Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up-close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features guitarist Bruce Kulick.
Bruce Kulick’s songs have been sampled by Kanye West and Jay-Z. The guitarist has also toured and recorded with everyone from Meat Loaf and Grand Funk Railroad to Billy Squier, Michael Bolton, Ronnie Spector, and Seventies porn star turned disco icon Andrea True.
But it’s his 12-year stint as the lead guitarist in Kiss from 1984 to 1996 that will forever define his legacy. This was the post-makeup period where the band struggled to find relevance as hair metal and later grunge took over the rock charts, but Kiss made a ton of music in these years and fans who came of age after the Seventies still cling to it tightly.
“I’m always going to wave the flag for the non-makeup era,” Kulick tells Rolling Stone on the phone from his home in Henderson, Nevada. “I know it’s a little harder for Gene [Simmons] and Paul [Stanley] and the Kiss machine to recognize it. The Hall of Fame wouldn’t even recognize it, which was a real travesty. But honestly, the fans know. And the fans are real grateful for all those albums and what happened during those years.”
We spoke to Kulick not just about his years in Kiss, but also his long career before and after his time in the group.
How has your life been during the pandemic?
I was obviously in shock at first. In some ways, I thought this was a nice break. But it suddenly dawned on me that I felt much more productive by engaging my fans and entertaining them, and knowing that everything during the lockdown months was going to be on social media, I jumped in, really, in a big way. I started to speak directly to the fans.
When I say my fans, I mean my Kiss fan base. There are many people that know me as a journeyman guitar player that’s played with a lot of different artists. But of course those 12 years in Kiss is my biggest credit. And very fortunately, because of the power of Kiss, I think you’re incredibly aware how rabid the fans are for them. They love my era, too. There’s plenty to discuss and share and entertain them with.
First, I came up with the idea of doing these isolated riffs where I’d play just the solo of “Hide Your Heart” or “Heart of Chrome” from Revenge. I kept doing that and people were going crazy. The number of people, and the response, was wild.
Also, my brother [Bob Kulick] passed away during the pandemic. It wasn’t related to Covid, but it was pretty shocking. I did a 20-minute documentary-style story from my viewpoint of my brother, and what his career was, and what it meant to me.
Let’s go back and talk about your life. Tell me your first memory of being a kid and hearing music that really reached you.
I always loved music. I remember going up to Catskills with my parents. There was a band at the event center at the hotel, and they were playing “Satin Doll.” I was just mesmerized. That would have been …Come to think of it, that was after the Beatles. And it was the Beatles that made me go crazy and say, “I want to play guitar.”
I just know that when I was exposed to different musical elements, I realized there was something inside of me that connected to it in a strong way. And then my emotional side, which I find myself to be one of the most sensitive guys, if you can understand that without me sounding wimpy or odd, it was related to that feeling of music. Music can make me cry. Music can make me elated to an extreme. I’m not a big drug user, but music gives me a real high.
The reason I mention “Satin Doll” is because I do have a lot of love for jazz and American standards, bigger things than just crunchy guitars or poppy Beatles songs, which of course, was the soundtrack of my teenage life.
Tell me about some early concerts you saw.
I saw Hendrix a few times, and I saw Cream, the Who, and Led Zeppelin.
Did you see those shows at the Fillmore East?
Yes. Fillmore East and Madison Square Garden. Fillmore East, I was there for Hendrix doing Band of Gypsys. … I saw New Year’s Eve [in 1969] and I was just speechless. I saw the Allman Brothers there. They had great bills back then. I saw Miles Davis, the Grateful Dead — even though I wasn’t really into it, I wanted to see what they were doing. I saw Mountain. Oh, my God, I love Leslie West.
How old were you when you realized you had talent as a guitar player?
As soon as I started taking lessons locally in Brooklyn. It was at a record store: Mel’s Record Shop off of Flatbush or something. I picked it up fairly quickly. I was forming my chords well. I was playing for friends. The girls would come around and want to hear me play guitar. I didn’t do it to meet the girls, but I certainly liked the attention it gave me.
When I started playing in the high school bands, people were saying it was very clear that I’d found my calling. They were like, “I think you’re going to have a career in music.” That was very encouraging to hear. And then I’d invite an agent to see a band I was working with. They were like, “I don’t care about anyone else. You can play.”
Did you ever think about a non-music career option?
I used to fantasize about being an architect while I was young. I like structure and creativity. I’ve likened it to songs having real structure and creativity in them. But music opportunities kept coming and I didn’t have to think about anything else. I’m very fortunate that way.
It’s not an easy career, of course. You learn a lot. There are many, many talented people out there that will never be known since they can’t work with people and they don’t know how to play the business side.
Was your family encouraging of this career path? Was your brother?
Yeah. Bob was very brave. He was willing to take his guitar and go to England with no opportunities and say, “I’m going to find a gig.” He already had a résumé from New York, but that was unbelievable for him to do that. I wasn’t gutsy like that. Then he winds up playing with Elton John’s band [Hookfoot]. He came home really upset, crying. I was so proud of him. I told him that what he did was absolutely remarkable. Of course, it paid off.
I tell this to a lot of people trying out in the industry. I say, “Every failure is actually a success. It’s how you approach it.” You need to just see what happens so you can just pick yourself up and carry on to the next thing.
My parents weren’t against it. It was never, “What are you doing with music? You’re supposed to be a doctor.” That wasn’t my parents. They loved music. Both of them had musical people in their family. Both of them had some talent. I found out years later my uncle was an excellent violinist, but my aunt told him, “If you go on that tour, you can forget about me.” That was the end of his violin career.
How did you grow as a musician during your time in your early band KKB?
We didn’t even have a band name then. I called it that years later when I wanted to present the music. But it was Mike Katz and Guy Bois. That’s the B and the K and my K. Mike was just very, very gifted. He loved Jack Bruce, and so did I. We were going for a progressive version of Cream and rehearsing and doing odd time signatures. To do originals when I’m barely 20 is pretty wild.
Then we actually went to a decent recording studio, which was really a trip, to capture us live. I was quite proud of that. My mantra throughout my career was, “The more people you work with, especially the ones that are really talented, absorb all that. Take from it what you can.”
It was a good even though we never played a gig and nobody knew about us until the 2000s when I finally released it. And then we got together and did one more song for another re-release when Mike found the actual tapes so they could be remixed and looked at by a great engineer friend of mine.
That was great discipline to rehearse complicated music at a young age so that by the time I’m playing with George McCrae, it was easy. It was Top 40 music.
How did you wind up playing with Andrea True?
I was working with a band called Standing Room Only, SRO. We were wearing suits. It was on the same circuit as [future Kiss drummer] Eric Carr. He had a disco/Top 40 band in the mid-Seventies. There were a lot of gigs for bands like that, but you had to wear a suit and do the right songs. That agent wound up picking up George McCrae, who was my first professional guy where I traveled and played big venues with. He had the song “Rock Your Baby.”
That same agent winds up with Andrea True. Now I’m supporting “More, More, More” and we’re playing Italy and doing these crazy gigs. We met Brian May and Roger Taylor at a gig in Chicago. I was out of my mind. I loved Queen even though they were just breaking.
It’s a pretty unique thing in that Andrea was a porn star, but she had a genuine hit song.
It was a little awkward for her, but I’ll tell you a funny story. I wasn’t that wild, and she’s a porn star, so you know what she’s seen and done. She still had one foot in the porn world, meaning some movie called Meatball was coming out. She wanted me to chaperone her. I was the six-foot, long-haired rock guitar player. It was the premiere of Meatball on 42nd Street.
I have to meet her at her town home in Midtown New York. I wouldn’t call the event a red-carpet premiere, but she had to show up and I was her chaperone. It’s pretty funny for me. You can see the creepy guys that wanted her. This is compared to a regular disco where she’s seen as a pop singer with a regular career. I’ll always remember that.
We did Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and we toured in Italy for three weeks, which was really weird. It almost didn’t really go over well. I think they thought she was going to do burlesque and strip.
How did you wind up on the Meat Loaf tour?
Once again, I have to thank my brother. Because he was four years older, he was already working hard at different sessions and bands in New York. I was the shy younger brother.
[Meat Loaf drummer] Joe Stefko recently told me, “Did you know that I was the guy that called your brother and told him that this guy has a record deal? ‘It’s weird. It’s a big band. You have to come down and audition. I know your brother plays too. They are looking for two guitar players. Come down.’ “
That news, I just found out in the past month. I knew that Bob got the info about auditioning for Meat Loaf and wanted to do it as a brothers’ team. He knew that I’d learn the Todd Rundgren guitar parts that are quite sophisticated on that Bat Out of Hell album.
And there it was. We rehearsed for a month, and then we went on tour. We struggled at first. Then it took off like a bat out of hell. What can I say?
Meat Loaf was like a man possessed in those days. He put so much energy into those shows that I’ve read he’d walk offstage and almost pass out.
He was over 300 pounds. He came from the acting world. He did The Rocky Horror Picture Show. His passion was entertainment. He really stood out. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I know when Paul Stanley saw the show, he walked out. I get it. It’s not for everybody.
You’ve got to admit if you’re looking for shtick and talent and great songs from Jim Steinman, it was amazing. But Meat Loaf was a bull in a china shop. He was pretty complicated. I was kind of not that aware of some of the other issues, like he started to get into cocaine. He was really out of control in some ways. My brother and him used to get into it a few times and it would really affect me.
That was a very hard tour for me, but I’m very grateful for it. It certainly showed me what it takes to do an arena gig, to do a stadium gig, to do a Saturday Night Live TV show. The opportunities were incredible with Meat Loaf. I was just 25. But he was really hard. It was a stressful gig at times.
Tell me about Saturday Night Live. It must have been surreal to be on that set with Belushi and everybody.
I’m the only Kiss-family guy to appear on that show. I wear that proudly, since obviously those guys have accomplished so much.
Christopher Lee was the host. I remember watching backstage and seeing some of the footage, and realizing that you could barely see me. How are you going to put nine people on the stage? But it came off great. We played great. It was the perfect act for that kind of a show at that year. It was 1978.
How did that end, and how did the Blackjack period start?
Once the Meat Loaf tour ended, nobody knew what was going to happen. And he had a lot of problems making another record. I’m glad I moved on. Michael Bolton was someone that I was introduced to also by my brother. He was putting together a band, and Bob was involved for a while. Bob didn’t care for the business of how Michael was structuring the band with management, but it was a great opportunity for me. I had to break the umbilical cord with my brother, as Steve Weiss, the lawyer-manager guy, told me.
Around this time, Michael Bolotin — [his name] at the time — gets this fantastic opportunity. He went for a solo record deal, and the people around him at the label wanted a band. Bands were better than solo artists. That’s when he reached out to guys he liked.
We got a great bass player with Jimmy Haslip, an amazing guy that went on to win a Grammy for jazz-fusion bands. He was our John Paul Jones. And then Sandy Gennaro, a great drummer from Staten Island, worked really hard. He loved Led Zeppelin and all that. We were definitely in love with that kind of British big blues-rock of that kind of band, and Bad Company.
Those were the four guys. They poured a lot of money into it. I remember when it came out, the Number One album that slayed everything was Breakfast in America by Supertramp. That’s not exactly the rock & roll we were doing.
“Love Me Tonight” could have been a big hit in a different world.
Yeah. I’m still close with Michael. We’ve had Kanye West and Jay-Z cover our songs. We still chat and laugh about the old times. I’m so proud of him with his wild, successful career.
But to be honest, that record company, Polydor, they hyped it so much that we didn’t have a chance out of the gate. They put such money and hype into it, but then the phones didn’t ring with the songs. All we could do was second-guess. “Did we choose the wrong single? Did we not have the right tour?” But everything connects because we did do some dates with Peter Frampton. It was a lot of fun to work with Michael, and I knew that relationship would continue. Micheal was writing “Forever” with Paul Stanley, which was a huge hit [for Kiss].
And then Michael went off solo and changed his name to Bolton. I’m doing work and recording with him again. Now we’re recording with Bob Seger. Who’s the drummer with Bob Seger? Don Brewer from Grand Funk Railroad. Then I’m on the short list [to replace Mark Farner]. It all fits together.
Michael was so successful later that lots of people don’t even realize he had this period. And even though many rock fans didn’t connect with these songs, or even know about them, Kanye West and Jay-Z picked up on them.
Right. Their goal was always to find stuff that maybe wasn’t really successful, that had good melodies and ideas on it, and then just sample it. They went for Billy Squier and Mountain, a lot of strange covers. Even Kiss was used by some of the rappers.
You co-wrote “Stay,” which was used by Jay-Z on The Blueprint 2. Does that put some nice checks in your mailbox?
That one I shouldn’t talk about. It’s still being discussed. But Kanye West did a song called “Never Let Me Down” on The College Dropout. It’s “Maybe It’s the Power of Love,” which Michael and I did on the second record. That one I can talk about. Yeah, nice checks. [Laughs.]
Then you’re with Billy Squier. Rappers love him, too.
I was a part of [his 1980 debut record] The Tale of the Tape. I learned a lot from Billy. I so wish I could hook up with him now and go over some things. Looking back, he made a big impression on me. I couldn’t tour with him for The Tale of the Tape. I’m real proud of my guitarwork. I couldn’t finish all of the guitars. I had to get back to the city and he recorded up in Woodstock. I had commitments with Blackjack, which actually never progressed. We never toured since we didn’t get the tour-support money.
And so I couldn’t tour with Billy. Billy finished the Tale of the Tape tour, does another record [Don’t Say No] and that’s the record that put him on the map as a quadruple-platinum Number One artist. I’m sitting back there going like, “Oops.” Then I realized if I was faithful to Billy instead of Blackjack, I might not have had the opportunity to get the Kiss gig. That’s why many times when a door closes, you never really know what the full picture is until some time goes by.
Were you a big Kiss fan back in the Seventies?
To me, Kiss in the beginning was a bit gimmicky to me. I got turned around in a big way when I heard Destroyer, and then when I actually saw them live. I was like, “I get it. This is amazing. Oh, my God. What a show. What powerful songs.” I got it.
Before that, I didn’t even like it when Bowie put that lightning bolt on the cover of Aladdin Sane. I was like, “What the hell is this?” To me, I didn’t get that. It was a little odd of me to be so judgmental. Of course, years later, I obviously got it.
How did you first hear about the possibility of playing with them?
I have never really discussed it publicly, but I auditioned for them when they had the cattle call to replace Ace [in 1981]. My brother always told them, “Bruce is great. You gotta hear Bruce.” But I was not ready to walk into that band, especially where they were at, wearing makeup and what they were doing.
All I remember from the audition is I couldn’t hear myself, but Gene said, “Nice vibrato.” That was it.
Years later, Mitch Weissman, who looked like a Jewish Paul McCartney and was in [the 1977 Broadway musical] Beatlemania, told Paul [Stanley], “If you need a ghost guitar guy, call Bruce. He can really play.” I don’t even know how he knew about my playing.
But all of a sudden, where my brother used to always get the ghost-guitarwork calls, I get the call. And so I helped them out on one song on [1984’s] Animalize and a little bit at the end of another. [Editor’s note: Kulick appears on “Lonely Is the Hunter” and “Murder in High-Heels.”]
Paul knew me since I’d sometimes hang out with him socially when my brother would take me into the city. Now I get a chance to plug in and play my guitar for Paul. He was happy with what I did, and before I left, he says to me, “Don’t cut your hair.” I’m like, “What the hell is that about?” It was about shoulder length.
Within a month from that, I get a call from the Kiss office. They’re asking me to fill in for Mark St. John, the new guitar player. He has an arthritic condition where his hand got swollen. I was like, “I just won the lottery. I might be in Kiss for two to six weeks.”
They’d been through a lot of guitar players in a very short time by then. I’m sure it didn’t feel stable at first.
I was suddenly aware of the opportunity, and I was very excited to prove myself. I tried so hard I actually injured my arm where I missed two weeks of rehearsals. Gene called me and said, “Are you just scared, or did you really injure yourself?” I said, “No, no, no. Paul knows the doctor I saw. I pulled a nerve in my arm. I’m going to be OK. The doctor said it’s going to heal. I’m doing everything he said, and I’ll have a full week of rehearsal with you guys and I’ll know the songs. I promise.”
To get a call like that from Gene Simmons, I’m realizing I may have screwed the biggest opportunity I’ll ever have to be the Kiss guitarist, even though at the time it was only filling in.
How much are you trying to replicate the Ace and Vinnie Vincent guitar parts, and how much are you trying to put your own spin on them?
That’s a great question. Paul gave me a live tape that showed Vinnie Vincent, and I didn’t think he had the right approach to a lot of the songs. Unlike modern Kiss … and Tommy Thayer is a dear friend. He was totally ready to step in for Ace when Ace was being very difficult and eventually disappeared, and there is Tommy with the gig. They wanted Tommy to be the Spaceman and play Ace’s riffs.
I was never given that edict by Gene and Paul. But they also knew I had a good enough musical approach to their songs. I love to learn the signature riffs of anyone’s solo, and then make it my own. I don’t have to be a clone, but I can certainly show you the respect and give you those riffs that you’re used to hearing, but maybe play it a little bit with my swagger and my interpretation so it’s not lost to the world at all. It’s still the song.
I always felt I had a good knack for that. I do it currently with Grand Funk now, and have for 20 years. I’m not playing Mark Farner’s solos note-for-note, but I’m surely showing all the respect in the world to the licks and the riffs and the vibe. I had to do that for Todd Rundgren with Meat Loaf and etc., etc. … What can I say? I was the right guy at the right time with Kiss.
I’m sure in the early weeks of touring, it was kind of nerve-racking. Fans must have been like, “Who is this guy? Where’s Mark? Where’s Vinnie?”
News didn’t travel the way it does now. No one knew who they were seeing. A lot of them thought it was Mark since there was hype about a new guitar player on the back cover of Animalize. Kerrang! was very quick to get the news out that I’d be filling in. But it was weird.
There I was. I thought I had the right look, the right personality, and I certainly played what they wanted. By the time the six weeks were over and I was heading back, even though I knew Mark was getting better and they probably needed to give him a shot, contractually or otherwise, I knew I had the home team advantage.
That’s what happened. He actually toured with us, watched the show, did half of a show, did the second half of the show, did a whole show, and they sent him home. It was obvious the gig should be mine. I played it fair. Mark and I used to jam backstage. I showed him a lot of respect. He was a different kind of guitar player. It was an unfortunate situation. But to this day, I swear I knew the second I saw his information, the announcement in the magazine, and I saw the photos in the magazine, I was like, “This is wrong. This is not the right guy for this band. This guy will never last.”
I didn’t know I would replace him, but to me, it was kind of prophetic. It was kind of like Eric Carr saying to some friends when he met Eric Singer at a Paul Stanley gig, “This is the guy that is going to replace me in Kiss.” That’s what he said.
How was your experience making Asylum now that you were finally a full-time member?
Top of the world. I’m recording at Electric Lady. And even though I’d already recorded at Electric Lady with Michael Bolton and even the Good Rats, there is no way it was more special to me than to be there with Kiss and do interviews and be the guitar player with Gene and Paul. They worked me hard. I remember being there every day for three weeks in a row where I didn’t get any weekends off or holidays. It was July 4th and I remember Gene going, “I’m working. You’re coming in. Let’s do some guitars.”
I was on the roof. I was in the Village. We did some hot dogs and what you do for July 4th. But then I was getting back to the studio and recording guitars.
You wrote “King of the Mountain” with Desmond Child and Paul Stanley.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity. I was like, “Hey, Paul, I’ve got these chords.” It was the same thing with Gene. I was still learning the politics of what it was to work for the two of them. They compete. If you show a song to Gene and he goes “nah” and you show Paul and he finds out you presented it to Gene, Paul is not going to do it. The two of them are oddly competitive. That’s part of their success. But there were always these landmines I had to navigate, if you get what I mean.
The perception of this time by the fans is that Gene was focused on outside projects and Paul was the one in the driver’s seat of Kiss. Is that accurate?
It’s totally accurate. That’s what they were going through. Gene was a little lost not being in makeup. He really needed to what he wanted to do, and Paul resented it. I was just trying to navigate what was happening. I stayed focused on doing the best job I could. They didn’t know me that long to get me in the middle of it. Within time, they did sometimes defer to me. It was like your parents having a fight and they’re asking the kid, “What do you think?”
It was awful. It didn’t happen a lot like that, but you can imagine. The two of them are very competitive that way. But without Paul’s drive and commitment to the band, the whole thing would have fallen apart. I know that. He’s right about that.
Gene admits that he lost his way, he lost that direction. But Gene had to do that. He didn’t do drugs. He just wanted to sleep with a million women and be a bigger star than he was with Kiss, if that was possible, by doing the movies, by doing TV, whatever he could get his hands on. He’s a very hard worker, and he’s very successful.
Having Eric Carr there must have helped. He was such a great drummer.
Let me tell you. What a sweet guy. What a talented guy. But I’d be riding with him in the limo when I first joined the band, and all he’d do was complain to me. I’d be like, “Stop. Please. I’m having the time of my life. I’m flying first class. We’re in limousines and we’re playing sold out gigs, and you want to complain to me? Stop.” Within a few years, I understood that all his gripes had their merits. You just had to know how to handle it, if you know what I mean.
Right. You have to understand your role in the band. There are two people in charge, and you work for them. It makes your life easier to accept that.
There’s a pecking order in every band. Bands are like families and there’s a hierarchy. This is life. It’s family. It’s politics. If you don’t understand all that, you’re going to be miserable or you’re going to be shown the door.
It was always shocking to me to see how many musicians fight constantly and don’t even stay in the same hotel or take the same transportation. They just see each other onstage. It’s really remarkable how a band and music and musicians can be.
As much as Gene and Paul want to criticize Ace and Peter for their faults, and it’s fair game, they’ve admitted to their faults with their ego and their behavior.
Let’s talk about Crazy Nights. Some fans felt the synths were too heavy on it.
We were clearly watching the successes of other bands, and Ron Nevison was a very powerful, popular producer. He worked with Ozzy and he worked with Heart and he gave them big, big hits. You can’t fault Gene and Paul for wanting to work with people that could do the same for them, get them those big, big hits.
And so Nevison comes in and chooses the songs. He has a little keyboard blended in and it was poppy, but then we had a big international hit with “Crazy Crazy Nights.” My guitar is front and forward on everything, so I wasn’t upset. Some fans love the album. Some fans thought it was a little too pop. That was just what was happening then.
It didn’t mean we didn’t think it was a great album. I thought the artwork was strong, and the touring went very well. We did a lot of festivals. It was a good era for the band.
Tell me about writing “No, No, No” with Gene and Eric.
Gene wanted one of those uptempo double-bass-drum kind of things, and Eric loved that Van Halen style too. I was able to help interpret the riff and some of the connections. Gene’s a lot of fun to write with. They’re both very different. Paul is super creative, but he’s more sensitive to everything and has to feel what he wants it to do. Gene will throw a million things against the wall and see what sticks.
It seems like the goal with Hot in the Shade was to get back to basics somewhat.
Yeah. Then it was self-produced, so Gene and Paul got more like, “Well, we tried the big producer and it did OK, but it didn’t do anything that huge, so let’s just do what we need to do.” For me, guitar-wise, I became more meat and potatoes and more Les Paul and less whammy bar, ESP, Floyd Rose Strat because I didn’t have to go that way as much.
Revisiting Hot in the Shade, there were a lot of good songs there. Too many songs, probably. There was 15, which was weird. It was CD. You could do that back then. But we had a hit with “Forever.” I thought “Hide Your Heart” was a good song. There’s some other good tracks on it.
These were long tours at this point and I’ve read that the shows weren’t always full. Do you remember that?
Each tour had its strengths and weaknesses, for sure. Music will always evolve and change. There will be bigger bands that will be the bigger draw. There was a lot of new rock coming in. By the time Nirvana hit the scene, that was really starting to affect things. The Seattle Grunge thing really affected the hair-metal kind of look.
I always thought that Kiss was one step above hair metal just because of the powerful nature of Gene and Paul as performers and entertainers and songwriters and the history of the makeup era. But we were still lumped into that, basically. There were some cracks in the armor there, I guess.
Then you made Revenge, which was a success.
Bringing [Bob] Ezrin in was very helpful in focusing the band on getting the best songs. I think Ezrin is a mad-professor genius and I love working with him. I love Revenge. That’s actually my favorite CD that I was involved with, even though there’s highlights with all my albums. We tested them out with “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll” and we got an offer to do that Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack song.
“God Gave” was an [Argent] cover that they changed the lyrics for. What a brilliant song, what a fantastic vehicle for my guitar playing. I could play clean things, Hendrix-y Strat things, Brian May harmony lead things. What a terrific song.
The whole record was just more of that. I was able to really … I went for the throat, and I wasn’t afraid of the whammy bar. It was the whammy bar with attitude. It was not Crazy Nights. Everything was powerful. I just love that record. I think every song is a home run, and Ezrin did an incredible job.
Then we did Alive III, with was a great, supercharged version of the Kiss catalog that the band did. And now with Eric Singer on drums where he wasn’t on a leash. There’s a lot of double bass drums and powerful things going on in the songs. To me, it was just a turbocharged version of Alive and Alive II.
Watching Eric Carr as he suffered from cancer must have been very painful for you and everyone.
Yeah. For me, because I wasn’t in New York and I was already in L.A., we kept in touch quite often. And his girlfriend, Carrie Stevens, I was close with as well. Wow. He was incredibly brave. I’m still very, very much moved by the strength he had to handle such a horrific illness. I know we’re coming up on the 30th anniversary of his passing in November 2021. It’s unbelievable it’s been so long.
But he’s loved by so many. That’s the beauty of all this body of work he left behind with Kiss and all the YouTubes and albums and live concerts and the videos. He has such a loving following. I certainly am very fortunate that I knew the man that well.
To go back a bit, you played with Don Johnson back then. You were also with Ronnie Spector on her song “Love on a Rooftop.” Were those fun experiences when you’d go in and record with these people?
When you read the credit, it’s right. But some of these artists, it’s just the producer that hires you. I never saw Don Johnson. I never saw her, either. But I was happy to contribute some guitar playing.
How was the convention tour you did with Kiss? You were playing unplugged, and that was obviously a very different kind of show than what you’d done before.
That was the real indication by Gene and Paul of, “I think everyone is looking for the makeup stuff. These Kiss convention are so big that maybe we need to do our own version of that.” And so Gene and Paul come up with these Kiss conventions. Gene wants to charge $100 a ticket. Paul and I looked at each other like, “That’s a lot of money.”
Think about that now. It’s not a lot of money. They’re going to sign things. We’re going to perform. There’s going to be a museum. For back then, it just seemed like a high ticket.
But the people at MTV heard about this and discovered us. They thought this was great, and they were the ones that pushed the angle of, “What about a reunion?” Ace and Pete were still doing clubs and things like that, so they’d certainly entertain that.
That was the catalyst, the MTV Unplugged and making nice and signing contracts and then doing the reunion tour. And that was the end of my era.
In your entire time in Kiss, did you think the day would come one day where the makeup would come back on and Ace would return?
I always would hear things about Ace wanting to get back in the band. I wasn’t really very clear about how or when it could happen. But then again, I thought I had maybe three or five years of being in Kiss, and then the whole thing would either implode or it would go back to what they were. I always make the analogy to the way that Star Wars was so big. And then there’s 20 years of nothing new from Star Wars. Then all of a sudden, I don’t need to tell you what they were able to do. They introduced it to a whole other generation.
The timing was right for Kiss to go back in makeup. I didn’t do anything wrong; Eric Singer didn’t didn’t anything wrong. We were making great music and working well together, but this nostalgia thing, which is the same reason why Star Wars just took off again, and Star Trek had to be turned into 10 spinoff shows, is when something is unique like that, people always want it. They want to share it with new generations. There they go. They went back into the makeup.
To go back a bit, Carnival of Souls is a cool record. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Sure. Basically, we finished the convention tour and MTV. We worked on the mixing to release [the MTV Unplugged album]. But Gene was constantly writing. Paul was not sure what to do after Revenge and all that. I started to embrace [the fact that] music was getting harder and heavier. I could write that. I started really focusing on riffs and ideas. Gene, Eric, and I would constantly go in the studio. I have all those tapes. A few of them wound up on The Vault from Gene.
It was time to record since we had another record due with Polygram. We got Toby Wright, a good engineer-producer that worked with some of those other bands. He knew Kiss. He worked with us back in the Crazy Nights era.
He certainly knew that Alice in Chains sound. Gene embraced it more than Paul, this kind of meaner, darker, heavier thing, since he’s writing songs like “Hate” and “In My Head” and “Nest of Termites.” He loved Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails and got what everyone was doing.
We recorded it, but in the middle they were negotiating the reunion tour. I think a lot of the focus, at times, was a bit distracted. But I stayed focus and I had nine co-writes and they let me sing “I Walk Alone” since Toby said, “Bruce should sing this.” I didn’t realize how prophetic this was, since I certainly was walking alone very shortly after that record. And the record didn’t even come out right away.
My favorite is “Childhood’s End.” Can you talk about writing that with Gene?
Like I said, Eric and Gene and I were in this demo studio quite a bit. Tommy [Thayer] knew Gene really well and did a lot of work with the band on different levels. He had an idea for a song. What’s interesting about “Childhood’s End” is that I heard two songs by Gene that I thought should be put together. It was missing a couple of links. I told Gene. Tommy wasn’t there. I said, “This song, and this part, and this part, belongs together. And here’s a cool bridge section that could tie them together.”
It was less my idea, and more my idea to put a few things together and a couple of chords and a section like that. It wound up being a cool track. Gene wanted a choir, and got some kids from a local school to sing. It was like Ezrin would have done, like he did on the Destroyer record.
Why do you play so much bass on the record?
That’s just on Paul’s songs. That was Paul. Once he got focused on the songwriting, I was working with another songwriter that Paul knew, this guy Curtis Cuomo. I wound up working with him in that band Union with [John] Corabi. I played the bass on the demos, so Paul would always be like, “You play the bass, Bruce.”
That even happened on Revenge. I played some bass. Ezrin was like, “I like this demo. Let’s have Bruce play the bass.” The band, like the Beatles, didn’t care. Everyone knows that McCartney played the “Taxman” solo. Why wouldn’t you think that was George Harrison unless you were told otherwise? They didn’t have any egos like, “I play all the bass.” And so Paul played bass on “Love Gun” I heard. And Eric Carr played bass on “I Still Love You.” He wasn’t a great bass player, but it’s a simple song. He had the right feel. Whatever worked in the studio, we didn’t get weird about that.
How did they tell you the original band was re-forming and you were out?
Eric and I were told we were having a meeting up at Gene’s guesthouse. They explained that after they MTV thing, they were negotiating. Agents were offering stupid money. “We’re going to try this for a year. We’re going to keep paying you, so stay on the sidelines. We don’t know what’s going to happen. If it blows up or doesn’t do well, we’re back to what we had.”
Why should they throw the whole basket out? We were functioning. But with the success of the reunion tour, I didn’t have to quit. There was just no reason to go back to what we had.
Did you see any shows on that tour?
Yeah. I saw them in L.A. All the fans were like, “See you next year, Bruce.” I was like, “Uhh …”
Was it weird being there?
It was weird. Of course, I’m always supportive. I get success. I support success. I respect Gene and Paul’s tremendous ability to be talented enough and smart enough to package something like Kiss and create this excitement. Inside, I might have been devastated, but nobody saw that.
How could I feel good? How could anyone feel good? But I was supportive. I used to say very simply, “That tour made $40 million. The one before that made $4 million. How do you argue with that?”
I think one reason you’ve worked so much is that you get along with people and don’t stay bitter.
I think it’s healthier that way. My mother and father always taught me that honey is better than vinegar. You hope for the best, but you expect the worst. [Laughs] You have to see the bigger picture in things. It has helped me quite a bit.
When you formed Union, it was you and John Corabi. You’d both just come out of huge groups and were recovering from the experience.
We were both going through relationship breakups. We had a lot to connect to. Even though Union struggled and we didn’t get to accomplish what we hoped, I was very proud of the music that we created. I’m still proud of it. In the not-too-distant future, some vinyl reissues of those records are coming out. I’m excited for that.
Were you a fan of Grand Funk Railroad in the Seventies?
I was. I was very impressed with the power trio. I loved Mel’s distorted bass lines, and Don was a tremendous drummer and the vocals were incredible. Mark Farner was a tremendous performer and singer, and his guitar playing was great. But he used a clean sound, and then would step on the fuzz pedal. I thought that was very odd. For me, it was always the Clapton tone of a louder Marshall amp. But to me, it was the American power trio. I was a fan. And I was excited about getting that gig. It’s been 20 years now.
How did it happen in the first place?
It was from Don Brewer remembering me from that tour I mentioned when I was touring with Bolton and I was on the short list by him remembering that he liked my guitar playing. I went to audition with Mel and him. They already had a singer, Max Carl, who is a very talented singer, great guy. For the five of us, along with Tim Cashion the keyboard player that worked with Seger and Robert Palmer, to be doing these gigs now for 20 years is incredible. And we’re just back to doing gigs now after a 15-month pause.
I’m sure the first tour was like a flashback to your first Kiss tour since you had to prove yourself to these fans.
Yes, but Grand Funk has a different legacy. They were inactive for a long time even though they had that 1998 reunion. There were some parallels, but Kiss never stopped. It’s different and Grand Funk wasn’t known for an over-the-top show. They were known for a high-energy musician show. That’s what we do. There is no huge production. But I certainly fit really well with the guys. In a way, I found I made them a little more hard rock. Don and Mel appreciate that. As much as they aren’t in the Kiss world and get the same way as the fans, they see the value in how I interpret their music and perform with him since I put on a rock show.
We just played Moondance and it was a big outdoor festival stage. I’m working the stage like I’m in Kiss. I don’t care.
You’ve been in that band for more years than Mark Farner.
Yep. It’s wild. There’s always going to be those fans of Mark Farner that go, “No Mark, no Funk.” You get that nonsense. It’s just like the way the Kiss fans fight about Ace and Peter. Meanwhile, look at the success that Gene and Paul have. Some of them love my era. Some of them never got my era or cared. But whatever. All these bands carry on because of these musicians’ desires to get out there and entertain.
I went to the Hall of Fame induction when Kiss got in. There was this great moment where all these fans in the stands were yelling, “Brooooce.” I looked around for Springsteen since he was there that night, but I realized they were yelling for you.
I was very pleased about that, and just to have Tom Morello mention my name. HBO caught a few great shots of me at the table with Tommy and Eric Singer, who were also screwed. They deserved it too. It was really tragic. Paul and Gene had a really hard line with the Hall of Fame.
And like I said, I’ve embraced the fans so much. I’m very aware of my status and my Kisstory and how much I’m part of that family. I’m very proud of it.
The Hall of Fame seems to have no clear standards. With some groups, they’ll take anybody. They’ll take a bass player that joined five days before the ceremony. You were there for 12 years.
There’s other bands they’ve screwed as well. It’s still wrong. I know Heart had tremendous success later on, but they only inducted the early Heart. That’s wrong. Those guys had multi-platinum records with other really talented musicians. It’s a travesty, but the fans know. I’d love to be inducted, but I don’t need that to have the acceptance of my fans. I know what I contributed to that band.
You still went that night. That’s another example of you taking the high road and being positive.
I was very happy when Paul and Gene invited me. They treated me like I was in the band. They flew me out first class. They put me up at the same hotel. I was driving with the guys in what looked like armored Suburban limousines. We all walked in late, purposely I think, since they were trying to make a statement. I was team Kiss.
Even if they were showboating a bit about not wanting to play the game, and they were fighting with Ace and Peter, they certainly would have liked to have played. It should have been an unplugged performance with all of us. But the Hall of Fame didn’t get it, wouldn’t allow it, so screw them.
How was your experience on the Kiss Kruise a few years ago when you played with them, and even with Ace? That was pretty great for the fans.
All the cruises are incredible. The fact I have that captured a rabid Kiss fan audience to do a very specific set largely representing my era is magical for me and them. I’m booked on the next Kiss Kruise, and yesterday I spent quite a bit of time going over the songs for my guys. We’re exchanging emails and we’re trying to figure out what to do to make it special again for 2021.
This is a weird year, of course, but I’m going to approach the cruise like I always do and entertain them. As I like to say, my buffet is very broad-based. I’m able to give them some of the dishes they don’t always get from the makeup Kiss.
You played with Gene, Paul, and Ace on their recent solo records.
I’ve been very willing and happy to be involved on all levels, and it’s always worked out. The fans love it. I know that. They were very excited to hear when I did a Hendrix song for the last tribute record that Ace put out. There’s even a pre-Kruise event I’m booked at where Ace will sit in for a few songs. That will happen a couple days before the Kiss Kruise. All those events are exciting and I love connecting with the fans, and performing for them.
At the final Kiss concert, is there a chance you’ll come out and play with them?
That’s always been kind of what they’ve shared publicly. I’ll be honest, It’s not like I have the plan or, like, Gene and Paul said to me, “This is how we want to do it. These are the songs.”
I don’t have the details. [My wife] Lisa and I chat about it because people ask. I do know I’ll be at least able to capture [Kiss manager] Doc [McGhee] on the boat for a little bit and go, “What’s the plan?” I don’t want to dance around the questions. I have some ideas of how this could be. “Tell me what you’re thinking?”
There was a big pause button on their schedule. They would have ended their tour this summer if Covid never happened. They had a venue booked. It was a stadium in New York. That was going to be the end. Now I don’t know when it would be, if it’s in 2022. I don’t know. I hope I’m there. I hope I get to play a couple songs with them.
The fans are expecting something special, and it should be. Everyone alive should be there. I’m not going to tell them that Vinnie [Vincent] should be there if they don’t want to see Vinnie. I do hope Ace and Peter are going to be a part of it as well.
Do you believe them that this is their last tour? This is their second farewell tour.
I do think they will stop touring in a traditional sense. Would they manage and present other Kiss-related things? You know, they have this idea that Kiss will never die. They could have a Kiss-themed show they aren’t in. … Could they pull that off successfully? Absolutely. Kiss is a brand like Coca-Cola.
I do think Gene and Paul will retire from touring. I know Gene well enough. They won’t carry on with what you know as a big touring Kiss show forever. They just can’t. They don’t want to do it. To be honest, me playing that big festival in Minnesota, I’m running around like it’s 20 or 30 years ago, I’m like, “I don’t want to do this forever. I don’t have that energy to do it forever.”
I want to do it as long as I can, but how about Gene in a 40-pound outfit performing a two-hour show? No way. Paul’s had hip surgeries. You can’t sustain that. It’s harder and harder the older you get.
They’re going to do some great business and some great shows. But they’re going to wrap it up in a year or so. I think they will.
Your setup now is pretty nice. You’re in a band, but they don’t tour all the time. You have plenty of downtime.
Friends of mine go, “How’s the tour going? Do you get back home at all?” If you look at the schedule, there’s huge gaps. They are fly dates. So many bands do that, from Night Ranger to Cheap Trick to Don Felder. We all do fly dates.
Kiss can’t do that. They’re taking their jet and going home every night. You can do that. But when you’ve got a dozen trucks out there, you’re on tour. You’re playing three nights in a row. It’s a completely different animal.
I know people suffered greatly in the pandemic. Travel is weird now. You can’t get rental vehicles. The hotels are weird. The airlines don’t have enough flights. What a year. I don’t know where it’s headed.
You must feel very lucky. You’ve devoted your whole life to playing music and you’ve been a part of successful bands for decades now. I can’t imagine you’re unhappy with how anything went.
You are right in the sense that I’m extremely blessed. Each year I’ve had fantastic opportunities and I’m still growing. For me, I feel like I’m still climbing the mountain of success. I’ve only built my visibility and brand. I don’t like to call it a brand. I’ve built my career in a weird year.
My final thought: When I watch the Kiss concerts from your era, I see a band trying to prove something. You’re trying to prove you don’t need the makeup and you can play these new songs. There’s an excitement to that.
That’s why the non-makeup era is so important to so many fans. It’s not that they didn’t like the makeup era, but they don’t get why there’s not enough love or respect or attention for it. Kiss doesn’t do merchandise from it. Kiss doesn’t focus on it. I get that they’re pushing their brand, which is the makeup thing and celebrating that. Hopefully when they wrap it up at the end, it’ll be about 50 years and not just the makeup years.