Thursday, 18 June 2020

Ace Frehley: The Man! The Myth! The Legend! And The Former Guitarist Of Kiss, In Case You Were Wondering.

Originally published in Rave-Up #18 (1990)
Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Ace Frehley and his band, including Richie Scarlet
Photo: Ron Akiyama
Ace Frehley: The Man! The Myth! The Legend!

For some ridiculous reason, the advert for Frehley's recent show at the Omni thought it was necessary to point out he was also: "The former guitarist of Kiss." Like you're gonna say, "Oh, that Ace Frehley!"

Before my chat with Frehley about his new album, Trouble Walkin', the folks at Megaforce Records kindly sent me a package containing five pounds of press clippings, which covered almost every question I could think of a dozen or so times.

As it happened, I had lots of spare time to read everything and cross-reference his answers. Because when the appointed interview hour arrived and passed, and four more hours went by — the phone finally rang! Frehley had just checked into his Atlanta, Georgia, hotel room. It seemed the trip from wherever to Atlanta had been hell, and he sounded exhausted.

Ace Frehley
Megaforce Records publicity photo
So, I decided to skip the amusing quip I'd been rehearsing for the past couple of hours ("Were you having trouble walkin' to the telephone?") and instead, opened with something a little more (possibly) contentious.

Why is Tod Howarth, the singer, guitarist and songwriter on Ace's two previous solo albums, Frehley's Comet and Second Sighting, nowhere to be found on Trouble Walkin'?

"I don't think my fans were happy with Tod's musical direction," states Frehley, choosing his words carefully.

Is he referring to the lackluster response to Second Sighting, which many critics dismissed as, at best, nothing to get excited about?

"We had just come off the road when we recorded that album," he says. "I didn't have much new material, but Tod had written a lot of songs. We were working under a limited time frame, so I just let him sing half the songs. Plus, I was sick with bronchitis during the recording sessions, so I wasn't involved with it as much as I should have been. Basically, it didn't come out like an Ace Frehley record. It came out like an Ace and Tod record. Unfortunately, a lot of my fans weren't too thrilled with it."

Amongst other personnel changes, Trouble Walkin' sees the return of vocalist/guitarist Richie Scarlet, who was part of Ace's original solo lineup during his first post-Kiss tour circa 1984/1985. And the difference is dramatic. 

Trouble Walkin' (Megaforce/Atlantic 1989)
"I think people are a lot happier with Richie's direction," observes Frehley. "His direction is the same as my old roots." I don't actually need to ask what those old roots might be because numerous articles in the stack address that very topic — they include the Who, the Jeff Beck Group, and Cream.

Reviews for Trouble Walkin' are indeed much more positive, with nearly everybody hailing it as a major triumph and a return to form. "I haven't read a bad review of it yet," remarks Frehley. "If it keeps going the way it is, it's going to be my most successful album!"

Peter Criss and various members of Skid Row make guest appearances on the record, adding backing vocals on several tunes including "2 Young 2 Die," "Back to School," and the LP's title track. "You can really hear Peter's voice on the title track," notes Frehley and I choose to believe he means that as a good thing.

Although Frehley's former bandmate joined him onstage in LA a couple of years ago (for an encore of "Deuce"), this was the first time the two had recorded together since the drummer's brief appearance on Kiss' 1979 Dynasty album. So, what was it like?

Trouble Walkin' promo poster autographed by Ace Frehley
"It was great working with him!" enthuses Frehley. "After ten years apart, the magic was still there."

How did Skid Row get involved?

"I met Skid Row on MTV when we were co-hosting Headbanger's Ball. After that, they invited me to jam with them onstage when they were opening for Bon Jovi. When Sebastian [Bach, Skid Row frontman] found out I was going into the studio to record my new album, he offered his services as a background vocalist and he brought Snake [guitarist] and Rachel [Bolan, bassist] with him."

Ace Frehley posing for a music magazine
 poster at the height of his Kiss glory.
Frehley co-wrote seven of the ten songs on Trouble Walkin', and he sings lead on almost everything. But "2 Young 2 Die" — a Frehley/Scarlet collaboration, with Scarlet handling the vocals — really stands out. Even more so, as I distinctly detect a nod to Thin Lizzy's "Bad Reputation."

"You think '2 Young 2 Die' sounds like Thin Lizzy?!" Frehley's voice rises alarmingly, and I worry I've made a terrible mistake. However, it turns out he's rather pleased with my comparison.

"I consider that a compliment!" he gushes. "I was a big fan of those guys. It was tragic the way Phil Lynott [Thin Lizzy vocalist] died. It was such a waste."

Ironically, for a while, it looked like Frehley was in danger of having the same thing said about himself. But apparently (according to what I've read), he's recently cleaned up his drug and alcohol problems.

"It's nice to be off all that nonsense," he declares. "I think the difference really shows in my new album. I was playing well and singing well. I'm taking care of business and thinking with a clear head."

Awesome poster for Ace's
November 2013 Chicago dates.
He's also somewhat thinner. "I've lost 15 pounds!" Frehley proudly announces.

How? I demand to know (probably a bit too emphatically).

"Ultra Slim Fast!"

A promo video for "Do Ya," one of two cover tunes on the LP, is being shown in regular rotation on MTV, and Top 40 radio stations are starting to play the single. Surprisingly, Frehley initially had some doubts about recording the song.

Written by the Move's Jeff Lynne just as that outfit morphed into ELO, "Do Ya" was first issued in 1972 as the B-side to "California Man." Frehley's version doesn't stray far from the original's riff-oriented power-pop arrangement, and he thanks me when I tell him his delivery is perfect.

But he admits, "I just couldn't see myself singing it. I practiced a lot trying to get the vocals right." He emits one of his signature chuckles before adding, "I would never write anything like that!"

"Hide Your Heart," the LP's other cover song, is also more suited to Frehley than the three other artists who have (more or less) simultaneously released it. Penned by the team of Desmond Child, Holly Knight, and Kiss' Paul Stanley, so far this year it's been included on albums by Molly Hatchet, Robin Beck, and Kiss — who put it on Hot in the Shade which came out alongside Trouble Walkin' in October.

A Trouble Walkin' temporary tattoo 
Yet "Hide Your Heart" originally showed up last year on Bonnie Tyler's Notes from America, which also coincidently featured Frehley's bassist John Regan. "That's how I got turned onto the song," explains Ace. "I had no idea that Kiss was going to do it. Gene [Simmons] asked me, in a nice way, if I would consider taking it off the record. But my record company was thrilled with my version and refused to take it off."

I have to ask, how does he think Kiss' version compares to his own?

"I think theirs is different..." he muses, and there's another chuckle as he trails off. "I think it's just as good. I must be diplomatic these days."

There's a question I've been saving for the end of this interview. There's (shockingly) nothing about it in the press kit, but it's something I'm sure readers of this fanzine have been wondering about for the last twelve years...

What does Frehley really think about Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park?"

"It was a good comedy."

Listing for Ace's (former guitarist 
of Kiss) show at the Omni in Oakland
 April 7, 1990 
Was it actually scripted? Or did you guys just make it up as you went along?

"Of course, it was scripted! [You're correct if you sense some indignation in his answer.] But I didn't have any lines to start with. The original script just had me saying 'Awwck.' [I've used the phonetic spelling.] I told my manager that it was unacceptable. I wanted some lines like everyone else in the film."

Some of Frehley's hard-fought-for lines are:

• "And they've got guns!"
• "Insufficient data at the moment, Star Child."
• "Beethoven's Fifth!"
• "Leave it to me, Star Child. I'll bend these beams with my mind."

Summing up the made-for-TV movie as "pretty stupid," Frehley reveals the strained dynamics that led to his departure from Kiss in 1982: "The big problem was that I didn't take Kiss seriously, but Gene did. Did you see us on the Tom Snyder show? Try to get ahold of the video. It's pretty hilarious. Gene's totally serious and I'm laughing hysterically! I never took it seriously — the make-up or anything. I just thought it was a goof."

* * *

The infamous Tomorrow Show episode, first broadcast on October 31, 1979 (where Ace laughs and jokes while Gene looks annoyed), is now on YouTube! Here's a link...

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