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  • Writer's pictureMason Edwards!

Made for Loving KISS

Updated: Mar 27

By Mason Edwards, Rising Rock Media

Daniel Sneed poses in between different song solos he performed for his twelve minute set. Other artists attended the Chattanooga Brewing Company’s Open Microphone Night cheered each time he struck a pose. Thursday, 23 Nov. 2023. (Photo by Mason Edwards).

Goodbye Detroit! With a little help from a custom guitar, a lot of makeup and a costume, one man is moving Rock City to Chattanooga. Across Hamilton County, supposed sightings of Ace Frehley, the famous KISS guitarist, take center stage on social media.

Curious people soon learn the tall, costumed man is not the “Spaceman” of KISS. Rather, he’s actually local rockstar Daniel Sneed, 21: a KISS tribute guitarist with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. Despite his challenging condition, Sneed loves sharing his passion with others, and leaves a mark on everyone.

“I watch what my son does, and I’m just so proud,” his mother, Beth Staten, said. “Everybody that meets my son… they just love him.”

After developing a special interest in KISS, Sneed taught himself how to dress, perform and play just like Ace Frehley. As he explains it, Sneed’s come a long way in understanding how his autism functions. Despite feeling uncomfortable around large, public crowds, Sneed always feels at home when he’s dressed up.

“What helps calm me down is dressing up like Ace Frehley, going to events like that and getting pictures taken with the rest of the crowd,” he said. “And, also, of course, whenever I start playing guitar… I’m self-taught and everything because, you know, I learned guitar by ear.”

Dressed in the 1976 Destroyer Album Ace Frehley costume, Sneed performs KISS guitar solos at open mic shows around town. Carrying his Les Paul guitar, amplifier and paint stirrer– a comfort object for Sneed– bar and restaurant regulars know he can shred any KISS song, but few know that Sneed inspired a stranger, who then gifted the local musician his guitar.

“It’s really special to me because when I look at that guitar, it’s like looking at myself,” Sneed said.

During a three-day KISS convention, another KISS fan by the name of David Swayne noticed Sneed from a distance. Swayne noticed Sneed’s seven-inch heels, full costume and makeup, “Ace” hardware paint stirrer and unmatched excitement, and– as Swayne remembered– unfairly judged Sneed. After Sneed introduced himself, Swayne realized he “endeared himself to everyone he met.”

“While meeting my heroes was a lifelong dream, nothing compares to my meeting [Sneed,]” Swayne wrote. “Meeting Daniel has been a life-altering event for me.”

The day Swayne returned from the convention, he ordered Sneed’s dream guitar and sent it to a company in California for a one-of-a-kind vinyl-wrap: a design incorporating the autism puzzle pieces and Ace Frehley’s face. Then, Swayne drove eight hours and hand delivered the guitar.

“You know, autistic kids, sometimes they look like they don’t have a reaction, but [Sneed] did,” Staten said. “I’ve got it on film. He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe it.”

Few fans can match Sneed’s level of devotion, with “ACE” inked into his arm and KISS merchandise hanging on his walls, sitting on his shelves and covering his phone case. Even though most of his room decor includes the full band, Sneed believes Frehley is one of the most influential guitar players, given his onstage personality, performance and special effects. 

“He has a light-up guitar, a rocket-shooting guitar, a smoking guitar and he even has a spark-flier guitar…” Sneed said. “I said to myself, that guy right there makes me want to play guitar.”

At that same convention, Sneed met Frehley twice– once on Frehley’s request and again during an official meet-and-greet session.

“Ace Frehley spotted him out by the pool when he did a concert, and he sent his people to find us,” his mom, Staten remembered. “And they said, ‘Ace wants to meet you tonight.”

By the time Sneed met Frehley again the next day, he had a t-shirt, signed paintstick and picture made with the guitarist.

Then, the concert organizers invited Sneed back for a third day–which Staten hadn’t planned for– so that he could play on stage with other fans.

Music-based video games introduced Sneed to KISS seven years ago, and he’s loved their unique rock ‘n’ roll style ever since. After attending a concert in Indianapolis in late November, Sneed’s experienced five KISS performances.

“KISS knows how to put on a great show,” he said. “It’s a very unforgettable experience, seeing the four guys in their makeup and seeing the crowd throwing their hands up in the air, dancing and singing along and everything, and even little kids doing it, and some fans wearing makeup, kind of like me.”

While at his home, his stool, end table, a slightly-cracked mirror and the available sunlight help him transform into the rockstar.

“It took a little bit of process because, you know, I started off just getting makeup at Party City and all,” Sneed remembered. “But then I started working my way up on getting the more professional kind of stuff, like the mirror on kind of, like I said, some of it that I ordered online, but some of it I buy from a local costume shop.”

The hours-long makeup process begins with a quick shave and astringent to fill his pores. He draws outlines with white eyeliner, first placing dots at the corners and then connecting the lines. After filling in the white portions with a thicker brush, Sneed outlines the black stars circling his eyes.

“And then after I do that, that’s when I powder the white,” he said– which even with the help of a towel– covers his shelves, floor and table in a snow-like mist. “And, the white is the only thing I powder because I want the silver and the black to look shiny.”

For Sneed, his hard work pays off whenever people ask to take a photo with him. Their interaction is a chance for Sneed to share his and KISS’s story in a lasting form, and gives him a chance to either rejoice in a shared passion or educate people about one of rock n’ roll’s most famous performers.

“Another reason is when I go to places dressed up, I like to remind these young kids and all these teenagers about who KISS is,” Sneed said. “KISS has created something so iconic and just beyond amazing that people would ever think of, that it needs to last until it’s the end of the world.”

While his fame around Chattanooga grows, Sneed dreams of joining a KISS tribute band, going onstage with three other performers and living the rock n’ roll lifestyle. 

“If you want to be famous for something, keep doing it,” he advised. “Don’t give up, you know, and just put your heart and soul into it.”

Meanwhile, as KISS wraps up their final tour, the world might be looking for exactly that.

To view accompanying audio and visual work with this piece, visit:

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