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Born Paul Daniel Frehley on April 27, 1951, in the Bronx, to Carl Daniel and Esther Frehley Ace's basically came straight off the streets. Carl was the son of Dutch immigrants, while Esther was the youngest of seven children of the Hecht family who had immigrated to North Carolina from Germany at the turn of the 19th/20th century. Ace was almost an accidental musician even though his parents actively encouraged music in the household. His father was an excellent classical pianist who had wanted to make music his profession until the Depression and family forced him to take other paths in order to make ends meet. Growing up in the Bronx, Ace went to Grace Lutheran School and DeWitt Clinton High School until "they ended up kicking me out of the school... They transferred me to Roosevelt on Fordham Road in the Bronx" (Prime Choice, 10/26/98).
Ace has siblings: Charley, who is a year older, and Nancy, who is six years older. Essentially, Ace was raised on music that his brother and sister were listening to, folk music, including Peter, Paul, and Mary and Simon and Garfunkel. According to Charley, "I learned how to play guitar listening to those people. Mid 60s, by 1965, I was 15 years old, and I was sitting and listening to Paul Simon's stuff and figuring out the songs. The first song I ever figured out for myself was a Peter, Paul and Mary song, one of their old traditional folk songs. And that's how I got my chops, I just started working. I never took lessons. I had played piano and understood something about music, and I just wanted to do it on my own. I just took the music of the day and used it as a basis for teaching myself how to play. And I just grew with it" (JG 2/01).
Ace also recalled some of the music in the house: "I grew up in a family with musicians. Everybody in my family played an instrument. My father was a concert pianist. He played the church organ. I was the baby of the family. My brother and sister were both schooled musicians. I never took a lesson. I just had a natural knack for it. Some people don't. It wasn't hard for me to pick up the instrument and after six months, when I was 13, I was playing Beatles' and Stones' songs" (Wolf Marshall's Guitar One, June 1997). Occasionally, Ace would pick up his brother's acoustic guitar and try to strum a few chords, but beyond that his interest in the technicalities of guitar was limited. Instead, Ace was more fascinated with mechanical things and electronics, which was combined with his interest in science fiction films and stories about UFOs and aliens from other planets.
That was until he was around 13-years-old. He had gone to his friend's house to see the guitar his friend had bought for $25, a Kent guitar with a little amplifier. "I was amazed," Ace later told Frank Rose in Circus, "I mean, holy shit that was unbelievable, what came out of the amplifier - I freaked. He was playing songs like 'Wipe Out' and 'Walk Don't run' and I went nuts." Asking to try it out himself, Ace fell in love with the idea of having the ability to control sounds coming out of the. Going home, Charley started giving him some basic instruction about chords. Ace's mechanical interest probably came from his engineer grandfather, but it would start a life time of disassembling things he got as presents or later purchased for himself. Charley recalled, "He would always get his guitars and take them apart, he would take out the pickups and look at everything, and understand how everything worked, and then he'd put them back together again. Then he'd take day glow paint. He was an artist. He told me in the 80's that he was thinking about publishing some of his computer graphics stuff. But he would always take his guitars, and using day glow paint, he would just paint them. And we'd have black lights and the guitars would glow" (JG, 2/01).
There was more to Ace's musical development than simply picking up a guitar, taking it apart, and immediately understanding the instrument. Charley and Ace learned how to play together since they were so close in age that they could relate to the same things, especially popular music. Charley recalled: "We learned how to play guitar together. Right around 1964/5, when the Beatles were just doing everything, just turning music around. Everyone wanted to grow their hair long and play guitar so Paul and I both did that around the same time. It's just my orientation was to learn chords and learn how to strum, and he right away, he didn't want to deal with chords, he just wanted to pick out the notes and turn the volume on the amp all the way up to the top. That's all he wanted to do. Even before he could really play, that's all he wanted to do! We all went through some growing pains; my ears are still a little sore from that! But he learned quick and within a year he was so, without lessons, proficient. It was just amazing" (JG 2/01).
Charley continues, "There was this one song we played by this group The Blues Magoos, they had a song, 'We Ain't Got Nothing Yet,' and there was this little guitar instrumental part [raising scale], and after one year, self-taught, he nailed that perfectly. He was like 15 years old and he was playing with that kind of dexterity. Just natural talent. And then between Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, and all those guys that became so popular in the late sixties... He was in bands playing all their music and he just developed his chops using them as a baseline and then he just developed his own style. He had great music to learn from and it was just a great time in music when there was a lot of great stuff being produced" (JG, 2/01). Following his initial interest in the instrument, on April 27, 1965, Ace was given an electric guitar by his father, a present for his 14th birthday, which according to Charley may have been the "Zigmar starburst that he had. It had terrible action, it was awful" (JG 2/01).
Within a year of picking up the guitar Ace was playing in bands of some description, some even with his brother. Charley remembered, "We were in a band called the Micro Organism, what can I tell you! That's what it was called. And we didn't gig much, we just actually practiced for a while and then it just kind of fell apart. We were just young kids. I was like 16, Paul was 15. I brought him in to play lead, and a drummer, a friend I knew from my school. It was just kid's stuff" (JG, 2/01). Ace performed live for the first time at a high school dance with his band The Exterminators, less than a year after taking up the guitar. Along with the Beatles, guitarists like Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, and later Jimi Hendrix were major influences to Ace. Jim McCarty of Mitch Ryder's band would also be one of Ace's guitar idols, and in September 1967 Ace would skip school to see Mitch Ryder with the Who and Cream opening at the New York RKO Radio Theater.
Ace paid his early dues, even to the point of being knocked out and having his jaw broken for arguing with a bar owner over payment to his band. He was in bands like the Exterminators, The Four Roses, King Kong, Honey, The Magic People, and The Muff Divers. Many of these early bands had Larry Kelly as lead singer (Larry and Sue Kelly received a writing credit on "Rip It Out" on Ace's 1978 solo album, making one wonder whether parts of that song dated that far back). Charley took a different musical path and moved into the 1960s folk scene and continued his classical education. He eventually released a folk CD as a member of The Bridge in March 2000.
In the book "KISS & Tell" (co-written with Gordon G. G. Gebert), former Ace friend Bobby McAdams recalls jamming with Ace and Rob Sabino in the early 1960s. Bob also remembers that, like Peter Criss, Ace ran around with a neighborhood gang, the Duckie Boys (KISS & Tell, p4). Unfortunately for the fans, Ace seems to have serious memory problems when looking this far back in his career. As a result his early musical history will often seem quite blank or sketchy at best.
The most notable of his pre-KISS bands and the one most KISS fans will have heard of is Molimo. This band did some studio work for RCA for an abandoned album. Unlike Wicked Lester, the recordings were apparently never fully completed and seem to have disappeared. There has been quite a bit of conjecture about how much of the album was completed, with Ace commenting that it had reached the half-way stage. Ace, who had been the last member to join the band, was apparently not involved in writing any of the material the band would record. Other members of the band included vocalists Tom Ellis and Christine Murphy, Roy Singer (Piano), Barry Dempsey (Bass), and a drummer named Dave Polinski. Roy and Tom, who also played rhythm guitar, were the primary songwriters in the band.
Later on Charley Frehley would be able to confirm that the band's name was "Molimo" (pronounced: Moh-Li-Moe) finally putting to rest that chapter of confusion and perhaps suggesting that accent has everything to do with how a word is interpreted. The name of the band has had a variety of spellings and pronunciations over the years, most notably "Millemo," which it has been suggested had some Portuguese meaning.
According to someone who was alleged to have heard the material possible song titles from the album, based of chord structures, include "Singapore Sling," "Face Down (Bourbon St.)," "My Way Or No Way," "Dead and Gone," "Street Coroner," "Don't Knock It, Until You Try It," "Bitter End," and "Soul Searcher." With a sound somewhere between Wicked Lester and KISS, Molimo had powerful psychedelic Jefferson Airplane / West Coast rock feel with loose free-flowing song structures and extended soloing with plenty of distortion. Apparently, the main song structure of "Getaway" is very similar to that used in "My Way Or No Way," while the main riff later used in "Parasite" appears to have originally been used in "Dead and Gone." (NOTE: Take all of this Molimo information with a grain of salt - it's not verified and may be completely false.)
This group played the Fillmore East before it was closed (in June 1971). They'd also play other popular local venues including the Village Gate, better known as a jazz joint, on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village (Sharp). Charley Frehley recalls seeing the band play the Gate: "I went to see him at the Village Gate play with Molimo one time and it was a soft sort of band, kind of reminiscent of Spanky & Our Gang, with a female lead singer. That poppy kind of sound. Paul would play lead on some songs; he would play acoustic on other songs. He was always into balls-y heavy metal. Zeppelin was the ultimate. That kind of thing you see with KISS, the punchy strong rock rhythms that he could play his wailing lead guitar to. So Molimo really didn't cut it for him. It was just something to do until the opportunity came along" (JG).
Concerning his other early bands, Ace remembers little except that King Kong was "cool," heavy and completely undisciplined. Two of his best club bands were Honey and The Magic People which did mostly early heavy metal covers from the likes of Cream and Zeppelin, as did all of his early bands. Whatever was current in the mid to late 1960s, if it was rock, it would have interested Ace and have been covered by one of his bands. Ace also had experience with other bands, managing to sneak into a Jimi Hendrix gig and setup Mitch Mitchell's drum kit at Jimi's last show in New York at Randall's Island in 1970 (possibly July 17). However, not all was dark because Ace would also meet his future wife, Jeanette, that year. By late 1972 Ace was looking for new opportunities when he came across the KISS ad in the Village Voice. Calling for a guitar player "with flash and ability. Album out shortly," his interest, along with that of many other local guitarists was piqued.
There was only one obstacle: Bob Kulick, the hot favorite of the auditions who had gotten on really well with Paul Stanley. The auditions are remembered differently by those present at the time; indeed memories of those involved are clouded. According to Peter Criss, Ace seemed special and had walked into the auditions wearing non-matching shoes and proceeded to plug in while someone else was auditioning and just start playing along. The person auditioning before Ace was Bob Kulick, who disagrees vehemently with Peter's recollection of the event: "That Ace would interrupt my audition by joining in, that he would actually unplug a guitar, is really comical to me. Anybody who knows me knows that I'm from New York. Nobody would ever stand for anybody doing that. Do you think that Gene and Paul would have allowed an audition to take place where somebody who could play was interrupted? Pulling out the plug from his guitar, like I would just take that from somebody and say, 'Oh sure, dude. Go ahead.' You know it's so silly. Somebody would never get near me like that; they would have been clocked in the head with my guitar! He did play right after me" (DS-BD3).
Bob McAdams, who gave Ace a ride to the audition (Ace has also suggested that his Mother drove him to the audition), recalled, "Ace was a little nervous, but he was a cocky bastard - he knew he could play. But you have to remember that at the time, Wicked Lester was just another poor band with no promotion and no record deal. I remember Ace was wearing one orange sneaker and one red one. He was just fucking crazy. They first jammed on some Led Zeppelin material and then they showed Ace some of their original material - 'Deuce' and 'Firehouse' were the first original songs they played together. I remember 'Black Diamond' sounding awesome the first time they played it" (KISS & Tell, p19).
About the audition, in an interview with Roger Lotring, Ace recalled, "When I went to audition for the band - y'know, I saw the ad in the Village Voice - ironically, I got there early and Bruce Kulick's brother, Bob Kulick, was auditioning. I was just kind of sitting in the corner practicing my guitar. Gene came walking over to me - he didn't know me - and he says, 'You think you could put that guitar away? I think you're making the other guy nervous.' I said, 'I didn't mean to offend anybody. I'm just trying to warm up, y'know'? He goes, 'Yeah, but, y'know, your turn'll come.' So, anyway, immediately I sensed this guy - I dunno, I didn't get a good vibe. Basically, after he left, I set up my Marshall amp, and Paul, Peter and Gene, they said, 'Listen, we're gonna play you a song ['Deuce']. Listen to it; it's in the key of A.' Or, in reality, A flat, because we tune down a half-step. I heard it, and I loved it! I mean, it was just so driving. And they said, 'This is the place where the solo is.' They played it once and they said, 'Plug in and do your stuff.' When it came time for the solo, I just pulled every cool lick I've every played out of my hat and out of my repertoire of solos" (Roger Lotring).
After the audition it still wasn't clear to Gene and Paul who'd they'd pick for the position. According to Ace, "They said, 'We'll get back to ya.' Two weeks later, they called me back and I played with them again. They sent me out of the room for a couple minutes. I came back in, they said, 'You're hired.' It's trippy - but I had a feeling it was gonna work out because not only did I enjoy the music and hit it off with the guys, but I was into theatrical rock and was willing to wear makeup and do anything to make it" (Roger Lotring).