Ace Frehley

by Greg Prato

It's become a common maneuver for veteran rock acts to offer up an album of cover tunes. But in the case of original Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley, he has had a knack for picking covers throughout his career. Case in point, scoring a hit with a reading of Russ Ballard's "New York Groove" in 1978, and since then, taking on the Rolling Stones' "2000 Man," another Ballard tune ("Into the Night"), the Move/ELO's "Do Ya," Sweet's "Fox on the Run," and Steve Miller's "The Joker."

And in 2016, the man who created the spaceman character in Kiss has opted to go the covers route 100 percent on his seventh solo studio full-length overall, Origins Vol. 1. Featuring classic rock nuggets (Cream's "White Room," the Troggs' "Wild Thing"), reworkings of Frehley-penned Kiss tunes ("Cold Gin," "Parasite") and a few surprises (Thin Lizzy's "Emerald," a reading of a Kiss tune Ace never played on before, "Rock and Roll Hell"), there are also guest appearances by Slash, Mike McCready, and Paul Stanley, among others.

The man who was born Paul Daniel Frehley - and has been listed as an influence by countless rock guitarists for decades - spoke with Songfacts shortly before the arrival of Origins Vol. 1.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): How do you approach recording a cover tune compared to an original composition?

Ace Frehley: I try to keep in mind when I'm doing a cover song how I'm going to make it my own and do it a little differently. Put the "Ace stamp" on it. But the way I record today really hasn't changed very much from when I recorded my first solo album in 1978 - with Anton Fig and Eddie Kramer.

I like tracking with just me and the drummer, and then throwing on a scratch bass so there's some bottom, and then start overdubbing - layering tracks on. I like to layer on a lot of tracks. It's always good to have more than less when you're mixing. Many times, I've recorded stuff and I say to myself, "Man, I should have had an extra guitar track here, and an inverted guitar track on this part." I try to layer on a lot of tracks. A lot of stuff I don't use when I get down to the mixing process, but it's nice to know you have it there.

Another trick I always use is I do extended outros. They worked out really well with "Rock and Roll Hell," because I do a really weird intro that isn't on the original, where it's sound effects. I tried to create sounds from hell - I don't know if I succeeded.

With the extended outros, I have a lot of different drum fills to choose from, and I ended up keeping the extended outro for "Rock and Roll Hell" - it's a two-minute guitar solo going out, as the chorus dies down, and that worked out well. It's going to be a treat for Kiss fans to hear me playing lead on a song that I originally didn't play on [the song originally appeared on the 1982 Kiss album Creatures of the Night].

Songfacts: In Kiss, was it ever intimidating to offer a song early on, since Gene and Paul would write so many songs?

Ace: It was never intimidating. Everybody was receptive to listen to other people's material. I mean, not everything I submitted was used, but Kiss in the early days was that magic, that collective thought. The chemistry was right. The timing was right. The idea behind Kiss with the make-up and the stage show was right. We were all in the right place at the right time. It was a fun process... for the most part.

If you were to take a peek at a typical Kiss concert setlist from any point in their long-and-winding career, the majority of the tunes are composed by either Gene Simmons or Paul Stanley.

But that's not to say that Ace Frehley and Peter Criss didn't contribute classics as well - especially Ace's aforementioned cover of "New York Groove," and Peter's ballad, "Beth."

Here is a complete listing of all the songs Ace either wrote, co-wrote, or sang while a member of Kiss (not including songs off his 1978 solo album):

"Cold Gin" - Kiss (1974)
"Love Theme from Kiss" - Kiss (1974)
"Parasite" - Hotter Than Hell (1974)
"Comin' Home" - Hotter Than Hell (1974)
"Strange Ways" - Hotter Than Hell (1974)
"Getaway" - Dressed to Kill (1975)
"Rock Bottom" - Dressed to Kill (1975)
"Flaming Youth" - Destroyer (1976)
"Shock Me" - Love Gun (1977)
"Rocket Ride" - Alive II (1977)
"2000 Man" - Dynasty
"Hard Times" - Dynasty (1979)
"Save Your Love" - Dynasty (1979)
"Talk to Me" - Unmasked (1980)
"Two Sides of the Coin" - Unmasked (1980)
"Torpedo Girl" - Unmasked (1980)
"Dark Light" - Music from the Elder (1981)
"Escape from the Island" - Music from the Elder (1981)
"Into the Void" - Psycho Circus (1998)
"In Your Face" - Psycho Circus (Japan bonus track) (1998)
Songfacts: There were some tunes that list you and Paul as co-writers, such as "Comin' Home." Were those songs a real collaboration, or was it just fitting two parts together?

Ace: Once in a while, Paul would play a part of a song for me that wasn't finished, and asked me for ideas. Or vice-versa. That's how those collaborations came about. I can't remember exactly what part I played on that song or what part I wrote, but that was fun. As the group got bigger and more money was being made and everybody was getting their own suites and people were going their own way, that happened less and less.

Songfacts: Regarding the song "Shock Me," I know in the past you said it was inspired from an incident when you were electrocuted on stage during a Kiss concert [on December 12, 1976, at the Lakeland Civic Center in Lakeland, Florida]. But I've always thought the lyrics were more of a sexual nature.

Ace: [Laughs] Isn't every Kiss song about sex? What Kiss song isn't about sex? Sex, drugs, and rock n' roll. Yeah, obviously, there was a lot of crazy partying going on behind the scenes, and we drew from our experiences when we wrote lyrics.

Songfacts: One of your more intriguing songwriting credits is the song "Dark Light," which lists you, Gene Simmons, Anton Fig, and Lou Reed.

Ace: I had originally written a song called "Don't Run," and Bob Ezrin had the idea of having Lou Reed re-write the lyrics, so that's how Lou Reed got involved. But I never sat down with Lou - he did that on his own. I remember writing most of that song, but with different lyrics from Lou.

Songfacts: What would you say is your most underrated song?

Ace: I don't know. I've written so many songs. It's funny, a lot of people think I wrote "New York Groove," but that was a cover. But my most underrated song? I don't know. I'd have to think about that one. I'll let you figure that one out. [Laughs]

Songfacts: I think the instrumental, "Escape from the Island," is underrated. It has a cool guitar solo in it.

Ace: Yeah, that was a neat song. I think I wrote that with Bob Ezrin. Am I right on that?

Songfacts: Yes. You co-wrote it with Bob Ezrin and Eric Carr.

Ace: We actually recorded that up in Bob Ezrin's house in Canada - in his basement. I remember that like it was yesterday, because it was such a weird, unique situation. And Bob was playing bass on that. We had fun jamming on that. We had the original riff and just elaborated on it, and Bob helped with the writing process, obviously - being the producer. I don't remember what Eric contributed to it, but he probably helped put together some of the unique rhythms that we have on that song.

Songfacts: I'm always holding out hope that when I go to see you play live, that you're going to surprise the audience and play songs from Music from the Elder, such as "Dark Light" or "Escape from the Island," which have never been performed live before.

Ace: I get asked about it every so often, but it's not mainstream, and the biggest problem I'm having when I'm touring these days is you have 75 minutes, and you can only play a certain amount of songs in 75 minutes. And I keep putting out albums - three albums I've put out in the last few years [2009's Anomaly, 2014's Space Invader, and 2016's Origins Vol 1]. So there's only so many songs you can play in an evening. It's getting tougher and tougher to pick which songs I'm going to perform live.

March 29, 2016.
For more Ace, visit
Photos by Dove Shore.

More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 2

  • Michael from Saint Paul, MnMaybe because he's going to turn 65 in a couple of weeks? How long of a show is acceptable to you?
  • Dave from Greer, ScWhy only 75 minutes? That's a really short show
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