Interview with Bruce Kulick
Conducted by Robert Williams
Long considered by his peers to be one of today’s most in demand axemen, former KISS lead guitarist Bruce Kulick is set to offer up his third solo outing in the form of the upcoming "BK3" album. An all star cast of contributing musicians make guest appearances on BK3 and help to make this record Bruce’s most eclectic work to date. Speaking with Bruce recently; the talented guitarist took the time to talk BK3 and reflect on his long running career; from playing lead guitar in Meatloaf on the "Bat Out of Hell" tour, to recording and touring the world with KISS, and everything in between that will lead you as a listener to his latest work.
How are you doing today Bruce?
Your third solo album BK3 will be released on February 2nd through Twenty Four Records and features guest appearances from Gene Simmons of KISS and his son Nick, Doug Fieger from the Knack, former Toto guitarist Steve Lukather and John Corabi and Eric Singer who both played with you in Union. How did all of these guest appearances come about? Where these songs written specifically with these collaborations in mind, or did this come together on it’s own more organically?
Well actually I never had a total idea about any of the featured guests until …Well, I wanna correct that and say I always knew I could count on John Corabi with us having worked together in the past and on my second solo record…but I really didn’t know about the other guys.
What happened was both Eric Singer and my producer Jeremy pushed me to ask Gene and you know not only did Gene say "Yes" he kinda said "What about my son Nick?" you know…and that for me was suddenly a big excitement for my record. It kind of made me…how should I say, braver… ready to reach out for more…It really was an organic thing that just started evolving from there.
Each of the special guests has their own story as to how I know them and how they wound up on the record, but there was never really some masterplan of doing an album that would have at least half of it being special guests. But most important is they all contributed in a terrific way and I think I really helped showcase their talent and I think it made for a varied record but my guitar playing kinda keeps the glue together.
Your first single to be released from BK3 is "Hand Of The King" featuring Nick Simmons on lead vocals. What was it about that song that motivated you to choose it as the first single from the new album?
You know, this is the first solo record of mine where I have a label working behind me, the people from Rocket Science…Twenty Four Records is technically my imprint, you know what I mean? Because I own the record and they license it to get it out there and you work with someone like that because you want to have their team and their expertise of marketing and distribution and promotion on every level to make it a success. They kind of kicked the idea around their offices and I had to give them that choice and once they got around to figuring out that everybody was responding the best to Nick’s tune I was like "I’m not gonna argue with that."
To me it’s one of the best songs on the record and I think the performance is great. The sonics on it are huge. It’s not an up-tempo song but it certainly draws you in. I just went along with the fact that they wanna get that song out there first. So, I’m quite proud of the result of Nick suddenly being featured on a big rock and roll song. If he didn’t work with me I’m not so sure he would of chosen exactly the style of my record but there’s something that works really well there.
Did you see any familiar characteristics working with Nick that he might share musically with his father Gene?
Well there’s no doubt that they both…I know that some of my friends who are obviously KISS fans who have heard the song say "It sounds like a young Gene…" or you know, comments and descriptions…there’s no doubt that there’s something genetically there that’s shared with Gene, but I think he take’s things in his own direction and I think Nick’s naturally very bluesy and one of the guys at the label said the same thing, and I felt it too, was that Nick is a cross between Gene Simmons and Jim Morrison and I get that…
Let’s talk about your collaborations with Edguy frontman Tobias Sammett who is featured on the track "I’m, The Animal" on BK3. How did you and Tobias originally hook up?
Well, you know Eric (Singer) has played on his Avantasia project of which I was aware of…but I heard it with Eric when we were in Japan doing an event there and I was like "Who is this?" Because they were playing all KISS music at the event, of course. Then Eric reminded me that it was the Avantasia album that he played drums on.
I was like "This guy sings great!" and of course Eric asked me "Why don’t you have him on your record?" so I kinda remembered that. That particular song was something that I actually thought Gene would wanna work on because there’s something big and KISS like about it but in the end when we were working on it Gene was taking a little bit different direction with it and I preferred to just write something new with him which is where "Ain’t Gonna Die" came from.
So there was this track that we thought was gonna be a Gene Simmons song and we’re looking at it going "Who’s gonna sing this?It’s gonna have to be someone with a big voice…" and then suddenly it kind of clicked in my mind, well, this guy’s great. Jeremy (Rubolino – producer) didn’t really know too much about him, but I threw it at him. I sent him an mp3 of the track to see what he thought and Tobias was really excited to be working on the song so…
From there it just happened to be easy… he (Tobias Sammett) had been touring in America with Edguy and I was in town and we got together and worked on the lyrics and the second day it was time to go into the studio. Of course, any doubts we had were gone the second he opened his mouth and started singing. I was just… thrilled it was great…
You are returning the favor by guesting on Tobias Sammett’s next Avantasia record. What can you tell us about that?
We had talked about that a couple years back when we first became close… and I was always like "Send me the file, send me the file…" and then finally I got the music around October or November and he said "It would be really great if you could get this done around the holidays." So I did three of the songs right before Christmas and then two days after New Years, I did the other two songs.
I’m hoping he’s gonna use all five, I think what I contributed… I really like… but we’ll see what happens. He hasn’t even heard them yet because he’s been touring in Australia and I think right now he’s on his way back to Germany.
I’m excited about it because Avantasia is always a very creative project of Tobias’ and I think it’s very, very cool that I get to be involved with it. Eric is on half the record, so I think that’s cool.
What was it like for you to work with Gene Simmons again?
Well it definitely brought back a lot of memories and it was a lot of fun and very exciting and you hear that whenever somebody has done a reunion or when someone works with someone and they haven’t worked together in years…
You get that kind of familiar kind of excitement about it. I was really happy about it and I really felt like it had to be professional and creative and get the job done, because it was a fancy and expensive studio, so we actually wrote the lyrics there at the studio and Gene was real pro and sang it within an hour and I did the guitars later on at another studio.
They filmed some of the work that was being done for the "Family Jewels" show. It was pretty cool, they had an episode called "Memphis Blues" that was on in April and they made it look like it was Nick in the studio and Nick had come by and he was fooling around in the vocal booth; but it was really the song "Ain’t Gonna Die"
Considering your latest work features so many cameo appearances; do you anticipate that being a problem performing these songs live? Do you have any plans to tour for BK3?
Well… yeah, but keep in mind when I have toured and done live gigs before I’ve always made sure I’ve got a couple of guys who can sing. I’m not saying they have to sing like Gene or they gotta sing like Paul, but you know if your gonna see me perform I’m gonna have some songs from my solo records and then I’m gonna have what I consider some of my favorite KISS tunes.
For example, when I went to Australia in December, the record wasn’t yet available but I wanted to have at least one of the BK3 songs out there so we chose "No Friend Of Mine" the one (John) Corabi sang on. Now this guy Nick Maeder, who was the singer at these shows and did a fine job; he’s not really a Corabi vocalist, but a good song is a good song and I feel like we pulled it off really well.
Now, how many of those other songs could I have played without Tobias’ voice or Gene’s voice… It isn’t really easy, I don’t know yet. The most important thing when they come see me live is they know they’re gonna hear a lot of songs…
KISS is promoting this huge "Sonic Boom" tour. How many "Sonic Boom" songs did they do?
I think they did two.
Yeah. If two. If that… They started with one. So you get what I mean…
Let’s go back in time in your career and trace our ways forward in your musical path leading up to BK3. How did you originally get in to rock music?
Well of course I grew up experiencing the magic of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. I wanted to play guitar and of course my brother (Bob Kulick) being a little older, he jumped into that fairly quickly.
First my brother was playing guitar when there was just kind of folk singers but that shortly changed into sort of the British Rock Invasion. Which is some of the most amazing classic music. If you think about it, bands like The Who and Led Zeppelin and Cream, Jeff Beck just any of the… Well, Hendrix was American, but he broke in the UK…
All of that stuff is still a part of our culture. It just proves how incredibly important it is. It really wasn’t hard to just keep absorbing as much good music as I could. The more I did the more I wanted more…
I feel like I grew up in a really good time with that whole British Invasion where bands were really doing amazing stuff. It was quite an interesting time to see Hendrix live and Led Zeppelin live and you know Gene and Paul were affected by the same kind of magic from those bands. It’s still valid now; so I was very fortunate to have that around me and I just kept doing it.
And you were growing up in New York during that time?
Yeah I was born in Brooklyn and then we moved to Queens. It was pretty easy to see some amazing bands play. I was a teenager and I remember there was this matinee show, it was the "Murray the K" show which was where they’d have revues and have tons of bands… so I remember The Rascals had that hit… what was it called… "Good Lovin" … anyway, they were a New York band that did well and the opening bands for that band were The Who and Cream.
They did a half hour each… before they were famous… and I watched that and I didn’t know what I was seeing but I knew it was something really good. You know what I mean?
Yeah for sure.
I was just really fortunate to be exposed to a lot of great music early on.
You have been selling one of your early recordings of one of your first bands KKB at the recent KISS conventions. You’ve mentioned in the press that KKB was heavily influenced by Cream…
Absolutely. That was my first attempt at original music with a buddy of mine who was really talented and that was hard work and I was really happy that I had the tape and it was in such great condition so I wanted to share it with everybody. I remember playing it years ago and quite a few of my friends were like "Yeah, this is really good."
How old were you at that time?
In ’74 I would’ve been about twenty or twenty one.
You were already a seasoned veteran guitarist when you joined KISS in 1984. As far as I can tell; your first taste of the spotlight was as lead guitarist for Meatloaf on his legendary "Bat Out Of Hell Tour" How was performing in front of large arena’s for your first time? Did that kind of experience come natural to you?
It was very exciting. It was nerve-racking in a way and I remember being very moved… One time we played my college where I had went for a couple of years, Queens College… and I thought that was like really weird. You know what I mean?
In a way it felt like I had made it because I had seen Traffic play Queens College. I was there at Queens College at the same time as Jerry Seinfeld ironically. I saw Led Zeppelin at the World’s Fair and Paul was in the audience, that was right across from Queen’s College. That whole thing was… Meatloaf’s always crazy I gotta admit… because we went from out of nowhere to sold out arena’s so… it was a little nerveracking. It was really good to experience though because it certainly helped to prepare me for what was to come.
So how did you wind up as Meatloaf’s lead guitarist?
Well you know, my brother being a little bit older than me would hear about the different auditions going around and he had heard about some touring guys and he just figured "Hey, two guitar players, we should do this together." Because my brother and I had done a little bit of work together… and the next thing I know…
I know they really weren’t too sure about me because I was really green. I didn’t go in with a lot of confidence. I didn’t know anything, but I could play and my brother was very adamant about me being the other guitarist.My brother knew that I would play the Todd Rundgren parts.
There’s a DVD that’s out now that’s of a show in Germany. We did a TV show and it was filmed it’s called something like "Meatloaf The Original Tour" or something like that and it’s pretty cool. I gotta admit. It’s really a trip down memory lane watching that, it was crazy.
What was it like to be a part of Meatloaf’s touring entourage at that time; I imagine he was still a loose cannon…
Yeah, how did you know that? (laughs)
In the years that followed you had brief stints playing with The Good Rats and Michael Bolton’s band Blackjack who supported Ozzy Osbourne on tour in the early eighties. Do you have any classic Ozzy stories you’d like to share?
The only thing that I remember about Ozzy… it’s so funny, we were on the same bill in Puerto Rico and I mean Puerto Rico is America but you know there’s something a little bit different about it there and all of the bands were looking out for each other, shall I say… and I remember we went on stage and we did a really good show and they love rock music there and we went over really well.
It was like some kind of minor league baseball stadium sort of place and that was really cool… The next thing you know right after we come backstage after the show, all of a sudden Ozzy sticks his head in and says "How is it out there?"
I was just so taken aback to meet face to face with him. He was one of my… you know, I love Black Sabbath and there he was asking me "how it was" (laughs) kinda funny… That was the only real Ozzy run in.
How did you go from those projects to being the new lead guitarist for KISS?
Well, you know… I remember living in New York was good and it was easy for people to see you and not only was my brother telling Paul Stanley and Gene that I was a good player but, you know, I was getting a good reputation as a guitarist in New York and the next thing I know…
I think they were recording "Animalize" and having some issues with Mark’s health. Mark St. John’s health was getting strange and whatever… they needed somebody to come in and do a little bit of guitar work and I was at the top of the short list this time and they wanted to do somebody other than my brother. So, they called me and I went in to do the session and it was really kind of strange because at one point Paul said to me "Don’t cut your hair." You know it was about shoulder length then. I didn’t know what that meant but I think he was already realizing that if Mark didn’t get better they wouldn’t have a lead guitarist and how were they gonna go do this tour in Europe that they were committed to.
I heard him say it, but I didn’t know what it meant until I got the call a few months later. Of course I didn’t cut my hair in that time.
Looking back at the five studio albums you recorded with KISS; Revenge is often cited as hands down the most popular record. In your opinion; if the reunion tour had not happened when it did, do you think the often overlooked and criminally underrated "Carnival of Souls" album might have eclipsed Revenge in terms of success?
I think the timing of that record… Even if they never did the reunion tour, I don’t think it would have done better than Revenge. I will say I think it would have done better than what it did, but that was mostly because of the reunion tour.
You know, I always say with that record "If you like that album, you can thank me. If you don’t like that record… Don’t blame me." Because it’s one of those records that seems to have a very split division between the fans as to what they think about it.
The truth is, they wanted to do a heavier record than "Revenge" with different time signatures and the detuning of guitars… so it was a challenge, I co-wrote a lot of tunes. We all contributed. I’m still proud of the record. I didn’t like necessarily how it was mixed, I really think it could use a remix, but it’s a strong record and I was happy to sing one of the songs.
Let’s talk about that track "I Walk Alone" from "Carnival of Souls" This was the only KISS track ever recorded to feature you on lead vocals. Did recording this track kind of give you the confidence to sing on your solo records?
Yeah… I was still very uncomfortable with it, but it made sense because I was the one singing the demo. Gene and I went back and forth on the arrangements of that song to the point of where it was just really, really pretty clear that it belonged on the record.
Toby (Wright – co-producer on "Carnival of Souls" ) said "You know, it sounds cool to have Bruce sing, why don’t you have him sing this one?" and there you go… my debut and sole KISS lead vocal.
It wasn’t long after KISS that you put together the all star cast of musicians that became Union. How did that come together so quickly? Were you friends with those guys prior to leaving KISS?
It really didn’t come together as quick as it seemed. I was introduced to John by a guy named Larry that would go on to be Union’s manager. He right away thought that I should call John, because John had just had this experience with Motley Crue where they did this terrific record and they didn’t really click and they just kinda threw him out of the band.
The chemistry between me and John was really good with him coming from a blues based thing, with a powerful voice. We definitely had a chemistry. I’m real proud of the stuff we did with Union.
It took a while for me to get the right drummer and the right bass player, but I’m really happy the way all of the songs came together. We were probably writing before the other guys joined the band… before we had a rhythm section together.
I’m still close with especially Brent (Fitz – drums ) Brent plays on quite a few of the songs on my record.
By the end of the nineties everyone in Union had other musical obligations, other projects to attend to and further progress in that band came to a halt. I know you put out a Union DVD in 2005 and John Corabi makes a guest appearance on BK3, is it fair to say the book isn’t closed on Union yet?
You know, that’s a fair question. You gotta remember that obviously Eric has the Eric Singer Project. John also performs and will do a Union song or two. It’s hard to say really, right now I have invested so much time with my solo record. I love the chemistry I have with John and I was really happy to have him on my record… and I’m hoping to return the favor for him on his record because he’s been working on a solo record that we wrote something for last year.
So we’ll see what happens… I never say no to anything. If something comes up and makes sense, you do it.
For the past ten years or so you have kept busy performing live with Grand Funk Railroad. Could you see recording a studio record with Grand Funk Railroad at some point? Is there a demand for new material from your fans or do they just come to hear the hits they grew up with?
Even though we do new songs in the set… There’s like four songs that we do that have nothing to do with Grand Funk Railroad; it’s obviously the hits that get us through.
It’s really up to Don (Brewer – drums ) and Mel (Schacher – bass) whether they want to put out product. I love being in the band and I can’t really push them, whether they have the desire to do a DVD or a studio album and let me tell you, both are not easy things to do. There’s a lot of work involved. I’m just fortunate I got the gig, but because I don’t have… I can’t be the driving force to making that happen. Would I welcome it? Sure. All I know is the band is terrific and we play pretty flawlessly every night.
I’m really proud of the opportunity to work with those guys.
So BK3 will be released this February, what comes next?
Well, you know, what I usually do… I could do some sessions, I could do some clinics, I could do touring, I could do some Grank Funk dates… Rock and Roll Fantasy Camps…
I hope to work with Eric Singer this year, but he’s pretty busy with KISS as you know… So…
Maybe there will be a big KISS Expo… I just announced the KISS coffee shop thing in February at the KISS coffe shop in Myrtle Beach. I might to a little kick off thing here in Los Angeles for the release of my record. The usual… never a dull moment.
Well I’d like to thank you so much for taking the time to talk rock Bruce. Before we wrap this up do you have any last words for your fans?
Well, I just want everybody to know that I hope they are as excited about my record as I am and wanna get a copy. From the artwork to the special guests to my guitar playing I really feel like this is the best of me. This will be my first solo record available in stores… All major chains, shall I say. I’m really excited.
My websites the best way to know what’s going on.