Casual KISS fans might be surprised to learn that Gene Simmons co-wrote two tracks on former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley’s new solo album, Spaceman (“Without You I’m Nothing” and “Your Wish Is My Command,” the latter of which also features Simmons’s bass playing), or that Simmons even gave the album its title. After all, Frehley’s squabbles with both Simmons and KISS’s other mainstay, Paul Stanley, have been well-documented over the years.
But Frehley tells Yahoo Entertainment that there’s “no bad blood” between him and his ex-bandmates — he recently performed with Simmons in Australia and as part of Simmons’s Vault Experience, and Stanley appeared on Frehley’s 2016 album, Origins Volume 1 — and this of course raises the question, will Frehley, who successfully reunited with Simmons, Stanley, and original drummer Peter Criss in 1996, take part in KISS’s just-announced big farewell tour?
“I knew you were gonna ask that,” Frehley chuckles. There’s a glint in his eye that suggests he’s not telling the whole story (at one point he asks exactly when this interview will run) but is revealing all he can offer right now. “OK, I have a pat answer, and it’s true: I haven’t been invited.” That doesn’t mean Frehley isn’t open to the idea, however. “For the right price,” he says, he would “absolutely” do it.
“The first year of that reunion tour, we grossed $215 million, and that was 20 years ago. So what would it be today, probably double that? Half a billion? I’m there,” he laughs.
As for whether Criss would also sign on, Frehley says he hasn’t talked to his old bandmate lately. “Most of the time when I want to talk to Peter, I have to talk to his wife. She’s like his manager, Gigi. She’s a nice lady, but I don’t even think Peter has his own cellphone, or if he does, I don’t have the number,” he shrugs. “When I do business with Paul and Gene, I call Paul and he picks up. He goes, ‘Ace Frehley, how you doing?’ Gene says the same thing. When I want to talk to Peter, or ask him a question, it’s Gigi I go through.” Frehley adds, “For the right price, I’m sure he’d do it. I mean, it’s tough to turn down a couple of million dollars.”
Frehley stresses, however, that he’s “not chomping at the bit” to do another reunion tour “because I’m having so much fun with my own band and recording records at home, and producing them, and writing them, and singing them. … My career has been going up and up and up.” He says the real reason he’d do it, aside from the massive payday, would be for the fans.
“I know the fans want it to happen because of the comments on the internet. Ninety percent of them overwhelmingly are saying, ‘Bring Ace back.’ If Paul and Gene decide to put a deaf ear to the fans, I think it’s going to hurt their careers,” says Frehley. “But you know, those guys always have done what they’ve felt like doing, even when it was not necessarily the best move.”
Frehley may be referring to Music From “The Elder,” KISS’s disastrous 1981 concept album that led to Frehley’s exit from the band. Frehley was outvoted by Simmons and Stanley over the album’s direction (“I said, ‘This is the wrong album for this time. Kids are expecting a hard rock record, and you want to give them this themed album about some weird guy who wears a hood?’”), and he came to the following conclusion: “When you’re in a supergroup and you work with a bunch of people and they don’t listen to you and you turn out to be right, a light bulb goes off in your head and you say, ‘Maybe I should be working with people that agree with me.’”
For now, at least, lead guitar on the KISS farewell tour will be handled by longtime band member Tommy Thayer, who’s been controversially wearing Frehley’s Spaceman makeup since 2002. (Simmons and Stanley hold the ownership and licensing rights to Frehley and Criss’s original makeup designs.) “Some of the fans want to kill him! I actually like Tommy. He’s a friend of mine,” says Frehley. “And I have nothing bad to say about Tommy. But the reality is, the KISS configuration at this juncture is pretty much half a copy band. You know, it’d be one thing if Tommy would have invented his own character, invented his own guitar solos. But unfortunately, he’s copying everything I do, note for note. There’s not much leeway for anybody to say what he’s doing is original. I don’t know how I could handle that, you know? I don’t think I could step into a situation, and be somebody else. It’s almost like being a robot. Poor Tommy. My heart bleeds for him!”
However, Frehley has a good sense of humor about the whole situation. “I love [current drummer] Eric [Singer], and I love Tommy,” he says. “Tommy used to be my tour manager! I don’t think a lot of people are aware of that. Before he joined KISS to take my place, he was our tour manager. And I used to send him out to get sandwiches. Next thing you know, he’s wearing my makeup, and playing my solos. Go figure. You know, you can’t write this stuff. If somebody came to a [movie] producer with a story about a famous rock band, and they said, ‘Yeah, the lead guitarist left, who was like loved, appreciated, and a huge sound part of the band, and they hired the road manager,’ the producer would say, “Are you crazy? Nobody is going to believe that!'”
As for Stanley’s recent suggestion that KISS could continue on forever with no original members — i.e., with handpicked replacement musicians wearing the makeup — Frehley says, “I’ve heard that statement. You know why I think he said that? To somehow make people accept Eric and Tommy. Because that would put them in the mindset that, ‘Oh, eventually Gene’s going to be replaced, and Paul, so it’ll be four different guys.’ That’s not gonna fly! You know it, and I know it. I think that was just a psychological ploy, if you want to call it that.”
So for now, Frehley is focused on promoting Spaceman, a record of which he’s extremely and rightfully proud. “You know what people are saying? I’ve done about 50 interviews already with people that have heard it, and they said it reminds them of my ’78 solo album,” he boasts. In fact, Frehley even wanted to call the new album 40 Years Later before Simmons came up with the catchier Spaceman title.
In September 1978, at the height of their fame, all four KISS members concurrently released solo records (all of which are being reissued Oct. 19 as a four-LP colored vinyl boxed set). But it was the Eddie Kramer-produced Ace Frehley that was the most successful, yielding the top 20 single “New York Groove,” and it was the most critically acclaimed as well. That was an epiphany for Frehley — “I realized I was more creative away from Paul and Gene and Peter than I was with them” — and now, his new Spaceman tracks like the nostalgic “Bronx Boy,” “Rockin’ With the Boys,” and a cover of Eddie Money’s “I Wanna Go Back” carry on that legacy.
Frehley jokes that Simmons and Stanley have “big egos, and they’ll be the first ones to admit it. I have a big ego, but not quite as big as Gene’s. Gene likes to talk about three people: me, myself, and I.” But he does believe they will listen to the KISS Army if the fans want him back — if not for the full farewell tour, then for a specific one-off reunion concert.
“Anything can happen. … The ball’s in Gene and Paul’s court. So fans, if you want it, speak up. If you don’t, don’t. I’m OK either way. Don’t worry about me,” he says. “Tell Paul and Gene what to do — because you pay their salary. It’s true.”
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