By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most recognizable guitar heroes to emerge during the ’70s, founding member of Kiss and solo star Ace Frehley comes to the Bay Area for a pair of shows this weekend.
Raised in a musical family in the Bronx, Paul Frehley was a self-described juvenile delinquent and street gang member struggling in school when he got his first guitar at age 13. Showing little interest in anything but learning the instrument and chasing girls (he was given the nickname “Ace” by friends for his skill getting dates), Frehley was kicked out of two high schools and dropped out of a third before his girlfriend and parents convinced him to earn his diploma.
Obsessed with early rock guitar greats like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, Frehley played in a number of different bands that went nowhere before answering a Village Voice ad in 1972 for a lead guitarist that brought him into contact with Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Peter Chris. By the following year, the quartet had adopted the name Kiss (Frehley actually designed the band’s distinctive logo) and began developing the unique make-up and costumes that — along with their hook-heavy hard rock — became their trademark.
The band signed with manager Bill Aucoin and put out its debut album in 1974, starting its scrappy, relentless climb to fame. Though he was instrumental in writing some of the band’s early classics like “Cold Gin” and “Parasite” on the first two Kiss albums, Frehley’s lack of confidence led others to handle lead vocals. Despite the band’s growing reputation as a powerhouse live act, their growing popularity wouldn’t translate to record sales until the release of their breakthrough in concert document Alive in 1975 that showcased their onstage prowess and kicked off a trend of rock bands issuing live double albums.
Kiss became one of the biggest success stories of the decade, selling millions of records and touring the globe as Frehley rose to become a six-string hero. He finally stepped out to sing one of his songs on Love Gun with “Shock Me” and scored another hit with a cover of “New York Groove” when the band simultaneously released four solo albums from each member (Frehley’s remains the most popular of the lot). But growing problems with alcohol and cocaine abuse for the guitarist and drummer Criss as well as differences over creative direction strained relationships within the band. Frehley would stick around after Criss left in 1980, but by the time the band was touring for Creatures in the Night in 1983, he had followed suit.
Frehley launched a solo career the next year, convening the first version of his band Frehley’s Comet with drummer Anton Fig, through it would take time for his to get his own deal with Megaforce Records. The band’s self-titled debut in 1987 was a minor hit, but subsequent efforts with the band and Frehley’s album Trouble Walkin’ in 1989 featuring a reunion with Criss and members of Skid Row had diminishing commercial success. The healthy relationship the guitarist had with the drummer eventually helped foster a celebrated reunion with Kiss in 1996.
After several sold-out tours and one lackluster album (Psycho Circus in 1998), Frehley would once again leave Kiss in 2000 and relaunch his solo career. He ramped up his activity late in the decade, releasing his first solo album in 20 years with Anomaly in 2009 and publishing his autobiography No Regrets – A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir two years later. Since then, The guitarist has enjoyed a renaissance in popularity, headlining tours and making festival appearances while releasing two more albums.
His latest effort Origins, Vol. 1 found Frehley playing covers of songs by some of his inspirations including Cream, Hendrix and Led Zeppelin with guest spots from admirers like John 5 (Marilyn Manson) and Mike McCreedy (Pearl Jam) as well as his old Kiss cohort Stanley on a version of Free’s “Fire and Water.” Frehley brings his current tour to the Bay Area, possibly previewing songs from his forthcoming new album Spaceman set for release later this year. At the Mystic Theatre on Sunday, Frehley and his band will be joined by North Bay blues rock guitarist Tommy Odetto while Monday’s show at the Cornerstone in Berkeley will be opened by the Dave Friday Band.
Sunday, Aug. 5, 7 p.m. $43-$48
Monday, , Aug. 6, 7:30 p.m. $44-$49