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Bruce Kulick Remembers His Dad

Posted July, 2010

Bruce, Mr. & Mrs. Kulick, and Bob Kulick

Photo Courtesy of Bruce Kulick

Parents.  When you think about it, we all have them.  Some of us are parents.  It is, without a doubt, the most challenging but potentially rewarding job on earth.  As a parent of a beautiful daughter who will soon turn 26, I can shout a loud “amen” to those observations  . . . and wouldn’t trade them (the challenges or the rewards) for all the money in the world.

What about OUR parents?  Many of us who make up the Baby Boomer Generation have lost or are beginning to face the eventual loss of our parents. We are now realizing that our parents, nor we, are immortal and it’s very sobering to come to that realization.

I have talked to many people who have faced or are about to face the loss of a parent.  Their perspectives are wide ranging.  After a lot of observation, one thing that I’ve come to realize is that many of those people like to talk about their parents and want others to know about their mom and/or dad.

With that as a backdrop, I recently read where rock guitarist, Bruce Kulick, lost his father, Harry, after 91 great years of life.  One morning, while preparing for my day, a thought came to me out of the blue: Maybe Bruce would want to tell the world about his dad?  I wondered what kind of person Mr. Kulick was.  What kind of work did he do?  How did Bruce view his dad, both when he (Bruce) was a kid and in the last years of Mr. Kulick’s life?

The thought wouldn’t go away and, ultimately, a second Boomerocity interview with Bruce was the result. During that phone conversation, I asked Bruce if he would prefer to tell his father’s story and I transcribe (the safest route) or did he want me to ask him questions (potentially risky).  I was surprised that he preferred that I ask him questions. 

As an interviewer, I prefer to make the process a positive one for those interviewed as well as a positive “read” for you, the reader.  I don’t like to open old wounds or prolong one’s grief.  Prior to my call with Bruce, I carefully considered and prepared the type of questions I would ask in the event he preferred to go that route.  I’m glad I was prepared.

I asked Bruce what first comes to mind when he thinks of his dad.

“You know, it’s interesting, there was something that came up at the service where the Rabbi that was there asked my Mom, ‘Why did you fall in love with Harry?’ and her reaction was, ‘He was kind.’ I used to see my parents interact in the typical Seinfeld/Jewish kind of way, with them always fighting and arguing over stupid stuff, just like a sitcom, but they loved each other.  They were there for each other.  Sixty-two years married!

“But he was a kind man that, when I took him to a doctor’s office or when we had an errand like that for something he needed as towards the end of his life as doctor and health trips were important, he was SO sweet to everyone he met.  At home, he was happy in the house watching TV and going to his three meals. That’s what happens when you’re in an assisted living place.  Thank God, he was mostly independent – like 85% independent – he needed very little help, which is really a miracle for how old he was and the fact that he was born with some disabilities. His left hand didn’t work right and he walked kind of funny, too.  That all happened from birth.

“So, the fact that he could live that many years, bring up two healthy sons, work for many, many years for the government – for 35 years – all of that was a testament of his hard work ethic.

“So, I think of that, but I also think of his ‘kind’ thing.  He was always sweet to the office lady. Yeah, he had a temper and I knew about that, too, when he was cranky and someone didn’t do something the way he wanted them to do it. But, in general, he was very jovial and almost flirtatious with the nurses and to the doctors in a very funny way.  He would brag about his sons and what he did for the government – you know - the work stuff.  I found all of that quite charming. 

“As much as I didn’t think he had a lot on his plate, I guess he did in his own mind.  He had lots to talk about.”

When I asked Bruce what kind of government work Mr. Kulick did, his obvious pride for his dad really showed.

“It was interesting because he would tell people – he broke it down to the simplest thing: ‘I worked for NASA.’  Okay, he did in a way. But, what he did was he was a Quality Control Engineer.  The government hires a research and development firm to make something for either an aircraft carrier system or for something needed for NASA’s Apollo 8 spacecraft. The contracts were huge even back in those days. They could be a millions of dollars to  create something that belongs on the aircraft carrier or for NASA.  So basically, the company wouldn’t get paid unless they did the right thing.  My father was there to supervise it and sign off on it, so his office would be at one of these places that they really had to kiss his ass, shall we say.”

Continuing his memories of his father’s work, Kulick shared a story about going to his Dad’s workplace. “It was really wonderful: this one time I got to see my dad at work and I got to see the respect that he got from the people there because it was always a little bit of a mystery what he did. I knew he did something at a plant but, again, when it was hinging upon his signature whether or not they get paid, obviously, the government trusted my Dad to do the right thing and make sure the item worked the way it was supposed to. I’m sure the place was nervous because they were going to want the money.  It meant the world to me to finally see him in his work element. As opposed to the home “man of the house” which in many Jewish homes is just kind of funny fighting with the wife!

“And, because of that – I put it into the memorial picture when I did the poster board with my girlfriend – they gave him a piece of metal from the moon when the Apollo 8 went there.

“It’s funny, in his little bag of stuff that he had when he would talk about what he did, he actually had one of the items from one of the – I believe that place had to make a urine bag for the space suits – he actually had a sample of one, which I thought was pretty funny. But, when you think about it, something as simple as that really has to be pretty complex, in a way, or, at least, extremely expensive.”

The loss of a loved one often shades how we think of them.  I asked Bruce if this memory of his dad was different from the one he had before his father passed away.

“In some ways.  We have a small family. My uncle Sy came out from New York.  There were times when things came up – just talking to the Rabbi a little bit about my Dad, I would say, ‘I didn’t know that!’, you know what I mean?

“So, a couple of pieces of the puzzle of my dad’s life had come together a little bit; more information about my grandparents. I guess, in some ways, I feel much more complete and, to be honest, I didn’t need to make any peace with my Dad right before he died. I was very close to him the last ten years they’ve been living out here in LA, and each year was like a blessing with him.  I was just always shocked that he kept hanging in there.  He had some difficult health issues and he was able to beat it.  It was always amazing.

Kulick continues, “I just guess that I have a little more complete picture.  And, doing that very large presentation with close to fifty items on

Mr. & Mrs. Kulick in 1982 - Photo Courtesy of Bruce Kulick

there, of his life – photos and things – it was really nice to see that.  Obviously, it told a story from when he was a little child to grown up and even into his senior years. It was a great idea. My girlfriend did it when her father passed away about ten years ago and she suggested it. I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah!’ I already had a lot of vintage pictures on my computer already but now it’s like, ‘Okay, let’s scan some more and let’s go find some more at my mom’s.

“It was a nice a mission and I really appreciate my girlfriend doing it with me. That kind of really told his story and I was very glad to share it with my friends and, actually, the world by putting it up on the internet. My Dad wasn’t a public person like his son.  People didn’t really know much about him.”

Bruce shared what it was like growing up as a kid with Harry Kulick as his Dad.

“He worked a lot, but I bonded with him a little more than my brother did.  My brother was into sports and because my Dad had that handicap with his hand and all, he wasn’t going to be athletic. So, my Uncle did some of those kinds of things with my brother. I didn’t care for sports that much. Personally, playing it (sports) I was like, ‘I’m going to get hurt!’ you know, and I want my fingers safe!

“I used to be much more into the electronics stuff which has helped me with the guitars and amps and pedals and that kind of thing. It’s not that I build things. Back then I was more fascinated with electronics and part of my Dad’s job was a basic understanding of radio electronics and things like that. I remember that we made walkie talkies together. I still have them.  They look, actually, really pristine. It’s crazy. 

“Then, I remember a school project for the science fair. I had to come up with a binary computer. I remember at first that it didn’t work and I was really upset. I was probably ten or eleven. I was crying and upset. He had someone at the plant that he went to show him what might have gone wrong. The next thing you know, it worked! Dad was certainly a hero to me right then, which is really nice because it’s certainly not something my mother could help with. She was your typical housewife and cook and her part time job was bookkeeping that she did very well at but she wasn’t going to fix an electronic something that you had to solder and put resistors and light bulbs in. That was kind of fun growing up with him with that; my road race set – I really loved that.

“And, again, Bob (Bruce’s brother who is a Grammy Award winning producer and guitarist) was really more into other kinds of stuff so I was always able to bond with him (Bruce’s father). We were lucky enough to have one of those Lionel train sets and my Dad was into setting that up and we used to play with that.  So, as much as he couldn’t play ball with me, I didn’t care about that.  I really loved all of the other stuff that he was able to do with me.

I asked Bruce if there was anything about his father’s childhood and upbringing that affected how he raised Bruce and his brother.

“I guess. I mean, I bet my Grandma really babied him because of the fact that he had an affliction. I mean, again, I think that he did the best that he could.  We grew up in New York City so we weren’t out in a country setting or anything like that. And, one thing that I think is part of our family is just that working hard ethic and he certainly got that from my grandparents, too. My grandfather always owned his own business – a dry cleaning business that was very successful. Later on he used to do the Yankee’s uniforms in the Bronx.” 

All Dad’s give their kids lots of advice.  I asked Bruce what was the best advice that Mr. Kulick gave him.

“Well, I know that he was a perfectionist and, when you think about it, if he’s being paid by the government, you don’t sign off of something unless it’s right.  I always kind of had that over my shoulder.  Sometimes, that’s a little tough because sometimes things aren’t good enough, you know what I mean? But I certainly strive for – if I put my name on something - I really strive for it to be something that I’m proud of. Excellence.  I prefer that to being lazy about it.  I guess that he might have instilled that.

“I really do appreciate the fact that he worked so hard all those years. He’d leave early in the morning, go to work and provide for his family. That might sound like a common or very easy thing to do but you know how many really bad parents there are out there who totally don’t take care of their children and don’t look out for them? So, I’m happy that he was a good Dad.”

When I asked Bruce how his Dad influenced his career, his reply comes back around to the inherent kindness of his Mr. Kulick’s nature.

“I think that I take after him in some ways. I’m kind to people, in general.  I mean, I have my cranky moments, too. But, I prefer – I think honey works better than spice and I think that’s something my Dad always kind of felt. So, I don’t know if it’s something he taught me or if it’s something that just came natural to me. I will say that I was always happy to see him be jovial in the offices, even as old as he was. He’d come to a doctor’s office and he was so funny and sweet. 

“Everybody would always say, ‘Your father is SO sweet!’ You know, that kind of thing.  Even the nurses – unless he was obviously in pain, then he would sometimes get a little cranky – they, in general, thought he was a really sweet man.”

Bruce’s style of music isn’t exactly in the vein of Sinatra or Welk so I asked Bruce what did his Dad comment most on about his son’s work?

“Well, it was interesting. With my last record, BK3, when my parents listened to it, it was my father who said, ‘That’s Bruce singing!’ You know, I was really impressed that he knew. My mother wasn’t sure and she had to check the credits.  She told me that, actually.

“We didn’t really talk about the record.  It was pretty common for Bob and I to go, ‘Here’s the last CD. I hope you like it’ kind of thing. Because I know they know how to work their CD player but we didn’t know how much time they really would dig into a rock record. They would probably rather listen to Sinatra or something.

“Most of the time they watched TV even though music was a big part of their lives, they weren’t the type to put on a favorite record or something like that. They had certain artists that they were fans of.  But, I found that (his Dad recognizing Bruce’s voice on BK3) really, really interesting and I was really glad that he was able to tell my mom, ‘That’s Bruce singing!’ That was pretty remarkable for me to hear.

Building up to his answer to my question, Kulick continues, “I don’t want to make it sound – even though he had some musical ability and he played trumpet when he was younger – I have the trumpet here in my home – and not that I even really had the chance to hear him play more than a couple of notes years ago, because it wasn’t his career, he didn’t keep it up. But, he never was ‘instructional’ about any of my music.  He knew that I had all of the really good help that I could – at my disposal to do.  There were plenty of opportunities, between school and the lessons I took, that I was learning all the right stuff. Plus, I had a good instinct for it anyway.”

With Harry Kulick’s career in a specialized and “brainy” area, I was pretty sure that he didn’t encourage Bruce to a career in rock and roll.  Maybe Bruce could become a doctor or something.

“From what I understood from my uncle, originally, they weren’t keen that my brother had started playing guitar. But, I guess, by the time Bob started doing it and the world didn’t end, by the time I wanted to pick up the guitar, I didn’t hear any aggravation at all.  Now, I didn’t know that. I always thought they were kind of cool about it but they WERE concerned with Bob.  You’ve got to remember that he was the oldest son so, of course, he’s going to have some of the brunt of the harder stuff. It always happens that way.”

For a man who was 91 years young, I was very curious what Harry Kulick’s view of the world was in the months leading up to his passing. Before I could even finish my question, Bruce started laughing.

“Oh, I’ve got a perfect quote for you.  He used to tell my girlfriend before we’d take off – he knew that we didn’t really live that far – I live very close to them – he would go, ‘Watch out for those crazies!’  I think he knew that it could be a dangerous world and that things are kind of crazy out there and that you’ve got to watch yourself.”

I asked Bruce what his Dad’s reaction was to all the changes in the world, especially in the areas of technology. 

“You know, I would show him my iTouch and things like that. Although we didn’t get into a whole lot of what things are about, he got the idea of the cell phone and I remember I was in the car with him and, at first, he probably didn’t know what I was doing talking to myself when you have the Bluetooth on. It certainly wasn’t a hard thing for him (to understand).

“In some ways, in his later years, if his fingers worked better, I could have probably showed him some things on the computer and things like that. But it was a struggle just for him to turn on the machine for his breathing treatment. That’s what happens when you get older. Just turning a light thing on – a lamp – can be hard for older people – arthritis and things like that. That’s what I’m saying: for the past two or the past five years, I’d be in wonderment as to how he gets around and to be able to do everything. It was a real testament to his real strength to wanting to live. Because, we wouldn’t think people can deal with all of those adversities in life, between using the oxygen and getting up from your chair. Fortunately, his brain didn’t go wacko.”

I delicately asked Bruce if his dad was fully, completely and mentally “there” right up until the end.

 “Yes. I mean, there were times in the hospital with the medication where they would give him some morphine and some pain things where he would talk some wild stuff. He was in a dream state then. I was able to always have a fairly, reasonably cognizant conversation with him for which I was really glad.  I mean, there was a little bit of senior dementia. I don’t want to make you think that, at 91, he was always perfectly ‘there’. But, for the most part, he understood everything.  Sometimes, even with a hearing aid, he couldn’t understand. But he could once I was clearer with him and broke it down to something really basic.

“Even my Mom is really ‘with it’. She’ll forget that she might have told me something already, when she tells me later. But, for 86, she’s not doing badly, either.”

I had to ask Bruce the obvious question: What did his Dad think when he went to work for KISS?

“You know, he knew about them because my brother worked with them years ago. He knew that they were businessmen and smart Jewish guys. He’d come see me and would be beaming from ear-to-ear. He was just thrilled.”

With our time close to running out, I asked Kulick what attributes of his dad’s did he hope to have “when you grow up”? Bruce’s answer is introspective and full of careful thought that had already taken place before our call.

“I think he’s already instilled in me the work ethic and the kindness and making people comfortable and making them laugh and doing the best at your job and taking things to the highest level of excellence.  I have to say he has totally instilled all of those good character traits in me. And I will continue doing them in his honor and out of respect to how he worked with me and showed me through his life.”

With Harry Kulick’s passing still fresh in his family’s hearts, I had to ask how Mrs. Kulick was doing under the circumstances.

“You know, she was so incredibly blessed to have him for so many years. To be honest, I think that the last couple of years were difficult because of him. He certainly had more health problems and all. But she’s okay.  She has a void in the house. She doesn’t have to worry about what’s going to happen with my dad, that kind of thing. So, she’s been really strong about it.

I wrapped up our call by asking Bruce what do he wanted the world to know about Mr. Kulick.

“Well, you know, it was a lesson that the Rabbi took from that discussion with my mom.  This particular Rabbi – we had two of them at the service because even the one from the first place that they moved to in California came for the service which was really sweet and he spoke about my Dad at the burial site – he made a point about that kindness.

 

Photo Courtesy of Bruce Kulick

“You know, some people think that, if you’re kind to other people, it’s a sign of weakness. But, it’s not. The Rabbi was making a point that kindness is really a wonderful gift that they can give to each other. When I posted that on my Facebook page, somebody wrote, ‘Kindness is not weakness. Remember that.’ People were thinking powerful things.

“And, then, the people who you know are ‘not on the right page’, they’re either drinking or doing bad behavior, they’re problem is that they’re not kind to themselves, first. Because loving yourself gives you a tremendous capacity to love others and extend yourself. Some people, I think, because they realize that “I’m not good to myself but if I focus on helping an animal, my pet, my neighbor, my friends’ maybe it takes them away from their own pain. I think that you can be kind, with all good intentions, and there’s no ulterior motive except that you know it’s something that really helps the world.”

I was struck by those final comments.  When it’s all said and done, “kindness” is the legacy.  Mr. Kulick’s kindness to his co-workers, his business associates, doctors, nurses and guests is certainly a great legacy.  However, in the privacy of one’s home, when the family saw each other for what they really are, to be able to STILL say that Harry Kulick embodies “kindness”? What better legacy can a man leave his family but to inspire the same kind of love and kindness?

From where I sit, Harry Kulick sounds like he was the consummate rock star of dad’s.  I’m certain that his wife and sons think of him that way.

Shalom, Mr. Kulick.

 

Bruce Kulick

Posted February, 2010

Photo by Neil Zlowzower

I’m not a musician.  However, if I were to ever find that proverbial genie in the bottle, one of the wishes that would be elbowing its way into the “final three” would likely be to become a proficient guitarist of all genres. 

Well, since the only bottles I’ve come across lately have been of the two liter soft drink kind whenever I order out for pizza, I haven’t been granted my three wishes.  In fact, the sound from opening said two liters pretty much describes my guitar abilities:  Pfffttt!!!

However, I DO play vicariously (read that as “via air guitar”) through the hands of many an outstanding virtuoso.  One of those axe handlers would be the incredible guitarist, Bruce Kulick.

As the last of the Baby Boomers were half way through college, Kulick blasted to the forefront of the music scene when he was brought on to be Paul Stanley’s six-string sidekick in the super group, KISS.  Bruce enjoyed an incredible, legacy building twelve years with the band, scorching the band’s Asylum, Crazy Nights, Hot in the Shade, Revenge, Alive III, KISS Unplugged and Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions albums. 

What a lot of fans don’t realize, however, is that Kulick first engraved his riffs into the minds of Meatloaf fans while supporting the “Bat Out of Hell” tour with his licks.  He currently is Grand Funk Railroad’s guitarist, having owned that role for the past nine years.  When he’s not tearing up the GFR stage, he’s supporting his impressive roster of fellow musician friends.

Oh, and he works on his own projects, too.  His first solo album, Audio Dog, came out in 2001 with Transformer following in 2003.  On February 2nd will bring his latest project, BK3, to a store or website near you.  I almost literally wearing out the advance copy of the disc, it’s that good.  I must say right here that BK3 promises to be THE CD that fans and guitar aficionados point to as being on their short list of must-own discs.

I had the privilege of chatting on the phone with Bruce Kulick in early December about BK3.  He had just returned from a short trip to Europe and was leaving for Australia two days after our interview.

One of the things that struck me about BK3 is that, in addition to the phenomenal musicianship and production quality, there was a consistent, positive message.  I interpreted the lyrics as containing words of personal strength, resolve and encouragement.  I asked Kulick if I had heard the messages correctly.

“Yeah, pretty much.  I mean, I don’t like to whine and complain about things.  I try to be a little more like the Beatles were - reflective about life but you’re not complaining about “woe is me” kind of thing.  It’s always a challenge in writing lyrics but I think that I was able to accomplish what I really wanted to on this record.  The ones, obviously, that guest people came in on; they wrote things that were appropriate for them as well.  It’s just an interesting way to work but I think it worked out in the end really well.

Because of the incredible guest list that pitched in on his project, I jokingly asked Bruce if he had some explosive pictures on them.

“Funny for you to put it that way.  I mean, actually, I have good relationships with all of them.  If I didn’t know them to well – like, say, Tobias (Sammet, from the German metal band, Edguy) he worked with Eric (Singer) and was a big KISS fan and he was aware of me.  So he was all excited to, in some way, to be involved with my record.  Of course, I’m going to return the favor and be involved with his next project.”

When I commented that it was quite a testament to how they respected him by participating in BK3, he humbly replied, “It’s great for all of them to say yes.  Of course, the one that I was most nervous about was Gene (Simmons) but he really surprised me with a quick and firm “yes” and even offered up his son.  So how COULD I complain?”

Well, who’s who in the zoo on this disc?

 “Well, obviously, it’s mostly my guitar work except for the (Toto guitarist, Steve) Lukather thing.  I even let Jeremy (Rubolino, musical prodigy and producer phenom), my producer, play the acoustic on the beginning of No Friend of Mine.  But, in general, the guitar work is mine, of course.  Jeremy and I shared the bass work except for (Yellow Jacket bass player) Jimmy Haslip that played on the instrumental with Lukather.  Obviously, the other guitar playing on that song being Lukather, of course, which was amazing getting him involved.

“Now, when it came to the other featured guests, for example, Gene (Simmons), Jeremy and I wrote the lyrics.  We worked on the song together and tightened it up.  He (Gene) sang it all and finished the lyrics and the vocals in the same day in the studios, which a lot fun to do.  We were at a really great studio, too, that day.  We booked Henson (on North La Brea in L.A.).  Some of that’s on film on the Family Jewels program (the Memphis Blues episode) when they had a couple of minutes of that session in that thing when they were setting up something about Nicholas going to Memphis with the family.

“Nick’s song was great.  He wrote the lyrics and they come from a very sci-fi imagery, Lord of the Rings kind of thing.  That’s what Nick is in to.  He did a terrific job with that song and we did it in a real big studio which is fun for Nick.  I think that it was his first time.”

Continuing with his incredible “who’s who” list of musicians on the album, he names:

“Doug Fieger (front man for The Knack).  He’s a real gentleman.  I already kinda had the lyrics (to Dirty Girl) and everything.  We asked him if he wanted to be involved (in writing the song) and he said, “No, just finish the song and I’ll sing it.”  He did a great job with that. In noting The Knack’s signature song, My Sharona, he states with a laugh, “I’m hoping they’ll be known for one other song – it’ll be Dirty Girl.  That’ll be fun.”

Continuing to describe the All-Star roster, he comments on Tobias Sammet’s contribution to the song, I’m The Animal.

 “Tobias, he started working on lyrics when I sent him the track.  He had some idea about it being a dog almost, with a girl that had crossed him.  I switched him in the direction of, ‘Let’s say you’re an animal – I’m the animal.’”

“So, that’s how that came about.  He was on tour with his band, Edguy, in L.A.  Next thing I know, I grabbed him while he had two days after the tour was done before going home to Frankfurt, where he lives in Germany. So, we finished the lyrics and we sang it the following day, which was great!  As you can tell, everybody like – this is over the course of a couple of years with the featured guests – they came, did their job and I was grateful to have them on my record.”

Listening to the album, one can easily detect the incredible chemistry between the various musicians.  I asked if working with them was as easy and natural as it seems.

“Yeah, you know, you’re not clear if they’re getting what you want. 

“Look, Gene is very prolific and a he’s a great song writer and I was a little concerned about what direction he would want to go with the lyrics.  He was singing something about Ain’t Gonna Die but I think he had a concept that it might be something a little more deeper, reflective kind of thing.  I immediately connected when I heard him sing that line.  I thought, ‘Well, what won’t die?’  His legend will never die; his legacy of being that iconic character on stage and his personality and everything. 

“So, once I sold him on this is where I want to go, he got it.  But, believe me, I was nervous about it because if he wanted it to be something different, it might’ve been a little stressful for me.  But in general, everybody was easy to work with.  I shouldn’t forget collaborating with John (Corabi, guitarist for Motley Crue and Ratt) - him being the easiest because I have all of that history with him with the band ‘Union’.

“I wanted the best of John.  I wanted it to be like Union.  Blue Room, the second Union album , is very strong and focused and I wanted to even blow away anything on that record.  I really felt that we accomplished something good and he dug into his angsty vibe.  I think he did a terrific job with that song. 

“But there wasn’t a lot of stress.  During the Lukather session, we just kind of let him jam and then Jeremy and I made it work within the song.  We didn’t really know – like, we didn’t go in with any total structure for him.  We let him play and, man, he can play, as you know!  He’s a monster on the guitar.”

Hoping to flush out whether or not the public would get a chance to see them perform together, I said, “It would be a special treat to watch you guys jam together on stage. Is that going to happen?

“I don’t know.  That would be interesting.  I have been doing the song with the clinics with him.  I hear him and then I answer him the way I do on the track.  Who knows?  I have jammed with him since then at the Fantasy Camp back in the spring time.  That was a lot of fun.  We were doing Push and cover songs.”

Not wanting to focus too much on the Simmons family, I was definitely interested in hearing what Bruce had to say about working with Gene’s son, Nick.  The Family Jewels co-star was born during Kulick’s KISS years.  I asked Bruce what was going through his mind working with his former boss’s son.  Bruce was enthusiastic with his response.

“Yeah!  When we reconnected about this song, I dug through some of my photos that I have and, sure enough, there’s this really funny one of him in a baby carriage on the patio of the guest house.  I sent it off to him and (laughing) he was freaking out over that.

“I’m so proud of him.  I think he’s really hilarious on The Family Jewels show. Once I got to find out what he’s about, and get into like, ‘What are you into musically?’, he played me some of the things that he liked.  And Jeremy and I are like, “Okay, these are a couple of the songs that are up for grabs and we would like for you to decide which one”, and his choice was pretty cool. 

“The song that he chose I didn’t know he would choose.  He really owned it once he jumped in with it.  He was a bit green in the studio because he doesn’t have a lot of experience like that.  I think that’s part of why his dad said, “Sure, you should record with Nick.  Let Nick do something.”  I think he knew the experience he would get from the knowledge that Jeremy and I have in the studio would be presented to him.

Bruce shares an insightful, humorous story about what it was like breaking Nick in to the nuances of working with real pros in the studio.

“We have a funny thing about the word ‘comp’.  You know, you always put together solos or vocals, generally, and they call that ‘comping’ in the studios.  So we said, ‘We’ll do it one more time and then we’ll comp it.’  And he just goes, ‘Comp?  What’s comp?’

Continuing on about Nick, he adds, “So, the kid’s very bright.  He’s very aware of his dad’s fame.  I think they have a great relationship.  It was a pleasure to get to work with him and get to know him because he’s really, really a wonderful young man now.  I’ll bet he can do whatever he wants.”

Commenting about Gene and his lovely lady’s child rearing skills, he states, “Yeah, yeah, they did a good job.  I met Sophie (Nick’s younger sister) backstage at the KISS show a couple of weeks back.  I hadn’t seen her in awhile and I got to see her.  I’ve got some photos up on my website.”

Bringing the conversation back around to BK3, I asked Bruce if he has previewed any of the cuts from the album during his performances and what the response has been. 

“Not everybody has heard everything from the album.  I did put out an EP because I went back to Australia back in the spring time and I wanted to finally sell something from my records. So I gave them the Corabi tune (Ain’t No Friend of Mine) and one that I sing, And I Know and then the instrumental with Lukather knowing that I had to hold back on Gene’s track and a few other things. 

“So, the only thing that I’ve performed so far is I jam along with the instrumental, of course, because I like to do instrumentals at the clinics.  But I have been playing in the background samples of the record and everybody’s really digging it.  But someone like yourself who gets the advance copies for press reasons really have more knowledge than the average fan. 

“There are a couple of other snippets out on the web purposely, like the Gene song and the reaction’s been terrific so I’m actually really excited.  I think that all the energy and hard work that was put into this record the fans will notice and respond to.”

I mused that something like, I’m The Animal would have everybody up on their chairs.

“Some people mention that as their favorite song – some of those who have been able to hear the whole thing.  Tobias is an amazing singer.  He’s not well known in America. Edguy has toured and done a little bit but he’s much bigger in Germany and parts of South America. 

“He has this side project called Avantasia which Eric Singer (drummer for KISS and Alice Cooper.  He also contributed to BK3) played on which I’ll be doing some guitar work for him right before Christmas, actually.  But Tobias is just really, really well respected.  It’s a pleasure to introduce him to some of the KISS crowd that probably wasn’t really aware of him and I have Eric to thank for that. 

“Eric reminded me that Tobias contacted me YEARS ago about doing something with them but I was too busy at the time.  I didn’t know him personally but it’s a lot easier when someone you’re really close to like my relationship with Eric they’ll say, ‘You really got to check this guy out.  You’ve got to hook up with him!’  It made it more of a priority.  But I knew that he would be a really good singer to have on my record.  Jeremy, the producer, was like, ‘Who the Hell is he?’  I said, ‘I really think that he’s going to do a great job.’ Any doubts he had, as soon as Tobias opened his mouth, he had no more.  It was a really fun session with him.”

Moving through the list of songs on the album, I asked him about Life

“On the song, Life, it seems to be very positive and encouraging song to close the disc out.  What inspired you to write that particular song?”

“When I first started to write that song, I only had the words, ‘Life is a crazy game sometimes you win or lose’ and then after that was a real struggle.  But I did want it to be, in a general sense, kind of like the Beatles and Harrison had written things – more of like All You Need Is Love, and I realized the phrasing of how I was hearing the vocals for the lyrics had to be short phrases. 

“So, say a word like ‘Faith’.  Well, then, what about “faith”?  Say a word like ‘dreams’. Well, what about dreams?  Fear.’  ‘Love.’  Those are really big words.

“I actually used a religious book that is quite popular called, A Purpose Driven Life. I don’t remember if it was Oprah who pushed the book but I realized that I was getting stuck. I wasn’t really sure how I wanted to express all of these big issues in a positive way or a reflective way.  And then, as soon as I found that book – I remember that I was travelling with the Grand Funk show and I was in one of those little book stores that they have behind the gates. 

As soon as I bought it, it really opened up the key to me.  I mean, I liked what the book said anyway – the message of the book - but I will admit that I was using it to find those key words that would inspire me to write this song with a bit of a message.  And then the ending, being all kind of like a carnival of sounds and playing, was just trying to end it on a positive note to celebrate life.

“It was an interesting song.  I had to struggle with it a bit but it was a lot of fun.  The violin player at the end, jamming along with me, was all very interesting elements.

In October, 2003, after catching a Vince Neil show where his good friend and band mate from his former band, Union, was playing drums, Kulick experienced a life changing event.  While walking down the Sunset Boulevard, just in front of the Key Club, with some friends, gun fire erupted from the gun of a man who had been in an argument with some people not tied to Bruce.  Kulick was hit in the right leg and his left temple was grazed. 

When listening to the cut, I’ll Survive, it is obvious that the song is about the shooting in both a defiant and reflective way.  I asked Bruce how the event affected his view of life and how he lives it.

“Well, short term I realized how fortunate I was that I could be that close to dying.  When I first started to write the song the only words I really had in the beginning were ‘I will survive’.  I had the chorus and some of the chord stuff and even the breakdown riff thing.  I knew that when I started to dig in to the lyrics that I had to be kind of poetic in telling my story which was, basically, how blessed I was that day. 

“And then, you don’t want to say, ‘that mean, bad drunk shooter’ so, suddenly he becomes the warm, smoking gun.  He’s the beast and man.  Obviously, I know that it was just the alcohol and whatever torment was going on in his mind that could have made him drunk enough to make him go back to his friends car to go get a gun and shoot it wildly on Sunset Blvd.  That’s not an everyday occurrence.  Of course, in this day and age, hearing of some massive insane shooting thing is not that unusual. 

“I was really lucky, of course.  It was a challenge to write it but I was just trying to show that you never know what’s going to happen in life.  I tried to be poetic in the way that I presented it.”

Segueing from the subject of the challenges presented by the nearly fatal event, I wondered if Bruce experienced any unusual challenges in creating the disc itself compared to all of the other session work and studio work that he’d done.

“Well, you know, I always strive to be as good as I can.  So everything is a challenge to a certain degree.  And some things will come easy and some won’t.  It’s really amazing – the process.  I remember that Fate was the last song and I had some ideas of what I wanted to sing about though I didn’t have that title, Fate, yet. 

“Jeremy was very clear that it should something saying like, ‘Here I am.  Be positive and in your face’, that kind of posture and it was kind of hard to find the words to that.  We started to hash it out and I realized that it would be fun to have some word play stuff.  He kind of suggested that if we doubled up the rhythm in the verses then it would become REALLY a lot of fun. 

“That’s when if you look at those words really carefully, they all relate to some element of my time with KISS and growing with KISS.  But the truth is that I was trying to say that no matter what has happened in my life, I’m not in anyone’s shadow.  I’m not in the shadow of KISS.  I’m not in the shadow of Ace.  I’m not in anyone’s shadow.  I am who I am.  And I’m going to play the hand of fate – really meaning, ‘You know you don’t really know what life will bring but I’m prepared.  Bring it on.  I’m here.’ 

“So, they’re pretty empowering words and it was fun to do it.  And I love the tongue in cheek stuff:  ‘Plug me in, turn it up!’ stuff like that.  That’s the kind of crazy stuff that we say when we’re in the studio:  ‘Alright!  Plug it in already!  Turn me up!’  I have with all of that. 

And then there was a little bit of word play with certain KISS song titles, actually.  They weren’t done to just borrow KISS titles, they made sense.  ‘Laser beams, war machines’ - you know, lines.  I can see myself on the stage with (KISS tour) Hot in the Shade with laser beams.  And War Machine is a song that I do with Eric Singer when we do the ESP projects.  It was fun, I have to admit.  It was a last minute song but it set the posture for the record.  We had to have a ‘take no prisoners” opener’.”

And what an opener it is!  

As our conversation was winding up, I wanted to know if there was anything especially mind-blowing or rewarding putting BK3 together as compared to past projects.

”Well, definitely, that whole collaboration with Gene and, then, the fact that Jeremy and I could work with someone like Nick.  So you’re taking a young talent – of course, Papa Gene is going to be keeping his eye on everything - and coming out with those results – that was so rewarding. 

“The fact that I would check my ego at the door and say, ‘Okay, I’ll let Steve Lukather play on my song” even though he’s so intimidating to me, was an experience.  He’s a very humble, wonderful guy, by the way.  He IS a monster on the guitar, though!  I like that I was capable of not letting my ego get involved. 

“I mean the whole journey, especially with Jeremy and I having that relentless pursuit of making a great record, there were times that we were ready to kill each other.  It was very stressful at times because time is money in the studio.  We always use quality studios and engineers.  There were times that we had to redo things just to get it right. 

“You know, in the end, I saw this as a real testament of what my goals were.  I wanted my Revenge album.  I feel that I accomplished it.  It was really hard at times.  It really was.  But most things you’re really proud of don’t come that easy.  They don’t just land in your lap.  They take a lot of hard work. 

I commented that I thought that this album was kind of like Audio Dogs and Revenge mixed together and then jacked up on steroids and that he had taken some of his best and built on it in an incredible way.

“Thanks!  And that was the goal with Jeremy.  I mean, he knew what I did with the other records and what I was capable of and he liked a lot of the stuff there.  He felt like we could bring it up a notch.  That was our goal and that’s what we accomplished.”

My final question to Bruce regarded any tour plans he might have to promote BK3 – especially if there were going to be any stops in the Dallas area.

“I’ll more likely be there for sure with Grand Funk next year (2010).  They always book us in Ft. Worth or in Dallas.  But I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet.  I have to be careful with my schedule because I love playing with those guys (GFR).  But I’ll be sure to look at all options that come up.  The important thing is that the record is a testament of time and I’ve never been in a situation like KISS:  ‘We’re putting out an album and we’re going on tour!’ You know? The traditional way.  But I’m going to try to be as visible as I can.  “

Bruce Kulick’s BK3 hits stores and websites on February 2nd.  You’ll want to purchase or download your copy right away.  You can also keep up with Bruce at www.kulick.net as well as learn what his Grand Funk Railroad tour schedule by regularly checking Pollstar.com.

William King

Posted July, 2010

 

William King, Walter Orange & J.D. Nicholas of the Commodores

During my last year of high school in Phoenix, Arizona, one of the staples of our dances was the hit song, Brick House, by the Commodores.  There was something about that song that made one think that one’s butt could move in ways that it simply wasn’t designed to do. Or, maybe it was just my butt. I’m just sayin’. 

However, not only was that song a staple at a high school dance that was attended mainly by white and Hispanic kids, it drew the crowd’s attention to a hot act that would command their attention for the rest of their lives, with record sales of 75 million copies and climbing. What a testament to the unifying attributes of great music!

One of the hits that attributed to such astonishing sales was their 1985 tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson, Nightshift. That song was to the 80’s as Abraham, Martin and John was to the 60’s.

Fast-forward twenty-five years to June 25, 2010. If the month and day sounds like they should mean something, you’re correct.  That marked the first anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson.  To commemorate his life and passing, the Commodores released a new version of Nightshift.

I always felt that the original version of the song could never be improved upon and that no one should ever try to “cover” it.  However, when I listened to an advance copy of the re-recorded version of the song, the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. The lyrics are as touching for its honoring of Michael Jackson as the original version was in honoring Marvin and Jackie.

I knew that I had to talk to one of the Commodores about this great, new version of this classic song.  It was my pleasure to be able to chat by phone with one of the original members of the Commodores, William King. 

By the time I talked with King, he had already had a long day of interviews talking about the song.  I knew he had to be tired but you wouldn’t know it by his warmth and willingness to chat with yet another interviewer.

I cut to the chase by asking questions that I knew he had already answered countless times already that day.  I asked Mr. King what led to the latest version of Nightshift.

“Well, you know, when we actually did the song for the first time after Michael died, which was the next night, it wasn’t anything like what you’re hearing now, lyric wise.  On stage in Birmingham, England, JD (Nicholas) went in and sang (going into the melody of the tune) ‘Michael, he was a friend of mine . . .” and he just started off like that, right? And he just did it out of nowhere.  He said, ‘I just wanted to pay homage, tribute, to Michael.’ It just struck him. And the crowd went wild! 

“We said, ‘You know what?  We need to build on this. Let’s do this every night.’ So, we just did it for the rest of the tour in Great Britain.  A little bit here, a little bit there. But, when we got home, we decided to get everybody together that did the original.

“We got Dennis Lambert, who was the producer on it, and all the gentlemen who worked on the original with us.  We got the engineer and we went out to Malibu, California, went into a studio out there and we sat there for three days and got everything, the lyrics, everything together and did the recording. I actually brought my daughter in who was born a year before that song even came out. So she helped us do backgrounds on it. And that was great, any time you have your children working with you.

“So, we went into the studio and got it out. Actually, we’ve done two versions of it. The one that you hear now and the other version that is more up tempo. Its bpm is 130 (as compared to the current releases 96bpm – which means it is a faster tempo – or Beats Per Minute), something like that. But, when we finished, the fuller version is just a killer! So that’s the one we decided to go with.

“It took us about two and a half days of everybody buckling down and going in early in the ‘a.m.’ and coming out late at night, trying to get this finished. That’s what you hear now.”

I asked William if the song was driven by the Jacksons having given them their first real big exposure by having the Commodores as their opening act in 1971 and for two subsequent years or from the subsequent friendship over the years afterwards.

“Well, it was a little bit of both. We did almost two and a half years with them and then after that we had our hit records. But, you know, Michael would come to our shows and some of his brothers would come to our shows and no one would know that they were even there!

“Yeah, he would come and pick the perfect spot. We’d all laugh afterwards because he’d be sitting in the audience and nobody knew that he was sitting next to them! I’ll tell you this: he was WELL disguised!”

“The only time I know that anyone noticed him was in Vegas when we were playing there. Evidently, one of the ladies was sitting there next to him and realized it was him. It wasn’t so much that it was him but she realized that there were a lot of people – bodyguards and people like that – around this one guy that made her pay attention. Then, staring at him, she’s like, ‘Wait! That’s Michael Jackson!’”

“But, other than that, he would just come and go as he wished. It was great. He would come backstage and say hello and all of that. We have a video out that we’ve put together – quickly – that’s on our MySpace page. In it, when we were actually on tour one time, Michael came into the dressing room and that’s in the video.”

With such an incredible new treatment of this classic song, I asked William what the groups plans were to promote the song and if the song was going to be tagged to an album in the future.

King laughs as he replies, “You know what? We had the same conversation two days ago. This exact conversation! And, so, what we’re going to try to do is finish up our album and get the song tagged on to it. The problem is, is that we’ve already committed to so many performance dates that it makes it almost impossible. Clyde (Walter Orange), one of the lead singers and co-writer of the original version of “Nightshift”, is saying, ‘I need at least two weeks off before we go into the studio so that I can rest my voice so that I can sound the best that I can sound.’ And I understand what he’s saying. I really do get it. You want to come in fresh and feel good. But, right now, the idea is to tag this with the album that we’ve been working on for two years and, hopefully, this will inspire us to get through it because we have six or seven songs to go yet.”

With our call wrapping up, I asked Mr. King what  Commodores fans could expect from the guys in the near future.

“One of our main concerns is how we’re going to arrange our music on our next CD. Are we going to go very young? Are we going to stick to what we’ve been doing in the past? I don’t think anybody wants us to do that. You have to grow. But I think what we’re going to lean towards is to still do beautiful songs, but temper our up tempo songs more towards today’s sound. But it doesn’t have to be ‘16 years old’, you know what I mean? It can be a ‘25 to 35’ sound. We don’t want to be ‘bubble gum’. We’re not trying to appeal to 10, 11, 12 year olds. But we do want appeal to the young adult range.”

“We have to temper it a bit for radio. A lot of radio stations only play music that fits their ear. So, we have to consider that as well. One of the things that I’ve said in the meeting the other day is that the good thing is that if something takes off and it’s a hit, regardless, they’ll be forced to play it. They’re going to follow the money.  If they don’t play it and the kids want to hear it, they’ll switch stations to hear it where they can. I do that. You do that. That’s the only governing body that we have that’s hard to influence.

“Anyway, we’re trying to clear out our schedule so that we can get back into the studio. We need some gaps in our schedule that we are now trying to create. We’ve already locked down about three weeks. We moved some things, which is great because you can’t always move them. That’s what we’re trying to do right now – move things if possible so that we get back into the studio and get into recording.  You come up with things in the studio that are just beautiful! You have no idea how you even got there. One little thing leads you to one thing and then another and then another. Somebody hears a lyric in the back of his head and he goes, ‘How about this?’ and that spurs somebody else. The magic just happens.”

I mentioned to William that I’d love to be a fly on the wall of the studio as they crafted their art.  He laughed as he replied, “Well, you’ll need a lot of buffers on those ears because there’ll be a lot of arguing!”  I imagine that is how most great musical work is created.

At the end of our chat, Mr. King graciously invited me backstage to the Commodores’ show that was, as luck would have it, taking place in my neighboring town of Allen, Texas, the following weekend.  Of course, I took him up on his kind offer!

As I stood off to the side of the crowd of admirers, what I witnessed backstage showed me the true character of these legendary men.  To begin with, Walter Orange, who didn’t know who I was, saw me observing the activities backstage as I was holding my copy of the Commodores’ album, Natural High.  He walked over to me, reached for the album and my Sharpie, and signed it as we exchanged some humorous remarks.

Next, a fan who appeared to be approximately my age, was pushing her elderly mother in a wheelchair.  Orange stepped away from the crowd and walked over to the “young lady” in the wheelchair and had a private conversation.  That alone, my friends, would have been worth the price of a very expensive ticket to watch.

Orange, William King and J.D. Nicholas were incredibly gracious to the many fans that were fortunate enough to be part of the backstage meet and greet.  They took the time necessary to allow the fans to have their picture taken with them and to shake hands. 

When the meet and greet was over, I approached William, introducing myself.  His face lit up with a genuine, ear-to-ear smile and gave me the biggest bear hug I’ve ever received in my life.  We chatted a few minutes before he had to join his band mates in the RV for a last minute chat before hitting the stage.

The guys put on a powerful, energetic show despite the sweltering Texas heat.  If the Commodores are coming to your city or town, you will definitely want to avail yourself to an incredible night of fantastic music and memories. 

Be sure to check out the new version of Nightshift at the Commodores’ MySpace page. Also watch for the re-launching of their website in the days ahead and, hopefully, an album of brand new work in the not-too-distant future.

Joey Kramer

Posted November/December, 2009

Photo Courtesy of Rob Shanahan - RobShanahan.com

Money.  Check.

Fame.  Check.

A wife and family.  Check and check.

Clean and sober for nine years.  Check.

Whoever this person is sounds like they have life firing on all cylinders, doesn’t?  However, this was not the case with Aerosmith drummer, Joey Kramer, back in 1995.  Just as he and the band were about to begin work on an album, Kramer had a mental and emotional breakdown.

The months that followed involved lots of therapy that peeled back layer upon layer of deep, emotional baggage filled with hurt and pain from his childhood and most of the significant relationships in his life.  The result left Joey with some very difficult decisions to make.  Decisions that meant walking away from a lot:  a beautiful estate, an emotionally abusive marriage and other toxic relationships.  It also led to Kramer taking back the ownership of his life.

Kramer’s book, Hit Hard (see the Boomerocity review of the book here), chronicles his childhood of emotional void and intense loneliness that learning to play drums helped him cope with.  It also details his battles with various demons in adulthood that led to his eventual breakdown and ultimate recovery.  During a recent phone conversation from his offices in the greater Boston area, I had the privilege of talking with Joey Kramer about his book and some of the stories that he shares in it

To be sure, before talking with Joey, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that he provided the steady beat to the soundtrack of my youth on great Aerosmith songs like “Walk This Way”, “Dream On”, and “Sweet Emotions”.  After reading “Hit Hard”, it was clear that there was much more than met the eye with regards to the trappings of his success during those years.

At 59, Kramer comes across as someone who’s at peace with himself and comfortable with whom he is.  Not really knowing what to expect, I quickly found that his warmth and approachability created a very relaxed atmosphere for us to talk.

The conversation starts off with discussing how sales of “Hit Hard” are doing.  “They’re going okay.  Now that we’ve been off the road awhile, I’m going to be doing some book signings and some meet ‘n greets and, hopefully, up the sales a bit.”

As someone who grew up in a nurturing environment as a kid, I shared with Kramer how his childhood was hard for me to grasp and to understand how parents could treat kids the way he was treated.  I was curious if writing the book was more painful to write or if he found it more liberating.

With some introspection, he replies, “Um, it was very cathartic writing it.  It was very cleansing and I found that, once I began to role on a subject, it was really amazing (to find) what’s stored up in your memory as far as letting it role.  If I was talking about somebody that I went to high school with, a story about that person would connect me to somebody else or another situation and, before you know it, things are really rolling.  It’s really incredible what’s in our minds that we don’t even know is there as far as what your memory has recorded from the past.”

I brought up the story he mentions in the book regarding a letter that he wrote to his dad.  I asked how key the role of forgiveness played in turning his life around.  His reply is enthusiastic and to the point.

“Oh!  Very key!  Very key!  You have to forgive and you have to let go of the past because, without letting go of the past, without forgiving, you really can’t move on.  You really can’t move forward with your life in any capacity.  And as long as it takes to conjure up that forgiveness, that’s how long you stay stuck.”

In commenting to Kramer that forgiveness is a hard thing for people to do and the fact that he was able to forgive the people that hurt him the most was, indeed, amazing, he mellows a bit more as he comments, “Yeah, especially in the section that concerned my father – forgiving him before he passed.  That was really important to me because, otherwise, I would’ve really been stuck there.  It really was an amazing moment for me.  After doing a lot of therapy, I just came to him and – well, the reality of it is that I was doing it for myself but for him as well.   It released him and cleaned the slate for us both before he passed.”

People like Kramer who have a lot of international fame, money and influence, have a lot of people who derive their own power and prestige by being associated with them.  Joey was no exception.  Lots of people controlled him and filtered what he heard and who he heard it from.  This skewed his view of life.  With that thought in mind, I asked him, “Once you took control of your life and your relationships, what technique, what attitude or what actions have been successful for you in standing up to those who have wished to dominate you or new relationships that tried to dominate you, things like that?  For others that need that kind of advice, what’s been successful for you in that area?”

“Well, that’s a very interesting question, Randy.  My answer to that would be to own yourself; to own your own feelings, your own emotions, and not let co-dependency get in the way - with co-dependency being that you’re dependent upon someone else to feel good about yourself.  It’s very important to own your own feelings and to stand up for yourself.

“In the past, I’ve always had a difficult time standing up for myself and, by virtue of that, sometimes you establish relationships with people who are not even conscious or aware of their taking advantage of you or your emotions.  If things go a certain way for them and they get certain perks – from me anyway – they get certain perks by being your friend and then all of a sudden, when you take back the turf that you let them own, they don’t like that and it makes people very uncomfortable.  And that in itself is a very difficult thing to deal with.  But you have to own your own emotions and your own feelings and basically, for me, a big part of it was learning to stand up for myself. “

I asked if he had been hiding behind the drums.  He replies with a laugh, “Well, where I really hid the most, I found, was in my drug addiction and in my alcoholism and once that was gone and I got rid of that, there was no place to hide.  Then I really came into the depression and the anxiety.  I think that was the lack of being able to deal with the stuff that we’ve been talking about.  Because I think depression and anxiety, which goes hand-in-hand with it, is un-dealt-with anger that reverts back inside you.  If you can’t be outward with it, then it comes in and attacks you inwardly.”

Clearly comfortable with discussing what he’s learned, he continues, “I was just really emotionally distraught and bankrupt when I had my breakdown back in 1995.  That’s when I dealt with all of that.  I was already 9 years clean and sober. So I was really wondering, ‘Wow, I’ve been clean and sober for 9 years and now, what is this all about?’  Because people are under the impression that getting clean and sober is the answer itself which it really isn’t.  It’s only part of it.”

I was curious if Kramer felt that he has uncovered all the skeletons in his emotional closet or was he still discovering new ones.

“Well, no, I know what I need to work on, which is a constant battle every day.  And there’s also new stuff that comes up just as well.  So, you know, it keeps it fairly interesting.  It keeps me on my toes all the time.”

While the letter to Joey’s father represented dealing with the pains of his past, he writes about walking away from his beautiful estate and his marriage – the symbols of his fame and his toxic relationships - in order to come to complete terms with his life.  I commented that those acts had to be incredibly tough for him to pull off.

“Well, yeah, it was because I was very preoccupied in thinking that, in believing that being involved in an abusive relationship was just part and parcel – that was part of doing business.  I just thought that was the way it was supposed to be – the way that it is – because I didn’t know any better.

“I was preoccupied with all my stuff:  the money, the houses and the cars.  I thought that if you have all of that then you’re happy regardless of what your relationship was like.  That’s just not what it’s about.  That’s just not the truth of the matter.  Now, when people are ready to get honest with themselves, you can get honest with yourself and that’s half of it.  Then the other half is actually doing something about it. “

“And, boy, that you did!  And, aside from the letter to your dad, to me that was the most compelling part of the book - the stand you took in doing that.  It must have been a very tough thing to do.”

“Yeah, it was.  It was but it paid off for me and I’m extremely happy now.”

In past interviews relative to “Hit Hard”, Kramer has mentioned his desire to help others by telling his story.  I asked him what his “elevator speech” would be to a room full of people, kids and adults alike, who are either in homes like he was as a kid or were at their own “Miami cross-roads” as he was in 1995.

“Well, it’s a difficult thing to just say and pull off at the same time but I think that the biggest attribute that I was able to establish for myself was honesty.  And once you’re able to be completely honest with yourself then I think a lot of things begin to fall into place.  Because, you know, we have a lot of things justified and we make excuses for anything and everything in life, whether it’s for not doing certain things that we should do or being a certain way and not correcting it or being mean to people and not being a pleasant person.

“I mean, there are all kinds of justifications for everything but when you get down to being honest with yourself, I mean, for real, because I believe that we all have that little voice inside, you know? That little voice inside – that we know better?  Unless you’re troubled by being mentally ill in some fashion, then when that little voice talks to you, then that’s the honesty.  I know that I have that little voice inside and I’ve done a lot of work and a lot of therapy and I honor that little voice inside.”

I asked if there were any stories that he wished he had included or if there has there been any backlash with regards to the stories he did include.

His reply is resolute and confident. “No to both questions.  I pretty much put everything in there.  I made an honest attempt at doing my book and I think that’s one of the things that people recognize and identify with is the fact that its honest.  I don’t think that I left anything out, really.  I mean, I worked on that book for four years.  It’s pretty much all in there.”

Coming close to the end of our conversation, I asked Joey what was next, project wise, after he has completed the promotion of his book.

“I don’t know.  I have a couple of irons in some different fires that I can’t really talk about yet but – you know, there could be some other things.  Maybe another book, maybe some other projects, it all depends.  It depends on a lot of different things.”

I relayed how pleasantly surprised I was to find that the book wasn’t another “stoner rock star” tome and that I couldn’t put the book down until I was finished.  I also shared some of the positive responses I received from Boomerocity readers.

“Well, thank you very much.  I didn’t want it to be just your average rock and roll memoir, you know?  There’s a lot of those out there and, not only are there a lot of those out there, but it gave me the opportunity to use my celebrity to discuss things that are very pertinent subjects today which are depression, anxiety, drug addiction and alcoholism.

“And, yeah, it’s talked about all the time but you don’t have to be in my position, you don’t have to be a rock and roll star to crash and burn.  Everybody suffers from all of those things.  And, if you don’t suffer from them yourself, you suffer with the likes of somebody you know that suffers from it and, therefore, it affects you in some way, shape or form.  So, it’s pertinent information and you know, it’s out there today.  I’m not a believer in creating a bunch of dirt that people can read about, although that’s what people want to read.  But this is the real stuff.”

I closed out my conversation with Joey Kramer with one final question that required some heart-felt reflection on his part.  I asked how the changes in his life affected his view of the world and of life.

“Well, it’s made me much more pleasant person to be around, I think.  I have discovered that it’s a whole lot easier to be nice than to – I use to be a fairly grumpy kind of person because there was a lot of things that I was angry about and that I was unhappy about but I didn’t really do anything about it.

“Writing the book helped me get it out and I’ve become a better person for it.  My view of life in general is better – more positive.  I don’t let a lot of things bother me that I used to and I don’t allow people to take my power from me anymore.  It’s been a very difficult road for me but now that I’m on the road that I’m on, I’m pretty happy about it.”

After the conversation was over, I sat in my office and reflected on the conversation that I just had.  First, I pinched myself, making sure that I just didn’t dream the conversation with a member of one of my favorite bands of my youth and adulthood.  Second, I was both amazed and thankful that Joey Kramer rid himself of his addictions, fought through the depression and anxiety, and thought enough of others to swallow his pride and share his gripping story with the world.  It’s a story that others need to hear and can benefit from.

If you know of anyone that is fighting some sort of addiction, depression or anxiety, then do them a favor and pick-up a copy of Joey’s story, “Hit Hard”.  It’s a brilliantly written, but painful, book to read that is certain to help those that take the time to read it.

Bobby Keys

Posted April, 2012

 

Bobby Keys With the Stones in 2003. Courtesy of Jane Rose/BobbyKeys.net

I’ve been a Rolling Stones fan since my teen years in the seventies. Tunes like Brown Sugar and Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ (along with many other Stones tunes) commanded my attention on so many levels – especially the sax solos.

Since those days, the sax figured prominently in other favorite Stones tunes like Miss You, the live version of Going To A Go-Go, to name a couple. Because of my appreciation of those solos, I became very aware of the man behind that sax: Bobby Keys

What I wasn’t aware of until recent years – and especially until I read Keys’ autobiography, Every Night’s A Saturday Night, was the long list of other rock and roll royalty and their iconic tunes that he’s played on.  Musical monsters like B.B. King, Carly Simon, Delaney & Bonnie, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, John Lennon, Joe Cocker and many, many, many others. Saturday Night is a wonderful read and you can catch the Boomerocity review of it here. But it bears repeating that the tone and feel of the book is very conversational. You get the feeling that you’re chillin’ in Bobby’s TV room, shootin’ the breeze and listening to him share a ton of stories of his life in the business.

I recently called up Bobby at his Nashville area home. It was my first time to have the privilege of chatting with him.  His warm, Texas/Southern drawl told me that he’s the kind of person that I can immediately connect with.  He’s as country as cornbread and never meets a stranger – my kind of people.

As we got down to starting our chat, I asked Keys how he liked Nashville.

“Ah, man, I love the town!  It’s just a rotten place for saxophone players – but I LOVE the town, I really do!  I like the people that live here and I have a lot friends that live here. There’s just not a lot of sax biz that goes on here. That’s nothing personal against me.  Ha! Ha!”

As we set the stage for what the chat would cover, I mentioned that I would not ask if his main gig, The Rolling Stones, were going to tour or not. I was startled that he gave me a comment about it anyway.

“Boy, I hope they do!  I tell ya what, I really hope they do! I honestly don’t know. I found that it’s best for me not to speculate – especially publicly. Every time I think that they’re gonna jump left, they jump right. I just had one little brief line from Keith. He just said that he’ll let me know. That’s the extent of it. I’ve learned after all these years – you know, I’ve been playing with the band since, I don’t know, ’69 – forty-three years – and in that time I’ve learned that speculation about what those guys are gonna do is no way, really, to base your future on what you think they’re gonna do.  I think there’s a good possibility of it, are my own thoughts on it. I hope so!”

We shifted our attention to Bobby’s book.  Since the book is a tales-from-the-road kind of tome – sharing all sorts of funny stories, I asked him what the reaction has been to it.

“Well, so far, it’s been really good. I went to New York about ten days ago and did a gig there with my band and also did a lot of media – some radio, interviews and stuff. It’s all been really, really good!  When I finished speaking into a microphone – I didn’t do I any writing – you always wonder, ‘Well, I wonder what is gonna come of this – how are people going to receive it?’

“It’s been very rewarding to me because I’ve had nobody come back at me – except one guy said that there wasn’t enough sex and drugs in it. The thing of it is is that scene has been pounded into the ground for years and years and years by everybody that’s ever written a book about the Rolling Stones. But most of them knew very little about the Rolling Stones. The thing that I like about the Stones is playin’ with them! I love their music and that’s what I wanted to talk more about in the book than anything else was the music.”

When I commented about all the people he’s worked with over the years such as Buddy Holly, Bonnie Bramlett and a whole bunch of others, I told him that he struck me as the friggin’ Forrest Gump of rock and roll. He cackled out laughing and said, “Now there’s a hell of an analogy! That’s funnier ‘n hell!” Then, obviously turning to his wife who was in the room with him, he said, “He just called me the Forrest Gump of rock and roll! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

After having a good laugh, I asked Forrest – er – Bobby who hasn’t he worked with that either he wishes he had before they passed away or, if they’re still alive, want to work with?

“Well, you know, that’s a very good question. I’d like to work with Stevie Wonder – LOVE his music, you know? I’d love to work with more of the Motown acts, too. But, you know, I’m really pretty happy with what’s happened and what’s happened has really been kinda the left hand of God puttin’ me through a lot of this stuff. I never really planned out any master scheme to achieve what I’ve achieved. I’ve just been in the right place at the right time with a saxophone and was able to do pretty much what needed to be done. It’s just the feel of the music and the way rock and roll had an impact on me.

“When I heard Buddy Holly playing that guitar on the back of that flatbed wagon and Joe B. up there playin’ bass and J.I. playin’ drums, man! That had an impact on me. I fell into the saxophone by accident. It didn’t start out that way. I got hurt playing baseball and I couldn’t play football so I went into the band and all that jazz. Somebody else has been pullin’ the strings – I’ve just been dancin’! Ha! Ha!”

Since I’m real partial to the great Bonnie Bramlett, I was stunned to read in Saturday Night that she was one of those originally considered for the female solo on Gimme Shelter.  I told Keys that I would have spent his last tour check to have heard her sing that – not that Merry Clayton was any slouch on her solo, of course.  That revelation prompted to ask, Bobby if, from where he sits, there any one thing that he feels should have been done majorly different on a Stones song and, if it had, would’ve changed rock history as we know it?

“Huh!  Well, I’ve never considered it but, personally, I’ve agreed pretty much what the Stones have done – at least during the times I’ve been recording with them and the tracks that I’ve played on - and, of course, with Jim Price. He was a big part of that, too! But, as for the Stones, one of the things I’ve always tried to get them to do is I’ve always wanted them to do an instrumental and put it on one of their albums. It was never seriously considered. I seriously considered it but the minute it got it out of my mouth the laughter didn’t die down for about two hours!

“But, nah, I don’t think there’s anything that I would go back and change, particularly. But I tell ya, the way I play, I play a lot off of the other musicians. I listen to other elements – what the guitar is doing rhythmically. I’ll play along with that. I’ll pick something out of that strata or that level. I’m very much a rhythmic saxophone player so playing with the Rolling Stones is really fun for me!”

Keys says in his book that he always viewed Keith Richards as a kindred spirit – that, if he wasn’t born in England, he would’ve had to be a Texan.  I asked him to expound on that just a bit. He was laughing his genuine, infectious laugh as he said, “Well, I had him made an honorary Texan. I had the Texas flag flown over the Alamo on the day of his and mine birthday (they both have the same birth day). I knew some people in Texas who were associated with the Texas Historical Society so I had them fly the Texas flag over the Alamo on December the 18th, got it documented and sent it to Keith, hoping it would finally induce him to take into consideration about coming down to Dallas and joining the team!  Ha! Ha!”

Since we were on the subject of Keef, I asked Bobby what the least understood thing is about the Stones guitarist. Without even a nanosecond of hesitation Bobby said, “His temperament.  This is a guy, man, that goes out of his way to save the life of a little stray dawg in Russia. Keith is portrayed as a dark person, more or less and he’s anything but that!  He’s one of the funniest sumbitches I’ve ever known in my life, man! 

“Some people look at him as having his blood changed at some Transylvanian medieval castle, you know? Those people are not going to believe anything I say. I mean, I’ve met people in bars in hotels we’ve stayed and they’ll go, ‘How about that Keith Richards thang? Were you with him when he had his blood changed?’ and I’d go, “No, man, the guy didn’t have his blood changed!’ They’d say, ‘Ah, man, you can’t say anything about it, huh?’ It doesn’t make any difference how many times I say somethin’ ain’t right, they ain’t gonna believe me anyway.  But the guys a sweetheart and chicks dig him for some reason! They really like him - chicks and critters! Ha! Ha!”

A Boomerocity reader wondered how it worked out that Keith just let Bobby write his own side of the stories in Keith’s book - like maybe, Keith, "Hey Bobby, man I don't remember any of that, here why don't you write the story?"  Here’s Keys’ take on how that all happened.

“He’s got a hideaway sort of place down in Turks and Caicos Islands and the writer, James Fox, was going down there to talk to Keith. I was asked to go down there. I spent five days down there. Keith would be in the same room. I’m not bashful, man. James Fox just asked me questions and I gave him answers. Keith didn’t say anything like, ‘No, I’d rather you not say this. Maybe not touch on that.’ He didn’t say anything about what I said. He said, ‘Just talk to James Fox and tell him whatever he wants to know.’ And that’s exactly what I did! I answered James Fox’s questions and we spent a lot of time talking over a period of a couple of days.

“But it’s easy to talk about Keith. He’s a pretty memorable fella!  I’ve been around him sometimes when it got very memorable but the thing I remember about him and the most important thing is that he’s the most honest sumbitch and the best damn guitar player. I love playing music with Keith!  He’s just got a feel for it that I can really relate to.”

Success and failure are often determined by the opportunities grabbed or passed on and Bobby has certainly jumped at lots of great opportunities that have brought him to where he is today.  Is there a particular song or album that he had a chance to work on and, for whatever reason, didn’t or couldn’t and now looks back and says, “Crap!”

“Well, shoot! Let’s see. Well, of course, during the recording of Exile on Main Street, George Harrison did his Concert for Bangladesh gig. Jim Price and I had played on the All Things Must Pass album from which he (Harrison) took most of the material to play at that concert. Anyway, he invited Jim and I to go play at the concert. I thought it was for a real good cause and I wanted to go do it and Jim wanted to go do it but we had already obligated ourselves to work there in the South of France. I would’ve always liked to have been there for that. It’s not like a great big, huge hole in my life because I wasn’t. I was having a pretty good time down in the South of France.

“Also, not that it ever would’ve happened, I would’ve liked to have played some live stuff with John Lennon. I really loved him - and Harry Nilsson!  I tried and tried and tried to get Harry to do a live gig but he was dead-set against it. He never did do a live gig. He did one video.”

Bringing a little levity to the conversation (as if we needed any more), I interjected that, according to his book, he did manage to provide a frog sound on one of Yoko Ono’s albums to which he chuckled, “Oh, yeah, man, that was indeed a red letter day!  There, again, man, some hand of Providence touched me there because I had no idea what I was gonna do. I was looking at John like, ‘Hey, man, give me some feedback here, son! Help me!’  He just looked at me and rolled his eyes like, ‘You got this one all by yourself, Bobby!’

During my recent interview with Keys’ fellow Stones band mate, Chuck Leavell, I told him that I was working on an interview with Keys. He had this to say about Bobby and his book: “Bobby is a great friend of mine.  We are ‘Southern Brothers’ - he from Texas and me from Alabama. We talk a lot about both on tour and off.  I'm so glad he is getting his story out there. It is a remarkable story.  He has played with so many icons . . . John Lennon, Bonnie and Delaney, The Stones, the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and so much more. He has so many great experiences to tell about. I can't wait to get my copy!”

At the time of my chat with Keys, I hadn’t yet these comments with him. However, I asked him what his thoughts were of the Stones keyboardist.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve got lots of good thoughts about Chuck!  One thing is he’s a brother from the south!  So, we’re both brothers of the Confederacy.  Heh! Heh!  I believe that the earth is a southern planet! Ha! Ha!

“Before I met Chuck I knew his name and was aware of his work, man!  He stepped into some pretty big shoes and just by virtue of the fact that was, more or less, recommended by Ian Stewart – whose opinion really resonates with all the members of the Stones, I can tell you that – or it did before Stu died. Chuck stepped into a situation, man, where he had a lot of bases to cover that hadn’t been covered before. All of a sudden he was actually the musical director on the stage. He was the one that was in charge of going in and making sure that the songs were the correct tempo and that everybody started and ended at the same place which, generally, didn’t take a whole lot. But he brought together a lot of people. It’s a big band.  I think there’s 13 or 14 of us counting the singers and horn players. Chuck has to walk a pretty tight line, sometimes, between the camps of Keith and Mick. He’s very much a southern diplomat to be able to do that because many have tried and few were successful.”

With a well received book now under his belt and waiting to hear if the bad boys of rock and roll are going to tour, I asked Bobby if he was going to come out with a solo CD.

“Yeah, well, actually, the guys I play with here in town – we call ourselves The Suffering Bastards – we’ve been into the studio. We’ve got four tracks that we’ve recorded and we’re probably going to be doing some more future gigs we’ll be having a CD available pretty soon online and at the gigs we play.”

And when Keys boards that great tour plane to heaven, what does he hope his legacy will be and how does he want to be remembered?

“A guy who loved rock n’ roll music.”

It’s Bobby Keys’ love of rock and roll music that has allowed him to be a lively part of the soundtrack of our youth that continues to play to this very day.  Somehow, I have this sneakin’ hunch – I just know it in my knower – that Bobby is going to be on many more great rock tunes to come.