A Conversation With Bruce Kulick

(September 14, 1997)

by Roger Lotring

Although he was their fourth lead guitarist, Bruce Kulick was actually a member of Kiss for more consecutive years than any of his predecessors, including original guitarist Ace Frehley. When Mark St. John was affected with Reiter's Syndrome just prior to the beginning of the band's Animalize world tour, it was Bruce Kulick who was contracted as a temporary—and ultimately permanent—replacement. A professional musician for more than twenty years, the Brooklyn-born Kulick first came to prominence as a touring guitarist with Meatloaf. Although he didn't record with Meatloaf, he did play guitar on Billy Squire's debut album, Tale Of The Tape, as well as forming the band Blackjack with vocalist Michael Bolton before joining Kiss in 1984. Over the course of twelve years, Bruce's talented contributions resulted in three platinum and four gold records for Kiss, starting with Asylum in 1985. Following a whirlwind convention tour in 1995, Bruce participated in perhaps Kiss' most ambitious project to date: a live acoustic album. While Kulick's work on Kiss Unplugged is extraordinary, it was largely overshadowed by a collaboration with Peter Criss and Ace Frehley that was to be the catalyst in a reformation of the original Kiss. Recently, it was in the midst of the New England Kiss Expo that the former Kiss guitarist was given the opportunity to speak to Roger Lotring and Cindy Jackson about his current project with singer John Corabi, as well as his past musical performances.

I did some searching on the internet—I knew that you'd played with Meatloaf before, but I didn't realize that you and your brother played on the Bat Out Of Hell tour; I thought it was one of the subsequent tours.

My brother did work a lot with Meatloaf through his career, but I was only involved—that was that one big tour that we both... y'know [we were] on tour almost a year with him. It was very, very exciting—it was very exhausting, too. It was my first big taste of arenas and big gigs. But, y'know, there was a lot of people on stage.

Yeah, that's true.

Well, we did get to get featured a bit, so it was cool. And I did enjoy his music. That album is very, very special.

What did you think of the Bat Out Of Hell II album?

Well, it obviously sold very well. I guess it wasn't a fluke, although he didn't follow that up very well.

No, I don't think so.

And, actually, Bob and I went to see him play. He pointed us out in the crowd and made us take a bow, which was very cool.

Oh, that's cool.

No, he really got his shit together through the years. That year, he was pretty much like Baby Huey, a little out of control.

That was kind of his first big taste of—

Sure. Well, he was in Rocky Horror, which was very cool. But if you're not centered as a person, that kind of fame can get you a little crazy. That's why it took so long for him to put out another record. But it was a good experience for me to learn.

The other thing, too, is playing with Michael Bolton. I don't think a lot of people really expect that.

Right. Well, you've gotta remember Michael, when we had a band together, was extremely into Led Zeppelin and Bad Company. We were kind of molded more after [a] Bad Company/Zeppelin kind of band. Our business manager was the guy who handled Led Zeppelin's affairs—and Bad Company—at Swan Song. And that's what we were into.

It just seems kind of weird, the way it branched out and what he ultimately ended up doing.

Well, first, he started to write songs that were blue-eyed soul, because before we did the rock blues-based version of what turned into Blackjack, he was doing very bluesy music. So then he became more like an r&b/pop songwriter—just songwriter first—then he was singing like, Budweiser commercials.

Oh, no kidding?

Yeah. The last actual giging I did with him was, he had a solo album out called Everybody's Crazy; I played guitar on that. And then it was shortly after that, really, that he really was getting into that kind of songwriting and then it started to hit. I played a little bit on one of those other records, but by then he was using all these really, just stuffy studio kind of musicians. And the kind of music he does, even when there's a little bit of rock guitar, it's really lame. Y'know, the guy's good, but it's not the same. It doesn't have any edge to it. And he became a pop star, not where I wanna be.

Were there any other Kiss collaborations with Michael Bolton, aside from "Forever"?

Only "Forever". The only song they ever wrote, Paul [Stanley] and him.

Which, coincidentally, we're playing at our wedding in six weeks.

Oh, really? You guys are getting married? Congratulations. That's great.

Thank you. Six weeks from yesterday.

Yeah, it's a beautiful song, it came out nice.

Yeah, the guitar is nice on it, too. Real nice.

Thanks. Yeah, I played the bass on it, too.

Did you really?


No kidding. Actually, I knew that Eric Carr had done some bass work. I wasn't aware that you—

Yeah, we pass it around. Well, Gene [Simmons] is a little heavy-handed and I cut the demo with Paul, and the demo became the record, really.

Now how did you and Eric Singer end up on the Rod Stewart tribute? I knew about the Queen one—

Mm-hmm. Well, actually, it's the same label, D Rock, okay? Actually, that's going to be coming out next year, not this year, unfortunately. That's what I heard from Gerri Miller, who usually gets the story right—from Metal Edge. In fact, one of the people who has a big job at D Rock knows everybody in Kiss; she used to work the Kiss conventions. And she kind of oversaw the project and asked Eric and I to be involved. So John [Corabi] and I are involved in two songs, and Eric sang a song—I just got the mastered CD and it really sounds great. My favorite of the ones with John is "Gasoline Alley". We did "Gasoline Alley" and "Maggie May". I mean, they're both very cool. "Maggie May" is more like the Wallflowers, if you know what I mean. We didn't try to make a metal song out of it, by any means. In fact, I played mandolin on both songs. But "Gasoline Alley," there's something going on there that I'm very—I don't know why but for me, that one just came out like magic. John sang it great... I didn't use my real name on that one. The guitars were done by J.B. Crablick, which is Crab and Kulick put together, Crab being his nickname. John and Bruce Crablick, 'cause it was almost like two old blues guys playing the song. I mean, I really like the guitar stuff—nothing was built past 1960, guitar-wise, on that track, and it shows; it sounds great.

That's cool. How's the stuff coming that you two are working on together?

Well, I'm very excited about the band. The only thing really missing is the name of the band, which is a very difficult thing. A couple of names that we've seriously looked at—when you start looking at things seriously, you realize, Oh, someone's got that, and that poses a big problem. So, we have a label now, Mayhem. We'll be signing the contracts, actually, when I get back on Tuesday. We're in the studio in September—we've rehearsed for the first week, this week. It was very exciting. I've been calling it evil Led Zeppelin because we're very, very loud and very, very intense, and I'm very excited about it. I can't believe how cool, to actually rehearse in a room [with] the four guys. We all do some singing—I mean, you know I'm not a lead singer, although I'll sing "I Walk Alone" today, but Brett, our drummer, can sing and the bass player, James—our latest addition [is an] excellent, excellent player. James Hunting is his name. He's a great singer, an amazing bass player in that kind of John Paul Jones tradition. John's playing guitar and singing and we've been rehearsing the material that we wrote. Our first phase will be kind of re-recording and upgrading our demo. The demo [was] done very good quality, but it didn't have the drums sounding—it wasn't on 24-track format and we have a budget now, we can use 24-track. So we'll be transferring the demos, kind of, keeping a lot of good stuff from it, whatever can hold up, and adding big drum sound and James, 'cause he never made it on the demo—y'know, he was the last guy [to join the band]. That will be the first phase and then we take like, two weeks off to tighten up the new material which we've never really "recorded" recorded. Y'know, we jammed it, but never recorded it. Then we'll record those songs, so we'll be finished in November. This way, they can conceivably put it out in February. I mean, once we hand it in, it's up to them, but they'd like to do something—really early '98—with it. And we want to tour and we want to play, and it's gonna be great. That's why it's kind of fun hashing it out in the rehearsal studio; it's been very exciting. It's been a little crazy for me this week between rehearsing for this event and my band. And learning what you've done. It's just like any time Kiss did a song, y'know, "Alright, we're gonna try... let's do "Unholy." It's like, oh, fuck, I gotta learn that solo. You know it's you, but it all happened at a moment in time, figure it out.

We were downstairs watching you guys do your soundcheck and it was cool to hear—I mean, when you guys started playing "Domino," it was fantastic!

Mm-hmm. Good. Well, it's just like Alive III, y'know? Today will be a little bit like Alive III.

Over the years, I'm sure you just got bombarded with questions about playing Ace's licks. How does it feel being in a reverse situation where maybe the next time they go out on the road, maybe they're going to bring out some of your stuff?

Personally, I don't think it will ever happen, which is really Kiss fans' loss.

That’s a shame.

But that's their decision. Like when Eric and I wanted to discuss, "Okay, what do you want to play?" for this thing—and we're going to do some covers by bands that we really dig, too: Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck. But I always dug "She" and I thought a lot of the guitar stuff was cool. It's a great song and that's kind of why I didn't—when they asked me to be involved with the Ace tribute record, they didn't ask me to do an Ace track because I've kind of been [doing that for] twelve years at times, whenever we do classic material, doing a tribute to Ace. I didn't approach it the way Vinnie did and just play a million notes as a solo from a classic song. I take the essence of what Ace did—I may not do it exactly like a tribute band does it but... Y'know, those songs are kind of cool. But the reverse happening? Sadly to say, I don't think so. I don't think that that band cares to, or can play some of that stuff.

I agree with that.

And I'm not doing it to say that makes them worse than us because it's a different version of Kiss, but it's kind of sad that even stuff from Creatures Of The Night they can't play. Although, they could do "I Love It Loud," but will they? Probably not.

Actually, what's really kind of exciting is Mercury's finally releasing the lost album.


It's about fucking time!

Yeah. The fans really wanted it. I don't think they did much to stop the bootlegging but what are you going to do, y'know? I heard the advance cassette. I always had a good copy of it, of course, being part of it, but it's weird because the advance cassette sounded better than my copy. Somehow it translated really well to when they mastered the cassette. If the cassette sounds the way it did in my car, I can't wait to get the actual CD 'cause I've never had a CD of it.

Are you and Eric going to participate in the promotion of that?

Well, honestly, I've spoken to Gerri Miller, of course. I've been approached by a couple of people to talk and I'm willing to talk to whoever asks me to, about the record. But, quite honestly, I don't think there's going to be a lot of press about it because I just don't think it's like, something they want to focus too much on. It's pretty obvious the fans are gonna be aware of it anyway. I mean, think of it. To do a major blitz on that record, marketing-wise, maybe doesn't make a lot of sense. I mean, to me, I want that. Yeah, I don't give a shit. Just put it out so people don't have to have inferior copies if they want. It's up to them to buy it. Whether or not they take out ads in every magazine—or no ads.

It's cool that you're so amicable about the way everything's turned out.

Well, I don't want to be a bitter man, I don't think it's healthy. And, I may not be making the same money as Kiss right now, but I'm way happier because I hate being in the shadow of something that has nothing to do with me. And I was damn proud of the years I was in the band which, to some fans, is revered as high and to some, not, because there isn't the makeup or the show—although we put on some awesome shows—then let's just say the makeup. And it's not an enviable position to be in.

Well, especially with this new project of yours coming out, I think that it's probably—definitely—a big advantage to you that once you're in Kiss, you're part of the family and all the fans are just going to support that.

Yeah. Well, I hope so and I have no remorse about my tenure in the band. I was always making a conscience decision to be in the band. Of course, I couldn't control things the same way as having my own band. I mean, I can't tell you the huge responsibilities, what that curtails. But I'm proud of that and I'm the leader of my band. And, I learned a lot from working with Gene and Paul, although I think our band will be structured differently than while I was in Kiss. But that made sense for being in their group, for the way they wanted to do business. I'm just happy to be able to play music—my music. It's not based on any classic stuff from any other era.

Hypothetically, say, you've got your album coming out and you're getting ready to go out on the road and you get a call from either Kiss or Mötley Crüe to open...

Well, less likely with Mötley only, unfortunately, because of John's unfortunate situation.

Well, the reason I ask that is because I did an interview with Vince [Neil] several months back before all of John's situation came to light and I posed the same question to him. And he was like, "Yeah, if their record's doing well and people like it, yeah, we'll bring them out."

Yeah. Y'know, I think it would be a great thing to do something with Kiss. I doubt if Gene would maybe see it that way, only because he could [have been] really giving the fans on this last tour [with] some good opening acts and he chose not to because he wants to be perceived as current. Kiss isn't current; Kiss is Kiss, which is past, present and future. It kind of doesn't even fit current. So Gene would have D Generation and all these other bands that mean nothing to a Kiss crowd and—

It means I got to go to the bar and hang out for awhile, and then go to the show.

Yeah, and maybe buy more merchandise.

Yeah. [Laughs]

So I don't know; I don't know if Gene would have the guts to allow a bill—forgetting even my band—to allow a bill that really makes sense. I applaud Mötley for having Cheap Trick opening. I think that's great. And it's two different eras, actually, but two great bands that have a lot of hits. Now, my band certainly doesn't have a history of hits. Y'know, we're starting off from scratch, right? So, in some ways, I could be perceived as one of those bands to Gene but because we may not be embraced by KROQ, which seems to be Gene's guiding point for cool... yeah, I don't presume anything, but he knows that—I know he's a fan of John's and I know he will enjoy the music but it doesn't mean that we'd be on the bill.

That's too bad. That would just be a cool package for the fans.

Yeah, but I'll be honest. It would be great to do that, it's a great opportunity but I don't want to think that my career with John and the band has to rely on opening for Kiss. It kinda doesn't ring a good chord for me. I know they wish me well but it doesn't mean that they have to do me a favor like that, although I would certainly think it would be very entertaining for the fans.

So, actually, then, who would you be interested in opening up for?

Y'know, in some ways it's like, I don't mind actually just going out there and beating our heads into the ground and just doing clubs and just playing ourselves, not having to get in that vibe [of opening for another band]. But who knows? It's very hard to say where you wind up with a touring situation. And I've been so far removed from that—very difficult, that whole touring thing, anyway. It's not going to be easy for us but we want to play every nook and cranny. I'd like to play a couple conventions too, actually, 'cause I think that would really blow the fans away. Y'know, 'cause we plan on doing like, a Mötley song, the stuff that the Mötley fans will never hear. Stuff from [Mötley Crüe] or the Quaternary thing. I can hear John singing "Tough Love" or something like that. [We'll] do "I Walk Alone," y'know. I want to do "Liar" which will be on the Ace record; that was my contribution, which is an original track. We could do... obviously, our record [laughs]. We can do some Scream stuff. I mean, there's a lot of material—"Gasoline Alley," stuff from the Rod [Stewart] record. So, there's a lot of choices and we could have a pretty awesome set if we need to play an hour-and-a-half. Most new bands can't but if you think about it, we could really pull out a lot of shit. So I'm excited about it and hopefully we'll get the proper push and attention [so] that people get an opportunity to see it. To me, rock and roll seems to building a little, more and more.

Thank God!

It's been tough but music's very diverse right now, anyway. You've got the Spice Girls and you've got a lot of rap bands right up there but there's a lot of things going on, a lot.

I just bumped into a kid that actually used to work for me and I haven't seen him in years. He's playing guitar with Arrested Development now. And it's just really bizarre 'cause he's the guy that came from all the real heavy, heavy guitar stuff.

Sure, sure.

And he's introducing the stuff that he says is simple little things that's the first stuff that you learn when you play, but they're all like, "Wow!" And it's just kind of exciting to think what's going to happen with a collaboration like that.

Yeah. And even John and I—don't worry, we're not doing any rap—a lot of people didn't know what to expect from [us]. Just like if the Japanese are going to make a new car, it probably looks like a Honda, Toyota or a Lexus, right? You're expecting a certain thing. And for us, they're expecting a Mötley or a Kiss sound. Well, first of all, Kiss, there's so many different sounds, right? Even from my era. You go from "Tears Are Falling" to "Forever" to "Unholy". I mean, which is it, okay? And then for John, he had a beautiful ballad called "Friends" on Quaternary and then he's singing "Smoke The Sky" and "Uncle Jack". And we didn't look at any of those songs, we just did what we liked and it came out, to me, as a combination of just everything we really dig. So, there is some Kiss and Mötley in there, just by nature [that] they're rock bands but more so, it's got a whole new sound.

I figured it'd kind of be rooted in a lot of your influences: Zeppelin and Hendrix and that sort of thing.

Yeah, you're right. It's more based in Zeppelin, Beatles, Hendrix... I hear Aerosmith in some of it, I hear even Soundgarden-some of the more "hit" material of Soundgarden, not the real punky or spaced-out stuff. And some Kiss and Mötley in there, definitely.

Jeez, I wish I could hear some of it!

It's interesting 'cause in shopping for a record deal, there was a lot of prejudice, just against John and I for being from bands and a couple of major labels, like, "Well, I like this but I know it won't fly past the other guys," because we're not twenty-year-old kids with squirrely haircuts [answers door to receive room service]. Yeah, where were we?

Your new stuff.

Right. So, I'm very excited. We have a couple of songs that are definitely slamming. There's a couple of things that are in the tradition of the stuff we like, and then we weren't afraid to [have] a couple songs that are kind of acoustic-based, and I'm just very excited with the material. I get off on it. And if I get off on it, I gotta figure, well, then fans of mine will dig it.

That must have been very exciting then, going into it without having anything to live up to, without having a preconceived notion. I would assume when you were with Kiss, it had to sound like Kiss, so to speak. With John, probably it had to sound like a certain thing of Mötley—

When you collaborate, you certainly have—Gene and Paul, especially if they're going to sing the song because they're great singers, yeah, it's going to go in that direction. It has to. And with John and I, it just went in the directions [of] what we liked.

You didn't have to stop yourself by saying, "Oh, wait a minute. We can't do this because it's not going to fit within the parameters"—

Exactly. But we were smart. I was smart in taking—and so did John—first all the stuff that got passed over on the last record. Y'know, "Liar" was something I played for the last record but we didn't get to it. We've got a couple of songs that—there's a song, "Old Man Wise," that had a riff that Gene absolutely loved. Even [Bob] Ezrin knew the riff. It was great but we never got to do anything with it. Y'see what I mean?

It makes me wonder how much great music there is actually out there that nobody gets to hear because nothing every gets done with it or it gets shelved.

Well, because it's hard sometimes. You can have a great riff, it doesn't mean it's going to turn into a great song unless the other person—something happens and it clicks and it works. "Tough Love" easily just could've been a riff because that tune was a riff that Paul and I tried to do something with and [we] couldn't come up with anything. It turned out to be an instrumental track for me and I just developed it that way.

The stuff that you're working on with John, did everything sort of fall into guitar player writes the music, singer writes the lyrics or is there a lot of crossover?

John's a really good guitarist. John plays a lot of guitars on that last Mötley record. So, it's really two guitarists sitting down. He's not a, per say, "lead" [guitarist], but [he's] a very good guitar player, so we both wrote on guitars.

And how 'bout lyrically? Did you contribute?

John's got great ideas. I gave him some ideas that I had or I looked over what he had and we worked that way. And also, we've been working with the guy who was involved in Carnival Of Souls, this guy Curt Cuomo.

[Cindy asks] To start a brand new, starting from scratch, do you sit down over dinner or do you [say], "Hey, let's jam." A "come over" type of thing, "see if we can knock heads and put something together." Is that the process?Well, John came over to my house—it was almost like a date—we kind of auditioned each other. And to be honest, we wound up just talking about life. We didn't do any music stuff. We both felt destined to work together, or at least see what it would be like to work together because of a lot of situations that happened in our lives coinciding. We didn't get excited until—the first thing we started like, playing turned into a song called "Around Again," which is going to be on the album, which I really think helped get us a record deal. And that was the first thing we sat down to write. Granted, it wasn't the first thing we finished when we sat down to write, but when we got back to it it was like, "Y'know, that was a fuckin' good song." Once we were on to something, we would have these chords and he'd look at me, and I'm playing the bass and programming little drum things, then he jumps in and all of a sudden, Wow, there's a cool section, that's a cool section—

[Cindy asks] When was it for you that you realized that, "Yeah, this is going to work."

Oh, that day.

Was it?

Yeah. I mean, we spent two hours sitting on my patio talking. And then once we started playing guitar, by the end of that I felt like I had... a wife. There was a marriage happening.