Former Kiss Guitarist Bruce Kulick on Revisiting His First Band and More: Exclusive Interview
We spoke with former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick last year for an extensive two-part interview as he marked the 30th anniversary of joining the band and he had plenty of great stories to share regarding his 12-year run with the group.
During that chat, he spoke about his early influences, guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page and Steve Howe of Yes and in the process, dropped a hint at that time in regards to his planned activities for the new year.
“I listened to Yes a lot when I was young,” he said. “I loved Steve Howe, who is very different than Eric Clapton, but a very creative guitar player. I still love Yes. I'm going to be putting out in 2015 a band that I had from 40 years ago and we just cut a new song. I would say that we were a cross between like a kind of Cream and Yes because there's a lot of sections that are very progressive.”
More than 40 years after Kulick went into the recording studio to lay down tracks with singer/bassist Mike Katz and drummer Guy Bois, fans now have the chance to hear the recorded results of those early sessions with the project that was effectively his first band called KKB. Incredibly, the songs have been freshly remixed and remastered from the original session tapes which had been lost for a number of years but happily, Katz found them in 2013 and got in touch with Kulick, who quickly made plans to revisit and release the material.
As referenced, there’s even some new music to enjoy -- the original three members came together virtually to record their first new song since the original sessions in 1974. “Got to Get Back” is the result of that new collaboration and fits in seamlessly with the ‘70s material.
On an early Saturday morning recently, Kulick spent some time discussing the vintage recordings with us and how the new song and EP came together. We also discussed Blackjack, his hard rock band with Michael Bolton that came about at the end of the ‘70s and also, his work with Billy Squier on the The Tale of the Tape album.
The story of this KKB release is pretty incredible. Many folks have fond memories and maybe some recordings of that first band in their early days of playing music, but it just doesn’t usually happen that you find the multi-tracks of that material. I don’t know how much you thought about this stuff over the years, but it had to be a pretty incredible feeling, having that realization that you not only had those tapes, but you could revisit them and perhaps address some things that you all collectively might have wished you had done at the time.
Well, it was really exciting once Mike Katz, the principal singer/songwriter, found them. I did have a version of it that I remember playing Gene [Simmons] and Eric [Carr] years ago and them going, “Wow, this is pretty cool.” It was just like a footnote or whatever, just saying, “Hey, check out what I was doing when I was 20.” I’ve been trying to archive as much as I can, because we all know that the different mediums of music do degrade and you have to be careful about that if you’re trying to preserve things.
So I know I was transferring and digitizing a lot of things from even rehearsals with Michael Bolton for Blackjack and live gigs and then songwriting with him, which was late ‘70s. The reason why I bring it up is that I found this King Biscuit Flower Hour performance that I only had on a cassette, which is why I needed to digitize it. There’s this jam section of the live gig where we all went off and did our own thing, where Sandy Gennaro played some drums and then I go into a riff -- and the riff was the riff that I contributed to this [KKB] song called “Trying to Find a Way.” I go, “Oh my God!”
So here it is in ‘79 and I realized, even though we weren’t going to go into that song, we needed a link in the performance between drum solo, bass riff, into something else, right? So that freaked me out -- I always knew that I had that live King Biscuit Flower Hour performance, which was mostly songs from our album -- and I think we might have done a cover song, like “Rocky Mountain Way” was something that I know I would do with Michael sometimes -- but that was crazy, that there was that riff from KKB. So it wasn’t as if I completely ignored it and I know you started the question with saying that it was an early band -- I don’t even know if we called ourselves a band.
The whole thing was just getting together and creating these songs that Mike was very clear about. As you can tell, since you digested the music, they’re pretty complex. Some of them are very, you know, there’s time signatures and there’s tricky riffs and to think I was doing that at such a young age was for myself, something I was very proud of myself.
It’s an admirable first recording for a group of players or a band or whatever you want to call it. I know that you put this stuff out in 2008 before you got these tapes. Not having heard it before, I wondered how well the original audio was captured before you even started with the remixing, because what you’ve presented here, it’s a remarkably precise recording considering that this was recorded in 1974, presumably on a budget that was pretty minimal.
It’s fair what you’re asking and I’ll explain it exactly. The 2008 release, I found my copy. I always knew that I had a tape, a reel-to-reel. Of course, I’d been in touch with Mike for many, many years. Many times, he’s come to see me with Grand Funk [Railroad], anytime I’m in New York and I can fit it in, we get together. Because there’s times I’ll go to New York for a corporate event or something. Grand Funk doesn’t go there often enough and my family doesn’t really live there anymore. You know, my family all lives on the west coast.
What happened with that tape was that it was good enough playing it for some of my musician friends for them to say, “Oh, you’ve got to put this out. All I could do was clean it up a little bit in Pro Tools and see if there was any other bonus material around, another rough mix of something -- and that tape actually had other things on it and that became what I called KKB 1974. Nothing could be revisited in the sense of, you know, “Can you put a little effect on the voice,” you know, “Can we manipulate the balance or anything?” No, all it was was Pro Tools and a little bit of mastering.
It sold quite well -- back then physical product was still very much a part of people’s diet, whereas it’s become less [of that], sadly, lately, as you know. I sold it as a limited edition signed thing on my website and made 1,000 and over the course of the next couple of months, they were gone -- I was very pleased with it. Actually, that version has just recently been licensed to vinyl in Germany. There was a label there that wants ‘70s bands and of course he knew I wasn’t interested in him having anything to do with the brand new discovery, because you know, he was fine with just that.
So that’s a testament of telling you that it didn’t sound terrible, but man, when Mike gave me the original tapes -- when he found those, then I asked him to digitize them at a studio in New York and when he sent those files and I shared them with my engineer, Brian Virtue, we knew that we could really present this material like what you hear. For it to be 40 years old, and recorded...when you say, “on a budget,” yeah, we didn’t go in through the Record Plant or Electric Lady in ‘74, we were at a place in the Bronx called Sudden Rush Music and we recently discovered and reconnected with the owner and we thanked him on the product and actually, he admitted to us that he felt like we were the best thing that ever came through his studio -- and I know that he worked with some other really good people.
Because he used to share [the music] with us. I even have copies of some of that, because I liked the music so much, I said, “Wow, those guys are great.” So that was kind of interesting that he still remembered it and he was so excited that we were revisiting this of course, and we have a nice little thank you to him also on the product. There’s a picture of Mike Katz with Alan, holding the original release that I put out in ‘08. I haven’t gotten his feedback yet on the new version, but I know he’s going to be even more thrilled, because he was pretty thrilled about that.
In fact, the artwork on the CD itself is from his promo photo of the studio. He had a really excellent promo photo, which showed the gear and Mike had a guitar pick from the studio and that was included in a photo on the packaging, which is kind of why when you buy the CD from my site, I offer a tortoise shell signature guitar pick from me, even though, of course, I didn’t have anything like that back then. His was a tortoise shell, so there was the connection.
But the sonics, there were no dropouts on the four-track tapes that he found -- and I will say that, incredibly back then, I think he might have had an eight-track facility, but the eight inputs went to four tracks. The drums are actually in mono, the bass and guitar were just slightly left and slightly right and the voice would be in the middle and the only overdubs were in spots, like that guitar in the song “Trying to Find a Way,” where I put this chirpy, phasey lead line, that was done over the vocal track -- that’s the only way you could do it, because there was no vocals in that section -- I could punch in.
That’s another thing that blows me away about the KKB Got To Get Back release, is the fact that we couldn’t….can we pick it up at the bridge? No, we didn’t do that -- those were complete performances. One of the things I really love about it too is that you can hear every little nuance. Sometimes by having the limit of that many tracks, everything you play is that much bigger, because you can’t double it and you can’t overdub the other texture -- there’s nothing wrong with all of that, you know, the magic of Led Zeppelin and how many guitars Jimmy Page could layer very creatively -- there’s magic in that too.
But sometimes, just being so immediate like this where we’re really naked here, you’ve got the voice in the middle and the bass and the guitar and the drums and that’s it and it still all comes together. I’m real proud of it.
For sure. And you should be. I’m floored to hear that’s a four-track recording. You guys did a lot with what you had to work with and that’s incredible.
Thanks. Mike knew to construct the music with the instrumentation [in that way] meant that we couldn’t have the luxury of saying, “And then we’ll layer this other guitar and then there will be a double on this.” We couldn’t do that. I think the only time he doubled his voice, which works perfectly, is on the ballad, “Someday.” Because obviously, that was just guitar and voice, so there was more than one track ready for him to do that.
That was the one song that we took the liberty to get a string quartet with a beautiful arrangement from the guy who produced my BK3 album, Jeremy Rubolino, a very talented string arranger. In fact, that’s what he’s been more known for lately and he’s been more successful at is string arrangements. What he came up with made Mike cry -- I was so thrilled to add that to that song, so that’s a nice touch.
Were there any challenges for you when it came to working on this material 40 years later?
Well, Brian, you know, I have such a great relationship with him, that I don’t have to be in the room with him. We discussed what it should be like. Mike was kind of clear also, what he imagined that if we had the luxury back then, I would have done this and this. So we gave him his menu of what to try and we were all on the same page that we weren’t going to try to overdo anything. So it was mostly going to be about, can we just shine it up, make it shine and maybe add an effect to the voice that didn’t exist in ‘74.
The challenges came from just at times that one track would sound really amazing and then we’d wind up wanting to make that next mix to be as brilliant. So there was a bit of back and forth with that, but nothing really out of the ordinary, to be honest. We did the sequencing a little different than the way my tape was from the 2008 release, because we had the new song and we thought the flow could change just a little bit. I don’t even know how I picked the order back in ‘74. So I was happy that we were open to looking at a little different sequencing.
I guess the toughest thing was really, towards the end, there was one song that we just were kind of not sure if it had the biggest impact and it was the first song from the old material. “Got to Get Back” opens the album and then of course, there’s “I’ll Never Take You Back.” We wanted it to sound as good or even better than the new song and in some ways, it does. That song probably posed the most re-examining. But the old material, there was only so much we were willing to do, so it wasn’t a big problem. The new song, there was just a little challenge of scheduling and sending the Pro Tools session to France and then sending it to New York and then sending it back to L.A. so Brian and I could do the guitars there.
There was a bit of that and then there was the one issue in the studio that Mike used: One of the mics didn’t work well. They had to use a different mic and Brian said, “You know, there’s a little bit of distortion on your voice.” And it was like, we had to deal with it -- and I thought that was fine, because again, we’re trying to make this sound more like something from the ‘70s, not from 2015. So having a little bit more distortion on something is more like the ‘70s. Everyone’s blown away with how the new song really is a throwback to another era, so that’s good.
For sure. I really was impressed sonically how well that song matches up with the rest of the material. I wondered how you approached that, because it really is striking, how much it falls in line with the sonics of the rest of the material.
The challenge was, alright, what tools make sense for this. In other words, what tools will I use? Back then, I had one guitar -- a cherry 1965 [Gibson] SG Special. That was my one guitar and everyone knows that my collection is pretty huge now. It’s more like 150 guitars, so what do I use? In fact, I do have a vintage, cleaner version of a ‘65 SG that I, of course, brought to the studio and then other guitar that got used on the new song was also an SG -- I felt like it needed to stay in that kind of vibe.
It was a newer one, a 2010 custom -- a white one -- and that’s the one that appears in the packaging. Those two guitars [are the ones that I used]. I think the biggest challenge is to not go to one of my go-to Marshall Kiss heads that I love, you know what I mean? Because I didn’t have that back then and they didn’t exist. By the time I joined Kiss, the Marshall heads weren’t really like my favorite and weren’t what I had during Revenge.
I knew I had a Fender amp that was not stock -- it had a little bit of some sort of modification that made it a little bit hotter. I know a couple of years ago, I fell in love with this Fender Super-Sonic 22 model that Fender makes. For me, out of all of the amps I own -- and I do own some vintage Fender amps, too -- I kind of knew that one is probably closest to what I had back in ‘74 and Brian agreed. When we mic’ed that up, that was the only amp that we used.
And then of course, believe it or not, I still had pedals that I had in the ‘70s. So the wah-wah pedal that I probably used on KKB in ‘74 was the one, because I know that I marked that one during the Kiss years and it said #1 and it was always my favorite -- my vintage Vox wah -- that one got used. There was a phase pedal, which I don’t think I necessarily had exactly the same one -- I might have had a little Phase 90, which were, you know, the MXR pedals. This might have been the Electro-Harmonix. I’m not really sure which phaser I had back in ‘74.
But I had a vintage era-correct pedal for that. So again, using the right amp and guitar would be the right approach -- trying to overdo it with a more modern amp probably wouldn’t have captured it. And then onto Mike, he’s using the same bass, believe it or not -- not the same amp that he had in ‘74, but an amp that would give him his sound. I’m not sure if all of your readers know, but a lot of your sound is in your hands, so obviously when you have the same players [that takes care of a lot of it].
I wish we could have all cut it together, but financially getting everyone in the same room when Guy lives in Europe and Paris and Mike is in New York and I’m in L.A., would have just killed the budget that we were willing to spend to make a song happen. Nowadays, you know, I do a lot of sessions for people all around the world and that happens because they can just send me a file and I can open up a Pro Tools session and take it to a studio and record and send it back and it’s as if I’m there. That was the only negative about us working on a new song.
But Mike and I, he knew the riff I had -- I sent him back from a trip that he made to L.A. in 2013, I remember it was just before I got married and unfortunately he could not make it to the wedding, but he came to L.A. and I had an idea for a song that I thought could be a new song for us and he really turned it upside down and inside out, but I love what he did with it. He turned it into this catchy pop tune so it was really cool.
You’ve got about 150 guitars. How many amps do you have?
Amps? Not as many, of course. I probably have about 25 amps -- a lot of those are smaller amps and not all of them are go-to -- I would probably say I mostly use this Marshall head that I love and I only have three or four cabinets and it’s usually the same cabinet, depending on what I’m doing. You know, the numbers go up when...it’s so much fun to own a couple of small Fender Combos and then I have an Ampeg and then I have a little Vox amp. I guess it all adds up.
How far were you into your career where it became a situation as far as being able to store all of that stuff?
[Laughs] You know, I always made sure that wherever I lived, I either had access it -- lots of times, a friend had a studio and I could just leave gear there and things like that -- or the smaller amps are not a problem. Any home I’ve ever had, you know, I want to showcase a bit what I do, so if I had a den, like, there’s five Fender amps sitting along the wall in the den. I could plug in or not -- they’re beautiful pieces of furniture to me.
Do you have access to all of your guitars at any point?
I can get to what I need pretty quickly. When people see me on the road with Grand Funk, I have a lot of guitars on the road, but that’s because we fortunately use a really great backline company and they’re able to store like 20 guitars for me. So I’m able to swap that all out all of the time and I’m consistent with the amps. It’s their amps, but it’s the same model that I like a lot, the Marshall 900s. It really is funny when I think about taking a time machine back to 1974, how much that SG meant to me and that I had that one guitar.
Now, when anybody hires me for a session or I know I’m going to record something for myself, I realize, “Wow, I have a choice of many SGs or Les Pauls or many Strats or Teles or B.C. Rich or all of my vintage ESP Kiss guitars. It’s really funny. I love having the choices, but there’s a talent in knowing the right tool for the job, just like, you know when you’ve got somebody repairing your home, he brings the right tools to take care of that job that you couldn’t even imagine. How is he going to fix that window? How are those blinds going to be repaired? How are they going to put down wood flooring?
You know, they have tools. It’s something I share a lot when I do my clinics, like, I just did one here in Iowa, you know, is the pedals, the gear -- you’ve got to have the right tools. Otherwise, no matter how good your talent might be, you can really make it sound like garbage if you don’t know what you’re doing with the gear. The gear to me and the knowledge of knowing what works is a real skill that you need to learn. But that’s one of the big obsessions with musicians anyway is the gear and you know, gearheads -- the choices are endless, but then you’ve got to know what to do.
Do you still have that original SG?
You know, I know where it is. I sold it to a guy I knew in Queens a long time ago. I think he’ll be buried with it, it means that much to him. Which I appreciate, he’s kind of like, curating it. What I did later on in life when I regretted selling it, I bought one that was slightly modified -- it had a different bridge put on it and for the vintage market, you know that’s like a no-no, it’s good for what they call a utility guitar, that you change parts on it, but the ‘65 that I own is absolutely gorgeous and it’s never been modified and changed at all -- so I at least feel good that I made a point of buying and finding a period-correct SG from the same year.
The SGs, I was really into them because of Santana at Woodstock used one and you know, Pete Townshend loved SGs from the ‘60s -- he used to destroy many of them too -- but a lot of the people that know vintage gear, know that an SG Special is a really cool guitar, the P-90s [pickups], so I’m glad that I have one of them. I do have some cool photos of that original guitar too.
It’s fun listening to this KKB stuff and trying to pick out some of the stuff that might have been in the band’s collective subconscious when this was being recorded. You probably heard some interesting things yourself as you were listening to this again many years later, as far as, “Wow, we were listening to a lot of this or that.”
We were. You know, the biggest influence for Mike is Cream and for me, you know, a lot of my fans don’t actually know that my first electric instrument was actually an [Epiphone] EB-3 [bass] and the reason why I bought the bass was that my brother was a guitarist, of course, everyone knows that and I probably loved equally, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton in the same way that I love [Paul] McCartney, [George] Harrison and [John] Lennon.
There’s something about bass which always fascinated me which didn’t hurt, because years later, I wound up even playing bass on some of the important Kiss songs, because Paul [Stanley] liked the way I played bass and my fascination with the instrument -- I’ve always owned basses. Bass actually made my hands stronger and then generally, whatever group I was in, I seemed to be a better guitarist than the guitarist that was in the group. So then I just gravitated back over to guitar, never forgetting about the bass.
But I have to say that Cream, me understanding Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton, obviously made me very well connected to Mike’s brain when it came to his creative process. I’m not even sure how much he listened to Yes or King Crimson or some of the other bands, but he had an interesting take on how he wanted to do the instrumentation of the songs that were in his brain and I’ve gotta say, my knowledge and appreciation of Yes and Steve Howe as a guitar player that’s not using all of that gain that Eric Clapton was using on the amps and knowing all of those little more intricate versions of chords with Steve Howe having a jazz and classical background too, I was able to use all of those elements in my parts.
You know, there’s a lot of dynamics in the KKB album and there’s parts where I have to do all of these chords that are more Yes-like than Cream and I find that obviously me having both of those influences helped to create these parts that seemed to all work together. Mike has a really great command of the bass, there’s no doubt -- and not every bass player bends strings and has a wide vibrato like him. I’ve gotten already some of those comments, how much they enjoy the way he played. With a trio, it’s good that the bass player is almost a lead instrument as well, but there’s still that challenge with how does the guitar interplay with it and that was a key element of this music sounding really unique.
When you and Guy and Mike came together back in the ‘70s, how quickly did you guys find that chemistry together as players?
I guess it happened kind of quickly. But I do know that we rehearsed quite a bit. As you can tell from those arrangements, you know, they’re not jam tunes -- there is improvisation, but they’re not three-chord rock tunes, like, “Yeah, let’s just jam on this a while.” There was very little of that. I think the goal -- and it’s hard for me to completely put myself back in that age to know what our thought process was, but I do know that we rehearsed a lot and I was always impressed with Mike’s creations and I kind of followed the lead.
For me, it was a challenge to interpret what he wanted to do. I learn from everybody and I’ve seen that throughout my career and I guess in some ways, he might have been one of my first big challenges. You know, as much as I was in some high school cover bands and we’d do gigs -- in fact, Guy and I played in a band called Sheriff and we probably played a dance here or a community center gig -- I have a keyboard player friend that I’m still in touch with that used to be our keyboard player in that band and he still had the ledger of all of the gigs and if we actually got a hundred bucks or we did it for free, which is really hilarious -- he shared that with me, so I’ve got to thank Wayne for a little throwback to [that time].
This was the first, I’ve got to think, my first actual experience in a band doing original material. I used to fool around with ideas on my tape recorder -- back then, I used to just plug straight in to my reel-to-reel recorder and crank it up. It actually was supposed to have a mic input, but the guitar pickups were a little hot, so it actually distorted it in a funny way, which was kind of fun. And you know, the old tape recorders, used to do sound on sound, which Les Paul was eventually able to create the actual multi-track recording, but back then, you bounced [things].
You’d start on one track and then you’d throw it over to the other track, but you’d overdub onto that and now you’ve got two tracks and now you throw it back over the other way -- that was sound-on-sound and you created multi-tracks that way. That’s the most basic simple way of explaining multi-track recording. So I used to fool around with that, even with that EB-3 I talked about. I still have and I’ve now archived and digitized all of those early jams with myself, which are pretty funny.
But obviously, KKB, if it was ‘74, that was the first real effort of rehearsing in a guy’s basement and we’re going to get the challenge of this song and get it right and get the dynamics and then we’re going to record it. I really wonder if it took three months or six months -- I couldn’t even tell you. Obviously, with the excitement of this release, I think Mike and I are going to try to chat about it, but most of the time, whenever we’ve talked about the past, it’s always like, “I don’t remember” and, “Wow, I don’t know.” Look, 40 years is a long time -- we know that.
There’s also another thing -- the people who purchase the CD, the seventh song, there’s 10 seconds at the end of it and all of the sudden you hear another song start up and it was us live, rehearsing this song and I swear to you, it sounds like Queens of the Stone Age. We didn’t include it as a song on the record, because it’s only a minute and a half. We were clearly trying some idea and didn’t know what to do with it. But it’s tight as the other songs. I didn’t feel it was fair to put it on the digital versions because you know, to have another song pop up in a song, because with digital, you can purchase individual tracks and things like that -- it would be too weird. So I figured, it’s just like a little secret bonus on the CD. When you hear that, you’ll see what I mean.
But I keep begging Mike, you know, “Did you find anything else?” And he hasn’t. We obviously experimented, but our goal was always to be really tight with these six songs and go in the studio and record them. And yeah, there’s multiple takes of some of the songs, I know that, but the ones that you have, we knew, “Okay, that’s it.” Just like there’s so many things of the Beatles that have been resurfacing in the past 10 years of the takes and you know when they finally [get the one], “Okay, this is the ‘Drive My Car’ I know, not the other one.” The Anthology [versions] kind of shared that. They were even doing some of the songs in different keys and you’re like, “Wait a minute, that’s not the right key for this song!”
But the process that bands go through sometimes, you know, when you go behind the curtains and see what it took to make it actually happen, sometimes it’s very simple and it happened right away and other times, it took quite a while for them to capture that magic. We did rehearse, I just don’t know for how long and how quick it came. I couldn’t tell you.
I was aware that you guys put a lot of work into rehearsing it before you even went into the studio and recorded. What happened after that? Why did things kind of splinter?
This is the $64,000 question. I swear, you know, I don’t know why we didn’t. We’re in New York, out of Jackson Heights, Queens, you know? It’s not that hard to maybe try to find somebody from a label in Manhattan and just say, “Hey, check this out -- we’re this new, young, psychedelic band. We don’t even have a name -- help us out!” I don’t know! I don’t know what happened. I know that we were always proud of what we did. We didn’t try to do a gig, because I know whatever gigs any of us did, were Top 40. That was the only way to get a gig -- you did whatever was out. I know that within a year, I’m traveling the world performing with George McCrae -- that’s the guy that had the song, “Rock Your Baby,” [with the lyrics], “Woman, take me in your arms."
Then I’m off with Andrea True Connection, doing “More, More, More,” so Mike I know, went off to do dates for the USO, for the military, where they hired performers and entertainment. Guy went on and also started playing with other Top 40 bands and things -- why we didn’t say, “Hey, well everybody go do your gigs, but let’s not forget about this original project,” you know, I don’t know! I have no idea. Thank God we did capture it, record it well and preserved it. That’s the beauty in this.
But I scratch my head, not understanding why we didn’t. You know, the creative process is one thing and then there’s a business process, right? So why we didn’t try to network and figure out a way that maybe we could have been some new psychedelic band from New York, I don’t know. We just didn’t take that next step, sadly.
It’s just interesting, because obviously you put a lot of work in on the one side and you record it and it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of storyline on the other side of the recordings.
No, there was no follow-through. I know that Mike fooled around more in the studio and recorded -- Mike is like a one-man band, I mean, he’s extremely talented. He can play drums, he plays guitar -- he’s not a lead player like myself, but he can lay down ideas and play the guitar and he can sing great and he knows how to do harmony and everything. So I know some of the other songs that he shared with me that were past KKB, it was like he was a one man band. Sometimes he’d work with a drummer.
So he kept going with original material and I. of course, later on wound up touring with those disco artists and then wound up being a part of the Meat Loaf band which toured the world and that was exciting, you know, my brother and I. Then I met Michael Bolton and that’s when I really started to contribute and co-write with Michael and we had that band Blackjack.
That King Biscuit recording of Blackjack that you found, do you think that’s something that could ever be released?
The copy I had, I’m pretty sure was just a cassette that was live off of the radio, because back then, that’s what they would do. Here’s your radio show. You know, I should look into that, I know that all of those performances at the Fillmore that I think Wolfgang’s Vault…
Wolfgang’s Vault, they own the King Biscuit archives.
Yeah, I should look into that and see. Actually, Michael and I have been closer than ever more recently and he even shared -- I was blown away -- I know in the beginning when he really took off with the Grammy and his new-found kind of niche, it made him a world-known name. But he’s experienced a lot of different singing styles, as you know. He went off and sung with Pavarotti and then he’ll do a Motown record and a Sinatra record and, of course, always doing what a lot of his biggest fans know him for.
But he’s not shy or trying to stay away from the fact that he did have a rock and roll past. I think in the beginning, when he got popular, he did kind of want to stay away from that and I can understand that. He didn’t want to confuse anybody that at one point he wanted to be Bad Company or Whitesnake, you know what I mean?
But he even retweeted, he knows that I’ve been doing some interviews for KKB and I did a nice TV interview up in Michigan that expressed really everything in my career and we started off with some stuff about Blackjack and they actually pulled the video from YouTube of our promo video of us performing on the rooftop, which back in ‘79, that was a pretty big deal to have a video -- that’s pre-MTV -- they were just promotional.
And then he retweeted when somebody said, “Bring back Blackjack,” you know what I mean? I got such a kick out of that. So I really appreciate the fact that where I know at one point, he was kind of like, "Oh, I don’t want people to confuse me with this rock and roll / big hair era." Now he actually, he gets it that he’s had a long career and he’s not shying away from the fact that he was part of that. And you know, the song for Kiss that he co-wrote with Paul, “Forever,” is one of my favorites. I think he even performs that song quite often.
But it was really great reconnecting with him. I’ve always been very proud of everything he’s done. He was another guy that I learned a lot from when I worked with him, even though we were brothers in arms trying to be the next Bad Company or big rock band. There were priorities that always came out of his mouth and I took that dearly, you know, lots of times you have big challenges in your life and you realize that if you don’t prioritize what you’ve got to do to make your next move, you’re going to miss the mark and you’re not going to get to that next level, whatever that is that you’re trying to achieve. So I was always grateful to have that opportunity to work so closely with him.
Everybody is still around, do you think the opportunity is there that you guys would ever just do a show for fun?
[Laughs] Sandy and I have done the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp together a few times -- he’s such a sweet guy, so talented too -- great drummer. Back then, I remember that we found him from a resume that he sent off to the management. One of the guys involved with getting us the record deal worked with Bad Company and Led Zeppelin, Steve Weiss, you know, the famous attorney from that era. Sandy is terrific -- I still stay in touch with him, of course.
And Jimmy Haslip, he even appeared on BK3, my last solo record, and Jimmy’s one of those famous fusion bassists now, but he can play rock and roll, I mean, the guy is a monster. He’s become very successful with the Yellowjackets -- you know, not rock bands so much, but extremely well regarded in the music world. You know, that’s really up to Michael -- I’m not saying that Michael’s enthusiasm or the fact that he’s reflected upon Blackjack or his rock years in a positive way means that he wants to do a rock gig -- that’s a better question for him.
The times that we’ve been speaking more recently, he’s warmed up to doing some rock-type thing sometime in the future. I’ve heard him talk about it in some interviews and I think his fans have been positive about it, which is really interesting. Because I would just think, you know, he has a huge following on Twitter and Facebook and everything, but I certainly know the Kiss fans, you know that -- I’ve seen every variety of them -- but I don’t really know the Bolton diehards, like, what are they like and what would they accept or not from Michael?
But I love that Michael is brave enough -- the last thing he did with taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to some of the things that he’s been involved with and the fact that it went over so well has been a real thumbs-up. I know I talked to him about that and his instinct was dead-on -- I’m not sure if everybody in his camp thought that was the thing to do, but his instinct was perfect for that. So I’m quite proud of him having some fun in his career too. He’s just been this consistent workaholic and I’ve gotta admire that.
I think that’s it, he’s having fun, so that’s why I was curious for your thoughts. Because similar to what has happened with this KKB thing where you were able to revisit it, I don’t know, I feel like everybody has some curiosity of revisiting that early thing they did just for the hell of it, just for fun. I think that people on your side of things and people on his fanbase side of things would just go nuts if something like that were to come off.
And I’m all for it. I think that has a better chance than Kiss with no makeup, if you get what I’m saying. [Laughs] So let’s see what happens.
You’re in contact with Michael and the other guys, so it’s just one of those situations that is interesting the theoretical possibility is there.
Right. Well, let’s just see. You know, it’s just one of those things. That’s what’s exciting about my career and I know that putting out this KKB album, that’s the start of my career. So I notice that everything that I’ve been talking about when people want to reach out about it, I get to go through my entire resume and it blows me away really, how interesting it is. You’re right, that in many ways, you know, well, why can’t you reconnect again with maybe some other facets of your career and you’re making a valid point and that’s exciting to me.
I know that I regret that I didn’t really stay tight with Billy Squier, because I have so much respect for him. You know, The Tale of The Tape is an album that a lot of people really rave about. There was a reissue probably five or six years ago that came out that I missed and I bought it. It’s amazing. It’s remastered and there are some terrific songs there. Billy is another one that I learned a hell of a lot from. The guy was meticulous in the studio, walking around with a little book and he made notes about everything. What do you think I do now when I do one of my solo records? I have a book and I write everything down. So yeah, it was just another thing I learned from the artists that I worked with that I respect.
That Squier album, there’s a lot of people that are familiar with it at the very least, because “The Big Beat” has been sampled so many times. But from the AOR side of things, when people start looking beyond the hits, I think that now that’s kind of a cult record. Tunes like “You Should Be High, Love” and other songs -- that’s a respected record in his catalog that if folks are familiar with Squier, there’s a lot of folks that point to that record as one that they love.
Yeah, it’s great. And the fact that I had the opportunity to do that record and play all of the rhythm guitars and a few of the leads, that’s one of my go-to albums on my playlist that I love listening to it. I was a young guy with maybe two guitars then, at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, which is where we recorded that with Eddy Offord. So talk about that circle of life, with Yes being one of my important influences and there’s Eddy Offord recording us. That’s a real trip.
I’ve had some really great connections in my career that when I was doing it, I didn’t realize how maybe big it was or that I’d still be able to talk about it here in 2015, but I’m quite blessed that way. I didn’t take any of it flippantly back then either, but I didn’t realize, same with my Kiss years, how important they would be years later. All I know is that I approached it all with the most professional kind of, you know, I tried to always do the best I could. I cared and I always was seeking perfection and doing the best I could. I think that’s important for everyone to do in their lives, whatever they are.
I don’t care if you make the tacos at the local Taco Bell, you know what I mean? Just do it with some passion and some intent that you care, because why should we go through life with just everything being a chore? You have to kind of enjoy what you do, whatever it is. For me, the fact that it’s music, obviously, I’m very, very blessed that I have some talent that I can express myself that way. But I really work at it, almost to a neurotic degree to make it as good as it can be.
What are your memories of working with Eddy Offord on that album?
Well, certainly because Billy was so meticulous, I think in some ways, Eddy was there to just kind of create the sound that Billy had in his mind, hence the huge drums on “The Big Beat,” and you know, Eddy being such a brilliant engineer, I mean, look, his fame from Yes -- obviously he was a great engineer. But Yes was just so super-talented, so there he was, like that person that could capture the magic and capture it really well. He knew how to get that bass to sound huge and he knew how to make the drums really snap in those mixes. So he was always one of those top-regarded engineers.
Billy had a perfect person to help interpret him. Eddy was a little eccentric, but he did the right thing for Billy. He actually produced the second Blackjack album with Michael and I and at that time he was going through some personal issues that I don’t think we got the best of him, but we carried on and did what we had to do. You know, besides him driving his car into the lake or something like that, or the pool, we got through it. [Laughs] But to me, I always have fond memories of the fact that, here’s this guy that created the sonics for some of my favorite albums, that I had the chance to work with him.
How did you connect with Squier?
Once again, that was through my brother, actually. Bob was involved with getting the demo done when Billy got the solo deal. But my brother wasn’t available at the time that Billy was ready to record. He went up to Woodstock to experiment with Eddy and he liked Eddy. I happened to have been there because I was doing another project with a girl singer from New York. He knew about me and my brother wasn’t available, so Billy was like, alright, and he asked me to play it. I know my brother wasn’t too happy about it, but again, this was Billy’s record deal.
So it was up to Billy to choose what he wanted to do. So for me, I have to say, I was at the right place at the right time. There’s a funny backstory to the whole thing as far as what would happen in the future from that, is the fact that Billy was then going to go on tour to support that The Tale of the Tape album. I was kind of ready to do it and then Blackjack’s management thought we were going to get the tour support to support our second album, which was called Worlds Apart. I told Billy that Blackjack was going to tour and I can’t do it. He was pretty pissed and I stayed loyal to Michael, of course, because that was my band, Blackjack. We never got the tour support and we never went on tour and basically the band fell apart.
Then I watched Billy go on tour for The Tale of The Tape and Billy was upset with me and then Billy went off and recorded the next record, Don’t Say No, which was like triple, quadruple platinum or something. Then all I heard was Billy Squier on the radio and Blackjack didn’t exist and then I’m playing with a local band, Good Rats, which was good for woodshedding around the tri-state area. To be honest with you, the ironic part of that whole story is the fact that, yeah, I was loyal with Blackjack, my band with Michael, and I didn’t bail and go off with Billy. But if I did go off with Billy, I probably wouldn’t have had that same opportunity with Kiss.
Because all of a sudden in ‘84 when Billy was top of the world and touring the world, you know, Paul needed somebody to play some ghost guitar work on Animalize and I was available. Then it was like, “Don’t cut your hair,” and then you know the rest of the story. 12 years. It was kind of interesting, I was always very depressed and kicking myself, alright, I’m not angry that I was loyal to my situation, but man, I could have been off with Billy touring the world. But there was a greater calling for me in store, I guess, from that decision. So you know, you’ve got to realize sometimes when you make a choice, it may not look like the right decision at the time, but there may be a bigger payoff down the road that you don’t see until it happens.
Statistically when you look how everything played out for everybody in all of those situations that you spoke about, your thing worked out just fine. Here we are all of these years later and you’ve been working solid through all of those years. So it works out, as you say.
Yeah, there’s no doubt. Look, you can understand as a New York guitarist, to be Billy Squier’s guitarist, that would be amazing. But you know, you’re still backing -- that’s his record and his deal. Being the Kiss guitarist is a whole another level of fame. So you’re right, I was very fortunate. And then even though I haven’t been with them all of these years now that I’ve kind of managed what I do and how I do my career, you know, to keep moving forward even without being in Kiss, I’ve accomplished that, which is something I’m really proud of.
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