From player to producer
Guitarist/producer Bob Kulick talks about his role atop the rock and roll industry
By Jim Hagerty
Imagine being at a Cheap Trick show in 1977. You find your seat, and decide to catch the opening band. They are on the bill, so a listening might be worth the time.
When the unknown Meat Loaf comes on, you listen to the first song, then to a few thousand others scream and boo in utter disdain for the band to get off the stage. Sounds more like a deleted scene from Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap.
Spinal Tap’s misfortunes, however, were the products of the collective imagination of writers Reiner, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean. The band, of course, never existed anywhere else. Meat Loaf and the incident, on the other hand, are both official parts of rock history.
Famed producer and guitar player Bob Kulick was a member of Meat Loaf’s original band (along with younger brother, ex-Kiss guitarist, Bruce) and will likely not forget how fans went from calling for their heads to doing whatever they could to own a copy of the rock opera, Bat out of Hell, anytime soon.
“That was the original band with Jim (Steinman),” Kulick said. “It was the same band that got booed off the stage. They literally booed us off the stage. It then became the biggest band in the world inside one year.”
Most Kiss fans know at least part of Kulick’s story. Although he impressed Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley when he auditioned for Kiss in 1972, he was passed over for Ace Frehley for the final spot in the band. The decision to go with Frehley certainly didn’t seal Kulick’s fate. Instead, it marked the beginning of one of the most storied careers in rock and roll.
“I became a friend of the band, mainly with Gene and Paul,” Kulick said. “I went to shows and kept in contact. When they saw I was getting some pretty good gigs with Alice Cooper and others, I also became an associate.”
Kulick lent his hand on several Kiss recordings, filling in for a then-troubled Ace Frehley. He played on Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album, and toured with the Kiss frontman. When Reiter’s Syndrome sidelined guitarist Mark St. John, the second after Frehley, Stanley and Simmons called on Kulick, who, by that time, had subbed on Killers, Alive II and Creatures of the Night, to recommend a replacement. Kulick suggested Kiss hire his brother, Bruce, who would remain with the band from 1984 to 1996.
As Bruce forged a name for himself with Kiss, Bob continued with Meat Loaf and became a sought-after session player and touring musician, having done work for Diana Ross, Lou Reed, Michael Bolton, W.A.S.P. and others.
Bob Kulick the producer
Before the Beatles invaded the U.S., a young Bob Kulick had his heart stolen—not by a pretty school girl, but by a piece of classical music.
“I was in tears. I looked at myself and wondered what that was all about. I then realized my mind was telling me I should pursue (music),” he said.
The affair would continue for Kulick when the likes of Stevie Wonder and the Animals came through Brooklyn, providing him experiences that would later be as beneficial as his chops when making the succession into producing.
With 11 Platinum or Gold records to his credit, Kulick produced Motorhead’s Grammy Award-winning single “Whiplash,” which grabbed the Best Metal Performance trophy in 2004. His more than a dozen other projects are just as acclaimed, and, to many, responsible for keeping hard rock and heavy metal as popular as ever.
Producing, Kulick says, involves understanding what fans want to hear, how to present material and choosing songs listeners will resonate with.
“George Martin, the man who first produced the Beatles, was producing comedy records before he worked with the band,” Kulick, a huge Beatles fan, said. “[The Beatles] had their first single, ‘Please Please Me,’ as a ballad. He (Martin) told them it was too slow, and they needed to bring up the tempo. He felt nobody would listen to it like that. George Martin, a guy who produced comedy records, had the instinct to hear something else. If he wouldn’t have, the world would be a different place today.”
At the helm, Kulick approaches projects much like Martin handled the Beatles. At times, the need for a producer to pick up a guitar and play riffs the way he envisions them—something he’s done more than once, is all part of making a strong record. It distinguishes the difference between a musician and a true producer. While not all producers are musicians and vice versa, both lean on experiences and the imprint of influence. For Kulick, it was the music he grew up with and how the material of today evolved from the revolution of the 1960s.
“Just seeing those bands and the experience of it has helped me,” he said. “As a producer, I can say that I saw those acts and know firsthand of what they did and how they did it, whereas someone that wasn’t alive then doesn’t have that.”
Released last year, the Bob Kulick-produced We Wish you a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year is a collection of traditional Christmas songs played by a who’s who in rock cast of players such as Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Kulick, Tommy Shaw, Dave Grohl, Lemmy Kilmister and Alice Cooper.
“It’s been fun taking songs that we all know and presenting them as metal songs,” he said. “Having Alice Cooper sing, ‘…he knows when you’re sleeping’ was great. It’s perfect for him.”
Kulick, who owns Office Studios in Los Angeles, produced an all-star cast of rockers (Kip Winger, Jack Blades, Billy Idol and others) on the Butchering the Beatles: A Headbashing Tribute (2006) project, a 12-song collection of beefed-up Beatles tracks. Kulick is featured on two recent DVD releases. Forever Kiss includes Bob and Bruce explaining guitar licks from several Kiss classics. Bat Out Of Hell: The Original Tour—also featuring the Kulick brothers, was released on DVD earlier this month.
While he’s retired from the road, Bob Kulick continues to search for talent and make projects similar to Metal Xmas. A metal collection of ’60s British Invasion material is in the works.
“On one hand, it would be great to be a kid again, but on the other, I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything,” Kulick said.
More information about Bob Kulick can be found at www.myspace.com/bobkulick. Bruce Kulick can be found at www.kulick.net.
From the December 2-8, 2009 issue