Authors: Joe Layden Ace Frehley John Ostrosky
I just figured it had nothing to do with attending classes at DeWitt Clinton.
So one day my friend and I got some beer and pot, and hooked up with a couple of chicks. Again, nothing out of the ordinary, except one of the girls was lucky to have a mother who worked every day, so the family apartment was conveniently empty. By ten o’clock that morning our party was in high gear. We got drunk, paired off, fooled around, and generally had a much more interesting day than we would have had
at school. But the chick’s mom came home from work early that day and freaked out. She caught us with our pants down and beer bottles everywhere. I zipped up my pants and ran out of the apartment with my buddy, while the chick’s mom was still screaming.
The next day she called the dean of students at DeWitt Clinton. For the other kids involved this was not a particularly serious offense. But for me it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In addition to poor grades and a history of truancy, I was found guilty of poor judgment when it came to personal grooming. In the mid-1960s, in Europe, you could wear long hair and pass it off as nothing more than a fashion statement. But in the United States of America, at this particular point in time, wearing long hair meant something else entirely. It was a political statement, and threatened people in authority. To be perfectly candid, I was blissfully unaware of issues of any greater significance than how to get chicks out of their clothes. I was hardly a political dissident. Any hippie tendencies I might have exhibited were strictly a matter of convenience and lifestyle. I wanted to get laid, get drunk, get high, and play in a band. I wanted a certain look onstage, and by achieving that look I found myself getting bundled in with the war protesters and demonstrators.
“Get a haircut, Frehley,” the dean would tell me.
“Come on, man. It’s a free country. Stop hassling me.”
And they did—by kicking me out of school. Now I was oh-for-two as a high school student, and my parents, not surprisingly, were beginning to lose their patience. Not so much my mom—I was her baby boy and she always had a soft spot for me, no matter how disruptive a force I might have become. Moms are like that. But my father by now was in his sixties and had neither the time nor the inclination to gently encourage me to clean up my act. As I said, Dad was usually a fairly benign and quiet presence in my life, but a second expulsion nearly drove him over the edge.
“Clean up your act,” he said one day, “or get out of the house.”
“Fine,” I said. “I’m outta here.”
It was quite a dramatic moment. I grabbed some clothes and my guitar and left the apartment, slamming the door behind me. There was just one problem: I had no place to go. Shit, I was sixteen years old, with no money and no job skills. I couldn’t go live with any of my friends, because their parents would have tossed me out as well. Staring down the prospect of being homeless in New York, I was left with only one option:
Duke was a black guy who lived on Burnside Avenue in the Bronx. He was, to put it mildly, something of an unsavory character, though I didn’t really see it that way at the time. Duke was a musician in his early twenties and spent an unusual amount of time hanging out with high school kids. His father was the superintendent of an apartment building and Duke had a little one-bedroom place to himself in the basement. So he was on his own, but not really on his own, since Mom and Dad were picking up the tab. I’d gotten to know him a little bit through my musical connections. Duke always wanted to be in a band, but he wasn’t a musician, so his plan was to assemble a group to back him up while he manned the microphone. He couldn’t pay me anything, but the offer was attractive nonetheless.
“Tell you what,” Duke said. “Come and back me up and I’ll let you use my place whenever you want. Bring your girlfriend, have some beer, smoke some pot. Whatever you feel like doing.”
For a kid in his teens, this wasn’t a bad deal. Duke and I would play at the Veterans Hospital on Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx and entertain the sick vets. Sometimes it would just be the two of us—me on guitar and Duke singing. Other times we’d get a bass or rhythm guitar player and a drummer as well. But it was Dukie’s show all the way. He was such a character. The guy was built like Hercules, and yet he’d move around like Mick Jagger. After the show we’d go back to Duke’s house and drink beer and hang out. The fridge was always filled, which was a bonus when you skipped school and brought a girl over.
Needless to say, this entire arrangement demonstrated incredibly bad judgment on Duke’s part, and I suppose it was just a matter of time
before it blew up in his face. The cops busted a party at Duke’s apartment and pulled us all in for questioning. I can still remember seeing the father of one of the girls getting into a fight with Duke at the police station, screaming at him, “You leave my daughter alone or I’ll fucking kill you!”
The cops kept us there for hours, questioning all of us about Dukie and our relationship with him. They seemed less concerned about whether he had provided alcohol to minors than with the nature of his friendship with a bunch of teenagers.
Duke was nuts, though—completely off the hook. If he was frightened by his brush with the cops, you never would have known it. The party went on, with plenty of alcohol and underage girls. Eventually Duke disappeared from the neighborhood. I heard he was in prison, serving time for exactly the type of behavior that had gotten him into trouble in the past. By this time, though, I had long since parted company with Duke. I lived with him for less than a month, after which I made peace with my parents and moved back into their home.
Truth is, they were worried sick about me, and from that point on we coexisted in relative tranquility. By that I mean, Mom and Dad stopped hassling me about my budding rock ’n’ roll lifestyle and I tried not to give them too much cause for concern. On some level, I think, they realized I wasn’t a bad kid. I just wasn’t the kind of kid they wanted me to be. What shocked them the most was how much success I had with girls. I usually had multiple girlfriends. My father, of course, didn’t get it at all.
“What the hell does she see in you?” he’d say, shaking his head.
My mother, meanwhile, couldn’t believe that my girlfriends would stop by the house to clean my room! They’d make my bed, pick up my dirty clothes, and then hang out and wait for me to get home from school. I’d walk through the door and Mom would be standing there with a look of bewilderment on her face.
“Michelle is here.”
“Oh yeah? Where is she?”
Mom would point to my bedroom door and shake her head.
I think she was probably shocked on multiple levels, but she tolerated it. Maybe because it meant less work for her.
I don’t mean to brag, but I always did well with girls. I started fooling around when I was eleven or twelve and lost my virginity at fifteen. To me, girls weren’t all that mysterious. I wasn’t the best-looking guy in the world, but I never lacked for companionship, mainly because I knew how to talk to chicks and make them feel at ease. I was funny. I’d tell jokes, do magic tricks, and I could play guitar. What else do you need, man?
When I got a little older and started hanging out in bars and clubs, I developed a few strategies for picking up women. It’s silly, but you know what always worked? I would wear a T-shirt and suit jacket, and in the breast pocket of the jacket I kept a little teddy bear with its arms poking out. I’d go up to a chick, obviously after I had a couple drinks, and I’d say, “Hey, you want to meet my friend?” Then I’d open up my jacket and I’d have this little teddy bear, waiting to say hello.
Sometimes this would cause a girl to roll her eyes and walk away, but more often than not, the response was, “Awwwww, how cute!”
And then I’d be in the door.
If you’re at least halfway decent looking, and you’re funny and outgoing, all you need is that one little icebreaker. But most guys are too scared to even give it a shot. They don’t know how to initiate a conversation. We all have our insecurities, of course, and I sure had mine, but after a couple of drinks I could do anything, including hit on the hottest chick in the room. Eventually I got so good at talking to girls that I could set up my buddies as well, which is how I ended up with the nickname “Ace.”
“You know, you are such an ace, man,” one of them said one night, after I’d introduced him to a girl he’d been lusting after. “You really help us out with the chicks.”
That was that. The nickname stuck.
It’s a cliché that guys get into bands primarily to meet girls, but as
with any cliché, there’s more than a little truth to it. The first time I played a church dance, when I was fourteen years old, girls gathered around the stage, staring at me and the other guys in the band. It had nothing to do with me, really, and everything to do with the fact that I was up there onstage, playing the guitar. Girls were drawn to it, like bees to nectar. They couldn’t help themselves.
Sometimes you didn’t even need the guitar; you simply had to act the part.
I was about sixteen or seventeen when I was hanging out one day with some friends near Fordham University. It was a busy weekend afternoon, with lots of people milling about, including tons of pretty girls. I was wearing my ruffled shirt and jeans tucked into knee-high boots. My hair was shoulder length: the rock star look.
“Hey, do me a favor,” I said to one of my friends. “I’m going to go over near that group of girls, and I want you to walk up to me and ask me for my autograph.”
My buddy played it up beautifully, just walked into the crowd and thrust a pen and paper in front of me.
“Oh, man, thanks. I love your records!” Within seconds I was surrounded by pretty girls. They flirted, vied for attention, and coyly tried to figure out exactly who the hell I was, this rock ’n’ roll star in their midst.
It was intoxicating. And it was so, so easy.
MOVIN’ ON UP
Like a basketball player in search of a pickup game, I
bounced from band to band. All I wanted was a chance to keep playing, and to improve, and to stand up there onstage in front of as many people as possible. I couldn’t tell you the exact number of bands I started or joined. More than a dozen, for sure. Maybe two dozen. Some never got beyond the first rehearsal; others endured for months. It wasn’t unusual for me to be playing in two or three bands at once.
Playing with your first real band, though, is like having sex for the first time: it’s sloppy, fast, and exciting, and it makes you want more. At the very least, you don’t forget the experience. Just for the record, my first “official” sexual partner was an aggressive and amorous chick named Jenny. I was fifteen years old and dating her friend Michelle (who, with high cheekbones, sunken eyes, and long, ink-black hair, looked for all the world like Cher, which was pretty cool at the time). Michelle was cute and fun, but she wasn’t interested in giving up her virginity to me, or to anyone else, for that matter. Jenny had different feelings on this issue, and she let me know one night when we were all together at a party.
“Give me a call,” she said, pressing a small piece of paper containing her phone number into my palm.
I did, and the very next day we got together at her apartment. One of us knew precisely what they were doing, and it wasn’t me. Jenny didn’t complain, though, and neither did I. When you’re a fifteen-year-old boy getting laid for the very first time, all you really want (or need) is a warm, inviting body, and Jenny was more than accommodating. My performance was irrelevant and best left unexamined. I got better—a lot better—as time went on.
The first band actually came a few years earlier, a few months after getting my first electric guitar. I was thirteen years old and the band was called the Four Roses. It included me and my brother, Charlie, both playing guitar, along with another of the Junior Duckies, my buddy Joey, on drums, and Charlie’s friend Barry on bass. We played an assortment of rock and pop tunes, including the Beatles, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Herman’s Hermits (the first song I ever learned to play on guitar was “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”).
We weren’t particularly smooth or committed, but we were good enough to play a few sets at church functions and school dances. The band survived for less than a year, and along the way it became apparent to me that I was more serious, and maybe more talented, than most young guitar players. For one thing, I liked practicing. There wasn’t much that would hold my attention when I was a kid, but playing guitar was different. I’d sit in my room for hours, listening to songs and trying to replicate them. I had no interest in taking lessons or learning to read music (and never did, by the way), but I was more than willing to sit there alone, endlessly studying and dissecting songs, trying to figure out chord progressions and solos.
In the beginning I played rhythm guitar while Charlie played lead. This made sense. He was older and more experienced, and, frankly, a better player. Charlie could read music. He was a student of the guitar. I was self-taught and undisciplined. Within about six months, however, a weird thing began to happen. When we’d get together and rehearse,
Charlie would invite me to play lead on certain songs. I’m not even sure why he did that—we never talked about it. Looking back, though, I think he probably realized that his little brother had talent, and for whatever reason he wanted to encourage that talent. I can see it now as a generous thing for him to have done. I mean, Charlie kicked ass on guitar. He had started playing a year and a half before me and he was exceptionally skilled. So I don’t know… maybe he was just looking out for his kid brother.