ACE FREHLEY On Making Music: 'I Like Coming Up With Ideas Off The Top Of My Head'
August 26, 2020
Ace Frehley, KISS co-founder and 2014 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, continues his reflections on a lifetime in music with "Origins Vol. 2". No stranger to cover versions throughout his musical history — having recorded, rebranded and repossessed such notable nuggets as "New York Groove", "Do Ya" and "I Wanna Go Back" over the course of his eight previous studio efforts — this new collection presents a thoughtful and exciting selection of songs that inspired and helped shape the legendary guitarist. Foremost of importance to the original Spaceman is delivering an album his fans will enjoy, but one where every song also has a place in his life's jukebox.
Describing the process in selecting the songs on this album, Ace comments: "I just thought about the songs that I used to play in clubs when I was doing other people's material. I went through my album collection and thought about the songs that influenced me the most. It was fun picking out the songs. It's a pretty well-rounded record and I think the fans will enjoy it." That spirit of fun is carried through with exquisite execution and guitar aficionados are going to enjoy Frehley's fresh interpretations of these classic songs.
As the second volume focusing on his musical origins, Ace has also grown since "Origins Vol. 1" was released in April 2016. That album hit No. 23 on the Billboard 200 chart, becoming his fourth Top 40 and second-highest-charting solo album — and there's no questioning Ace's productivity with this album being his fifth recorded work in a decade. Ace chuckles: "Since I had one covers album under my belt, the process of doing 'Origins Vol. 2' was easier because I had put together a formula, picking guest stars and so on." The challenge for him was to put a suitable personal stamp on the material, and "Origins Vol. 2" is replete with special touches that both honor and embellish the material.
Perhaps appropriately, "Origins Vol. 2" kicks off with LED ZEPPELIN's "Good Times Bad Times". Ace is very much aware of that song being the first song on the first side of the first ZEPPELIN album, and the first single that the band released in the United States (backed with "Communication Breakdown", it reached No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1969). Ace recalls: "Right off the bat, 'Good Times, Bad Times' by LED ZEPPELIN came to mind, because it was the first LED ZEPPELIN song on the first album they released. So, that was at the top of my list. I just wasn't sure I was going to be able to be able to sing it, but somehow I pulled it off." It contrasts well with "Bring It On Home", recorded for "Origins Vol. 1", and Ace has added some lyrics at the end of the song, "directed at people over the years who have done me wrong." These match the fierce vocal and fiery soloing on a cut that includes his solo band guitarist Jeremy Asbrock and drummer Matt Starr.
MOUNTAIN's "Never In My Life" follows — utilizing the lyrics from the Japanese album insert Never In My Life with the more appropriate "bolt of lightning" reference. For some this song is less well known than the signature "Mississippi Queen", but it features a riff that Jimi Hendrix purportedly dug on hearing while MOUNTAIN worked in the studio in 1970. Fans of the heavier Frehley-penned KISS classic "Strange Ways" should dig the riff too. For Ace, the song ties back to his youth. "I distinctly remember in high school, I went to see a friend's band, and they were performing it on a stage in the basement of a church," he says. "I wasn't that familiar with this song, but the guitar player in the band was playing it really good, so I went home and learned it."
In addition to connecting with old songs, Frehley has also reconnected with old friends on "Origins Vol. 2". The first of these making an appearance is keyboard player Rob Sabino, who has performed with the likes of Peter Frampton and SIMON & GARFUNKEL. Sabino had been involved in both the CRAZY JOE & THE VARIABLE SPEED BAND album (the first project to feature Ace outside of KISS in 1980) and the FREHLEY'S COMET debut (1987). On "Origins Vol. 2", Rob takes on the role of DEEP PURPLE's late Jon Lord on "Space Truckin'", one of a pair of tracks recorded at The Creation Lab in Turlock, California. Ace notes: "'Space Truckin'' was actually recorded years ago and then I just re-recorded some parts and changed it a little. We never ended up putting it on a record, so it was just sitting around. It turned out very well. Rob Sabino is a very accomplished studio musician and we actually grew up in the Bronx together, so we go way back."
Longtime fans may be surprised at the inclusion of a BEATLES song, the 1965 non-album single B-side "I'm Down". Under questioning, Ace laughs: "Everyone was telling me, 'You gotta do a BEATLES song, Ace. You didn't do one on the first record.' The early BEATLES inspired me more than the later records, because they were more raw and more rock and roll. I decided to tackle 'I'm Down' and I thought it came out great. John 5 did a great solo on the song, and then we riffed out at the end." In addition to the stellar contribution to the song by John 5, it is also one of several tracks on which engineer Alex Salzman performs bass. When recording, there's no plan, Ace details. "I normally try and keep the bass lines pretty simple and pretty close to the original recordings," he says. "Usually, when I record, it's just me and Alex in a studio and then we add the drums last. Alex is a very accomplished musician, he plays keyboards, guitar, and bass. But I'd sometimes say, 'Alex, why don't you throw the bass down?' I just got finished doing a guitar solo or a vocal. And I guess a little of it has to do with it is that sometimes I'm just lazy!" There's certainly no laziness in the performance that does more than a little justice to the original and Ace gets the opportunity to rip out a rocking traditional guitar solo.
Another non-album single follows, originally recorded by THE ROLLING STONES in 1968, with Ace tackling "Jumpin' Jack Flash". The exquisite Lita Ford returns on vocals for her second "Origins" project with Ace, who's very fond of her. "Lita's like my sister," he says. "I've known Lita since she was in THE RUNAWAYS and we've always remained friends over the years. She did a great job on 'Wild Thing', so I decided to bring her back for this record. She actually stayed over at my house in San Diego and I coached her on the vocal for two days. I think it came out great!" And throwing out another playful Frehley tease, Ace ad-libs "Kick out the Jams Motherf**ker!" at the end, the starting lyric of the legendary MC5's best-known track. Ace had met the MC5's Wayne Kramer at the MAP Fund Rockin' For Recovery benefit at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles in May 2014 and the two have remained friends. According to Ace, "If the record company decides they want an 'Origins Vol. 3' somewhere down the road, you wouldn't be surprised if I did that song."
In terms of his musical history, one of Ace's first concerts was MURRAY THE K's "Music In The Fifth Dimension" in March 1967 at the RKO Theater in Manhattan. On the bill that day, far below headlining Mitch Ryder and Wilson Pickett, were CREAM and THE WHO, who were both making their U.S. debut during the nine-day engagement. Guitarist Eric Clapton made a lasting impression on Ace, even though CREAM only performed a couple of songs during a short set. More than half a century later, Frehley makes a lasting impression with the power of his cover of "Politician". Ace is adamant: "I try not to get involved with politics. I think it dilutes rock 'n' roll and should be kept separate. If people want to interpret any type of political message in my songs, so be it, but I don't do it on purpose." However, musically, the song allows space for both he and guest John 5 to shine with some stunning guitar interplay. One notable part of the track is the crossfaded double solo which Ace notes: "We used an auto-crossover plug in that comes with Pro Tools. If you listen to that long solo with headphones, our solos crisscross back and forth, left to right. We didn't plan it; it was like one take and it just worked out that way. He [John] didn't step on my parts and I didn't really step on his parts." John has become something of a regular on Ace's "Origins" projects, and not without reason. "John is a really talented musician and he can play many different styles of music," Ace says. "He's a much more versatile guitarist than myself, so I respect him for that — plus he's a good friend! He's very fast in the studio."
"My daughter Monique thought that this was the best song on the album. I did 'White Room' on 'Origins, Vol. 1', and I was trying to decide on another CREAM song to do. I started jamming on that riff and it just seemed so strong. I wasn't sure of whether or not I'd be able to sing it, so we spent 15 minutes tracking the riff and then I tried the vocal and was actually able to sing it."
Ace's humor is clearly present with the inclusion of THE KINKS' "Lola". A Top 10 hit in 1970, the then controversial but tongue-in-cheek song was always a favorite of his. "I always thought that it was a great song and when I was a kid it was a big hit," he says. "I just started fooling around with it and realized I could sing it — which is a prerequisite. My new girlfriend is a great singer as well, so after the album was recorded, I had her replace the original background vocal." Lara brings special vocal seasoning to that song, and "Good Times, Bad Times".
Sentimentality is also represented with a smoking cover of HUMBLE PIE's "30 Days In The Hole", which features CHEAP TRICK's Robin Zander on lead vocals. Not only had CHEAP TRICK opened for KISS on tour in the 1970s, Ace and CHEAP TRICK were both a part of the 2017 "The Children Matter" benefit concert for hurricane victims. At the time, Robin had expressed an interest in working with Frehley, so "Origins Vol. 2" brings together the two Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame stars. Ace, a lifetime fan of Steve Marriott, knew he'd need some help on the track. He admits: "I tried singing it a couple of times, but there's no way I was going to be able to do it justice, so I gave Robin Zander, an old friend of mine from CHEAP TRICK, a call. And he killed it." Once again, the song is firmly rooted in Ace's personal musical journey: "I've always been a huge fan of HUMBLE PIE and was present both nights they recorded live at the Fillmore. I was lucky enough to meet Steve Marriott at a party in New York City. I've always idolized Steve Marriott's voice and his range. He was such a little guy, but he could really belt it out."
Over the decades, Ace has interacted with fellow guitarist Bruce Kulick on numerous occasions. The two also share a common love for Jimi Hendrix, and a song like "Manic Depression" was the perfect vehicle for both guitarists to shine, with Ace delivering a perfect vocal for the mood. Originally released on "Are You Experienced" (1967),Ace recalls: "Bruce offered his services and I thought that it was a great idea. I've been friends with Bruce through thick and thin, and when Bruce told me he would love to do a track I was happy to accommodate him. He did the bulk of the solo, and then he and I soloed off together towards the end." Bruce executes a dynamic solo with plenty of the elements fans of both guitarists will appreciate.
Like the studio version of KISS's "Rock And Roll All Nite", the PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS hit "Kicks" didn't originally include a guitar solo. This limitation didn't prevent Ace from developing the arrangement and adding a perfect "three-part harmony guitar solo that really Ace-i-fies the song." The first of two Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil compositions on the album, the song was noted for being an early antidrug anthem ahead of its time (1966). And, of course, the song has a fabulous immediately noticeable riff! Ace comments: "They had that look like THE KINKS had in the early days. I always thought that it was a great song and it always stood out and had a catchy riff, so I decided to put that on this record. I think that it's a good message for the youth of today."
The second of the Mann/Weil songs is the Vietnam-era anthem "We Gotta Get Out of This Place". Originally recorded by THE ANIMALS, the song hit No. 13 on the charts in October 1965 and was later included on the U.S. version of "Animal Tracks". Ace delivers a raw vocal matched by his solo, one that he performed very early during his musical career. He recalls: "I always liked that song by THE ANIMALS. It was one of the first songs that I performed live when I was in a band with my brother. We even had a guy playing a Farfisa organ. It brings back good memories and I didn't even think about its political connotations, I just think it's a great song. I recorded that one a while back when I did 'Space Truckin''."
Rounding out the album is the bonus track "She". This song was performed by KISS at their very first show at the Coventry in January 1973 and was revamped for inclusion on "Dressed To Kill" a couple of years later. It's perhaps even more fitting than the KISS songs included on "Origins Vol. 1", dating back to the very genesis of his time in that band. Ace, however, is pragmatic about its inclusion. "It was a song that we had decided to perform live the last three or four months we were touring, before everything got shut down," he says. "We were having a lot of fun doing it live, so 'She' was one of the first songs that popped into my mind as a KISS bonus track for the album." And with its inclusion, Ace allows his solo band members — Jeremy Asbrock, Ryan Spencer Cook and Philip Shouse — an opportunity to shine, while answering the demand of many fans to get the popular performers on a KISS-related record together!
"Origins Vol. 2" is a well-thought-out, but not over-thought, album. For Ace, keeping things organic is an important part of crafting an album's atmosphere. "I just let it happen," he says. "Things evolve when I start doing these records and I try not to plan too much ahead. I like spontaneity. I like coming up with ideas off the top of my head. It's the same way I write guitar solos. When things are fresh and spontaneous, they always come out better for the listener."
Ace gets the last word with a direct message to his fans: "I'm happy with the end result and I hope the fans like it as well."
01. Good Times Bad Times (LED ZEPPELIN) 02. Never In My Life (MOUNTAIN) 03. Space Truckin' (DEEP PURPLE) 04. I'm Down (THE BEATLES) 05. Jumpin' Jack Flash (THE ROLLING STONES) 06. Politician (CREAM) 07. Lola (THE KINKS) 08. 30 Days In The Hole (HUMBLE PIE) 09. Manic Depression (THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE) 10. Kicks (PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS) 11. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (THE ANIMALS) 12. She (KISS) (bonus track)