My feeling about interviews with artists and bands is that these are people who you are inviting into your virtual house and they should be shown respect based on their being your guests. I believe it doesn't mean you have to agree with what they say or even endorse it, but it does mean civility should be the course. That hopefully opens up a window of opportunity for people with different paradigms to agree on at least a few things, thus creating true dialog and possibly friendship. Imagine if Congress did that. With this in mind, please check out the following because some pretty interesting things are being discussed -- pro and con -- and it would be a shame for everything to be dismissed outright.
A Conversation with Ted Nugent
Mike Ragogna: Ted, how're you doing?
Ted Nugent: I'm sixty-five point six years old, except for my knees and the government, my life is perfect! I just got back from defying gravity on all levels in Sweden with the world's greatest dream band with Mick [Brown] and Greg [Smith] and Derek [St. Holmes]. Of course, Shutup & Jam! was augmented with other dream virtuosos ... Sammy Mother F**king Hagar. Are you kidding me?! This new drum monster from Waco, Texas, who teaches music history at Baylor University, his name is John Kutz, my god, listen to what this guy did on his first ever recording. I literally get teary-eyed at sixty five point six as I'm about to take the stage in Sweden, as I'm in the middle of the stage in Sweden, as I'm getting off the stage in Sweden, as I'm about to record with these unbelievable gentlemen and gifted monsters of musical limitlessness, and as I share this with you after all these years of recording and doing this, I have a reasonable grasp of the English language but I am helpless to find adequate words to describe the dynamic, the emotion, the physics of spirituality that pummel my life on a daily basis that is epitomized by your statement that this is classic Ted Nugent stuff, because this is all offspring of Chuck and Bo and Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and of course Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed. It's so powerful in my life and I know it's powerful in other music lovers' lives. I'm gaga over the whole thing. I'm so pleased to talk to you about it or anybody about it that loves music, so thank you.
MR: It's classic Nugent, you're very welcome. So where does all that passion on Shutup & Jam! come from?
TN: I just went into a monologue for you, a generalization of my musical life and my daily life. I mean Mrs. Nugent is doing Zumba in front of me. I'm sorry, Michael, you just don't know. I ran my dogs, we killed a squirrel this morning, I worked on one of my food plots and I cut the lawn and I shot some arrows and I played my guitar and now I'm talking to Michael Ragogna about the things that I love and how it all goes into the simple answer. Though it's very complex, to where this album came from is an immeasurably positive life and an immeasurably positive lifestyle. Every year, you stop and think. Fifty some years of touring and making music, and 2013 was the greatest tour of my life. I almost hurt my mouth smiling so much. What Mick and Greg and Derek do to my music and what they bring spiritually and in talent and tightness and soulful energy and just positive spirit to my music every night.
MR: It's always about the music, isn't it.
TN: Michael, it is about the music. And you can't write "Stranglehold" if you think getting high will enhance your musicality. Who would you want high in your life? Your pilot? Your Landscaper? Would you want your butcher high? That's where my view came from, because I was disciplined to be accountable for my cause and effect, and if I'm going to eat food in the Nugent house and consume and be a member of the family ... I was forced by a loving mom and dad through discipline, which happens to be Parenting 101, to be an asset to my family, which means I have to pay attention, mistakes will not be tolerated, accidents will not be tolerated, irresponsible behavior will not be tolerated. Growing up in an environment where if you're going to make trash, you should probably take it out and then you should probably be aware of and responsible for where it goes and I learned about landfills and I learned about conservation. If you're going to use wood products, you might want to plant some f**king trees, little things like that. When I ran into the hippies in my preteens--they weren't hippies yet, they were still beatnicks -- you remember Dobie Gillis and the Beatkniks? That was the first onslaught of booger-ridden, drooling, puking, pre-hippie beatniks. When I played a pool party for the University of Detroit with my band in '59, I would see these beatniks. They actually had berets and goatees because I think Maynard G. Krebs was their hero. How could you not realize that if you're going to play a really damn tight performance to Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry music that you can't be drooling and puking? The stuff they were doing -- the drinking, the drugs -- would ruin your musicality, and I witnessed it throughout my life, the guys couldn't even get to the f**king gig on time. They couldn't tune their instruments because the dope was "expanding their consciousness." I discovered that I don't need to sit on the bench in the park that has a "wet paint" sign on it. I can watch other idiots standing up from sitting on that bench, see the paint stains on their ass and draw the conclusion that maybe I don't need to actually experience that to discover whether the paint might be wet.
MR: But there are some people that need to do stupid things first hand to really "get it."
TN: Yeah, and then they're going to charge you and I to clean their painted pants.
MR: Oh, I'm not sure about that.
TN: Well, I am sure about that! Look at the Welfare, look at the socialism, look at the safety net. When you vote for the DREAM Act, Geraldo, and then you feign shock that there are tens of thousands of people coming across the border because the message has been sent, "Yeah, come on, go ahead, break the law, invade our country. We'll feed, clothe, and house you, and then you can vote for the people who invited you. We'll feed, clothe, and house you and you don't have to be a productive member of society, you can be a bloodsucker." You don't see that parallel?
MR: Honestly? I think there is a value to at least considering the other perspective. Like if I were in another culture, wouldn't I have other life views or another view of the world than I do now?
TN: Well, that's nice that you would have another view, but I don't really have a "view." I have a lifetime accumulation of lessons. It's not my view that the bench paint is wet. That's not my f**king view. It's not my view that dope destroys everybody in and around the users. That's not a view. That's a conclusion. So that's why I say, "Hey Michael, shut the f**k up and jam!" Of course, we can't all agree that killer music is killer music, but those that really love music and love the pursuit and accomplishments of excellence do love killer soulful music. That's why I'm going on my fifty-something year touring. I'll be performing my six-thousand, five-hundredth concert this year and that's why you love Shutup & Jam!, because you're so positive. If you're not having fun with Ted Nugent, you're weird! Don't you think? Have you ever been to one of my concerts?
MR: No, sadly.
TN: See, you haven't lived! The energy is so positive it's unbelievable. It's like we're at the Concord Bridge with M16s!
MR: That reminds me, what's the story behind "Semper Fi"?
TN: It has more to do with what you mistakenly called "life views" instead of "life conclusions." The cute thing about my record -- as if there's not unlimited cuteness from all my records -- one of the dynamic cutenesses of my records is called Shutup & Jam!. But I don't all the time. I shut up and jam when I f**kin' feel like it and when I don't feel like it, I actually revert to my number one duty as a human being and that is to be a "We The People" participant in this sacred experiment of self-government and demand accountability from my employees in government. Wow, what a concept.
MR: Ted, I need to ask you my traditional question. What advice do you have for new artists?
TN: It's really simple. I've written the answer to that question, and I've answered that question certainly thousands and thousands of times, but it cannot be repeated often enough. You have to be clean and sober. You have to treat your sacred temple with ultimate reverence. You have to eat smart, rest smart, exercise smart, and apply that excellence of management of your physics of spirituality to the instrument of your choice and the music of your choice. I understand, I've seen these journalists completely go berserk with that statement. They go, "Oh yeah, Jimi Hendrix didn't make any new music when he didn't do any drugs!" I've acknowledged that a gazillion times over, but I would ask the question, "Geez, wouldn't it be awesome to see what Jimi would have done later and how he would have continued to progress in his musical expression?" So the argument that the drugs were on the positive side of his quality of life is nothing short of pathetic. I guess you would have to be on drugs to think that. But my point is that being clean and sober and surrounding yourself with excellent people of integrity, honesty, dedication, a work ethic, it really isn't rocket science. It's really Quality Of Life 101. You demand to be in the asset column of your life, your family's life, your community's life, your fellow musicians' life. You get to rehearsal early, you take good care of yourself so that your energy and your creativity is optimized and you put your heart and soul into every collaboration, every lick. That really identifies, Michael, what Shutup & Jam! is. Someday, a journalist has got to witness a recording session with me and my boys. I don't care how many tailgate parties you've been to or whatever you love in life the most. If you think you've been to the mountaintop of those things you love the most in life, you can't imagine the spirit, the positive attitude and energy and the laughter and the intensity of getting the songs tight and genuine and heartfelt. It's really very, very inspiring. That's why I'm giving a tip of the hat and I've mentioned every musician's name including Michael Lutz. Everybody involved with this record came in salivating with unbridled animal anticipation for what can only be considered an animal breeding orgy of music. We love these licks, we love these songs and no matter what historical musical reference I made ... You know how Howlin' Wolf did that one thing? You remember how "Wang Dang Doodle" really got disjointed but it remained tight? We've got to get that on this song. I'm gonna try a blues version of "Never Stop Believing." Because it's so emotional, only blues can adequately deliver what I'm feeling. I offered it to be sung by other people and Sammy Hagar literally scolded me and said, "No f**king way, you need to sing this. You're singing your ass off. This is your statement, if you let anybody else sing this song I'm going to kick your ass."
MR: I imagine you've taken your own advice from Day One.
TN: I really have. I compromised a bunch of times, but I've got to tell you, I wrote a piece for WND. I hope you read my stuff at WND.com, newsmax.com ... you should even read my stuff at deeranddeerhunting.com because I weave in a lot of politics to wildlife management and the hunting lifestyle. All that goes into my music because I have been taught to and learned to celebrate my independence, my decision-making process, my confidence of what Bo and Chuck and Little Richard and all the gods that invented this music taught me. Nobody can argue against it. You can't possibly have a better idea than Chuck Berry on how a song should flow. Of course, you accumulate every musical celebration of every one of Chuck's children -- I don't care if it's Bob Seger or Kid Rock or Jack White or Eminem or Bruno Mars or the Chili Peppers or Christina Aguilera or James Brown. No matter what it is, it's all derivative of the original bluesy, soulful celebrations of getting away from slavery to the uninhibitedness of what freedom can bring, et cetera, et cetera. When you surround yourself with people like that and you can actually capture it in song, again, I am stymied to find a word to adequately describe the joys of making music like this with these people and I really believe that there's a whole bunch of us out there that really like it. I don't know how success is measured these days with the digital thievery that exists out there, but I'm hoping that a lot of people get to hear this music because I'm so proud to represent it.
MR: When you get right down to it, music is pretty universal. It's at the heart of people's feelings, right?
TN: No question. It's become an accurate colloquialism that music is the universal communication. That's why songs like "Fred Bear" have so touched people, and songs like "Stranglehold" are played when people are going into battle, when Kirk Gibson is about to go up to bat with a leg injury in the bottom of the ninth ... That's why they've played "Stranglehold" when the Blackhawks come out on the ice every day for the last thirty-six years. I have an unbelievable relationship with the warrior spirit of rugged individualism and attitude. I think this record really, really conveys that and I'm glad your opening statement indicated you felt that, too.
MR: Classic Nugent.
TN: I think so. Bottom line is I didn't invent the middle finger but I have perfected it.
MR: [laughs] Ted, one of my other favorite lines that you've ever said is, "My guitar does not gently weep."
TN: No, my guitar does not gently weep, it beats your face, get over it. What the f**k!
MR: By the way, I came in on Nugent music with "Cat Scratch Fever" and went back for Amboy Dukes.
TN: What a groove. We are the groove gods, there's no doubt about it.
MR: "Cat Scratch Fever" is a true rock anthem. Virtually everyone knows that song and kids learn it when they pick up a guitar. How do you feel about being its creator?
TN: I think it was ultimately stated when Ritchie Blackmore called and said he was angry because he hears more people saying that "Cat Scratch Fever" was the ultimate intro guitar lick than "Smoke On The Water." I think it's a photo finish myself. When you pursue it relentlessly like I do ... I played some licks this morning, Michael. I've got a whole other record already prepared, I've got just grinding, grooving, rhythmical, pulsating, nasty, sexy licks and grooves and patterns and guitar theme lines already prepared. It's a matter of time. If you write a lot, you're going to end up writing something pretty good at some point and if you play the guitar every day, a percentage of your licks have got to be decent. Ultimately, I think if you play like I do, you'll come up with these magical patterns like "Fear Itself" or "Never Stop Believing" or "Do-Rags and a .45." Are you kidding me?! Not to mention "Cat Scratch" and "Wang Dang" and "Wango Tango." Listen to the Craveman record. The guitar lick on the song "Crave" is undeniably my greatest series of guitar licks I've ever written. It just never ends.
If you play as much as I do, you're going to bump into monster guitar licks. Again, that goes back to being clean and sober so that your brain is cleansed so that you're open and uninhibited and even irreverent in your indefatigable pursuit of grinding licks and eventually, your fingers will collide with the right pattern on the fret board and magic happens. I'm not exaggerating. If you ask my band mates, every time I pick up the guitar, Michael, people think, "Oh, Nugent brags. He thinks he's the greatest." Shut the f**k up, I'm way beyond the thinking stage. Every time I pick up my guitar, killer f**king patterns erupt. Every f**king time. I had a hundred songs for Shutup & Jam! but eventually, I just said, "Hey, shut up and jam. Just play these fifteen." I'm a lucky man. But again, that's because I'm clean and sober. I live a positive life surrounded by the greatest family, the most gorgeous, dangerous wife you could ever dream of, the greatest musicians, the greatest team. Everybody around me is a monster of productivity, love and positive energy. You can't go wrong.
MR: Sounds beautiful.
TN: It is beautiful!
MR: You know what else is beautiful? Your friendship with Sammy Hagar after all these years.
TN: Absolutely! We first met in '74 maybe, Montrose opened up for us on the West Coast and I remember that Ronnie [Montrose] and Sammy and Denny Carmassi and Chuck were all on the side of the stage watching like children. Wait a minute, they were children! We were all children! [laughs] But they loved that Motor City high-energy exaltation of what the founding black creators showed all of us. Everything Montrose comes from Howlin' Wolf and Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, and so does mine. But I think mine's just a little bit more intense, although I don't think anybody will ever beat "Bad Motor Scooter"s or "Rock Candy." My point is we all come from that same black rhythm and blues school of guitar jamming, so that bond was irrepressible and it remains that way today.
MR: About your duet "She's Gone," you mentioned that Sammy originally didn't want to sing on one of the tracks you wanted him on because you sang your ass off on it. But he did eventually come and join you on this one.
TN: I insisted because I love Sammy and I love his fire and his passion and his talents. But when you combine all that together, I was reluctant to do a duet. I wanted him to sing the whole thing, but this is one of those moments when I did agree with my team, including Sammy and my musicians and Michael Lutz. They said, "No, no, no." Sammy said, "I don't even need to sing this one." When I send someone something to do, I always sing it the way I would sing it, whether we go back to the original "Stranglehold," or "Just What The Doctor Ordered," or how Derek delivered incredibly on "Everything Matters," Sammy said, "I'm not singing this, you sing that mother**ker, you're singing your ass off!" We actually traded off on the verses and I love it.
MR: Like most classic rockers, you're one of the torch bearers of the musical style that started with Chuck Berry. Where do you think it's going now? Are you seeing any rock out there now that people should be paying attention to?
TN: Well, Michael, that's a heartbreaker. I'm afraid that the digital age has technically facilitated, encouraged and rewarded the thievery of incredible musical investment--because it takes a lot of money invested to make a record. If a bunch of people get it for nothing ... The orchard operator isn't going to continue bringing apples to the fruit stand if everyone just takes them and nobody pays for the fertilizer or the pesticides or the herbicides or the people that bring them to the fruit stand, so you're going to run out of apples eventually if everybody thinks they can get them for nothing. I'm afraid that's what's happened to music. It has discouraged and literally shut down youthful, adventurous creativity, where they've gotten the message that, "Well, I'm going to have to waste years and years and years of my life perfecting my art that I'm going to have to find a whole bunch of money to make a record and then get nothing? Really? I don't get paid for all that elbow grease and all that sweat investment? Really? F**k you, I'm going to get a different gig." There are amazing, mind-dazzling virtuosos out there that we'll never hear from.
MR: This is an odd way for me to put it, but is it a matter of the technology needing to die for a little bit to reel things back in a little?
TN: I don't know the answer. I don't see an answer. There's a Jack White out there and he's overcoming it, and of course, country music, which is basically seventies rock. They've overcome that. Their fan base will still buy their product more than steal it. There are some monsters out there. I don't even know a lot of the big, multi-million sellers. I know that Eminem still does that with a different genre all together, so there are still your top, top echelon that continue to sell. Thank God that Cheap Trick and Aerosmith and ZZ Top and Ted Nugent and Foreigner and Styx and REO and Journey and Heart and everybody else can still keep performing because we've established that we can put on a monstrous, valuable performance every night. But those that didn't establish that when we were able to sell product in an industry that loved the music, everyone from the guy that pressed the record to the guy who owned the plant ... I know that for a fact because I met all those guys in the sixties and seventies. The guy that ran the record store loved the music, the guy that was the distributor loved the music, they A&R guy and the president of the label loved the f**king music. The guy that folded the cardboard for the album covers loved the f**king music, and that's gone! It's literally gone! I don't know what the answer is. We're still going to get some killer Chili Pepper music with the unbelievable God of Thunder Drummer from Detroit. There's still great music out there, but boy, it ain't like the heyday of the sixties and seventies when everybody just cherished the musical expression. I think Shutup & Jam! might be able to overcome some of that, but time will tell.
MR: And Detroit is truly where it all starts for you.
TN: Absolutely, no doubt, yeah.
MR: You have the drummer from Mitch Ryder's band. To me, when it comes to rock, Detroit can have that badass, middle finger attitude, the kind you brought up earlier.
TN: It's not necessarily a hateful middle finger, it's like letting your freak flag fly. Bruno Mars has got it, his amazing band has got it, even Justin Timberlake has got it and his amazing band has got it. It's still alive and well. Again, I'll reference Chad Smith and the Chili Peppers, they've still got it to some degree. Even the Green Day goofballs have still got it. I think when you witness Journey on stage, a bunch of us old guys have still got it. Dave Grohl can't really be considered new but he's a little newer than I am and he's still got it in his amazing bands. It's still available if you want to track it down and find it, but it's not like a tsunami like it was in the sixties and seventies. Then there are guys that are just rogue warriors like Joe Bonamassa, or this incredible guitar player from Texas here, Chris Duarte. There are so many guys that just keep plugging away. They're not making a lot of money, but they play and play and play and play and play and that is still always going to work. I still believe today that if a punk-ass kid, twelve years old, did exactly in 2014 what Ted Nugent did in 1959, he could still not only make a living at it but make a good living and the ultimate soulful gratification of the masses celebrating his musical art and statement if he learned to play grooves and loved the grind and the tightness of the band and remembered the authority that brings Bruno Mars such success--that James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Motown Funk Brother touch. All that original stuff that I was inspired by in 1958, 1959 when I opened up for Billy Lee & The Rivieras at the Walled Lake Casino with my band The Lourds, when we became the number one band in the Michigan Battle Of The Bands because those guys in Billy Lee & The Rivieras -- who turned into Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels -- were sons of Chuck Berry and James Brown and they worked up eight crescendos per song. Every song was an encore! I learned that kind of fighting intensity, and to this day, I might be the only one that really delivers that level of intensity on stage. I get that from everybody. Go to my Facebook and you see people that saw me last year and saw me with the Amboy Dukes in 1967 and they say, "My God, if the twenty-year-old Ted Nugent showed up tonight, you would have stomped his ass into the dirt." Which is going to be another song I'm writing, called "If the twenty-year-old Ted Nugent showed up I'd stomp his ass into the dirt."
MR: [laughs] Ted, a lot of people don't remember you participated in the tribute to Martin Luther King with Joni Mitchell and other artists, and you just referenced a lot of R&B music that influenced you. Isn't music the ultimate ambassador that can bring everybody with different views together?
TN: I would hope so, and I have seen it happen. Here's a good example, and I express this often. Number one, Bono, the guy from U2, finally admitted a couple years ago that the only way to help needy people in poverty is through entrepreneurial capitalism, so that people can pursue their dreams, make as much money as possible and history has shown that those people that do make as much money as possible are the only source of assistance to people who haven't made enough money. Hello, Bono, very nice! Hello! And then, of course, there's my very good political friend, Tom Morello. He claims to be this ultra-left socialist politico, and he's a dear friend of mine. In fact, Shutup & Jam! was somewhat inspired by Tom because we have these wonderful conversations about guitars and music and we sometimes get into political conversations until he runs into the Ted Nugent brick wall of facts and self-evident truth and historical evidence and then, because I don't want to embarrass him any further, I just say, "Well, let's just shut up and jam!" I can get along just fine with him, no fisticuffs, no screaming, purely gentlemanly and civil. Just shut up and jam! Like Paul McCartney... He attacked me for eating venison, claimed I didn't have any good musical ideas and I was a bad human being for slaughtering innocent animals and when he was done with that, the interviewer in Detroit asked me what I thought of that and I said, "I don't think much of that, all I want to say to Paul McCartney is thank you for the incredible music that has enriched mankind's lives." I just want to salute Paul McCartney for sharing his musical genius with the world. My life wouldn't be anywhere near as wonderful as it is without Paul McCartney and John Lennon's Beatle music, so I don't really give a s**t what you had for dinner, Paul, just shut the f**k up and jam!
Transcribed by The Masked Marauder
A Conversation with KISS' Gene Simmons
Mike Ragogna: Gene, what does KISS mean to you right now?
Gene Simmons: I tell you, living well is the best revenge. Over forty years, we've been stubborn. When you really think about it, we've lost our senses from day one, when we decided to put on more makeup and higher heels than your mommy ever wore, when we decided to ignore critics. We've been around longer than The Huffington Post, we've been around longer than cell phones, MTV, VH1, the digital age. We started in the Stone Age, but we're here bigger and better than ever. And size does matter, your girlfriend's been lying to you. The idea that forty years on we would have the pride -- yeah the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame is nice, yeah the Hollywood Star Walk Of Fame is nice, yes the KISS Cruise is nice, the KISS Golf Course is nice, the KISS limo service is night, KISS, KISS, KISS, KISS, KISS, but at the end of the day, above and beyond the hooplah and the five thousand licensed products and the movies and the cartoon show, it begins and ends on stage. In essence KISS has always been a live act. We've never really had enough patience to stay in the studio long enough unfortunately to do our own Sergeant Pepper or Tommy or whatever. Intrinsically, KISS has always been a live band, no tapes, no secret musicians backstage, all one hundred percent live. Can't say that about many other bands. There are some, and I believe those bands should hold their heads up high because the integrity and honesty of what you do is utmost as far as I'm concerned. People are paying over a hundred dollars a ticket. The least you could do, God damn it, is to not play a tape. Or if you are going to be playing a backing track, be honest and let people know. And we've never rested on our laurels. The past is the past and that's great, there have been amazing years and decades and all that, but for the fan who's buying a hundred plus-dollar ticket that night is where it begins and ends, which is why we continue to throw down the gauntlet in front of ourselves and introduce ourselves with a kind of pretty crazy introduction. You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world, KISS. If we weren't deadly serious about our take-no-prisoners attitude of getting up there and really kicking everybody's nuts in -- even the girls -- it's a source of price. The money's nice, the fame is nice, all that stuff's nice. But when you get up on stage and you sweat real sweat, that's the only thing that matters.
MR: I hear you have a couple of veterans as roadies and you're directly involved with an organization that employs them. What brought KISS and Hiring Our Heroes together?
GS: The only heroes we have is our military. Think about it. Politicians want to get reelected, they make a good living, they get fame, they get to be on TV. Our military is volunteer. They don't get praise, they don't get rich, in fact when they come back to America battered and worn -- if they come back -- there's not even a guaranteed job waiting for them. So we're dedicated and have been for a long time to giving back. It's the least we could do. Two or three shows ago we gave away a house to a deserving veteran. Last tour a dollar out of every ticket went to Wounded Warriors. We have our own restaurant chain Rock & Brews, we hire vets. We have our own football team, LA KISS. Guess what we do? You've got to give back. Who else are you going to be nice to? Politicians? The two most hated jobs in America are? Lawyers and politicians. We hate them.
MR: I think there are many well-intentioned ones, but many of them do give us good reason to.
GS: Well, of course, because many of them lack integrity. But imagine somebody who's got an entire life in front of them, "Yeah, we can have a nice, comfortable life in America," no, you're going to volunteer to risk life and limb and go overseas in countries that hate you and risk your life for an ideal called America. That's beyond. Our military, anybody in uniform, whether they're in the military or a cop or a fireman is a better person than I will ever be.
MR: Given your fame, you do have an opportunity to bring awareness to the problems veterans face.
GS: Okay, but I don't risk my life. I mean, yes I do on stage, but nobody's taking a pot shot at me.
MR: Gene, you're in the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame. How did that hit you?
GS: Well, after forty years, it is interesting as you and I are talking, my twenty five year-old son is actually a writer for The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington made a deal with him so he writes long articles about all kinds of interesting stuff. We have our Hollywood Star on the Walk Of Fame and the imprints of musical this and the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame and all kinds of stuff. It's appreciated but I will tell you, it begins and ends with the fans. Our validation and the only reason we try to do this is for the fans. The KISS Army. It's proud, it spans generations, it brings families together, it doesn't separate them. When we do concerts and we blow stuff up and play the songs and fly through the air ... You've got a five year-old grandson sitting on top of his dad's shoulders who's there with his dad and all of them are wearing makeup. That feeling puts a lump in my throat. Sometimes, I have to turn my head so that they don't see the Big Bad Wolf tearing up. It is an emotional tsunami that comes over me when I realize what a profound effect this band has had on people all over the world. It's not just music, damn it, there is this greater calling. There are all kinds of songs we like when we turn on the radio, but when something hits you and is a part of your life it's big. So KISS fans tattoo their bodies with our faces, they have KISS conventions, and in honor of that, we have KISS Cruises. Every Halloween, we get together with thousands of our fans on one of these superliners and we go to the Bahamas together.
MR: Going back to the very first time you played together as KISS, did you even have a hunch of how huge this would become?
GS: Well, personally, I knew it would succeed, but I didn't understand on what level. You've got to remember, when we first started out, there wasn't even voicemail. We didn't have cable, there was no VH1 or MTV, none of that existed. There were hardly any guitars on radio. It was a lot of pop stuff, which is fine. We knew it was going to succeed, but did I imagine that within a year and a half of us starting, we'd be headlining Anaheim Stadium in California without the digital age or hit songs or anything? No. Since then, with all due respect to everybody else, we've gone where no band has gone before. A KISS golf course in Las Vegas, KISS cruises, KISS VIP service ... We basically decided over forty years ago to ignore the pundits and the peanut gallery and just do whatever the f**k we wanted to, pardon my French. Our rule was, "We want to be unique." With all due respect to country and rap and all the other fine musical forms, you can take one cowboy hat and put it on another guy and I don't think there's a difference. They're all wonderful and talented but you wouldn't sit up and go, "Hey, wait a minute, that cowboy hat does not belong on that guy there!" It's a generic kind of thing. Say what you want about KISS, "I hate that band," "I love that band," there's nobody like us, period.
MR: Gene, what advice do you have for new artists?
GS: I'm sad for new artists because the next Beatles or the next KISS or the next Prince is not going to happen because there's no record industry. It's complete chaos. What you're going to have is a lot of people who think the only thing they need to do is to be on American Idol or X-Factor and just sing, never mind learning how to play an instrument or learning how to write songs. You know that first freckle-faced college kid who was a law-abiding citizen and went to school and all that but decided to file share and download was a leak that eventually sank the whole boat.
MR: It's horrible, but could it also be some of it is due to record companies abandoning maturing acts to keep hold of the eighteen to twenty-five demographic?
GS: Not really, because you always had Sub Pop and the other labels that launched Nirvana and other bands that the major labels didn't, and that worked as well. But now you've got complete chaos, and that didn't come because we were invaded by Martians. Our kids did that. They destroyed an entire support system for new bands. Nowadays, how do you launch a band? How do you become a professional musician and do it all the time?
MR: Then what in your opinion is good advice? Like, what would you tell your kid if he decided to become a musician?
GS: Good Lord. Well if you're a pop act it's different. My daughter Sophie is recording her first record, she writes, she sings, all of that stuff, Universal is involved, and Nick has got his band, but that's not the only think they're doing. She's got the clothing line, the jewelry, she's writing a book called I'm Not A Size Two and she wrote a script called Sh*t Girls Say, she also wrote a script called Boy Who Cried Wolf, Nick writes for The Huffington Post. When I started, I was just in KISS, because there was a support system. Nowadays, that's not enough.
MR: Could it be that is the natural evolution of things?
GS: No, I don't think it was natural at all.
MR: From the fifties to the seventies, there also were a few giant leaps that changed everything.
GS: I'm going to show you what I mean, and it's pretty telling. From 1958, for twenty-five years after that, into 1983, name even just one hundred super stars that will stand the test of time. Okay, Elvis, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Motown, you can just go on and on and on. That also includes Madonna and Prince and everybody. AC/DC, Aerosmith, you can just go down the line in all genres of music. That also includes U2, by the way. Now, from 1984 until today, just give me ten stars that will stand the test of time. How about just one. You know what's interesting? I was having a discussion downstairs and I said, "Kurt Cobain" and nobody in the room had a clue what I was talking about.
MR: Never thought of it like that, that is amazing.
GS: Why is it amazing? The masses have no idea what that is.
MR: They've moved on to other music? Maybe the pedestal went away?
GS: But everybody knows who Elvis and The Beatles are.
MR: But other than sports, a limited amount of TV stations and movies, wasn't music the only other major entertainment back then?
GS: It's not fair because the advantage that post-'83 had was MTV, VH1, digital age stuff, you had that imagery and that music much more in your face. The first generations were barely known because there was so little technology. If you became big, you were really big, because the masses decided you were big. You still have yet to give me one star that the world knows. Everybody. That means your mother, your grandmother, your candlestick maker, the garbage man ... I'm not making a value judgment on it, I'm just saying it ain't The Beatles and Elvis and Motown and all that. It's just not, and I think it goes to the record industry. With a record industry, you have a mom and dad who give tour support and give you money. You never had to give back the money, even if the record bombed. Now you're a new act and there are very talented bands out there that will never get a break. You have the same seeds every year, but without rain and sunshine, they'll die in the ground.
MR: What do you think is the answer?
GS: The answer is to reinstate a commercial model. Anything that's given away for free is worthless. Or make a distinction -- this is charity, this is commerce. How do you expect a band to be able to write and record quality material if they also have to go work for a living, wash dishes, drive trucks and stuff? There's just no time to devote to your craft.
MR: I guess. But to me it seems there was always an element of having to work and do the other stuff until you broke as a band even with a label involved in a lot of cases.
GS: Yeah, well I don't see anything happening after '83. Nothing.
MR: Gene, the future of KISS. Where do you go from here?
GS: We're going to go where no band has gone before.
MR: Space, the final frontier?
GS: Well, actually we're talking about that.
MR: That's awesome.
GS: And the band may not stop with us. We have every intention that ten years, fifteen years down the line maybe there's going to be a new KISS. Maybe the caterpillar will become the butterfly.
MR: If you have the KISS army, does that make them the KISS reserve?
GS: We're talking about new generations of fans all the time, remember. At some point, we've got to hang up our platform heels, but so far, so good. We're having a ball. I think you'll be very impressed and hopefully, you'll be very proud. There is a connection between the fans and the band that I think goes beyond ticket prices and merchandising and stuff like that. Once there's enough money and enough fame and all that kind of stuff, how the hell do you want to do it? I will tell you, I want anybody who comes to our shows, whether you're a fan or not, either during the middle or the end, to nudge somebody with their elbow and say, "Yeah, now that's a band. That's my band." You want that pride. I remember seeing a movie once called The Pride Of The Yankees.
MR: Great movie.
GS: Yeah. Interesting choice of words -- The Pride Of The Yankees. Yeah, pride, that's right. Even above and beyond fame and fortune and all that, you want to impress, and then you want somebody to connect emotionally and say, "Okay, now show me your band." Just like, "My dad's stronger than your dad," you're proud. I want that. That's what I fight for.
MR: Is that ultimately the secret of why KISS has been so successful and around so long?
GS: It's never just one thing. You have to have the right thing at the right place at the right time, certainly. If KISS was around in the 1800s they'd look at us like we were aliens. There is right thing, right place, right time, and then there's just no substitute for pride. For getting up on that stage and caring enough to give it your best. You'll see that. I sincerely hope with all my heart that the very last show we will ever play -- because one day there will be one -- that we will live up to our own declaration, which we have used to introduce ourselves at every concert and will on the last concert, "You wanted the best? You got the best, God damn it, the hottest band in the world: Kiss."
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Ace Frehley
Mike Ragogna: Ace! What's the story behind Space Invader?
Ace Frehley: We came up with the concept after I had recorded the majority of the record. We were talking about a space theme, everybody was kicking around different ideas and somebody came up with the title space invader. I thought it was great. The minute I heard it I said, "That's got a nice ring to it." It kind of goes with my spaceman character. Then we started screwing around with ideas of me coming out of a spaceship, whether it was going to be a flying saucer or a rocket. We eventually came up with a couple of artists' renderings. Then I came up with the idea of bringing Ken Kelly aboard, the guy who painted Love Gun and Destroyer. We sent him the designs and he worked out the cover in about a week. It was just magical.
MR: What inspired the material?
AF: Oh, I don't know. I just get ideas sometimes. Most of my songs, I'll start off with a guitar or rhythm riff. A lot of times I'll write on acoustic, not on electric. "Inside The Vortex" was written on a bass, that's a heavy riff song. It's interesting, I noticed that depending on what instrument I have I Write differently, so it's good to play with different instruments when you're trying to come up with a song idea because, you know, you get variety.
MR: You have this new single, "Give Me A Feeling," from Space Invader. How do you think you are evolving as an artist?
AF: I think this record shows growth. I think one of the first things that most people say after they hear the record is that my voice sounds great. People say, "Have you been taking voice lessons?" I say, "No." "Have you been taking guitar lessons? Do you practice?" I say, "No." I think I've somehow recaptured some of the moments that I did on the '78 record. There were a couple surprises. "Give Me A Feeling" was co-written by me and my assistant John Ostrosky. "Change" and "Immortal Pleasures" were co-written by me and my fiancé. We never collaborated on songs before. She's a great lyricist and poet and artist. That was a big surprise, how great those songs came out.
MR: What are your thoughts about this album after listening to it back?
AF: I'll be honest with you, right now, I'm feeling exactly the way I feel after I did my '78 solo record. I finished that album and I would listen to that record every day and say, "This is a good record. I think the fans are going to like this." It was my biggest record, it had my biggest hit, "New York Groove." I'm kind of feeling like history might repeat itself. I think this record is definitely one of the best things I've ever done.
MR: You're a founding member of KISS, and you were recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. What do you think about your contribution to culture as Ace Frehley and also KISS' contribution as a whole?
AF: We created something really special in the seventies. At the height of our stardom, people could come to a KISS show and for two hours, escape reality. It was like going to a sci-fi movie or a horror show, everything rolled into one. I think that's one of the reasons we were so popular. It wasn't just music. The music was good, but the show was spectacular. It was like a rock 'n' roll circus almost.
MR: Because of how huge the spectacle became, when you were on stage, were there moments where you might have said to yourself, "Oh my God, what is this?"
AF: The show got real complicated as it evolved over the years. We had to practice where we were going to be and be aware of where bombs were going off and when fire was going to blow up. Pretty much the whole show was kind of choreographed. We had to be at a certain place in certain songs or we could've gotten in trouble.
MR: When you were doing those moves, did it ever get a little dicey?
AF: There's no such thing as perfection live. Sean Delaney, our tour manager in the early seventies, helped us tremendously with perfecting those moves that we did, like the classic move in "Deuce" where the three of us go back and forth. It almost became robotic after a while. It was almost like doing a Broadway show. I really didn't have to think, I kind of just went on autopilot.
MR: But on the other hand, KISS shows are bigger than a lot of Broadway shows. Like you said before, it was bigger than life. Are you aiming at trying to do anything similar with your live shows now?
AF: No, I could never compete with that show as a solo artist. I'm just more focused on making great music. For me to try to compete with the KISS show is ludicrous. But I still have my guitar effects, I invented the Light Guitar, I invented the Smoking Guitar, I invented the Rocket Guitar, and there are a couple of other ideas that are in the works right now for another special effects guitar that we'll hopefully have ready for the tour. I'm just being me.
MR: One goofy question: You're "Space Ace," so what is your sci-fi history?
AF: I grew up loving sci-fi movies. Science and art were my two favorite subjects. With astronomy, I was fascinated by the whole Gemini and Apollo programs. I followed them extensively. I love sci-fi movies and horror films. I have that in common with Gene.
MR: What are a couple of your favorite sci-fi movies?
AF: Forbidden Planet, The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Quiet Earth... Star Wars was a big leap as far as special effects. My biggest complaint about some of the movies today is that there's almost too much CGI. In the beginning of "Immortal Pleasures," I use a sound bite from Forbidden Planet. That movie's from the fifties but it still holds up. The spaceship landing in the beginning still looks great.
MR: Were you into any sci-fi TV, like Lost In Space or Star Trek?
AF: Oh yeah, I love those shows. Star Trek is a fantastic series. It's interesting how the films have evolved over the years.
MR: Do you have a favorite Star Trek series or movie?
AF: The Wrath Of Khan, with Ricardo Montalban. [laughs] That was funny.
MR: He was great. It's said he had a fake breast plate or something to look so ripped.
AF: [laughs] My brother was a big trekkie. I never got that far out there, where I'd want to go to the conventions and stuff. Probably because I was a celebrity, I couldn't go even if I wanted to, I would've been bothered. But I loved all that stuff. I still make appearances at sci-fi and horror conventions sometimes and do book signings and stuff. It's a great atmosphere.
MR: Getting back to Space Invader, did you use any new techniques or technology on this record that you felt were cutting edge?
AF: I think I broke new ground with some of the songwriting. It shows growth. I think the production is perfect, and I owe part of that to Warren Huart, the guy who mixed the record, assisted by Phil Allen. I think my songwriting has matured, I think my guitar work has improved. Forty years in the business you learn little tricks here and there, working with people like Eddie Kramer and Bob Ezrin. You learn how to put a song together, you learn how to make a record. I don't think twice about how to do something, it's just, "How do I want to do it?" I know how to do it, I've made so many records and been in so many different studios, it's become very commonplace and robotic to me in many ways.
MR: Most people know you for your live performances, but would you also consider yourself a studio hound?
AF: Yes and no. I love working in the studio, most of this record was tracked in a studio up in Turlock, California, which is about fifteen minutes south of Modesto where they filmed American Graffiti. He's this multimillionaire who has chains of stores and a dairy farm and feed mills. We got to be friends over last five years. For years he's been telling me, "You've got to come up and see my studio." So finally I took him up on it this last summer and I fell in love with the place. It's a great studio and it's in the middle of nowhere. There's nothing going on in Turlock, California at night. For a guy who has ADD it's a dream studio, because there are no distractions.
MR: [laughs] What advice do you have for new artists?
AF: For a musician, practice, practice and more practice. That being said, I would also say follow your dreams. Don't listen to anybody. When I was sixteen years old, I decided I wanted to be a rock star. It wasn't in my twenties. I told everybody what I wanted to do with my life and everybody said I was crazy. So if I were to listen to what everybody told me growing up, everybody was saying, "Get a regular job, do this, do that," and I'd say, "How can I? I'm doing this." If you have talent and you have perseverance and you have drive, you can achieve greatness. Don't listen to other people, you've got to follow your own heart and your own dreams.
MR: When you guys were putting together KISS, were there moments where you were thinking, "I don't know about this?"
AF: [laughs] With KISS? Not really. I remember when we were shooting the first album cover, right before we started the photo shoot, we got a phone call from Neil Bogart and he goes, "Are you guys sure you want to wear the makeup for the album cover?" [laughs] Right up until ten minutes before the photo shoot, people were still questioning it, but we really believed in the concept that we had created. I remember some of those early tours, we'd show up at a fifteen hundred seat club somewhere in the South and we'd walk out and people would be looking at us like, "Who the hell are these guys? What are they trying to prove?" But three songs into the set, we'd have everybody up off their feet or definitely by the end of the show when the explosions happen. We'd convert people. We toured so extensively the first three or four years of our careers, we'd win over a lot of people. We were in the trenches.
MR: Personally, I think KISS took a tired glam and reinvented it.
AF: You have to realize, when we started out, the biggest group from New York at the time was the New York Dolls. If you do some research and you look at the very first picture of us in makeup, it's kind of silly. We're dressed up in kind of feminine makeup for the most part. I look like Lilly Tomlin in the photo. I'm sure you can find it online. But then we went out to this club in Long Island called The Daisy and we started experimenting with makeup and it evolved quite rapidly into the four designs you know and love today.
MR: Is there anything you would've changed about your makeup?
AF: No, I think I nailed it. I like the way my costume evolved over the years, it got a bit more elaborate. I remember at one point I had a Flash Gordon cape. It was just fun. We went full circle. Probably the only look that I regret although I think my look was pretty cool was when we cut our hair for The Elder. Even in those photos I felt like I had a pretty cool jumpsuit with the lightning bolt going across it. I'm not too sure about Paul's outfit, though. But I was on the way out at that point so it really didn't matter to me anymore. I'd had a successful solo record, mentally I was out of the band already and planning my own band.
MR: What's the story behind your hit "New York Groove"?
AF: It's funny the way that song evolved, because I was initially against doing it. I didn't think it was heavy enough. Eddie Kramer pushed me to follow through with that song and it turned out to be my biggest hit. Who knew?
MR: What does the future hold for Ace Frehley?
AF: I'm hoping this album will be very well received, I put my heart and soul into it, obviously we're going to support it with some shows and touring. I'm working on my second book right now, I've got a couple of chapters already written. I'd like to start producing other bands, that's something I'd love to do, take a young group under my wing, bring them into the studio and share all the knowledge that I've learned over the last four years. I remember there were certain points in my career in the studio when I felt like producers could've handled it differently. In my opinion to be a producer the most important thing is to make the artist comfortable and let them create. If you're not doing that, you're not doing your job. I think that's number one for a producer's job: make the artist comfortable and allow them to be them. That's the way I'm going to approach producing in the future. I want to do a couple soundtracks for films, I've been talking to a producer of a horror film, of a sci-fi film, but no deals have been struck. I want to do an animation and score that. There are a lot of things that I want to do in the future that I haven't achieved yet. Always set your sights higher, you know?
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne