The Englishman Who Helped Ace Frehley Get His “New York Groove” and First Solo Hit

“A lot of people think I wrote ‘New York Groove,'” said founding KISS guitarist Ace Frehley in 2016. “It’s not a myth that I’ve perpetuated, but that’s the way it is. I wish I would’ve written the song, though.”

Though Frehley was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, and the song served as an anthem to his hometown, “New York Groove” was written by Russ Ballard, lead singer and guitarist of the early ’70s British rock band Argent. The song was first released by the band Hello on their 1976 debut Keeps Us Off the Streets and went to No. 9 on the UK Singles chart.

Videos by American Songwriter

Roger Daltrey and NYC

Shortly after leaving Argent in 1974, following the band’s fifth album Nexus, Ballard started working with other artists. While on a flight to New York City to master Roger Daltrey’s second solo album Ride a Rock Horse, he started thinking about the city he hadn’t visited in some time.

“I had just produced a solo album for Roger Daltrey,” said Ballard in 2013. “I played on his first album and he asked me if I’d like to produce his next album, ‘Ride A Rock Horse.’ It took about six months.” He continued, “This was 1975. After finishing, we both thought it would be a good idea to go to Sterling Sound in New York to get it mastered because everyone said that was the place where the cuts sounded louder and that they were a better mastering facility than the one in London.”

[RELATED: Remember When: KISS’ Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss Simultaneously Released Solo Albums in 1978]

On the plane, Ballard started writing about getting back in the New York Groove. “While on a plane [to New York], I always carried a little notepad and a pen around with me,” remembered Ballard. “I always found it very inspiring to be on a plane. As soon as you get away from home, ideas come to you. And I thought, ‘I’m back in the New York groove.’ That’s what was in my head because I hadn’t been there for a couple of years. And I told that story about ‘Many years since I was here.'”

Many years since I was here
On the street I was passin’ my time away
To the left and to the right
Buildings towering to the sky, it’s outta sight
In the dead of night

Here I am, and in this city with a fistful of dollars
And baby, you’d better believe

I’m back, back in the New York groove
I’m back, back in the New York groove

“I loved going there,” added Ballard of New York City. “It’s always so exciting. When you’re with a bunch of guys in a band, it was always good to go there. There’s so much to do there. I was looking forward to going there. I didn’t write any more on that plane, just ‘New York Groove.'”

[RELATED: January/February 2023 Legends Cover Story: KISS Forever and Ever]

Ballard finished the song later on in the studio. “I just had this title and I had a Super Vamper harmonica with me,” said Ballard. “In my head, I always wanted to do a Bo Diddley beat. I wanted that Bo Diddley thing (sings the rhythm of the Bo Diddley beat). And the words, I just made them up in the studio. It was probably the first rap. You think about Ace shouting, “Here I am again in the city/With a fistful of dollars/And baby you better believe.” It’s like a rap in the ’70s.

Shortly after Hello released “New York Groove,” Frehley recorded it on his 1978 self-titled debut. Frehley’s version of “New York Groove” became the most successful single from a member of the original lineup of KISS, who released solo albums simultaneously in 1978, and peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“God Gave Rock and Roll to You” 

In a KISS twist, the band, sans Frehley, released another Argent cover, the Ballard-penned “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” on their 1991 album Revenge.

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Jelly Roll and Bunnie Xo

Jelly Roll & Bunnie Xo’s Private Jet Forced To Make Emergency Landing en Route to CMT Music Awards