25 Years Ago: Why Bruce Kulick and John Corabi’s Union Couldn’t Last
There are few riskier propositions in rock 'n' roll than a supergroup. Success stories like Cream or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are the exceptions among countless failed attempts, from Brides of Destruction to Rock Star Supernova.
These ill-fated pairings come and go with hardly a trace, collapsing under the weight of massive egos, creative differences or, simply, bad songs. Even when spirits are high and the music is inspired, some supergroups fail because they play a style of music wholly different than their members' former bands, and programmers either don't know what to make of them – or don't care.
Union, the short-lived project featuring ex-Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick and ex-Motley Crue frontman John Corabi, learned the last lesson the hard way after releasing their self-titled debut album on Feb. 24, 1998. Despite positive reviews and enthusiastic live shows, the band's hybrid of gnarled post-grunge riffing and sunny, Beatles-esque melodies failed to connect with a larger audience. The follies and financial limitations of an independent label also caused many headaches along the way.
Kulick and Corabi were already used to headaches. Kulick had recently ended a 12-year stint with Kiss as the original lineup reapplied their face paint and mounted a massive reunion tour. Meanwhile, Corabi was summarily ousted from Motley Crue after their grunge-inflected, self-titled 1994 album underperformed and the band welcomed Vince Neil back into the fold.
"Oddly enough, Nikki [Sixx] called Bruce and said, 'Hey dude, we're getting Vince back. But I think if you and Corabi got together, it would be really cool because you guys are into the same type of music – [Led] Zeppelin, Cream, Humble Pie, Grand Funk Railroad, all that stuff. Same wheelhouse,'" Corabi tells UCR. "And then Nikki called me and said, 'Hey, I talked to Bruce. I think you guys should write together.'"
Corabi and Kulick found themselves commiserating over the loss of their steady paychecks and their turbulent love lives. (Kulick divorced his wife Christina and Corabi split with a serious girlfriend in 1996.) "We had that bond of like, 'Oh, woe is me. Let's bond together here musically,'" Kulick tells UCR. "We both feel like we got left behind by our personal lives and our professional careers. So let's make some music."
Listen to Union's 'Old Man Wise'
The duo soon recruited drummer Brent Fitz, a Canadian transplant who had moved to Los Angeles to pursue music and played alongside Kulick with former Madam X singer Lenita Erickson. They rounded out the lineup with veteran bassist Jamie Hunting, who had previously worked with Eddie Money and David Lee Roth.
With their lineup in place, the newly christened Union went to famed L.A. studio Rumbo Recorders, where Guns N' Roses cut Appetite for Destruction. Producer Curt Cuomo helmed a debut album featuring songs like "Old Man Wise" and "Love (I Don't Need it Anymore)" that spotlighted Corabi's bluesy rasp and Kulick's agile fretwork. "Let it Flow" and "Empty Soul" were full of glimmering, psychedelic passages and Fitz and Hunting's nimble grooves. Corabi also proved his knack for tender melodies on the breezy, acoustic rocker "October Morning Wind" and the mournful ballad "Robin's Song."
Fans and critics received Union favorably, but Mayhem Records fumbled its distribution and promotion. "Their passion and hearts were in the right place," Kulick says, "but they definitely didn't have the money or finesse to do it well."
Issues began cropping up from the start. "There were some really funny mistakes," Kulick added. "The first CDs pressed, our first song from the record is 'Old Man Wise.' The first batch they printed, it doesn't even list the song. So whoever approved the artwork was way too high on something. Then, there's a poster that went along with it, and John was also in this very good band on Hollywood Records called the Scream. They spelled it 'Sceam' and left the 'r' out on the poster – and then they spelled Motley Crue completely wrong."
Union also felt trapped between two worlds on the touring circuit, ostracized by the post-grunge and nu-metal scene du jour and by their former '80s hard-rock peers.
"A lot of newer bands liked what we were doing, bands like Sevendust," Corabi says. "They would go, 'Oh man, you guys should come and open for us.' But then the promoters would hear it and they would go, 'Wait, those guys are like an '80s band.' So we couldn't go out with any newer artists."
Things didn't go any more smoothly when a tour with Poison was discussed. "Poison was going out every summer, doing a big summer extravaganza — and I don't know if it was Ratt or Cinderella, but it was gonna be like Poison, Cinderella, and they wanted us to be the first band on the bill," Corabi says. "But then the promoters heard us and they went, 'No, no, no, they're a new band.'"
Listen to Union's 'Love (I Don't Need It Anymore)'
Still, those early shows had their highlights — especially for Fitz, the youngster of the group who was thrilled to be rubbing elbows with some of his musical heroes.
"I think our third show, which was a Los Angeles home show playing at the Country Club in the Valley, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley all came to our show to support and were extremely supportive and cool," Fitz tells UCR.
He felt like he'd finally arrived. "It felt so satisfying to me, saying, 'OK, I'm in a new band, and I get to play new music in front of all these people and with no expectation. And yet, some of the guys that I've really looked up to my entire life came to [see] me play with some other guys that I respect from these bands,'" Fitz added. "And that was a revelation to me. Like, 'OK, whatever I've chosen to be in L.A., this was the right move.'"
Union pulled big crowds overseas too, particularly in South America and Scandinavia, thanks to Kulick's tenure in Kiss. "We did the Sweden Rock Festival, and we were on the main stage, and there were 40,000 people there when we played," Corabi remembers. "It was great. But in America, we couldn't get arrested."
Despite the lack of institutional support, Union kept grinding for a few more years, releasing Live at the Galaxy in 1999 and then a sophomore studio effort, The Blue Room, in 2000. The second LP received less attention than its predecessor, and the band members soon began taking more lucrative gigs. Kulick joined Grand Funk Railroad and Corabi became Ratt's rhythm guitarist, while Fitz and Hunting ironically joined Vince Neil's solo band.
"Bruce had made great money with Kiss," Corabi reasons. "So he gets offered this Grand Funk thing, to work half the time and not nearly as hard as Union was working, to travel well and get paid really well to join Grand Funk. Of course, he's gonna take it. Of course, I'm gonna take the Ratt gig. You're going from touring in a van to touring in a tour bus. Of course, I'm gonna take it."
Listen to Union's 'Robin's Song'
Union remains a footnote on Kulick and Corabi's resumes, but the gig has continued to pay dividends for Fitz. He played drums on Kulick's 2010 solo album BK3 and took part in a Hollywood release show that was featured on Gene Simmons Family Jewels. The next day, he got a call from Slash, who was assembling a live band to tour in support of his self-titled solo debut. Fellow Kulick collaborator Todd Kerns was tapped for bass; more than a decade later, both of them are still mainstays in the top-hatted guitarist's band.
"Each gig I've had seems to stoke itself and nurture itself and come back around," Fitz says. "So my association with Bruce back in '96 has really been an integral part of my career, meeting him and working with him. And here we are 25 years later, basically, still working together. The whole Union thing, it's been the most important thing to blossoming my career in the States."
Union has also enjoyed renewed interest in recent years, with a limited-run vinyl reissue of both their studio albums selling out almost instantly in 2022. Band members are quick to note that they never broke up, just moved on to other projects. Kulick and Corabi also cross paths for the occasional acoustic gig, so they haven't ruled out the prospect of a Union reunion.
"The only thing I say never about is I will never play onstage ever again with Motley Crue," Corabi says with a laugh. "I can pretty much guarantee that, but other than that, everything's wide open."
Kulick, meanwhile, remains proud of the joyful noise Union made, even if the project didn't get its due the first time around. "Quite honestly, besides all the trials and tribulations that we went through, and the fact that it wasn't a success, I always felt that the music really did meet my expectations," he says. "We were this fantastic band that just never got any good breaks."
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