Despite his elusive reputation, legendary KISS guitarist, Ace Frehley, has been a guest of Days of the Dead several times. In fact, it was their first event in Indianapolis back in 2011 that I was finally able to add his signature to my KISS Marvel Comic (Story HERE). The fact that this event is able to feature him so consistently is pretty amazing in and of itself. But getting him to do a Q&A panel? Now THAT was really impressive. Regardless of the odds, it took place at Days of the Dead Chicago on Saturday November 21st, 2015; a date I’d later learn was already an important one in KISStory. What follows below are highlights from that experience, courtesy of my trusty digital recorder…
Introduction: This is a huge honor for me to do this; I’ve been a fan of this guy since I was five years old. He is the heart and soul of KISS, I don’t care what anybody says. Give it up everyone…ACE FREHLEY!!!!
(Audience Cheers) Ace takes the stage with his assistant (and moderator of this panel), John Ostronomy.
Ace: I’m glad everybody made it, you know? I didn’t think we’d have this kind of turn out with the snow. I was signing autographs earlier and two or three people said they’d gotten into accidents on the way so God bless, everybody’s here…thank you!
John: Ace, you’ve had two jam packed years. In 2014 you wrote “Space Invader,” you got inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame…
Ace: Ain’t no big thang… (laughter)
John: …then you went on a US tour, the New Year happened and you went on an Australian tour, New Zealand tour, European tour, and then went on two legs of the US tour…how are you doing that in such a short time?
Ace: (laughs) One day at a time.
John: But you have been much busier than you normally are.
Ace: My manager said, ‘this is the busiest you’ve been since you left KISS’ and that was back in 2002. And it’s great, I just turned 64 in April and I’ve never felt better and Rachael over there (points to a woman off stage) keeps me young and life’s great. I’m really happy with the new band I’ve assembled and working on a covers record right now which is pretty much exclusively all remakes and covers of other people’s music. That will be out in the spring so that’s very exciting.
John: And when Ace says ‘covers,’ he means re-recorded versions of songs that HE wrote and recorded, possibly back with KISS. That’s a really cool thing.
Ace: Yeah, thank you for that clarification. (Audience laughs)
John: And what are some of those tracks, either the covers or the remakes?
Ace: I’m doing “Cold Gin” and “Parasite.” I did a great version of “Emerald” by Thin Lizzy. I was lucky enough to get Slash in the studio and we’re trading off in the solo section. Mike McCready from Pearl Jam is in South America right now but he’s coming back at the end of the month and he’ll be on the record though I’m not sure yet what song he’s going to play. I’m still working on Gene (Simmons) and there might be a few other songs.
Questions turned over to the audience…
Audience Question: With everything that’s going on in KISS, do you just let it go…let bygones be bygones? Have you made amends with them and are there any hard feelings?
Ace: There are really no hard feelings. I was on the phone with Paul Stanley about a month ago while I was on tour and we were chatting for about 15-20 minutes catching up and he said, ‘don’t be a stranger.’ I keep in touch with Gene and I keep in touch with Peter from time to time. The amends were made a long time ago.
Audience Question: What would you say is your favorite song on “Space Invaders?”
Ace: The biggest surprise for me was actually the title track. I went to LA and started mixing the album but hadn’t written the title track yet. While I was mixing in the studio I was working on lyrics in the hotel room and actually wrote “Space Invader” that week. I also wrote “Past the Milky Way” that week too. So those two songs were really special, had a space theme, and I think elevated the whole album; just kind of wrapped a ribbon around it.
John: I want to point out that Ace wrote a couple of songs with his girlfriend, Rachael Gordon, and those were great songs as well.
Audience Question: Do you have any advice for young guitar players or any recommendations as far as guitars?
Ace: You know, people ask me that question all the time and my advice is practice, practice, practice and never give up your dream. If I had listened to the people I’d grown up with…when I was 15-16 years old I said I wanted to be a rock star and people said, ‘you’re crazy.’ I just never gave up my dream, you know? Follow through with your dream cuz you only got one dream in this life…so just go for it, man. People used to say, ‘hey you’re a high school drop-out, you better start thinking about a job,’ and I’d say no I don’t have to worry about that cuz I’m gonna be famous. You gotta follow your dream but you also gotta have talent. I mean, don’t kid yourself either (Audience laughs). I was lucky God gave me some talent…so thank God for that. Everybody knows the answer to the other question, Les Paul.
Audience Question: Ace, do you own the rights to your make-up and when are those rights reverted back to you?
Ace: I license the rights to Paul and Gene so pretty much they control the make-up.
Ace: I mean, I got a nice check, you know? I’m not hurting and I don’t know where the rumor started that I’m broke. I just bought a Bentley the other day, I have a Jaguar, I live in a 5 million dollar home…so I must be doing something right.
John: To clarify, there is a difference between licensing rights and selling rights. When Hasbro makes a KISS doll, KISS licenses Hasbro to make that doll. Ace licenses his make-up design to them so that’s why he still gets checks. It’s like he loaned it to them.
Audience Question: First off, I’d like to say, Tommy Thayer sucks! And my question is will you cover any Jimmy Hendrix in your new album?
John: Okay, well Tommy is a good guy…
Ace: Tommy’s okay, he can’t help it. (Audience laughs) Tommy’s fine…he’ll never be me but, you know, he tries. And I’m working on a Hendrix cover right now, I was actually working on it right before I got on the plane for here. I can’t give away the title yet at this point because I’m not sure it’s gonna work yet…there’s two in the running.
Audience Question: I love your book and love your references to your early days in Central Park. My question is what influences did you have starting out?
Ace: I thought you said you read the book (Audience laughter). You know that part where I said The WHO, Jimmy Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin…or did you forget that part?
John: Well let me expand on that. Are there any influences that these guys out here would be surprised to hear about?
Ace: Well when you use the word ‘influence’ I’m influenced by everybody…the Beatles to the Stones, Crosby Stills and Nash, the Byrds…I remember when I was ten or eleven my brother and sister bought a Byrds album…and you’re in the same house so you’re gonna hear it, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” So everything influences me, to a greater or lesser degree obviously. The English invasion is what really did it for me. Cream, The WHO, Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin took center stage for me.
Audience Question: In regards to your album, “Anomaly,” it was 2009 and you’re first in twenty years…what made you decide that was the right time?
Ace: It was about time, ya know? And it’s no secret, I was getting high a lot and some people think that it helps your creativity but it really stifles it. I’ve been clean and sober now for nine years. (Audience cheers)
Audience Question (female): I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but Chicago is the home to Miss Cynthia Plaster Caster. (Former groupie and artist known for making plaster casts of famous men’s penises)
Ace: What about her?
Response: I’m one of her protege’s and carrying on the plaster caster tradition here in Chicago. We’ve all heard Gene’s take on the story behind the song but Cynthia wanted to hear what yours was? What are your thoughts about “Plaster Caster?”
Ace: That song that Gene wrote? It’s not one of my favorite Gene songs. “Dr. Love,” “Deuce,” “God of Thunder”…those are classic Gene songs, ya know? “Plaster Caster” isn’t up there with the Top Five.
Audience Member: Do you listen to any modern music and do any current guitar players influence you?
Ace: People ask me that all the time but I’m just out of the loop. I ask other people who are still involved in the current music scene that question because I’m in my own bubble. Everyone I ask says there hasn’t been a hard rock heavy metal band that’s new that they’ve gotten excited about. I still listen to all the old bands I had growing up and there’s not that much out there now that’s knocking me out. But, unlike Gene Simmons, I don’t think Rock & Roll is dead, it just has to be fine-tuned. I’m going to start Producing in the next couple of years and am looking to pass on the knowledge and what I’ve learned working in this business for forty years. So hopefully I can help a young band get started.
Audience Question: How different was it going from being part of a band (KISS) to becoming the focal point in Frehley’s Comet?
Ace: It was hard for me. I was used to being in a band situation where everything isn’t on your shoulders to suddenly being responsible for everything; the business end, hiring, putting the band together, and making key decisions. It was a lot for me then and even to this day I’m not thrilled about it. I never enjoyed the business end of the business. I like just being the creative guy who comes up with ideas; writes songs and gets up and plays. When I have to go over numbers and contracts…I hate all that shit. It just gives me a fucking headache. (Audience laughs)
Audience Question: Outside of your professional career, what bass player did you enjoy jamming with the most?
John: I have a feeling that the guy asking this question, “Buddy,” may be the answer.
Ace: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s Buddy and he’s in my book and there’s a picture of me with him in there. I jammed with Buddy on bass but, unfortunately, you’re not the greatest bass player I jammed with. (Audience laughs)
John: I got two stories about Buddy. Buddy was in the car in “Rock Soldiers.” And then the other story with Ace…
Ace (interrupts): …Buddy was in the car with me in the Delorean when I had an accident. The cops came over and I looked at Buddy and said, ‘I don’t have my license and registration. Buddy, you better get out of the car because you’re gonna get arrested if you come with me. So he got out of the car and the rest is history. (Note: Ace was drunk driving and lost his license for several years after this incident).
Audience Question: Last year you said maybe you were going to put the song “Dark Light” back into rotation which, honestly, is the only good song on that album. Would you consider busting that out in the States during your tour and, as a follow up to that, did you really throw the owner out of your car window when you heard it the first time?
Ace: Yeah… (Audience laughs). You know we’re still trying to bring back “Dark Light.” There are just so many songs and every time we start rehearsing we end up with twenty, twenty-five songs and then we gotta edit it down to eighteen. So somehow that one keeps eluding the set but maybe on the next one we’ll get it in there.
Audience Member: On the KISS Farewell Tour in Australia, there was a clip on YouTube where you started playing some of the stuff that Gene had forgotten and then he asks (irked), ‘What does the Ace Frehley Band want to play next?’ What was the aftermath on that?
Ace: I honestly don’t remember. I think I probably just jumped into a limo after the show was over and bolted.
Audience Question: Back in 2009 you played “God of Thunder” with Rob Zombie, Tommy Lee, and Slash in (VH1 Rock Honors). Was there ever any talk of recording with those guys or doing a track or an album?
Ace: You know everybody is so busy. Just to get Slash in the studio…I’ve been trying to get him on my last three records. Same with Mike McCready and a couple of other friends but, who knows? That was a special night and I was really happy I did that. I was almost going to boycott the ceremony and then got talked into doing it. We had so much fun, we rehearsed in LA and hopped in a Lear jet, flew into Vegas and I ended up falling off the wagon that night, Slash handed me a vodka and ripple…but I got back on track a few months later. Whatever!
Audience Question: I read for years that you were good friends with Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P. and I’m curious if you still talk with him and why you haven’t done any musical projects together?
Ace: You know me and Blackie used to be drinking buddies and I pretty much cut loose all the people I used to drink with for the most part. But, more than that, he’s doing his thing and I’m doing mine. I completely lost track of Blackie but we’re still friends and I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again. I hadn’t seen Sebastian Bach for like ten years and then did this celebrity jam in Irvine, California a few months ago and the next thing you know I’m doing “Deuce” with him. With me the vibes are always good, you know? I hate to have bad feelings and negativity. When I was in KISS I was always the guy who made everybody make up. Peter would have a fight with Paul or Peter would have a fight with Gene and I’d have to clear the air and say, ‘c’mon, we gotta live together here on the road.’ Unfortunately that element isn’t there anymore so I don’t know what the hell they’re doing over there now.
Audience Question: What would you say was your most memorable or defining moment in your career?
Ace: People ask me that a lot. Growing up in New York City and attending concerts at Madison Square Gardens, the thing that always comes to mind was the weekend that we sold out three nights there. That was like a real special weekend and, at that point, I was like, ‘Wow, if you can play Madison Square Garden you’ve made it.’
Audience Member: I want to know if they ever found out who called in that bomb threat to your birthday party in Hackensack, NJ 2002?
Ace: I was loaded, I don’t remember. (Audience laughs) Vaguely. I mean, I remember Gene showing up with a cake and I completely ignored him and, in retrospect, I feel bad about that because he came all the way from California with a birthday cake but in my deranged mind I thought he was trying to like, I don’t know, grab some of the glory. Later I apologized to Gene about that. But..bomb threat? (Turns to John Ostronomy) Were you there?
John: No, I wasn’t.
Ace: Why weren’t you there?
John: I don’t know, I should have been. I must have been out of town.
Ace: What about the time I get a phone call from Bill Aucoin who says, ‘There’s a rumor that you’re dead on the Internet?’
John: Yeah that happened a couple of times. I thought it was great how Ace issued a statement, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Audience Question: What was it like working with Wendy O. Williams from the Plasmatics when you worked on songs Gene produced like “Bump in Grind” and “Ain’t None of Your Business?”
Ace: You know a lot of people think that when you make an appearance on somebody’s record you’re in there with the whole band and stuff. Nine times out of ten, when somebody does a guest appearance on an album, it’s usually just them with a producer and the engineer. Wendy wasn’t there, Gene brought me in and I did a couple of solos and he said, ‘Great, thank you, bye bye.’ That’s kind of how it works and with digital recording now it’s even easier. I can email someone tracks and say, “put a bass track on here” or “put a guitar track,” or a solo or anything and they can just email it back to me. You don’t even have to be in the studio anymore. It’s pretty crazy you can do a record on a laptop. If you know what you’re doing nobody can tell if you did it in your bedroom or in a studio. That’s why a lot of studios are going under. But, to answer your question, I didn’t meet her that day and it was pretty quick when I did.
Audience Question: Has there ever been any thought of you and Peter getting together and getting a tribute Gene and a tribute Paul and giving us another version of KISS?
Ace: No, not really. (Audience laughs) I don’t find that appealing at this juncture.
Audience Question: Do you know where you were forty years ago, today?
Ace: No. (Turns to John) Do you know?
John: No, I’m actually interested to hear this…
Audience response: Today is the fortieth anniversary of the KISS army in Terra Haute, Indiana.
Ace: Wow! Nice piece of trivia.
Audience Question: Why did they take so long to induct KISS into the Rock in Roll Hall of Fame?
Ace: I don’t know why it took so long…well, I kinda have an idea. When KISS was first starting out we had a journalist from “Rolling Stone” and we took him on the road with us for three days and he was supposed to write a favorable article, and it ended up not being that favorable. At that point, Bill Aucoin and management got pissed off with “Rolling Stone” and there was kind of a feud going on. I mean think about it, in the last forty years KISS was never on the cover of “Rolling Stone” until just recently when they asked us to get inducted. That’s because “Rolling Stone” is affiliated with the whole “Rock in Roll Hall of Fame” thing. Now as far as being inducted (laughs), that was a lot of fun! That was such a defining moment in our careers and really unfortunate that Paul and Gene didn’t want to perform with me and Peter cause’ it would have been great. Me and Peter really wanted to do it and they declined but I wasn’t gonna let that take the wind out of my sails.
Audience Question: What is your favorite piece of KISS memorabilia? Do you collect any and are any on display in your house?
Ace: All I have hanging up are Gold records, any memorabilia I have is still in boxes. I was never a big fan of the dolls or the lunch boxes and all that stuff. It really got out of control towards the end before I left the group. I talk about it in my book how we started having a lot of young kids coming to our shows with their parents. Bill Aucoin would come up to me and say, “Ace, watch the ‘F’ word tonight because there’s a bunch of young kids in the front row.” So it made us take the edge off of our music and our live shows and was all part of the whole machine. That merchandise craziness was always Gene’s thing. The pinball machines were great…I would probably say that out of everything the pinball machine was my favorite.
John: Thank you guys and thanks for your questions!
Ace: Thank you so much!
After the Ace Panel it was time to leave Days of the Dead which, for me, also concluded another busy year of conventions and expos. I said goodbye to Don and Bunny and headed out to the frozen tundra of that was now Chicago (though just a few days later all the snow would be gone). T6he weather had indeed made traveling a nightmare that weekend…but Days of the Dead Chicago was definitely worth it!