Walking the Floor goes to space this week, with special guest Ace Frehley — known to Kiss fans as the Spaceman — joining podcast host Chris Shiflett. Together, the two ignore the show’s Americana-leaning format and, instead, geek out over guitar pickups, soloing techniques and Kiss lore.
“Ace Frehley is, without question, the single most important reason why I play guitar,” Shiflett admits during the episode’s pre-interview segment. Perhaps that’s why today’s episode is so spirited. Below, we’ve rounded up some highlights from the pair’s conversation, followed by the episode’s full premiere.
“Cold Gin” was technically co-written by Ace Frehley and Gene Simmons, although the former bandmate received sole writing credit.
“I wrote that on the subway going down to rehearsal,” Frehley says of the song, which appeared on Kiss’ 1974 debut. “I came up with that riff in my head and I put it together, and actually, Gene wrote the breakdown section, but he never took credit. He said, ‘Ace, it’s your song.'” More than 40 decades later, Frehley remains grateful to Simmons for the vote of confidence. “I really wasn’t a songwriter,” he says. “I learned a lot from Paul and Gene.”
Growing up in the Bronx during the late Sixties and early Seventies, Frehley attended concerts by some of the era’s most iconic rock acts.
“I saw Cream’s first New York appearance,” he remembers. “I saw the Who’s first New York appearance. I saw Led Zeppelin’s first New York appearance, opening up for Iron Buttefly at the Fillmore East, and then half the audience walked out on the headliner.”
Although Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley often monopolized the band’s decision-making process, Frehley was often able to sway their opinions.
“Some lighting director talked Paul and Gene into using this system where above us would be this big mirror, and the spot[lights] would be in the pit, and we’d bounce the spots off the mirror,” he remembers. “And I said, ‘What, are you kidding? You wanna pay for this? You want spotlight guys in the pit? I wanna be able to see the fans…’ They were gonna go with it, and I talked to Peter, and I said, ‘Look, we’ve gotta talk these guys outta doing this. This is a bad idea.’ And they listened to me.” That said, Frehley wasn’t always able to bend the ears of the band’s highly opinionated leaders. “When it came to The Elder,” he points out, “they didn’t listen to me.”
A longtime user of DiMarzio guitar pickups, Frehley used to deal directly with the gear manufacturer’s owner.
“Larry DiMarzio used to hand-wind pickups in his bedroom with this spooling device, and I used to meet him at the Staten Island Ferry and get the pickups,” he remembers. “I [still] have two or three of the pickups that he personally hand-wound.”
He prefers to improvise his guitar solos in the recording studio.
“Ninety percent of it is winging it,” he says of this approach to composing guitar leads. “In the early days, I used to rehearse guitar solos with Kiss on the first couple albums. They’d give me a cassette without a solo on it, and I’d play with it. I’d work out a solo, and I’d get into the studio, and they didn’t like it! So I said to myself, ‘Well, you just spent the whole afternoon working on something that somebody didn’t like.’ So as my career progressed and my playing got better and my confidence got better, I just decided to wing the solos.”
That said, he does approach his solos with a certain philosophy.
“Somebody said to me, ‘It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you leave out,'” he says. “I try to stay away from the super-fast stuff that speed-metal guys play. Some of the best solos are the ones you can sing. I always keep that in the back on my mind when I’m writing solos. I like to repeat lines. I’ll start off with a line, go somewhere else, then go back to it, so people’s brains can process it and they’ll go, ‘Oh, I’ve heard that before! Ace started the solo with it.'”
Don’t expect him to join Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley on a reunion tour. . .yet.
“I haven’t been asked,” he says frankly. “When Paul and Gene call me up and say, ‘Do you wanna do a reunion tour?’ and write me a big check, you know, I’ll probably be there. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. What are you gonna do?”
If he does take part in a Kiss reunion, his return with come with a stipulation: that the guys apply their makeup together, like the old days.
“The last thing I heard is that Paul has his own dressing room, and that completely shocked me, because we always used to put on our makeup together, like four girls in a beauty parlor,” he says. “We’d be talking while putting makeup on. It was a ritual. . .If I was to be asked to come back to the band, I’d want everybody to put on makeup together, like we used to.”