THREE DECADES LATER, GUITARIST ACE FREHLEY REFLECTS ON “FREHLEY’S COMET”
Matthew Silkening of Ultimate Classic Rock reports:
Five years after his unceremonious and somewhat mysterious departure from KISS, guitarist Ace Frehley made a long-awaited return with a new band and album — both named Frehley’s Comet.
“I was on a downward spiral and really needed to get away from the whole music business, and try and get a grasp on reality and take a step back,” Frehley told the San Diego Union Tribute when looking back on his 1982 departure from his former group. “I’d really lost my identity, being ‘The Spaceman’ in KISS for so long. I needed time to be away from that character and the whole crazy world of touring.”
A couple of years later, Frehley began to get a solo band together and perform in the New York City area. “He had been doing live shows, selling out two-night stands at L’Amour in Brooklyn,” radio host Eddie Trunk, who at the time was working at Megaforce records, tells Ultimate Classic Rock. “So, he was out there but nobody had really had many dealings with him. A lot of people hadn’t even seen him without his makeup yet.”
“Every time I bumped into a fan, the first thing out of their mouth was, ‘When are you going to come out with your own record?’” Frehley tells Ultimate Classic Rock. But major internal and external changes had taken place during the half-decade the guitar hero was out of the public eye…
…[One] would think that any doubts Frehley had about his ability to handle all the lead vocals and songwriting on a record would have gone away after the high praise and commercial success he earned with his solo debut — universally judged to be the best of the albums simultaneously released by the four members of KISS in 1978.
But that was not the case at all, and instead of initially presenting himself as a solo artist, Frehley chose to return as part of a group, sharing those duties quite liberally with his bandmates. “It basically stems from my insecurity,” he explains. “After being in one of the biggest rock bands in the world, I felt a little insecure about embarking on a career and having all the weight be on my shoulders. So I said to the guys, ‘I want this to be a band, I don’t want it to just be me with three cover guys…”
…As Trunk notes, some labels were hesitant about working with Frehley. “There was a lot of talk out there about his condition, his sobriety,” he recalls. “There were a lot of people out there who were afraid to touch him, even though they knew he could sell some records. But I said, ‘Let’s track him down and make our own assessment,’ and that’s what we wound up doing.”
With legendary producer Eddie Kramer — who had worked with Kiss and on Frehley’s 1978 solo record in the past — on board to co-produce the album, Frehley supplemented his core group of drummer Anton Fig and bassist John Regan with multi-instrumentalist Tod Howarth, who would up singing lead on three tracks.
“Myself and John both suggested Tod,” Trunk explains. “He had done some work with Cheap Trick, as an offstage keyboard player and utility guy. Ironically, there’s a song on the first record that’s a rewrite of [Howarth’s former band] 707’s song Megaforce. Ace said, ‘I feel stupid singing a song about my record label.’ So they rewrote it a bit, and changed the title to Calling to You.”
Frehley’s former Kiss bandmate Eric Carr also joined in on the songwriting fun, earning a co-credit for Breakout. “Even after I left Kiss, Eric and I stayed in touch,” Frehley reveals. “I went down to his apartment in Manhattan, and we decided to collaborate on a few song ideas, that’s where Breakout came from.” (In 1992, following the death of Carr, KISS updated and released the drummer’s original demo of the song, complete with an extended drum solo, as Revenge‘s Carr Jam 1981.)
After the Top 20 chart success of Frehley’s 1978 cover of New York Groove, the decision was also made to include a cover of Into the Night, another song written by the same artist. “We were trying to mine gold a second time there,” Trunk admits, “because New York Groove was also a Russ Ballard song. So we thought maybe lightning would strike twice…”
…Trunk says Atlantic’s record department ultimately got final say there too, deciding that Into the Night was the more mass appeal song. “I know Gene Simmons called [Megaforce president] Johnny Z. when Into the Night came out, and he said something like, ‘Nice job with Ace, but you blew it. Rock Soldiers should have been the first single.’ And he was probably right.”
After the release of Frehley’s Comet, the group launched its first major tour, which, in the pre-internet era, gave most KISS fans their first look at Frehley. “It was strange, there hadn’t been that many photographs of me without makeup,” he remembers. “I wasn’t sure how fans were going to receive me. It took a little while to get comfortable onstage, but not that long. Obviously, the fans accepted me without makeup, so that was just a period of adjustment.”
Although he jokes that being reminded Frehley’s Comet is now 30 years old is “making me feel old,” Frehley has nothing but good things to say about the album. “That was a great record, I was happy with the way that came out. I’m still proud of that record.”
Read More at Ultimate Classic Rock.
While Gene’s character, The Demon, is my favorite, I think Ace was the most real person in KI$$. He wrote great songs as both a band member and a solo artist and his guitar playing was very influential to a lot of guitar players. Glad to see Ace is still out there recording music and performing live. And I hope to see Ace again in his rightful place in KI$$ before the band calls it a career. It just sickens me to see Tommy “Faker” impersonate the one and only true Spaceman, Ace Frehley.
Just as equally sickening, is Eric “can’t be a Peter Criss” Singer impersonating the one and only real Catman, Peter Criss! My Brooklyn brother from another mother! 😉
Frehley’s Comet, 30 years already, damn, just seems like yesterday! Come on Ace, we’re still waiting for that time machine! 😉
No reason to bag on Eric he`s just doing his job.As a matter of fact he`s a a much better drummer than Peter ever was. Saw them a couple of weeks ago in reno ,fun show. The thing that I have the most problem with is when Tommy does shock me. Seems kinda sacrilegious, especially when he does Ace`s movements. Eric didnt try to do Beth so Tommy definately shouldn`t be doing shock me in my opinion.
I know I’m going to get a lot of s–t for this, but I have to say it. Both Ace and Peter sold the rights to the Spaceman and Catman characters back to Gene and Paul! They did this of their own free will! Given this fact, why do people continue to hate on Tommy and Eric for taking over those characters in KISS? For Christ sake, Eric has been in KISS longer than Peter Criss was! I have been a proud KISS fan since 1977, when ROCK AND ROLL OVER came out. I will always have a place in my heart for both Peter and Ace, as original members of the band. But neither of these guys have been in the band for a long time. They both sold the rights to their characters to Gene and Paul, I assume for a nice chunk of money. Gene and Paul then decided to let Eric and Tommy use these characters for the greater good of KISS. They continue to successfully tour and put out new music. Eric and Tommy, I have no doubt, are aware of the fact that they will NEVER be considered the original Catman or Spaceman. But can we stop hating on these guys? They are both hired guns that are performing well for the band, and have done nothing wrong! Get over it!!
While admitting a double standard here – I’m ok with Singer in his role. Peter’s a whiner who still can’t understand how lucky he was to be with the 3 talents he was with. He blew it twice and thought he was an equal. Only thanks the ‘Beth’ can he make that claim and Beth was a song most real fans didn’t care that much about anyways.
On a relative note, anyone catch the video of KISS’s concert in Moscow the other night? Paul Stanley’s voice has officially retired. Even I am blown away that this dude thinks he’s going to carry on singing based on what he did the other night.
Keith, I respectfully disagree with your opinion that the selling of character rights to Gene and Paul make it okay for Eric and Tommy, or any hired guns, to wear the makeup. It may be legally right for Gene and Paul to do it as a condition of the hired guns’ employment, but in my opinion, it does not make it morally or ethically right. The fact that the hired guns do impersonate the original characters makes me view Ki$$ as a glorified tribute band. I have no issue with the fact that Ace and Peter are no longer in KI$$, but I do think the new members should have created their own characters. While I understand Gene and Paul may have made this business decision for their hired guns to impersonate these characters for the “greater good” of KI$$, I think it cheapens the band KI$$. And to me, that is what KI$$ is…and band, not a brand.
KI$$ continue to perform and be successful based on their legacy created by the original four members, as evidenced by their set lists and stage shows. While the two hired guns have been in the band longer than the two original members, KI$$ continues today because of the success of the original members.
I loved KI$$ when I was a kid. I will never have the passion for any other band that I had for KI$$. All that passion returned with the Reunion Tour. My opinion on this matter is largely based on the passion I had for KI$$. But, sadly, today’s KI$$ is not my KI$$.
Keith, just for the record, ROCK AND ROLL OVER came out in 1976. LOVE GUN & ALIVE II came out in 1977. Now, I’ve been a KISS fan since the beginning, 1974, we have been have this discussion about the makeup on this site for years, and frankly, I’m tired of it. There is NOTHING to get over, if you, as a KISS fan, and a KISS ARMY member don’t get it by now, you never will. It doesn’t matter how, why or however it happened, we all know Paul & Gene can be VERY persuasive, not making excuses, but did you ever stop to think that maybe they took advantage of Ace & Peter? Whether they were sober or not at the time, whatever they were or weren’t thinking at the time, bottom line, it’s still f**king wrong for Eric & Tommy to be impersonating Ace & Peter, PERIOD!! MOST KISS fans, including Eddie Trunk feel the same way, Keith. And it absolutely doesn’t matter if Eric is a “better” drummer than Peter Criss, he is NOT Peter Criss, and NEVER will be! Sometimes better isn’t always better, and impersonating someone is NEVER better, or right! Not sure if that makes sense right now, I’m f**king exhausted, been a long day.
Ace was always my favorite member of KISS. Being a proud member of the KISS Army, I remember being so enamored with Ace’s Spaceman character. When the four solo records came out, Ace’s record was the first one I bought (couldn’t afford to buy all four at once!). I played the shit out of that record! And it still stands the test of time to this day! I also love the Frehley’s Comet album. Ace’s song writing and singing are pretty solid on that album, and his guitar playing is terrific. I would love to see Ace back on stage with KISS before they call it a day. I personally have no problem with Tommy T. being the Spaceman in the band right now, as it was Ace’s choice to sell the rights back to Gene and Paul. Tommy is a hired gun, and he knows it. But, as a lifetime KISS fan, it would be great to see Ace (and Peter as well) get a chance to play with KISS one more time before the band calls it a day.
I wore the s–t out of that album. His best work was/is Trouble Walking.
What happened to the article about Peter Criss’ final show? As far as Tommy & Eric, make up matters and I’m starting protesting events nationwide because the Kiss Army will not tolerate a sub par cover band pretending to be the real Kiss.