Guitarist Ace Frehley now tours solo, sans his signature makeup and silver platform boots. “Most of my memories of KISS, you know, are fond,” he says. “But that was then, this is now.”
The Who still appears every couple years to tour, minus Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Led Zeppelin turned down an offer of nearly $200 million for a reunion tour, minus deceased drummer John Bonham. And the fire-and-makeup traveling circus that is KISS has embarked on their “Alive 35 World Tour,” selling out shows across Europe in record time—but without original guitarist Ace Frehley.
The practice of seminal bands touring sans original members is something that gives Frehley pause. In the middle of a solo tour that hits the Wilma Theatre Monday, March 17, he’s used to answering questions—or politely moving past them—about his former band. But when his absence from KISS is put in the perspective of similar touring headliners, he stops to organize his thoughts.
“Well, I’d love to see a Zeppelin tour. Jimmy was a big influence on me. And, you know, so was The Who,” he says. “But KISS is a different ballgame. I don’t know exactly what they’re doing, but it is what it is.”
Frehley has little to say about the state of the band that made him a superstar. Upon his departure, Tommy Thayer filled Frehley’s silver platform boots, not only taking over lead guitar but also assuming Frehley’s “Space Ace” persona on stage, right down to the signature makeup and costume.
“Most of my memories of KISS, you know, are fond,” Frehley says. “But that was then, this is now. Today I don’t see myself putting on tights and running around in makeup and space boots. I was starting to feel that towards the end of that last tour that I did, maybe it was better off put aside, and left to the legacy that it should be.”
KISS casts a long shadow from its arrival on the rock world in the early ’70s. The band has influenced countless acts, from hair metal rockers like Mötley Crüe to country stars like Garth Brooks, and beyond. Specifically, Frehley is widely considered one of the most influential rock guitarists, with contemporary players like Guns N’ Roses/Velvet Revolver axe man Slash and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready citing him as a huge inspiration. The impact of his fiery guitar work may rank with the likes of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, but Frehley takes it in stride.
“Oh, I don’t think about all that stuff,” he says in a phone interview from a hotel room in Quebec City. “You know, people come up to me about how many people I’ve influenced and…I don’t think about that stuff. I’m always kinda moving forward, I live in the now, I don’t live in the past, or the future—I live in the now. Every day is special, you know, that’s why they call it ‘the present.’”
And then he laughs, a mad cackle that is as much a Frehley signature as his sunburst Les Paul.
For many fans, Frehley embodied KISS. In 1978, when each member of the band simultaneously released a solo album, his was the biggest seller and the only one to spawn a radio hit (“New York Groove”). It was also the beginning of the end for Frehley’s time in the band. In the early ’80s, following a pair of spectacular, high profile car wrecks—one of which was preceded by a 90 mph police chase in the opposite lane of New York’s Bronx River Parkway—he left KISS amid stories of substance abuse.
A short-lived solo career saw the release of three semi-successful records, then Frehley simply dropped out of the public eye. He surfaced again in 1995, when he rejoined Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss for a KISS reunion tour. That tour netted a whopping $43.6 million, proving fans still loved the “Hottest Band in the World.” KISS released a new album with the original members, toured, and at the conclusion of their supposed “Farewell Tour,” in 2002, Frehley left the band for good.
Though he may not speak much about the gravity of his legacy, Frehley understands it, and seems determined to deliver on what he thinks his fans want to hear from him. For the first time in more than 10 years, Frehley is on tour again as a solo act with a new band, and promises the spring release of an album of new material.
“Originally I hoped to have the record done for this tour,” he says. “I have so many songs I’ve written over the years, releasing the record shouldn’t be a prerequisite. I’ve been so focused on trying to recapture the old vibe I had with the very first solo record I did, the one with ‘New York Groove’ on it. Most people say that’s their favorite Ace Frehley record so I’ve been trying to get back into that mindset, you know, for this CD. When I get back [from the tour] in April—I’ve been tracking it at my studio in New York—I’m going to finish it up for a May release.”
And why not pursue this project five years ago? What is different now that has given Frehley the fire for music that didn’t exist before? Did he take up yoga and profoundly change his outlook on life?
“No, there’s no yoga. It’s just more…I’m more spiritual. It’s really about doing the right thing. It isn’t always about you, sometimes it’s about other people and other things, you know? Now that I’m back and I’m healthy and clean and sober, it’s like everything is blowing up at once and I have to prioritize. I want to put out a DVD of some animations that I’ve done, and scored. I’ll probably do an art show next year, but I have to put that on the backburner because a lot of times I get carried away with my graphics and forget to finish up my music. All that stuff will still come to task.”
Frehley breaks into that crazy, maniacal laugh again.
“Now I’m in a nice cozy hotel room, just chillin’. Making phone calls and playing with my laptop,” he says. “Life’s good today.”
Ace Frehley plays the Wilma Theatre Monday, March 17, at 8 PM. The Trews open. $34/$31 in advance.