Tag Archives: Kiss

Story Behind The Album Cover: Brownsvile Station’s Motor City Connection, with Michael Doret

American Artist Michael Doret is known for his letterform and image designing, and over the years he has created a number of rock album covers, with his most famous clients being Kiss, he also worked on covers by James Brown, The Blue Hawaiians and The Squirrel Nut Zippers. In 1975 though he was hired to create the cover for Brownsville Stations’ Motor City Connection album. The album was released in August of ’75 and would be the band’s last for Big Tree Records. It would also be their last as the classic trio of Cub Koda, Michael Lutz and Henry “H-Bomb” Weck, as guest Bruce Nazarian would join the band soon after on guitars. The album didn’t fare so well in comparison to the band’s earlier releases, part of which might’ve had to do with their being no single release from it. Motor City Connection is a great harder rockin’ album from Brownsville Station, featuring such favorites as “Automatic Heartbreak”, “Give It To Get It”, “Self Abuse”, and “They Call Me Rock ‘N’ Roll”; an album (like most of the band’s catalogue) which is long overdue for a CD (and vinyl) reissue! Certainly, one of Brownsville Stations’ best, and their most eye-catching cover from Michael Doret who talks about how he created this album’s front cover (the back cover features the logo again, along with credits and band photos; see comments). He also talks about some of this other album covers, notably the 2 he did for Kiss, and other aspects of his career.

Your background in art and your connection to the music world early on?

My background was that I attended The Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture. I thought I would become a fine artist of some sort, but I ended up falling in love with graphic design, realizing that I wasn’t cut out to be a painter or a sculptor. After graduation I held a series of staff positions in the design departments of various companies before going out on my own as a freelance graphic designer. At that point I hooked up with the preeminent airbrush artist of the 1970s—Charles White III. We collaborated on many projects including several album covers, among which were “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade”, “Chubby Checker—Greatest Hits”, and “Gentle Giant—Octopus”..

How did Motor City Connection for Brownsville Station in 1975 come about?

That was so long ago that it’s hard to remember all the details . . . but I was contacted by Paula Scher from Atlantic Records who had recently become familiar with my work and asked me to design and create art for this cover. There’s really not much more to this story than that. As a young freelance designer, I wasn’t looking to work in any one particular area, but was interested in all kinds of projects from movie title treatments to posters to book jackets to advertising, etc. As I became more and more known in the design field, I got more and more assignments to solve all kinds of different design problems. Record jacket design was just one area of design for which I was lucky enough to get hired.

Familiar with the band?  How did you approach putting that cover drawing together -where the idea came from? Any band input?

Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with the band, but that really didn’t matter. What is important is that a designer should be able to approach any design project, make themselves familiar with the subject, and be sensitive to what the client wants to project. I was never a big fan of heavy metal, but that really didn’t matter in this situation. What was important was that I create a cover that would call to people from across the record store aisles and attract attention to itself while telling the story that the band wanted to tell. I had absolutely no input from the band (no contact with them either), so I had to rely on what Paula told me about them (there wasn’t much), and my own intuition.

My thoughts on the cover design were pretty basic: design a cover that pulled together some of my favorite elements of automobilia into one cohesive design that spelled out the name of the album and the group: elements like car badges, chrome ornament, monograms, rockets, reflectors, etc. Color was also important to me, and I incorporated the colors of the 1955 Nash Rambler that was my parents’ first car. Combining all these elements was a challenge—but was also a lot of fun for me. So, the idea was to create sort of a collage of automotive elements that together formed (in my mind) the ultimate car statement.

[*Pics below: 1. Michael: “My Dad in our 1955 Nash Rambler. I loved the color of this 2-Tone car and used it for reference for the album cover. 2. Michael: “The “88” photo is one I took of an Oldsmobile ornament, one of the pieces of automobilia used for inspiration on the cover.” 3. Editor: MCC promo w/ hype sticker

A bit about how the cover was done – how long it took, etc.

Today this cover would have been a lot easier to do than it was back in 1975. Today I could have done this cover digitally, and it would have only taken a fraction of the time that it actually took me. Back then it was a laborious process which involved inking all the black linework, and then using colored adhesive films to fill in the color.

Any feedback from the band or label?

Sorry—I really can’t remember. But I can tell you it was one of my favorite pieces at the time (and it still is).

You went on to do Kiss’ Rock n Roll Over — presumably your best-known album cover? Recollections on coming up with that drawing?  As well as reconnecting with them for the Sonic Boom cover after so many years?

Well, I guess the decision as to which is my best-known cover has been made for me. I don’t think Rock and Roll Over is any better than Motor City Connection—or better than any of my other covers. I just think that Rock and Roll Over just got seen a lot more. At the time I did that cover I was pretty much able to get away with doing whatever I wanted. The kind of art I was creating (letterform-centric) was something people hadn’t seen before, and so it was difficult for most people to know how to criticize it. The only changes I was asked to make were minor ones—Gene and Paul had some comments about the details of how I drew their faces—but that was the extent of it. Years later (2009) Paul contacted me, asking if I would be interested in doing another album cover for Kiss. They felt that Rock and Roll Over had become so iconic for them, that they wanted to do something similar for Sonic Boom. One thing I wasn’t crazy about was that this time they did not want me to illustrate their faces as I did on Rock and Roll Over (you know what sensitive egos performers have)—which meant I had to somehow use existing photography because they did not want to do a photoshoot for this album cover. They had Tommy Thayer in charge of their photo archives, so he and I went over all the photos that were available, and I picked a few that I thought could work. When I say “work” I mean that I could mess around with the photos so that they became less photographic and more just plain graphic. I didn’t want to just repeat Rock and Roll Over, so I designed the cover so that it was more or less Rock and Roll Over turned inside-out so that the album name was exploding outward from the center, and the faces were now on the outside perimeter. They loved the new cover, but you know how fans are . . . there was a lot of “Rock and Roll Over was the greatest album cover, but this cover is shit”. Everybody’s got an opinion.

Were you ‘into’ much of the music you created cover art for?

As I mentioned earlier, I never was a big fan of heavy metal. If I was creating a cover for a book, nobody would expect me to be a fan of the book or the author. What’s expected of a designer is to understand the client’s needs and to create something appropriate and which communicates what they want to say.

You did a number of covers – what are some of your favorites (any stories with)?

I mentioned the covers I created with Charles White III—those were done in collaboration with him. But (as with Rock and Roll Over and Motor City Connection) I went on to create more than a few covers on my own. Of all the album covers I’ve done I’d have to say my favorite is “Bedlam Ballroom” for Squirrel Nut Zippers. That one was by far the most difficult to create—and the most rewarding. And that art was nominated for a Grammy (didn’t win). Then there were covers such as “Subway Serenade” for Looking Glass, and two comedy album covers: “The Monty Python Matching Tie & Handkerchief” and “Saturday Night Live”. 

You did the lettering (only) for the US/Canada release of Gentle Giant’s Octopus!?

Yes—I designed the glass jar lettering and the lid lettering for that cover, and Charlie did the illustration. That was at the very beginning of my career, and I was quite happy to be involved in such a high-profile cover because I did not yet have the “gravitas” to get that kind of project on my own.

Album covers have only been a part of your career, what else have you worked on that people might recognize your work from?

Well, there was the poster I created for Simon and Garfunkel’s Concert in the Park—which I am very proud of. Lately there’s been a lot of interest in that piece, and I’ve been reprinting and selling that poster. Some people might recognize the logo I designed for the New York Knicks, and others might be familiar with the title treatment I created for Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph. And then there were the covers I created for TIME Magazine.

Links:

http://www.michaeldoret.com

https://www.facebook.com/MichaelDoret

https://www.facebook.com/BrownsvilleStationMusic

http://www.brownsvillestation.website

https://michiganrockandrolllegends.com/dr-js-blog/314-michigan-connections-jfk-and-the-beatles

https://www.discogs.com/master/329060-Brownsville-Station-Motor-City-Connection

https://www.instagram.com/michaeldoret/

*If interested in obtaining the Simon & Garfunkel print, contact Michael DoretAlphabetSoup@MichaelDoret.com

*Photo of Michael Doret, courtesy of MD.

10/’22

Bruce Kulick – Union [Kiss] : Interview from the Archives (1998)

In 1998 I had the opportunity to interview Bruce Kulick for his new band ‘Union’ (which also featured John Corabi). This was a fun conversation, as I got to inquire about Bruce’s work with Billy Squier and Kiss, as well as the new album from him & Corabi in Union. A few months later Union played a club show over in Buffalo [or nearby….I can’t remember the name of it]. I went with a buddy, had a good time, got a few pics, as well I had Bruce sign my Alive 3 poster – I had had the other 3 Kiss signatures on it already, but at the Alive 3 promotional signing years before I had pulled out a Black Jack LP for Bruce to sign first and then when I pulled out the poster – security stepped in, as there was only 1 signature per guest. So, I was glad to get it signed and hang it it up. I interviewed Bruce again, some years later for his first solo album. I will follow this up with my Corabi interview I did for the release of Union’s 2nd album.

Bruce was with KISS from 1985 to ’95, making him the band’s longest serving guitar player. He is currently promoting his new project ‘UNION’, which features ex MOTLEY CRUE / SCREAM singer John Corabi, Canadian drummer Brent Fritz, and bassist Jamie Hunting. The band’s debut album on Mayhem Music is heavy, yet the songs retain a somewhat commercial edge and melody. Personally, I like it a lot more than the last KISS album! UNION is definitely a band to watch for in the near future! 

union-1-2

Billy Squier – You played on his first album. What do you recall of that album?

I really like that album; I really enjoyed that record! He wanted to hire Brian May from QUEEN – and he knew Brian. So for him to settle on me, I was very flattered, as you can imagine. I saw him work very hard. That wasn’t the record that put him over the top, as you know, but there was good material on that album.

I thought that album was a little underrated.

Absolutely! But, you saw the talent the guy had, and the vision. It was just going to happen a year later on the next record. It was a good experience. He asked me to go on the road but I couldn’t because of my band with Michael Boltin at the time, which was called ‘BLACKJACK’. But it worked out. I might not have been available for KISS if I was on the road with Billy Squier.

You did “Rich Kid” on that album, your brother did Paul Stanley’s album and the tracks on “Killers” (KISS).  that riff on “Rich Kid” is very similar to “Tonite You Belong To Me” (from Stanley’s album) and “Nowhere To Run” (from Killers).

Well, Paul’s solo record was in some ways like the style Billy Squier was doing at the time, so there was a common thread there – which is just like really cool poppy-rock ‘n’ roll. And they knew each other; they were part of that whole New York scene, New York – Boston. 

Regarding KISS, what were some highs and lows of your time with the band?

There was some very exciting times! Like playing Madison Square Gardens, doing Donnington in England, Maple Leaf Gardens – that was fun too. Certain places like South America, traveling to Japan, having kids camp outside your hotel, you know! And going to Europe, Sweden with everybody screaming and stuff! A lot of that kinda stuff. And also doing some cool TV shows like Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien – all those kind of highlights! I guess the only lows I had was obviously that sometimes the relative success of the albums being up and then down. Another highlight was the MTV Unplugged thing, and that also became bitter sweet because that pushed the reunion thing that happened, so that of course being the ultimate low. 

Any favorite tracks or albums?

“Unholy”, “Forever”, “Tears Are Falling”. A lot of stuff from Revenge – I really dug. There’s a couple of things on Carnival that really showcased me; so again throughout all the albums there’s some things that stand out. 

Kiss – Unholy (Official Music Video) – YouTube

Did you ever get, I wouldn’t say upset, but a little miffed by perhaps being overshadowed musically by the mystique that surrounded Kiss, a lot of the hype and that??

There’s no doubt there’s a shadow of the make-up era which has not as much to do about music as that ‘set’ element of Kiss – which is an important one, even though I still feel the band was able to hold it’s own as an exciting rock group. But it turns out that’s a part of the band you can’t shake from it. No matter how much you’re pictured without make-up and then going on out there just like any other band. I still think there was a certain attitude and style of the band without make-up that was very different; but it’s hard to compete with platform boots and rockets shooting out of your guitar, and the ‘space’ out-fits, ya know!? And I’m not saying that to take anything away from that; all that’s entertaining and exciting, but it does create a certain thing that you can’t even compare with it, because you’re not playing in the same field. Eric Carr had the ‘fox’ for a while, and even Vinnie (Vincent) became a make-up character, and I think that worked, but I never had that opportunity, and the band never put the make-up on with me, so it was a different form of the band.

Did you ever feel your own playing got over-shadowed by Gene and Paul doing all the interviews and everything?

I knew, press-wise, that the story would always be Gene and Paul’s thing, ’cause they created the band. And even with the make-up and reunion thing – they mostly do the interviews. I’m just really proud that obviously, with UNION, I have a lot to say and a lot to be proud of! You know, the press are going to choose where they feel the story is. 

Do you still have contact or connections with the (KISS) guys at all?

Yes, everything’s been really cool with the guys. I just recently gave them a couple of the discs, advanced CDs, and Paul asked me to help him on some of his songwriting demos – to decide which songs he was going to present for the next album. So, that was kinda cool. He’s very comfortable with me, and I really enjoyed playing guitar with him; we know how to communicate that way. So he hired me to do that kind of work, and that’s exciting!

You’ve probably been asked this a million times, but can you clarify – regarding ‘Creatures Of The Night’ – if and what you played on that album?

Actually, I played nothing on that album. At the time Ace wasn’t in the band, so they had a lot of different players on that record; from Dick Wagner to Robin Ford! He played the solos on a couple of things like “I Still Love You”. And Steve Ferris, the guy from MR MISTER, played the solo on the song “Creatures Of The Night”. But basically what happened on that record was they didn’t know what was going on with Ace, and it was obvious, I think, he was going to leave or whatever. That was a good record that got over-looked. And then later, when I joined, I think they said “OK – let’s put a new cover on with the non make-up band. Since you do some of these songs maybe we can sell it like that!” – which was a stupid idea! But, the record companies will always look at ways to try and increase the profits and sales. But, I think it was a mistake that they did it; and there I am on the picture. I didn’t ask to do it, you know!?

Have you read any of the KISS books that have come out recently?

“Black Diamond” – I read. That was kinda cool! I have “Kiss and Sell” – but have not read it yet, next plane ride I’ll take it along. And I still haven’t read “Kisstory”, …but I was there – I know it! (ha ha).

How was the Black Diamond book?

I did find some things that weren’t actually correct, but I realize he’s relying on a lot of different things. It’s kinda weird to read about a situation you’re so close to. I did enjoy it though! 

Thoughts on ‘Carnival Of Souls’??

I’m really happy that it came out, of course, because it was so heavily bootlegged, and there was songs missing on the bootleg, the sound quality was terrible. I wanted people to hear it the way we recorded it and mixed it. I spent a lot of time working on that record; we all worked very hard on it. I’m a little disappointed with the packaging, but when I weigh that against whether it’d be out or not – I’m thrilled to death! So, overall I really can’t complain about it – I’m just excited that it finally got released in it’s full sonic glory.

Favorite tracks??

I love “I Walk Alone”. “Jungle” is great! “Master And Slave”. There’s some really interesting playing from me, a lot of different songs. There’s nothing I really dislike on the record. It was certainly a very heavy – dark album. And Toby, the guy who produced it with the band, and mixed it – even mixed it really dark. But I think it stands on it’s own for what it was.

What influenced some of the heavier – darker sounds on it, compared to previous albums?

“Revenge” had some darker stuff on it, maybe not quite as dark as this, but we were kinda getting more into some heavy riffs, and it wasn’t calculated. It was like – I came up with a lot of really dark riffs, which was fun to do. “Childhood’s End” and “I Walk Alone” certainly aren’t that dark sounding at all. But, it just evolved as a real guitar heavy – crunchy record. We’d fooled around with alternate tunings before, but everybody was writing some really heavy riffs in some of those tunings, so it just went a little bit on the heavy side there.

What’s the story behind you and John [Corabi] meeting? Did the high profiles play a part?

Well, on paper – of course the high profiles look like – “wow! this could be cool!”, but it wouldn’t have mattered how cool we look on paper if we didn’t get along and realize we’re into the same kinda music, you know!? And that was the beauty – as soon as I started playing a riff he responded well. We were both having a lot of personal things in our lives, we were in upheaval at the time, and both had careers in a new direction – not knowing where we were heading with. So, there was a lot to bond over. And it turned out that the music just came together very easily – very easy to create, and it was obvious that we were meant to work together.

Was it easy to find a deal?

It was a little difficult. Our first batch we didn’t really play for a lot of people, but we had a couple of acoustic songs on it, and people didn’t understand, you know – “what are they doing?”. But we had to keep writing, and by then we shopped a real cool tape – 4 songs. There was some people at real major labels that really liked it, but there was no way they were going to get it past their ‘higher ups’, because very few rock bands in the whole sense of what UNION is about have been signed of late, and I think they’re missing out. But “Mayhem” got it right away. This is what we’re into, and this is what we want to do. We didn’t try to calculate the market or create something that’s like “OK – this is what the labels are looking for!” We didn’t do a KISS or MOTLEY record because we’re not Kiss or Motley – we’re UNION!

The band’s based on you and John. How much of a part did Jamie and Brett play?

Both of them are very creative. In the sense of songwriting, they weren’t actually involved as songwriters, but certainly they were very creative on their instruments. Jamie’s a really great bass player and moves around in a really cool fashion. He’s definitely a master at his instrument. At times, because he was re-creating some of the demos, because he came in a little later, he had to take some suggestions from me, and I think he was appreciative a lot, because he knew it worked. And Brent was there a little earlier, so some of the beats that are on the record were right there from the ‘formative stages’ – so to say. We’re really proud of their contributions – John and I. It is a band; I wouldn’t want anyone to think that they’re just hired guns. We’re gonna sink or swim all together on this, and profit or not together. We’re not in a position to ‘hire anybody”, so we’re all along for the ride, bumpy or not!

How does the songwriting work with you and John?

Well, generally – he’d play me a riff, I’d play him a riff; he’d come up with something and I’d go “what’s that?”, you know. And off we’d go. Sometimes we’d have a song done in a half an hour, sometimes it would take 3 days. We really worked hard on it, and our co-producer – Kirk Cuomo, got involved in writing and helped out – did a lyric that was missing, an inception or a bridge. We all really worked hard on it.

You both play guitar and (presumably) sing!?

I’m not as strong of a singer as John, but yes.

Is there a lot of duo guitar on the record, or do you do most of the guitar work?

John is just about on every song, on a rhythm track as a scruff guitar, so he was very involved in, you know – “laying that track”. I did more work on guitars, because that’s my job. John’s a good guitarist, very valuable for the whole situation.

I’ll tell you, I’ve had the album for about a week now and I quite like it because it’s got the heaviness of the last Kiss album, and it’s got a certain ‘rawness’ – production wise. And it’s also got a lot of melody and it’s very radio accessible, I think.

Thank you!

Not to put down the last Kiss album, but “Union” is a lot more accessible as far as the harmonies.

I think Union overall – is a bit more melodic than Carnival… Again, it’s not intentional, it’s just what we wanted to do.

What are some of your favorite tracks?

I love ’em all – I gotta tell you! There’s certain songs that really feature me. 

Union - Union CD. Heavy Harmonies Discography

Anything that stands out as far as being a single?

I think “Old Man Wise” is great start to show people – “hey – we kick ass, and here we are!” It’s got some real catchy riffs and parts in there. “October Morning Wind” is a very cool acoustic song that I can hear it crossing over. “Pain Behind Your Eyes” has definitely got a very catchy hook that people seem to remember and point out to me as being real hooky. I love “Let It Flow” because of the whole ‘opus’ of it. It’s a long song, with a lot of guitars and stuff. But like I said – I dig all the songs. “Tangerine” – sometimes I can’t get that out of my head! I just dig the album, you know!? 

Love (I Don’t Need It Anymore) – YouTube

And even the ballad type songs like “Love Don’t Need Anymore” have got quite a bit of bite to them.

Yes!

Any favorite guitar solos?

The stuff on Let It Flow – I’m really quite proud of. There’s a couple of different solos in the songs and each one is a different level of intensity, shall I say!? One’s where I’m showing off a little more classic melody type of thing, and then like Jimmy Page, and then I kinda brewed some nasty unholy thing with the wah-wah. So, it was kinda nice to spread out on that and play a couple of different things. I think the solo on “Empty Soul” was cool. I’m proud of them all! There’s even a little ‘trip of the back-woods’ thing in the song “Get Off My Cloud”. So for all you classic guitarists trying to figure it out – you’re not gonna get it buddy! (ha ha).

“October Morning Wind” – was that Zeppelin influenced at all?

Actually, when I came up with the music for that I was thinking of an old Cream song that had this half-step kind of acoustic thing going on. I forget the title now. Anything from that era I’m turned on to!

Favorite guitar players?

Oh, definitely – Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Brian May…there’s a few there!

Anything to add?

I just want to thank all the Kiss fans who have been supportive over these years, and I hope that they give Union a shot, and they come to check us out live. Mayhem’s really behind us, so if you have any trouble finding it – they have a ‘888’ number (which is toll-free). For this kind of music we need everybody to make the effort. It’s us vs the Spice Girls, you know!? (ha ha!)

union bio 1

BruceKulick.com-The Official Bruce Kulick Website | Home

UNION Featuring JOHN CORABI And BRUCE KULICK – Vinyl Reissues Coming Soon – BraveWords

KJJ,  01/1998