What first made you want to pursue music?
The first thing was simply a family jealously issue, my cousin Judy, may she rest in peace, played acoustic guitar at a family function and my mother of course, very capable of cracking the whip, said to me ‘why can’t you do something like that?’. So I kind of thought it was intriguing and subsequently took some guitar lessons from my cousin- that’s how I got started, my mother making a comment on why I couldn’t do something like that.
And who were your musical influences once you decided to start playing guitar?
Well now that was part two of the answer. At the time what was popular was folk music-Peter Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, singer songwriters who played acoustic guitar. It was a real crash course learning how to play some of those songs, some of the greatest songs ever written, on acoustic guitar and being able to get familiar with how it works to have your fingers work when you tell them to. It was a test for me, someone who wanted to be a baseball player, who had the hand eye coordination but didn’t realize until that moment that the hand eye coordination was to be used for guitar, not swinging a baseball bat or catching a baseball. So this was what started to happen once I saw The Beatles. The infatuation was there- with the folk music and the ability to be able to learn to play, but the idea of being a rock star, having somebody to look at and realize that there was magic in that…you know like the pied piper, people followed him. This is what happened to me, that I was put into a trance with the fixation of following what turned out to be my life course, I just didn’t know it at the time.
There was a DJ in New York called Murray the K- he played all of the really cool, hip stuff and introduced New York to The Beatles. But he also had holiday shows that he would do- Easter, Christmas, Labor Day, so he’d have the top twenty or thirty acts of that period of time perform live one song each at the Brooklyn Fox Theater. So I was one of the kids that was infatuated by this, and we would get up early in the morning, stand on line at 10 o’clock when the doors opened and ran down to get a seat right in front, so I could see Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye and all these bands. I was a kid, but the idea of seeing this music performed live kind of gave me a jump start because being so close to the stage, you could feel what it’s like. So this way I was getting my sea legs as far as realizing that you’re gonna play on a stage like that, you’re gonna have to play with other people like you’re seeing. So taking all of that, having a few chords down and having seen all these acts kind of gave me that, you know, ‘this is fun, I wanna do this’. I didn’t think of it as a career, I thought of it as something to have fun with. And that’s how it all got started.
I’ve heard many stories about the day you auditioned for Kiss, could you tell me a little about that day and why you chose to audition for the band?
Back in the day there was a publication, a weekly newspaper, called the Village Voice and the back of the Village Voice had a ‘musicians wanted’ section. So anybody that was serious, that really had something going on, advertised in the Village Voice. So there was an ad from this band- a ‘Led Zeppelin style band looking for lead guitar player’, that’s basically what it said. At that period of time I considered myself having seen Jimmy Page, having seen Eric Clapton play with Cream- these were my idols. So somebody looking for a Led Zeppelin style lead guitar player was exactly me. I went down to the audition and I met Gene and Paul and Peter, and as I recall we basically just jammed on some stuff just to get started. And then they had a piece of music, one of their songs, and they showed me the changes and we went through those. Then we stopped to talk about the image thing that they were going for, and you know, I understood what they were saying. But I pointed out the obvious- it’s a great gimmick but if the band’s great, like Led Zeppelin, you really don’t need a gimmick. I was more of a musician musician in my mind than I was somebody thinking that face makeup or totally outlandish outfits was the ticket. To me the bands that I adored, you know, like The Beatles wore outfits but no makeup. There was a hairdo but all that seemed natural opposed to what they were suggesting. So I was like ‘let me see if I understand this…each guy in the band is gonna wear makeup that would cover their face and be a distinctive character in and of itself, is that what you’re saying?’ Yeah. I told them I wasn’t opposed to this, but I didn’t understand the necessity. You think you’re Led Zeppelin- Led Zeppelin didn’t wear makeup. So a guy walked in after me, it was Ace.
A couple of weeks later Paul called me on the phone and he said ‘So, everybody really likes you and you played great and you’re definitely the best player we saw. But the guy who played after you kinda fits the finger in the glove on the hand better than you do.’ And I was like ‘I understand’ because it’s a matter of chemistry, and Ace’s chemistry for what they were looking for and what they needed- you know Gene and Paul the two serious ones, Ace and Peter more, shall we say, rock star like- having fun, doing the things that rock stars do. He fit the band. But we kept in touch and I went to see them play, became Paul’s friend and Gene’s friend and then I got ‘we need you to play, we need you to write a song, we need you to do my tour’- Paul’s tour, Paul’s record, Kiss ‘Killers’, Kiss ‘Alive II’. I became part of the family and part of the actual ‘He played! He co-wrote a song!’, I became part of the joke-name Kisstory.
So it wasn’t meant for me to get that gig, obviously, but it was meant for me to be involved with them still. I saw Gene and Eric at Lemmy’s funeral, actually went and sat next to Eric who’s my friend from the Paul Stanley tour. That’s where Kiss was introduced to him- Eric Carr, may he rest in peace, Eric Singer, myself, Dennis St. James, Gary Corbett and Paul went out on the 1989 Paul Stanley solo tour. We did songs from the solo record I did with Paul and a lot of the Kiss songs that were Paul: “Detroit Rock City”, “I Still Love You”, “Love Gun”. So taking the best of Paul combined with “Tonight You Belong To Me”, “Goodbye” and a few of the other songs from the solo record made for a great live show, a taste for me of what it was like to be on stage. Paul didn’t need any makeup to be a star and that was the one thing that I did prove by doing that gig. It was a bunch of guys standing up there with no makeup and the reaction was no less than it would have been if it was Kiss. People went nuts. Paul is an amazing front man and I didn’t have to wear makeup, I got to be me. In that instance I was able to see what it would be like to be in the band without being a core member, whereas my brother was really in the band. You know I made the introduction and that’s how things happen sometimes.
I was going to ask you about that because I had read that you were ultimately the reason Bruce got the gig in Kiss.
Yeah because when it came to around that time it was ‘What are you saying? Vinnie’s not working out? Is that what you’re saying? Tell me it’s not so.’ Well that didn’t take long but we all knew that it would happen, both Paul and Gene had referenced to me that they weren’t sure how long that was gonna last based upon their perception of what Vinnie was about at the time. Which I agreed, and I thought my brother, who was more of a meat and potatoes player like me, would suit the band’s meat and potatoes approach better. And the fact that my brother has a willingness to put himself into circumstance where he can be, say, one of the Indians rather than being one of the Chiefs. I’m more Chief oriented. Even if it’s none of my business it’s just like…can I offer a suggestion or an observation here? I know it may be none of my business but here’s what I would do! I was never shy about stuff like that whereas Bruce was much better at, shall we say, playing the necessary game that’s required at times when dealing with an employer and employee circumstance- which is what a lot of bands really are. The audience perceives the band for face value as they hear it, whatever medium they’re listening to or even seeing it through. That’s the perception that counts and only counts- what the audience takes away. They don’t really know that each member of the band has their own manager, or that two of the guys are in four other bands or any of that. The beauty of it is what’s face value. Here’s a band, you either like it or you don’t , you tap your foot or you don’t, you leave early or you stay for the whole thing. That’s really what it comes down to. So my brother was able to circumnavigate being in that band the longest up until that time, he was in the band twelve years. That’s a long time! You know I worked with Meatloaf in ’78 and ’79 and then in ’83 through ’89 so that’s eight years- that was a long time too.
Yeah of course! And I know you played on some WASP records, how’d you start doing that?
Well Blackie was part of the LA scene and I would see him around from time to time. And the thing about New York or London or LA is that everybody knows who the real players are. So Blackie was extremely methodical, he reached out to about ten guys and sent everybody sort of a piece of music, and was like ‘can you put a solo on here, like an audition?’ And I thought if this was a live gig I would absolutely not do that, if it was a live gig I would say we gotta play together to see what the vibe is, I’m not submitting something on a cassette for you. Whereas something for somebody’s record- I had a machine that would allow me to put a guitar solo over the track he sent me. So he called me and was like ‘you’re Dave Gilmour, it’s killing me’. And I was like alright this would be the perfect song for me- and that was “The Idol”. Once I got in there and we started to work together he started to realize- like Gene realized and Paul realized and a lot of the people I was lucky enough to play with realized, that I was able to go in there and create magic on whatever it was that they had. I could take a guitar solo and make it into something that has emotion and feeling and communicates a vibe, you know, that people like to hear or that distracts them from what they need distracting from.
So in Blackie’s case that was really effective, the vibe really worked, you know “Chainsaw Charlie” and songs like that. Like a baseball player talks about a pitch in his wheelhouse, that’s the pitch I can always hit- those motifs on those songs, the tempos, the keys, the chord changes- my wheelhouse. I was like drooling, you know, let me at this. Totally my vibe, the vibe I felt the most comfortable with- those keys, those tempos, those motifs. So basically metal music: WASP, Metallica, Motörhead, Kiss- the heavier sides of all those bands is what really turns me on the most as a player. That style of music even though I like all music- orchestral music, show tunes- metal music somehow activates a part of my brain that none of the rest do, so I kinda think this is my specialty item. I’m very proud of what I did on the Kiss records- “All American Man”, “Larger Than Life”, “Partners In Crime”, all that stuff. You know it was great, and Paul’s solo record people are always like ‘did this take a long time?’, ‘was it very frustrating?’. No, it was very natural because I was comfortable and I learned how to do the thing that came along with it most of all, above everything, was the idea that this is having fun. And that this is a lot of fun. Was it a lot of pressure being in the studio with Diana Ross and Gene Simmons, trying to come up with a solo for Diana’s “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”? Yes and no. Yes it was like I can’t believe I’m doing this, but no because this was my chance to show what I know and what I love to do. And that part of your brain kicks in and you go into this trance where it’s all about the music. Music uses 100% of your brain, and when you’re into music that’s why it sometimes becomes a physical thing because your brain is totally fixated on it.
So, lucky enough to be put in the positions to be able to make some music that falls into that, like the theme for Triple H that I did with Motörhead. You know, “The Crimson Idol”, “Larger Than Life”, “The Game”, “God Save The Queen” that I did with Motörhead- those songs, the really heavy stuff. And some of the stuff I did on my solo record, that’s pretty much my wheelhouse as I’ve been saying. So I’m working on my solo record now and that’s what the material is like, it’s extremely melodic and song oriented but it’s definitely heavy and dark. So I’m getting through that, but we can talk about that in a minute.
Along with playing I know you produce quite a bit as well- for example “Whiplash” by Motörhead. How do you like producing and how was working with Motörhead on that?
Well the producing part was the natural transition for somebody who thought he was gonna be a school teacher and ended up playing in rock bands. I could take what I learned from the producers I’ve worked with and especially with a guy who is no longer with us- a guy who is a hit songwriter, monster guitar player and a star in his own right Dick Wagner who worked with Alice Cooper and got me the gig with Alice Cooper. And he was the guy who wrote “Only Women Bleed” and “The Black Widow” and a bunch of those songs; Dick Wagner was somebody who showed me the ropes. Showed me how to arrange a song, showed me how to write a song, how to produce a song, how to do the whole thing. And working on those compilation records that I did really made it easy and because all the people and all of those artists knew that I was a player, they didn’t look at me like I was just a producer who didn’t know what he was talking about or just giving an opinion. I would say ‘give me the guitar for a second- here’s what I’m hearing’ and then ‘oh okay I see what you’re playing’ and hand the guitar back to them. That’s a huge difference. You know: ‘End on the minor chord’, ‘Are you sure?’, ‘Yes just end on the minor chord’. I could talk to them in musical terms and this was a huge advantage. It’s a huge advantage to be able to pick up the guitar and say ‘You’re flat. Look at me, look at my fingers do you see where I’m bending this to? Play it. Ah, there you go’. It’s hands on; it wasn’t somebody just giving their opinion or somebody putting a microphone in front of a cabinet- that’s not a producer. A producer is somebody who inspires the artist to give their best performance on the material that the producer feels will showcase them in the best way. That’s what a producer really does.
Like what George Martin did to The Beatles, they didn’t need somebody to hold their hand, they didn’t need somebody to go ‘this needs a bridge’. They needed somebody to be objective. Like, ‘you know what, this is too slow, lets try speeding it up’ or ‘this part doesn’t really work, lets try changing it’. That’s what he did- what was necessary. That’s why today there are all these bands with their own home studios saying ‘maybe that’s good enough’ even though it’s not. You can’t just say ‘maybe that’s good enough’, where’s the feedback from an engineer or a producer? They can say to you ‘this song is too slow’ or ‘this needs to be faster’. Just those simple suggestions from an objective ear might make the difference between success and failure. The only way you can be good at something is by doing it, and the only way to get really good is to be experienced, so new bands need help in that area. Sadly now we have the age where everyone’s got their garage band app and some kind of pro tools in their bedroom. So Johnny sits on his bed and plays a guitar solo into an amp and calls it good. There’s no other microphone or other studio technique; it’s all Johnny went and read it online.
I was lucky, I got to work with top of the line talent. I was doing this Metallica tribute and the song Whiplash came to mind, realizing that this was Metallica sounding like Motörhead. And because Motörhead was one of the biggest, if not the biggest influences on Metallica it seemed like Motörhead doing “Whiplash” on a Metallica tribute seemed about right. So putting their style and their vibe out there, it got nominated for a Grammy and everyone else nominated was pretty much the new thing- they all kind of cancelled themselves out and people had voted for Motörhead as I suspected, and also out of respect for Lemmy who even back then in 2006 was a man of tremendous respect. And him doing a cover song of people who idolized him really seemed about right. So doing this and the theme for Triple H and “God Save The Queen”, it was obvious to me that like I was saying about Blackie- my vibe works perfectly with what this band and this guy does. So that was the really great thing about my involvement with Motörhead and especially Lemmy, you know I still can’t believe he’s gone. I spoke at the funeral, played at his birthday party and he was my friend for thirty two years, and we did all this recording together…we made magic. It just worked. It was just that voice and my vision for what they should sound like, on those two songs anyway, and it kinda really worked. And it’s one of the things that I’m proudest of, cause it’s not that easy to make magic. You can make recordings but that’s not necessarily magic- those two were definitely the magic.
Definitely, definitely. Straying away from that quite a bit my next question is in regards to the work you did with Spongebob. Growing up I was obsessed with the “Sweet Victory” song that I recently found out you did a lot of work on, tell me how you got that gig.
It’s interesting because we were hired by this music company to do inspirational songs. So David Glen Eisley sang and co-wrote the song with me, the singer from Dirty White Boy and Giuffria, really a dear friend of mine and world class songwriter. So we got together and we did this song and a companion song that nobody heard yet, and it just worked out amazing. Everyone who heard it thought it was amazing and just a really great song. Somehow the Spongebob people got to hear the song and they actually wrote the episode around the song. We were told they wanted to use the majority of this song in a stadium scene with Spongebob actually singing the song, and we were just like ‘you’re kidding, right?’ So finally we got to see it and again, it was one of those seeing is believing type things. David and I both looked at each other just like, this is gonna be huge. And it was huge, anytime this came up people’s jaws would drop and they’d be like ‘how were you involved with that?!’ Well, co-wrote the song, played guitar on it and produced it. And then it was ‘oh…well my kids love that song! It’s a great song.’ Again, it’s hard to make magic but that song in that context was magic. It totally worked and then people got accustomed to the song- people would send me a link to the song being used in a trailer or something. Sometimes you create something for one purpose and somehow it ends up being used for something else that makes it even better than what it was by itself. This was one of those instances where Spongebob actually stood the song up on its feet even though it was a great song anyways, it gave it the exposure it deserved. And so many people were affected by the lyrics and by the uplifting nature and the patriotism and it really conjured up as a e Are The Champions type song which it was. That’s exactly what it was, it’s a sense of pride I feel like. That song was like having a number one hit single, so many people knew it. The downloads alone, three hundred thousand. Three hundred thousand iTunes downloads in one year. And the CD it was on sold over two hundred and fifty thousand copies, so it got a lot of exposure. And Dave sings his ass off, I mean that vocal on there, they couldn’t get it any better.
It’s amazing because you know I’m 17 and everyone growing up knew that song, even my dad knows that song and it’s seriously a really great song, putting the Spongebob aspect of it aside. And my last question for you is basically if you’re working on anything right now or have any plans for the future.
I got some new artists that I’m working with with my new partner Bobby Ferrari here in Las Vegas at Vegas View Recording. We’ve got this great nine hundred and fifty thousand dollar SSL board over at Sanford-Brown University. The studio is a model A studio- soundproof rooms, all the old analog gear and a nine hundred and fifty thousand dollar SSL board. It’s used for classes some of the days but other than that we have access to the studio. So we’re working on my solo record now, Bob Kulick and Friends and I’ve got a bunch of high profile guys which are the guys I always work with. Frankie Banali, Rudy Sarzo, Vinny Appice, Andrew Freeman from Last In Line- the band Jimmy Bain was in before he died recently. Andrew’s singing on the record, Robin McAuley’s singing on the record- I’ve got some really great people on there but right now I’m just waiting to see if it’s gonna be an EP or if I’m gonna make a CD out of it. Now that a bunch of people have approached me because of recent events, a lot more of my old friends who I’ve done these compilation records with have showed up in a way that I can only think of as somebody trying to tell me something like ‘do more songs!’. So yeah, maybe I’ll do more songs. So once the four songs are done I’ll decide if it’ll be like ‘that’s it, here are the four songs’ or if it’s gonna be ‘hang on, let me record seven more’. That’s what I’m working on.
And as I said having this great studio and new partner we have some new artists, there’s a girl in town named Leona X and she’s kinda like modern day Joan Jett. So I’m working with her and there’s an artist in Los Angeles called Dez Cleo and she’s kind of very cutting edge, modern day Madonna style vibe. Very pop, dance oriented but rock as well. So I’ve got a couple new artists, my record and I’m finishing up on my book which is now being called ‘Confessions of a Killer Heavy Metal Axe Man’. There I tell all the stories of the bands that I worked with, so Alice Cooper’s got a chapter, Lou Reed’s got a chapter, and I think it’s different because my experience was not ‘I’m Gene Simmons I was in Kiss all my life’. I worked with all these different people, so all these stories are different. And the fact that the thing I’m most proud of is shown clearly in this book- which is that I was able to do it, and this is my advice to everyone for everything. Be able to adapt to the circumstance you’re in, for me the ability to play with Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle and Lou Reed on one hand and to be able to play with Motörhead, Alice Cooper and Kiss on the other hand and everything in between. The ability to be able to utilize your talent in a way that is not one dimensional, in a way that you can say I can play with anybody. Yes, have a specialty item but the more you know about music and the more music is in you, the more you’ll be able to give out. I really feel that I was lucky, that I was smart enough to be able to face the challenge- ‘can you play with an all black r&b band?’ Yes, yes I can. ‘Can you play a Welcome To My Nightmare show with Alice Cooper wearing a cape and a top hat?’ Yes, yes I can do that. So taking all of those challenges and making them work is the best thing I respect about myself, somehow being able to make all of that work. So, I’ll leave you with that.
Do you have any idea when this stuff will come out?
If I end up making an EP, the spring. If it’s gonna be a CD, probably not until September or October. As far as the book goes, I gotta get it done first. I’ve got a lot more to write and I’ve actually already got two hundred pages done and about fifty pictures that I’ve taken or gotten permission for, you know pictures of me back in the day with Alice or Meatloaf and some of those artists.
You can follow Bob on Twitter @BobKulickMusic, and be sure to keep an eye out for his new album and book!