At the 2016 NJ KISS Expo the KISS Army descended upon the Hotel Somerset-Bridgewater to celebrate their favorite band: KISS. For those that haven’t been to one of these events before, there are various vendors, with tables overflowing with merchandise, special guests taking photos with fans and autographing items and other fun happenings for everyone to enjoy.
The headlining guest for the 2016 NJ KISS Expo was Eric Singer, KISS’ current drummer and one of the band’s longest-standing members. Other than Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, Eric has been in the band the longest—even longer than original lead guitarist, Ace Frehley, or the band’s original drummer, Peter Criss.
While meeting current and former members of the band is great, I’d argue that most KISS fans enjoy hanging out with each other even more. We go to events like this to reconnect with old friends and to make new ones. I had countless excellent conversations with people I’ve spoken with before and those I just met.
Throughout the day special guests took part in Q&A sessions in one of the ballrooms at the hotel. Guests included artist Ken Kelly, who painted several of KISS’ most iconic album covers, Dennis Woloch, former KISS Art Director, Tim Sullivan, producer of the criminally underrated film—Detroit Rock City—about a group of boys in the 1970s determined to see KISS live, and many more.
A couple days prior to the 2016 NJ KISS Expo, I had the opportunity to interview former KISS lead guitarist Bruce Kulick. I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about Bruce, and now I know why. Both on the phone and at the Expo, he was as nice as could be and willing to answer all of my questions.
Was there a KISS song you helped write that didn’t make it on to an album? If so, which song? And why didn’t it make the cut?
A song immediately comes to mind, and the ironic thing about is that it’s a song other people covered but KISS didn’t release. It’s called “Sword and Stone.” It was written with Desmond Child and Paul, and it was written during the Crazy Nights era. The producer, Ron Nevison, just didn’t like it. I thought it was a really good song. The guy from Loverboy covered it, Desmond included it on a solo album and then a German band covered it. (laughs) All these other people released the song but we didn’t.
The fans who’ve heard it—because it got leaked somehow—think it’s a great song. As much as I was flattered that artists were covering a song I was a part of—I kind of started the guitar chords in that song and then brought it to Paul and Desmond—I didn’t make the money I would have made if it would have been on a KISS record, which would have gone Gold or Platinum.
What was it like performing with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss at MTV Unplugged?
In one way it was really exciting because, at that point, I’m fully aware of the history of the band. I wasn’t a huge KISS fan growing up because I was pretty jaded by my brother working with them and I got to know Paul while they were still in their makeup. I didn’t have stars in my eyes around them. I respected them. I knew they were talented and famous and rich (laughs). But there I am about to perform with the original lineup. I never met Ace prior to this, but I heard a million stories about him. The same with Peter. And then they walked through the door into SIR Studios in New York. Part of it was exciting and part of it was awkward.
MTV knew we were doing really well with the Convention Tour but they only wanted to do the show if they could also score a reunion. There was that pressure too, which felt pretty awkward, to be honest. And I wasn’t really aware of how much behind the scenes was going on about them examining if it was possible to do a reunion tour. I always say the Unplugged performance, DVD and album was the catalyst for them to do the Reunion Tour in ’96. It made sense because it made the four of them have to negotiate and have a contract. You’d think it would be because one of them said, “Oh, I miss you.” (laughs) It’s not that, it was business. It made sense.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about Unplugged but I will say that despite the negativity I’m putting out there about it being a business move, I thought the playing and the overall event was amazing. I know the fans really loved it and it proved a lot about the version of the band I was in with Eric Singer. And then we all got to play together. We could have done something like that for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame too, but it wasn’t meant to be.
After Peter Criss left KISS for good, he was replaced by Eric Singer. I’ve always wondered, when Ace Frehley left for good, why didn’t you return to the band too?
I know a lot of fans wonder about that. Even with Eric you gotta’ remember there was a bit of yo-yoing there. When the band wasn’t speaking with Peter, insert Eric. Then for the tour in 2003, Aerosmith required that there be more than two original members of KISS for the tour to happen. Since Tommy was already there, they brought back Peter. Things are always more complicated than they seem on the surface.
From the minute this reunion tour was planned, Gene and Paul were very clear that they wanted to get Ace and Peter in good shape. Tommy, who is a fine guitarist and known for being in Black ‘N Blue, which was a great band, was also in a KISS tribute band—I think they were called Cold Gin. So, Tommy knew what it was like to be dressed up like Ace. And it was Tommy who was coaching Ace in the beginning because Ace hadn’t played some of the songs in a long time. Tommy was always a valuable asset to KISS, whether it was writing songs, creating the KISSTORY book or being an understudy for Ace. He was always ready and willing to help. To me, Ace had a flippant attitude once he was back in the band. They never knew if he was going to miss a plane and not show up at a concert. So, Tommy was always ready to put the outfit and makeup on, if need be. And then it happened. Ace wasn’t willing to do certain events with the band, so Tommy stepped in.
Gene and Paul don’t like dysfunction and when Ace was in the band there was a lot of that. I was always worried that they’d call me up and ask me to put on the makeup and become the “Spaceman.” It was very stressful for me. On one hand I really missed being in the band. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t get to be what I was when I was in the band before. I wouldn’t be able to play the guitar the way I used to—they would probably want me to play closer to Ace. And I had already forged a style that really complemented my era of the band and didn’t poop on the previous era of the band. So, I don’t think it was a bad decision at all to ask Tommy to step into that role. As much as I missed being in the band, having to put on the makeup and become the “Spaceman” would require completely closing the door on something I was and taking on another persona, which would be awkward.
I think it was much less awkward for Eric behind the kit as the “Catman.” He was still his own man. But how do you put on the “Spaceman” outfit and shoot rockets out of your guitar and move around like that and play the notes like that, almost exactly like Ace, and not be the “Spaceman”?
So, you weren’t upset when they didn’t contact you to rejoin the band?
No, I totally understood it. I really did. For what they were looking for, Tommy was probably better at it than me. I would’ve had to really undo the way I play “Love Gun” or undo the way I play “Cold Gin” for it to work. And there wasn’t a problem with how I did it before. But if you’re going to stick me in makeup and I’m playing the role of the “Spaceman,” it all has to change. The fans know.
Michael Cavacini is an award-winning communications professional, and his arts and culture site, MichaelCavacini.com, features additional interviews with iconic artists.