While Gene Simmons closed out the season of Family Jewels on bended knee, asking Shannon Tweed, his long-time companion and mother of his two grown children, to marry him, his former bandmate Ace Frehley is getting ready to release his autobiography titled No Regrets: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir. In stores and available for Kindle on November 1, 2011, it’s coming out on Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Shuster.
Although a canny writer, Frehley enlisted the help of New York Times reporter Joe Layden to help him pen the 288-page tome, although what he needed the most help with was making sure he remembered everything accurately—having spent much of those years in an alcoholic haze. “It’s hard for me to remember a lot of stuff, so what I’ve been doing is getting together with people I used to work with and usually they have better memories of situations than I do. You know, old bodyguards.”
As a result he has a no-holds-barred book that will rip the mask off all those apocryphal (and not-so-apocryphal) KISS stories. For the record, Frehley performed with KISS from its inception in 1973 until his first departure in 1982. He was persuaded to rejoin KISS in 1996 for their reunion tour. His second stint lasted until 2002.
Frehley talks to us about his years as Space Ace, why he was forced to room with Simmons in the early years, and what it really felt like getting electrocuted, and being sober for the past five years. If he told us all that, imagine what he’s held back for the book.
"I had an argument with Gene and Paul who said that because they write most of the material that I was not very bright. So I said, 'You'd be surprised how bright I am.' I bought these IQ tests, and Paul and I took them. There was no fooling around; we timed it and went by the rules. Paul's IQ is 140, which is very good, near genius. Mine is 164, which is genius. I always knew I was brighter than the next kid; I was just bored."Looking back, how do you think people looked at KISS?
I think a lot of musicians, serious musicians, when they look at KISS, just write us off as clowns. I understand it, you know? The other day I was listening to Alive IV and even Alive II, and I really wasn’t happy with the mix. Stuff like that started happening more and more often. Paul and Gene would make decisions without consulting me, and it got really frustrating.
What do you know now about life that you didn’t know when you first started with KISS?
Well, I’m a lot more apt about business matters. I was pretty out of the loop back then. And after you get screwed four or five times by different people, you start reading the fine print. I have a much better overview of the business. I look at it as a producer, I look at it as a songwriter, I look at it as a performing artist. And it’s nice to be able to do that, and not just look at it as a rock star. Because sometimes a rock star’s view is slightly jaded and colored by the people around them who want maybe don’t always tell them the truth.
The biggest thing that happened is I got sober. All my creative powers were unleashed. I wasn’t sedated. It’s funny, my whole life I was saying to myself I need this stuff to create, only to fine out later on in life, I’m more creative without it. There’s that sick little voice in your head that tells you you need it to socialize. You need it to do this, you need it to do that. And none of it is true. It’s just your insecurities coming out, which everybody has whether they want to admit it or not.
When you were drinking a lot did you still pick up the guitar?
No. But then I never practiced every day. I don’t like to practice. I like spontaneity. When I don’t play guitar for a week and I pick it up, it’s better.
Did you feel your talent was undervalued when you were in KISS?
Well, it seemed like it. Paul and Gene never wanted to give me the credit that was due. It was like in a lot of instances they tried to bury the fact that I did A, B, C, and D. I can’t remember Paul or Gene ever saying, "Wow, that was a great solo." On some of my classic guitar solos that were on their songs. But what goes around comes around. They have a new album coming out and I have a new album coming out, and you know what’s going to happen. People are going to compare the two. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
In 1977 the Gallup poll named KISS the most popular band in America. How did being on top affect your creativity?
I think it gave me false confidence. For a while I believed that we were better than we were. I think we got complacent with our music and the show. It’s like when you’re on top, where do you go? I told Paul and Gene from the outset that the The Elder album was a huge mistake, and they didn’t listen to me. I knew at that point in time we needed to do something heavy and powerful and strong. I was really frustrated doing that project.
Could you be who you are now without having been in KISS?
I knew I was destined to be a rock star. I just knew it, like I’ve always had the power of foresight. I feel right now exactly the way I felt after I finished mixing my first solo single, "New York Groove." That was a special record. I feel that same way now and hopefully history’s going to repeat itself. I’m in a good place. Like in 2000, after I left the reunion tour or the farewell tour, whichever the fuck it was—the never-ending tour.
I had been abusing a lot of things and I wasn’t in good shape and it took a while for me to get my wits back. But I’m probably stronger now than I’ve ever been in my life, and I need to let everybody know I’m back. I know for a while Paul and Gene weren’t saying good things about me, and that’s okay. Everything that comes around goes around.
But their criticisms are always about you being f***ed up.
Yeah, but I usually did my job.
I think the world is broken down by who is your favorite KISS member. There’s even a Facebook quiz, “What KISS Member Are You?” You ask people and they always say that you’re their favorite member of KISS.
Well, according to Paul and Gene that’s not true.
No, I think you’re the most beloved member.
I don’t think Paul and Gene ever got that. If they did, but why would they have replaced me with Tommy Thayer? And it was profitable in the beginning, but that was because nobody knew it was Tommy Thayer. They were kind of were burying that fact.
Who do you think it’s worse for? Do you think it’s worse for Tommy Thayer to have to be you, or for you to see Tommy be you? He didn’t even get his own persona, you know?
Well, he didn’t get his own makeup because of all the whole merchandising machine Gene has in place with Sony Signatures. To create a new face just would be a big problem. So it all comes down to dollars and cents, and not what’s really the right thing to do.
When you were drinking did you think you’d lost everything? Your ability to play? To be as good as you once were?
In 2003, I had a really bad detox. I fell down a flight of stairs and I screwed up my shoulder and my neck and I couldn’t play guitar for a while. And I thought God had just taken it all away from me. All these crazy things ran through my head. I’ve always been great on computers and stuff and I couldn’t even run computers. I forgot how to use all my programs. I had to learn how to do everything all over again.
But how did you relearn?
I did it the same way I did it the first time, I taught myself. I never took a guitar lesson. I never took a computer lesson. But learning the second time was a lot easier because my mind was clear. Now I’ve learned everything that I knew and more—and learned it better I’m thinking clearer, I’m writing as good, or better, songs.
You’ve come a long way from recording vocals lying on your back in a dark studio.
Yeah, I have. I was insecure then. Especially when people knock you down. Maybe it was because Paul and Gene was just so overpowering in the beginning. And Peter, too, you know?
Well, you were in a band with some of rock’s hardest taskmasters. You were always closest to Peter, but you shared a room with Gene. How did that happen?
I was closest to Peter. [But] Paul and Peter were close. Nobody wanted to room with Gene, so I got stuck. I got the short straw.
When Sean Delany did the choreography did it ever embarrass you to have synchronized stage moves?
Nah. I thought it was kind of cool. There were times when I felt a little funny. And maybe that was earlier on when we weren’t as big, and people would look at us like, "Who are these guys?" Once we were established it was fine. I don’t think Sean Delaney gets enough credit for what he did for us.
When you simultaneously all released solo albums in 1978, and yours was the only one that charted, what did the other band members say? Were they happy for you? What did they say?
They never really acknowledged it to me.
Not even a word?
Not that I remember. We were four lead singers, all competing at the same league, you know?
So who had the best voice?
Peter had the most unique voice, I think, of the four.
As for you, what do you think your greatest strength is?
I think probably my greatest strength is, because I grew up in the Bronx and was a street kid, I have the survival instinct. And there were plenty of times in my life where I didn’t think I was going to make it. Or just mentally didn’t think I was going to make it. But I was able to draw from my childhood, my street sense, and that always carried me through tough situations. And also my belief in God. I do believe there’s a greater consciousness that everybody’s part of, that if you can tap into that, you can get to a higher place. I’ve written songs that I felt I haven’t written. I feel like the words just get beamed into my head.
You were electrocuted in 1976 in Lakeland, Florida. Was that before or after you wrote “Shock Me?”
Before; that inspired ["Shock Me"]. That’s something like Paul and Gene don’t even talk about because they don’t want me to get any press about it. And that was a big thing—I almost died. It was a pretty traumatic experience. I mean, I had burns on my fingers. I was knocked out. [My then-wife ] Jeannette was there and I think she had a premonition about it. It was very weird.
Were you any different after you were electrocuted?
I don’t think so. A few days after I was nervous, because I remember reading that ... some guy got electrocuted and he died two days later. So I’m saying, am I going to die two days later? Because that was a bad shock.
Was it painful?
Yeah. I mean, I knew it for an instant and then I blacked out. I woke up behind the amplifiers. I said, “I can’t play.” Then the fans started chanting my name and I finished the show. But I had no feeling in my hands. I don’t know how I even did it. I guess it was all adrenalin.
What are you most proud of?
You know what I’m really proud of? It’s great to be around kids today that idolize me, and I know they walk away going, "Wow, he’s not f***ed up. I want to be like him." Because when I was wasted around young fans, they’d see me drunk and go "Wow, I want to be like Ace." I figured I influenced a lot of kids in a negative way, and it seems like that’s changing big time.
What would you do over if you could?
Well, I probably would have gotten sober quicker, and I probably wouldn’t have quit the band. I believe if I was stronger and more together they wouldn’t have worn me down like they did, and I would have been more of their equal. I mean, obviously musically I was their equal, if not more. I was always recovering from hangovers, so it was hard to deal with those guys sometimes. I don’t like drama, so rather than be confrontational, I’d take a different road. And because of that, I missed out on a lot of decisions and business things that affected my life dramatically.
Of all the KISS songs you wrote, what’s your favorite?
That’s a hard one. “Cold Gin” is a good one. For a while I felt weird early in sobriety, about playing that song. It’s about drinking. And then I realized there’s nothing wrong with drinking. Some alcoholics have this thing about 'don’t drink, alcohol’s bad.' You know, bullshit. Alcohol’s really healthy for you, if you drink it in moderation. When you overdo it, then you’ve got to pay the price. You get slapped on the wrist and you can’t do it anymore.
Did you ever feel lost in your character?
Although in the beginning you were that character.
Right. And that character is still a big part of me because I created it. It’s just, at the height of our popularity we always had to be seen in that makeup, and so to be that character 24/7 got overbearing.
What has changed most about your playing over the years?
I think I’m being driven by the fact that for a while I was pushed down and I feel like I had to prove to everybody that I’m back. After I left KISS in 2001, they told everyone I couldn’t tour anymore. I was f***ed up. I felt like that wasn’t going to be my epitaph. So, I decided to get strong and get sober and show everybody what I really can do and what I could have done if I had been more together. It’s weird that my time is coming this late in life, but better late than never.
What’s the greatest misconception about you?
Probably that they don’t think I’m as smart as I am. But that’s okay. Because then I have the edge.
Well, it has been reported that you had the highest IQ in KISS.
And that was with a hangover.
Do you still feel a loyalty to them, to KISS as an entity?
I don’t know if loyalty’s the right word. I feel a connection. The four of us did have a chemistry that was unique to the four of us, but I think it might be gone at this point, or impossible to recapture.
If the circumstances were right, could you do something with everybody at the same place, same time?
I think it’s probably passed. It came and went. But that’s okay. I did the reunion tour. I feel I was there for them when they needed me.