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A Birthday Kiss to Ace Frehley

When you're the founder and guitarist of a band like Kiss, and your brand is literally stamped with makeup on your face, what other peaks are left to conquer?

That's the dilemma faced by Paul Daniel - A.K.A. "Ace" Frehley. Frehley, who was born April 27, 1951, adopted the persona of "The Spaceman" and helped etched the band's indelible image in the minds of millions of teen admirers early on. Ranked the "14th Greatest Metal Guitarist of All Time" by Guitar Player magazine, Ace (a nickname given him while still in school) summed up his unlikely career in a recent conversation with Rock 'n' Roll Experience magazine: "I'm an anomaly," he suggested. "I'm an un-schooled musician, I don't know how to read music, but I'm one of the most famous guitar players in the world. So go figure." 

Frehley was born and raised in the Bronx New York, the son of Dutch and

German immigrants. He was a music enthusiast early on, picking up his

first guitar at age 13 after becoming enamored with the Who and the

Rolling Stones. An early band called Cathedral brought him steady gigs,

encouraging him to drop out of school and play music full time.

Unfortunately, he also began to run with street gangs, leading him to

later credit music with saving his life. Following a string of local

bands, he saw an ad in the Village Voice announcing the fact that the

band Wicked Lester was auditioning for a lead guitarist. He got the gig,

joining members Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, and Peter Criss in a group

that would soon change their name to Kiss. It was Frehley, in fact, that

first offered the idea of wearing make-up on stage, as well as the

band's trademark double lightning logo.

While Frehley rarely sang in the band (an early exception was his song "Shock Me," inspired by his near electrocution in Tampa), he regularly contributed several of Kiss' signature songs, beginning with "Love Theme from Kiss" and "Cold Gin" from the band's 1974 self-titled debut.

Nevertheless, following the departure of Peter Criss, Frehley found himself overruled by Stanley and Simmons when it came to group decisions and became increasingly at odds with their producer Bob Ezrin. In December 1982, he opted to leave the band and pursue a solo career. It wasn't his first individual outing; in 1978, he and the other members of the group released four solo efforts simultaneously. Thanks to the success of the single "New York Groove," his album saw the most success. 

Nevertheless, in December 1982, Frehley was replaced by Vinnie Vincent. While he still remained a shareholder in Kiss enterprises, he was effectively on his own. It took him awhile to secure a solo label contract, but eventually he signed with Megaforce Records and released his first post-Kiss collection under the moniker of Frehley's Comet.

The album was well received, garnering critical kudos from the press and a healthy reaction in the marketplace with sales of half a million copies. However, two succeeding efforts as Frehley's Comet failed to do as well as their predecessor and the Frehley's Comet banner was eventually abandoned. His next album, Trouble Walkin', was issued under his own name and featured a guest appearance from Peter Criss, as well as members of Skid Row. Frehley, in turn, contributed guitar to Criss' Cat #1 album in 1994 and the next year, both their bands toured in tandem. 

With two Kiss graduates back together, Simons and Stanley invited their former band mates to rejoin the fold. On February 28, 1996, the reunited Kiss made their first appearrance in 14 years at the Grammys, garnering a standing ovation from their fellow dignitaries. Two months later, they embarked on a highly publicized world tour that lasted 14 months and reaped all four members a financial windfall via gross profits totalling more than $43.6 million.

An album, Psycho Circus, followed in September 1998, and prompted another tour, complete with new costumes and a new stage show. However, this outing wasn't nearly as successful as the previous jaunt, and a Kiss movie, Detroit Rock City, flopped as well. After a final performance at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Frehley left a second time, replaced by former Black 'n Blue guitarist Tommy Thayer, whose other claim to fame was that he had played Ace in a Kiss tribute band. 

For his part, Frehley attempted to maintain his profile by joining Rob Zombie, Slash, Tommy Lee, Scott Ian, and Gilby Clark for a VH1 special telecast on May 31, 2006. He also delved into acting, playing a drug dealer in the film Remedy, an independent crime drama that  featured two of the stars from The Sopranos, Frank Vincent and Vincent Pastore. However, in 2007 he got maximum exposure when a Dunkin' Donuts commercial found him back in his Kiss costume and the accompanying spaceman make-up. 

He released his latest album, Anomaly, on September 15, 2009, for its unveiling. The date was significant; it marked three years since he stopped drinking. The album also featured a dedication to former Kiss drummer Eric Carr who died of cancer, as well as Frehley fan Dimebag Darell and Les Paul who had passed away a month prior to its release. (Two years earlier, rumors circulated on the internet that Frehely himself had died, a victim of suicide. Fortunately, he was still around to issue a denial.) 

Still, for all his efforts at establishing his own identity, Frehley remains forever connected with Kiss. And for good reason. Criss' last album, One For All, finds Frehley the inspiration for its final track, "Space Ace." When he played the Download Festival in the UK on June 13, 2008, he found himself sharing a bill with his former Kiss colleagues. Then in March 2010, he announced that Gene Simmons had invited him and Criss back in the fold. So far, however, nothing has happened to indicate that's a done deal. 

Whether it's true that one Kiss leads to another remains to be seen. Or to put it more succinctly, it's one ace in the hole this Ace can't yet count on.

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Lee Zimmerman

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