Episode 203: Bruce Kulick Pat sits down with guitarist Bruce Kulick to discuss his musical career from Meat Loaf to Blackjack to KISS and beyond. From June 4, 2015
With your host:
Pat welcomes us to the show. Today's a very cool episode because there is a alumnus of Kiss in the studio. It's guitarist Bruce Kulick!
Pat and Kyle are both big Kiss fans. Bruce has been playing the guitar for 50 years. His brother Bob Kulick also plays the guitar. Bruce was inspired, like a lot of people, by the British invasion of the 60s. He found that he had a natural ability to play, and he thanks the Beatles for putting a guitar in his hands.
Bruce looks good; playing and having fun keeps you young. Bruce sees people his age when he tours and it looks like life has really beat some of them down with the gentleness of Brock Lesnar at 100%. He admires people like the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Paul McCartney who still have energy even in old age. Bruce is okay with getting older; he likes to think of himself as the distinguished rock and roll musician. Bruce's first major gig (long before he was a distinguished rock and roll musician and was simply a bright-eyed boy with an electric guitar) was touring with Meat Loaf on the Bat Out of Hell Tour. Bob got him the audition. In the band they were known as "Killer Bob" and "Pretty Boy Bruce."
Bruce learned a lot from the Meat Loaf tour. They went from getting booed offstage opening for Cheap Trick in Illinois to selling out arenas all over the world. Bruce and Bob even got to be on SNL during the John Belushi years. Bob stayed on with Meat Loaf while Bruce left and eventually went on to Kiss. They weren't in any of Meat Loaf's music videos, but they did do the live concerts and TV appearances like The Old Grey Whistle Test.
His parents were very supportive. His mom sung, while his dad played the trumpet (although Bruce never heard him play it). Dad worked as quality control for government contracts, which he instilled in Bruce. His mom was the bookkeeper of the family. She had her mind on the money and the money on her mind. Bruce moved his parents from New York to California a few years ago to be closer to him like the nice Jewish boy he is. His father is no longer living, but his mother is 91, lives in an assisted living home, and is having a blast. Bruce doesn't have kids, but he does have an old parent, which is pretty much the same thing.
Let's get to the music. Bruce's first real band to call his own was Blackjack. Pat plays "Love Me Tonight" off their self-titled debut album. Who is that vocalist? Who is the golden-voiced adonis who soars over the heavy guitar riffs and pounding drum beats? Why, it's Michael Bolton! Or Michael Bolotin, which is his real name and what he went by before becoming "Michael Bolton." Michael and Bob worked together due to the Connecticut-New York connection and Bob brought Bruce in to work. Michael and Bruce decided to form a band, Blackjack, and teamed with drummer Sandy Gennaro and bassist Jimmy Haslip.
Blackjack signed with Polydor Records and had a lot of pressure put on them to succeed. They worked with producer Tom Dowd on the album. Michael was uncomfortable because he felt like the record company and Dowd made them sound too clean. Young Bruce didn't want to challenge the authority, though. They toured a bit and the debut album sold over 100,000 copies (which would put you on easy street today). They had dates with Peter Frampton. But the second album didn't do well.
After Blackjack ended, Bruce briefly went to the band Good Rats, while Michael honed his writing skills towards R&B, Pop, and Blue-eyed Soul songs. Bruce played on a few of Michael's solo albums, where Michael looks and sings like a total hard rocker. A few albums later, he's softer than a loaf of Wonder bread. People picked on him, but Michael got through it. He has a sense of humor. Bruce and Michael have still been linked throughout the years. They keep in touch. Kanye West even gave them writing credit for sampling a Blackjack song on his debut album. What a world.
Michael helped Bruce get into Grand Funk Railroad, his current gig. Michael toured with Bob Seger in the 80s and brought Bruce along. Sewer's drummer was Don Brewer from Grand Funk. That was how they met. So when GFR reunited in 1999, Bruce got on the short-list for replacing lead guitarist Mark Farner and the rest is history. Bruce has been in Grand Funk Railroad for 15 years. Another Michael Bolton connection is that Bruce got Michael in contact with Paul Stanley to write a song together. Pat plays the song "Forever" by Kiss off the album Hot in the Shade. Pat never liked the flash of Vinnie Vincent and Mark St. John, but he always liked Bruce's style of playing, which had more emotion and feel. Bruce sticks up for Vinnie; he may have had virtuoso tendencies, which didn't really fit Kiss, but he was also a songwriter.
Mark St. John was more of a Jazz-Fusion guy, which also wasn't a right fit for Kiss because they were more about Zeppelin, Hendrix-type guitar riffs. Bruce came to Kiss because Paul kept getting Bruce's name being fed to him. During the making of Animalize, Bruce got the call to be on the album and subsequent European tour because Mark got sick. Mark got better for the American leg of the tour, but by that time Kiss got comfortable with Bruce. Bruce was very nervous to play in the band at first, but he learned to adapt. According to Bruce's remembering of the events, Mark played a few shows on the American tour, then Kiss set him home. Bruce got to play on a few Animalize tracks. Pat plays one of them, "Lonely Is the Hunter". Bruce knew what the band wanted.
A funny story is that half the tour books had Mark's headshot and his hand, and then the other half had Bruce's headshot, but still had Mark's swollen hand. Real Bruce Kulick fans would know that his hands are quite exquisite. It was a weird period because Bruce was the third new guitarist in three years. Bruce didn't mind that his entrance into the band wasn't as bombastic as Vinnie's (who got the Ankh makeup and then got unmasked on live television) and Mark's because the band probably feared losing Bruce and confusing the fans even more.
Jumping back to before he was in Kiss, Bruce also played with Billy Squire on his debut album The Tale of the Tape. Pat plays the song "Rich Kid".
Bruce plays rhythm on the entire album, along with a few solos. Billy wrote and owns all the masters to his songs, so he's doing rather well. When Bruce was working with Billy, he got the call from Blackjack to go out on tour for the second album. Billy wanted Bruce to come with him on tour. Bruce chose Blackjack, so Billy went on tour without him. Eventually the Blackjack tour never happened, while Billy went off to become a megastar.
The funny thing is that if Bruce did go with Billy on tour, he probably wouldn't have been in Kiss. Even worse, he could have been in the music video for "Rock Me Tonite." Hoo boy, that was a missed bullet. Instead, Bruce became a full-fledged member of Kiss and went on to do his first full album Asylum. It's a strange album cover. The flamboyant day-glo colors worked with a guy like Paul, but not so much the rest of the band. Then again it was the 80s, and even a guy like Ozzy had hair like Nancy Grace. And Asylum did have three Bruce-written songs on it.
One of those songs was "King of the Mountain". Eric Carr sounds like a monster on the drums. Pat plays another song from Asylum, the big hit single "Tears Are Falling". At this point, Bruce felt much more apart of Kiss. Pat asks him what it was like to write with Paul and Gene? It was more about enticing them with something that you have than being asked to help. Once one of them passed on a song, it was dead in the water. Some of the songs were "let's just write," others were a presented idea.
The next album Crazy Nights had producer Ron Nevison. Paul and Gene wanted to go with the big 80s sound. Paul was comfortable with Ron; Gene, not so much. Bruce finds that an independent producer is gonna view the work differently than Paul and Gene. Gene was nervous about the things Ron might want to do with the music. Crazy Nights was a very Paul-heavy album. Gene had Hollywood distractions, scripts and such, while Paul was driven by the music.
Pat asks a pertinent question: Why isn't Bruce in Kiss right now with the makeup while Tommy Thayer is? After Peter and Ace left the band, Eric Singer got the call to replace Peter. Tommy was already a member of the Kiss family at the time, having played as a session guitarist for a few albums. They relied on Tommy more and more to be the Spaceman at the live shows towards the end of the reunion because Ace hadn't gotten sober yet and was becoming unreliable. And Bruce was busy with Grand Funk Railroad.
Bruce didn't want to be the Spaceman because he thinks it would have soured his 12 years with the band when he never wore the makeup. He does miss Kiss, but it would have been too uncomfortable for him to put on Ace's makeup and pretend to be him. Pat asks another question: On the compilation album Smashes, Thrashes, & Hits, why did they re-record "Beth" with Eric Carr on lead vocals? There were some legal questions concerning Peter's rights to the song. The band figured that it was just easier to re-record it. Eric had mixed feelings about it, but he did a fine job. Eric was a very talented guy, and not just on the drums. Hell, he even has a writing credit on a Bryan Adams album. AND BRYAN ADAMS CO-WROTE "WAR MACHINE" FOR FUCK'S SAKE! WHAT WORLD ARE WE LIVING IN?!?!?!
Eric was extremely funny, kind, and warm to the fans. Pat believes Kiss to be a very fan-friendly band. He went to a Foreigner show and saw Paul and Eric Singer there. Pat had the balls to approach them and Paul immediately stuck his hand out for a handshake. Kiss got personal with the fans on the 1995 Konvention Tour, which led to the monumental Kiss Unplugged live album. Pat plays the opening track "Comin' Home". Unplugged showed that underneath the glitz and glamour, Kiss really could play. It was the final hurrah for Bruce in Kiss. He had no idea that he and Eric Singer would be getting the boot in favor of Peter and Ace coming back, but it was expected that the fans would go crazy for a reunion tour with the original four members.
The album Carnival of Souls was being worked on at the time, and the announcement was made 3/4 of the way through the recording process. They had a meeting, Bruce and Eric had no idea what it was going to be about. Bruce thinks it was a smart move to keep it quiet because if things with Peter and Ace fell through, Paul and Gene could still continue with Kiss with Eric and Bruce. But that hypothetical scenario did not happen and the reunion tour with makeup took off like gangbusters. The plan was to still do Carnival of Souls until the reunion tour was worked out. Bruce was fortunate though that he got to be in the band long enough to play on Kiss Alive III. Bruce was very excited to take the live show of the Revenge Tour and put them on an Alive album.
Pat plays another song from Hot in the Shade called "Rise to It". Paul sounds great. Pat makes the case for Paul as a great frontman (shocking, I know). Bruce calls Paul the consummate professional. The man puts on a half-time show every night... and in seven-inch heels, no less! Does Bruce have a favorite Kiss album that he was on? Bruce goes with Revenge because it's where all the stars aligned, in sound and in look.
Bob Ezrin returned as producer for Revenge. Bruce calls him a "mad scientist" who knew how to get the best of them. Everyone is hitting a home run for the album, including Gene who sounds 100% committed. Pat plays a Gene song from the album called "Unholy". During the recording for Revenge, what was the prognosis for Eric Carr? Eric was very sick with cancer. The band didn't force him to play because he couldn't, even though Eric wanted to play. He did sing on "God Gave Rock 'n' Roll to You II" and the video, but just couldn't do the album.
Eric knew that his condition took him out Kiss and put Eric Singer in as replacement. If by some miracle he survived, Eric would be back in the band, but the priority was first and foremost his health. Eric was a great friend and Bruce was thankful to know and play with him. Meanwhile neither Eric nor Bruce are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Kiss, even though they played on a bunch of albums. Pat finds it ridiculous. Bruce opines that the Hall of Fame wanted to sell out an arena as opposed to a ballroom, and they wanted press, so only having the original four was the way to do it.
They only inducted the original four, even though they've inducted plenty of bands with multiple lineups before. There was some confusion about the whole thing. Paul wrote Bruce a nice email saying that he didn't forget what Bruce and Eric brought to the band. Bruce just tried to stay out of the whole thing. He was at the Kiss table during the induction ceremony. Bruce knows that the real fans always have his back.
After leaving Kiss, Bruce releases a 2001 solo album called Audio Dog. Pat plays the song "Change Is Coming".
Is Bruce comfortable singing? He's a little self-conscious, but when it's in his vocal range, he is comfortable with it. Pat plays a song from Bruce's second solo album Transformer called "Jump the Shark". When Bruce decided to do a solo album, he had just left a band called Union with John Corabi. He had a bunch of songs leftover from the Kiss days that he decided to turn into solo material. He was only touring with Grand Funk for 40 gigs a year and thus had a lot of time off for writing music and lyrics. Bruce didn't want to deal with any business bullshit, so he recorded and paid for it himself, and it sold enough copies to warrant the second album. The third album, BK3, took a lot longer to get off the ground.
BK3 had a number of guest musicians like Gene and Eric Singer and, what do you know, former Rock Solid guest Steve Lukather! Pat plays the instrumental featuring Lukather called "Between the Lines". Doug Fieger from The Knack also sang on the album, which was the last thing he did before he died. Well, not the last thing he did, but you get the idea. They met during Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp. Doug had cancer during the recording and the album came out 12 days before he died. There was a memorial gathering at Doug's house, which had guests like Lisa Loeb, Jeff Lynne, Sharona, Joe Walsh, and Ringo Starr.
Bruce told Ringo that he enjoyed his new album and Ringo looked him in the eye and thanked him. For a big Beatles fan, that was a treat for Bruce. Pat plays the song featuring Doug Fieger from the album called "Dirty Girl".
Bruce has something new coming out. It's a mini album called Got to Get Back by Bruce's first band KKB. The name stands for (Bruce) Kulick, (Mike) Katz, and (Guy) Bois. They used to play together back in 1974. The songs on the album are from way back when and a new song recorded just for the record.
Mike the singer and bassist lived on Bruce's block, while Guy was the drummer. They wanted to be like Cream. They practiced and went into the studio and came out with 4-track tapes. The tapes were not favorable in quality. Bruce found the tapes a few years ago and decided to clean them up and release them as a limited edition album for fans. Mike then found the original tapes so they could control each track. They wanted to re-release it and put a new song on it. Mike is still in New York, Bruce is in Los Angeles, and Guy is in France, so the three pieced together the song from across the world.
The album is going to available everywhere in June. On Bruce's website you can get the album in a package with vintage photos and a guitar pick. He's very proud of this glimpse into the past. You can find Bruce on Twitter @brucekulick and you can go to his website Kulick.net for his tour dates with Grand Funk Railroad and a bunch of other cool stuff. Bruce says he knew Rock Solid was the real deal when he saw that Steve Lukather was on the show. Thank you to Bruce for being here.
Thank you so much to Bruce Kulick for being here. Pat ends the show with the new song "Got to Get Back by KKB.