Upstairs at the Rainbow Bar and Grill on the Sunset Strip, Ace Frehley is having a party. The former Kiss guitarist is celebrating a new solo album, Spaceman (eOne Music), with a crowd of friends, fans and journalists. He's dressed in black, with a silver lightning bolt down his chest, posing for pictures as an autobiographical new song blasts overhead: "Don't be sad, I'm working tonight/I'm rockin' with the boys!"
Back in Frehley's drinking days, the Rainbow was a frequent hangout, as it has been over the decades for Led Zeppelin, Mötley Crüe and Lemmy Kilmister. Tonight it's a place to connect his past with the present, sharing some new music as current Kiss drummer Eric Singer walks up to give the guitarist a hug.
Frehley hasn't performed with Kiss since 2000, and the band's original quartet hasn't been seen together since their 2014 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But with the band led by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley embarking on a farewell "End of the Road" tour in 2019, Frehley says he's ready to join them if asked. "I only see good things in the future, even without a Kiss reunion," he says. "Who knows what's going to happen?"
Either way, the guitarist has largely reconciled with his former band of kabuki brothers. In 2016, he reunited with Stanley for the song "Fire and Water"; and Simmons co-wrote and appears on two songs from Spaceman, recorded after Frehley joined him in select cities early this year for the public rollout of the massive Simmons box set The Vault.
It's just part of an ongoing prolific (and sober) period for Frehley demonstrated by the new album's nine tracks, from the Zeppelin-ish "Bronx Boy," recounting his youth in a street gang called the Ducky Boys, to the closing six-minute instrumental, "Quantum Flux."
"My creativity has gone through the roof," says Frehley, 67, sitting down with Revolver the day after his Rainbow party. "The stuff just comes to me. It sometimes seems like it's beaming right into my head. It could be the fact that I'm part alien."
DO YOU HAVE A LONG HISTORY AT THE RAINBOW?
ACE FREHLEY I used to lie in the hallway outside the bathroom, loaded on Quaaludes and alcohol. People were stepping over me. I did the whole gamut at the Rainbow. I've been going there since the Seventies. I've had my good times and my bad times. Luckily, I'm having good times now.
DID I SEE JACKIE FOX FROM THE RUNAWAYS AT YOUR PARTY LAST NIGHT?
Yeah. She used to be my girlfriend. I whispered in her ear: "Jackie, do you remember the night we spent on the Queen Mary?" She started laughing. I said, "I hope I can use it in my next book." She's an attorney now, so you've got to be careful. We did some shows with the Runaways. Sometimes I have to do a reality check because I used to be so loaded. I said, "What was I like back then?" She said, "You were a complete gentleman. You were funny. You were like the Rodney Dangerfield of Kiss." When I was loaded, I was always cracking jokes.
I SAW ERIC SINGER OF KISS WAS THERE, TOO.
He is a good friend. He tracked a blues song with me for this record called "Empty Bed Blues." It might end up on a bonus version. My '78 solo album 40 years ago was nine songs and I'm a little superstitious — so I wanted to keep this one to nine songs.
THE FOUR KISS SOLO ALBUMS FROM 1978 ARE BEING REISSUED IN A VINYL BOX SET.
I just heard that. Hmm, maybe I'll get a check.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR FIRST SOLO ALBUM NOW?
It stood the test of time. Back in the Seventies, it was the most popular. I was lucky enough to get Eddie Kramer to produce it. I was always comfortable with Eddie. We used to spend time after Paul and Gene went home — I'd have Eddie Kramer teach me how to use compressors and limiters. He really helped me get to a point where I could have a home studio and know how to work it. It was a really relaxed relationship. My creativity flowed.
THAT WAS WHEN KISS WAS AT THEIR POPULAR PEAK.
It was unlimited funds. My record actually came under budget, where I think Paul and Gene's might have gone over budget. To me it wasn't about money. Gene's probably went over budget because he had Helen Reddy and other people [Joe Perry, Bob Seger, Donna Summer, Cher]. He went overboard. My record was just me, Anton Fig and Eddie Kramer. I played all the instruments and Anton did the drums. I can play drums but I'm good for about 10 minutes and then I'm out of breath. I don't know how guys play drums for two hours. That's like a miracle.
FROM THAT ALBUM, "NEW YORK GROOVE" WAS A HIT. WHAT DID YOU LIKE ABOUT THAT SONG?
Nothing. I didn't want to do it, to be honest. Eddie Kramer played it for me, and I said, "I hate it." But he wore me down. Lo and behold, it became my biggest hit, so go figure.
YOU MUST HAVE CONNECTED WITH IT ON SOME LEVEL.
Once you start the recording process, you put everything you've got into it. You try to make it your own. And it didn't hurt that we had two cute girls singing backgrounds in the studio. I had a lot of fun making that record.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SONG ON THAT '78 ALBUM?
"Snow Blind" is a good song. "Fractured Mirror" was a departure for me, doing an acoustic instrumental. I kind of double-picked the strings. I always thought outside the box. Eddie loved me for that reason. Me and Eddie had a really good relationship, working and not working. He's a real talented guy. He worked with Hendrix. He worked with the Beatles. He told me stories about working on Electric Ladyland. He's got a wealth of information about analog recording.
ASIDE FROM YOUR OWN RECORD, DID YOU HAVE A FAVORITE OF THE OTHER KISS SOLO ALBUMS?
I'll be honest with you: I never listened to any of those records from beginning to end. I listened to a couple of tracks. They're OK.
TOO MUCH HELEN REDDY?
I just never found any of those albums appealing. Paul's was probably the second best one because he's a good pop songwriter. Gene went off on a fucking tangent somewhere. And Peter [Criss] is a great singer and drummer, but his songwriting abilities are limited.
IT WAS STILL A PRETTY FAMOUS EVENT THAT KISS PULLED OFF THOSE FOUR SOLO ALBUMS.
The Beatles could have done it. We were four distinct characters. We all sang lead. We all wrote music. I'm not so sure it was the greatest idea to do. I think it was [Casablanca Records founder] Neil Bogart's idea. We were all on coke. I'd go into Neil's office and he would pull out a coke vial.
WAS THAT A GOOD TIME TO BE MAKING MUSIC?
The Seventies was a great time to be making music. We were at the top of the world. I was blossoming as a songwriter. Gene was starting to get involved with dating starlets, Cher and Diana Ross, and he was probably participating less in the business of Kiss. Paul talks about that in his book.
HAVE YOU READ THE KISS BOOKS THAT THE OTHERS HAVE DONE?
I haven't read Gene's book. I skimmed through Paul's book. He kind of went easy on me. He tore Peter a new asshole, and he threw Gene under the bus, which is surprising. Everybody exaggerates here and there. Who's right? There's probably a little truth in each one.
A LOT OF FANS NOTICED WHEN YOU REUNITED IN 2016 WITH PAUL FOR "FIRE AND WATER." AND NOW GENE IS ON SPACEMAN.
It just happened.
IT WASN'T THAT LONG AGO THAT YOU GUYS WERE ALL SAYING NASTY THINGS ABOUT EACH OTHER.
That was years ago. We're like rock & roll brothers. We're family and sometimes brothers quarrel and say things you don't really mean. And we've made up. Gene told me that I'm his only friend. He has no friends — he said that when we did the Vault Experience in L.A. And I wrote him an email: "Gene, I got offended when you said you had no friends, because I'm your friend."
How did you end up calling this new album Spaceman?
I was going to call it 40 Years Later. Then Gene asked me to come down to Miami to do a Vault Experience with him, and we were doing a Q&A and I threw that title out to the audience to get feedback, and it was lukewarm. Gene goes, "Ace, you should call the album Spaceman." Done. I liked the idea of calling it Spaceman. I think it reinforces with the fans who the real Spaceman is, which doesn't hurt at this juncture.
It's interesting that it was Gene who came up with it.
I get the sense that Gene misses me.
How was it working with Gene on the new songs?
After the Vault Experience, I gave him a call and told him I was doing another studio album: "Would you want to come down and write one or two songs with me?" He said, "Sure." A week later he showed up at my door and within three hours we wrote two songs.
We sat with two acoustic guitars. He came up for the riff from the opening track, "Without You I'm Nothing." I came up with the bridge. He came up with one or two lines, and I wrote 90 percent of the lyrics. The same thing happened with "Your Wish Is My Command." He was he catalyst for both of those songs, and came up with the titles for both. I give him a lot of credit. He inspired me. I wanted to make those songs as good as possible, so when people heard an Ace Frehley/Gene Simmons composition they'd go, "Wow, that's great." I worked especially hard on both of those songs.
WHO WERE THE DUCKY BOYS YOU SING ABOUT ON "BRONX BOY"?
The Ducky Boys was the name of a gang in the Bronx. I joined them after getting beat up several times as a young teenager. I wanted protection. When you join a gang, you have protection.
We had some wild parties. We used to go on chases. I lived right near the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, and there was a guardhouse there. The grounds were patrolled. We'd get a couple of six packs of beer and drink, and then we'd throw a rock at the guardhouse and jump over the fence while they chased us. We wanted action. We'd walk into a schoolyard and start a fight with another gang, break into a warehouse, steal a car. I've done it all.
WERE THERE A LOT OF GANGS AROUND?
Not that many. You go down Fordham Road and you had the Fordham Baldies. You didn't want to go down to the South Bronx though. That was really tough. They carried real guns. We had zip guns.
ON THE SONG "ROCKIN' WITH THE BOYS," WHO ARE THE BOYS?
In my mind, I'm talking about Kiss.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE IN THE EARLY DAYS OF KISS, BEFORE IT BECAME GIGANTIC?
It was a happier time. It was all for one and one for all. Every week we would have a band meeting. We'd sit around a table and talk: "What's going on? What's your beef?" We'd get it out. We'd have a group therapy kind of meeting. Once we became superstars and we each had our own suites and limos, everybody went their own way. That was the beginning of the end.
HOW IS IT WORKING WITH GENE AND PAUL NOW?
The big difference is I'm sober, so we're on the same wavelength. We're focused together. Back in the Seventies and Eighties, Gene and Paul were here, and me and Peter were somewhere in the trash. It was hard to get us in synch. We came together for the show for the sake of the fans and I gave it 110 percent. I saved the heavy partying for after the show. I didn't want to do a bad show. I had integrity.
HOW DID YOU GUYS GET BACK IN TOUCH?
I was tired of all the bullshit and negativity. Plus it was a process I wanted to go through for my sobriety. Years ago, when I quit the band, they badmouthed me and said I was unemployable because I was a drug addict and an alcoholic. That's not true anymore. So they can't use that to validate why they have Tommy [Thayer] playing guitar with them.
Now, I'm playing great, I'm looking great. I dropped 30 pounds. Now what's your reason? And fans are saying the same thing. I haven't been asked to do a reunion tour, and I don't know if I'm going to be asked. If I am, I would certainly consider it — for the right fee.