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INTERVIEW: BRUCE KULICK – May 2017

| 21 May 2017 | Reply

INTERVIEW: BRUCE KULICK – May 2017
By Shane Pinnegar

Bruce Kulick, guitarist with rock n’ roll legends KISS from 1984 to 1996, visits Perth for the first time in twenty years this Monday, 22 May, for a night of KISS classics, solo tracks and more at The Rosemount Hotel.

With more than a little fanboy excitement, we dialled Bruce’s number and were immediately put at ease by his warm, relaxed nature, and willingness to talk openly about all aspects of his long career, especially the twelve years he spent with KISS.
100% ROCK: G’day Bruce – how you doing?

Bruce Kulick: You’re in Western Australia? Cool… I’m good.

100%: We’re looking forward to you coming back, man. With 40 years of recording and touring under your belt, what are you planning to play? I mean, how do you even approach writing a set list?

Bruce: Yeah, that’s a good question – it’s always a challenge, ‘cos I’ll never make everybody happy. And also there’s the time problem: I am using the talented brothers, Sisters Doll, to be my backing band, and we did a show at the KISS Expo last year in Melbourne. So, you know, I threw a few different things at them to learn, but look, I have a whole career of so many interesting things – not only the KISS catalogue, of other things as well – but I do concentrate on some of the best songs from my KISS era.

At the same time, you gotta remember that I played [songs from] all years in KISS. We didn’t ignore Love Gun or Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night either. So I just try to think about what’s a great set, so everyone’s gonna have a great time at the gig. Because it is about them having a good time. Even though we still have some choices to be ironed out once I get together with the guys, I actually don’t ever feel that there’s ever a poor choice. But I can’t always include everything.

100% ROCK: I’d assume that the audiences are very varied as well: fans of your solo work, guitar aficionados, KISS fans, Michael Bolton or Billy Squier fans, for instance.

Bruce: Yeah, exactly. But I think they know, I gotta really do the KISS stuff the way I was known to play it – because I never really had to play it just like Ace [Frehley] or anything. {During] my twelve years [with KISS], the band was different than the [original] makeup band, and the current band. It’s something that I’m still able to play like, thank God, and I enjoy those songs still.

100% ROCK: And KISS fans especially are going to be salivating – you’ve got Four By Fate, featuring former Ace Frehley alumni Tod Howarth and John Regan on board.

Bruce: Yeah. I welcomed it when I heard about it, because those guys are very talented and the band, they put out a record recently, and it sounds fantastic, so it’s going to be a really strong bill.

100% ROCK: Excellent. Now, [solo album] BK3 was released in 2010. Have you got more solo stuff coming?

Bruce: Well, that’s an interesting question… you know, I have written other things, but I haven’t had really the entire plan put together for a BK4. But I just announced today actually about a song that was recorded for BK3 but never quite finished and it went through some changes. Then it was used at my wedding with my wife, Lisa. This piano player that I work with, Andrew London, wound up actually performing the song when her son walked down the aisle before the ceremony for the marriage. It was a song that the words, especially once Andrew made it his own, too, sounded very personal to Lisa. We just got it up online about a week ago and the press is just rolling out now. That’s a brand new song for me.

I haven’t released anything really that brand new – and certainly nothing related to BK3 – in a long time. That was a challenge, fitting my wife’s voice, who really loves the standards from Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, into my thing, even though she’s a big rock fan, too. I think it’s a real sweet song, and I’m hoping people react to it. Nowadays, putting out one song’s a lot easier than putting out an entire record, I’ll tell you that.

I’m still the full-time guitarist with Grand Funk, so I’m travelling a lot for that. And there’s always other events that I get involved with. Tonight, I’m jamming at Universal City Walk for an Autism Rocks thing. Tomorrow, I’ll fly to Seattle. There’s a big guitar festival going on there. I’m one of the guest guitar players to perform. I’ll have a lot of fun there. A lot of guitars, that’s what I love.

Then I have gigs with Grand Funk, and then I’m on my way Down Under to see you guys.

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100% ROCK: Wicked. So, doing things like the KISS convention – KISS fans are known to be particularly obsessive about their heroes. Does that attention get a little bit overwhelming at times?

Bruce: Well some of the fans can be a little… they’re so excited, it gets you – meaning me – a little crazy. I do find that if I turn around the conversation and try to ask them a couple questions, like what do they do and what’s your favourite album and stuff, it calms them down a bit. Obviously the biggest commitment is when someone’s asking for an autograph on their body, you know, the tattoo vibe. I’ve signed plenty of body parts over the years – it’s pretty crazy!

In general, because KISS is a band that represents ‘believe in yourself’ and ‘enjoy your life,’ you know, I just find a lot of the fans are pretty well centred enough that they just get real excited to meet me. But I’m really impressed, too, with the young ones because they obviously weren’t born when I was in the band, but they know all about my music from YouTube or their parents’ DVDs and albums, and that’s always really mind blowing.

100% ROCK: KISS was such a huge part of your life, of course – did you find it easiest just to keep your head down and stay on the good side of Gene and Paul when their characters and their business acumen was just so ‘larger than life’?

Bruce: Well, I knew my [place]… I call it, every band has a pecking order, and I certainly knew when I joined – when Eric Carr was the drummer – I was the new guy, so I was just watching everything, trying to figure out my role. I was just happy to be there, of course. I got to be a little more vocal with my opinions of things as they trusted me more.

Actually, that was awkward, if you think about it – because if Gene said, ‘what do you think?’ and it was something that Paul didn’t like, well, you know, if I agreed, then I might make Gene happy, but I’m not going to make Paul happy, or vice versa. So I usually did tell the truth, because I like to go with my instinct. If something really did sound like it was cool, why not voice my opinion? But, you know, that took a little while [before I was comfortable].

When it came to business, and how they saw the band, and how they wanted to move the band forward, as much as they were willing to hear my opinion if I was willing to give one, they were in the driver’s seat. They created it: I never looked at my role as being the one to take the leadership position. These guys really created an incredibly iconic music group, so I kind of let them do their thing.

100% ROCK: After you were basically let go in 1996, and they reunited the original line-up, did that feel a bit like you were being kicked to the curb – or was it just a good business idea that you went along with?

Bruce: Well, knowing that I didn’t lose the gig because of not playing well or not being good enough or not working well with them as a band member, it was purely a business decision. Let’s say they were making four or five million in the year I was in the band, that’s what came in. All of a sudden, that reunion tour, they made like 40, 50 million: it was insane.

The success of that – the first gig that went on sale was Tiger Stadium in Michigan, and it sold out the Detroit stadium. I was like, ‘uh-oh!’ But, you know, those guys paid me for a year when they didn’t have to. My contract certainly didn’t say if they were going to change direction and do something different that [they’d have to]… usually a contract has a much shorter severance pay, as you may want to call it, as your jobs go. In this case, they really let me [have a] cushion there to get to the next step of what I would do.

100% ROCK: Sure… but having invested twelve years of your life with the band, was there a feeling that… I mean, business be damned: you were part of that band.

Bruce: Yeah, I get your point, but you’re not really being realistic in the fact that the shadow of the makeup years were always there. I never really got that concerned when I used to hear little rumours, you know, like, ‘oh, Ace really would like to be back in KISS,’ because I knew they didn’t want to really do that, and we weren’t with makeup.

But think of how it happened: that MTV Unplugged was such a perfect catalyst to have the promoters see you like, ‘whoa, a reunion on MTV? That’s all the guys, they’re not in makeup, but now they’re talking, they’re working together. Boom. Okay. Go on tour and we’ll give you this [much].’ And they worked it out. That’s how it happened.

100% ROCK: You’ve said that after that all happened, after they reunited, you kind of missed being in KISS for a while – but at the same time, you were feeling stressed that if they’d asked you to come back, you’d have to wear the makeup and do the Ace thing. That must’ve been a little bit of a difficult time in your life, having to deal with that stress.

Bruce: Yeah, I only heard little rumours, I was never asked officially, ‘would you do this – we need you?’ But I always wondered: how would I even handle that, and it was stressful. First of all, I was happier with Grand Funk and it was a good steady gig with some really talented people. My concern, too, was… well, if they ask me to join, yeah, I’d have to take on Ace’s personality, play his riffs pretty much 100% [the same as he played them]. I never had to do that in my era with the band, and how would I… I basically would be turning my back on the twelve years and that whole vibe that I created being their lead guitarist.

With that being said, I certainly always have missed being the lead guitarist of KISS, but I have to also admit that if it only could come with the price of, I’d have to be the Spaceman and play it like Ace, then, you know, probably best not to have happened that way.

100% ROCK: And you never sought to confront that issue? You know, phone up Gene or Paul and just say, ‘hey, people are going to ask me about this in interviews. Can we just get the thing straight now?’ I guess the question is, was the relationship between you and Gene and Paul ever that friendly, or was it always just a business thing?

Bruce: No, it was friendly enough, but I didn’t need to reach out when I don’t even know if they exactly knew what they were going to do. But then Ace forced their hand, they had a commitment. Tommy had already – during the main reunion tour when Ace almost missed a gig because of his flight arrangements, whatever happened – Tommy was already in the outfit, he was ready to go.

So when this other thing came up, a couple of events came up that were more under the radar – a TV thing for That 70’s Show, and then a corporate gig – when Ace didn’t show up, even though I believe he was invited to all that and expected to be there, [it was] ‘Tommy, get the outfit on, go.’ I don’t think they had a master plan with it, if you get what I mean, but they certainly weren’t going to be held hostage by Ace, and they weren’t held hostage by Peter [then] all of a sudden, Eric Singer’s on drums in Japan or something. You see what I mean? I didn’t have to call them up and say, ‘hey, why didn’t you ask me?’

[It was] not an easy thing for them, if you think about it. They have this unbelievable reunion with the success and the money that they could all earn and yet, the same problems started to happen again. How strange is that? And those aren’t problems that I was ever involved with, because I was never in the band with them, so I don’t know what it was like to deal with that – but certainly Gene and Paul knew what it was like to be with Ace and Peter, so, there’s nothing to say, really.

100% ROCK: You’ve always been very respectful of Gene and Paul. You must get asked a million questions about KISS, especially during conventions and things like that – do you just feel you have to toe the company line to a certain extent or was your experience with the band really that cool?

Bruce: Well, when you say the company line – and it’s a great question – they have no hold over me. I’m not on salary or anything. I am the kind of person that, I don’t want to really talk negative about anybody, and what I took away from those twelve years, besides the incredible opportunity to be the guitarist of the band, was the fact that I was presented to the world as one of four guys.

Yeah, everybody knows KISS, but the dominant characters of the band – and certainly the business ability that they both share, you’d be surprised: Paul is as much a businessman as Gene, okay, even though he doesn’t act like one. He’s much more creative about how he does everything that he wants to do, business and how he sees KISS.

There’s no reason to really say anything bad… even when I started to write a book, I know the publisher that I first was talking to, they were like, ‘we really want Motley Crue’s The Dirt, you got that?’ And I’m like, ‘a) I didn’t do heroin, and b) I didn’t string up groupies and torture them in a room, and et cetera, et cetera, okay!’ No. It’s not gonna happen: you get what I’m saying.

Yeah. I’m very at ease in my own mind and heart and soul, that I had the most incredible experience. I didn’t even know how important it would be, thirty years on, to be talking about my years in KISS. That’s pretty amazing.

100% ROCK: Yeah, for sure. You mentioned drugs and groupies, and things like that… we saw how distracted, shall we say, Peter and Ace got, with the excesses of the ‘70s and the early ‘80s – did the dark side of rock n’ roll tempt you that much?

Bruce: My amount of dabbling was so junior league, it’s nothing to talk about. I’ll still regret [this] to this day – we went to Amsterdam during the Monsters of Rock Tour, and we played Donington, which was very important to me. There was over 100,000 people there, Iron Maiden, David Lee Roth, Guns N’ Roses – one of their early gigs. Then we carried on to other countries. But we were in Holland, Amsterdam, and we had some days off, so there I am, hanging out with the keyboard player that helped us out and Eric Carr and some of the road crew, grabbing space cakes… I’m smoking pot and the stuff there was really powerful, let me tell you. I always regret it to this day.
By the time we performed, even though it was a day and a half, two days later, I was still high – and I hated it, okay? You get what I mean…I learned a lesson from that.

I guess I was brought up – as much as I’m not gonna deny I have my insecurities and my neuroses, and I have my little dark sides – but my passion for doing things the best I can… my parents gave me a good work ethic. If you’re gonna do something do it right, so why would I wanna compromise that with drugs and alcohol.

And the women – they’re always there if you play guitar. You don’t even have to be a big rock star, okay. But when you’re a rock star, yeah, the women are there. Most of my years [with KISS], I was in a relationship in the band, so I didn’t [do that]. Fortunately, there aren’t any little Bruces around [laughs] I just really knew how to handle everything in moderation. If I was maybe even more famous and on the cover of every magazine and making even more money and I had a house on the top of Beverly Hills, would that have affected me? I’m not sure, but I have a feeling I still would have been me, and it wouldn’t have.

100% ROCK: If finance and logistics weren’t an issue, do you have a pet project you’d love to get off the ground?

Bruce: To be honest, I would love to… I know I could actually do another album by doing a crowdfunding kind of thing, I know my fans would support it. Besides that, because Grand Funk is full time for me, I gotta pick and choose the little times I can go do me, and usually when I do me, it’s related to a KISS type of thing, so I wind up waving that flag, but if I had a break and I had that time, it would be amazing to put together a killer band of my favourite players and go out on the road.

Like you said, if finances weren’t the issue, I would really not worry about if I could break even or make any money, and I would love to do that because there’s a lot of places that I would love to play and do me. But again, I’m so fortunate to have the Grand Funk gig and all these other things that I’m able to squeeze in.

100% ROCK: Awesome. You mentioned looking at writing an autobiography a minute ago. Is that something that’s coming? Are you working on something?

Bruce: Well, you know, on my website [I was] doing some recaps of certain anniversaries – let’s say, the Hot in the Shade album was whatever, how many years… I don’t remember if it was 20, 25, whatever – but I was doing things like that. I have to admit, I was really very in detail about it, and added that to the 24 chapters that I did before I got shot down [by my potential publishers] with, ‘if you’re not giving us The Dirt, we don’t want it,’ kind of thing, I’d have a really excellent book.

Now my brother, Bob, actually has worked on a book very hard in the past year and a half. I’m not sure the status of it, but as soon as I knew he was getting real serious and he had artwork and was talking to people, obviously, I don’t wanna step on that at all. Bob’s got an amazing story to tell and I look forward to the full read of his book.

But I like to say my book is still being written – and there’s still always going to be more. If I would have put it out a few years ago, I wouldn’t be able to tell the story of me being that other member at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – probably being the happiest other member of KISS in attendance, because Tommy and Eric, it was a little hard for them, and of course, for the four original guys, it was wonderful and bittersweet, too, because they were not getting along. They couldn’t agree to play and there was all that controversy, and I’m sitting there with the biggest smile on my face, just having a great old time!

100% ROCK: Awesome, mate. Thank you so much for your time. You’re a gentleman. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you.

Shane

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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