Posted February, 2010
Photo by Neil Zlowzower
I’m not a musician. However, if I were to ever find that proverbial genie in the bottle, one of the wishes that would be elbowing its way into the “final three” would likely be to become a proficient guitarist of all genres.
Well, since the only bottles I’ve come across lately have been of the two liter soft drink kind whenever I order out for pizza, I haven’t been granted my three wishes. In fact, the sound from opening said two liters pretty much describes my guitar abilities: Pfffttt!!!
However, I DO play vicariously (read that as “via air guitar”) through the hands of many an outstanding virtuoso. One of those axe handlers would be the incredible guitarist, Bruce Kulick.
As the last of the Baby Boomers were half way through college, Kulick blasted to the forefront of the music scene when he was brought on to be Paul Stanley’s six-string sidekick in the super group, KISS. Bruce enjoyed an incredible, legacy building twelve years with the band, scorching the band’s Asylum, Crazy Nights, Hot in the Shade, Revenge, Alive III, KISS Unplugged and Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions albums.
What a lot of fans don’t realize, however, is that Kulick first engraved his riffs into the minds of Meatloaf fans while supporting the “Bat Out of Hell” tour with his licks. He currently is Grand Funk Railroad’s guitarist, having owned that role for the past nine years. When he’s not tearing up the GFR stage, he’s supporting his impressive roster of fellow musician friends.
Oh, and he works on his own projects, too. His first solo album, Audio Dog, came out in 2001 with Transformer following in 2003. On February 2nd will bring his latest project, BK3, to a store or website near you. I almost literally wearing out the advance copy of the disc, it’s that good. I must say right here that BK3 promises to be THE CD that fans and guitar aficionados point to as being on their short list of must-own discs.
I had the privilege of chatting on the phone with Bruce Kulick in early December about BK3. He had just returned from a short trip to Europe and was leaving for Australia two days after our interview.
One of the things that struck me about BK3 is that, in addition to the phenomenal musicianship and production quality, there was a consistent, positive message. I interpreted the lyrics as containing words of personal strength, resolve and encouragement. I asked Kulick if I had heard the messages correctly.
“Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I don’t like to whine and complain about things. I try to be a little more like the Beatles were - reflective about life but you’re not complaining about “woe is me” kind of thing. It’s always a challenge in writing lyrics but I think that I was able to accomplish what I really wanted to on this record. The ones, obviously, that guest people came in on; they wrote things that were appropriate for them as well. It’s just an interesting way to work but I think it worked out in the end really well.
Because of the incredible guest list that pitched in on his project, I jokingly asked Bruce if he had some explosive pictures on them.
“Funny for you to put it that way. I mean, actually, I have good relationships with all of them. If I didn’t know them to well – like, say, Tobias (Sammet, from the German metal band, Edguy) he worked with Eric (Singer) and was a big KISS fan and he was aware of me. So he was all excited to, in some way, to be involved with my record. Of course, I’m going to return the favor and be involved with his next project.”
When I commented that it was quite a testament to how they respected him by participating in BK3, he humbly replied, “It’s great for all of them to say yes. Of course, the one that I was most nervous about was Gene (Simmons) but he really surprised me with a quick and firm “yes” and even offered up his son. So how COULD I complain?”
Well, who’s who in the zoo on this disc?
“Well, obviously, it’s mostly my guitar work except for the (Toto guitarist, Steve) Lukather thing. I even let Jeremy (Rubolino, musical prodigy and producer phenom), my producer, play the acoustic on the beginning of No Friend of Mine. But, in general, the guitar work is mine, of course. Jeremy and I shared the bass work except for (Yellow Jacket bass player) Jimmy Haslip that played on the instrumental with Lukather. Obviously, the other guitar playing on that song being Lukather, of course, which was amazing getting him involved.
“Now, when it came to the other featured guests, for example, Gene (Simmons), Jeremy and I wrote the lyrics. We worked on the song together and tightened it up. He (Gene) sang it all and finished the lyrics and the vocals in the same day in the studios, which a lot fun to do. We were at a really great studio, too, that day. We booked Henson (on North La Brea in L.A.). Some of that’s on film on the Family Jewels program (the Memphis Blues episode) when they had a couple of minutes of that session in that thing when they were setting up something about Nicholas going to Memphis with the family.
“Nick’s song was great. He wrote the lyrics and they come from a very sci-fi imagery, Lord of the Rings kind of thing. That’s what Nick is in to. He did a terrific job with that song and we did it in a real big studio which is fun for Nick. I think that it was his first time.”
Continuing with his incredible “who’s who” list of musicians on the album, he names:
“Doug Fieger (front man for The Knack). He’s a real gentleman. I already kinda had the lyrics (to Dirty Girl) and everything. We asked him if he wanted to be involved (in writing the song) and he said, “No, just finish the song and I’ll sing it.” He did a great job with that. In noting The Knack’s signature song, My Sharona, he states with a laugh, “I’m hoping they’ll be known for one other song – it’ll be Dirty Girl. That’ll be fun.”
Continuing to describe the All-Star roster, he comments on Tobias Sammet’s contribution to the song, I’m The Animal.
“Tobias, he started working on lyrics when I sent him the track. He had some idea about it being a dog almost, with a girl that had crossed him. I switched him in the direction of, ‘Let’s say you’re an animal – I’m the animal.’”
“So, that’s how that came about. He was on tour with his band, Edguy, in L.A. Next thing I know, I grabbed him while he had two days after the tour was done before going home to Frankfurt, where he lives in Germany. So, we finished the lyrics and we sang it the following day, which was great! As you can tell, everybody like – this is over the course of a couple of years with the featured guests – they came, did their job and I was grateful to have them on my record.”
Listening to the album, one can easily detect the incredible chemistry between the various musicians. I asked if working with them was as easy and natural as it seems.
“Yeah, you know, you’re not clear if they’re getting what you want.
“Look, Gene is very prolific and a he’s a great song writer and I was a little concerned about what direction he would want to go with the lyrics. He was singing something about Ain’t Gonna Die but I think he had a concept that it might be something a little more deeper, reflective kind of thing. I immediately connected when I heard him sing that line. I thought, ‘Well, what won’t die?’ His legend will never die; his legacy of being that iconic character on stage and his personality and everything.
“So, once I sold him on this is where I want to go, he got it. But, believe me, I was nervous about it because if he wanted it to be something different, it might’ve been a little stressful for me. But in general, everybody was easy to work with. I shouldn’t forget collaborating with John (Corabi, guitarist for Motley Crue and Ratt) - him being the easiest because I have all of that history with him with the band ‘Union’.
“I wanted the best of John. I wanted it to be like Union. Blue Room, the second Union album , is very strong and focused and I wanted to even blow away anything on that record. I really felt that we accomplished something good and he dug into his angsty vibe. I think he did a terrific job with that song.
“But there wasn’t a lot of stress. During the Lukather session, we just kind of let him jam and then Jeremy and I made it work within the song. We didn’t really know – like, we didn’t go in with any total structure for him. We let him play and, man, he can play, as you know! He’s a monster on the guitar.”
Hoping to flush out whether or not the public would get a chance to see them perform together, I said, “It would be a special treat to watch you guys jam together on stage. Is that going to happen?
“I don’t know. That would be interesting. I have been doing the song with the clinics with him. I hear him and then I answer him the way I do on the track. Who knows? I have jammed with him since then at the Fantasy Camp back in the spring time. That was a lot of fun. We were doing Push and cover songs.”
Not wanting to focus too much on the Simmons family, I was definitely interested in hearing what Bruce had to say about working with Gene’s son, Nick. The Family Jewels co-star was born during Kulick’s KISS years. I asked Bruce what was going through his mind working with his former boss’s son. Bruce was enthusiastic with his response.
“Yeah! When we reconnected about this song, I dug through some of my photos that I have and, sure enough, there’s this really funny one of him in a baby carriage on the patio of the guest house. I sent it off to him and (laughing) he was freaking out over that.
“I’m so proud of him. I think he’s really hilarious on The Family Jewels show. Once I got to find out what he’s about, and get into like, ‘What are you into musically?’, he played me some of the things that he liked. And Jeremy and I are like, “Okay, these are a couple of the songs that are up for grabs and we would like for you to decide which one”, and his choice was pretty cool.
“The song that he chose I didn’t know he would choose. He really owned it once he jumped in with it. He was a bit green in the studio because he doesn’t have a lot of experience like that. I think that’s part of why his dad said, “Sure, you should record with Nick. Let Nick do something.” I think he knew the experience he would get from the knowledge that Jeremy and I have in the studio would be presented to him.
Bruce shares an insightful, humorous story about what it was like breaking Nick in to the nuances of working with real pros in the studio.
“We have a funny thing about the word ‘comp’. You know, you always put together solos or vocals, generally, and they call that ‘comping’ in the studios. So we said, ‘We’ll do it one more time and then we’ll comp it.’ And he just goes, ‘Comp? What’s comp?’
Continuing on about Nick, he adds, “So, the kid’s very bright. He’s very aware of his dad’s fame. I think they have a great relationship. It was a pleasure to get to work with him and get to know him because he’s really, really a wonderful young man now. I’ll bet he can do whatever he wants.”
Commenting about Gene and his lovely lady’s child rearing skills, he states, “Yeah, yeah, they did a good job. I met Sophie (Nick’s younger sister) backstage at the KISS show a couple of weeks back. I hadn’t seen her in awhile and I got to see her. I’ve got some photos up on my website.”
Bringing the conversation back around to BK3, I asked Bruce if he has previewed any of the cuts from the album during his performances and what the response has been.
“Not everybody has heard everything from the album. I did put out an EP because I went back to Australia back in the spring time and I wanted to finally sell something from my records. So I gave them the Corabi tune (Ain’t No Friend of Mine) and one that I sing, And I Know and then the instrumental with Lukather knowing that I had to hold back on Gene’s track and a few other things.
“So, the only thing that I’ve performed so far is I jam along with the instrumental, of course, because I like to do instrumentals at the clinics. But I have been playing in the background samples of the record and everybody’s really digging it. But someone like yourself who gets the advance copies for press reasons really have more knowledge than the average fan.
“There are a couple of other snippets out on the web purposely, like the Gene song and the reaction’s been terrific so I’m actually really excited. I think that all the energy and hard work that was put into this record the fans will notice and respond to.”
I mused that something like, I’m The Animal would have everybody up on their chairs.
“Some people mention that as their favorite song – some of those who have been able to hear the whole thing. Tobias is an amazing singer. He’s not well known in America. Edguy has toured and done a little bit but he’s much bigger in Germany and parts of South America.
“He has this side project called Avantasia which Eric Singer (drummer for KISS and Alice Cooper. He also contributed to BK3) played on which I’ll be doing some guitar work for him right before Christmas, actually. But Tobias is just really, really well respected. It’s a pleasure to introduce him to some of the KISS crowd that probably wasn’t really aware of him and I have Eric to thank for that.
“Eric reminded me that Tobias contacted me YEARS ago about doing something with them but I was too busy at the time. I didn’t know him personally but it’s a lot easier when someone you’re really close to like my relationship with Eric they’ll say, ‘You really got to check this guy out. You’ve got to hook up with him!’ It made it more of a priority. But I knew that he would be a really good singer to have on my record. Jeremy, the producer, was like, ‘Who the Hell is he?’ I said, ‘I really think that he’s going to do a great job.’ Any doubts he had, as soon as Tobias opened his mouth, he had no more. It was a really fun session with him.”
Moving through the list of songs on the album, I asked him about Life.
“On the song, Life, it seems to be very positive and encouraging song to close the disc out. What inspired you to write that particular song?”
“When I first started to write that song, I only had the words, ‘Life is a crazy game sometimes you win or lose’ and then after that was a real struggle. But I did want it to be, in a general sense, kind of like the Beatles and Harrison had written things – more of like All You Need Is Love, and I realized the phrasing of how I was hearing the vocals for the lyrics had to be short phrases.
“So, say a word like ‘Faith’. Well, then, what about “faith”? Say a word like ‘dreams’. Well, what about dreams? Fear.’ ‘Love.’ Those are really big words.
“I actually used a religious book that is quite popular called, A Purpose Driven Life. I don’t remember if it was Oprah who pushed the book but I realized that I was getting stuck. I wasn’t really sure how I wanted to express all of these big issues in a positive way or a reflective way. And then, as soon as I found that book – I remember that I was travelling with the Grand Funk show and I was in one of those little book stores that they have behind the gates.
As soon as I bought it, it really opened up the key to me. I mean, I liked what the book said anyway – the message of the book - but I will admit that I was using it to find those key words that would inspire me to write this song with a bit of a message. And then the ending, being all kind of like a carnival of sounds and playing, was just trying to end it on a positive note to celebrate life.
“It was an interesting song. I had to struggle with it a bit but it was a lot of fun. The violin player at the end, jamming along with me, was all very interesting elements.
In October, 2003, after catching a Vince Neil show where his good friend and band mate from his former band, Union, was playing drums, Kulick experienced a life changing event. While walking down the Sunset Boulevard, just in front of the Key Club, with some friends, gun fire erupted from the gun of a man who had been in an argument with some people not tied to Bruce. Kulick was hit in the right leg and his left temple was grazed.
When listening to the cut, I’ll Survive, it is obvious that the song is about the shooting in both a defiant and reflective way. I asked Bruce how the event affected his view of life and how he lives it.
“Well, short term I realized how fortunate I was that I could be that close to dying. When I first started to write the song the only words I really had in the beginning were ‘I will survive’. I had the chorus and some of the chord stuff and even the breakdown riff thing. I knew that when I started to dig in to the lyrics that I had to be kind of poetic in telling my story which was, basically, how blessed I was that day.
“And then, you don’t want to say, ‘that mean, bad drunk shooter’ so, suddenly he becomes the warm, smoking gun. He’s the beast and man. Obviously, I know that it was just the alcohol and whatever torment was going on in his mind that could have made him drunk enough to make him go back to his friends car to go get a gun and shoot it wildly on Sunset Blvd. That’s not an everyday occurrence. Of course, in this day and age, hearing of some massive insane shooting thing is not that unusual.
“I was really lucky, of course. It was a challenge to write it but I was just trying to show that you never know what’s going to happen in life. I tried to be poetic in the way that I presented it.”
Segueing from the subject of the challenges presented by the nearly fatal event, I wondered if Bruce experienced any unusual challenges in creating the disc itself compared to all of the other session work and studio work that he’d done.
“Well, you know, I always strive to be as good as I can. So everything is a challenge to a certain degree. And some things will come easy and some won’t. It’s really amazing – the process. I remember that Fate was the last song and I had some ideas of what I wanted to sing about though I didn’t have that title, Fate, yet.
“Jeremy was very clear that it should something saying like, ‘Here I am. Be positive and in your face’, that kind of posture and it was kind of hard to find the words to that. We started to hash it out and I realized that it would be fun to have some word play stuff. He kind of suggested that if we doubled up the rhythm in the verses then it would become REALLY a lot of fun.
“That’s when if you look at those words really carefully, they all relate to some element of my time with KISS and growing with KISS. But the truth is that I was trying to say that no matter what has happened in my life, I’m not in anyone’s shadow. I’m not in the shadow of KISS. I’m not in the shadow of Ace. I’m not in anyone’s shadow. I am who I am. And I’m going to play the hand of fate – really meaning, ‘You know you don’t really know what life will bring but I’m prepared. Bring it on. I’m here.’
“So, they’re pretty empowering words and it was fun to do it. And I love the tongue in cheek stuff: ‘Plug me in, turn it up!’ stuff like that. That’s the kind of crazy stuff that we say when we’re in the studio: ‘Alright! Plug it in already! Turn me up!’ I have with all of that.
And then there was a little bit of word play with certain KISS song titles, actually. They weren’t done to just borrow KISS titles, they made sense. ‘Laser beams, war machines’ - you know, lines. I can see myself on the stage with (KISS tour) Hot in the Shade with laser beams. And War Machine is a song that I do with Eric Singer when we do the ESP projects. It was fun, I have to admit. It was a last minute song but it set the posture for the record. We had to have a ‘take no prisoners” opener’.”
And what an opener it is!
As our conversation was winding up, I wanted to know if there was anything especially mind-blowing or rewarding putting BK3 together as compared to past projects.
”Well, definitely, that whole collaboration with Gene and, then, the fact that Jeremy and I could work with someone like Nick. So you’re taking a young talent – of course, Papa Gene is going to be keeping his eye on everything - and coming out with those results – that was so rewarding.
“The fact that I would check my ego at the door and say, ‘Okay, I’ll let Steve Lukather play on my song” even though he’s so intimidating to me, was an experience. He’s a very humble, wonderful guy, by the way. He IS a monster on the guitar, though! I like that I was capable of not letting my ego get involved.
“I mean the whole journey, especially with Jeremy and I having that relentless pursuit of making a great record, there were times that we were ready to kill each other. It was very stressful at times because time is money in the studio. We always use quality studios and engineers. There were times that we had to redo things just to get it right.
“You know, in the end, I saw this as a real testament of what my goals were. I wanted my Revenge album. I feel that I accomplished it. It was really hard at times. It really was. But most things you’re really proud of don’t come that easy. They don’t just land in your lap. They take a lot of hard work.
I commented that I thought that this album was kind of like Audio Dogs and Revenge mixed together and then jacked up on steroids and that he had taken some of his best and built on it in an incredible way.
“Thanks! And that was the goal with Jeremy. I mean, he knew what I did with the other records and what I was capable of and he liked a lot of the stuff there. He felt like we could bring it up a notch. That was our goal and that’s what we accomplished.”
My final question to Bruce regarded any tour plans he might have to promote BK3 – especially if there were going to be any stops in the Dallas area.
“I’ll more likely be there for sure with Grand Funk next year (2010). They always book us in Ft. Worth or in Dallas. But I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. I have to be careful with my schedule because I love playing with those guys (GFR). But I’ll be sure to look at all options that come up. The important thing is that the record is a testament of time and I’ve never been in a situation like KISS: ‘We’re putting out an album and we’re going on tour!’ You know? The traditional way. But I’m going to try to be as visible as I can. “
Bruce Kulick’s BK3 hits stores and websites on February 2nd. You’ll want to purchase or download your copy right away. You can also keep up with Bruce at www.kulick.net as well as learn what his Grand Funk Railroad tour schedule by regularly checking Pollstar.com.