Bruce Kulick is a regular visitor to our shores and even when his days in Kiss were upended in 1996 by the make-up era reunion, Australian fans have continually welcomed the amiable guitar legend. Whilst philosophical about his tenure in Kiss and also fulfilling the guitar role in another American rock band institution that is Grand Funk Railroad, his regular sojourns here as solo artist and guitar clinician means he also gets the Australian fascination with Kiss, our generally laconic sense of humour and sometimes impenetrable accent. Loud chatted to Bruce before hopping on a plane to come down to Australia for both the recently completed Kiss Konvention and for the now fully powering Australian tour.
You’re returning to Australia again, dare I ask what is the reason for this visit?
I’m coming back, I know. I can’t help myself. The biggest difference is that the Kiss Expo this time is even bigger and better in a more accessible part of Melbourne. Plus I only did one show in Australia in 2015, the rest were guitar master classes with Allans Billy Hyde Music in a few cities. Now, here I am going to places that I have never been to or haven’t been to in over twenty years. So that is pretty exciting this time to come out to Australia for a little bit more of a real tour.
How do you deal with fans that want a huge Kiss style production in your shows?
Oh, anyone that would think I can afford to do a Kiss show is either delusional or high. The reason that Kiss gets the kind of money they get is because they put that kind of a show on. If you’re coming to see me I’m really happy if the lights look nice and if the sound is strong but that is about all you’re going to get plus me smiling onstage and playing my guitar or should I say making some of my crazy faces that my wife [Lisa Lane Kulick] really enjoys.
Are you adding any solo material to the set list this time too?
You know, we’re going to look at a song or two but here is an opportunity in that I only tend to shy away from my era in the band because I used to perform songs [with Kiss] from the make-up era too. Look at Alive III and there are some terrific songs. It is a band that is hard to choose a set list and yeah, I didn’t play originally on Love Gun and all but ‘Love Gun’ is a great song. I used to try to make it my own too whilst being respectful of Ace Frehley and the tune itself. Since there is a lot of material to choose from, there is no perfect set. The best thing is that we are doing songs that make people feel good and give them good memories. I know there will be a couple of left field things too which I hope people appreciate.
That makes it easier for you to have the backing band rehearse using the easily accessible Kiss back catalogue.
Yeah exactly and it is interesting how the new Kiss fans are discovering more things given it is a band with such an incredible history.
Can you elaborate on your involvement in conventions including the latest one in Melbourne?
Well, that one is a long day because not only am I doing a clinic, a Q&A, autograph signings and then performing at night but, if you think about it, with all of the dealers that will be there and the fact that Peter Criss is actually going to be in Australia that weekend is really a great event. It is a great opportunity for a Kiss fan to celebrate Kiss right in the heart of Melbourne.
Why do you think that the Kiss fanaticism appears to be most prevalent in Melbourne?
To be honest, I can say the promoter lives there, you know what I’m saying. When I think of Australia I always think of the two biggest cities which are Sydney and Melbourne. We know there are other amazing cities and on this tour I will see more of them but it is generally the same way that in America you’ve got New York and Los Angeles. I’m not surprised that these events are going on in Melbourne.
What is an example of the good rapport that you have with Peter Criss?
Peter and I appeared not that long ago at a Kiss Expo in Los Angeles that was quite exciting and you know, he’s really such a New York Italian. I mean, he is so funny and very patient and wonderful with the fans. He will spend time with the fans and make them feel appreciated in the way that they appreciate him. I finally got to say hello to him when the event was almost over. It was ironic that I happened to see one of his long serving roadies that got badly injured on a tour that he hadn’t seen or spoken to in a very long time was there to say hello to him. Peter broke out in tears and hugged him. It was such a sight and I felt like I was in the seventies experiencing this with them. It was very touching and he is a very emotional guy like a typical New York Italian. He was very warm to my wife and me when we got to say hello. There has never been any animosity with me with Peter or Ace or really anybody with Kiss. You know that so it was good to see him.
When you do get to stand side of stage at a Kiss show and watch them performing, do you still get that itch to reminisce?
Oh absolutely. Many times fans send my videos of a tour or an event that I freak out watching because I just can’t believe I was there. It was just so odd, really odd.
It must be unusual that people have such good footage from back then since the recording options were quite bulky.
I agree. It is remarkable. Obviously, if at the time we did a TV thing that was going to be archived and was good quality. Some things I’m talking about are like that. You know, fan shot footage from back in the 80’s is not going to come out very well but it does at least capture a moment in time. I’ve worked with Robert Hagland from Sweden and he’s part of a very popular singing group there called The Fantastic Four who do songs like ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’ and they covered a Kiss song that I was involved in but I did some work for a solo album of his too. He actually had footage of Kiss coming to Sweden for the Animalize tour which was incredible because he had one of those really good recorders for the time which was a film projector type piece of equipment. So some people painstakingly put it together with the best sounding bootlegs to add audio and piece it together to create a 15 minute collage from the Animalize show. It was quite incredible to look at.
Nice. By comparison, today if you have a bad night, it goes global very quickly.
That is for sure. There was a Kiss Expo in India recently and I was happy to perform there and do my clinic and also had my wife sing a couple of songs we’d rehearsed I looked at her that day and told he, ‘just remember there are going to be people filming this’ but I was happy because we had some good stuff to share on Facebook because I think we did a fine job. I wouldn’t have even thought to tell a friend to get this on film. So, yeah, you think about social media and lack of privacy whilst being filmed in high resolution which is kind of weird in many ways.
Is that a reason that Paul and Gene might shy away from conventions these days?
Actually no, they do some very elaborate meet and greets at their shows. It does come at a premium price but they perform acoustically, they sign things and meet people. They do know that people are going to film it. So I don’t find that they’re hiding under a rock and I can’t imagine any artist really being able to do so now. But when it comes to them doing conventions, you never know with them. I know that Gene went to something big in Japan that was kind of an expo that showed all the costumes and a lot of rare items. You never know with those guys. They could end up revisiting something with the convention tour of 1995.
Paul is obviously a unique and amazing front man. Were you surprised when took the lead role in Phantom of the Opera?
No, I thought that was wonderful and if you think about it, Paul has a love for a lot of different kinds of music. The gigs that he does solo now are that whole Soul Station [R&B covers band] thing which is his love of R & B music and I get it. The guy was very aware of all of the Motown bands. If you listen to ‘Tears Are Falling’ and think of it as more of a Motown song with the way the riff works [sings riff] it is actually more of a ‘Sugar Pie, Honey Bun’ style tune. It is a Motown tune and he had this love of R & B so the fact that he had an opportunity to do such an incredible role was a great challenge and I was very proud of him. He only did a limited run of it but it was wonderful. I’ve always thought Andrew Lloyd Webber was brilliant and loved Phantom of the Opera.
It’s fair to say that you and Kiss come from a similar vintage for initial musical influences. Did The Beatles impact on you as they did Gene and Paul?
Oh yeah, it was huge and I was blessed to be part of that whole British Invasion from The Who, Cream and Led Zeppelin. Also Jimi Hendrix who even though he was from America really had to be discovered in England. It was a great time to get into music and all of that music is still valid now. I loved Grand Funk too and loved them in 1969 and 1970. Now I’ve been in that band for seventeen years as the guitar player. It is crazy. I have brought up my love of The Beatles to a Kiss fan and I think they can relate to it and that is how I relate to them. I am part of a Facebook group for vinyl collectors and there is a Kiss vinyl thing. Oh My God, they look at every variant of every label of every country and even the lacquer markings [for pressings]. It gets like, ‘wow!’ I know plectrum collectors who need every tour for their collection. I’m a bit of a collector of my stuff, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack but whether or not the fans really understand is unknown. I’m just happy they’re there and the fact that I am the object of their interest is pretty remarkable. Think about it.
Funnily enough, one Kiss collectible January 1979 edition of Guitar Player magazine with an Ace Frehley cover and Kiss story which generated a backlash in the letters pages in a subsequent issue. The point being that it wasn’t until 2014 that the band was accepted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Did you feel that ongoing music snobbery during your tenure with the band?
It was a freaking miracle that they got into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and that was a big mess anyway as you know, without revisiting that. Kiss has always been picked on and a lot of really huge bands don’t get respect from the press. But when you’re consistently selling records, performing and carrying on as a big band then, you know, it’s about the fans and always has been. I’m always shocked that I was part of a band that Gene still brags about as having the most gold records and the most awards of any band in America, ever and that is pretty remarkable. I have a few of them on my wall and I am quite proud of them.
You must have also been happy about the Kiss back catalogue vinyl reissues a few years back.
Yes, that was cool but again, that is not for everybody. I got them and it was nice of Gene and Paul to send me big Kissteria thing which is a beast [miniature road case] of an album collection. The catalogue of Kiss is endless and that is what is really scary when some turns up at the airport with all of their Kiss CDs for me to sign and I’m like, ‘ah, I’ve got to go’ you know because I will be there all day.
If you look at Paul Stanley and his amazing, rebuilt Californian house [whilst he was on tour], I believe that as far as memorabilia goes, he really only has the pinball machine on display.
Well, Paul is different from Gene and Gene has his guest house that is a Kiss museum. So they have different passions for what they have accomplished but don’t think that Paul isn’t very proud of every piece of merchandise put out there even though I know that sometimes he says things to the contrary.
Regarding Grand Funk Railroad and your ongoing service to that band, how you feel your legacy is taken within that band today?
I’ll be honest in saying that as much as I like calling it Grand Funk Railroad Mach II or the second incarnation of it, the band really exists to keep those incredible songs alive and to give Don [Brewer – drums] and Mel [Schacher -bass] an opportunity to perform. They are such a great rhythm section and I’m so blessed in that Don is such an amazing drummer. Mel was one of my heroes with that huge bass sound that he was known for which is tremendous. Those guys singe great and we have a terrific singer and a terrific keyboard player plus we’re doing songs from the late sixties plus some new songs so it is really incredible. I’m just proud to be a part of them for seventeen years but I wouldn’t say that we’re advancing the legacy as much as keeping the music alive for them and performing some very good time music for the people. The gigs we do always go over well no matter what venue we play or where we play, from a casino to a festival, it is always an exciting reaction.
What sort of guitars are you using today? Is it still the ESP Ltd guitars?
Everyone knows that I have a tonne of guitars and I’m blessed that with Grand Funk I can have three different rigs for wherever we play in America and have say five to six guitars in each rig. That will usually be an ESP guitar, a Gibson, maybe a PRS, a Fender and sometime even another brand but when I tour and I have to bring a guitar, I really only can bring one guitar and so that’ll be an ESP Ltd. I wrestle with bringing my black one, the gold one, the sunburst one or the white one. Ha, but when you see me you’ll know which one I chose to bring and I can do anything on one of those guitars without a spare and that is a good testament to the company. At times I have borrowed guitars in other countries if it made sense and I couldn’t bring one. It is always about the player and their hands. I can hand you Slash’s guitar and you’ll still sound like you, you’re not going to sound like Slash.
Amplification has come a long way for touring with some artists travelling light with say Fractal Audio gear [amplifier simulator] as opposed to numerous amp heads and cabinets.
Yeah, they can get away with that but I’m not a fan of that. I still want a tube amp behind me. I don’t really need more than one cabinet and if you see two, I’m not playing through both of them; I’ll let the PA technician add a microphone to one of the speakers. That is my approach with amps and I’m a big fan of Marshall amps.
When you were in Kiss, was it a similar deal in that most of the cabinets were fake and just there for show?
A lot of it was show. I think actually I was playing through, more likely, a full stack because the venue was big enough for that. I also used to split the signal a lot which a lot of people did not know. There were times when a small, solid state practice amp was miked in a cabinet and blended in with the sound of the amp or even a Tom Scholz Rockman device was blended in during the Crazy Nights tour. I remember that Ted Nugent was very impressed with that. Ha.
Well done. Although, we won’t talk about his politics.
No, we don’t want to go there but look, he’s a fine guitarist and a rock star but he was picking my brain asking, ‘what are you doing there and what’s that?’ I remember that Leslie West once saw me and said something like, ‘I do that too. I split the signal’. There was something about the Rockman when it came out had that huge, compressed rock guitar tone in a little box. Think about that, you know. You could put it in your back pocket but of course when he came out with the rack version then you could take it on tour using just a line out.
Now you can get your sounds into a USB stick.
Yeah, it’s true. I just did some session work for a couple of young artists overseas and just did it in the box in my friend’s Pro Tools set up. Believe me, it sounds like me. Would I have rather have taken that to a studio and taken my Marshall and plugged it in? Damn straight I would have rather done that but it would have cost them a lost more money because they’d have had to pay for all of that. I can talk guitars all day as I am a guitar nut.