When Kiss played their final concerts last December at New York’s Madison Square Garden, there was a simple reason that former guitarist Bruce Kulick wasn’t there: He never received an invite.

In a conversation with UCR to discuss his departure from Grand Funk Railroad after 23 years, Kulick also shared his thoughts on how things wrapped up with Kiss’ End of the Road farewell tour. Though he’s been out of the band since they reformed their classic lineup in 1996, he’s stayed in good graces with his former bandmates and associates.

In the new year, he’ll turn his attention to working on new solo music -- and potentially, his memoir. But he also retains an affection for what he did during his time in Kiss and hopes to spend additional time honoring that part of his legacy.

Kulick Is Finally Able to Celebrate His Kiss Era

He admits that it took some time. “I didn’t want to look at it for the first five or 10 years when I was out of the band,” Kulick says. “The connection to it all was, ‘Oh, they’re just killing it with makeup now and they left me behind.’ It was that kind of emotion that you have. Now, when the fans share it and I watch it, I go, ‘Wow, that was great!’ I think enough time has passed too that makes that stuff cool.”

In the second part of our conversation below, Kulick details why he wasn’t involved with the MSG concerts and shares his thoughts on how it all played out.

For a lot of years now, it seems like you’ve been Switzerland with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, no matter what is going on with them and other past members. I think some fans were surprised you weren't invited, it seems, to the last shows. 
Yeah and I do want to preface it ... for example, I’ve done some Kiss Expo-type events with Peter Criss. He was always so warm and fun with me. That ties into Creatures Fest, where actually, he did say, “I’d love to sit in with your band.” We played a song together and that was a lot of fun. Ace [Frehley] and I go back, you know, he texts me and we keep in touch. Ace has always been [very kind]. I love that he’ll always make a comment saying that I’m his favorite Kiss guitar player, after him. [Laughs] It means a lot to me. Look, there’s no doubt that having that good relationship with everybody is fine.

I mean, everyone knows I’m friends with Tommy [Thayer] and, of course, Eric [Singer], Paul and Gene. It is important. It’s not so much about Switzerland. I mean, look, I get along with Mark Farner. He’s not working with [Grand Funk Railroad] and it’s pretty obvious. Why do I get along with Mark? It’s because I’ve done some corporate events with him and he gets that I understand his importance and what he contributed to Grand Funk, but that doesn’t have anything to do with me doing a show with him and showing him respect as a guitar player. Those other guys, you know, jamming with Ace and playing with Peter, those have been real thrills for me.

Now, getting into the final show, I know that Ace was very public about certain conversations he may or may not have had with people. Or he made comments on what he’d want and things like that. I don’t know what may or may not have gone down with Peter and Ace and if they were ever actually asked. I was very aware when they were first announcing the End of the Road tour when they would say that everyone’s going to get an invitation, that that would be thrown around as a goodwill gesture from Gene and Paul, but it doesn’t always mean that it’s going to happen in a big way.

I’ll go one step further and just say, no, I wasn’t asked to be there and I wasn’t invited. I think the tone for that, I was kind of well aware of, back when they announced the final shows. They were saying, “The final 50 -- here it is.” Doc went on one of the good podcasts that I know and someone asked, “What about Bruce Kulick?” “Well, Kiss isn’t a jam band,” is kind of where he went with it. In other words, pooh-poohing me getting up there and playing with them. Well, you know, I played with them on the Kiss Kruise, OK? I played with them with Ace on the Kiss Kruise. Alright, granted, it was unplugged and it was a sail away show, which on the Kiss Kruise, is supposed to be unique. Then, I played electric with them too. I don’t jam.

Watch Kiss Perform With Bruce Kulick on the Kiss Kruise

Doc doesn’t love my era or get my era, because he had nothing to do with that and that’s fine. Doc’s always been really cool with me and I know how important he is to the big vision of what Kiss has done past my era. But I just felt like, if he’s going to say that Kiss doesn’t jam …and to get Bruce up there, that would be jamming, it’s just a nice way of saying, “We’re not putting anybody else on stage with them.” I get that, OK? I do. I wasn’t looking for a magical [moment to] plug in and play with them on stage, even though the fans would lose their mind -- I really believe that. But it doesn’t matter. I tried to sit back and look at the last night and see what the fans were going to say. Because I already knew that I wasn’t invited.

I will admit, it was a bit awkward when some friends who I know get the opportunity to be backstage. “Hey, Bruce, are you in New York? Am I going to see you later?” “No, but have a great time.” You know what I mean? What am I supposed to say, other than that? I do want everyone to have a great time. It means a lot to me to see that the fans [still enjoy it]. It was ironic that right before the big event, I was flying back from a Grand Funk show when everybody was heading to New York. I said to [my wife] Lisa, “Hey, that’s kind of like the Kiss Kruise I didn’t get invited to.” Because everyone’s going somewhere. It’s like, the port is now Madison Square Garden and New York City.

For me, the final show, the fans really have spoken. I really think a lot of them were disappointed leaving the show. I know that some of them knew that probably Ace, Peter or maybe even me wouldn’t be there. But they never said anyone’s names. They didn’t even mention all of the other important people in their career like Bill Aucoin or even Doc McGhee or other important [figures] that are part of Kisstory -- the people that helped the band be so successful. I’m not going to crash the party and go when I wasn’t invited. It was certainly their night. I really celebrated their last night with my post on social media, congratulating them on their final show. You know, it’s their night to do what they wanted. Now, I wasn’t aware of the [avatars] and neither were the fans.

I really think what the focus turned into for them was the future. If the future, to them, is that they live on with the avatars, then maybe for them, that night, Kisstory didn’t mean that much. I think it was a big mistake because you can have both. You don’t have to not mention all of the other people. I know I’m in the tour book that they were selling, but it was really, really odd to me -- and the fans all expressed it to me -- for them not to make a mention of anyone on stage. I love video montages and I’ve seen Paul McCartney enough times and how he celebrates the Beatles and he shows those videos before he starts the show. You know, it just makes everybody feel connected more.

I can’t imagine Gene and Paul feeling like, “Well, we’re performing with Tommy and Eric.” They all know that and they love those guys. Especially if they paid that big money for the ticket. So what’s wrong with mentioning the other guys? Or even showing some quality images? A five-minute video would have gone a long way at an event like that. So what can I say? I know a lot of the fans were disappointed. I didn’t say anything about it, because I also know that, I think, the big thing for them, was the avatars and presenting that. I did have a little guilty pleasure with it ... all of the sudden, my guitar is blaring through the Garden, starting “God Gave Rock and Roll to You.” It was nice for me to be connected in a way, a Revenge-era song that I just think is a big part of their career. I know that they’ve closed a lot of shows using that song too.

But that song, with what they had time to do while they were on this tour, to be in the suits and get the imagery that they need to technically pull off the avatars -- believe me, I was pretty impressed with what they were trying to do. I don’t know if it’s going to fly or not. That’s up to the public to say, “This works, I love it!” But me hearing that song blasting through it was wonderful. That was really exciting. But they finish the show and there’s a lot of smoke and all of a sudden, Paul introduces them to the new thing and that was it, OK? It was a very unusual end to their career.

But I think my goal moving forward, of course, has always been celebrating Kisstory and especially my years. I know my fans love me sharing it. They know Kiss doesn’t always focus on the non-makeup years. I’m just going to keep doing that. The fact that I got to play with both drummers [is really great]. Eric Carr, of course -- and Eric Singer, we’re really still good friends. I’m happy to be close with Gene and Paul too. I know that they respect my talent and they also know [how I feel], as Paul has called me a mensch many times. I appreciate that. But I can’t explain to the fans how the last night went down. I do know that it was amazing for “God Gave” to end the show and then be part of the avatar promotion. [Laughs] But beyond that, it’s just something that it was a little head-scratching at the time. Then there was the furor over the golden tickets and other items that the fans had trouble getting!

It moved on to other things.
Yeah, and even now, on social media, people will write, “I wish you would have been there” and “It’s too bad you weren’t” and all of that. I don’t want anyone to think that was something that I even ever had a conversation about with them. I didn’t. I just felt like there was no way I could have been involved with an associated event [outside of the Kiss concerts]. That didn’t feel right to me. I did get offers to do that. You know, “Would you be at this party? Would you go do this celebration?” If I wasn’t going to be invited to actually be in the Garden to root them on, I didn’t want to be in the vicinity. It just didn’t feel right to me.

It could seem like you’re riding coattails if you’re in the same zip code.
Yeah and I didn’t need that. Because then everybody also would have asked, “Well, aren’t you going?” I’m not saying that if I said to Eric, “Eric, I want a ticket, put me on the guest list,” they would have let me [be] there. But if they wanted me there, they would have asked me to be there. I respected that. Look, the only other thing that I can tie this to, which made it even a little odder to me, was when they got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Gene and Paul asked me to come. They flew me first class and I was part of the entourage. I was there for them and of course, I didn’t get an award that night. I sat at the table with the family, Tommy and Eric, supporting them as they were being honored. Tom Morello so kindly mentioned every band member during his speech inducting Kiss. We all know that went down awkwardly, because the Hall of Fame only wanted to induct the original four, right or wrong. It’s wrong, but that’s what they wanted to do. But I was there. Kisstory was represented at the Hall of Fame. Kisstory was not represented for the final show.

The avatars are interesting, because it’s kind of like a comic book-type presentation, which doesn’t necessarily lock them into one era. Maybe there’s a chance there could be an avatar-type show that focuses on your era.
Yeah, I mean, look, you’re giving me some hopeful optimism, which I’m not so sure I share. [Chuckles] There’s just something about the superhero thing that’s so powerful for them. What they presented, at least that night, seemed based more on if they became a comic or sci-fi movie with superpowered people, that seems like where they’d be going. I’m not sure how Asylum-phase Bruce would exactly fit in there, but let’s see. Look, I don’t know how far and how much they’ve developed all of that. We’re all guessing here. Of course, there’s the comments that Gene mentioned, that they’re just going to spend a lot of money on it. Let’s see where it goes. I just think that to me it was much more connected to a superhero version of what they were in makeup, those four characters. It’s just going to evolve as it is supposed to. It’s certainly not anything I have any inside information about. The whole thing was a surprise to me.

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Gallery Credit: Jeff Giles

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