As a hired gun, Tommy Clufetos has played with some of the biggest names in rock. Ted Nugent, Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne are some of the names who have come to appreciate his talent, work ethic and discipline which have put him among the elite of professional musicians. After years of hard work with various bands, his latest release is a much deserved personal project aptly named Tommy’s Rocktrip. We talked about the new album and the road that brought him to this place.
You have a solo album titled Beat Up by Rock n Roll.
I do. As much as it is, I don’t like the term solo album, because to me, it just sounds like a rock band. It’s four guys jamming in a room and turning up their amps and trying to create a sound together. It’s not like you know, some process put together studio solo album. So it’s just a simple rock record. That’s kind of why I called it Tommy’s Rocktrip, because it’s not me, it’s me and my bunch of guys playing some music. You know, it’s my rock trip, it’s what I like.
Yeah, absolutely. This is actually your first album as opposed to all the bands that you’ve played with over the years, right?
How did how did you put the band together?
I put it together after I got the opportunity to make the record. The only reason I made the record was unfortunately, in this worldwide shut down, it was the first time I was ever awarded this block of time, to where I could never think about not having this tour to get ready for or I wasn’t leaving in a week. So I had this big block of time and I go, nothing’s going on, I play music so why don’t I take this opportunity to make my own music for once in my life and I did. And when I put the band together Initially I thought of Eric Dover on vocals who I played together with in Alice Cooper’s band and who I respect his vocal talent and his musicality to the utmost respect, he’s a great singer. And then I didn’t want to get a bunch of this guy from this band, or that guy from that band, I wanted it to stand on its own a little more, so I found a bunch of young guys that I could kind of rehearse and mold into what I wanted as opposed to it sounding disjointed, if that makes sense and we did it the old school way.
I’m sitting here in my rock and roll heaven rehearsal room as we speak. We jammed here and rehearsed and made it tight, and then we went right in the studio and recorded it the exact same way as if we were in a rehearsal studio. We didn’t use headphones, there were no click tracks, there was no fancy cutting and pasting, we played the song from start to finish. And before we recorded, we rehearsed, what a concept, and I think you can hear that live feel on the album. That was the only prerequisite that I had, I wanted to do it the old way, which is probably a more difficult way but I enjoy that process much more than being tied down to headphones and click tracks and you know, if the music moved a little, I was cool with that. There’s some times music should get faster, in a good way. You don’t want it off to the races. But sometimes when things go off to the races, it’s great.
There’s a tune on the album that I put a video out for, I don’t know if you happened to see it but it’s real fast. It has double bass and it’s really up tempo and initially we were rehearsing it much slower but when we got into the studio I started into hyper mode. The guys were like, “What are you doing? You’re playing way too fast.” I’m like, “Who cares? It feels good, let’s go with it.” So I’ve learned in rock and roll sometimes you just got to go with it, man. And when you’re tied down with all this technology, you can’t go with it. If you’re stuck to that tempo. Hyper can be great too, monotonous can be great. Some of the greatest things don’t have to be all fancy schmancy, you know?
Yeah, you answered about six of my questions with that.
Good! See you later, bye, no, ha-ha.
That was incredible. Yeah, I was going to say that you can hear that live sound in the recording. I was going ask you if you recorded off the floor.
Totally, I’ve never done a record so live as this one. You literally couldn’t do it live, the only thing that we cut separate was the vocals.
You’ve got a B3 player in your band, Doug Organ. What a great name for an organ player.
He played on maybe one track and then there are a couple chords on another song.
You’re definitely going for that old sound with the live off the floor and having those musicians in the band. One of the songs that I noticed “Make Me Smile”, I’m not saying that it sounds like Hey Baby from Nugent but it’s got that same feel, that same vibe. What were you thinking when you wrote that?
Well first of all, Hey Baby, what a kick ass track. And if you go back and listen back to Freddie King, what’s the song they totally rip the lick off of, we all take from somebody. It’s a Freddie King song where they ripped that lick off. I guarantee Derek St. Holmes stole that from him, which is cool. We all get it from somewhere. I always love those kind of boogie, bluesy rock tunes. And that song is about my wife, and she’s the sexiest goddess you’ve ever seen. I don’t know how an ugly guy like me got her. But to me, nothing is sexier than a bluesy rock song. I can’t write romantic love poems to her so I made her this sexy, bluesy rock song, and I gave it to her and now she has to be with me forever.
Yeah, I think we all face that, we’re all married up.
Yeah, I definitely did. And she’s the world’s greatest mom and I have the world’s greatest daughter and for that alone, I’m the most successful guy I know. And now she can never say you’ve never done anything romantic. All I got to do is put that song on and the argument is over.
You’ve got a mix of sounds that was definitely the bluesy rock sound, which I think really suits your vocals, and then you’ve got Welcome to the Show. That track sounds to me like the song you need to open with when you tour with this group.
Yeah, we could or second or something. Sometimes it’s cooler to not open with that, I’ve learned a lot from Rob Zombie. Rob wouldn’t always open up with the first most kick ass song, he would give one song and let people know you’re on stage and then the second song is where you would really blast. So quite a smart maneuver and that always stuck in my brain. But yeah, Welcome to the Show is definitely welcome to the show; I mean, come on now.
Well, it’s like Coop doing Hello, Hooray, right?
Correct. Same kind of idea and then No More Mr. Nice Guy.
How did you like playing with Coop? I mean, everything I’ve heard about him has been he’s like the greatest guy in rock and roll.
All the guys I’ve played for have been the greatest guys. I’ve been so lucky. Ted Nugent is the greatest guy. I love playing with Alice. I remember my dad took me to see Alice when I was about 13 years old and I go, “Man, I’m gonna play in that band one day!” and then I did. You know a lot of that’s been I’ve been so fortunate and lucky. Playing for Rob Zombie, he’s a great guy, playing for Ozzy is awesome. Ozzy to me is like an Elvis Presley. He has that kind of charisma and special thing to him. Nobody’s voice sounds like that in the world. You know, he’s the one guy if somebody were to sing an Ozzy song, it just doesn’t work when it’s not his voice. And then, getting to play with the Sabbath guys, that was the peak musically that I’ve been thus far. All the people that I have worked for are gentlemen. I shouldn’t say lucky because it’s a lot of hard work. I’ve been so blessed and fortunate.
That’s what I say when you see a professional golfer get a hole in one. There’s an element of luck but the average person does not get a hole in one the way they do.
You know music, I don’t look at it as a hobby. I don’t like that word when it comes to what I do. A hobby is something you do in your spare time. Music is my craft, it’s something that I’ve been focused on since I picked up the drum sticks. I’m always trying to get better every day and you’ll never reach the end of that, you’ll never reach the destination. So the fun part has got to be the journey to get there and hopefully getting better and learning as you go.
When you’re young you have a lot of energy and I still have a lot of energy, but you’ve got to look towards the future and look around you. You know, a lot of my inspirations just aren’t music, it can be sports, and you can look at Muhammad Ali. How did he fight when he got older? Even though I’m not a sports guy, I can get a lot of inspiration out of these types of people. When I watched Larry Bird play basketball, I want to play drums, like Larry Bird played basketball, where he’s not the most technically proficient but there’s somehow he was going to win that game from his gut. And that’s how I play drums I play from my gut. And I’m going to, I’m going to put it over when I get on that stage.
Somehow I’m going to make things happen you know. Through just years and years of sheer hard work I’m going to stay in that drum room and I’m going to go over that song one more time, just like he was going to shoot 500 more free throws. It’s effort and it’s pride and it’s passion and it’s seeing things through and believing in yourself. I learned this from my dad and I learned from my parents. I learned from watching them struggle and I learned through struggling myself that when you have something that you’re passionate about, it can teach you so much.
Playing music has taught me how to be a great dad has taught me how to dedicate myself to my family and through doing so, dedicating myself to my music, I’ve met the world’s greatest woman, and I now have this nice family and you know how to take care of them through music. So it’s this circular thing, that’s why it’s more than just a hobby. It’s not a hobby, and it’s not a job.
Speaking of family, and learning to be a good father and husband, your father was a huge inspiration to you growing up wasn’t he? Tell us a little about that, him bringing you into clubs as a kid.
Absolutely! My dad has been my number one influence in my life and number one supporter, and taught me more than anything else, as a father should be, to be honest with you, I only hope that my daughter looks up to me the same way I look up to my dad He took me under his wing early and as much as he was loving, he was also a strict disciplinarian and demanded more than he demanded of his ten times older than me musicians. I was held up to a higher standard as an early teenager than these guys that were 50 years old, so he put the clamp down on me and was very demanding. I had to rise to the bar and you always get better when things are expected out of you. I had to rise to the bar of playing with Black Sabbath and be ready to play with Ted Nugent and be ready to play with Ozzy and that all goes back to the early teachings of my dad. Through music, he taught me how to be a man and be responsible and demand that I be responsible so I’m forever in his debt.
Yeah, you got that work ethic from him, which is the thing that most people get from our parents, most often our dad because back in the day he was the guy that usually was the breadwinner.
And through music we share a big bond. Also, my uncle was a musician. He was a jazz musician in New Orleans. Believe it or not, I would go play Dixieland jazz. He was a personal friend and protégé of Louis Armstrong and he loved Louis Armstrong and I would go down every year and play Dixieland gigs at the Jazz Fest with him. So I had this whole other side of upbringing that maybe people wouldn’t quite expect. I played all these what would be called oldies shows with my dad of fifties and sixties artists, if you turn on the radio, I’ve played with 95% of those kind of guys that you’ll hear on those channels, and then playing jazz and watching Louis Armstrong videos with my uncle and watching my uncle practice trumpet. You know, me and my uncle, actually are very similar now that I get older. I practice every day and just stay on it, chip away at the stone every day. He played until the day he died. He kept playing music until his health didn’t allow him to and I’m guessing I’ll do the same thing. I didn’t get into music to be famous. I didn’t get into music to be rich. I got into music as a young kid because it made me feel good and it made me feel good about myself and I just had to do it and that’s still why I do it today. On top of now is how I provide for my family so there’s a higher level of respect for it. I love it and it’s also my livelihood. So there’s two things that collide that you have to continue. You have to be successful and you have to you have to make it happen, which is a good thing. When there’s no safety net, what do you got to do? You got to figure out how to swim.
You you’ve talked about your uncle, another influence. Somebody who was a protégé of Louis Armstrong and you play Dixieland jazz music on the drums. So you’re learning different forms of drumming and whatnot, different techniques, obviously, right? And then you go and play for Black Sabbath. And when you go to learn music for a band that you’re playing with, I read this that you learn all the songs, you don’t just learn the set list or a few songs for the audition, you learn everything, so you’re prepared.
I try to learn as much as possible and I try to dig as much as possible. A lot of bands when I joined the band, they’ve had a lot of different musicians, so it gets removed from that initial heartbeat of what the music is about, so if it’s required, I like to try to take it back to that original heartbeat of what made them great. A lot of times drummers get too fancy and I hear it all the time, well I get bored on stage. I never get bored. You can’t get bored of playing great music and sticking to the plan. You’ve got to stick to the plan so you all move in the same way. When you start playing for yourself, it’s over. You don’t hear Tony Iommi going off on a stupid musical tangent, he keeps it in what is best for Black Sabbath, as does Geezer, as does Ozzy. You know what I mean? I don’t think an Ozzy guy gets enough musical respect because he is so charismatic but I’ve learned from these guys. What makes really great legends is that they play for the music and I learned that from my uncle. My uncle would stay on the melody of the trumpet because he learned that from Louis Armstrong You don’t have to just learn from drummers or your fellow instrumentalists. You can learn as much from watching Chuck Berry play guitar than I do from any drummer, it’s the approach. You can learn as much about watching a basketball player and how he does it. At the end, it’s all accomplishing a task, you want to have a great show. How does somebody maneuver to get there, how do they go about it? That’s what I’m interested in.
Most musicians say that they love playing for the hometown crowd. Tell me a little bit about your experience with Sabbath at The Palace. I was at that show, it was one of my favorite concerts. And I’ve been to, you know, a few 100 shows. And for me, that’s one of my top 10 shows that I’ve been to.
I don’t consider hometown shows any more special than anything. If anything, they’re more of a pain in the ass because you’ve got people that want to see you or people from 20 years ago. Even my family knows, when they come to a hometown show, they’re going to see me after the show because I’m very into the gig and I need to focus before the gig and I need to get away from people and focus on the show. So if I do that in Boston, I don’t change my way in Detroit, I don’t go hang out or whatever. They’ll see me after the show so it’s not any more special or less special, it’s just where we’re playing that day. That being said, when you’re a kid and have been to these places and you go see a concert at The Palace, or Pine Knob or Tiger Stadium, or whatever it is and then you get to play these places, of course it is nice, sure. But I don’t revel in that moment, you know what I mean? I’m there to do a job and every concert should be the most important because that’s how you got to play those places. You know, even when I played a dump club in Michigan and there was nobody there, I was still hoping that somebody would be seeing me play drums. Maybe if there was one person and they did and then it led to the next thing and the next thing and then the next thing. If you don’t take that approach and you pick and choose where you’re going to give it up, your odds are, good luck.
When you were first starting note, Ted Nugent gave you your big break more or less like that was your first big job, wasn’t it?
Yeah. Before then I played for a guy named Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels which may be you know, Ted definitely took me out of Detroit and around, and I’m forever indebted to him. He really took me under his wing and he encouraged me and he let me do my thing man.
There’s a DVD I recorded, speaking of Pine Knob, we recorded it at Pine Knob and I was maybe twenty and I’m proud of it. I’m back there playing Motorcity Madhouse and it’s a packed house and I’m rocking. I rocked then just like I rock now so I’m proud of what I’ve done. And Ted was awesome, we’re cut from the same cloth and I’m not comparing myself but we have the same influences. In fact, a lot of the people that I’ve played with, we have the same outlook on how music should be played, so you tend to gravitate to where you’re supposed to go in this business a lot of the time, I’ve been very fortunate that way that I’ve connected with people that are like minded individuals.
Another project that you have going on right now is you joined Dead Daisies. Now that’s a totally different animal from the other bands that you’ve played with because this band almost has a revolving cast of characters and it’s interesting. I don’t know the story, maybe you can explain it to me but I don’t think it’s like some bands where people keep quitting and fighting and that sort of thing. This is kind of like an ongoing project where some of the best musicians get together and just make music. Is that it?
Yeah, I think they use the term a collective, but I mean, even if you look back, how many bands have the original members? You know, not a lot, so even big time bands, it’s hard to keep everybody on the same page but they don’t shy away from that. Different guys come in and different guys come out, it’s part of the thing and I think that kind of makes it cool for their fans.
Yeah, totally. I agree. So what are the plans for the album after it comes out? Things are starting to open up a little bit. Do you have any dates set for shows or anything like that?
There’s no plans right now because everything’s so up in the air as much as it’s maybe opening up a little, it’s not opening quite enough. I don’t have any plans not to do anything and I don’t have any plans as of right now to do something but that doesn’t mean I won’t and it doesn’t mean I will. I just don’t know where things stand right now. I will be going out with the Dead Daisies in mid June and early July because they just got some gigs on the books and I’m looking forward to that.
How’s Ozzy doing?
Ozzy’s doing okay. We stay in contact here and there with texting and stuff and he has some dates on the books in January, February and I believe they’re moving forward with those and if he says he’s going to do them, I stand behind him that he’ll be there ready to rock.
Well, I really hope that that pans out as well.
These guys are such great talents and they had such great careers and they know how to get through the hard times because they’ve been in it so long. Like I said, this music thing is a roller coaster. They’ll always be back.
When I was younger I would see bands like The Stones and Aerosmith and whatnot in their 40s and I’m thinking, gee, I wonder how much longer they’re going to be playing, they’re getting up there, right? And now I look back at that and I think how ridiculous the way kids think compared to how adults think.
It’s changed a lot. You see Mick Jagger had heart surgery and six weeks later he was dancing like a fool. There’s commitment there for you, you know what I mean? Talking about supreme commitment. You look at those guys. They still sound great, they still look great, and what a group of guys. In one group maybe five or ten of the original members dies. Even the Stones are not the original you know? They’ve had a few guitar players, Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, and Brian Jones. Shit happens in 50 years, you know?
Yeah, but that that core is still together though after almost sixty years, right? I can only think of a handful of bands that kept their original lineup like Rush. They called Neil Peart the new guy for forty years.
I really respect Neil. His style of drumming and the Rush style of music isn’t really my exact cup of tea but that being said, I really respect when I hear what kind of person he was. And he went through tragedy and he sounded like a really good man and I respect that and the other two guys how they speak. Another thing, you come through tragedy and Wolfgang Van Halen, I’ve seen some interesting interviews on him and heard him speak and I really respect the young man and how he spoke about his dad. You can tell they had a tight bond and he respected him and you learn from him. And he speaks very well about the tragedy and coming out and doing his own music. So I respect him for that, that’s not an easy thing. Especially being a Van Halen, a son of Eddie Van Halen, and then going and doing your own thing, and he’s very talented at it.
Yeah, he is and I love his music. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for him to deal with social media and the people out there because I’ve seen some of the nasty comments. I don’t know what people are thinking that they would even say stuff like that.
Well, people just don’t have anything else better to do so why not knock somebody, you know? They’ve never done anything so they’re sitting on their computer, which is cool, that’s the gig man, you know?
Are you going to be stamping any vinyl?
I wish they would do a vinyl on this because I think the vibe of the album really lends itself to a turntable. I would love it, but it’s out of my hands to be honest with you.
Stay tuned for more music from Tommy by following his YouTube page Tommy’s RockTrip.