I should probably give you a little background on myself. My name is Mike Pesta and Ive been involved in music for most of my life. Ive been playing the guitar for over 16 years, which makes it half of my existence since I am 32 years old now. Im told by my dad (who is a drummer) that I started to play the drums at the age of 3, and believe it or not I think hes about right. Because as far back as I can remember, I was always encouraged to play something. I used to hit pots and pans and the couch pillows and things like that until I got my first snare drum for my 5th birthday. I played the snare drum all through elementary school and middle school. I got a drum kit when I was in 6th grade and played that in band also. Then when I was about 16 it happened.
My cousin bought an album because the cover was cool. What album was that, Destroyer! After hearing that album I was hooked not only on KISS but on the guitar. I bought all of the other KISS albums and learned them all on the drums while I badgered my parents to buy me a guitar. I was becoming bored with the drums and I thought the guitar was a lot more expressive. They finally bought me that guitar and Ive been hooked ever since. Enough about me, suffice it to say that Ace Frehley has played an important role in my life.
It was the weekend of October 25 -26, 1986 and I was in New York City attending a seminar given by Musicians Institute / GIT. I was already enrolled at GIT for the March 1987 session and I wanted to see what I was in for. The host of the event was the most recorded studio musician and probably one of the funniest musicians that I have ever met, Tommy Tedesco. You know the one who used to have a column in Guitar Player. Anyway, it was a 2 day seminar that ran Saturday & Sunday 9:00 am - 5:00 pm. It was held in a large empty room in the Kaufmann Astoria Movie Studios, located in the Astoria section of Queens. One of the biggest claims of that studio was the filming of The Wiz with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. It also housed a couple of radio stations although I dont know which ones.
I flew up on Saturday morning with 2 round trip airplane tickets, one for me and one for my guitar, a Kramer Pacer. The best thing about that was that the guitar actually got served breakfast, although it didnt eat. Flying makes it a little queasy. A gentleman by the name of Tony Alipertti arranged the whole seminar for GIT and there was somebody else going from Pittsburgh, so we hooked up at the airport. After landing at LaGuardia Airport we took one of those infamous New York City Cab rides directly to the seminar. We signed in went to the big room.
Day one went good and we went back to the hotel afterward. We ordered pizza and ate in the room. After dinner we went for a walk. What we found was that our hotel had barbed wire all around it to keep people from breaking in. We walked around and saw some sights then went back to the hotel and actually saw that goofy play by Keith Hernandez at third base in one of the World Series games. It completely screwed up the Mets I think. The next morning we checked out with our baggage and headed to the studio.
In the morning session Tommy said that after lunch we will be picking some people to play on an album. There was somebody in the complex recording an album and this person thought that it would be cool to have some of us on his album. Well, I figured that it would be someone that didnt interest me or someone that would have some incredibly difficult chart to read. So I figured well thats OK but Im outta here after this is over.
After lunch Tommy says, How many of you have heard of KISS? Well their former guitarist Ace Frehley is here and wants to have 20 guitar players on a song. I freaked! Tommy asks, Whos interested? More than 20 arms raised and so Tommy said, Come on up and sign your name and well figure it out later. I went up with about half of the room and realized that most of these guys were signing their names like they were signing autographs all illegible. I printed mine perfectly. I figured that if I got passed up for this because of my penmanship Id scream.
A little later this guy walks into the room. Hes dressed all in black and hes got long hair. It was Ace. I remember just sitting there thinking that this must be a dream. I mean this guy meant so much to me as a guitarist and personally also. KISS was one of those bands that if you really believed in them, they became a
part of you, and indeed they had for me. So Ace gives Tommy a tape and walks out. Now this also was one of the first times that I had ever seen Ace without makeup! Double YES!!
At the end of the seminar Tommy started to read names off of the list and sure enough mine was one of them. The printing had paid off! He then dismissed everyone except the ones that he had called. He then asked if anyone had a boom box. One guy did so Tommy gave him the tape and told us to learn the song in about half an hour and then wed go over to the studio. Well youd have thought that he said, You all have been discovered and youre going to be rich! Because very few people paid any attention to him. Most of them started to practice their Van Halen licks. I and another guy started to figure out the song. By the time we figured it out I was pretty much the only one left at the box. I wrote down all of the chords and the form of the song on a piece of notebook paper. I also learned the song by heart, as most of you know its not that complicated. Anyway, Tommy came to get us and I started to think that this was crap because these people werent ready for this and the time spent in the studio would cost money. And if the money was starting to add up, they might call this whole thing off, and I wasnt up for that. So I went in there knowing that I may have to get Aces attention to let him know that we have a problem. I had recorded a number of demo tapes and an album by then back home and I knew what cheap studio time cost, let alone the rate of a major studio in New York.
We get led back to the studio through a catacomb of hallways that all looked like the back halls of your local mall. Concrete and more concrete. Finally there it was, Master Sound Astoria. One of the biggest rooms in the area (so there pamphlet said). It was awesome. High ceilings probably 20 - 25 feet. Moveable sound batten and hard wood floors. The room reverberated perfectly. Wet sounding without being an echo chamber. At the far end was Anton Figs drum kit. It looked perfect. There was also a baby grand piano. Then along the left side was 10 amplifiers all lined up in a row with sound dampers between them. Fenders, Marshalls and few that looked home made. Each had two guitar inputs with cables in them ready for us. We had past the control room on the way in so it was now behind us and to the left. In there was Ace, Anton Fig and Eddie Kramer. John Regan was in the room with us telling us where to put our stuff and where to plug in. There was also a set of headphones for each of us.
We all got settled and plugged in with our headphones on and then over the speaker came Eddie Kramers voice telling us to tune to this note, and he played a low E for us. I don't know if it was on tape or if somebody in the control room was playing it or what but we tuned to it. That took awhile. After we all thought we were tuned John came around to each of us and made sure personally and then we all hit an E chord. What a sound that was! 20 guitars in harmony. I had heard that this was going to be some sort of record for the largest number of electric guitars recorded on an album at one time or something, but I didnt know. All I knew was that I was here with Ace!
We were about ready to play. Eddie played the song over the headphones and we all played to get the levels in our headphones set right. Now out comes Ace! He comes out and says, Hi. We all respond and he gets us ready to go. Eddie comes over the headphones and says, Here we go! Antons drums start playing and we all wait for that big opening chord.... WHAM! We hit it dead on and it was beautiful! We go along pretty good until right after the first chorus where the chords are, E, B, D & E. Everything breaks down right there. Ace stops us and kind of has this face on him. I figured that this was where I should speak up and so I say rather tentatively, Ace?! He looks at me and heads over. I walk towards him and introduce myself and say that some of the guys didnt learn the song as well as others. I told him that I had the whole song worked out on paper and he said, OK, wait a minute. He went back into the recording booth and sent John Regan out with a big sheet of poster board, a marker and a pointer. I have no idea where the hell that stuff was but there was John looking like a school teacher. He called me over and told everybody else to take a minute.
I put my guitar down and John and I mapped out the song. First we wrote down the chords to the sections and then we wrote the sections out in order. We worked it so the entire song was mapped out in parts so all he had to do was point to the chords and we could follow what was next and so on. He got us all prepared again and Eddie says, Well take it from the chorus. That didnt work at all. People were everywhere.
Remember we cant hear the vocals and this was a new song to all of us. So Eddie tells us that, Well take it from the top. Now were moving.
We get going pretty well until the long break (...without and Ace in his deck.) and somebody messes up the count to come back in. Eddie backs us up and starts up again. All of a sudden were finished. Until this day I dont know how the hell he did it. We didnt play that song correctly all the way through one time. I realize that we punched in and all, but it sure seemed like we needed to play more. So now Ace comes out and thanks all of us. He actually came out with a beer for me. He gave it to me and we started to talk. He was the nicest guy to talk to. I was very comfortable with him. I believe that we had Miller beer, I had saved the beer cap but I cant find it right now. I told him about being a big influence of mine and he thanked me for that. I still couldnt believe that I was talking to him.
By now 2 different photographers had come into the room and started to just snap pictures all over the place. Ace was talking to other people and one of the photographers asked us all to pose for a picture. We all gathered around Ace and were told to smile or something and me, wanting to be funny and remembered said, Say Curley. I had remembered that Ace called everyone Curley and so I figured that would make him laugh. It did and we got some good pictures I think although Ive never seen any.
After that I was putting my guitar away. My case was by the window to the booth and as I was laying my guitar in the case I hear, Hey Mike! on the speaker. I look around and in the booth and see Eddie Kramer motioning toward me to come into the booth. Now nobody was allowed in the booth and here I was getting called in. As I walked in Tony, the guy that put this seminar together whispers, When Eddie Kramer asks you to come in, you come in. As you may or may not know Eddie is one of the top producers who did a lot of KISS albums and who also was largely responsible for Jimi Hendrixs sounds. Eddie worked with Jimi and let him experiment a lot. So here I was and Eddie was calling me by my name, which was killing me already, but he got out of his chair and offered it to me. Sit down and tell me what you think. he says. As I sat down I saw a couple of faces looking at me with that, I cant believe this look. Anyway I was pretty much numb by now. All of a sudden Antons drums start going in this huge, huge sound. This was better than any stereo that I had ever heard. Then those guitars came in. I hate to use the term wall but that is exactly what they sounded like. I remember them sounding like a huge wall of brick. You know the red brick that hurts your knuckles when you scrape against it, but it looks great when you see it. Thats what the sound was like, perfect with a grindy distorty edge to it. I listened to the whole song. Every once in awhile Eddie would move a slider or tweak a knob and the sound got that much better. What an experience! Eddie Kramer.
After it was over I told Eddie that I loved it and he said that he appreciated that and we made small talk. I knew that they had more work to do and I figured that they were going to usher us out soon. So I thanked him and went back out into the room. The chart that John and I had done was being signed by all of us. I walked over to it on the floor and noticed what I had noticed earlier that day, everyone was signing their autographs. Some even signed nicknames and I kind of chuckled at that. So I figured that I wanted to make sure that not only was my name included in this but that it was spelled correctly, and that it was my full name. So I signed it like I was signing an official document that required my full name, Michael G. Pesta IV in big print.
I looked at my watch and realized that I was going to miss my plane if I didnt get a move on it. I sought out Ace and thanked him again wishing he would say, Hey, I liked your playing. Why dont you stay and play on the whole album? God what I would have done to have the happen but he said, Youre welcome and thanks. and I was leaving.
I got down to the lobby and called a taxi. I dont know if I should tell you this part but what the heck. As I was sitting on my guitar case outside waiting for my cab, Tony came out looking rather stressed. He looked up and down the street and then asked me if I saw the cassette tape that Ace had given us to learn.
He said that he really needed to get it back. I told him that the guy with the boom box had gone down the street about ten minutes ago but I didnt see whether he had the tape or not. I was lying. I had removed the tape from the boom box and I was sitting on it. It was in my guitar case! I felt bad about that one for quite awhile but there was nothing else on it and I wasnt giving it to anybody as a bootleg, so I didnt feel too bad. I still have it and I have never duplicated it.
My cab finally came and I cut it so close that I had to literally run through the airport like that infamous running back. And carrying a guitar no less. As I flew back on the plane I told the other Pittsburgher about the whole thing. He was a big Ace fan also, I believe his name was Norman. Norman if you read this contact me. So that night I got home and my then girlfriend (Michelle, who I later married) picked me up. I stayed at her house that night and I remember laying in bed thinking about the evening. I realized that that was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me and that I am one of the luckiest people that I know.
I moved to Los Angeles and kept waiting for the release of the album. It took so long that I actually thought that the project might have been scrapped. Then I finally started to hear the ads for it on KNAC. They actually had a releade party on the radio where they hyped it up and played a few tracks. I had to go down to GIT to tape it and I remember waiting and waiting but they never played Rock Soldiers. Finally the album was released and I purchased 2 copies at Sam Goody in North Hollywood. I opened up the album and began looking for anything with my name on it. When I finally found it I had I was shocked. When we were signing the poster board I was not anywhere near the top, as a matter of fact since I was in with Eddie Kramer, I was kind of squeezed in on the side. But to my amazement my name appeared first in the line! I have always wondered, even to this day it I made any sort of impression on Ace to have my name appear first.
When I heard the song for the first time there were a few things different on it. It had the same exact form as the version on the tape that we learned from but Aces vocals are a little different on some parts. His vocals are not that pronounced on the tape but he sings some of the things slightly different, but the words are the same. The lick after the choruses is slightly different and he added that repeating lick between every verse and chorus. I wonder if he had to cover up for little mistakes that we made throughout. Ive listened closely to the background and cant hear anything God awful but hey those licks are kind of cool.
To me KISS has always been special. There was something about them with their makeup. I mean they were larger than life. Their personalities, especially Genes were part of our psyche that we were taught to suppress, but these guys lived that way. You could live in them when you heard their music and come back to earth when the song was over. Theirs was a love/hate relationship. You either loved them or hated them. The people that loved them came away with something very personal. The people that hated them just didnt get it. And I feel bad for them. I am glad to see them back in makeup but I hope that we dont put too much on this reunion. This is just like a second go around with a boyfriend or girlfriend. It may not be as magical as we remember but it sure is great getting this second chance. I hope they can go on and on. I would love to hear some new material and see more shows. I would also like to thank them for everything theyve done for me personally. And so to quote the words that Ace Frehley wrote on my piece of notebook paper.,