KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout

Former KISS Guitarist Has Moved Beyond His Past

(Interview, January 1995)

The Times Leader
January 8, 1995

By Alan K. Stout
Times Leader Staff Writer

click to enlargeTwenty years ago, four young musicians from New York City released their first album, the simply titled "KISS." A fine collection of brash, hard-rock music, the record was an outstanding debut release packed with songs that have since become classics. And although it originally sold poorly, the four captivating, garishly-painted faces that graced its cover would, within three years, become the most popular band in the world.

Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss surely didn't know it back in '74, but they would forever change the course of popular music and have since chiseled a formidable place in rock history. With music consisting of instantly likable riffs and bombastic anthems, they inspired a generation of young musicians, and with the tremendous energy and theatrics they brought to their live performances, they redefined the modern stage-show.

In a recent Times Leader interview, former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley reflected on his days with the legendary group, new musical trends, and his current solo band, who will perform on Wednesday, Jan. 11 at The Woodlands.

Along with headlining Anaheim Stadium in Los Angeles in 1976, Frehley names several other instances as highlights of his tenure with the band sometimes called "The Hottest Band In The World."

"Our trip to Australia was nice," says Frehley of the group's 1980 tour. "It was six weeks of complete insanity. When we hit Australia, we were welcomed like The Beatles hitting America. We were on the cover of the newspaper every day and basically took the country by storm. That was probably just about the most amazing experience - and headlining three nights at Madison Square Garden (in 1977), because New York's my hometown."

By 1978, KISS was on top of the world. In that year, NBC aired what remains one of its highest rated programs in history, the TV-movie "KISS Meets The Phantom," and KISS' members simultaneously released four solo albums, each shipping platinum. Still, musical differences and a perceived lack of equal input into the group's direction caused Frehley to consider leaving the band.

"It wasn't a snap decision," he recalls. "I had been threatening to leave the group after we did the movie. That was before we did our solo albums. Then with the success of my solo album ... being the most popular of the four, it just kind of fueled the fire."

In 1980, Peter Criss was the first to split from the group, replaced by Eric Carr, who occupied the KISS drum stool until his death of cancer in 1991. Yet despite the internal turmoil, Frehley stayed on for nearly two more years, finally leaving in 1982.

"I had obligations," he explains. "There were contracts. I hung around as long as I could. Peter left - and not that I didn't like Eric, we got along great, but the chemistry wasn't the same. I didn't like the direction Paul and Gene were going with the group. I got sick and tired of being bossed around. Once Peter left, Paul and Gene made all the decisions, so they'd out-vote me two to one."

In the years since Frehley's departure, kind words between past and current KISS members have been few and far between. But upon the release last June of a KISS tribute album and subsequent home video, Simmons and Stanley have spoken more highly of Criss and Frehley. In a Times Leader interview last summer, both Simmons and Stanley praised the work done by the original four, with Simmons saying "I really miss Ace and Peter," and Stanley calling the original four "family."

Frehley doesn't quite buy it.

"It might be coming from an ulterior motive," he says. "All I can tell you if you look at videos from the past and you read old interviews - and you listen to stuff now, they've made a complete 360. If I was a fan, I'd be wondering why. Honestly, I don't know why."

Frehley has, by far, been the most successful of the former KISS members. His solo band, Frehley's Comet, debuted in 1985, and its first self-titled album was released in 1987. "Second Sighting" and "Live+1" followed, and his last solo effort, 1989's "Trouble Walkin'," is considered by many fans to be his best album ever. Young hard-rock guitarists consistently point to Frehley as an influence, and Guitar World magazine currently ranks him as the #4 guitarist in world.

"I'm very flattered and surprised," says Frehley about the accolades. "I didn't think I was that big of an influence."

Frehley and his band are working on a new album, which he hopes will hit stores in early this year.

"We're going back into the studio in mid-January," he says. "Right now we're negotiating with a couple of labels - there are a couple that are interested. We have more than an album's worth of material at this time. I think this next (record is) probably going to be better than 'Trouble Walkin',' simply because it's just a better vibe, a little more relaxed, a little less-produced - more in tune with what's out there on the radio."

But Frehley, the guitar king, has been kept abreast on rock's current sounds by an unlikely source. "My daughter's educating me on music," he laughs. She's 14 now - every time I come home she plays me all the new groups."

Frehley and company have been on the road for several months, and although he's recorded and toured with various musicians, he believes this to be his finest line-up.

"Right now, the configuration I've got is the best ever," he says. "We have a lot of fun on the road together."

For Wednesday's show, Ace promises to deliver the trademark high-octane rock and flash which his fans have come to know and love.

"You get a complete cross-section of material I've done since album one right up to 'Trouble Walkin'," he says. "It's a high-energy show. I use all the special effects I used to use with KISS - the smoking guitar and the lighted guitar. If anybody's seen me in the past, they're going to be happy with the new band. The chemistry is really tight.

"If you don't like loud music, you better bring earplugs," he adds. "The band is greased and oiled and ready to rock."