He has played with Meat Loaf, Grand Funk Railroad and Union, but first and foremost he is best known for his contributions to the unmasked era of KISS from 1984-1996! The Maloik Rock Blog had the great honour to speak to legendary guitarplayer Bruce Kulick about everything from KISS to how he got to collaborate with Velvet Insane from Östersund, Sweden!
You’re about to release a single together with Jesper and Jonas from swedish rockers ”Velvet Insane”! How did you get to know them and whos idea was it to collaborate?
Jesper sent me the song ”A brand new start” and there was something about it and his band that i found intriguing. He sent me rough mixes of other songs on soundcloud as well as some songs in progress. The more i heard, the more i wanted to do something for them. At one point they wanted a female voice on a song and i pointed them in some directions. I also told them about some of my ”go to people” regarding the technical end of things. I love doing that. I don’t like to recommend somebody unless i dig what they do. A lot of the music business is about networking and people outside the industry might not be aware of that. If there’s a struggling band in the middle of nowhere, they eventually have to be exposed to somebody in a bigger area to expand and people getting to know who they are. Nowadays, with the internet, you can create music and do music videos no matter where you are. A lot of things has changed in the music business but i like to think of it in an organic way as well. If i react to a song in a positive way and feel like i can add something, i will. I’m not on a website where you can hire me. There’s web sites for everything today, you can hire everything from a drummer, a guitar player or an engineer. You can compare to how you get a Taxi or go to the bank these days, it’s all done on apps.
Jesper did the right thing, he reached out to me even though the music did’nt sound like at all specific to me other than beeing really good. I liked the variations of the different songs and once we figured out what was next i started practising the songs at home and recorded them on my phone. That way i knew what to do in the studio. Then i prepared a rough mix with my engineer and sent the recordings to Jesper. He embraced it, used it and followed my directions that i was excited about. The song was really solid to begin with and did’nt really need a lot of ”Bruce Kulick guitar” on it, so i just added a little sugar on top of it, like an interesting guitar part. Jonas has a great vibe and i like his voice a lot. His vocals are young and at the same time there’s something timeless about it. I was very pleased with the end result and how they mixed my work in with the song. To me they have a unique sound and that is something that will always attract me. If you think about my KISS years, i’m known for something dark and heavy like ”Unholy”, or wild and fast like ”King Of The Mountain”, but i’m also ”Forever” from the album Hot In The Shade. I’ve done a lot of variations in my guitar playing and contributions to KISS, so i’m not a guy who plays in just one way.
You’ve had a long illustrious career as a guitarplayer for the likes of Meat Loaf, KISS, Union and Grand Funk Railroad. All of them legendary bands. Is there a specific band or artist you still have’nt collaborated with that you would love to play with?
That’s a fantasy question. I’m very fortunate in what i’ve done with the people i’ve met and played with. I’m a big Beatles fan, so anything with Paul or Ringo would be a big thrill! In addition to the bands i’ve been a part of i had so many bucket list things done with ”The rock’n roll fantasy camp”, in which i participated. I grew up with Cream and The Who being really big bands. I went to London back in 2007 for the fantasy camp and Jack Bruce (Cream) was the special guest. I did ”Sunshine Of Your Love” and ”White Room” with him and Simon Kirk, who was the drummer for Bad Company and Free. I jammed with Dickey Betts from The Allman Brothers, they were really influential when i was young. I also jammed with Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and Micky Dolenz from The Monkees. There were so many interesting people whom i met and played with so i’ve been really blessed! When will i be with Paul Mc Cartney? He’s got a terrific band! Or Ringo Starr, everyone in Ringos band is a star to!
You’ve been around the world quite a few times. What is the craziest thing you’ve experienced on the road?
Travelling is always a challenge. There’s the occasional gig mishap, you know like: ”where’s the stage?” One of the funniest stage incidents with KISS was when it goes dark at the end of the set, before the encore i accidentally ran right into Gene. KISS did a prank on me during ”The Asylum tour” which was my first tour with a feature guitar solo. I had everything set in my mind where i would go on the stage, what i would play, offering the guitar to the gods, doing my hammer ons etc. It was completely pracised and set and then there’s an ending to it where Paul Stanley would go out on stage saying ”Bruce Kulick on lead guitar!” and then introduce the next song. Instead of that nobody came out and it went completely dark! They stood giggling at the side of the stage saying ”Let’s see what he does!”. That was the time when the famous picture of me was taken where i’m holding Gene’s Axe bass and i don’t know why i’m holding it! I was so out of my mind and played some more before i threw the guitar on the ground, and then Gene and Paul came out and i took the bass off of Gene and i did’nt know what to do. I was just so stressed and out of my mind. I was the new guy and they had fun with it.
If you had a time machine and went back in time to when you started your career, is there something you would do differently?
When i was young i was tested at school. They would bring everyone in the auditorium to find out who of the students had musical abilities. From that they decided they wanted me in the school band. I was very tall and they wanted me to play the stand up bass in the school orchestra, and those things are freaking gigantic! I knew that one of my big heroes Jack Bruce played stand up bass and off course adapted his famoues rock style bass playing. My parents were not religious but my grandfather was, and as a young boy from Queens, New York i had to go to Hebrew school which took place at the same time as practise for the school band. I often wandered if i had joined the band how that would have affected me musically. Suddenly carrying around a completely different instrument. I was always attracted to the bass, and this is in no way a regret, but i always wondered if that would have changed anything.
Do you have any contact with former, or current members from KISS these days?
I’ve always been on great terms with Gene and Paul. They’ve always been very supportive. They know how i see the band and i’m proud of my KISSTORY and of The KISS cruise, and they would not have asked me to come back if they were’nt happy with what i’ve been doing. I’ve read a lot of the press they did for ”The end of the road tour” and they both spoke so highly of me which is always great to read. I’m closest with Eric. We’ve done projects, expos and tours together and i stay in touch with him a lot. I’m blown away by my twelve years in the band and what that still means to the fans. I’ve always taken a very positive stance on everything.
I do continually see that no matter how much the spotlight is on them currently, which is the make up version, not with me and with very little representation of my era songwise, the amount of success that they can continue with something that existed before i joined the band, and what they created is something that will never die! The love of KISS and what they represent in rock’n roll will never die. There is new generations of KISS fans experiensing that. They jump on their Iphones, tablets and computers going: ”oh wow, there was a period where they did’nt wear makeup!” They fall in love with ”Forever” or they see ”Hot in the shade” videos or ”Carnival of souls” which is a totally different thing. That’s facts that the band never went away and they’re continually out there. Since The Beatles broke up Paul, George, Ringo and John were always active. KISS will always carry on and long after they stop performing it’s gonna be one of those bands who’s a part of pop-culture forever.
The unmasked period is very much alive and i see that in the comments on social media. What i did last year, and on this years KISS Kruise, is a really solidified buffet of songs from an era that means a lot to the fans and did’nt get represented even when i was in the band. We would do a single or two, but there’s a lot of songs that could be played, so that’s gonna be really interesting for the fans.
If you were invited to play a show, or a number of shows on KISS ongoing ”End of the road tour”, would you do it?
If there was an opportunity i would certainly love to be involved. There’s been enough people telling me it’s not a matter of ”if”, but a matter of ”when”. I hope they have an opportunity to bring everybody out that is a part of KISSTORY and say a proper goodbye. It’s their call, but i think they know that i’m there for them. Last year was fun that i got to play on the Kruise with Tommy, Gene, Paul and Eric, and then Ace came in and we were all on stage. It was kind of like unplugged in the middle of the ocean. I’m not sure what’s gonna happen on this kruise, but i’m there and i will hopefully play with them again in some manner, so why not!
Speaking of KISS, which KISS songs are your personal favourites?
Throughout my albums that i performed on there’s highlights like ”Tears are falling”, ”Who wants to be lonely”, ”King of the mountain”, ”Forever”, ”Hide your heart”, ”Crazy, crazy nights”, ”No,no, no” and ”Reason to live”. ”Revenge” was a powerful record that i am really proud of, and ”Carnival of souls” is also a really interesting record. There’s also a lot of songs which are not from my era like ”Watching you”, ”She”, ”Deuce” and deep cuts that we did unplugged like ”Going blind”, so my repertoire with KISS is really long and varied.
Is there any young and newer bands you’re particularly fond of today?
The one that always stands out are Greta Van Fleet. I love classic rock and i don’t have any negativity that there’s elements of a band i love, which of course is Led Zeppelin. Some people really pick on them about that and i don’t support that. They’re doing it so organically and so sincerely. They are not attracting the people who grew up with Zeppelin, so the fact they’re doing so well and attracting a lot of young rock fans is really outstanding! I’ve always felt that bands that have a vibe and are creating new music that is catchy and fun to listen to, like Greta Van Fleet even though they are a bit retro to, is a well needed shot in the arm for rock’n roll!
Finally: If you could pick one celebrity, living or dead to grab a beer with, who would it be?
I’m not really a big beer drinker, so maybe a glass of wine instead? It would have to be with Paul Mc Cartney! John Lennon i would be afraid of to be honest with you. I talked to Jack Bruce and he had this strange accent, i could barely understand a word and i was so intimidated. I met Ringo Starr briefly and it was fun to talk to him but i was to nervous. I would obviously love to speak to Jimi Hendrix. His guitar playing was so unique and emotionally powerful, very metaphysical at times and kind of spacy. His brain worked in a very interesting way and it was tragic loosing him. I’m also a huge fan of Frank Sinatra. All the groundbreaking things he was involved in, not only musically, but also racial equality and how he went from a democrat to a republican. He’s a fascinating character, how women destroyed him, his relationship with Ava Gardner, his taste, commitment to music and his ability was to me unmatched. I have a whole closet full of CD’s, albums, videos and stuff, so i would love to talk to him. He has the same birthday as me, so maybe there’s some metaphysical thing that we’re connected to, so maybe i’ll meet him someday!
Peter ”Amber St. Pete” Johansson