Sunday, March 11, 2012

The #61 Guitarist of the Rock Era: Ace Frehley

Inside the Rock Era does not just publish a list; we actually put some work into it.  That way, if you don't agree with the rankings (and let's face it, no one is going to agree with everything...), you can still enjoy the music and the information.

Inside the Rock Era began working on this about eight months ago.  We looked at some of the other lists as a basis to go on.  Then we listened and listened to each of the top guitarists of the rock era.  We evaluated them on their overall ability, the sound (tone) of their guitar-playing, their popularity, their longevity, their experience, their guitar riffs, the ability to play a melody, their speed, creativity, originality, their entertainment ability and live stage presence.  

Some sources believe that originality should be the sole factor; they believe that a guitarist should be evaluated as if they were in a vacuum.  But to truly be accomplished, any musician or artist has to be an entertainer, for they are in the entertainment business.  That is part of accomplishing something, and that is true whether you are a guitarist or a businessman.  If no one outside yourself sees your talent, your talent is incomplete, unexplored, and unknown.  

Another way of saying this borrows the analogy "If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around, does it make a sound?"  By the same token, if a guitarist is a great player and highly original but no one hears them, are they making a name for themselves?  So yes, success, popularity and career achievement are also as much a factor as how original or unique the guitarist is, and any ranking worth its salt must realize this simple fact.

We narrowed the list down to about 160.  Then we listened some more, continuing to evaluate each on the factors above.  We ranked them then re-ranked them, doing our best to compare each guitarist and rank them where they truly deserved to be ranked.  

For most, even if you don't like the song or the style of the guitarist, it is not hard to marvel at the ability.  These are some incredible Axemen, as they call them.  I've played guitar before and I can tell you it isn't as easy as these guys make it look.  They are so good and so familiar with their instrument that the guitar is actually part of them.

Expertise.  Speed.  Melody.  Technique.  Exposure.  Experience.  Showmanship.  They are all key factors in ranking The Top 100 Guitarists of All-Time* and it's no coincidence that #61 has all of those qualities.  
#61:  Ace Frehley, Kiss, solo
48 years as an active guitarist

Paul Daniel Frehley was born April 27, 1951in The Bronx, New York.  He was a founding member of Kiss, playing lead guitar for the group until 1982.  Frehley was also with the group when they reunited from 1996-2002.  In between, Frehley has released several solo albums.

Frehley received his first electric guitar for Christmas in 1964 and taught himself to play guitar.  He lists Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, the Who, B.B. King, Albert Lee and Buddy Guy as his man influences.

When Frehley's band, Cathedral, began earning money playing shows, Frehley dropped out of high school but he did return later to earn his diploma.  He got the nickname "Ace" when he had the ability to get dates for his friends.  After graduating, Frehley had several jobs, including a letter carrier, furniture deliverer, messenger, and liquor store delivery boy.

Ace played with several groups in the early 1970's.  In 1972, friend Bob McAdams pointed out an advertisement for a lead guitarist to Frehley.  Both went to the Live Bait Bar in New York City and auditioned for Wicked Lester members Paul Stanley (rhythm guitar), Gene Simmons (bass) and drummer Peter Criss.  About three weeks after Frehley auditioned, the band hired him as their lead guitarist. 

By January of the following year, Wicked Lester became Kiss.  Frehley designed the group's double lightning bolt logo and Kiss quickly decided to paint their faces for live performances.  The group eventually decided to adopt a stage persona to go with their makeup designs, with Frehley becoming "Space Ace" or "The Spaceman".

The first performance by the group was January 30, 1973 for an audience of three at the Popcorn Club in Queens, New York, which was renamed Coventry shortly afterward.  The trademark makeup designs appeared during the March 9 & 10 shows at The Daisy in Amityville, New York.

The group recorded a five-song demo tape, which led to Kiss becoming the first act signed to former teen singer and Buddah Records executive Neil Bogart's new record label Casablanca Records.  Kiss released their self-titled debut album in 1974.  They appeared on Dick Clark's In Concert on ABC-TV March 29 and went out on tour to support the album.  The album sold just 75,000 copies.

Kiss recorded Hotter Than Hell in Los Angeles, but it too stalled at #100 on the album chart.  With the group and his label losing money, Bogart stepped in to produce the next album, Dressed To Kill.  It fared slightly better and contained what would become the group's top live song "Rock and Roll All Nite".

Although the albums were not selling well, Kiss's live concerts were drawing attention, spurred by wild antics on stage.  And so it was that a live double album, Alive, was the one that kickstarted their career.  Alive went Gold and gave the group their first Top 40 hit, the live version of "Rock and Roll All Nite".  Just as it boosted the fortunes of Kiss, Alive is said to have saved Casablanca Records from bankruptcy.

Destroyer was the group's most ambitious studio album to date, with orchestra, a choir and numerous tape effects.  It gave Kiss their first Top 10 song--"Beth" and was their first million-seller.

Two more highly successful studio albums followed--Rock and Roll Over in 1976 and Love Gun the next year.  Another live album, Alive II, was released in October of 1977.  All three albums were certified platinum by the RIAA upon or soon after their releases.  Kiss earned $17.7 million from royalties and music publishing during this period.

Kiss was rolling now, and Double Platinum was released next, a compilation double album including remixed versions of their hits, as well as "Strutter '78", a re-recorded version of a popular concert song.  Then came the merchandise:  a pair of Marvel Comic books, a pinball machine, Kiss dolls, makeup kits, Halloween masks, board games and more.  Membership in the Kiss Army, the band's fan club, reached six figures.  Between 1977 and 1979, worldwide merchandise sales reached $100 million. 

All four members of Kiss released solo albums in 1978; Frehley's was the biggest seller and featured the hit song "New York Groove".  The group then filmed a television movie called Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, which debuted on NBC on October 28, 1978.  The project was one of the most-watched television movies of the year, but scathing reviews and the group's own distaste for the project led to a rift between Kiss and manager Bill Aucoin, who had suggested both the solo albums and the movie.  

Kiss recorded the album Dynasty in 1979, which featured one of their biggest hits, "I Was Made for Loving You".  However, the resulting tour was noted for a marked decline in ticket sales.  Unmasked in 1980 was the first Kiss album to not reach Platinum status and growing tensions between drummer Peter Criss and the rest of the band led to Kiss announcing that Criss had departed.

After Criss left Kiss in 1980, Frehley was often outvoted 2-1 in band decisions. His participation in the album Music from "The Elder" in 1981 was limited, because he wasn't happy with the group's decision to create a concept album rather than a rock & roll album and he didn't relate musically to producer Bob Ezrin. Ace's last appearances with Kiss for in the video "I Love It Loud", a series of promotional appearances in Europe in 1982 and a band interview with MTV in 1983 promoting their world tour.
After his departure from Kiss, Frehley recruited Anton Fig (who had performed on Frehley's solo album), bassist John Regan, vocalist and guitarist Richie Scarlet and keyboardist Arthur Stead. The group alternated between the name Ace Frehley and Frehley's Comet. The group signed a contract with a minor label and released their first album, Frehley's Comet, in 1987. The album sold over 500,000 copies and single "Into the Night" was a minor hit on the Mainstream Rock chart. The second album--Second Sighting, did not do as well and tours with Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden did not work out well either.

The group released Trouble Walkin' under Frehley's name but it didn't change their fortunes. Criss provided backing vocals on several tracks and the two embarked on a tour in June, 1995. A few months later, Frehley and Criss performed with Kiss on MTV Unplugged. It was the first time all four original members had performed together since 1979.

On February 28, 1996 the original members of Kiss appeared in full makeup and costumes at the Grammy Awards to a standing ovation.  On April 16, the group announced a reunion and kicked off a tour at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Michigan.  The tour went into the summer of 1997 and earned $43.6 million.

Kiss released the album Psycho Circus in September, 1998.  The tour to support the album began in November at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles before 40,000 fans.  That tour was not near as successful as the Reunion tour and after the Kiss movie Detroit Rock City flopped, the group took a break until 2000.  Frehley signed to join the group for the "Farewell Tour" and left Kiss when the tour was over, even though they decided to continue one.  Ace's last performance with Kiss was on February 24, 2002 at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Frehley performed the Kiss song "God of Thunder" with Slash, Rob Zombie, Tommy Lee, Scott Ian and Gilby Clark on the VH1 Rock Honors special in 2006.  Frehley was scheduled to play the Download Festival in 2008 on the same day as Kiss, who were headlining the show, but was moved to the next night.  Ace also made an appearance at a Pearl Jam concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City that year, playing one of his own songs during an extended encore performance.

In 2009, Frehley performed with members of his band at the opening of Hard Rock Cafe at Yankee Stadium in New York City, performing his 1978 hit "New York Groove".  He also performed with Alice Cooper, former Boston member Barry Goudreau and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Rock & Roll Supergroup Show, a benefit for the Right Turn substance abuse facility in Arlington, Massachusetts, at the Berkee Performance Center.

Frehley released the album Anomaly in September 15, 2009, the date chosen to commemorate a three-year anniversary in which Frehley confronted his alcohol problem and stopped drinking.  Ace and his band then went out on a tour of the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia.

Frehley is known for his wild, atmospheric playing, becoming one of the most popular guitarists of the 1970's and inspiring a generation of new players.  Frehley is famous for using Gibson Les Paul guitars with three DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups, including his trademarked Les Paul Custom that he modified himself, which filled the stage with smoke during his guitar solos. 

Ace came up with his "smoking guitar trick" on one of Kiss's first tours.  He placed a smoke bomb in the compartment of his guitar where the volume and tone controls are located and lit it, causing smoke to come through the humbucker pickups.  Because the smoke began affecting the volume and tone controls after several times, he found an alternative way to create the effect.  Frehley also played a guitar covered in LED's and invented the rocket setup that shoots into the air.  Gibson has marketed the Signature Ace Frehley Les Paul for more than two decades.  

Frehley certainly had the perfect group to showcase his talents, and they were together long enough for him to continue to develop his technique.  With Kiss, Ace had the opportunity with one of the most loyal fan bases around.  Ace Frehley ranks #61 for the Rock Era*...

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