When I had the honor of speaking with Bruce Kulick, he had just released a CD from a project called KKB. This KKB material is from Kulick's very beginnings as a musician. It's immediately obvious that he had a gift from the very start. Recorded in 1974, this Cream-inspired set is a bit psychedelic and progressive, with many impressive moments from each member. This is pre-Grand Funk Railroad, pre-KISS, even pre-Meat Loaf. This is pre-everything, really. Kulick lights up this material like a seasoned veteran, which is the very reason he has found so much success with everything that has come after it.
My conversation with Kulick focused on this latest KKB adventure (which you can check out through iTunes or www.kulick.net), and continued to cover just about every facet of his fairytale-like career. We discuss recording processes and gear. We talk about his work with Michael Bolton, Kiss, Grand Funk, Billy Squier, even the disco days with Andrea True Connection! Prepare to be taken on an exciting journey through the career of one of the great guitar players of our time.
Dr. Music: Hey Bruce! I'm getting into this KKB stuff! I've followed your career for a long time and this is a real shocker for me. One might expect you to revisit something like Blackjack. It's often sought after and slightly rare, it has Michael Bolton, it just seems like an easier sell. This was a great surprise. I love the concept of going back to your roots, your beginnings. This is the very beginning, isn't it?
Bruce Kulick: Yeah. It's not everyone who can find something of that quality from 40 years past in their career, obviously. I'm a big Beatles fan, and it doesn't matter what they put out that's Beatle related, I do want to hear it. Although, some of those things can not have really good quality but you still want to feel like you're there to check it out. Certainly, this stuff is not only a cool time capsule, but I think the quality of it was quite pleased when Mike found the tapes and we were able to use them to remix them and remaster them and all. It was really something pleasing to me, and that's why I wanted to share it with a nice package for fans and everything. I wish there was more, but doing the new song was adventurous as well.
DM: I want to ask you about that adventure of recording a new song with guys you haven't worked with in 40 years, and each of them living in different parts of the world. How did you get that to work?!
BK: Well, I definitely, shall we say, used what I know about. I've been very active with doing sessions for people around the world, and obviously I'm not flying to Sweden or anywhere else to do a solo for a record. Everyone can share files now very easily. Mike took a song idea that I had, that we both felt "Yeah, this could turn into something good," and he turned it upside down and inside out, which I really was very happy with and very surprised with. But he did an excellent job completing a couple of the riffs that I sent him. He did a pretty elaborate, although some of it was on primitive gear because he hasn't bought ProTools or anything too current, but he was able to do a decent demo of it. Then I gave it over to who I like to call the fourth member of KKB, this guy Brian Virtue, who ended up being the mix engineer and remastering guy. He was able to properly put it into a ProTools session, and then we could share that session.
DM: When you recorded the new song, did you keep it a little bit gritty to match the original material or did you produce it like any other song?
BK: I definitely didn't want it to be too modern sounding, so I was very particular about the gear that I used. I used a Fender amp that was a bit similar to the Fender I owned back then. The choice of guitars, I went to some SG's that I felt were closer to the SG that I used back with KKB. Mike used the same bass, and I don't think it was intentional, but his vocals weren't recorded super pristine. There was a problem with the better mic and he had to use the other mic, and even though we were aware of it I looked at it like, "Well, we're going for something kinda vintage sounding anyway," and we didn't get crazy with it. So, in many ways it was designed to fit with the other material, although it wasn't like we really had to do too much overthinking about how to accomplish that. I didn't want it to be slick. I didn't want it to have too much studio trickery.
DM: How invasive did you get with the original material? How much did you add? Did you keep the bulk of it and replace a solo here or there?
BK: No, absolutely not. That's the other beauty of the vintage material, was the fact that it was recorded very live, there was a tremendous amount of bleed through the tracks actually, so if I tried to actually say, "I don't like that solo, I'm going to redo it" it would have been a bit of nightmare. There was nothing I was that neurotic or concerned about. I was proud of the performances. The beauty of remixing once we got these original four tracks was - now we can finally put that effect on the voice, now we can finally EQ the drum track and make it even a little bigger, we can find that perfect place for the guitar and bass. There was only so much Brian could do, and that was a big discussion, when he first got the tapes and realized how clean they were, that we wouldn't overdo anything. I could've doubled guitars, I could've gone crazy. No. We didn't. Same thing with the voice. He could've re-sang the songs because they were on a separate track. That's the performances from '74, but definitely mixed with love and remastered as well. (laughs)
DM: My first reaction upon hearing it was that it sounded dated.
BK: It should. (laughs)
DM: And I think that's the real beauty of it!
BK: Yeah, exactly. Another thing about the recording back in '74 for the songs... They were live. We obviously rehearsed our asses off to pull it off. We got what we got, and there was improvisation as well. Some of the solos are a bit freeform, and Mike and I are working off of each other, so that really blows me away all the time. There was no punch-ins.
DM: I'd like to touch a little bit on your entire career right up to your current gig in Grand Funk. What, it's something like 14 years with them now?
BK: Yeah! This is the 15th year of touring with them and it's pretty incredible. It's the same guys, we average about 40 gigs a year, everyone is a terrific player, we all get along, we all enjoy the music. It's been a great gig because live music is the most healthy part of the music business right now, because you know a lot of the other parts are not doing well. Thank God we have a way to perform and pay the mortgage, and at the same time, have a good time.
BK: Yeah! That was a great time.
DM: And no makeup!
BK: No, they took the makeup off the year before, and obviously what made me have to exit the band was them doing the reunion tour with the makeup. Which was, you know... It was the time.
DM: Did makeup ever come into discussion with you?
BK: No. (laughs) No.
DM: Would you have done it?
BK: Uh, look, it's safe for me to say flat out "No," but I'm kind of relieved I was never a character. I'm fine with being me. The band had a very successful run without the makeup, and many fans, especially mine, the KISS they grew up on was the non-makeup ones, those years.
DM: Any most memorable moment with that band?
BK: Well, I'd have to say, growing up in New York and seeing people at Madison Square Garden - I got to see Hendrix when I was young, and I got to see Zeppelin there - and the fact that we actually played Madison Square Garden was a HUGE thrill. I was like out of my mind, you know.
DM: Now, is it true? The Andrea True Connection?!
BK: Oh yeah, yeah! I was your guitar for hire, and Top 40 was disco, and I had an agent/manager guy who broke a Top 40 band that I was in. We were pretty good actually. Eric Carr was also on that scene. He was in a band that was very successful doing that kind of run of clubs and everything in New York. It was just kind of odd that all of a sudden he wound up managing first George McCrae, who had the hit "Rock Your Baby," which was a big disco hit. I wound up touring the world, and after that he got involved with Andrea True Connection. Andrea was this porn star who started dating a guy who was a producer/songwriter, and he wrote "More, More, More (How Do You Like It)." Next thing I know we're going to Italy, we're touring in America and we're doing Army bases. It was very weird, very weird.
DM: You ended up taking quite a different direction.
BK: Oh yeah, but I was still the rock guitar player. I didn't mind wearing the suit. I still had a cool strat, and I had my big afro kind of hair. All this was training for what was to come. The next big thing was Meat Loaf, then a band with Michael Bolton, and then some studio things. I did some work with Billy Squier, and then of course the Kiss thing happened.
BK: I've been in touch with Michael lately. You know, it's out there. Not well well known, but some people love the promo videos that are pretty classic; one on the roof of one of the tallest buildings in New York was pretty crazy. Now this was all pre-MTV and everything. But, Michael and I stay in touch. He actually talked about, "You know, I'm thinking about doing a rock thing sometime. So, I'm gonna call you." So, I'm willing to help anytime. I have so much respect for Michael. He's had such an amazing career, and I learned a lot from working with him back then. He was very driven. Priorities was always the word, and I learned from that. A lot of the artists that I've been with through the years - you know the stuff that you don't like, but you obviously try to build upon the good things that you learn from them - and with each one of them I learned a lot. And if it wasn't for him and Paul (Stanley), we wouldn't have had a song called "Forever". That was a big hit for the band (Kiss).
DM: Now, you did Billy Squier's debut solo record, Tale Of The Tape, but not the Don't Say No record. Is there a specific reason?
BK: Well, he actually asked me to go on tour for the Tale Of The Tape when he was going to travel, and this is actually connected to Michael (Bolton). We had just finished our second record, which was called Worlds Apart, and we we're waiting for tour support to come. So, I said, "I can't go. We're getting tour support. We're touring. My band with Michael, Blackjack." It never happened. I definitely felt really bad about that. Billy wasn't too happy because he really liked the way I played. He moved on of course, and then he did Don't Say No, and that was huge. Now I'm like, Oh my God. Blackjack fell apart, and I'm kicking myself in the ass. I was kind of thinking, well, I was loyal to my band with Michael, which made sense, but oh this would've been great. But to be honest, when I look back at that now... If I did jump ship with Blackjack and gone off with Billy, yeah I would've done Don't Say No, I would've been along for that ride, but maybe the opportunity to be the Kiss guitar player wouldn't have happened because I would've been really busy with Billy.
DM: If you could play one song for somebody that demonstrates Bruce Kulick at his best, what would it be?
BK: Wow! Big question, wow! You know, there's two sides of me. There's certainly something like "Unholy," which is really like this manic solo, and then there's "Forever," which is the acoustic solo. That's a tough question. There's "Tears Are Falling"... I hate to keep it to just one. There's stuff from Revenge that I love. "God Gave Rock And Roll"... I like that I'm versatile. And anything from BK3 I'm really proud of, the guitar work on my last solo record. I finally put it out on vinyl this year. I got a great reaction from that, and you can find it on my website.
DM: After all of the success you've had, I think it's amazing that you can revisit something you did in the very beginning and be proud of it. Most musicians look back on their beginnings and cringe.
BK: The reaction from the musician friends of mine was so positive. They said, "You've got to get this out." This had to be heard. And I wanted to put it under the best light possible, which is why the package, when the fans order it online, comes with a signature guitar pick, and it's a nice digipak, and the photo card, and a download card. So, I really wanted to make it a special experience when the fan actually spends the money on it.
DM: What's next for Bruce Kulick?
BK: More of the same. Grand Funk touring, we get really busy during the Summer and the Fall, and I want to work on the next solo record. Now that I've gotten the BK3 vinyl out and this KKB package out for my fans, I want to start concentrating on new music again and get another solo record out.DM: Now THAT is great news.