How Bruce Kulick, Vinnie Vincent and Ace Frehley Built Dream Jam
Bruce Kulick can now lay claim to an enviable statistic: He’s one of only three Kiss alumni to have shared the stage with all past and present members of the group.
A weekend of appearances at May's Creatures Fest helped to seal the deal. Kulick performed as the “Holy Trinity” with fellow ex-Kiss guitarists Ace Frehley and the reclusive Vinnie Vincent, the latter of whom made his first major live performance in decades.
“People were writing things, you know, because of Mark St. John and I sharing a bow at the end of a gig,” he tells UCR. "Now I’ve played with every member that was ever in Kiss – despite Gene [Simmons] and Paul [Stanley], of course, having that distinction.”
He'd gotten one step closer to this achievement after collaborating last year with current guitarist Tommy Thayer on the Kiss cruise. “We shared the stage that day by splitting the sets,” Kulick adds. “That’s pretty interesting for me and my Kisstory too.”
Kulick admits that he was initially a bit leery of signing on with Creatures Fest organizer Neil Davis, if he was just going to be paired with Vincent. Once Frehley confirmed his willingness to participate, however, Kulick was all in. “No politics got in the way. You know, there was nothing that prevented us all being there,” Kulick explains. “He kept building the event. At first, it was just Vinnie, me and Ace, and then Peter [Criss]. It’s pretty remarkable that he pulled it off, because I did have a lot of concerns, of course, like a lot of other people.”
When Vincent first came out, he began with close to 15 minutes of what seemed like stream-of-consciousness riffing. It was fascinating for Kulick to witness, even if he didn’t always understand it. “I’d go, ‘Ooh, that’s a good part,” and then I’d think, ‘Well, where’s he going? What’s he thinking?’ – because I’m analyzing it as a guitarist,” he shares. “But I think it was important for him. Apparently, he used to shred through Kiss guitar solos back during the Lick It Up tour. So I guess this has been him all along.”
The moment when Vincent took the stage was just as exciting for Kulick as it was for the fans in attendance at the Nashville event. Preparing for the moment, Kulick decided to wear a bandana covered with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic symbols, a subtle tribute to Vincent's Ankh Warrior look. “It was so surreal. When I turned around, I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s got the makeup on too!’ He was such an enigma and hadn’t played live in an actual big crowd other than his private events.”
Kulick admits that there were a series of challenges that came up early on. Initially, he had agreed to play with Vincent for one song, “War Machxine” from 1982's Creatures of the Night. Conversations with Frehley’s manager followed and Kulick agreed to stay on stage with both Frehley and Vincent to play on “Deuce” and “Cold Gin.” But Kulick says he and Frehley learned just an hour before performing that Vincent wanted to play with a backing track.
“I know how he feels about drummers too, because every time I hammered [a member] of his team about, ‘Why can’t we have a drummer?’ he’d be like, ‘He only likes two drummers, Eric Carr and a drum machine,’” Kulick adds. “Well, I guess that means we’re playing with a drum machine because, sadly, Eric Carr is not alive. If you notice sometimes, all of those drums are an exact imitation of what Eric might have played. I think that was done intentionally too for him.”
He found Vincent in a great mood after going downstairs to hammer out the remaining details, but the direction Vincent wanted to go with the performance was surprising.
“He said, ‘I just want to showcase you guys. I’m just there to support you guys,’” Kulick recalls. “I asked him, ‘Well what about in ‘War Machine’, that section?’ He goes, ‘No, you do that.’ I said ‘What about the harmony? That special ‘Black Diamond’ ending that we’ve prepared – do you want the high note?’ ‘You take the high note!’ He was smiling and agreeable and everything. I said, ‘Vinnie, you can play, why don’t you want to play a solo?’ ‘No, it’s about you guys! I [will have] already played.’”
Kulick also downplays online chatter that there might have been tension between Frehley and Vincent. “Everybody was cool with each other,” he confirms. “I don’t really remember any time [that] Vinnie and Ace [were] having a conversation.”
Some video has emerged, despite Vincent’s team request for a ban on fans filming any part of the performance. “People want to see the strange and the surreal. Is this a train wreck? I’ve got to watch it,” he says. “It’s a shame that it couldn’t be better filmed, because it was Kisstory, but the three of us at the [subsequent VIP] photo [opportunity] were very cordial and people were so thrilled.”
He wasn't sure what fans expected from Vincent, but “I still took a positive thing away from it in the sense that I know how much it meant for the fans to see us perform together,” Kulick says, “and again since many people were betting against Vinnie, he did perform. It was a surprise to Ace and I [the way the show played out]. I’ll tell you, if it wasn’t for that camaraderie [it could have been more difficult]. But then Vinnie was [also] super friendly and polite about it: There was no egos or anything. We all came together to make it work for the fans. I really think that was what the whole weekend was about.”
He was happy to get some extended stage time with Frehley, who Kulick acknowledges as an important force in the world of guitar. “Ace launched a billion guitar players, no doubt. I think it was because he always had that unique, slow vibrato – that's very Ace,” Kulick explains. “He also had an economy of notes and knew how to do a flurry where he needed that flurry. In a way, his playing was reminiscent of Jimmy Page, combined with another classic-rock player, but done the way Ace is. He’s a character and that character comes out. I remember very clearly how Paul would brag to me about certain tours and certain years of his career with him, that nobody could touch Ace. I know what he’s talking about.”
Frehley returned the kind words, making a point of introducing him during the Holy Trinity set as “Bruce Kulick, lead guitar.” “It’s great to hear a Hall of Famer and an original icon like Ace Frehley give me a shoutout like that.”
Creatures Fest also included a full set from Kulick and his band performing the Revenge album in tribute to its 30th anniversary. Peter Criss jammed with Frehley during his Friday headlining appearance, then joined Kulick during his Sunday set to present a rare performance of “Hooked on Rock ‘n’ Roll” from the former Kiss drummer's 1978 solo debut.
After all four surviving Kiss alumni had the chance to perform together for the very first time, Kulick dubbed the weekend a “dream come true for a diehard Kiss fan.” He said the enormity of the moment became clear during a tribute to Kiss' famous 1995 appearance on MTV Unplugged.
“When Ace came in with his entourage to sing ‘2000 Man,’ everybody realized, ‘Oh, shit, this is gonna be an amazing weekend!’” Kulick says. “That set the pace right there.”
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