughs, and I grew up in the Bronx, and it’s nice to come home.”

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