Not many people know that by the time guitarist Bruce Kulick joined KISS he had been in a myriad of bands, the first of which he played alongside disco star George McCrae. Remember… “Woman, take me in your arms, and rock me, baby?”
Kulick also had a band called Blackjack with blue-eyed soul heartthrob Michael Bolton, banging out Bad Company-style tunes. Or you may remember he and brother Bob, another fellow guitarist, toured with Meat Loaf during the Bat Out of Hell tour back in the mid-’70s. In between Blackjack albums, Kulick jammed with a young Billy Squier on his debut album Tale of the Tape. Due to prior commitments to Blackjack, Kulick turned down a stint on Squier’s second album, which coincided with a wildly successful tour. Still, Kulick can’t decide if he wants to kick himself, as Squier skyrocketed to fame, garnering a platinum album. “But if I’d done that [gig], then I might not have gotten the KISS gig,” he rationalizes.
When you think about it, he didn’t do so bad after all, having joined an historic band that has sold over eighty million albums. Kulick’s tenure included seven albums which went either gold or platinum. The last — Carnival of Souls –has finally been released after two years of being shelved, and it picks up where Revenge left off: dark and heavy.
What initially began as a six-week European gig filling in for KISS’ guitarist at the time, the ailing Mark St. John, has turned into twelve years of fond memories for Kulick. But after 12 years as Kiss’ axeman, Bruce found himself axed when founding members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley decided to reunite with the original members.
Although Kulick had essentially the same guitar influences as Frehley and could emulate much of Frehley’s fretwork, he was never able to shake the “new guy” syndrome, despite being in Kiss longer than Ace. Moreover, Bruce wasn’t surprised the reunion happened. “I was always aware that they could [put] the make-up back on at any time,” he admits. “Gene and Paul were very up front about that. They never made any promises. I didn’t feel insecure about it. It just made me aware that this isn’t forever. As much as it wasn’t an easy time for me, it was a very welcome time, being pushed out of the nest. It feels great to work hard and get results. I’m so proud of [Union’s] record.”
All diplomacy aside, though, Kulick, didn’t you think the reunion was motivated by money? “That’s not such a bad thing,” says Kulick. “The fans certainly wanted it. The numbers proved that. It’s also motivated by, ‘Hey, if they didn’t do it now, when the hell are they gonna do it?’ That was a big concern for Gene and Paul. No one’s getting younger. The nostalgia cycle always seems to run in around 20-25 year time frames. At some point, the ’80s will be cool again… so the timing was important. There’s lots of reasons. Did they do it because they didn’t think Eric and I played well? Or they weren’t proud of what they were doing? Of course not. It’s a money thing, and Gene will admit it.”
During the reunion tour, Kulick was on KISS’ payroll for more than a year before being given his walking papers. In addition to involving himself in a variety guitar clinics (some with ex-KISS drummer Eric Singer) overseas, and finding time to contribute an original track, “Liar,” to the Frehley tribute album Return of the Comet, Kulick was gearing himself up to finally spread his wings and fly, fulfilling his long-time dream of having his own band, and musical vision.
“That’s not to say I couldn’t do certain things, but,” he adds, “there’s no way, especially with [Gene and Paul] always being the writers, that I would totally get my vision on a KISS record. I was there to be a team player, and help give some direction. That’s why it worked, and lasted so long.”
Nowadays, Kulick is getting the attention he so desired, although he’s having to share it with another “new guy” — similarly, singer John Corabi suddenly found himself out of a job after serving five years in Mötley Crüe. The Crüe decided to bring back their original frontman, Vince Neil, but unlike Kulick, Corabi didn’t see the axe coming, which is why as we speak Corabi is suing the Crüe and its record company Elëkträ…
“He’s another East Coast guy. And there he was filling in someone else’s shoes like I had to do,” Kulick observed upon his first meeting with John in late ’96. Kulick was introduced to Corabi, ironically, by Motley’s bassist Nikki Sixx. “We were both going through similar personal and emotional things in our lives, so that was a real bonding thing for us.”
Equally as bonding are Corabi’s vocals with Union’s music. That was my one gripe about Corabi’s voice. It didn’t fit Motley’s music. Here, together he and Kulick really shine on Union’s self-titled debut, especially on the funk-flavored “Around Again,” the killer opening track “Old Man Wise,” and “Heavy D… ” (as in the key of D, not the rapper). “Tangerine” is the only tune where Kulick attempts to shred; otherwise he’s opted for the classic approach, “creating a lot melodic lines and building a lot of tension between the guitarists.” No Mötley kitsch or KISStoric blitz, just eleven rock songs of power and grace.
“The music couldn’t have come any easier. It works so well,” Kulick agrees. “We’re also very different people, which also makes it work. John can be a very brooding rock star kinda guy, and I’m a little more shy, but outgoing in the sense that I’ll tackle the business stuff. We both have passion for proving to everybody what we can do outside of our previous bands. He’s filled with tattoos. I don’t have one. He’s got pierced everything. I’ve got like one ear pierced. Although, if the record goes platinum, I could get my Union tattoo…”