The Number 24 has particular significance for Bruce Kulick. “It follows me around,” says the former Kiss guitarist, who is in Melbourne this week for AIM workshops. “When my ’59 Gibson was repainted they put a serial number on it. It was my birth date: 12/12, which of course adds to 24.
“The last time I was in Australia, our tour manager came up with eight hotel room keys, picked one and handed it to me. Of course, it was Room 24,” he laughs.
“But the one that really wierded me was over an SG which I slept with as a kid; I did my first professional gig with it. I sold it to a friend ages ago. Three years ago, when I was playing New York with Grand Funk (Railroad, who Kulick now plays with), he rang and said, ‘I want to bring that old SG and take a photo of it with you’. I looked at its serial number: there were five numbers and they added up to 24.”
Coincidental? How about the fact that Kulick’s current album BK3 is out through Rocket Science Records? His late father worked as a control engineer for NASA’s moon landing projects and a younger Kulick received a piece of moon rock. It now has pride of place in an older Kulick’s home in Los Angeles, which is also decorated with a large black and white photo of the Beatles with Paul McCartney sitting on the drum riser, a framed quadruple-platinum award for the Kissology DVD, and the sheet music of Wizard Of Oz opened on the piano.
“The closest I’ve ever come to meeting a Beatle was at (Knack singer) Doug Fieger’s memorial at his house,” Kulick recalls. “He sang on my album just before he died. Doug’s attorney brother was there, so was the girl who inspired My Sharona and right in the middle of the living room was a Ringo Starrr drum kit. Then Ringo walked in with Joe Walsh and Jeff Lynne. My girlfriend, knowing what a huge Beatles fan I am, pushed me towards him to introduce myself. And know what was freaky? A week before that I was at an autograph show, and I bought a picture of Ringo from 1965 looking happy behind his kit.”
BK3 is one of these records that tends to stay in your CD player. Inspired by the work that went into Kiss’ Revenge (“Bob Ezrin wouldn’t let us get away with anything”) he took his time and used friends like John Corbi, Gene Simmons, Gene’s son Nick (who has a bluesier voice than his dad), Kenny Aronoff and guitar maestro Steve Lukather.
Although Kulick has been out of Kiss for ages, he appreciates that the Kiss Army will always associate him with the band. Kiss fans can be intense. Like a staffer at Delta Airlines who accessed the confidential passenger list and turned up at an airport departure lounge for more autographs. “A 12 year old girl emailed me – and I would have been out of the band even before she was born – to say I was the best guitarist in the world and, by the way, would I adopt her?” he laughs. “So my assistant emailed her back to say that wouldn’t be possible, and she was like, ‘Why not?!’”
His entry into Kiss, officially in December 1984, also had an aspect of destiny. He replaced Mark St. John who clashed with the other members when making Animalize and then found he couldn’t join them on tour because of arthritis.
Says Kulick, “They hired Mark as a knee-jerk reaction. Vinnie Vincent had been a progressive guitar player, and they wanted a guitar-shredder because Eddie Van Halen was real strong at that time. I read about Mark joining them in Kerrang! Magazine – and the story was on page 24, I swear to you!,” he laughs again, “and I remember thinking, ‘This is wrong’. It was nothing personal, but Mark just didn’t seem to fit. Next thing I know, Paul’s asking me to help them with the studio, and then it was, ‘Help us out and go to Europe for six weeks’. I stayed 12 years,” he grins. “The highlights?” he muses quizzically. “Playing to 107,000 at Donnington and the unplugged album which showed how strong we were as a band.”
Being a guitarist-for-hire and endorsee for ESP (“quality and durable”) and Gibson, means Kulick takes special care of his hands. Fruit and vegetables are cut with a plastic knife. Only a limited amount of workouts are scheduled with his personal trainer. No more experimenting with different pick-ups with a soldering gun.
As someone who holds workshops, how does he react to Eric Clapton’s advice to young guitarists is that they should listen to sax players, rather than other guitarists? “That’s brilliant! But I’d go further to suggest you listen to all kinds of instruments,” Kulick offers. “Not all will work for your guitar but you do develop great ideas.
“Jimi Hendrix was inspired by the idea of unstructured freeform jams from listening to (trumpeter legend) Miles Davis on Bitches Brew. Things like Rock Band and Guitar Hero expose young people to being in the mode of playing and hearing classic rock. But the actual mechanics of playing an instrument is upside down,” he points out.
“You can be brilliant at controls at playing guitar, but you have to start at zero to actually play one. But a lot of professional musicians have tried their hand at Guitar Hero and they suck at it. So do I!” he grins.
BRUCE KULICK holds workshops this Saturday October 2 and Sunday October 3 at AIMS – taking on his approach to his playing and his music. He will also be interviewed again by Christie Eliezer as part of an interview panel. Tix through Moshtix – and go to aimshow.com.au for all session times and info. BRUCE KULICK will also play a special show – with mates Maeder and Six Hours – at Ding Dong Lounge on Friday October 1 – tickets through oztix.com.au. BK3 is out now through Riot!