Here in the UK, there was a buzz of anticipation this summer for a rare return to the European concert scene of the legendary guitarist Ace Frehley. Ace was due to play in July at the Steelhouse festival, this year boasting acts such as Saxon, MSG, Orange Goblin, and the Graham Bonnet Band, among others. Then, disappointingly, a message came from Ace’s camp, cancelling the whole European tour. The official reason was “unforeseen circumstances.”
Exactly what these unforeseen circumstances are remains under a bit of a cloud. Rumours surrounded Ace having problems with members of his team having COVID, or that Ace has been suffering from exhaustion, but nothing more official has been said, and this is nothing more than internet speculation.
So, we don’t know. But I think it is safe to knock one internet line out. Ace has not cancelled the European tour so he can put the make-up back on and rejoin Kiss. Gene Simmons said, in an interview (with Chaoszine), that Ace had said he would rejoin the End of the Road Tour IF Tommy Thayer was sacked. The perspective from this magazine is that (quite simply) you cannot have two Spacemen out there on stage in the same make-up and Ace is not going to take the stage without make-up if Tommy is there as “his” character. And Kiss will NOT sack Tommy Thayer as he has added stability and momentum to the band (has played lead on three albums – “Psycho Circus,” “Sonic Boom,” and “Monster”), has been in Kiss since 2003, and provides some great guitar work. For anyone who has only watched Kiss live in the last two decades (so anyone under the age of about 27), Tommy Thayer is the spaceman.
How do we here at Rock the Joint Magazine view Ace Frehley now and his legacy?
First of all, Ace was a complete counter to Gene and Paul. Where they were the consummate professionals, delivering time and again, Ace was the rock and roll wild child, the joker in the pack. However, it is wrong to give a dog a bad name and to suffer in perpetuity. Ace HAD a problem with alcohol and drugs. He outlines this in the lyrics to the song “Rock Soldiers.” He has also been the victim of some outlandish hate from at least one vengeful ex-girlfriend, who started badmouthing many in the Kiss family. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of hate and malicious rumours can sympathise with Ace and his situation. I would say to not believe everything you hear and read! He is not helped today by the implications that he is somehow “unfit.” He has been sober and drug free for over a decade now.
Furthermore, uniquely among the Kiss team, Ace continues to make new music, he releases albums on a fairly regular basis and tours extensively. Also, where the music press has often looked to focus on disagreements between Ace and the Kiss team, Gene co-wrote two songs for “Spaceman,” his October 2018 release. On Ace’s “Origins 1” album, Paul sang “Fire and Water,” and the two created some great melodies. A terrific job. It never makes great press, but these guys go back a ways and still create music together. Ace can also be seen working on a range of projects. I remember talking to Kathy Valentine (aka bass player for the Go-Gos) a few years ago, and she remembered the “reclusive” Ace Frehley turning up at a birthday bash where he ended up playing lead for a track called “Bad Choice.” It should be remembered that Ace is highly regarded by many guitarists. Anyone who grew up in the 70s in America could not miss Ace. His solo on “Shock Me” is rated as one of the best in hard rock music. As a guitarist, he is drawn from the Rolling Stones and Keith Richards styles of guitar playing; it is risky, edgy playing that is drawn from the older blues men, and it helped frame the sound that Kiss became known for and largely copies today.
Having moved on to music, which is where this magazine lies, there are a few Ace Frehley songs that you need to hear. We selected seven here at the office that represent the best of Ace!
- “Shock Me.” Written by Ace, this appeared on the 1977 album “Love Gun.” The version to listen to, however, appears on the 1978 album “Alive II.” The lyrics allude to Ace being nearly electrocuted on stage, and it has that electrifying solo that was ranked #50 in Guitar World magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitar Solos Ever.”
- “Dark Light.” “The Elder” was not the finest moment for Kiss as albums go, but it did have some great tracks, and this is one of them. Written by Ace, Gene, and Lou Reed, this is a killer track with guitar work to die for. It’s about the last thing song wise Ace contributed to Kiss until…
- “Into the Void.” This came out on the 1998 Reunion era album Psycho Circus. Written by Ace and Karl Cochran it was the only song on the album to have Peter Criss on drums, the only song with the original four playing since the latter 1970s. It is distinctive Ace and played as a follow through to the first two we recommended would be the Ace dream playlist.
- “Speeding Back to My Baby.” What a great track! It comes from Aces’ 1978 solo album and was written by Ace and his wife Jeanette. There is everything to like about this song, not (perhaps) typically Ace, but it rips along with guitar driven zeal and sheer enthusiasm.
The Solo Years.
- “Rock Soldiers.” Written by Ace and Chip Taylor, this was the song that announced Ace was back after the wilderness of some post Kiss years.
“The Devil sat in the passenger’s side
Of Delorean’s automobile
He said, “Hey Frehley, Frehley let’s not be silly
There’s a life out there to steal…”
There was a time when Ace was smashing up cars at a regular timescale (like weekly) and, along with trashing hotel rooms (he once taped the furniture to the ceiling), televisions and the like, he was the bad boy of rock. This is that song.
- “Dolls.” Written by Ace, this track is really off beam. It is about a doll in his daughter’s bedroom (I believe) and it is unusual. Sometimes Ace can remain a little too carefully on the same path, this takes him away from the norm and is a high point of his first album away from Kiss.
- “Fox on the Run.” Ace does some great cover versions, so we had to include one of these (this one written by Scott, Connolly, Priest & Tucker, and originally recorded by Sweet) . He has done two full albums of covers, Origins I and II with some real standouts – a cover of “I’m Down” by The Beatles (the link for which is below, check out the Space Bear in jokes for Ace fans) and The Kinks “Lola” would be two. But, “Fox on the Run” is a blast. It is pulled from his “Anomaly” album (2009), and its absolutely great fun!
If you want to go out and pick up an album by Ace, as you are not that acquainted with his back catalogue, then either his 1978 Kiss Solo record, or the 1987 return with Frehley’s Comet. Aside from “Rock Soldiers” and “Dolls,” the album boasts “Into the Night” and “Fractured Too,” all solid rock tracks. Lastly, the aforementioned “Anomaly” was an album with many high points. Check out “A Little Below the Angels,” which is as close as Ace gets to doing a ballad, and very good it is too.
In a way, Ace is still setting his legacy as he is still (thankfully) a recording and performing artist. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an original member of Kiss, and he continues to tour. A quibble with the recent set lists would be how dependent on the Kiss back catalogue his set list is. I don’t understand why at least 50% of the material played is not pulled from his solo years. Why is “Trouble Walking” not on the list, for example?
Fans would like to see him on the last Kiss show (whenever that is). He deserves to be there, but the band politics are complicated and I’m far from sure that will happen.
He has nothing to prove. He is there with the best of the rock guitarists of the 70s. He retains that distinctive sound and his greatest legacy (perhaps) is in the influence he held on those that followed him, like Dimebag Darrell.
We are sorry Ace cancelled Europe, and we hope things are okay. There are rumours of a new solo album of original material in 2023, so fingers crossed for that. Ace Frehley, all power to you.
So, watch the videos and enjoy!