Grammy-Winning Producer Extraordinaire…and a metal fan to boot!
A TCE Exclusive, by Todd K Smith
Bob Kulick’s pedigree could fill an entire paragraph, and that exactly what it’s going to do here. Born in Brooklyn, New York and the older brother the Kiss/Grand Funk guitarist Bruce Kulick, Bob started out in the early ‘70s as a session player and songwriter. A huge fan of The Beatles, he was drawn to melodic harmonies and anthem-like choruses that are larger than life and stick like glue. The biggest band coming out of New York at the time was Kiss and, it is said, Kulick played (uncredited) on Alive II (1977) and the Killers compilation (1982). He was credited on Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo record and played on his 1989 solo tour. For years Kulick was a member of Meatloaf’s touring band and is most prominently featured on Meat’s 1984 disc Bad Attitude. The legendary Balance was a short-lived session group Kulick put together with singer Peppy Castro (Wiggy Bits) and keyboardist Doug Katsaros in the early ‘80s. Having an affinity for hard rock and metal, Kulick attached himself to projects like Skull, Murderer’s Row, Blackthorne and Wasp. In 2004 he won a Grammy for producing Motörhead’s “Whiplash”.
We bumped into Kulick at the NAMM ’09 show next to the Engl amp booth. As big fans of his bands Balance, Skull and Murderer’s Row we were anxious to catch up and ask what he was currently working on. Balance was top of the list due to the recent release of the band’s third album, Equilibrium through Frontiers Records. The disc reunites Kulick, Peppy Castro and Doug Katsaros in a brilliant return to the band’s early-eighties heyday. “We were sort of known as the East coast Toto since we were made up of session musicians and focused on songwriting and production,” explains Kulick. “It did take some time to put together but we had stayed in touch over the years so it was just a matter of sorting out phone calls.” Kulick’s partner Brett Chassen assisted with production duties and played drums on all but one track. “Bass was handled by me, Peppy Castro and my brother Bruce,” says Kulick. “Everybody was committed to making a record equal to or surpassing our heritage.”
When asked about the band’s attempting to sound more modern while sidestepping their original roots, Kulick has a firm opinion, “It’s a horrible mistake, especially for bands that are getting up in their years. You need to be who you are. What we tried to do with Balance is take what worked in the first place and move forward.” The disc was assembled over four years while the members lived in three separate places. Files were sent via email as mp3s and it was Kulick’s job to assemble the parts. “Of course that’s not the optimal way to work,” agrees Kulick. “I would have loved to have everyone in the same room together. It sure would have been a lot quicker, but that’s not the way it worked out.” Overall Kulick is satisfied with the results. “I think ‘Crazy Little Suzie’ and ‘Liar’ fit right in with In For the Count-era Balance. It’s all us every bit of it was thought out and all the pieces work plus we got some great stuff out of Peppy. He went through a lot of very personal stuff and he let it out in songs like ‘Who You Gonna Love’ and “Breathe’.”
Bob’s other prize project; We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year, became a surprise hit during the ’08 holidays. His skill as a project producer has enabled him to assemble several compilations that not only pay tribute to the original artist, such as The Beatles and Metallica, but adjust the arrangements to fit a number of hand-selected players that do justice to the individual songs. Metal Xmas for instance takes 12 holiday classics and pairs them with legendary vocal performers like Alice Cooper, Ronnie Dio, Lemmy, Tommy Shaw and Joe Lynn Turner. A wealth of musicians including Billy Gibbons, John 5, Tony Iommi and George Lynch also lend their talents creating a sound unique to their individual style. “This was not a project that some of these guys would automatically go for,” says Kulick. “It took a special way of presenting it for it to work. I cut demos of each song arranged the way I thought it would work…something that would fit the individual.”
“For instance, Ronnie Dio and Tony Iommi wanted it to sound very Black Sabbath,” continues Kulick. “So we slowed the song ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ from 126 bpm to 80 bpm. They both got behind it at that point and made it sound like a real Sabbath song.” Oddly enough, the most popular download from the record is “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer”. “This turned out to be the hardest song to finish,” Kulick told Michael Molenda in the January ’09 edition of Guitar Player. “We originally had two players in mind, and we couldn't get them because they were either too uncomfortable, or wanted to write their own funny Christmas song. Eventually we used Steve Pearcy (Ratt) because of his nasal voice and sense of humor. He suggested Tracii Guns and it sounds absolutely perfect.”
Pairing musicians with other artist’s songs has become a unique skill for Kulick. “It doesn’t always work at first,” he says. “There are a lot of variables that need to be in place.” Of the dozen or so high-concept tribute albums he has been involved with, he is most proud of Butchering the Beatles. “I’m a huge fan, since I was a kid. I knew this would take a while, but I had a passion for it. We used over 50 artists to record 12 tracks and the whole thing took about a year and a half. We started with Lemmy, Eric Singer and John 5 doing ‘Back in the USSR’ and finished with Billy Idol and Steve Stevens doing ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. Hearing Alice Cooper, Steve Vai and Duff McKagan on the same track was amazing. ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ reunited Jeff Scott Soto and Yngwie Malmsteen. The combo of Dio and Queensryche doing “Lucy in the Sky” made for some real unique parings that make it special for the fans.”
Two new future projects are currently consuming a lot of Kulick’s time. “I just finished producing Ripper Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth) solo record,” he tells us. “It’s called Play My Game and has a number of guest appearances like Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Talas), Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), Jeff Loomis (Nevermore), Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy, Whitesnake) and Chris Caffery (TSO). Twenty-three artists in all lend a hand. I co-wrote four songs and I must say it’s a very heavy record. Fans are gonna love it.” The CD will be released May 19th in the US via SPV/Steamhammer. From his website Owens himself states, “the record is very straightforward and goes directly into the bloodstream."
The second project is Kulick’s co-production on the newly reformed Lynch Mob. “Oni Logan and George are back with Marco Mendoza on bass and Scott Coogan on drums,” says Kulick. “It’s sounding really great with some very cool surprises.” Evidently Lynch is using primarily the ESP Super V and there may be as many as 18 songs. The record is tentatively titled “Smoke and Mirrors” and showcases Lynch in total shred mode. There are several standouts including one very AC/DC-ish song that he apparently did in one take. He’s even playing slide guitar on one track, something he’s never done before. “We Will Remain” is the record’s scorcher because it's a fast/heavy riff. It is rumored to be Lynch’s defining moment.
Website: Bob Kulick