25 Years Ago: Bruce Kulick Plays His Last Kiss Show
Prior to Kulick's 1984 arrival, Kiss' lead guitarist slot had been a revolving door, with Vinnie Vincent barely lasting two years as founder Ace Frehley's replacement, and Mark St. John dismissed twice as fast as Vincent. For over a decade Kulick brought talent and stability to the position, and helped the band return to platinum-selling, arena-filling status after their dramatic early '80s swoon.
His farewell to playing live with Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and Eric Singer came during a three-song acoustic set at the Palladium in Los Angeles. The occasion was Mark and Brian's annual Christmas show, a syndicated radio special broadcast live on stations around the country, which found Kiss sharing the bill with such diverse artists as Peter Frampton, Spencer Davis and Bob Hope.
"I have to admit, it wasn't easy playing at eight in the morning," Kulick explained in a new video commemorating the anniversary, "but I thought we actually sounded very good considering the time of day we had to perform."
You can hear clips of the band performing "Calling Dr. Love" and "Hard Luck Woman," as well as the full version of their cover of "White Christmas" and Kulick's memories of the show in the video below.
At the time Kiss were in the middle of recording what would turn out to be Kulick's final studio album with the group, 1997's Carnival of Souls. Nine months before the December concert, founding members Frehley and Peter Criss - with whom Kiss had first rocketed to fame in the mid-'70s - joined the band's current lineup for four songs during a taping of MTV Unplugged.
"Most of the time when I talk about my last show with the band, I actually refer to it as Unplugged," Kulick tells UCR, "only because that was a 'real' show. You know, with the whole band. Even though we were playing acoustic, the four of us were rocking out."
The wildly enthusiastic fan response and press coverage brought on by the return of Criss and Frehley made a full-makeup original lineup reunion all but inevitable. And indeed that's exactly what Kiss announced via a surprise appearance at the Grammys in February 1996, two months after the Mark and Brian show.
"I did not know about the reunion until January," Kulick explained. "So I went through the holiday season [thinking], 'we're working on a new studio album.' But then a week or two into January is when Gene invited Eric and I up so we could have that discussion with Paul and the band. It was good that Carnival of Souls was about two-thirds done, because that would have taken a little bit of wind out of it for me."
Simmons and Stanley were determined to finish the album and, given that they had split up with Criss and Frehley over major philosophical differences before, were not convinced that the original lineup would last together for very long. "They were thinking, 'Hey, this [reunion] might only be for six months,'" Kulick explains. "And that's why they actually kept Eric and I on salary that whole year, just in case. It wasn't like the current band stunk or were insubordinate or anything, it's just all of a sudden an amazing opportunity came along, it's understandable. I think all of them had that fear of 'if we don't do it now, we're never gonna get to do it.'"
Of course, the Alive / Worldwide reunion tour was a huge success, lasted over a year, and the original lineup ended up going on two more major tours together. They also released a so-called reunion studio album, 1999's Psycho Circus, although due to the behind-the-scenes disagreements that had already returned, Kulick reportedly would up secretly playing on as many tracks as Frehley.
When Frehley left the group in 2002, he was replaced not by Kulick but by former Black N' Blue guitarist Tommy Thayer, who had been working with Kiss in a variety of increasingly important roles for several years. In a somewhat controversial move, Thayer was assigned the same face-paint, costume and "Spaceman" character as Frehley.
Kulick wasn't jealous. "To be honest I'm relieved that I wasn't asked," he told Sleaze Roxx (as reported by Bravewords.) "Honestly playing the Ace role would be very awkward for me. It was very natural for Tommy to walk into that role, eventually being in Kiss ran its course with Ace. ... [Tommy]'s a great guitarist and it was very natural for him to be Ace."
Besides, Kulick already had another gig, having joined Grand Funk Railroad as their lead guitarist in 2000; he recently celebrated his 20th anniversary with the group. Since departing Kiss he also released three solo albums and two with Union, a band that featured former Motley Crue singer John Corabi along with Brent Fitz and Jamie Hunting.
In recent years Kulick, Fitz, singer-guitarist Todd Kerns and bassist-singer Zach Throne have been delighting Kiss Kruise audiences with live sets devoted to his time in Kiss. This weekend Kulick and Kerns will play a special live-streamed acoustic show as part of the first annual Kissmas Masquerade.