Interview by Mitch Lafon
ACE FREHLEY – Origins Vol. 1 (2016 e One)
FACT #1: Covers albums rarely have enough fuel in the tank to get an engine running.
FACT #2: Ace Frehley has never done a covers album before.
The main thing is that Ace Frehley is still alive and making music. He’s never been the most prolific writer in Kiss, hence this diverse assortment of covers. In the pot are songs from bands that influenced Ace, a few Kiss covers (including one that Ace never played on originally), and a guest shot by Paul Stanley (among others). Sometimes it’s hard to feign interest in a covers album, but these factors make Ace’s enticing. Not to mention, it’s a clean and sober Ace playing these songs.
Ace and drummer Scot Coogan play everything on Cream’s “White Room”, with Coogan singing the bridges. This guitar-heavy version takes what Clapton did, and “Aces” it up. It’s guitar solo nirvana, though the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” takes a few minutes to get to that same point. Ace has always done well with Stones covers, and it seems he can identify with songs like “Street Fighting Man” due to his rough past. It’s a fun excursion but the solos are the draw. Imagine the Stones but with the bright fun Gibson stylings of Ace Frehley. Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic” is a natural choice since Ace’s speak-sing style always seemed influenced by Jimi. Purists may scoff, but Ace’s take on “Spanish Castle Magic” is pretty enjoyable and guitar-heavy (John 5 on guest guitars).
The online hype focused on Paul Stanley’s return to Ace’s orbit. While Ace plays all the guitars, Paul ably takes all the vocals on Free’s “Fire and Water”. As Kiss fans are well aware, Paul has suffered from some serious vocal issues in the last few years. Live, Paul can be a bit of a mess. In the studio, he makes it work. Paul lacks the power he had back in the Kiss days, but his singing here is great considering. It’s over far too quickly. Paul singing Rodgers is quite a moment.
Ace is well suited to Thin Lizzy, a band you don’t think of as influential to Kiss since they were contemporaries more or less. “Emerald” has gone down in history of one of Lizzy’s heaviest favourites. Predictably, the highlight of “Emerald” is the solo section. Lizzy were a two-guitar band, so Ace got Slash to come in and solo back and forth, answering each other like Gorham and Robertson. The two go toe-to-toe in a blur of Gibson Les Pauls.
Led Zeppelin had a serious impact on young Kiss, and Ace’s covering of “Bring it on Home” is inspired and transformational. Lord knows what guitar effects Ace has up his sleeve, but he nails this Zep classic without any missteps. Ace sings the bluesy intro, but drummer Scot Coogan ably handles the higher main vocal.
One of the most notorious and difficult songs to cover without sounding like an asshole is “Wild Thing”, 51 years old and still inspiring cover versions. Lita Ford makes a surprise appearance on both lead guitar and vocals, and she sounds amazing on both counts. There is just no good reason to cover “Wild Thing”, because the Troggs did that definitively in 1966 and that’s that. More significant is Frehley’s update to his own “Parasite”, a song originally from 1974’s Hotter Than Hell. Gene Simmons sang it originally, though Ace wrote it. Speaking of “definitive”, it’s very tempting to think of this as Ace’s conclusive statement on “Parasite”. After all, Hotter Than Hell was sonically pretty disappointing. Plus Ace had 40+ years to grow as a guitarist since then, and believe it — Ace blows the doors off “Parasite”. This is a song worth buying the CD for.
Unfortunately “Parasite” is book-ended by two songs that didn’t need remakes, the first being “Wild Thing” and the second “Magic Carpet Ride”. Ace does inject it with his trademark fun style, but it’s all very unnecessary. Brilliant playing though.
A second Kiss update is “Cold Gin”, featuring Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. Like “Parasite”, Gene Simmons sang the original, but “Cold Gin” was one of the first stone cold classic Ace-written Kiss tunes. Ace has every right to try and reclaim it as his, a difficult task since the Kiss Alive! version is the only one you will ever truly need. Now with Ace doing the vocals and more soloing added, this version can perhaps be considered the second most important take — the one with Ace singing.
A pretty standard Kinks cover (“Til the End of the Day”) works fine. You can trust Ace to know how to treat the Kinks. The final and possibly biggest surprise is the final Kiss cover. The odd thing about it is that Ace never played on the original version of “Rock and Roll Hell”. This tune came from the batch that Kiss wrote with Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance in the early 80’s. It was recorded for 1982’s Creatures of the Night, the album that Ace didn’t participate in, before leaving the band. He appeared on the cover, he appeared in the videos, and fans didn’t know any differently, but Ace didn’t play or write anything on Creatures. In fact Ace never heard “Rock and Roll Hell” until recently. When coming up for ideas of songs to cover for Origins Vol. 1, Ace’s label rep Ken Gulick burned Ace a CD of tracks to listen to for consideration. (The CD contained two Who songs, two Cheap Trick songs, and mind-blowingly, two by Rush.)* Because Gulick felt that Ace had some unfinished business with Creatures of the Night, he also included two songs from Creatures on the CD. The ballad “I Still Love You” was the other track. Frehley apparently went bonkers for the Simmons-sung “Rock and Roll Hell”, and now we finally get to hear what might have been if Ace hadn’t left Kiss when he did. Perhaps if Ace was in good enough shape, Simmons could have given him “Rock and Roll Hell” to sing, and it would have sounded something like this. Matt Starr’s drums are given a similar echoey treatment to replicate Eric Carr’s sound from the original LP.
Does this close the book for Ace making amends with his Kiss past? I sure hope note. Vol. 1 implies a Vol. 2. If Ace were to continue covering Kiss tunes he never had the chance to sing in the studio, that leaves “Strange Ways”, “Comin’ Home” and possibly more that he could consider updating with his stamp. Although Origins has some “blah” moments as most covers albums do, among the highlights are undoubtedly the Kiss tracks. They push the album out from being a mere curiosity, to a must-have for any Kiss fan.**
* Source – Ultimate Classic Rock
** Made a double must-have by the low low price. I paid $12.88 at Wally World (plus I scored a “holy shit, jackpot” load of rare Star Wars figures). HMV were charging $15.99, and had him filed under “Ace Freshley“. HMV – the music store – has Ace’s name spelled wrong. Yet one more strike against the once-mighty HMV chain! See below for the evidence.
For Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review of this album, click here.