WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT GUITARISTS WHO
have drawn people to pick up the instrument,
you hear names like Chuck Berry, Jimi
Hendrix, the Beatles, and Van Halen. Another
name that needs to be on that list is Ace
Frehley. When Kiss hit in the ’70s, their combination
of big riffs and huge showmanship
set the world on fire, to quote their tune
“Flaming Youth.” The makeup and superhero
costumes made them the perfect middle
ground for adolescents who were forsaking
comic books for rock and roll. In the midst
of the fire, the blood, and the spectacle was Space Ace, who played with such an otherworldly
ferocity that kids the world over truly
believed his licks could cause his guitar (a
supremely bitchin’ three-pickup sunburst
Les Paul) to burst into flames. Frehley
inspired legions of kids to start playing, form
bands, and kick ass—among them a young
Tom Morello and Dimebag Darrell. (Dime
went so far as tattooing the Spaceman’s likeness
on his chest.)
Something this cool couldn’t last, however,
and artistic differences and substance
abuse led to Frehley leaving Kiss. A host of
guitarists filled his boots, including Vinnie
Vincent, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick, and
Ace impersonator Tommy Thayer. All good
players, to be sure, but Kiss without Ace was
kind of like Guns without Slash to the veterans
of the Kiss Army, which is why the
eventual reunion was greeted with so much
excitement and enthusiasm. Sadly, Frehley
once again drank himself out of a gig (and
out of his spacesuit, to which Gene and Paul
own the rights), and he spent several years
getting his personal act together.
That brings us to the present day, which
finds Frehley clean, sober, and rocking with
his first solo record in 20 years, Anomaly
[Essential Music]. The album is full of Les-
Paul-into-Marshall tones, pentatonic blazing,
and signature Ace moves. Frehley spoke to
GP from his L.A. hotel.
Oh yeah. Everybody knows I’ve been
working on this record forever. This was the
record I was supposed to put out before I
did the Kiss reunion. Sometimes things just
need to go their own course, but I’m very,
very happy with the end result. I wrote the
majority of the songs in the last few years.
The most recent one I wrote was “A Little
Below the Angels.” I forget the chronological
order because dates screw me up. The
oldest song on the CD is probably “Sister.”
That was something I wrote in the ’80s, and
I’ve performed it live. It’s a real heavy, kickass
track, and everybody I played it for
thought it should be on the CD.
I doubled just about everything—actually,
more than doubled. On “Genghis Khan,”
I must have done 12 guitar tracks. Same with
“Change the World”—there are at least 12
rhythm tracks. I tried different blends of guitars,
and I ended up throwing away a lot of
them after picking the right blend. There
were at least half a dozen acoustic tracks, as
well as a Les Paul, a Strat, and a Telecaster.
“Fox on the Run” actually has the least
amount of guitar tracks than any song on
the record. That song was a last minute addition
to the CD. Marty Frederickson and I
threw that together in his studio. I just did
all the guitar work and vocals. We recorded
that directly into Pro Tools, and it probably
sounds a little bit different because I used
some amp-simulator plug-ins.
That had about ten rhythm tracks, and
probably six made it into the final mix. I’ll
do a track with a Marshall with a couple of
different mics on it, and then I’ll double that.
Then, I usually like doubling the rhythm
track with a Fender because a Fender has a
different harmonic range. So if you double
a track with a Les Paul and then you do it
with a Fender through the same amp, you’re
going to get a much wider harmonic spectrum.
That’s a trick I’ve been using for years.
On my first solo album, I was using all Telecasters
and Les Pauls.
Yeah, I’m bending the neck. I didn’t use
any whammy bars on the record.
I don’t know. I’ve never broken one yet
It was mostly Marshalls. Sometimes, I
used a Marshall bottom with a 5150.
I use both. If a Marshall is biased right,the new ones sound just as good as the old
ones to me. I also use a lot of old Fender
amps, such as a Harvard and a Princeton.
Sometimes, I might use a little boost with
them. I have an old Electro-Harmonix LPB-
1 booster from the Kiss days, and that still
does the trick. I think on my first solo album,
I used an LPB-1 through a Fender Harvard—
one 10" speaker with an old Les Paul. That’s
how I did a lot of the solos.
Yeah. I also used one of those little MXR
graphic equalizers—a 10-band or 12-band.
My roadie would push all the mids up, but
only for parts where I was trying to get feedback.
I actually used to have a 2x12 cabinet
that was built into the center of the stage,
and it was connected to one of my Marshall
heads. If I stood near it and my roadie
cranked that EQ, I could get notes to hang
whenever I wanted.
I got that from Pete Townshend. He did
that on a couple of tracks. I was a big Who fan
when I was a teenager. I used to study Pete.
That’s great. When people copy me, it’s
one of the highest forms of flattery. And it’s
just passing it along from generation to generation.
I got it from Pete. Pete might have
gotten it from someone else. Who knows?
That’s kind of the way rock and roll works.
I don’t even remember. I’m trying to think
of who was doing that back then.
No. I was kind of in my own world back
then. I don’t recall why I started playing that
way. I do remember playing Madison Square
Garden and Eddie Van Halen was down in
the pit watching me do it. That was 1970-
I don’t know. I’ve never discussed it with
Eddie. He may have seen somebody else do
it. I was doing it with a pick. He does it with
his fingers. But I think Eddie’s brilliant. I
don’t get into comparing who does what, or
who got what from who. I think it’s more
important that everybody just makes good
music. I never really thought about where I
stole things from. I’ll take something from
Hendrix, Clapton, Townshend, Keith
Richards, and Jimmy Page, and put it all in
one solo. I think that’s what everybody
should do. Don’t study one guy and make
him your god and put him on a pedestal.
Check out what everybody is doing, put it
all together, and you’ll have kind of your own
Not really. I think everybody knows what
went down. I think the fans aren’t really
happy that Paul and Gene dressed up Tommy
Thayer in my makeup. All you’ve got to do
is go on YouTube and read the comments
under the videos. I’m not happy about it,
but it is what it is. Everybody makes their
bed, and they’ve got to lay in it, you know?
It’s not something I dream about or wish
for [laughs]. I’m just real happy that I’m still
able to play and play well. For a while, I was
out of it. I’m thrilled that I have a new record
out. I think it has some of the best songs
I’ve ever written, and some of my best playing.
It’s nice to just be me, and to be healthy.
Everything else is gravy. g
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