Happy Birthday today to The Spaceman, the irrepressible Ace Frehley, whose lead guitar work in the original version of the rock and roll quartet KISS elevated that band to one of the all-time great groups of that genre.
While the co-frontmen — Gene Simmons, with his blood-spurting, bass-playing rock shock antics, and Paul Stanley, all-around good guy with the sly wink — were pretty much always (and continuing to this day) at the forefront, it was the guitar sounds of the Space Ace and his attitude as well, which seemed to come from the Johnny Thunders/Ron Asheton/Wayne Kramer down and dirty rock variety that gave KISS arguably its musical cock walk strut on record, on stage, and in print. Frehley was the dark horse of the group who usually had musical photo finishes; he was the iron glue and in a lot of ways the one who experienced the most identity crisis, almost like the George Harrison in the theatrical greasepaint, the makeup which concealed the band’s identity during their heyday in the 1970s, but never concealed the band’s workman-like musical ethic.
Each KISS record during that time was met with much success, finely crafted in the studio, as the band, helped immensely by Frehley’s guitar work, vocals, and the rare main vocal, churned out records one after the other at a rapid clip which were at once treated as good party rock and roll done to the highest levels. Even though the band looked physically menacing in their garb, which consisted of enormous platform boots and spaced-out lavishly decked leather, glitter, and tons of swagger, it was all done basically tongue-in-cheek; the original fan base consisted of young people for the most part, as the band was kind of a more accessible version of what other bands like Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath were doing at the time and mixed in with some glammed up T-Rex and David Bowie, dashes of The New York Dolls, and ultimately at the core, semantics versions of three-chord basic rock and roll ala Chuck Berry.
It was blended all together to create a sound all their own, and although KISS endures to this day with a different lineup (still fronted by Simmons and Stanley), the fans and the presence of any lineup gives off the halcyon allure of the days with Frehley and drummer Peter Criss, something that was solidified and crystallized by the fact that out of all the solo albums that the band released 35 years ago individually, it remains Frehley’s that stands out as the best effort, helped by the memorable cover of the song “New York Groove.”
Frehley still has a fan base himself that is passionate and speaks in multitudes. The man still creates now and then, still tours here and there, the presence of him has never left the limelight completely. Intertwined with KISS forever, it will be sight to behold what takes place if he rejoins his former bandmates if KISS ever makes it into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; their glaring omission is treated with much contempt and bewilderment and a faux pas of the highest order by the Hall’s committee that they aren’t in there.
But non-accolades aside, Ace Frehley and his work in KISS has been immeasurable and stands up as the band’s now generationally spanned audience is as rabid and the “Kiss Army” still thunders on, with full mettle and intensity usually reserved for bands like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. To some, KISS is right up there with those aforementioned bands; to others, eyes roll at the audacity that someone would even mention KISS in the same breath. It doesn’t matter ultimately; what matters the most is what the fans like, and the adoration for the band and its members, including Frehley, is all that counts, and is a true testament of crowning success for a band that steals everyone’s love, shocks them, and rock and rolls all night and, well, you know the rest.
Happy Birthday, Ace*!
*Ace Frehley is also the patron saint of Geeks of Doom.