Bob Kulick Wishes You A Metal Xmas

January 1, 2009

GUITARIST AND PRODUCER BOB KULICK IS on some kind of fast track to becoming the king of the high-concept metal tribute album. Last year, he and his studio partner Brett Chassen hard rocked the Fab Four with Butchering the Beatles, and now the duo has shredded up some holiday classics with We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year (Armoury/ Eagle Rock). For Metal Xmas, Kulick and Chassen made complete demos of every Christmas tune—performing all the parts themselves—and then replaced the tracks with the heavy-metal guest stars.

“This is not a project Alice Cooper, Lemmy, or Dave Grohl would necessarily volunteer for,” says Kulick, whose observations on the album’s songs and guitarists follow. “If you ask someone like that to sing a Christmas song, they’ll probably run and hide under a table. So the demos were the ticket, because we had to paint a picture for them that let them know what we were thinking.”


“This is the first song on the album, so I wanted somebody who would play a solo that was flashy and memorable without being too shreddy, and that’s my brother. It’s not that he can’t shred out, but I felt a more melodic-rock approach was appropriate.”


“Billy is one of my favorite guitar players in the whole world. He showed up at the studio the day before ZZ Top played on the season finale of American Idol without any gear at all—no guitar, no amp, no nothing. ‘What do you got?’ he asked. I handed him a ’60s Les Paul, plugged him into a Bogner Ecstasy, and in five minutes he was wailing his way through the song. It was really one of those special moments, when I heard those patented Billy Gibbons riffs driving the song with Lemmy on bass and Dave Grohl on drums.”


“John 5 is an orchestra unto himself, and this is one of the best tracks on the record for sure. Of course, Alice Cooper has a distinctive way of doing ad libs, so in order to paint a real picture of guitar on this song, I felt we needed to put the vocal on first. Alice sang to our demo, and then we sent that version to John, who came in with this huge guitar orchestration. Then, he doubled it! The guy is really great at blending 19,000 pedals together to get a sound that you don’t even know how it’s being generated, let alone understand it. It’s always fun to work with someone so creative.”


“We wanted Ronnie James Dio to sing this song, and we thought it would be extra special if Tony played on the track, because of their working together in Heaven and Hell and Black Sabbath. However, we had an issue with our original demo, because it was more uptempo— about 126 bpm. Ronnie said, ‘I spoke to Tony, and if we’re both going to do this, it has to be like a Black Sabbath tune. It has to be slow.’ I said, ‘So what are you thinking?’ Ronnie goes, ‘It should have a bpm of about 80.’ Whoa! I picked up my guitar and tried to play the riff slower, and it didn’t work at all. So we needed to do a total and absolute rewrite. I asked Brett to burn me a click track at 80 bpm, and I just kept playing a bunch of ideas at that speed. In three weeks, we had a new demo cut, and Tony said, ‘Wow, this riff is totally me now!’ I gotta say, Tony is every bit as good a player as he ever was. He played an awesome solo.”


“The rhythm-guitar parts on this track are more hard rock than metal, so I thought of Carlos. I went to a club to see him play, and I thought, ‘Man, this guy is ten times the guitarist I ever gave him credit for.’ I guess that because of his being in Quiet Riot, a lot of people regard Carlos as a meat-and-potatoes guitar player. I think that’s pretty much of a misconception— as anyone who listens to this track can tell. He really tore it up! It’s one take, too, and I’m not kidding. To me, this is one of the best solos on the record.”


“George usually does just solos, but I really wanted him to put his stamp on this tune, so I asked him to play all the rhythm tracks, as well. This track literally took six hours to finish, because George went through every permutation of every idea he had to embellish the demo. He’s also one of those guys who brings all his guitars, amps, and pedals to the studio and tries everything.We probably spent an hour rolling around on the floor with 14 or 15 old phasers, flangers, compressors, wah pedals, and other pedals, trying out all kinds of combinations. He’d play for 15 minutes on one guitar, decide it was fine for one rhythm part, and then spend 15 minutes auditioning a different guitar for another part.”


“Steve Morse. All you have to say is, ‘Here’s the solo section—go!’ He played something totally different every time he tried a solo. Most guys will get an idea for the beginning of a solo, and then work off of that to develop the rest of the part. This guy just wings it. He’d play something totally off the cuff, and I’d say, ‘Oh, nice blues motifs there.’ Next solo. ‘Well, that’s pretty jazzy dude—maybe too jazzy for this.’ Then, he’d cut a total rock solo. Steve has so many chops that it was hard to pick which solo to use. They were all great—different, but great.”


“I never worked with Jon Donais of Shadows Fall before—never even met the guy. We gave him the funniest song on the whole CD, and the instruction was, ‘Totally go for it—shred out.’ You hear what he did—it’s insane! That kid’s chops are phenomenal. I was so impressed with what he came up with—and on a track with Scott Ian, who is arguably the best thrash rhythm player ever. That’s pretty much thrash metal heaven there.”


“There are no keyboards on this album, so the guitars are the orchestra, and you need to pick the guitar player that fits the tune. Craig played in Vengeance, Guiffria, and Dio, and his style and vibe really matched the vibe of this track. In fact, it’s the best Craig Goldy I’ve heard.”


“This turned out to be the hardest song to finish. We originally had two players in mind, and we couldn’t get them because they were either too uncomfortable, or wanted to write their own funny Christmas song. We weren’t sure who to put on it at that point, but I thought Steve Pearcy would be a great singer, because of his nasal voice and sense of humor. It was Steve who suggested Tracii, so I went with it, and Tracii sounds absolutely perfect on this song.”


“My brother played rhythm on this, and he and I are really good friends with the vocalist, Joe Lynn Turner. I thought that the three of us together would be a good combination, but that meant I’d have to come up with some lead parts that rocked out the song’s pretty straight-ahead groove. It’s all framed with a kind of blues-rock riff, so I thought some slide guitar would be great. As the album’s producer, I wanted to do something different to the song. But I also have to admit that, as a guitar player, I looked at all the other soloists on the record and thought, ‘Eh, maybe I’ll just play slide guitar.’ I like to be realistic [laughs].”


“This is what I felt would be the perfect way to end the record. This song and its lyrics are as pertinent today as they were back in the day when John Lennon wrote them. Steve Lukather is a huge Beatles fan—he worked with Paul McCartney—and he can play anything. Anything you can possibly conceive, this guy will make sound great. This was also a very intense and emotional session, because the song was written by one of our idols, and we didn’t want to f**k it up. Like Billy, Steve showed up with nothing, so I handed him a guitar—I can’t remember which one—and he was ready to go. He did that solo in one take, and he brought tears to our eyes.”

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