Most rock fans would point to Bruce Kulick’s twelve year stint (1984-1996) with KISS as his most recognizable work but Kulick was shredding well before and continues to rock long after his time spent with KISS. His resume includes work with a variety of acts including Meatloaf, Blackjack (with Michael Bolton) and since 2001 he’s been touring with Grand Funk Railroad. He also had a short run in the rock band Union which featured John Corabi (ex-RATT, Motley Crue, and The Scream) on vocals.
With his latest solo effort “BK3” being described as his best to date it looks like Kulick’s page in music history is far from finished. “BK3” boasts a veritable who’s who of hard rock’s heaviest hitters including collaborations with Steve Lukather of Toto, Gene Simmons and Eric Singer of KISS, Gene’s son Nick Simmons, the late Doug Fieger of The Knack, Tobias Sammet from Edguy, and old friend John Corabi. The eleven song offering covers a diverse range of sounds from dark heavy hitters to more melodic ballads and even an instrumental – displaying Kulick’s full spectrum of talent.
I recently caught up with Bruce and we discussed all aspects of “BK3”, his impressive guitar collection, Eric Carr, KISS and the look ahead as Bruce prepares for yet another summer of touring with Grand Funk Railroad.
Interviewed by: Roger Scales
Your latest album “BK3” has been out for a few months now. You performed at a large red carpet type cd release party in LA, you have played some recent shows in Australia, attended a few KISS expos and have done several meet and greets with your fans. How has the general response been concerning “BK3” and were you surprised by it?
First off, unlike my first 2 releases I’m thrilled with the distribution BK3 has with Rocket Science here in North America and Frontiers in Europe, Australia and Japan. You can also purchase a signed copy at my website www.kulick.net. Reaction from the fans has been nothing short of amazing. I’m hearing from folks quotes like ‘It doesn’t leave my cd player” and “Wow! What a supporting cast”. It just feels good, real good. It kind of feels like I’m releasing my first record all over again with that sort of unbridled enthusiasm.
Having said that what do you think is the biggest difference between “BK3” and your past solo efforts?
Well a friend of mine who is extremely talented and who I’ve known for quite a few years named Jeremy Rubolino had been wanting to work with me as far back as the “Transformer” (2003) record but the timing wasn’t right as that record was already near completion. I told him I would give him a shot and once we started writing I realized I really liked working with him. He had a real vision and we both had a benchmark for how high we wanted to strive for this record. He constantly challenged me during recordings and I liked that because he brought out the best in me and I think it shows. Our benchmark (believe it or not) was “Revenge” (1992) from KISS which has amazing production and a great sound. This is my favorite non-makeup KISS record. It naturally took more time in the studio and it cost more money but the proof is in the finished product. He pushed the heck out me to play really great so I was happy for that for sure. Jeremy is a cousin of Bob Ezrin (producer of “Revenge”) so I had met him when he was quite young hanging out at a gig. He was a very big KISS fan which was interesting as well. Jeremy comes from more of a film composing and arranging background. This is very different from most of the people I tend to surround myself and I think that uniqueness helped come up with some of the best arrangements off “BK3”.
You really recruited some top notch talent on this record. For instance was Doug Fieger’s lead vocals on “Dirty Girl”one of if it not his very last performances before his untimely death?
Yes it was. I’m really really happy that he had a chance to see the finished record and that his family knew that he knew that the record had been finished. He was dealing with cancer for many years but it only got really hard towards the end. We lost him in February but it was a few weeks after the record’s release. Very sad because he was so talented.
Do you find it more difficult to write songs, play guitar or perform a lead vocal and why?
As a musician there are a lot of things that are a challenge for me. Writing songs for instance is either something that comes to me right away or takes a lot of time but I enjoy the challenge. Singing for me in not natural. My guitar playing comes much more naturally so vocals are a huge challenge. Performing live, I can’t tell you how many calculations are going on in my brain while I’m performing. Trying to make sure I get the tone I want, playing in the pocket and making sure my creativity doesn’t suffer as well. That’s what makes it so fun because you’re always playing off the energy of the crowd while creating at the same time. I enjoy it all, the studio and the tours both because they both engage separate challenges for me as an artist.
Do you expect to tour in support of “BK3” here in the States?
Because of my touring commitments with Grand Funk Railroad it has been difficult for me to just pick up and tour solo in the States in the traditional way. It’s a fact that I have more value out of the country than in it which is not a bad thing of course. I have attended and performed at KISS expos in Europe, Japan and Australia while combining press for my solo releases as well. I will be playing with “The American Band” through the summer and I may have something planned for right after that but a tour in support of “BK3” doesn’t seem likely at this time…but you never know!
Were Gene and Nick Simmons approached separately or together and how did their contributions on “BK3” come about?
That’s a real good question. Originally I always had the desire to have Gene perform a vocal on my record. Eric Singer was very aggressive in letting me know that he thinks he would and I should call him up and ask. Sure enough he agreed and at the same time I had asked him to be involved he was able to say “How about Nick?” I think we knew that it would give Nick a very good experience in what it is like to be a professional in the studio. You can’t buy that type of experience you just have to spend time doing it. Sure enough it ended up being everything I thought it would be and more so. It was nice to be able to spend time with him as an adult. I recall him as a kid of course, during the KISS tours, and of have watched him on “Family Jewels” but to actually be creative with him was a bond on a whole higher level. So the work Jeremy, myself and Nick did on the song, trying to get the best vocal from him, it was all just fun. He was very green about it at first. He learned a lot I think as the process went along. I’m very proud of him and his contribution to the record. I got the best 2 for 1 package in my history in the studio with the Simmons family! Some people hear a lot of his Dad in his voice some don’t. Some have stated that he has a very Jim Morrison sound to his vocals so it’s all a little different I think at this stage. Most important is that he can follow his own path and doesn’t have to fill Gene’s shoes. I think he can do a lot of things it just depends on what he chooses. I love the way he makes fun of his father I think it’s great!
It came as no surprise to me after first listening to “BK3” that my favorite track was (and still is) “No Friend of Mine”. It may as well be a Union track since in addition to your guitars and John’s vocals, old friend Brent Fritz plays drums on this track as well as 7 others on the record. Was this intentional or did it just end up this way in the studio after writing it?
Thanks, I really thought it would be the best of what John and I are capable of doing. Part of that was Jeremy’s influence. He was a huge Union fan and supporter (especially of our 2nd record the Blue Room) and he wanted to take this track to another level and I think we did. I’m very pleased the way it came out both sonically and musically.
How has your experience been over the past 10 years as a touring member of Grand Funk Railroad? Has there ever been any discussions about recording any new material with the current lineup?
It’s been a great 10 years and I’m grateful for the opportunity I was given and have taken full advantage of it. There was one year where we were talking about recording a show for a live DVD but that never happened. Would it have been cool? Yeah no doubt, but I care more about staying on the road. I’ve been real fortunate that I was compatible with the guys right away and just continue to do a great job for them.
You have had a long standing relationship with both ESP and Gibson over the years. Do you record and tour with different guitars? How do you decide which ones go on the road and which ones stay home and are primarily used in the studio?
My vintage guitars are not ones I want to take out on the road. I leave those at home and they sound so great in the studio I don’t want to risk damage or loss by taking them out with me. Which then leaves me with a whole list of what I look for in a live guitar. Fortunately ESP has made a few models that I’m real comfortable with. I don’t need to custom order anything from them anymore. There was a time when I did. I think they do a great job and that is why they are very successful. As you already stated I’m also a huge fan of Gibson guitars as well. Let’s face it I’m a complete guitar nut! I’ve been fascinated by them for a very long time. Every time I get a new guitar I can’t wait to take it out on the road and break it in. I’m blessed to able to use something on a regular basis I have such a passion for.
What was your favorite KISS record that you played on?
Revenge (1992) was my favorite. Something about Bob Ezrin’s production, the songs, the
performance I all thought were really powerful. I really enjoyed the whole process of doing that record. The band at that time was so tight and we all seemed to be on the same page and focused. I think it was a disappointment to a certain degree to Gene and Paul that it was only a Gold record but to be honest music was changing a lot at that time, grunge movement was in full swing and we were just trying to stay relevant.
What was your favorite KISS tour?
Hot in the Shade (1990) – without question, mostly because we really shook up the set list and added some older songs that hadn’t been played in a long time. We also had great support acts in Slaughter and Winger who were just starting to break out as major acts with platinum albums. The Leon sphinx stage and coming out of the mouth at the start of every show was awesome. Fun experience and of course it was the last tour with Eric Carr so from that standpoint it will always hold a special place for me as well.
You have stated in the past that had you been asked to rejoin KISS after the reunion dates featuring the original lineup and the ultimate departure of Ace Frehley that you would have had a hard time putting on the KISS makeup because the Space Man persona is so closely associated and indicative to Ace himself and not just a character trademarked and owned by the band. What if the band had approached you to rejoin and had given you your own identity and makeup do you think it would have worked or do you think you were too closely identified with the non makeup era?
I don’t want to give anyone the impression I would have been totally against the idea in principal. I know for sure I would have been pretty uncomfortable about it. Here I am for 12 years carrying the flag of the non makeup era and then to suddenly be in makeup as Ace and maybe trying to replicate his style or antics it may have negated the validity of what I accomplished in the band. It was not as severe a change for Eric because he was only in the band for a 5 year period and didn’t record as many albums as I did. I think he fills the CAT role quite well and has made the transition smooth and a seamless one. I think in some ways on a personal level it would have been a hard adjustment for me but on a business level I would have at least considered anything that may have been put in front of me. I miss being in the band but I don’t dwell on it nor relish having to make that decision had it been offered to me.
You were very close to Eric Carr and it’s hard to believe it’s been almost 20 years since his passing. Let’s say for instance that had he lived through the Revenge era of the early 90’s and that KISS still followed the same path of feeling compelled to pull back together the original lineup do you think he would have been able to step back and let it happen in the same way you and Eric did? If asked do you think we would have rejoined the band and toured with them using the Fox persona?
It’s a great question and I’ve actually thrown the topic out for discussion at different intervals and with different KISS fans and friends over the years. I’ve come to the conclusion that the tougher question is whether Gene and Paul would have asked him to rejoin rather than would Eric actually return to the band. Of course we will never know but it’s really hard to say given all those intangibles how he would have felt about it. We all miss Eric very much. We really did represent a great era in KISS and he was always very close to the fans and enjoyed interacting with them right up until the very end.
How do you feel about video games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero and do you think it hinders someone who may have aspirations to actually play an instrument?
I feel a lot of positive things about it. Oddly enough I actually have a hard time with Guitar Hero. It’s a bit ironic that for a game geared around music it feels very awkward for me. Hey if it puts music in someone’s home instead of bullets and bombs I’m all for it. Also the attention that it gives to bands that kids may never be exposed to otherwise is priceless. It let’s music from different generations get another shot at making an impact in a person’s life.
Have you had any recent contact with Michael Bolton from your old Blackjack days?
It’s been awhile. I have some friends that run into him every now and then but I haven’t actually spoken to him quite some time. I’m aware of what he does though, it’s not that tough to keep up with what’s he’s doing.
Did Blackjack do a lot of touring (1979-1980) and would there ever be a day where we could possibly see a DVD compilation or a complete live show?
I’m not certain that any live shows were ever recorded. I have some audio tapes that floated my way over the years and we filmed some music videos for some singles that were released that you can find online. We did a couple of months of touring off the first record. We did some big shows with Peter Frampton when he was a huge megastar. We did not tour for the 2nd album at all.
I did want to pass along my condolences to you for the recent passing of your dad Harry Kulick at age 91. I’m sure he was a source of great inspiration and support to you over the years.
Thank you very much. He lived a long and fruitful life and I was very proud to have been there for him. Especially the last 10 years or so that he lived out here in LA and we saw each other often. He was a huge supporter of mine through all the years and at all the different stages of my musical journey.
Bruce, any final thoughts to your many fans?
My website www.kulick.net is the best way to keep up on any new releases, my tour dates with Grand Funk Railroad and just Bruce news in general. I’m also on Facebook and update on a regular basis there as well. See you all on the road this summer!