FREHLEY still celestial on “Spaceman” (E-One)

Now that the gloves are off, I thought it a good time to finally weigh in on the ever-rocking Ace Frehley‘s latest voyage, the self-produced Entertainment One release Spaceman, yet another aural sortie that finds the celestial one in a good place making vibrant new rock.

If you’ve been hiding under a rock, or have given up on new rock & roll altogether, you may need a wake up call — Ace Frehley is one of the few old school true hard rock cats left carrying the torch with any efficiency. In the past decade, Frehley has put out (countem’) four albums, all with stellar cuts & euphoric rock moments worthy of his ever-ascending pedigree and any playlist.

Reality is, a lot of folks sold out, gave up or can’t quite give a fuck enough to figure out how to get their fans new music. Ace …you know, the notoriously lazy drunken lay-about, decided when he got truly sober years ago to take over the main command deck, learn the new tech cold and bring it on home ….to his home studio. He’s cut out the flack and has been doing what he loves to do most, and you can feel it in his records; Ace is in his element. With what he’s endured, it’s a miracle he’s alive, not jaded and is still in love with rock & roll.

Spaceman may not be the very best of the four, but it’s f-close at moments and is as endearing as anything he’s ever released. In fact, when the final chapters of KISStory are written, I believe there a number of songs, sentiments & performances on Spaceman that will end up as major notches on the time capsule.

Relistening to it here today, a smile came over my face as I found myself breaking on through the turbulent atmosphere to the other side …kinda like the gravity that used to hold me down somehow just didn’t exist no more?!

The album features long-time, par-excellence Ace Frehley Band member Scot Coogan on drums on most of the record with the exception of the re-appearance of Anton Fig on “Pursuit of Rock & Roll” and guest jams by Matt Starr on “Rockin’ With The Boys’, “I Wanna Go Back” & “Quantum Flux”. Ace plays most of the guitars and bass, minus Gene SImmons’ singular playing on “Without You I’m Nothing” …count down’s comin’ on, here we go:

WITHOUT YOU I’M NOTHING > A ballsy, earnest rocker co-written with former band mate Gene Simmons that wouldn’t have worked (ie – been convincing) coming from Simmons or KISS. Frehley though knocks it out of the park with a great lead vocal, edgy semi-autobiographical verse lyrics and a bitchin’ solo that quickly re-affirms why you developed a taste for the Blue Koolaid way back.

“Now through the years, I’ve hit some walls, with no regrets .. when we’re apart I get the blues”” 

ROCKIN’ WITH THE BOYS > More straight talk from Ace delivered with customary ‘don’t sweat it’ chill. This one grows on you like a new pair of favorite jeans and the comfy feel continues into the solo as Ace eases back on the throttle, laying in behind the beat to get ‘back’ in NY groove.

We’ve had our differences, now don’t make a fuss, we’ve had the best of times” 

YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND > Co-written also with Simmons, ‘Wish’ features a similarly luke-warm Simmons chorus / title benefiting again significantly from Ace’s well-honed pop sensibility on the verse melody & lyric. An ill-fated reunion of sorts, no surprise this is the only tune on the album that feels a little forced. Like with most old flames, you often find once is enough.

Seen many miracles, don’t be concerned, so few are chosen”

BRONX BOY > More street cred and a great P&L statement from Ace that takes us back to the ‘hard times’ as a teenage gangbanger that he may not have escaped were it not for his guitar & considerable swagger, drunk or sober!

“I’m just a street kid, we seek and destroy, I lived so much of it, I’m just a Bronx Boy.” 

PURSUIT OF ROCK & ROLL > A rock anthem to rival KISS’s many arena driven-forays over the years. Ace’s ‘State Of The Union’  is a rocket ride with Anton Fig burnin’ up the drum kit and Frehley high on the fumes, literally shouting out to The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and even The Beatles.

“Don’t want no strife, ‘cuz it’s the enemy, that gets into your soul” 

I WANNA GO BACK > It’s almost impossible not to love this cover of the Eddie Money hit. The choice, and Ace’s delivery of the bitter-sweet Money lament, is flat-out charming, further illuminating Ace’s range and deep love for a great hook, regardless the artist or era. It wasn’t a guitar tune until now, and it’s a fucking cool departure.

I wanna go back, and do it all over, but I can’t go back I know”

MISSION TO MARS > Were I Ace’s manager I would have tapped the glorious  “Mission To Mars” as the lead single (or “I Wanna Go Back”?) as it’s perhaps Ace’s best vocal since “Rip It Out” and tracks us on radar somewhere between ’74’s “Parasite”, ’89’s “Lost In Limbo”, 2009’s “Outer Space” and Elon Musk’s flying Tesla. Wonder how many times Frehley left the pavement in his DeLorean?

“My ships off course, by some unknown force ….Between heaven and earth, you know we’ll always be first, and that’s why”   

OFF MY BACK > Even if it’s now clear Ace never heard Spinal Taps’ “Bitch School”, this tune is super catchy and boasts the hottest solo on the album. If not Ace’s rawest Frehley fret  attack ever from the get-go, the solo outro shifts to urgent blues phrasing reminiscent of Leslie West of Mountain or Rory Gallagher!

“We go in circles with no end in sight”

QUANTUM FLUX > The closer is, as is tradition for Ace, a continuation of the instrumental epics that started in ’78 with the haunting powerhouse that is ‘Fractured Mirror’.  No exception to the fleet, ‘Flux’ is transcendent and takes Ace and us out of orbit into emotional time-scapes, reverberating key influences Jeff Beck & Jimmy Page while remaining pure Ace Frehley through and through.

The crazy thing is that, with Ace, you can go back. He still gives me that feeling. There’s ‘Space’ on board …Ace’s got you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

KISStorian attempt on the Space Bear @ Dome Room ’95

It was August 8th, 1995 – and Ace was back, again. It seemed he was coming through a lot around then ….China Club, Cubby Bear, The Avalon.  We were there and I gotta say I miss those times on my Ace timeline, when you had no idea what might happen.

That aside, this was an ultra-weird venue for an Ace Frehley show. It was downtown in the tourist district as it were and the Dome Room was really just a dance club: a bullshit, over-priced pick up joint that felt like the live set from Purple Rain. It was lightly attended in ‘Ace in Chicago’ terms largely because the venue was not on rock fans radar and, even if you did know about it, was basically “not our scene man”. We almost got arrested outside the correctional center pre-show…long story.

Anyway ….Ace and his band were loose, rockin’ and surprisingly dialed if characteristically sloppy.  I heard “Sister” live for the first time that night….seemed pretty fresh in Ace terms: like Parasite met the 80’s on an octane bender, very Ace.

At one point we all lost track of my (then) girlfriend. She was gone. WTF? (No cell phones then kids). We waited till  the floor cleared post-show to see if she emerged but still no sign of her? We waited a bit longer and then had no choice but to walk out of the club only to find her sitting on the front steps apparently fine and pretty charged up.

So yeah, get this ……she had been “ejected from the club when I tried to steal the Space Bear for you!!”

Uh …. you fucking what?  ….are you crazy! She quickly confirmed….”When they left the stage just before the encore I climbed up when the lights were low and snagged the Space Bear off Ace’s amp ……but they saw me … the roadies …. they we’re fucking pissed!!!!…. they grabbed me and picked up and took me backstage, past Ace and the band and all the way to the backstage door and threw me out!! One of the guys said “you’re lucky your alive bitch” and slammed the door. Ahh, I see, you’re ok….. holy shit babe.

“Now do you know how much I love you?” she asked laughing along hilariously with our drunken friends. I replied delicately, all things considered, I guess still in shock? ….. “to be honest babe, I’ve got mixed feelings”

 

 

 

 

 

TOD HOWARTH talks shop

Tod_Howarth_Cold_Beach_1

How did you originally catch the rock & roll bug?   Well if The Beatles were the definition of Rock and Roll in 1964 then there it was! But I think that the real heavy rock for me was Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Humble Pie.  I learned a lot about melodies, harmonies and song construction from the Beatles and kept within those guidelines right into my ‘heavier’ introductions.

Who are your favorite 5 rock singers of all time?   Good one, as it depends on one’s definition again, of a ‘rock’ singer!  I was influenced by singers over the years but perhaps didn’t realize what would become my favorites until later – realizing how they in fact shaped my own style (even though I don’t sound like many of them) ….John Lennon, Steve Marriott, John Waite, Steve Walsh, Layne Staley.

Can you describe your first time meeting Ace Frehley?   It took place in New York on my first audition. I was flying out to do another leg of a tour with Cheap Trick then and I combined the trip to meet up with the future Comet band.  I walked in, saw John Regan of course, Eddie Trunk was there (however I had no idea who he was) and then there was Ace.  I truly would not have known him sans makeup because I had never ‘looked’ him up through the pages of countless rock magazine articles – I seldom read those and never gravitated to KISS photos and articles because my personal musical interests were elsewhere.

Ace shook my hand as we were introduced and he was very pleasant, enthusiastic about the project and I imagine thrilled to be completing the group to really get out there and tour. I do remember that the impression that I got was, ‘Wow, cool guy, he’s happy to be here and play and very positive about what he’s doing and where’s he’s going’

This in itself was very refreshing as I had been through a few projects with tons of negativity and that was a drain on me over time. Ace looked good and he had a tremendous presence about him at that time.

He let you play a number of leads or record and live, was that something you had to fight for?  Not one bit. In fact I had told him that I wasn’t a jammin’ lead player nor a spontaneous one as I’ve always considered myself to be a singer/songwriter that played solid rhythm guitar/keys.  I believe that he was disappointed to a degree that I wasn’t asking to play more leads so as to bounce things off each other. I can play lead (obviously) but my compositions are melodies and notes that I hear in my head and then have to learn them.

I did want to play the lead on “It’s Over Now” after I tracked it because, well I thought that it suited the song. He had no problem with that at all. That’s when I gained HUGE respect for him as he was very confident in his guitar talent (had every right to be) and let me have that one.

Of your Frehley’s Comet song contributions, which track are happiest with today? (mine may be “Calling To You”)   Ha!  Cool that you like the old ‘MEGAFORCE‘ title “Calling To You”!  Mine would be a toss up, somewhere between “Time Ain’t Runnin’ Out”’ and “It’s Over Now”. 

How was it working with legendary producer Eddie Kramer?    Eddie at that time was a great guy, big resume and I learned more about him as we worked together, again, I really didn’t know that much about him either! He was very diplomatic about his ideas and brought great humor and results in the studio all at the same time. I don’t have any recollections that stand out about the times in the studio…besides the personal banter and jokes that we had between all of us.

Guitarists often say no two drummers are alike: how would you describe the feel difference between playing with legends Anton Fig and Jamie Oldaker behind the kit?   Well that saying is so very true.  I think that perhaps in the past I may have eluded to the opinion that Anton was better suited for the Comet initially, but then Jamie was so very instrumental in the feel in at (the very) least the track “It’s Over Now” …. he became the stellar standard. So it really becomes the definition of the ear listening.  Anton was flat out powerful, rocking, pounding and wild and the proverbial mosh pit for the ears – full of raw energy.  Jamie was moreover rock solid with the depth of a feel the escapes many drummers from track interpretation. The way he laid the snare down…..monumental.

What is your 2013 solo release Opposite Gods about? (its pretty fucking heavy dude … and I heard you sing like Bowie!?)   This solo effort has a plethora of inspirations that are all real life with exception to “Dancing Through The Pain” which was a dream. I have songs on here about my adult children, and their trials in life, a song about one of my very best friend’s Harley accident, which paralyzed him from the waist down, a tune about the shallowness of today’s ‘talents’ One about my dog! And just one political tune – of which I don’t do normally but could not help to sing about what I see here in America.

Cool that you can hear ‘Bowie’ in my voice!  I can imitate him dead on!

Yes. it’s very heavy, but I’ve always been heavy – until I start to sing! Ha!  I love deep dark material but I also write in an adult contemporary style like my Winter CD  When I record my heavy stuff it’s just that to me, heavy… but my voice really isn’t a ‘heavy’ type timbre so it becomes a little less threatening!

You highlight your adrenaline junkie hobbies nicely on your website: is that what drew you to rock & roll originally, the rush of it all?   No, the draw was – reflecting and understanding what I went through back then in the ‘60s now – acceptance and acknowledgement. My early life was a little rough, nothing too traumatizing but enough for me to search out some attention – and then of course a lot of that would evolve to women! The Beatles had that, well …. Hell, I wanted that too!

How did your recent appearance on the TV show Wipe-Out come about and was it fun?   I got my ass kicked!  I ‘trained’ for about three weeks swimming (which I ended up using a lot of) and general biking, weights, but no where near as much as I would need.

I had been watching the show for a while and being that ‘adrenaline junkie’ that you saw on my website I thought, ‘Man, I wanna do this!’  So at 53 years of age then, I decide to drive up to Los Angeles and audition. I wrote to them first of course and was immediately accepted to do as such and they loved me.

Upon arrival to the set in the mountain area of the northern Hollywood area I noticed that they had just recently cut all the weeds around the course – deadly for me as I’ve huge allergies which affect my breathing.  This was not the entire reason for me getting my ass kicked but it surely didn’t help.  I qualified I believe the 8th fastest time out of the final 22 or so but there was no chance that I could compete after the first real round (the one filmed for TV)  because they were to film the second round only a few hours after my initial ass kicking.  I had no second wind to give.

I had fun though, but realized that I was in fact, 53 years old then. I’m now 56!

FxF-cover-FBWhat’s the new project Four By Fate about?  Four By Fate is a brand new project / band that is the result of a few key industry players.  John Regan and I have kept in touch over the years, more so in the last few trying to get Ace back into the fold to do a 25 year re-union show/tour/concert for the 2012 (or around this time) year.

While having trouble getting through to him on a direct questions, it was posed to him by third parties where he expressed no interest.  He had his solo band and was happy rightfully so, doing that and other events.  In the mean time John and I were asked to collaborate with a Canadian KISS aficionado named Mitch Lafon on contributing tracks, re-recordings to his project; KISS 40 year anniversary tribute A World Without Heroes CD that would benefit a cancer hospice.  A great cause.  We did so and while doing this we were hooked up with some fantastic musicians via the internet style of recording.

Meanwhile, John had struck up a great business relationship with Danny Stanton of Coallier Entertainment and through a quickly morphed idea of getting John and I plus perhaps some musicians from the KISS project together to do a few quick shows, it whittled down to an actual band that would power on as a heavy melodic rock band using a few songs from Frehley’s Comet as a jump off point.

The line up is as follows: John Regan, bass guitar, backing vocals, Sean Kelly, lead guitar and lead/backing vocals, Stet Howland, drums, lead and backing vocals and me on lead vocals, guitar and keys.

With John’s and my extensive resume, Sean Kelly’s and Stet Howlands credits (Nelly Furtado & W.A.S.P respectively) we felt that we could initially pull from the big bands we’ve played with material wise while quickly developing our own which would be ‘Heavy Melodic’.

The new band was announced this last Tuesday and has it’s now website already, www.fourbyfate.com We are all doing homework at this very moment in preparation for the up and coming events that will unfold soon!  – TOD HOWARTH