A Conversation With Bruce Kulick
A couple days prior to the 2016 NJ KISS Expo, I had the opportunity to interview former KISS lead guitarist Bruce Kulick. I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about Bruce, and now I know why. Both on the phone and at the Expo, he was as nice as could be and willing to answer all of my questions. For the latest news on Bruce and his exciting musical journey, make sure to visit his website and follow him on social media.
Was there a KISS song you helped write that didn’t make it on to an album? If so, which song? And why didn’t it make the cut?
A song immediately comes to mind, and the ironic thing about is that it’s a song other people covered but KISS didn’t release. It’s called “Sword and Stone.” It was written with Desmond Child and Paul, and it was written during the Crazy Nights era. The producer, Ron Nevison, just didn’t like it. I thought it was a really good song. The guy from Loverboy covered it, Desmond included it on a solo album and then a German band covered it. (laughs) All these other people released the song but we didn’t.
The fans who’ve heard it – because it got leaked somehow – think it’s a great song. As much as I was flattered that artists were covering a song I was a part of – I kind of started the guitar chords in that song and then brought it to Paul and Desmond – I didn’t make the money I would have made if it would have been on a KISS record, which would have gone Gold or Platinum.
Are there any KISS studio tracks that you wanted to play live but the band never added them to the setlist? If so, what songs?
Lots of times when we’d gear up to support an album on tour, we’d learn how to play the singles live. But with KISS it’s a unique situation since this band has such a rich history of music. It’s always a struggle to add in the new material to the set. Many times we wanted to go deeper than the new singles, but with Gene and Paul if a song didn’t get a big reaction the first time they’d say, “We’re not going to do that song again.” I can understand that. As a fan, if I’m going to see an artist and I’m not familiar with the new album they’re supporting, how am I going to react to new material versus a classic that blows me away live? It’s always very tough. And there are some artists that are very clear about that – they only want to play the entire new record live. They know that every song isn’t known yet, but they don’t care. That’s what they want to do. It’s a real interesting thing. A lot of artists struggle with that, especially those that have a long successful career. What do you do when you put out a new record? How many new songs are you gonna’ do? So, no, I can’t tell you album-by-ablum which songs we should’ve done. But I am glad that by the time we got to Revenge – which is my favorite album, even though I have affection for all of the albums I’ve done with KISS – that we did quite a few of those songs live. So, that was really good, and a few of them appeared on Alive III, of course.
What was it like performing with Ace and Peter at MTV Unplugged?
In one way it was really exciting because, at that point, I’m fully aware of the history of the band. I wasn’t a huge KISS fan growing up because I was pretty jaded by my brother working with them and I got to know Paul while they were still in their makeup. I didn’t have stars in my eyes around them. I respected them. I knew they were talented and famous and rich (laughs). But there I am about to perform with the original lineup. I never met Ace prior to this, but I heard a million stories about him. The same with Peter. And then they walked through the door into SIR Studios in New York. Part of it was exciting and part of it was awkward.
MTV knew we were doing really well with the Convention Tour but they only wanted to do the show if they could also score a reunion. There was that pressure too, which felt pretty awkward, to be honest. And I wasn’t really aware of how much behind the scenes was going on about them examining if it was possible to do a reunion tour. I always say the Unplugged performance, DVD and album was the catalyst for them to do the Reunion Tour in ’96. It made sense because it made the four of them have to negotiate and have a contract. You’d think it would be because one of them said, “Oh, I miss you.” (laughs) It’s not that, it was business. It made sense. I have a lot of mixed feelings about Unplugged but I will say that despite the negativity I’m putting out there about it being a business move, I thought the playing and the overall event was amazing. I know the fans really loved it and it proved a lot about the version of the band I was in with Eric Singer. And then we all got to play together. We could have done something like that for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame too, but it wasn’t meant to be.
That’s a shame. I was there at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony that night, and I was hoping something would happen.
Oh, believe me, once Paul said it was a done deal, nothing was going to happen. I was still proud to be there, but I knew nothing was going to happen.
After Peter left KISS for good, he was replaced by Eric Singer. I’ve always wondered, when Ace left for good, why didn’t you return to the band too? Were you ever approached to rejoin the band?
I know a lot of fans wonder about that. Even with Eric you gotta’ remember there was a bit of yo-yoing there. When the band wasn’t speaking with Peter, insert Eric. Then for the tour in 2003, Aerosmith required that there be more than two original members of KISS for the tour to happen. Since Tommy was already there, they brought back Peter. Things are always more complicated than they seem on the surface.
From the minute this reunion tour was planned, Gene and Paul were very clear that they wanted to get Ace and Peter in good shape. Tommy, who is a fine guitarist and known for being in Black ‘N Blue, which was a great band, was also in a KISS tribute band – I think they were called Cold Gin. So, Tommy knew what it was like to be dressed up like Ace. And it was Tommy who was coaching Ace in the beginning because Ace hadn’t played some of the songs in a long time. Tommy was always a valuable asset to KISS, whether it was writing songs, creating the KISSTORY book or being an understudy for Ace. He was always ready and willing to help. To me, Ace had a flippant attitude once he was back in the band. They never knew if he was going to miss a plane and not show up at a concert. So, Tommy was always ready to put the outfit and makeup on, if need be. And then it happened. Ace wasn’t willing to do certain events with the band, so Tommy stepped in.
Gene and Paul don’t like disfunction and when Ace was in the band there was a lot of that. I was always worried that they’d call me up and ask me to put on the makeup and become the “Spaceman.” It was very stressful for me. On one hand I really missed being in the band. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t get to be what I was when I was in the band before. I wouldn’t be able to play the guitar the way I used to – they would probably want me to play closer to Ace. And I had already forged a style that really complemented my era of the band and didn’t poop on the previous era of the band. So, I don’t think it was a bad decision at all to ask Tommy to step into that role. As much as I missed being in the band, having to put on the makeup and become the “Spaceman” would require completely closing the door on something I was and taking on another persona, which would be awkward.
I think it was much less awkward for Eric behind the kit as the “Catman.” He was still his own man. But how do you put on the “Spaceman” outfit and shoot rockets out of your guitar and move around like that and play the notes like that, almost exactly like Ace, and not be the “Spaceman”?
So, you weren’t upset when they didn’t contact you to rejoin the band?
No, I totally understood it. I really did. For what they were looking for, Tommy was probably better at it than me. I would’ve had to really undo the way I play “Love Gun” or undo the way I play “Cold Gin” for it to work. And there wasn’t a problem with how I did it before. But if you’re going to stick me in makeup and I’m playing the role of the “Spaceman,” it all has to change. The fans know.
Hypothetically speaking, if Gene and Paul asked you to step into that “Spaceman” role, would you say “Yes” or “No”? Would you turn them down?
I always say that if I was approached, I don’t know how I would have handled it. That’s why I don’t need to know, since we’re just speculating. I’ll give you a better “What if?” What if Eric Carr never passed away? Eric Singer wouldn’t have done Revenge and the other work that we did in those years. Then when the band got pissed off at Peter, would Eric Carr have returned as “The Fox”? Who knows. There’s a lot of what ifs in the KISS world, but they’ve gone on and done very well and I’m still really close with the guys. Even though I’m no longer in the band, it’s remarkable to me how many fans still know about my era and what I contributed to KISS.
You performed alongside your brother, Bob, on tour with Meat Loaf, following the release of the iconic album Bat Out Of Hell. What was that like?
Let’s put it this way: if I can survive a Meat Loaf tour, I can definitely survive a KISS tour. We went from nothing to headlining and selling out arenas everywhere. It was a pretty crazy year and we toured all over the world. It was a big band, and it had a lot to do with this very overweight, sweating, torch singer in a tuxedo belting out Jim Steinman songs. It was very odd to do lead guitar work. It was high drama all the time. I did get close with everybody but it was not easy. I barely survived. For example, during sound check there might be sound levels that weren’t quite correct and Meat Loaf would have a conniption and start screaming, with my brother ready to take off his head with the guitar. It was really silly, and I never had to go through anything like that with Gene and Paul.
Even though Revenge was a phenomenal album and all of the fans loved it, the record wasn’t a huge mainstream success and the tour didn’t sell that well. How did you cope with that knowing that you put out the best album possible?
We know we did a really good record and presented a nice production. We were also aware that music was changing and that it was going through a cycle. I really think we were in our prime and it’s a shame that we didn’t get as much support. When I joined the band in 1984, it was all about having cool videos and being on MTV, but everything runs its course. We knew it was a sign of the times and not a reflection of the effort we put into the album or the tour.
During this time Vinnie Vincent returned to the band to help behind the scenes with songwriting. What was that like?
Ezrin knew the foundation of a great record was great songs, and Vinnie wrote some terrific songs with KISS in the past so it made sense to bring him back into the fold for Revenge. I saw Vinnie at Gene’s house one time writing songs. However, I also overheard them arguing in the studio. I didn’t know the particulars, but I knew it had something to do with a business arrangement with Vinnie. It was like nothing changed. That was the end of it. We never heard from him again. Everything became lawsuits and crazy stuff like that. There was a good reason for him to be involved with Revenge but, as usual, something went south between him and the guys. I will say that I never felt threatened that Vinnie was going to come in and take my place. But having him on as a songwriter was a good thing.
You previously mentioned that you’re working on an autobiography. When is that slated to come out?
There was a time when I amassed quite a few chapters, and then I stopped writing it for a while. I’m not in any hurry. I feel like my story is always being written.