Guitarist Bruce Kulick was a part of rock history even before his 12 years with Kiss. He played on numerous gold and platinum records and toured the world with various bands. He's recorded a solo album and currently tours with Grand Funk Railroad. But when it comes down to it, people still want to know about Kiss. And that's OK with Kulick.
"I've learned from the fans that when you're part of the Kiss family, you never leave, even if you're not currently part of the band," Kulick says.
"That's a good thing. I didn"t expect it to happen, and very few bands can support that kind of relationship with their fans. I really do enjoy meeting the fans and the fact they still care about what I do. It's terrific."
Kulick will come to Indianapolis on Saturday to debut his new solo album and to appear at the Kiss Expo at the Waterbury Inn/Ramada Inn, 4514 S. Emerson Ave. He's expecting to field a lot of questions about his former band. "The questions run the gamut," Kulick says.
"People ask what was it like writing with them, do they wear wigs, would you rejoin the band if they asked you. It runs the gamut. Not a lot of it is technical, musically. With most Kiss fans, it's a big family and they're curious about a lot of details. They want to know what it"s like to be part of the band and have that rock star status."
Many questions concern his friend and Kiss bandmate Eric Carr, who died of cancer in 1991. But other questions prove embarrassing. "Back when Kiss did a lot of conventions, back in '95, somebody asked me, "So what do they pay you?" It wasn't an easy question to handle. A) It's none of their business, and B) my employer is sitting right there, so even if I wasn"t happy, I couldn't say anything."
Kulick joined Kiss in 1984 when the band was recording the Animalize album. He held down the lead guitar role in the band for nearly 12 years, until the original lineup reunited in 1996.
But the guitarist says he maintained a fatalistic attitude about being in one of the world's most successful bands. He knew that the situation likely wasn't permanent. He says, "My whole time in the band, I always knew they could put the makeup back on at some point. It'd be nostalgic and fans would want to see it. There'd be no place for me at that point, but I'm going to make an impact for the years I'm in the band. I knew the sky could fall any time. So I always had a healthy attitude about it. And it finally happened."
While some musicians don't like to talk about their former bands, preferring instead to focus on the future, Kulick isn't one of those. "I'm proud of those years," he says. "I have no reason to try to distance myself from it, or try and alienate myself from that fan base. I think that"s stupid."
Of his years with Kiss, he says, "There are quite a few bittersweet memories." One of the best times turned out to be his last big project with the band. "I really liked the MTV Unplugged thing [in 1995]. That was great. But then again, that was really my last gig with the band. When I played Madison Square Garden, that was great, because that had been a dream of mine since I was a kid."
"There were so many highlights, traveling to so many places, it's something that you don't forget. Luckily, I have so many memories and a lot of pictures of those years." When the end came, he was disappointed but not surprised. "Part of me knew it could happen at any time," he says.
"That didn"t feel great, the fact that they were really dealing with Ace and Peter. You could tell they'd made some amends because, in prior times, they couldn"t even be in the same room, let alone perform together. That was a catalyst to end it. It"s not like there was a screaming red flag up. I guess I always had the yellow flag up. The confusing part was that we continued to record."
After finishing up work on the album Carnival Of Souls, Kulick was let go from Kiss and the original members embarked on a world tour. But Kiss wasn't the first successful act of Kulick's career. Barely out of his teens, he landed a touring gig with disco artist George McCrae, who was riding the crest of his only hit, "Rock Your Baby," an international No. 1 hit in 1974.
"It was the first gig where I traveled outside the New York area," Kulick says. "I wound up going to Europe with him for three months. I never knew anything existed on the other side of the Atlantic, you know? It was a training to be a musician. He wasn't super talented or anything, but he had a big hit, and I was his white guitar player."
After that, Kulick toured with Andrea True, a former porn star turned disco diva, whose big hit was called "More, More, More." This gig was less fun; Kulick says it was "like Spinal Tap" in that the band played Army and Air Force bases in addition to clubs.
Around that time, he received a call to perform on sessions with another new artist who called himself Meatloaf. The project, Bat Out Of Hell, ended up being one of the biggest-selling albums of all time. But Kulick initially saw it as a way to avoid touring with yet another disco band.
At the time he got the Meatloaf gig, he says, "I thought the record was interesting. I was a big Todd Rundgren fan, who produced it and played all the guitars. My brother Bob and I were the lead guitar players with the group. When he found out about this guy named Meatloaf who was looking for two guitar players, I was interested. My thing was I didn't want to play with any more disco groups. "We started off getting booed off the stage and wound up selling out everywhere."
Kulick"s next band, Blackjack, although not commercially successful, had the honor - or curse - of introducing Michael Bolton to the world. "Back then, he was Michel Bolotin, not Michael Bolton," Kulick says.
"We were digging that kind of Bad Company rock and roll. Zeppelin paved the way for bands that were a little more commercial but did that rock and roll vibe. That"s what we were going for. It was an interesting couple of years and I kept in touch with him."
Kulick ended up playing on Bolton's albums and remained his friend. In his post-Kiss career, Kulick has kept himself busy. Most recently, he's played with the revamped Grand Funk Railroad. Although he's playing classic-rock festivals and county fairs rather than stadiums, he says the new Grand Funk is one of the most fun gigs of his career.
He's also recorded a new album, Transformer, which in tone is not dissimilar to the classic Kiss sound. He keeps busy holding guitar clinics, playing solo gigs and appearing at Kiss expos like the one in Indianapolis.
"I'm so passionate about my new solo album and I want to take it to the people," he says. "I don't have a big label behind me, so I need to get out and play it for people."
As far as his former band, he remains on good terms with them and hopes to catch one of their shows this summer. "I'll never forget those years," he says. "It was a great time."