Ace Frehley Remembers His Friend and Hero, Les Paul
Original Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley was heading into New York City to do interviews about his first solo album in 20 years, ‘Anomaly,’ when he heard the bad news.
“I was about 15 minutes outside of Manhattan when I got word that Les Paul had died, and it just put a damper on the whole day,” Frehley tells Noisecreep. “Everyone in the Gibson showroom was real sad. The only consolation I have that I tell myself is he lived a really full, happy life. Not that many people live to be 94 and continue to be busy. So he was blessed in that way besides all his other talents.”
Paul died on Aug. 13 in White Plains, N.Y. of complications from pneumonia. In addition to being a gifted jazz and country guitarist, Paul was a legendary inventor. He created the first solid-body electric guitar, and his iconic Les Paul model became a staple for rockers as far reaching as the Who‘s Pete Townshend, Led Zeppelin‘s Jimmy Page, Frehley, Guns N’ Roses‘ Slash, Joe Satriani and Testament‘s Alex Skolnick, to name a few.
“He designed the greatest rock ‘n’ roll guitar ever made,” Frehley says. “You can’t touch the Les Paul when it comes to playability. That instrument is just amazing.”
In addition to inventing the eponymous guitar, Paul developed cutting-edge technology, such as reverb and guitar effects, that are still being used today. But his most significant invention was a multi-track recording system that revolutionized the music industry. Instead of making recordings on a single tape, as was customary in the 1950s, Paul stacked eight mono tape machines and fed their signal to one single piece of tape, allowing him to blend many different takes onto a different recording.
“I don’t think a lot of people outside of the business are aware of what kind of impact he had on multi-track recording,” Frehley says. “Some people think maybe he’s this guy that made records and designed a great guitar, which is true, but above and beyond that he really was the father of multi-track recording, which is a big accomplishment.”
Frehley first met Paul in the ’80s, when Gibson signed an endorsement deal with the guitarist. He talked to Paul on numerous occasions during functions at the Gibson showroom in New York and jammed with him at New York’s Iridium, where Paul played a set every Monday night.
“That was always fun,” Frehley says. “We jammed and took some photos for his birthday. I’m still kind of in shock, because I was supposed to see him last fall when the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame [honored] him for a week. I ended up showing up on a Wednesday and did a guitar clinic with Henry Juszkiewicz, who’s the president of Gibson Guitars — and we talked about Les. He was flying in on Friday, and I had to leave town on business, and I never got to see him. Now I really regret not changing my plans.”
When he thinks about Paul, Frehley remembers a warm, passionate man who loved life and bubbled with charisma. “The first time I met him, I didn’t expect him to be so funny,” Frehley says. “He was this sweet old guy who cracked jokes and was easygoing, and made you feel at ease right away. That was Les. But aside from being this sweetheart of a guy, he was the kind of guy that would tinker with things. He was that crazy mad scientist, if you know what I mean. And I’m kind of the same way. My whole history with Kiss, I was known for modifying my Les Paul’s to have lights and shoot rockets, and I think Les Paul appreciated that because I think maybe he saw something in me that he maybe saw in himself.”
Remembering the good times he had with Paul in the Gibson showroom and at the Iridium, Frehley sounds almost elated. Then he realizes that those times have reached an end.
“I feel shaken, because he was my friend. He was my idol. We lost somebody that’s irreplaceable — an innovator, a giant in the music business. And I’ll never forget him.”