Bob Kulick (Balance/Kiss/Meat Loaf/Skull) interview
Bob Kulick has worked with Meat Loaf, Kiss, Balance, Skull and many more besides, along with a serious of popular tribute albums. The latest of these is a reworking of songs associated with Frank Sinatra. The album entitled ‘Sin-Atra’ features a whole host of top draw rock and metal vocalists including Geoff Tate, Dee Snider, Anthrax’s Joey Belladonna, Mr Big’s Eric Martin and Devin Townsend who does a show stealing version of ‘New York New York’.
How did you come up with the ides of this tribute?
It came about after the Christmas album where we took all those great Christmas songs and turned them into something totally different where people had never heard them that way before. Lemmy, Dave Grohl and Billy Gibbons doing ‘Run Rudolph Run’ and the great Ronnie Dio, may he rest in peace, doing ‘God Rest Yee Merry Gentlemen’ with Vinnie Appice and Rudy Sarzo. We took that kind of formula as a way to take on of these Frank Sinatra songs and turn it into something it was never conceived for without reinventing it.
This is a rearrangement in a rock and metal way of some of the greatest songs ever written, rivalling even some of the Beatles songs.
Who came up with the idea of using Devin Townsend on ‘New York New York’? That is a stroke of genius an excellent version.
It was one of the last songs we recorded where we realised that unless we had the perfect singer, as it is the most famous Frank Sinatra song, it wouldn’t sound right. After listening top some of his albums hat’s when we realised Devin would be prefect for this song. He was one of the artists who couldn’t come to the studio, most of the artists could. We had to trust he knew what to do as we supplied the track and backing, he did all of the vocal arrangements. I remember the look on our faces when we got it back, one of the happiest moments as the guy totally made it his. That was the big lesson from this record, in that Frank Sinatra never wrote any of these songs, not a lick, not a melody. But what he did do was make those his and made it his, so you believed every lyric he sang. Devin Townsend did this on this version and you can see online Devin Townsend kicks Frank Sinatra’s ass all over ‘New York New York’.
Do you have an idea in your head who you want to sing a particular song? Or do you see who is available or do people come to you?
All of the above but mainly we try to concoct what the style of the song we want and make a list of who we want to sing it. We came up with the ‘Summer Wind’ arrangement we thought Geoff Tate, here was somebody who could totally song this tune and be recognisable from the beginning and to be hold those notes. We sent it too him, he usually likes to think about things and take his time responding but he came back to me straight away saying ‘That is an insane arrangement, I have to sing that song.’
I wanted to see people who were excited to put their stamp on these songs as we were. To do the Frankenstein job and make them into something new. I love it, I would put a track on and people would say what the heck is that? It’s ‘Fly Me To The Moon’!
Funny you should mention that track. I am a big Cheap Trick fan and you wouldn’t know it was Robin Zander, as his vocal style is very different.
We kind of pushed him. We had a good weapon between Devin Townsend and Glenn Hughes. Whenever there was an issue with a couple of guys who sang good but we played there songs and they’d realise good is not even close enough. We’d say to them you haven’t made the song yours yet. Once they heard that they really went out and sang their balls off!
I remember seeing Glenn Hughes at Wendy Dio’s New Year’s Eve party and him saying to me ‘So I hear you terrorised everybody with my vocal I hear’. (Laughs) All the guys called him up saying we heard what you did with ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ we had to go and change our performance.
’Witchcraft’ with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens is the most metal song and you wouldn’t even know it was a song sung previously by Sinatra.
That was a song was not on the original list as you couldn’t say it was one of his biggest hits but the lyric meant it was a song to be hammered. We finally figured out Ripper Owens was the one to do the hammering! To me that track really came out amazing – the huge powerchords, the way the orchestration sits in there. One of my favourite pieces and one of my favourite singers.
The one song rock fans may know if they don’t know Sinatra is ‘That’s Life’, made famous by Dave Lee Roth. How hard was it for Jani laine to cover this one as many rock fans may thinks it’s a Dave Lee Roth song.
Jani had come to the studio and had done things with us previously. He’s a tremendously talented guy, given a bad rap by being in a band that really is not as good as he is. I love them all but Jani Laine is extremely talented. At the time he was having a bunch of personal problems and asked specifically if he could sing that song. It was perfect as we wanted him. If someone’s life was in turmoil they would really bring themselves into the song like Frank did and that was the goal.
Ripper he totally did, Glenn Hughes, a couple of the other guys needed prodding. I had to get the cattle prod out a couple of times but the end results your hearing are worth it. I have seen online comments saying Frank must be spinning in his grave but I didn’t see that, I saw Cole Porter and other great songwriters standing their like the apparitions at the end of ‘Star Wars’- Yoda, Darth Vader – watching the celebration that was what we saw. We know Frank hated rock music stylistically.
The label were like ‘what?’ when we pitched this album. But we said its not going to be cookie monsters but guys that can sing. They were happy to here that.
Who would you like to do next? You’ve done Queen, Shania Twain, Cher, Kiss and more already.
We had a little cottage industry going doing these, all with great singers. Its about the playing and the experience. Dave Grohl had great fun in the studio with Lemmy.
Dee Snider enjoyed this and realised he could sing these songs. So he joined the Broadway show ‘Rock Of Ages’ and now we are right in the middle of ‘Dee Does Broadway’, where Dee does all these Broadway classics. Hammering these songs in a way they have never been done before. So ‘Sweeny Todd’ sounds like Ozzy Osbourne. We are having a blast with this.
I am kinda thinking the tribute thing could be winding down and we’ll do things focussed on one artist like Dee. We are doing a song with Ripper Owens where we are co-writing some songs.
The Sinatra record took a year to do. We took it very seriously and there were some people who didn’t end up on the record. If somebody couldn’t make it theirs we didn’t use it.
What was it like doing the Balance album after so many years away?
It was kinda a tooth extraction as we didn’t really want to do it but the label boss at Frontiers was a big fan and really wanted us to do it. When I was finally able to talk to Peppy (Castro vocalist) and Doug (Katsaros keyboards) we had some songs we had from back in the day. We used these rather that write modern songs which wouldn’t sound like the band. There are three or four things on there that are exceptionally good. It was difficult as back in the day it was very compartmentalised and now I want to be involved in all aspects, I don’t want to stand on anyone’s toes. Back then I was maybe less well known but now I am more known than the other guys as I have been out there more. The reviews and response on Facebook made it worth it. That’s what I like that my work is appreciated and I can give someone that joy through the music.
The really great news was that it reunited me and Doug. He worked on the Sin-Atra album and the Dee Snider album we are doing now. We will taking Dee Snider and the songs on the road with a big theatrical show. His is one of the top three songs on the album.
Eric Martin was another good one. He had to sing it a couple of times to get it there but now it sounds like ‘wow’ he made it his own. I am really glad where people are interested like the papers including the ‘New York Post’. It was unique enough to tweak their interest. I have seen some good comments coming through.
How did the Blackthorne album with Graham Bonnet come about?
I try to keep moving forwards, not looking backwards. That was a band that should have done better than it did. Unfortunately we were a little late in the game. Graham was another case of being dragged screaming and I had to dish it out to get it done. Again on that record there are three or four songs that are great on that record.
What was it like working with Meat Loaf?
Eagle put out a 1978 gig. There are some parts where you go ‘woah’ but you watch it and look back and think what a really great band. I could look at myself and think I was in tune and played my ass off. I was impressed with myself. Meat Loaf was always great vocally.
What made you want to pick up guitar in the first place?
Initially it was like I never played any instruments that were offered to me as a child. It was like ‘Want to play the piano? ‘ ‘No’. Then I played guitar after hearing family members play folk songs at family gatherings and then the Beatles came along. They and a New York DJ called Marty Dekay, who would play all the best music of the time. He’d do holiday shows and have ten, fifteen of the biggest artists of the time. We’d go religiously to see this, sit in the front rows and see artists sing like the Moody Blues, Peter & Gordon, the Hollies. That was my indoctrination into music. Seeing those singers fuelled my desire to be a musician, a rock star.
A message for your fans…
I would like to thank everyone for their support and digging past projects. I really hope this Sin-Atra album matching those classic songs with some of our rock idols is something they will appreciate. Keep rocking and check out our Dee Snider one up next.