An Interview with Bruce Kulick

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All photos courtesy of Bruce Kulick

When I was growing up, in my mind, there was no bigger or greater band than KISS. While the make-up era was what initially drew me in, I eventually came to love the non-makeup era equally. For the majority of those years (1984-1996), Bruce Kulick was the band’s lead guitarist, and through that music, he became one of my all time favorites. Yes, it’s true that Ace Frehley is a singular talent, but Bruce Kulick is easily as talented, and brought an entirely fresh and new edge to the band. His years of touring with Meat Loaf and Blackjack, along with his session work brought to KISS a seasoned lead player who ably guided them though the next chapter of their career.

The 1980’s was an interesting time for Rock music. More specifically, it was an interesting time for guitar players. While the 70s were loaded with “guitar gods,” such a Jimmy Page, Angus Young and Ace Frehley, as well more underrated players such as Lindsay Buckingham and Bruce’s brother, Bob Kulick, the 80s are often looked at in a different light. Often times, the line on the 80s reads as a time where many were attempting to imitate Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhodes. There was a lot of fast playing and perhaps too little attention paid to song structure and melody. Thinking about it though, is that really true? Some of my personal favorites, such as CC Deville, Richie Sambora and Bruce Kulick came to prominence in the 80s.

Focusing on Bruck Kulick, anyone who understands the guitar as an instrument and as a tool for creation, knows that Bruce is one of the better, and most consistent players of the last 40 plus years. His ability to take old songs, and make them entirely his own, while still maintaining the soul is second to none. His uncanny knack to shred as quickly as anyone, while still playing to what the song requires, was in my opinion what set him apart from the rest. His tone, vibrato and soul are entirely his own, and in many ways, are completely unmatched. Bruce Kulick may not always garner the same attention as some of his contemporaries, but make no mistake — he is as good, if not better than all of them. Simply put, he made the incredible look easy, and in the process has gifted us with some of the most melodic and memorable solos of the decade.

These days, Bruce is the lead guitarist for Grand Funk Railroad, and also has some more killer solo work on the way as well! As much of a virtuoso as he is reliable, Bruce Kulick’s licks will forever be embedded in my psyche, and for that I am thankful. More so, I am thankful that today, I am able to share with you my “sit down” with Bruce. Bruce has a reputation for being a truly humble and accommodating person, and that shined through with my interactions with him. Now, let’s take the time to get to know Bruce Kulick a little better. If you are interested in learning more about Bruce and his music, check out his website here. With that, let’s get started.

Andrew:
Bruce, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. Tell us about your back story. How did you get into music? What was your musical gateway so to speak?

Bruce:
I was young, and when The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan in 1964, I freaked. The guitar had to be in my hands after that! I was kind of natural with it, so it became really fun and important for me. The British Invasion was very much a huge part of my young life. It became my world, through fantastic music and culture.

Andrew:
Your brother was the late Bob Kulick, another truly awesome and underrated lead guitarist. How much of an influence was he on you as a player?

Bruce:
It was great that my older brother Bob had played guitar first. He was learning Folk actually pre Beatles. He loved Rock music and it as a big part of our growing up. We challenged each other with bands we liked, and did jam together into my reel to reel tape recorder! I still have those recordings. He was my hero in many ways. His courage to travel to the UK to join a band, any band, was amazing to me. I remember when he came home, after a stint with a great band, called Hookfoot (Elton John’s early backing band).  He was so sad, and I told him how brave and how proud I was of him. He didn’t fail, he got an experience that was priceless.

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All photos courtesy of Bruce Kulick

Andrew:
You’ve been a member of many bands over the years. One of your most prominent roles was as lead guitarist of KISS, from 1984 to 1996. How did you end up with KISS?

Bruce:
I am glad I got to play with Meatloaf, and I had a band with Michael Bolton called Blackjack. All of that helped me understand what it takes to tour, record and be part of a Rock band. I was in NYC at the right time, and like my brother’s ghost work with KISS, Paul Stanley asked me to help out on the KISS LP Animalize. Fate turned that one session into me being the lead guitarist for 12 years. Of course life changing. You never know when a door opens, so be ready.

Andrew:
You’re officially credited on seven KISS studio albums, as well as Alive III and Unplugged. It’s rumored that you played a lot of the lead work on Psycho Circus. Can you give us any insight into that?

Bruce:
I did not play lead work on Psycho Circus, only the backward guitar parts on “Within” as they came from the demo I did with Gene. I played some bass, on quite a few tracks, cowrote a song, and it was an honor to participate with the making of that CD.

Andrew:
You were Eric Carr’s bandmate for seven years. As you probably know, he’s very near and dear to many KISS fan’s hearts. What can you tell us about Eric? What was it like being in band with him?

Bruce:
He had a great sense of humor, was very musical and at times was troubled by being overlooked with KISS. Not with the fans of course, they always loved Eric. His energy was a big part of the years I toured and recorded up until Revenge. By then he was ill, and tragically his loss was very hard on everyone. I still honor his talent, and soon there will be a vinyl picture disc of Rockology coming out in Nov 2020. 

All photos courtesy of Bruce Kulick

Andrew:
Paul and Gene are two very interesting, and dynamic personalities. What was it like being in a band with them over the years?

Bruce:
They are like brothers, they compete, they disagree, they create magic as well. Two very strong personalities. Different in nature, but come together as the “yin and yang” of KISS. Stronger together than apart, and each one a powerhouse of talent and knowledge on being successful.

Andrew:
After the passing of Eric Carr in 1991, Eric Singer joined KISS. The line-up of Gene, Paul, Eric Singer and yourself, in my opinion, was probably the heaviest and most talented line-up the band ever had. Looking back on the heaviness and sheer force of albums like Revenge, and Carnival of Souls, do you ever wonder what could have been had that line up stayed together?

Bruce:
Well, I was very proud of my Eric Carr years too, and of course music kept changing so that by the time Revenge came along, we were ready to be tough and powerful in an intense way. Having Bob Ezrin at the helm, was very instrumental of having “no compromise.” Carnival of Souls was another adjustment, kind of doing a heavier record than the previous one. I have no idea what could of happened with this version of the band. Fate ended it, sadly.

All photos courtesy of Bruce Kulick

Andrew:
In 1996, Kiss recorded MTV Unplugged, and as we all know, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley rejoined KISS on stage for the first time in sixteen years. What was that like? Did you know at the time that things would end up the way that they did in regards to the reunion? Did Paul and Gene ever entertain the idea of having you back once Ace left again in 2001?

Bruce:
Certainly I knew the fans would love it, MTV would promote like hell and honestly the majority of the concert was Eric Singer and me with Gene and Paul. I did not know what was brewing. But the timing was right for them, and the success proved the decision. When Ace had his issues again with the band, I was aware, but having Tommy ready to step in forced that being the right decision. I may miss being in KISS but I should not be the “Spaceman.” I have my own non-make-up history, that making me become a make-up member would be wrong.

Andrew:
KISS Alive III is in my opinion, a very underrated live album. I have always loved how you made the KISS classics your own on stage, and really made them sound fresh, while still retaining the soul of the songs at the same time. What can you tell us about that?

Bruce:
The band was firing on all cylinders, and I always looked at Alive III, as the turbo charged version of KISS. The vintage songs were done with a new energy. Keeping the soul of them is not a challenge with Gene and Paul as part of it…I think it’s a great LP, and love performing songs from that era of KISS.

All photos courtesy of Bruce Kulick

Andrew:
Shifting gears now, before you were with KISS, you recorded some really cool albums with a band called Blackjack in the late 70s and early 80s. Those two albums are supremely underrated. Can you tell us about them?

Bruce:
Blackjack was based on Michael Bolton being the front man, and principle songwriter. It was a great opportunity and I got along great with him and Sandy Gennaro, and Jimmy Haslip. We just didn’t “happen.” There was a lot of hype and maybe some in the industry wanted us to fail. No clue why it didn’t happen, but I was happy to of had that experience. I am still in touch with them all.

Andrew:
After you left KISS, you started a fantastic band called Union, with John Corabi, and made three incredible albums. What can you tell us about how Union came to be? Given how great those albums are, what led you to disband Union?

Bruce:
John Corabi and I had just finished being involved with huge bands that moved on without us, so it kind of made us bond quickly. We both were also having relationship issues as well, so the music kept our minds off some of the things we had to deal with. We were excited to have Brent Fitz and Jamie Hunting as the other two members, and we did some great music together. Our label was always challenged. Music was changing and we didn’t get to tour with big bands for strong exposure. It hurt our chances of getting more success. It couldn’t sustain itself, so we called it a day, on good terms in 2000.

Andrew:
After Union, you made three solo albums, my favorite of which is Transformer. I’ve always loved the track “Crazy.” You haven’t put out a new album since 2010 though. Do you think you will record anymore new music?

Bruce:
I really have some guilt about not putting out new music, and there’s many reasons I have not. But more importantly, I do have plans to record with the talented guys that performed with me on the KISS Kruise. Todd Kerns, Brent Fitz and Zach Throne are very talented and we have great chemistry together. Planning on 2021 to get new music out.

All photos courtesy of Bruce Kulick

Andrew:
You’ve been a member of Grand Funk Railroad since 2000. What has that experience been like?

Bruce:
Great musicians playing great Classic Rock, and we all get along. So that’s saying a lot. We are not using any fancy production, it’s all about the music. Don Brewer and Mel Schacher are super tight, and Max Carl and Tim Cashion round it all out for a powerful singing and playing live band. We get the crowds going and it is so tragic with COVID-19, that we are dealing with the inability to do anything live.

Andrew:
You recently made a guest appearance on Ace Frehley’s new solo album, Origins Vol. 2! Could you tell us a bit about that!

Bruce:
Ace’s cover album releases I really felt were great ideas. The fans did enjoy them, and Paul Stanley was even involved on the last one. Even though Ace and I did something similar together, for ESP (Eric Singer Project) where he played leads on ‘Foxy Lady’ by Jimi Hendrix. I knew his label guy very well, Ken Gullic, someone who helped very much with my BK3 release from 2010.  I told Ken, when is Ace going to ask me?  Well he heard that I was wanting to be involved, and then it was all about choosing a song. Hendrix was a natural choice for me that Ace presented. ‘Manic Depression’ is a terrific song. So, I thought with my history with a whammy bar Stratocaster style guitar playing, something Ace doesn’t do, it would be a good showcase for us together. I did the body solo, and we trade off at the end. I am very pleased with it, and I know the fans love it.

Andrew:
What type of guitars and equipment are you using these days? How does what you use today, compare to what you used with KISS and beyond? How has both your style, and playing evolved over the years?

Bruce:
In many ways, my gear hasn’t changed much since the late 80’s-90’s. I love Marshall 900 series, and I use similar pedals to many years ago. Same for guitars, many come and go, but certain staples are always part of my touring and recording choices. I am blessed with lots of great gear. But the good stuff is in your hands and ability to play emotionally. Not the products. They are great tools for the craft to be created.

All photos courtesy of Bruce Kulick

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? If so, what are some albums that mean the most to you? Where do you like to shop for music?

Bruce;
I collect vinyl. YES! I have reel to reel tapes, but don’t use them, although I have a few tape recorders. I listen to CDs and I do lots of streaming for convenience only. The best sound, hands down is VINYL. Any band I truly love I will have vinyl of from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Muse and many others. As for collecting, when I really got into Frank Sinatra, well, I had to have it all on CD, but it was more important to purchase his vinyl. That was super fun, and what I have I am so proud of. Many of the vinyl box sets, as well as all the individual LP’s. Frank sounds like he is singing those great songs on a stage in my home! Love it. I visited many shops when I was in LA, but lately more on eBay, and Discogs.

Andrew:
Last question. Over the years, you’ve been a part of some truly influential and special music. Looking back, what are some of your favorite musical moments over the course of your career?

Bruce:
Well touring with Meat Loaf of course was my start at something with classic fame. Playing on SNL with him in 1978, was amazing. My brother was there as well. Doing an LP with Billy Squier, Tale of the Tape was fantastic too. Having that band with Blackjack was super cool. Joining KISS was of course the biggest highlight, playing MSG in NYC, and all the arenas around the world. Many great albums that fans still love and listen to. Many proud moments in my life, and I am very pleased with what I have accomplished and I hope to do more that’s important for the Rock community to cherish. 

Thank you,

Bruce

Website: https://www.brucekulick.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/officialbrucekulick
Twitter: https://twitter.com/brucekulick
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bruce.kulick/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/kulicknet

All photos courtesy of Bruce Kulick

Interested in learning more about the artistry of Bruce Kulick? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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