When infamous glam rockers KISS shed the makeup back in 1983 and the alter egos of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley was laid to rest for a time, the focus on the band moved away from their groundbreaking get-up and stayed heavier on the music. Bruce Kulick stepped into an exalted position in one of the greatest bands of our time. Arguably one of rock ‘n’ rolls most versatile and skilled guitarists, it was Kulick’s presence in KISS that helped produce more great music that would solidify the band’s position in music history, elevating them to legendary status. And the best thing about a living legend? Why, the stories they have to tell and the knowledge they have to share, of course.
Where better place to meet a rock ‘n’ roll legend, hear them play and share tales of days-gone-by than at KISS Konvention? Kulick and fellow member Peter Criss are making the media rounds for the massive event set to take place in cities across the country this month. “All of a sudden, I’ve got all these interviews for my upcoming trip, so I’m very excited,” Kulick exclaims. “This time I’m going to more places, we’re hitting places I’ve never been before and that’s very exciting.”
“No matter where you do them, the conventions are the best place for a fan in many ways to get up close and celebrate all things KISS,” says Kulick. “If you’re familiar with the band, KISS is one of those groups with obsessive fans and they’re incredible – they’re so detailed about their passion for the band. I represent the non-makeup version of the band.
“We did go to Australia in ’95 and Peter [Criss], having his history as an original member, then going back and doing the reunion tour, the fact that they can see two members of the KISS family, no matter if they have to travel or not, is pretty cool. We both do Q and A’s; we’ll both perform, and, of course, I get an opportunity to sign and to meet the fans.”
Kulick’s enthusiasm is evident, but what’s even clearer is the observations and awe he has for his fans at these types of events. In fact, Kulick’s humility around his fans is incredibly endearing. “I do notice though,” begins Kulick, “that this is a band that kind of attracts generations. The parents pass it on to the kids and then all of a sudden, I get these looks from these kids who are completely freaking out and some of them, you know, they weren’t even born when I was in KISS – that’s really rewarding.
“In the same way, I got to see a lot of amazing stuff growing up in New York and being a lover of the British Invasion – I got to see The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix – but those are the bands that will carry on forever and even if you started to see The Who in the last five years, they’re still incredible and exciting, but how ‘bout seeing them watching them in 1967?!”
“I know the power of YouTube and what’s available now for people to share, and it’s so easy with our smartphones that you can instantly become a fan of KISS by just exploring things. It doesn’t matter how they found out about the band, as long as they’re willing to explore they will find something that will turn them on if that’s how they’re wired.”
KISS, who are massive in the sense that they revolutionised the glam rock outfit, hadn’t enlisted Kulick for that part of their history. Instead, Kulick was present when the focus was shifted more on the music and it’s a colourful point of discussion to discover Kulick’s take on whether he feels he had bypassed a large part of the KISS label that is perhaps in many ways, still important. “I always sense the shadow of it, that’s how I refer to it,” Kulick says, with no hint of animosity whatsoever.
“That start for them, they really wanted to come out of the box completely different. They knew they were competing with Led Zeppelin and The Beatles and all and those guys just had this idea, ‘We’re gonna do this and we’re committed, wear makeup, and we’re gonna wear these outrageous costumes’. It was really lightning in a bottle what they developed there.
“Ultimately, if the music stunk and they weren’t talented it wouldn’t have mattered – in fact, it would have made it a joke, to be quite honest – so they became huge. There was a little resistance there, but by ’75 they were gigantic. They carried on, and like a lot of bands that hit it really big, problems happened; sometimes they may take a wrong turn and by ’83, they realised it was time to take off the makeup.
“They were kind of rebranded in a way, in a very exciting rock style – big hair, outrageous clothes in a different way – then you have two super talents like Gene and Paul who are unbelievable performers: writing great songs, singing, so perfect for rock ‘n’ roll and total rock stars in every way. I feel like when I joined for “Animalize” and “Crazy Nights” that, yeah, we weren’t that makeup-looking band but we were so really damn unique there was still something about us that stood out.”
“Many of my fans, they were turned on to KISS post-makeup,” Kulick continues, “They saw me and I was the first guitarist and it meant a lot to them, and that’s why I’ve continued to be asked to sign so many “Asylum” and “Crazy Nights” and “Revenge” albums.”
The rewards of such an enterprise, and, indeed, Kulick’s skill as a musician prove again to be a point of humility for him as he says: “I’m very humbled and I do have big shoes to fill. Ace (Frehley) is a legend—he’s an icon—and being the new guitarist of KISS at the end of ’84 was an awesome burden for me to embrace and to perfect. I was up for the challenge – looking back at it, it was much bigger for me than when I was doing it if you get what I mean?”
There’s a domino effect in place when it comes to a musicians icons and mentors – Kulick certainly had his in late ’60s British rock bands, then to join such a prominent group filling the place of an already legendary guitarist, Kulick can only now pay it forward. At KISS Kovention, Australia’s own Sisters Doll will take to the stage and perform their own brand of classic glam rock, reborn for the 21st century. Performing on stage with them in a more than special appearance will be none other than Kulick, the icon and mentor for this next generation group. “Yes! I met them in 2015 when I did the expo in Melbourne and we wound up in Adelaide and did a regular gig – these kids are amazing!”
“They’re three brothers, they’re so talented, big fans too and so respectful. I am brutal when you rehearse with me, I am the boot camp sergeant you don’t want because I want it right and I want them to understand it. I want them to know the song like they know their phone number and they know their parents’ names. I know how to whip it into them but I’ve never had better students than these three young men. To me, they’re like family and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them again.”
Hearing about young bands like Sisters Doll having mentors and indeed fans such as Kulick is rewarding for any old school rock fan to hear – such guidance and admiration helps turn people on to a genre that isn’t necessarily dead. Even today, with the touring and playing he does, Kulick says he still finds a massive demand for the glam rock style, despite the industry being temperamental. “Music is so all over the place now, as you probably know, it’s very single orientated. If you’re talking about new artists, they’re usually young and they usually dance – I don’t pay a lot of attention to that because it just doesn’t have that kind of hold on me.
“Yeah I respect some of those artists and I’m aware of them but the point is, with Sisters Doll and the attention they get – KISS will always get attention, that’s a given – but they really plugged into something that is a complete throwback in many ways and I applaud them for their dedication and love of it.
“It isn’t a new thing that would have been happening in the ’80s or something, but they’re revisiting it their way and I’m hoping it keeps catches on! Because you know what? It’s good to have rock ‘n’ roll. It’s more about young crushes and looking good and having a good time and it’s all in a good spirit and is very close to what KISS’s creed is – you know, I don’t want to say it flippantly but I wanna rock ‘n’ roll all night and party every day. It’s an attitude about believing in yourself and enjoying life, living it to the fullest and I do see a lot of that energy in these kids and it’s great.”
But what a thing for Kulick to know that he was a part of the reason Sisters Doll ever took to music. “It was probably very surreal for them but to see how they hung on every word and every direction, I nearly cried when I remember coming back and seeing Austin, the bass player, exactly learn what I told him – ‘You go study this’, and he came back and nailed it, perfectly! I was like, ‘Wow!’ It really meant a lot to me – this is unique, very unique.”
Clearly, Kulick is all about the giving back, and who more to give to than his fans. His profound thanks to his Australian fans is unwavering and Kulick is anxious that they know he holds them in high regard and hasn’t forgotten them. “I certainly want everyone to know I can’t always come to Australia because for one thing, I’ve been playing lead guitar for Grand Funk Railroad, touring with them since 2000. The band is tremendous but that’s my main gig, and also why I don’t have a band so when I go to Australia, I’ll pick up a band when I’m there. In this case, Sisters Doll.
“A lot of people ask me: ‘When are you going to put out some new music?’ and I have teased with some pictures online of the studio, a microphone, guitars, and a new single is coming out soon. I do know a lot of fans are asking about new music and I am very proud of this.”
All new Kulick on the way but for now, your best bet to witness the mastery of Kulick’s playing and the fascination of his stories is to get on down to KISS Kovention.
Written by Anna Rose