Kiss staged one of their more unusual concerts on Nov. 27, 1984, as two different lead guitarists took turns playing onstage. An expanded lineup featuring five musicians ended up coming out for the final bow.
This was the band’s initial attempt at playing live with Mark St. John, who was hired as Kiss’ third lead guitarist in as many years after they fired Vinnie Vincent at the end of the Lick It Up Tour. Unfortunately, St. John was stricken by a rare arthritic condition shortly after making his recorded debut on 1984’s Animalize, and missed the first two months of the tour in support of the album.
He finally recovered enough to join the band for part of their late November show at the Baltimore Civic Center. But the five songs on which St. John played that night wound up being one of just three shows he ever performed with Kiss. So why did Bruce Kulick, who was only supposed to be there temporarily, end up as Kiss’ guitarist for the next 12 years instead of St. John?
St. John probably would not have lasted in Kiss very long, even if he hadn’t come down with Reiter’s syndrome. “The arthritis thing was really a cover up for the other reasons,” St. John explained years later. The bigger problem was that the jazz fusion-loving guitarist clashed creatively with band founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons almost immediately during the recording of Animalize, to the point where Kulick was brought in to play on two songs.
“I sent him home one night to come up with a solo to one of the songs,” Stanley said of St. John. “And the next day he came back and played me something that was at least a start. Then I said, ‘Play it again.’ And he said, ‘I can’t.’ The guy could never play the same thing twice, because he was just puking notes. There was no structure to any of it.”
Despite these difficulties, Animalize was eventually completed, and its lead single “Heaven’s On Fire” proved to be the band’s biggest hit in years. This continued a commercial comeback that began when Kiss took off their trademark makeup for 1983’s Lick It Up. Postponing the tour in support of the album would endanger this momentum. So the group recruited former Blackjack and Meat Loaf guitarist Kulick – whose brother Bob had contributed uncredited guitar work to some of their previous albums – to serve as a temporary replacement, beginning with the tour’s opening night on Sept. 30, 1984 in Brighton, England.
St. John was still traveling with the band, and despite the inherent “him-or-me” nature of their relationship, Kulick tells UCR they got along just fine: “We used to kind of jam together backstage. I was in a good place for something like that. I could have made it something competitively dark and weird, but that’s not really my style. I mean, we’re competing for the same job in a sense, and I was the one to take it from him, because it was rightfully his. But now [after the first two months of the tour], he had to prove that he could be better, after I proved what I could do. It was a weird dynamic. So we kept it as two guitar players that loved music, and we actually both would warm up backstage and stuff like that.”
Two months later, after Kiss played the first five songs of their Nov. 27 Baltimore Civic Center show with Kulick on lead guitar, Stanley made an announcement: “Right around the time we finished Animalize, our new guitar player Mark got sick, and he hasn’t been on tour with us for about two months now because he was real, real fucked up. Now this is kind of a special night, because he’s gonna come out and play a little for you.”
Photographer and graphic designer David Snowden, who provided the pictures included in this story, said Kulick departed and St. John performed the next five songs with Kiss: “Under the Gun,” “War Machine,” “Young & Wasted,” “I Love it Loud” and “I Still Love You.” Kulick then took over for the final third of the show, with all five musicians sharing the stage for the final bow.
Hear Kiss Play Five Songs With Mark St. John
St. John then played part of the band’s Nov. 28 show in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and the full Nov. 29 concert in Binghamton, N.Y. Kulick then took over for good on Dec. 2 in Indianapolis. That kicked off a five-album run as Kiss’ lead guitarist, as Kulick brought stability to a position that had been approaching “Spinal Tap drummer” levels of turnover. “Bruce is somebody who shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated as far as his role in the band,” Stanley told Guitar World in 2019.
Kulick only saw St. John, who died in 2007, one other time after the Animalize tour. Still, he maintains a high level of respect for St. John’s contributions to Kiss. “We did an Expo together a couple of years later. That was fun,” Kulick told UCR. “He was a little shy, you know? That had to have been hard for him, but we had fun. It’s a tough position to be in, but he gets included every time there’s one of those fantastic art things with all members of Kiss. What he played on was pretty formidable, actually. It was hard for me to do some of that stuff.”