Ace Frehley’s legacy as a founding member of hard rock titans Kiss is secure, but it’s perhaps tied more closely to showmanship than musicianship. More people are likely to remember Frehley for his cartoonish image as the Space Ace than for his snarling licks on heavy pop classics like “Cold Gin,” “Parasite” and “Rocket Ride.”
Make no mistake, those stylish riffs and surprisingly soulful solos remain to be rediscovered by new generations of rock devotees. While others dismissed glam-rockers like Kiss and Alice Cooper as campy shock-rockers, savvy fans and musicians with open ears heard the substance beneath the style. Guitarist’s guitarist Ty Tabor of progressive heavyweights King’s X has often praised Frehley in publications including Vice for his natural vibrato and melodic “sing-along” solos in songs like “Shock Me.” Even Marc Byrd of ambient dream-weavers Hammock cut his teeth in rock band Common Children covering Frehley’s “Detroit Rock City” hooks.
Frehley first departed Kiss in 1982. Despite reunions including a 1996 tour and 1998’s “Psycho Circus” album, his public relationship with his former bandmates has been rocky at times. The quartet struck a truce for its 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, where Gene Simmons had kind words for Frehley in the presence of fans and other guitarists who had filled the guitarist’s shoes. “His iconic guitar playing has been imitated, but never equaled,” said Simmons.
In 1978, the founding Kiss members released solo albums simultaneously. Frehley’s was distinguished as the most musically cohesive, in addition to becoming the top seller. With its “Hand Jive” rhythm, single “New York Groove” peaked at number 13 on the pop charts. After leaving Kiss, Frehley’s solo career continued with Frehley’s Comet. 2014’s “Space Invader” album reached Billboard’s top ten, the only Kiss-related solo album to do so. Released in February, “Origins, Vol. 1” covers Frehley’s classic rock influences including Cream, Thin Lizzy and Jimi Hendrix. Guests including Slash and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready.
* Ace Frehley, with Enuff Znuff and Simo, 8 p.m. Aug. 26, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, $39 (ages 17+); houseofblues.com/chicago/.
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org