Gary James' Interview With
Tom Higgins Of
Alive! Kiss Tribute
It's been said about Alive! Kiss Tribute that if you never got to see Kiss in their 1970s glory days, here is your chance! With that in mind, we start our conversation with Tom Higgins, who plays Ace Frehley in Alive! Kiss Tribute.
Q - Tom, your group has such a great reputation. You're held in such high regard by so many people out there, including other Kiss tribute acts. What is there about your group that's giving you such a great reputation?
A - I think with Alive! what we tend to do and the focus of the band from the beginning was to actually recapture what the essence of what the band was doing when they were at their most unified point, which is 1975. They played very well together. They were blowing people's minds 'cause there was really nothing to compare it to prior to that. It's that magical time and place for the band where people were just blown away and saying "What's going on? This is unbelievable." What we do is make sure we play the song the way they did back then, the way they were recorded or the way they played them 'live', except with maybe not as much speed in the way of the tempo. As the '70s went on, the tempos got way out of control. Some of the magic of the tunes kind of disappeared because they were actually very creative with their guitar chords and how Paul's guitar interlocked with Ace's guitar. The bass lines were very melodic, a lot of walking bass lines and a lot of vocal harmonies. Two and three part vocal harmonies in a lot of those songs, even though they're three minute Rock songs. They had a lot of cool parts and vocals that were put together for a reason. They weren't just randomly filling space with music. All those pieces of the puzzle were really in place for a reason, based on what their limitations were musically. And so, we try to recapture that and some of the magic that turned people on in the first place when you bought those records and you'd just be staring at the album cover.
Q - You know, I actually saw Kiss in concert in October of 1975.
A - No kidding.
Q - In a 10,000 seat auditorium with Kiss as the headliner, 1,200 people showed up to see them.
A - Wow!
Q - James Montgomery Band opened the show.
A - Oh, wow! (laughs) That's pretty funny. In the last couple years, he's kind of had a resurgence. He's got his own Blues band. Joey Kramer of Aerosmith was drumming with him for awhile, during one of Aerosmith's breaks. He played for Johnny Winter's band for a little bit. This is all in the last three or four years.
Q - I was also fortunate to see Kiss two months later open for Black Sabbath and blow Sabbath right off the stage!
A - (laughs) We try to recapture the music and be faithful to the way it was recorded or the way people grew up with it. Because, over the course of thirty-some-odd years, Kiss has kind of gotten away from how songs actually go. They mess with the arrangement. They start to tweak things. Some of it's unrecognizable in certain respects. It gets more thin, the period of time that's gone by. When they say "Let's break out Christine Sixteen. We haven't played that in awhile." Well, their point of reference is 1988. It's not 1977 anymore. They're thinking about the last way they played it as opposed to how it really goes. So, when you go to a Kiss show now, which is huge and awesome. When you see an Alive! show, you're seeing something more align with what they were doing when they were making their bones, blowin' people's minds and making an impact on the scene visually, musically, sonically. We are very strict with the time period. We're doing a 1975 Alive! era production in terms of visual stage set-up, the instrumentation, the costumes. We're strict in that respect of the visual. The Kiss sign is a replica of the Kiss sign they had from the beginning through the "Alive" album.
Q - So, how long have you been playing Ace in the band?
A - Since 2006. The second half of 2006.
Q - You're an original member?
A - Yes. We've only had one line-up change and that was last October (2009). We've had the same Gene. His name is Joe. We have the same Peter. His name is Rory. Our original Paul is a great guy named T.J. He's been with us since the beginning. Then, towards the end of last summer, it kind of became apparent that it really wasn't working for him with the schedule. It got to a point where he wasn't enjoying it much. We talked about it in the front and ended the rest of the year together.
Q - Were you in another band before Alive!?
A - This is the first tribute band we've been in, but we all were in original bands and cover bands prior to that. We all, at one point in our 20s, were doing the original band thing, trying to get a deal and work up a following. All that stuff. In different bands, not together. By the late '90s or early 2000s, some of these guys had to do the cover band thing, four sets a night, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday for a year. The beauty of this is that this is stuff we all grew up with and we all really enjoy and dig, but it's something where we can have our lives and not burn every weekend, playing covers for $48. We can go out and be selective about shows and put on something special that people are going to appreciate and have it worth our while as far as being able to play great stuff and have people appreciate it, and then have a little pocket change on the way home, and then still have two other weekends for the rest of the month to yourself or to your family.
Q - Have you ever met Ace?
A - I did meet Ace. I've met him since the band's been together. But I met him prior in the '90s on his many solo tours. He is well aware of us. We were the only tribute band in the world to perform at two Ace Frehley CD parties. He released his first album in twenty years last September (2009). We did one release party in New York City and one in Providence, Rhode Island. He was on the West Coast in the Viper Room the same night the weekend the album was released.
Q - How incredible was it for you to meet Ace Frehley for the first time? He must've been your idol.
A - Absolutely. Since I was six, Kiss was something I gravitated to. Basically I met him when I was twenty-five. He'd just done a solo show in Boston and a friend of mine had a pass and went in to see him and when he came out he gave me the pass and I went back in and met him. I have never met him before. I was just hoping this would be a good experience. (laughs) You don't want to meet somebody you admire and find out he's a jerk. But he was very cool. He wanted to sign my hat. "What do you want me to sign?" I said "I'm fine. I just want to shake your hand and say thanks." He started talking to me about what they were going to be playing in the set. While we were talking he took off my baseball cap and signed it. He was very nice. He introduced me to some of the other guys in the band. It was like five minutes and it was perfect. He seemed to be in a really good mood. I'm thinking I got to meet this guy who's been the sound track to my childhood. It was just good. It was brief, but it made an impression on me. It was a pleasant experience. I met Gene once. This was way back in 1990 at a Meet / Greet. It wasn't like the Meet / Greets they do now. If you get backstage, they'd come out and shake your hand.
Q - Do you see this group as a stepping stone to something else or is this it?
A - I think this is it. Basically what we'll continue to do is be very selective about shows. As long as it's the right set up and the right situation and everything makes sense, we'll continue to do shows. That's casinos, festivals, halls and theatres. When it's not fun anymore, we will stop. All the work on the front end has paid off in terms of now we're just a machine that's self-sustaining. We're not starting from scratch everyday. So, we can do a show this weekend and not do another show for two weeks. One or two shows a month, or two or three shows a month, that'll be good for us. If we can go out and do fifteen, twenty or thirty-six shows a year and enjoy it and make people happy and really do a credible job at doing a solid production and solid representation of these great songs, we'll continue to do it. The whole original music thing is gone by the wayside. I think that's one of the beauties of doing a Tribute band is that the creative aspect and creative struggle should be taken out of the equation. The only thing that happens in this thing is there are so many eras of Kiss that sometimes it's a little bit of a struggle to make sure we're sticking to the original plans. You won't hear a lot of '80s or '90s stage banter during our show. We want to give you the Kiss show you're never gonna get from Kiss anymore. That day is already gone. Our show is geared more to the original members and the original magic. That "Alive!" era is the thing that blew up the world, that set the table for everything else.