No one does a cover song like Ace Frehley. The former Kiss guitarist is known for reinterpreting other people’s songs and turning them into hits like the Rolling Stones’ “2000 Man,” Sweet’s “Fox on the Run,” Electric Light Orchestra’s “Do Ya” and the Big Apple anthem, Hello’s “New York Groove.” Therefore his new collection of covers, “Origins Vol. 1,” was a no-brainer for the Spaceman.
This Bronx boy returns to New York soil April 13 at The Paramount in Huntington. Frehley spoke with Newsday about working with Kiss lead vocalist-guitarist Paul Stanley again, his signature “sloppy” guitar style and whether or not he’s open to a Kiss reunion.
You have always put your own spin on cover songs. How would you describe your special touch?
It’s always fun interpreting other people’s work, especially those who have greatly influenced my career. I’ve been doing it for years, but it’s not something that I’ve put a lot of thought behind. My producer says, “You Ace-sify it.” I guess I put my stamp on everything I play.
How did you go about choosing which songs to tackle?
It wasn’t too difficult. I knew I wanted to do a Led Zeppelin song, a Cream song and a Jimi Hendrix song. I was looking for something more obscure than just the well-known tracks. I did “Spanish Castle Magic,” which is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hendrix. “White Room” is a classic Cream song, but it was one of the first songs that really struck me with that descending melody line plus the amazing wah-wah solo.
Do you get nervous reinterpreting Eric Clapton?
I don’t really get nervous anymore. I make other people nervous [laughs]. I won’t take on a song unless I think I can do a good job. I’ve jammed on “White Room” in the past with friends. My only concern was singing the bridges, so I let my drummer Scot Coogan handle that.
One of your covers in the past, “New York Groove,” has become a statewide anthem. Being a New Yorker, what does that mean to you?
I’m really flattered that it happened. At first, I didn’t want to record it because it wasn’t indicative of my style. But my producer Eddie Kramer pushed me to take a stab at it. I’m glad he did that because it’s my highest-charting single.
On the new album, you reunited with your old Kiss bandmate Paul Stanley on Free’s “Fire and Water.” How did that come about?
I originally contacted Gene [Simmons, Kiss bassist] but he didn’t get back to me. I guess he was busy. So I figured I’d give Paul a call and he picked up right away. He was very receptive from day one. He’s a big fan of Paul Rodgers.
What’s your relationship with Paul and Gene these days?
The press amplifies negative statements between us. It makes good copy, I guess, but we are all brothers in rock and roll. We’ve been through so many ups and down together and everything in between. Contrary to popular belief, we are all friends.
Why do you think Kiss fans are still so passionate about the band?
When we got together in the ’70s, there was a certain chemistry between the four of us that created the costumes, the makeup and the music. No one was telling us what to do. It came from us. No one was able to achieve what we achieved. It was a special thing.
Kiss was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by fans pushing the institution to do so. What did that mean to you?
Kiss fans are the best and most dedicated in rock and roll. What can I say? Better late than never.
Since getting into the Rock Hall, do you feel Kiss has been given more respect?
Maybe in some people’s minds. It all depends on how much weight you put on being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a nice thing to be inducted, but I wasn’t losing any sleep over it before.
What made you decide to cover Kiss songs (“Cold Gin,” “Parasite”) on the new album?
I wrote “Parasite” and “Cold Gin,” but on the original versions Gene sang lead. I thought it would be a good idea to record them with me on lead with some guest stars like Mike McCreedy from Pearl Jam and John 5 from Rob Zombie’s band.
You have a lot of guest stars on the album. Are they friends or just musicians who you thought would fit the track?
They are friends and all their numbers are in my cellphone so I just called them at home and everybody picked up. Slash and I are pals. John 5 and I went to see the new James Bond movie together. Lita Ford I’ve known since the ’70s when she was in the Runaways. I’ve been friends with Mike McCreedy for 20 years. I even got up on stage and played with Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden. Everybody responded in a favorable way and I had a great time making this record.
You labeled the new album, “Origins Vol. 1” Is there a plan to make it a series?
It could be. If the album is well-received, there will probably be an “Origins Vol. 2” down the road. Right now, I’m slated to go into the studio at the end of the year to start on an original studio album.
Kiss’ album “Destroyer” is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. What was it about that particular album that caused the band to go into the stratosphere?
It was a one-of-a-kind record. Working with producer Bob Ezrin was amazing. He was kind of a tyrant in the studio and we may have butted heads, but the end result was a great album.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Kiss reunion. How do you look back at that time?
Opening night at Tiger Stadium in Detroit was so special. I hit the stage wearing my old costume playing old songs in makeup. It was like going back in time. Nothing really changed much.
We’ve lost a lot of your peers this year like David Bowie, Glenn Frey and Lemmy Kilmister. What do you make of the passing of all these musicians?
It’s very sad and out of the ordinary. I hope it’s not a trend. My heart goes out to all their families.
You are coming up on 10 years of sobriety. Do you find that your creativity has sharpened?
I think so. Before too many years went by without a record. Sometimes you have to go through certain things to get through to the other side. Now I have three albums out in six years.
So many professional guitarists hail you as their inspiration. What does that kind of adoration mean to you?
It’s really very flattering. Sometimes I don’t understand because I never took a guitar lesson. I probably would have practiced more if I knew I was going to influence a generation of guitar players [laughs].
Critics have described your guitar playing as “stylistically sloppy.” What do you make of a statement like that?
I consider it a compliment because I’m not a schooled musician, I can’t read music and I play things in an unorthodox way. That might be the appeal. I still struggle trying to explain how I play.
You’ve always played a Les Paul. What is it about that guitar that fits your style?
Les Paul designed the best rock and roll guitar in the world. The necks are arched at a 6 percent grade against the body, which causes a tension once you tighten up the strings. That tension makes the sound sustain more than other guitars.
Where did you get your nickname “Ace”?
I got it in high school. I was in a couple of bands and I had girlfriends that would hook up my buddies with dates. After a few weekends of that taking place, my friends would say, “You are such an ace for setting me up with that gal.” Somehow it stuck.
Does anybody call you by your real first name Paul?
Most people call me Ace but some of my family members call me Paul.
Your 1978 self-titled solo album set a high bar as it has been deemed a classic. Is that the barometer whenever you make a new one?
I am a perfectionist. I believe if you set the bar high enough you are going to have a good product. I’m almost trying to strive for excellence.
You’ve always had a great sense of humor and know how to have a good laugh. Where does that come from?
I don’t know, it’s just part of my personality. I want people to feel comfortable around me. If I see a situation is getting heavy, I try to lighten things up. I like to achieve good vibes.
How have you maintained your thick New York accent all these years?
It’s not something I work at . . . it’s something I can’t get rid of [laughs]. I’ve lived in San Diego for the last five years but everybody knows where I come from.
Does it bother you that current Kiss guitarist Tommy Thayer wears your Spaceman makeup?
It doesn’t affect me because I still get checks for use of the makeup [laughs]. What bothers me about it is that fans get upset over it. Some people won’t go see the band anymore because of it and their popularity has begun to wane. But, you make your own bed, you lie in it.
Can you ever see reuniting with the original four guys again?
The ball is in Paul and Gene’s court. I always leave the door open. I’m the kind of guy who says, “Never say never.” In reality, we haven’t discussed it. I’d be up for the task if it was presented to me in the right way. I think it would be a real treat for the fans.
Gene and Paul have a future plan to exit the band and put new guys in their makeup and costumes in their place to carry on the Kiss brand. What do you make of that?
That’s the biggest crock I’ve ever heard [laughs]. The reason they said that is to validate the fact that Tommy and Eric [Singer, current Kiss drummer] are wearing mine and [original Kiss drummer] Peter Criss’ makeup. It’s a joke. That’s like the Rolling Stones continuing without Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. I mean, c’mon, get real. I don’t buy it.
WHO Ace Frehley
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m., April 13, The Paramount, 370 New York Ave., in Huntington
INFO 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
DROPPING THE ROCK HALL BALL
When Kiss was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, bassist-vocalist Gene Simmons and lead vocalist-guitarist Paul Stanley refused to perform with their former bandmates guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss. Many wonder why — but remember when Frehley and Criss were invited to do a few songs during a 1995 taping of “MTV Unplugged”? The fans went into a frenzy and only wanted the original foursome, forcing a reunion.
“It was complete mayhem,” recalls Frehley. “They had to scrap the new studio album they just recorded with Bruce [Kulick, then-KISS guitarist] and Eric [Singer, then-and-current KISS drummer].”
So when it came to reuniting at the Rock Hall, Frehley says, “They didn’t want history to repeat itself.”
However, Frehley views it as a missed opportunity for the fans.
“It was unfortunate,” he says. “It was a moment in time that can never be regained.”
— DAVID J. CRIBLEZ