- - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Not many people can lay claim to having played with two of the biggest bands in the history of classic rock, but guitarist Bruce Kulick can. He spent more than a decade in the nonmakeup run of KISS and has been riffing in Grand Funk Railroad for the past 15 years.

Away from those legendary groups, he was also the go-to guy for acts as diverse as Meat Loaf, Michael Bolton and Billy Squier.

Mr. Kulick checked in to chat about his time on the road with KISS, his early start in disco and the future of classic rock.

Question: When did you first pick up a guitar?

Answer: I was 10 years old. The Beatles changed my life, like so many others growing up in the ‘60s. I knew I wanted to learn and make guitar-playing my life.

Q: What drew you to guitar instead of bass?

A: I actually did visit bass early. Cream and The Beatles influenced me. My first electric instrument was a Gibson EB-3 bass like [Cream bassist] Jack Bruce’s. My playing of the bass made my fingers stronger, and I moved to playing lead guitar. Drums never felt right to me.

Q: Did you listen to a lot of classic rock as a kid?

A: The British Invasion was my world. I loved Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who, King Crimson, Yes. Plus Hendrix. I am thrilled classic rock is still important in the world of music.

Q: Does it blow your mind that you got to be in not one but two of the greatest rock bands of all time?

A: I am very honored. Grand Funk was a band I was impressed with, thinking, “Oh, an American version of Cream!” Naturally, KISS is world-famous and infamous! I have worked with a few other amazing, huge artists — Michael Bolton, Meatloaf and Billy Squier as well.

Q: Was your first professional playing gig with Michael Bolton?

A: Meat Loaf was before that. And before that I was touring professionally with some artists that had big disco hits. “Rock Your Baby” by George McCrae got me first on the road. And then Andrea True had a hit with “More, More, More,” and I traveled in her band. All good experiences.

Q: How did you end up in KISS?

A: In 1984 KISS needed a “ghost” guitar player to help on a few tracks for the “Animalize” record that Paul Stanley was producing. I came in and did a good job. He told me not to cut my hair. I didn’t understand till I got the call to tour with them as their guitarist, Mark St. John, had an illness. It became 12 years!

Q: Was it hard joining such a well-known group?

A: Happily, all the experiences with the groups prior to me working in KISS helped me. I knew what it was to be touring around the world. It was amazing being a true part of a huge band.

Q: Who was easier to work with, Gene Simmons or Paul Stanley?

A: Neither one is harder, but they are different. Gene is a workaholic, and Paul [is] more creatively sensitive to being a true artist. I tried to appeal to both of them, in a sensible way, and it helped make the relationships fruitful. I am still close with them.

Q: Favorite KISS album and song you played on?

A: The album “Revenge” and the song “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II.”

Q: How did you know your run with KISS was over?

A: We had a meeting about the [2000] reunion tour, and I knew it wasn’t going to be just for a year. I knew that the success of the reunion tour would be the end of my era with the band.

Q: Did you go see the reunion tour?

A: Yes, and it was hard, but I did understand the appeal. Many fans actually thought, “Well, Bruce will be back, and the makeup will come off.” Nope!

Q: When original guitarist Ace Frehley left the band for the second time in 2003, did they ask you to come back and wear Ace’s makeup?

A: They did not. Tommy [Thayer] was there to pick up the problems that Ace caused. It was wiser to make Tommy the Spaceman. It would have been awkward for me. I was 12 years in KISS as “Bruce Kulick,” not “The Spaceman.”

Q: How did you end up in Grand Funk Railroad?

A: I met [Grand Funk Railroad drummer] Don Brewer years ago. And his wife was an old friend of mine from my time with Michael Bolton’s band. When they were looking for someone, I was on the short list of guitarists to consider. I was very happy I got the call. It’s been 14 years now, and the band is awesome.

Q: What are your favorite Grand Funk songs to play?

A: “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “American Band,” “Inside Looking Out.” So many. With Grand Funk there isn’t a weak tune!

Q: What else are you working on?

A: It’s time now for me to consider my next solo CD, and I’m not sure completely what direction it will [go in]. But I do love being creative and sharing that with my fans. I will be doing the usual gigging with Grand Funk and other travels for my guitar playing.

Have guitar, will travel!

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