As one of the original members of KISS, flamboyant guitarist Ace Frehley was instrumental in not only making putting the band on the rock n’ roll map, but also turning them into a household name around the world. In “No Regrets,” Frehley looks back at the band’s humble beginnings. Here’s an excerpt.
I loved playing the guitar and I knew I was pretty good at it, so that’s what I wanted to do with my life.
There were no other options. I had to be patient and wait for the right opportunity to come along. Which it did, in the form of an advertisement that appeared in the Village Voice on December 17, 1972.
LEAD GUITARIST WANTED
With Flash and Ability. Album Out Shortly. No time wasters please.
I didn’t know who “Paul” was. Nor did I know anything about the band he fronted or the supposed record deal they’d secured. This was a free ad, one of hundreds I’d read over the years. Like any New York musician with an ounce of ambition, I scanned the classifieds regularly, looking for new and interesting opportunities, especially with bands that claimed to have record contracts or upcoming tours. There was no shortage of these; from experience, though, I knew most were pure bulls__t, and thus easily ignored. For some reason, though, this one was intriguing. I figured, F__k, I have flash, and I sure as hell have ability. I doubted the part about the band having an album “out soon,” but it seemed worth investigating, at the very least.
So I picked up the phone and dialed the number that appeared at the bottom of the Village Voice ad. On the phone was the man who had placed the ad, Paul Stanley. (It wasn’t until much later that I would discover that his real name was Stanley Eisen. I still find it interesting that I was the only member of KISS who performed under his actual surname.) Paul was professional and businesslike on the phone. He asked me about my credentials and my appearance (“I look a little like Keith Richards,” I said, playing up the fact that I was tall, skinny, and had long hair—pretty much the way every guitar player looked in those days); told me a little bit about their project, about how they wanted to be a theatrical band that played loud, hard rock; and then told me they would be conducting auditions in a couple of weeks.
“You’re welcome to come down,” he said.
I hesitated, partly because I didn’t want to seem too eager, but also because I was naturally skeptical. I’d been down this road before, most recently with Molimo. The idea of auditioning for a group of guys who probably didn’t even have a record deal, and, for all I knew, couldn’t play worth a damn, didn’t exactly get my motor running.
“Maybe,” I said. “I’ll think about it.”
I decided to get some feedback from my buddy Chris Cassone, who was also a guitar player (and who would later become a successful sound engineer).
“Hey, Chris, you see that ad in the Village Voice?”
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“Yeah,” he said. “Interesting.”
“I know, man. I’m thinking about going down there.”
There was a pause.
This surprised me. Chris was a solid guitar player, but he really didn’t have the rock star look. He dressed like a prep school kid and didn’t have long hair.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Chris . . . but I’m not sure you have the image they want.”
The open audition was scheduled for January 3, 1973, which gave me a few weeks to consider the invitation. If I’d known the truth at the time, I probably would have stayed home that day, which obviously would have been the mistake of a lifetime. What I didn’t know, fortunately, was that Paul and his partner in this project, Gene Klein (whom I would come to know as Gene Simmons), had played together in a band called Wicked Lester, and while they had indeed been offered a contract from Epic Records, that deal had fallen through. So the ad, like so many others I’d come across, was not entirely true. At the very least, it was misleading.
But that’s okay. It’s become part of KISS mythology and I’m cool with that, just as I’m all right with some people thinking the Village Voice advertisement sought a “guitarist with flash and balls.” Nope. The term was “flash and ability.” Paul and Gene have long maintained that the Village Voice refused to print the word “balls,” and instead substituted “ability.” I don’t know if that’s true or not—seems unlikely, considering the Voice was a liberal publication that had never been shy about allowing profanity on its pages—but it makes for a good story, I guess.
Here’s another good story: my mom had to drive me to the audition.
I had come to the conclusion that I had nothing to lose. What was the worst that could happen? I’d get to jam with some guys downtown. If they were talentless hacks and the whole thing turned out to be fraudulent, well, so what? I’d have invested nothing more than a few hours of my time. And maybe, just maybe, it would turn out to be something more than that.
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On the afternoon of the audition I dragged my 50-watt Marshall amp (armed with eight ten-inch speakers) out to the curb and stuffed it into the trunk of my parents’ Cadillac. There was no requirement for aspirants to show up with their own amp, but I thought it would give me more confidence, and more of an edge; I also presumed my Marshall would be superior to anything these guys had at their loft. It was a great amp, and sounded even better with my single-pickup Gibson Reverse Firebird blowing through its speakers, the same model Clapton used on the Cream farewell tour. I knew how to get great sustain and feedback out of this combo, and I wasn’t willing to settle for something less. There had been other times when I had plugged into someone else’s amp; the results had almost always been disappointing.
I’ll say this about my mom: She was pretty cool about the whole thing. She knew I had talent and probably figured if I was going to make something of myself in life, music would be the likely avenue. And, of course, I was her baby boy, so she worried and fretted about my happiness and safety. When I told her I needed a ride downtown to audition for this new band (couldn’t bring the amp on the subway, and I didn’t have the money for cab fare), she was more than willing to lend a hand. I don’t think she had any inkling that it would turn out the way it did; you never know if any audition will lead to anything, right? Most are dead ends. As she sat behind the wheel of the Caddy, waiting for me to load my gear into the trunk, I’m sure her mind was elsewhere—probably trying to figure out what we would have for dinner that night. It couldn’t possibly have occurred to her that I was about to join what would become one of the biggest rock groups in the world.
Reprinted from "No Regrets" by Ace Frehley with Joe Layden and John Ostrosky © 2011 by Ace Frehley with Joe Layden and John Ostrosky. Used with permission of the publisher, Gallery Books/MTV Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.
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