A Conversation With John Regan
On the heels of my review of Four By Fate’s debut album, Relentless, I had the opportunity to interview the band’s bassist, John Regan. In addition to being one of the co-founders of Four By Fate, John has a rich history of working with some of the biggest names in rock and roll history, including David Bowie, Ace Frehley, Mick Jagger, David Lee Roth, John Waite, Peter Frampton, and Billy Idol, among others. During our hour-long conversation, we covered everything from the formation of Four By Fate to John’s time in the studio and on the road with Ace Frehley. We also talked about how John feels that Ace Frehley will inevitably rejoin KISS, and much more. I hope you enjoy the interview with John Regan, and don’t forget to pick up a copy of Four By Fate’s new album on June 3.
What brought you and Tod Howarth together to start Four By Fate?
Well, Tod and I had met before Frehley’s Comet. I was playing with John Waite and Tod was with Cheap Trick and we had done a summer-long U.S. co-headlining tour. It was in 1985 or 1986, I believe. We just hit it off really well as friends. We’d check each other’s show out each night and started hanging out. Just became very good friends. I respected his musicianship immensely. We exchanged numbers and agreed to work together at some point in the future if we ever had the opportunity to do so. Lo and behold Ace had gotten a record deal while I was working with John Waite.
The original Frehley’s Comet started in 1985 with Ace, Anton Fig and myself, just jamming at Ace’s house. Then we brought in Richie Scarlet, and I brought in Arthur Stead, who I had worked with in Peter Frampton’s band. We did demos and we got a record deal with a label in the UK. We were all ready to record and that label went out of business. Everybody was young. We all had families and mouths to feed. That’s when Anton went off and did what he had to do, and I went off and joined John Waite’s band. Then, when the time came and Ace got a record deal through Eddie Trunk and Megaforce, Richie was busy and Arthur was busy. So, we started the first Frehley’s Comet record the way the group originally began, as a three-piece: Ace, Anton and myself. Midway through the recording we were talking with Eddie Kramer and he said we could really use another vocalist and a guitarist and I said, “Man, I’ve got the guy.” So, I got on the phone with Tod and he flew in and played us some of his songs, a few of which wound up being on the record. He just fit perfectly. That was it. Todd came back and finished up the record with us, and we spent a couple years in Frehley’s Comet together.
In 1988 we did Second Sighting, and in 1989 Tod left. We always kept in touch. We’d always see each other when we were on tour. When I was out in San Diego with Frampton, I’d always invite Tod to the show. And Mitch Lafon, one of our dearest friends, is the spark that lit the Four By Fate fire. I was on Facebook one day and I saw that Mitch was putting together a KISS tribute album that would benefit Canadian hospital and hospice research and I reached out to him and said, “This is a really wonderful cause that you’re championing. A lot of us have had family members who’ve used those services – hospice services – and they’re angels on earth, those people. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.” I wound up playing a track on the album and then Mitch said, “Do you think Tod would want to do something?” I called Tod up and he said, “Absolutely!” We did the recording together and Mitch loved it. It came out wonderful. Then after his record came out, A World With Heroes, I believe he was contacted by a Canadian promoter who asked him if Tod and I would want to put a band together and do a few shows. So, I called Tod and he said, “If you think it’s doable, sure.”
We did a record called Rover’s Return. I love that record, absolutely love it! This is back in the days when record companies were really in a state of flux. Companies were buying each other out, and he was on EMI. What happened was that particular record, I believe…the week before that was released EMI did a complete house-cleaning and got rid of almost everybody at the label and started over. So, of course, everyone who had been working on the record was no longer there, and the record came and went without being noticed. There was a great track on that record called “These Times Are Hard For Lovers” and I loved it so much we recorded it as the opening track for Relentless.
That’s so funny because I recently wrote a review of Relentless and I pointed out how I thought that song sounded like a Bad English song because of the harmonies at the end and the hook. Clearly, I subconsciously knew “These Times Are Hard For Lovers” was a John Waite song but it had been so long since I heard it I forgot. (laughs) No wonder I liked it so much.
That’s where it came from. There were lots of great songs on that album. There’s a song on there called “Sometimes” and it might be my favorite track that I ever recorded with anyone. That was a fun record to do and there were lots of big producers on it. Desmond Child, Frank Fillipetti – all of the big names of the day were working on that record. It’s really sad that it got left by the wayside because the label was in such a state of disarray at that point.
That’s a shame, but you clearly had a good experience working with John.
Oh, I love him. When I got the gig I heard how difficult he was to work with. However, I never experienced any of that. There are very few singers who sing with that much passion. He’s rare. I’m a big Sinatra fan. The way I compare them is Sinatra didn’t just sing a lyric, he inhabited a lyric. John Waite does the same exact thing. When you hear him singing you know it’s coming from the inside. It was a pleasure and an honor to work with him for a few years.
When you and Tod started working on the Four By Fate album, what was it like writing songs together again and recording the tracks in the studio?
It was great. It was almost like we fell asleep and woke up 28 years later. Tod’s work ethic has always been amazing. I’ve never met a harder working musician than him. He gives it 110%. He always did and he still does. He came in with the first six songs written.
We wanted to record it live in the studio, all three of us, me, Tod and AJ, like musicians used to do back in the day. Tod and AJ ran through it a couple times to get it tight, and then I came in and plugged the bass in. And we went for it in a couple of takes and had it. My biggest memory of this experience, other than AJ just killing it, was AJ having a big smile on his face while he was playing. He was like a gentle giant. It was incredible to be there for that. It was like he was meant to be on those tracks.
“Amber Waves” is one of my favorite tracks on the new album. It’s just a beautiful ballad that has great lyrics and a terrific arrangement.
Tod’s a real patriot and that song comes from the heart. Every time we play it live, the reaction is pretty intense. It’s a very special track because we owe a debt of gratitude to all the men and women in the arms forces and that’s basically what it’s about.
I started playing with Peter Frampton in 1979 and we worked for about three or four years straight. Then Peter decided to take a couple years off. I was at a friend’s studio and it happened to be the same studio where Ace recorded his KISS solo album. It became a place for musicians to go and hang out. I happened to be down there one day and Ace was there too. I believe he might have been passed out on the floor. I remember stepping over him and saying, “Who’s that?” My friend said, “Ace Frehley.” And I responded, “I hope he wakes up. I’d like to talk to him.” At one point he got himself up off the floor and we started chatting. We were talking about how much we both liked Hendrix and Zeppelin, and he had just left KISS at that time. He said, “Why don’t you stop by the recording studio at my house in Connecticut? We can just jam and get back to the roots of where our music came from.”
Ace had just come off of working with KISS, which obviously was a very high profile gig, and I had been working with Peter Framption shortly after he released Frampton Comes Alive!, so you can imagine what that was like. But now we were both on hiatus. It was also the first time I met Anton Fig. He came up to Ace’s studio too and the three of us spent the day like little kids in a garage band. We were getting back to the basics of why we started in the first place. It felt great and we looked at each other and said, “Why don’t we try to put a band together?” That was the beginning of Frehley’s Comet. It was a three-piece band.
What was it like writing and recording music with Ace?
It was fantastic because, at the time, Ace was clean and sober. And when he is clean and sober, he’s incredibly creative. We were going through some of his old tapes in the studio and that’s where I found “Breakout.” Eric Carr was originally the writer on that, along with Ace and Richie Scarlet. On that particular song, as with the whole first album, I was more of a co-producer with Eddie Kramer.
Everything came very naturally and Ace had a lot of cool songs. When we did the record we had songs from two years prior, when we initially started the band. It was a great experience. Nobody plays guitar like Ace. There is no one better with a Les Paul, a cord and a Marshall. It’s soul, blues and emotion. You mentioned co-producing with Eddie Kramer. What was it like working with such an iconic producer?
While Eddie and I are friends, I often found myself sitting in awe of him when we were working together. He worked with Zeppelin, Hendrix and others. And there was no blue print when they were doing this. They were simply making it up as they went, which then others tried to emulate and copy. He was the original. It all came out of his creativity. Not only is he an absolute gentleman, he’s a dear friend. The word legendary doesn’t apply better to anyone than it does to Eddie Kramer.
Some guitarists have a unique sound that is easily identifiable. My two favorite guitarists are Neal Schon and Ace Frehley, and you can easily tell when either of them are playing on a song.
Neal is an incredibly accomplished guitarist and much smoother than Ace. Both of them have that essence of rock and roll.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Neal and I told him that his solos are so melodic that people can sing them.
Yeah, that’s a great way of putting it. You’re absolutely right.
What was it like touring with Ace? I imagine there must have been many humorous experiences being on the road with him.
Oh my god, there were so many. (laughs) It was a blast. You can imagine what it would be like touring with him. I remember one night we were with Alice Cooper, opening for him, and Ace had just gotten his smoker guitar. It hadn’t been cleaned in decades. He had a new tech working for him who cleaned it up. And that night when Ace did “Shock Me” and the guitar was supposed to start smoking it didn’t work. He was pissed. We go backstage to our dressing room, and they’re doing a set change for Alice Cooper to come on. Ace is sitting there with the guitar on his lap and he’s messing around with the wires and all of a sudden it ignites on his lap but he can’t see it. (laughs) He’s then holding it in front of him and he goes stumbling out the door and accidentally walks onto the stage of the well-lit arena with he guitar smoking. Everyone in the arena started cheering and Ace had no idea why. (laughs) So, the people did get to see the smoking guitar after all, just not when they were supposed to see it.
Another time we pulled into a motel one night, really late, around four in the morning. And Ace put on a neon-green beauty mask for his skin, and his hair was up in a bun. He went to bed and about three hours later a construction crew shows up with jackhammers and they start making noise in front of our rooms. All of a sudden I hear a commotion with people yelling and everything. I look out and Ace was so pissed off because they woke him up. He comes out with the green mask, little short-shorts on and a Nintendo gun in his hand. These guys on the construction crew, they thought it was somebody from outer space. (laughs) They dropped their jackhammers and went flying down the road. And Ace was yelling, “I wanna’ go to sleep!” He was one in a million, that’s for sure. There’s only one Ace.
The last album you played on with Ace was Trouble Walkin’, right?
Yeah, that was a great album.
Why did you and Ace stop working together?
I was only going to give it 110% if Ace was, and if he was sober. Life was too short for me to risk the rest of my career on someone that wasn’t functioning properly. And I’m sad to say that by the end of that tour supporting the record, Ace was not functioning properly. I basically had it. I was trying to move the band two steps forward and he was moving it one step back. I couldn’t do it anymore. I had lived up to my end of the bargain. After working with him for five years, it was time to move on.
What’s your relationship like with Ace these days?
I saw Ace a couple years ago at the Chiller horror convention. I went down there specifically to talk to him about doing a Frehley’s Comet 25th anniversary reunion. Just a handful of shows. New York, Philly, Chicago, Detroit, LA. Maybe 10 cities. Do a DVD – something for the people that supported us all of those years.
I worked with Peter Frampton from around 1990 through 2010, and every time we went on the road people would come up to me with Frehley’s Comet records for me to sign. I couldn’t believe that all these years later the fanbase was still there. So, when I stopped working with Peter it was right around the time of the 25th anniversary of the first Frehley’s Comet record. So, I said to Ace, “If you’re up for it, I know Tod is willing to do it. We can get Anton.” What I wanted to do was a full reunion. I wanted to get Richie involved as well because he was an integral part of it at the beginning and the end. But Ace said, “I need $100,00 for myself.” I told him, “Well, that isn’t going to happen.” And it went by the wayside.
We’ve recently lost some rock and roll luminaries, including Davide Bowie, who you worked with, and Prince. What are your thoughts on these two artists?
Those two artists had an incredibly profound influence on music, more so than many other artists before or after them. They’re up there with The Beatles. Bowie was a chameleon. He was ever-changing. I got a call from Nile Rodgers to replace a bass part on “Dancing in the Street,” the cover song Bowie did with Mick Jagger. That was my first foray into working with David. Then Nile was producing Black Tie White Noise and he called me to come in and play bass on that.
Both Prince and Bowie were so unique. I don’t think we’ll see the likes of them again. That’s the sad part about losing them so young. It’s going to be hard for anyone to come along and pick up those torches.
Will Four By Fate be hitting the road soon on a tour to support the new album?
We’d love to but first we need to get some traction with the album. We’re ready to go at a moment’s notice. We’d love to play as much as we can all over the world.
I wanted to do a package with Ace. I also wanted to do a Frehley’s Comet and KISS concert package when our first record came out. I thought it would have been a fan’s dream to have us open for KISS and then have Ace jump up at the end of KISS’ set to do a couple of songs. That may have caused a KISS reunion to happen earlier than it did.
I like to put music together that has synergy and I think a Four By Fate and Frehley evening could be interesting, for the same reason. We could get up and do “Breakout.” I think it would be fun. I would like it to be more of an event than just having a couple bands up there pounding out some songs. It would help us do what I set out for us to do in 2012 but didn’t happen. We’d be celebrating our musical legacy together.
KISS fans were ecstatic about the recently released “Fire and Water” music video featuring Ace and Paul together for the first time in years. As a matter of fact, some fans were speculating that it meant Ace was going to rejoin KISS, open for them on this summer’s tour or be on the KISS Kruise in November.
My gut tells me that Ace is going to be back in KISS. I don’t know why but it just seems like a natural progression.
I’d like to see all of the living members come together for a tour or a few dates to celebrate the history of KISS. They don’t even need to be in makeup. It could be like the MTV Unplugged concert. Just something where all eras of the band are celebrated and KISS isn’t forced to pick one guy over another.
See, Michael, that’s the Italian in us. It’s about family. (laughs) It’s all about family, and that’s what music is. We’re all a musical family. When you’re in a band together, it’s like you’re with your brothers.