Bob Kulick - Life Beyond Kiss

By A. Lee Graham

Forty four years have passed since Bob Kulick auditioned for KISS, only to watch his brother land the gig several years later.

Rather than wallow in misery, Kulick maintained a friendship with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons. It paid off when summoned to play guitar on several studio tracks from Alive II, co-write “Naked City” from Unmasked and handle six-string duties on Stanley’s 1978 solo album.

Stints in W.A.S.P., Meat Loaf, Balance, Blackthorne and Skull, not to mention a successful producing career, have made Bob Kulick an MVP in melodic hard rock circles.

And now Kulick has unveiled his first solo album. Featuring songs old and new, Skeletons in the Closet boasts a who’s who of hard rock artists and the sort of timeless rock ’n’ roll synonymous with the best Kulick guitarist not named Bruce.

Bob Kulick took time to discuss the new release and his storied past with Classic Rock Revisited.

Lee: Fifty one years. What took so long for your first solo album? And why release it now?

Bob: Because fate and synchronicity had set this up as something that was meant to be. I moved to Las Vegas to be with my girlfriend, Julie, who also took the picture on the CD. She encouraged me to do this. Also because I had written four songs with my old Balance band mate Doug Katsaros and Julie introduced me to [producer] Bobby Ferrari. He’s a co-producer on the record. I wanted to bring in Dee Snider and Robin McAuley and Frankie Banali and all the people who ended up playing and partying on this with me.

Between Julie’s introduction and encouragement and support throughout — and Bobby providing a studio — I liked recording in a real studio with SSL [Solid State Logic recording console], a long board, etc. The record has five songs — the originals — and then the cover tunes and songs we thought fit with the other five and also songs she thought deserved to be heard again, so they would be ideal for Skeletons in the Closet adding the two, we have my first album as a solo band.

Lee: Was this album recorded live with you guys face to face in the same room, or did you trade sound files through the Internet?

Bob: The vast majority of the material, of the five songs, was recorded in real time at the studio. Scott Coogan played drums there, and Dee and Robin all sang there, as well as more singers. I think [bassist] Rudy Sarzo had to send a file in. The actual recording was here in Vegas. Everyone got to hang out and share the vibe.

Lee: Do most of the musicians live between Vegas and LA, or did a few have to fly in?

Bob: Most of the guys were in LA or Vegas. Correct.

Lee: What was your intent with Skeletons in the Closet? Did you want a document reflecting your style as a guitarist, or do you view this more as a collection of songs?

Bob: I think the more important thing to me is people know me as a guitar player. I probably played some solos, but what is he going to play the solos on? This was a chance to really write some great songs and have great professionals assist. Like I also did in the past, like on We Wish You a Metal X-Mas and a Headbanging New Year, the CD that had “Run Rudolph Run” with Lemmy. That’s what I tried to do with this. This was really about the songs, about my playing but also about featuring the guests musicians and letting them shine.

Lee: Did your role in past tribute efforts help you hone your ear in determining what singer would be good for this song or that song, etc.?

Bob: Yes, as my experience was as a producer. I put my producer hat back on in terms of the pool of musicians I am able to draw from. I am extremely lucky. This is the top of the food chain. All these guys are fantastic. I feel really blessed to have all the people I use. All are friends of mine or became friends of mine. There’s a good vibe now and I think that was very important. It becomes cohesive and everyone felt they were part of something special.

Lee: What tracks stand out to you? For me, “Goldfinger” really stands out. I never expected a rock version of the song.

Bob: This is a particular thing I do: take a song that is not rock or metal and turn it into that. Music is music, and songs are songs, and beats are beats. The idea of hearing the guitar play, those horns blasting at the beginning of “Goldfinger” always gave me chills every time I heard it. Then she [vocalist Shirley Basssey] opens her mouth: “Goldfinger!” I could see a metal guy doing that, with jazz chords at the front. I had to figure out what that was and it was a major seventh chord variation of an A chord. It sounded so damn cool. It was something really special to change this stuff. The lovely lady was on the Dee Snider record.

Lee: Some might ask whether you need to release an album at all in an age of downloading and streaming. Surely you foresee no major sales?

Bob: We all know the state of the business. This has nothing to do with that; this had to do with making some music, having some fun and putting myself in a position of finally being able to have some new product that was mine and some songs for the audience that indicates to me that they’d like to hear some more stuff.

Lee: Let’s go back a ways. When I first discovered your guitar playing, it was years before I actually discovered you, so to speak. It was middle school and I absolutely loved the studio tracks on Alive II. Of course, these days, most KISS fans know you as the guitarist behind the studio tracks on that album, but do you still meet fans who have no idea?

Bob: There are still a handful of those. They come up me all the time: “My name is blah, and I play guitar in a band, and learned to play because of your solo in ‘Larger Than Life.’” That’s kind of shocking, numbing. You didn’t think that would be what happened when you do something like that. It’s a pleasant shock.

It’s what you hope for, that your effort would do something good and motivate someone. If everyone gets that way about everything, when people say this, they will strive to be the best person they can be, things would be much better. That’s what I aim to say in music: try to be the best you can be. It’s a commendable thing and the ego part and all this stuff is not necessary and is secondary to what the real gift is, to have a means to communicate with people on a level like that.

Lee: It’s about the art.

Bob: Exactly. It’s about the art, not about the money. This was not about Robin McAuley or anyone else saying how much? It was not about the money, not for me and not for them.

Lee: Especially now.

Bob: In all regards, this was a bunch of friends working together on something they thought was special. It’s them wanting to be a part of this was a big compliment to me. My supporting cast is some of the best musicians out  there. How many people can say that?

Lee: It’s just some obscure backing band.

Bob: (laughs)

Lee. How did you first cross paths with Gene and Paul?

Bob: i answered an ad in the Village Voice: “Rock band looking for lead guitar player, Led Zeppelin influenced.” So I went to their loft and jammed for an hour and Paul called me a week or so later and said, “Remember the guy who came in after you? We felt he fit what we were doing better than you, though you are a phenomenal guitar player, probably better than the guy we’re taking.”

They started out at the Coventry [the Queens venue where KISS first performed publicly] and realized we had a lot in common regardless of me not being in the band. They became my friends. Before long, we wrote some songs together. We said, let’s write some songs, let’s jam, let’s go out to clubs. When they need me to play, it was not an awkward circumstance.

When they called me, they said it was on the QT. It was not to get out, not to be publicized. It was nice to hear what I would have sounded like if I would have been in the band. In November, my brother and I are special guests on the KISS Cruise and are able to go out here thanks to Paul and Gene with [drummer] Bret Fitz and [vocalist] Todd Kerns. What happened back then then led to what’s currently going on and what’s about to happen.

Lee: But why didn’t they choose you?

Bob: The reality is that the prerequisite for being in a band like KISS is that the face had all to to do with the concept of what they were doing. I was more of a pompous musician. My comment was, “If you’re great, what do you need makeup for?” I’m not saying I talked my way out of the gig, but  Ace's personality fit better, as was proved by the fact that he was the comic relief in the band. Some of his interviews were hilarious and one can never minimize what he did for the band. They never would have made it without him. I’m happy to be part of KISStory, though.

I ended up on Paul’s record, I wrote songs with Gene. It’s been a great relationship. They used to suggest me to other bands, gigs, etc. The fact that I’m sort of the fifth Beatle in this case is neat.

Lee: After Vinnie Vincent got the boot, you recommended your brother as his replacement. Why didn’t you go for it yourself? Do you have any regrets over that?

Bob: Because I had already had a career going myself, a big career. My brother Bruce, with his long hair and 6-foot, 2 frame, would fit great with the band and he did.

Lee: What are your and Bruce’s strengths as guitar players?

Bob: I think we’re both really good rhythm players. Our lead approaches are similar but with some different nuances. If one compared some solos, his at the time are more Eddie Van Halen because that’s how guitar playing was going at the time.

Lee: From KISS and W.A.S.P. to Meat Loaf, Michael Bolton and Lou Reed, you’ve enjoyed quite a career. If you could choose one highlight and one low point, what would they be?

Bob: The low point: I was playing with Lou Reed, a real artist, doing Coney Island Baby. It was a big step forward in my career. At the time, he had a serious drug problem and even knew it and I did something along the line that pissed him off and I got fired. I really wanted to play with him live, but it just didn’t happen.

A highlight was playing with Meat Loaf. That was a big gig, playing Donington [Monsters of Rock at Castle Donington in England] with him back in the day. It was in ’83 and on the bill with ZZ Top and Whitesnake and Dio and Twisted Sister, all people I’d subsequently work with through my life. I wrote the theme for wrestler Triple H. These were exciting moments for me when I impressed myself. You get to a point where you want to impress yourself and it’s hard. Having a theme for a wrestler worked and that was a gold record. I was impressed with that.

Lee: You’ve worked with many musicians, especially when one considers the many tribute albums you’ve been involved with. What memories stand out from those sessions, and did you learn anything from those musicians that you incorporated into your guitar style or songwriting approach?

Bob: I backed into that. It afforded me the ability to have a recording studio and hire many great musicians. Doing songs for Motorhead … Four of those are on the new Motorhead record, including “God Save The Queen.” “Whiplash” was done during that period, too, and that won a Grammy for them and me.

Lee: I always meant to ask you about tribute albums, in general. For a while, it seemed like you made a cottage industry out of them, from tributes to Cher and Shania Twain to Frank Sinatra and The Beatles. But I have yet to meet anyone who spins such discs regularly. What kind of demand is there for such releases, even when rocked up and featuring the stellar talents that are on your projects?

Bob: I don’t know what the demand is today. I’m not doing them anymore. Back then, Rudy Sarzo and the guys would show up at the studio, Jeff Scott Soto. People say I really like what you did on the Sinatra CD. There is that aspect. They do exist. People ask me to autograph the CDs. They were done at a time when it was a fun, cool thing to do.

Lee: Was there a time when your instincts didn’t pay off, where musicians got in the room and the chemistry just didn’t work?

Bob: That rarely happened. I can only think of a couple instances when we had to replace somebody and usually it wasn’t for the reason you mentioned: that they were bad. It was a contractural thing.

Lee: What’s next for Bob Kulick? What can fans expect for the next few months?

Bob: Promoting the record now. Next up is the KISS Cruise, playing a couple Ace [Frehley] songs. From there, we’ll see what happens regarding other tour dates. I am exploring the possibilities now of a video and doing live shows. I will have songs on the forthcoming Gene box set, too, and I’ll produce some younger artists, as well.