KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout

Ace Frehley: Legend

(Commentary, November 2011)

The Weekender
November 7, 2011

By Alan K. Stout
Weekender Music Columnist

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Ace Frehley.

Rock stars don't even seem to have names like that anymore.

It sounds like someone you'd call a rock legend. And for nearly 40 years, Ace Frehley has been just that.

Frehley, the original guitarist for KISS, has been topping readers' polls in guitar magazines for decades and is often cited as one of the most influential players of all time. Others may have played with more flair or better technique, but Frehley has always brought the perfect touch to a song and his solos have always fit each number perfectly.

On Sunday, Nov. 6, Frehley will bring an explosive setlist of those songs to Crocodile Rock in Allentown. The music will include KISS classics, songs from his iconic 1978 solo album, plus material from his post-KISS career.

Frehley enjoyed two successful stints with KISS, from 1973-1982 and 1996-2002. In 1977, KISS topped a Gallup Poll and was named the most popular band in America. Upon Frehley's return, the group's 1996-1997 "Alive/Worldwide" reunion tour was the No. 1 tour of the year. Frehley, however, is a musician who is just as comfortable playing in more intimate venues as he is playing in arenas before 20,000 people. This I know firsthand, as I've seen him in both. I've seen him tear it up on stage at Madison Square Garden with KISS, as well as many other giant venues. And, right here in NEPA, I've seen him rock the old West Side Theater in Scranton (1985), the old Autographs nightclub in Old Forge (1987), The Woodlands in Wilkes-Barre (1995) and Tink’s in Scranton (1995.)

It doesn't matter where he's plugged in. No one's guitar sounds quite like Ace's.

To understand why Frehley has had such an important impact on rock guitarists, one needs to look no further than the KISS albums he played on in the '70s. From the band's punchy, groove-laced debut in 1974 through 1979's much more slick "Dynasty," Frehley has an impact on every record. He wrote the classic "Cold Gin" on the first album. His riffs seem to anchor the crunch of the second album, "Hotter Than Hell." The spot-on perfect solo he played on a song such as "Dr. Love" from the "Rock and Roll Over" album took the song to new heights. Later, when he got more comfortable and starting doing some lead vocals, he offered gems such as "Shock Me" and "Rocket Ride." And after the success of his 1978 solo album, he seemed to work with even greater confidence, bringing killer material such as "Hard Times" and "Save Your Love" to "Dynasty."

Why didn't Frehley stay with KISS? Why did he leave "The Hottest Band In The World," not once, but twice? Well, his new book, "No Regrets," which recently hit bookstores, offers his side of the story. And it seems that in recent years, a clean and sober Frehley has been fairly diplomatic when it comes to the topic. Were there egos and personality conflicts within the band — common factors that often cause even the most successful of groups to implode? Sure. But Frehley has put some of the blame on himself in recent interviews, he has admitted he was quite a handful at times, and on his most recent solo CD, "Anomaly," he offers the track "A Little Below The Angels" which seems to celebrate the new and centered place he's found in life.

Fans will get all of this on Sunday night in Allentown. They'll get the punk kid from the Bronx who loved Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix and helped shape the KISS sound. They'll get the guy who, in the '80s, put out great solo records such as "Trouble Walkin,'" and who, in the '90s, helped KISS return to the very top of the rock world. And if they're lucky, maybe they'll even get a smoking guitar. Literally.

They'll get Ace Frehley.

Rock legend.