An exclusive interview with former guitarist Bruce Kulick about the most polarizing LP of the Non-Makeup Era
In 1984, guitarist Bruce Kulick joined the iconic hard rock band Kiss for their Animalize tour.
From there, he would seamlessly fill the coveted guitar role in the Hottest Band in the World, playing on their immensely successful post-makeup albums Asylum (1985) and Crazy Nights (1987). But when it came time to record Hot in the Shade (1989), Kulick says it was immediately apparent that it would be unlike any Kiss album that had come before it. Calling from his home in Las Vegas, Kulick discusses the many reasons why Hot in the Shade was so different – and so special.
“I think there was a real thought to get back to basics and do a straight ahead rock and roll record,” Kulick says. “It had a little bit of everything, and it had its own fresh approach. I think it really holds a pretty fond place in many of the fans’ hearts.”
One major difference on this album was the fact that singer/rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley and singer/bassist Gene Simmons produced it themselves. “On other records, sometimes it was just Paul producing and Gene got a co-production [credit], sometimes we had a very famous producer like Bob Ezrin, who was involved with Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper and a lot of other really big, successful albums besides the Kiss records,” Kulick says.
Under Simmons and Stanley’s supervision, Hot in the Shade became one of the band’s longest albums. “CDs were very common [at that point], so they decided to put 15 songs on it because you could fit 70 minutes of music on a CD. Before that, you don’t want more than 10 or 11 songs because of how vinyl works, you can’t have too much information on each side or it makes the quality of the audio suffer.”
And the way they recorded those 15 songs was very unusual. Normally, bands record demos of songs as a way to test them out before re-recording the best ones for the actual album. But this time, “Paul and Gene were very comfortable with how the demos were coming out, so in general, the record was overdubbed on these demos, which was a big change. I wouldn’t call it good or bad,” Kulick says.
The song “Hide Your Heart” was an immediate standout. That song, Kulick says, “Paul wrote prior to that album, and other people were already covering it. Then he realized, ‘Well, wait a minute, I wrote this song – Kiss should do it.’ Which was a very good decision, and it turned out to be an important track for the record. I’m real proud of that song.”
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The power ballad “Forever,” which Stanley wrote with Michael Bolton, was another key track. “And man, they hit a home run!” Kulick says. “I was little instrumental on that, in the sense that my relationship with Michael went back many, many years, to a band called Blackjack that we had in the late ‘70s. Paul was aware of the band, and I remember when I got in Kiss, we talked about how he knew the album that Blackjack did.” (After Blackjack, Bolton went on to enjoy an extremely successful solo career.)
Unlike previous Kiss albums in the ‘80s, Hot in the Shade made limited use of synthesizers, which may be another reason for its more timeless quality. “We were never really a synth band, but keyboards were a big part of the ‘80s. This record really didn’t have anything like that, to any large extent,” Kulick says, adding that he was able to use the space in the songs that this freed up to try a different guitar style, as well: “When I was asked to join the band in 1984, Paul wanted me to be very competitive with all the current guitar players, like Eddie Van Halen or the guitar players in Ratt or Motley Crue. But I purposefully moved away from that for Hot in the Shade, it was a ‘return to roots’ kind of thing. I’m not saying there isn’t [that playing style] on Hot in the Shade, there probably is a little bit somewhere, but not like it was on Crazy Nights and Asylum. My guitar approach had to change, that was what the material required. That was fine.”
Looking back, some choices for the album have proven a little more controversial, though, such as the decision to use drum machines on a few tracks (though not on any of the key songs that propelled the record). Kulick says that this was done because drum machines were “so novel then, it was so interesting – they could sound so manipulated, controlled, powerful – you can do whatever you want to it, as opposed to a live drummer with a microphone. But sadly, it did hurt Eric Carr’s feelings, who was the drummer in the band at the time.”
Unfortunately, Hot in the Shade would be the final Kiss album on which Eric Carr would play in its entirety: he passed away in 1991, at only 41 years old, from heart cancer, after recording only a few songs for the band’s next album, Revenge. But on Hot in the Shade, Carr co-wrote and sang the song “Little Caesar.” Kulick’s fondness for Carr is clear as he discusses that track. “That is really Eric’s song. The name was a moniker for Eric: he’s Italian and he’s a short guy, he was very funny and very talented. ‘Little Caesar’ really did help this album. That song meant a lot to me. I remember working on it with him. Fans all have a real affection for Eric, and it’s not only because we lost him and it’s so tragic. He was always really engaged. Many times, he’d be the one to go down to the lobby and take pictures and sign everything for the fans.”
VIDEO: The Bruce Kulick Band performs “Little Caesar” in honor of Eric Carr at Kiss Kruise 2
Kulick himself is known for being very good to fans, as well. “I try to engage them. I respect them, and some of them say some really funny things that I don’t even know what to say [back]!” he says with a laugh. “Some of them get so nervous around me, and I always try to take the focus off of me and ask about them, because I’m curious, too: ‘What do you do?’ Because everybody has their role in life, and hopefully they’re being productive with it.”
Kulick remained in Kiss until 1996, when he left to form the band Union, then pursued a solo career, releasing three albums. In 2000, he joined the seminal classic rock band Grand Funk Railroad, with whom he has played ever since. “We cannot believe we’re wrapping up the 19th year of doing this. It’s a real pleasure to play the music, and the gigs are always rewarding. My role in Grand Funk is certainly different than Kiss. It’s so funny to me when my Kiss diehards show up at the Grand Funk shows,” Kulick says, amused.
Kulick also continues to make Kiss-related appearances, such as often playing the annual Kiss Kruise, where the current lineup of the band as well as former members (and other hard rock groups) perform concerts on a cruise ship as it makes its way around the Caribbean. In fact, Kulick has just returned from the latest Kiss Kruise, where he says he included a medley of songs from Hot in the Shade in his set. He’s put up YouTube videos of this performance, “and it got a lot of watches. To me, that means that fans are curious about that album and have affection for it. That is wonderful for me, because it keeps my contribution to the band as part of ‘Kisstory,’ and I’m always really honored by that, of course.”
Kulick says he does not mind that his years in Kiss are the part of his career that many fans find especially fascinating.
“I really focus on the positive stuff of everything I did with Kiss,” he explains. “In the big picture, how can anyone view that as anything less than a wonderful opportunity? It’s really remarkable, and it all means a lot to me.”
VIDEO: Kiss Live in Detroit on the Hot In The Shade tour