If you take a look through this website, you’ll notice very quickly that my musical tastes are over the place. Much of that comes from something I experienced 30 summers ago.
It’s impossible to overstate just how impactful the first Lollapalooza tour was to my generation. Ice-T and Siouxsie Sioux on the same stage? The Butthole Surfers followed by the pre-fame Nine Inch Nails? Really? It was all such a magical mess – and the sort of artistic alchemy that Lollapalooza co-creator Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction/Porno For Pyros/Psi Com/The Satellite Party) has been exploring for 40 years now.
Out today, “Mend” finds Farrell (under the moniker Perry Farrell’s Kind Heaven Orchestra) collaborating with his wife, Etty, alongside Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, Elliot Easton of The Cars, Jane’s Addiction’s Chris Chaney and – get this, folks – Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan.
The results of this personnel mindfuck are extraordinary. Beginning with a dreamy vibe reminiscent of Porno For Pyros’ mellower moments, the track gradually grows into a sprawling and soulful rocker accentuated by some truly stunning musical interplay. While cross-pollinating projects of this nature often feel like Frankensteined parts crammed into an ill-fitting suit, “Mend” showcases individuals who have reached the high-water marks of their respective crafts working together in absolute harmony.
As for the lyrics, “Mend” explores Farrell’s compassion toward a close friend suffering through the loss of a romantic relationship.
“I’ve tried to reach through his ribcage and examine the heart of a good friend – tried to empathize with what he was going through,” he says. “I tried to mend my friend.”
Such a Perry Farrell quote, isn’t it? It’s certainly more colorful than simply reading that he felt sorry for the guy! It’s always a joy when he gifts us with something new – a fresh opportunity to delve inside the creative mind of someone who still blissfully exists somewhere else.
“Mend” hits amidst talk of forthcoming Porno For Pyros material and post-pandemic Jane’s Addiction live dates – news that is certainly welcome in a tired world in need of adventure. Until then, “Mend” serves as a thrilling reminder of Farrell’s fondness for the eclectic and a gorgeous taste of what’s to come.
If the past several months have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
When Frontiers Records first announced the release of Sunbomb’s debut album, Evil and Divine, more than a few eyebrows were raised. After all, Sunbomb pairs Michael Sweet, who brought Christian-themed Hard Rock/Metal to millions as the singer/guitarist of Stryper, and guitarist Tracii Guns, the decadent Sunset Strip veteran of L.A. Guns and the pre-fame Guns N’ Roses. Would such a seemingly disparate combination actually work? Forgive me, Michael, but Hell yeah it does!
While many “supergroups” suffer under the weight of high expectations and underwhelming results, Evil and Divine features some of the finest material ever created by either musician. Just take a listen to the burning Dio-era Sabbath groove of the must-hear “Take Me Away.” It is the sound of two distinct creative souls meeting at the peak of their respective powers and showing the world that some of the best things in life come from left field. And that’s just one example of the downright heavy – and often soulful – moments on this bulletproof 11-song collection.
The album also features the grittiest vocal performance of Sweet’s career, proving once and for all that he is as much an intense Metal belter as he is a mainstream balladeer – something that diehard Stryper fans (yours truly among them) have known for years but may come as a shock to anyone who judges the man’s career on “I Believe In You” alone.
On a personal note, Michael is one of my favorite people in the music business: Open, giving, straightforward and someone who calls it as he sees it. He’s Rock ‘n’ Roll through and through and always a great conversationalist – and a person willing to listen to and exchange ideas with people who may not necessarily see eye to eye with him on religion or other areas of life. This point was brought home to me last year when I – a Satanist – showed up in one of his Facebook threads to give him my respect and support. His response of “Thank you, brother” caused a bit of a stir but ultimately resulted in one of the most enriching exchanges between Facebook users I’ve ever witnessed.
With this in mind, I used this latest interview with him as an opportunity to address our drastic differences in religious beliefs head-on in addition to discussing the Sunbomb record. It resulted in one of the best experiences I’ve had in my career. We approached things as gentlemen in a very frank and honest way and – gasp – reached common ground on many things. With Michael’s blessing, I present our full conversation below with as few structural edits as possible. Michael has my deepest respect and gratitude for his willingness to engage in a chat of this nature. I’m a proud fan of his work with Stryper and beyond, and I look forward to our next opportunity to touch base.
It’s nice to hear from you again!
Of course! Thanks for talking to me, buddy. I appreciate it.
This is actually our third interview together.
Well, maybe we’ll be at 30 or 40 someday!
I’d love that! I’m also the Satanist who went on your page last year and gave you props.
Hey, man, you know what? Dude, you know what I preach, and it’s all about loving your fellow neighbor. We’re all brothers and sisters. It’s so interesting how people obviously jump on that ‘separation’ bandwagon and try to divide and separate. It’s crazy to me. God bless you, man! Great to talk with you again. Thanks for giving me props!
Definitely. I’ve seen the band live, and nobody was out there with a clipboard taking a poll on who believed what.
(Laughs) We’re still going. We’re planning on a new album in January; it’s already set. [Guitarist] Oz [Fox] is getting better and feeling well [in his fight against brain tumors]. We’ve still got a little fuel left in the tank, as they say. There’s more to come, for sure.
Right on. Let’s dive into Sunbomb. The combination of you and Tracii is somewhat unexpected, but I think it’s a combination that works extremely well on this record. I cover a lot of Frontiers artists, so I know that sort of collaborative/partnering album concept is a staple of that label. How instrumental was [Frontiers President and A&R Director] Serafino [Perugino] in getting this whole thing put together with you and Tracii?
That’s a good question. Usually, Serafino is very instrumental and the guy who’s basically throwing the idea out there on the table with a lot of these projects. But with this particular project, as far as I know, it originally started out as a Tracii Guns solo album. He was talking to Frontiers about doing a solo record. I think it eventually morphed into a ’supergroup,’ if that’s what you want to call it. It became Sunbomb, but the way I always understood it was it was a solo album. I was just kind of singing on Tracii’s solo album, but it wound up being much more than that. It’s really cool, because it’s got those elements of L.A. Guns, and it has some Stryper elements. I think that’s a given. Love my voice or hate my voice, I have a distinctive voice; it’s easy to tell who I am and where I’m from. So, it’s gonna have the Stryper flavors and the L.A. Guns flavors right out of the box, but it’s also got something really different about it. It’s not a polished record. Stryper is definitely more in that polished vein when it comes to the way that we produce albums. There are more overdubs and whatnot. This is more of a raw approach. My vocal style is a little bit more raw, and there’s not as many pretty harmonies and multilayers going on. There’s just more of an in-your-face approach [with this]. That goes for Tracii’s playing as well, which is really cool.
Did you guys have a lot of history together as far as being friends prior to this whole project taking place?
One would think so, but no. We grew up in the same area at roughly the same time. I’m a little older than Tracii, but he saw and certainly heard of our band back when we were Roxx Regime. That’s going back to 1982, 1983. I, of course, had heard of Guns N’ Roses in the early days when Tracii was a part of that. I actually saw Guns N’ Roses perform with Tracii, so this is going way back. And then with L.A. Guns, our paths of course crossed so many times. It’s really interesting that we’ve never met until recently – basically in the last two-plus years.
How were the logistics of this album handled? Did you guys have an opportunity to start on this prior to lockdown, or did most of it happen during this strange time we’ve all been facing?
The project started before lockdown; it just took a long time to complete and dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Tracii had started working on this, I’m gonna say, maybe even three years ago – certainly two and a half. That was right around the time that we met. He started working on the guitar parts and whatnot, and he had another singer in mind; I’m 99 percent certain it’s the bass player for Whitesnake [Michael Devin]. He was going to sing on the project, and something happened and that didn’t work out. Then, Tracii asked me to do it. There were some little bumps and hurdles to get over with the lyrics. I got the first lyric, and it was about burning witches. I just felt like that wasn’t something I preferred to sing. I didn’t want to alienate my fanbase. I have to feel passionate about whatever I sing. It has to be something that I believe when I’m singing so that I can sing with conviction. I thought it was like April Fools’; I thought it was a joke when I read the lyrics. Most of the lyrics were just not in my wheelhouse, so they had to be rewritten and reworked. It took a little time to do that with our busy schedules – and then with COVID, obviously. But we eventually got around to it and made everything right, and then I got it sung and turned it in. Everybody really liked it – Tracii especially. The rest is history.
Obviously, both you and Tracii have been doing this for a long time. You have a lot of records under your respective belts, and you obviously both know what a song is supposed to be. You’re both coming at this project with a lot of experience. But having done this album with Tracii, what would you say you each brought to the table for the other person that might not have been there without the opportunity to collaborate in this way?
I think you stretch a little bit and you experience a little bit more when you’re working with other people. Obviously, when I got the music beds for each song, I listened to them and thought, ‘Okay, this is different for me. This is not what I would have done if I wrote these songs.’ But that’s a good thing, because it’s different. It’s a little darker and a little bit more raw. That being the case, it made me want to explore a little more and just kind of push myself as a vocalist and definitely stretch out a little bit more. It’s not that when you hear these vocals it’s something completely different; I didn’t try to reinvent the wheel or anything – nor could I. I have the sound of my voice, and it’s always going to be there. But I just tried to make things a little bit more in-your-face and raw and open and not over-perfect things – keep it a little more like we’re almost live in the room performing for you, with the good and the bad. It’s almost like a live performance in terms of the sound.
I started the conversation on Sunbomb by mentioning what I call ‘the Frontiers way’ – putting different people together and trying different things. Some of those albums are good, but some of them – no names mentioned – do sound like a one-and-done kind of thing. But this sounds like a fully realized, living and breathing band to me. With that said, what might the chances be of this becoming something that continues to do songs and perhaps even plays live at some point?
That would be amazing, and I think there’s a good chance of that. The problem we’re all faced with – even more so now – is the backup. COVID knocked us down and out for just over a year. We’re all trying to figure out how to move forward – all the bands in the world – and where to play and how to play and if we can afford it. Obviously, capacities and guarantees are down. The cost of jet fuel is up, and flights are up. It all plays an important part in whether bands like us can tour or not. Of course, bands like KISS can tour; they’ve got all the money and backing in the world. But with bands like L.A. Guns and Stryper, it’s a little more difficult. We rely heavily on the numbers; if they’re not right, then we can’t tour. I think once we kind of get out and get past this crazy pandemic situation, which I think is going to happen, the chances of [Sunbomb playing live] are far greater. There’s no reason why Tracii and I can’t go do at least some ‘weekend warrior’ dates – maybe not a ground run, but certainly some fly dates and do a few shows here and there in key cities. That would be great, man, I would love that.
I want to switch gears and bring up a topic that I’ve wanted to talk with you about since the beginning of the pandemic. There have certainly been times over the course of the past year when I’ve watched the news, lost people due to the virus or experienced various other things, and the song I’ve referred to most in these times is the Stryper song ‘Lost’ from God Damn Evil. That’s certainly helped me feel a bit uplifted when I needed that experience. Obviously, you’re a Christian artist. As such, a lot of people look to you to use your faith as a way to project positiivity and something they can find solace in. How has your faith enabled you to continue to be that public messenger? At the same time, how has your faith helped you personally deal with the unprecedented challenges we’ve all been facing for the last several months?
My faith has certainly helped me get through the past year and a half especially – and my entire life. The darkest point of my life was 2007 through 2009 [with the illness and passing of my first wife, Kyle.] That being said, I’ve fall into depression; I get bummed out, concerned and fearful like everybody else. I’m flesh and blood and human, and it happens to all of us. But my faith does help me get through it. My faith runs really deep. Whether other people believe it or not, I believe that God has helped me and kind of steered the ship throughout my life. I’ve seen it firsthand; I’ve seen miracles and things that shouldn’t have happened that made me say, ‘Wow! Okay, I believe.’ I see it over and over again. Certainly, right now at this point in time, it would be a really easy time for me to lose my faith and to walk away from my faith. I’ll be honest; sometimes, in the back corners of my mind, I question God, too. I think, ‘Hello. Where are you? I don’t see you.’ I’ve been there and done that many times. But somehow and some way, maybe through a simple prayer or maybe through a scripture or someone calling or texting me, I zero in on my faith again and say, ‘Okay. This is where I need to be and where I want to be’ and continue down that path.
I appreciate your answer. One thing I’ve always admired about the opportunities I’ve had to converse with you is your openness and honesty about these issues and that you’ve faced challenges. I think that’s so important, especially these days when I think our greatest strength comes from finding commonality with people.
Absolutely – no doubt about it. Even though it’s a cliché that’s used so many times and almost corny, we really are all brothers and sisters. We’re part of one race. It bums me out to see such division over race still. It’s another cliché, but all lives do matter. We’re all brothers and sisters just trying to figure out life and trying to get through it, survive, pay our bills and put food on the table. In that process, we should be concerned with each other more. We should love one another more and take time for one another. And we don’t, because we’re so caught up in the craziness of this world and our schedules – get up, brush your teeth, eat your breakfast, go to work, come home, eat your dinner, go to bed and pay those bills every month. It’s a struggle we all face, but because of all that stuff, we lose sight of the most important part – which is to love one another. That’s my view.
Absolutely. No matter what religious inclination we have, we all know we start our physical life at Point A and end it at Point B. Some folks like yourself believe in Point C, and that’s fantastic, but we all have those struggles from Point A to Point B. I think the goal is to find some kind of common ground, whether it be through music or whatever. That’s the lesson I think we should take from the last 12 to 15 months.
For sure. It’s interesting, because you do see that lesson being learned and applied by some – but yet by others, it’s almost the complete opposite.
That leads to my next question. Your Facebook page is my favorite to follow – not necessarily because I agree with every word you post; I certainly do not – but I find it refreshing that an artist like yourself – who has a fanbase that may or not follow you in some of your thoughts – still posts what’s on your mind. I find that increasingly rare with a lot of musicians, especially when everything kind of results in a finger being pointed. Why is it important for you to continue to take that position and use social media in the nature you have?
My thinking is that maybe it’ll help somebody. It’s not about Michael Sweet; it’s about much more than that. I’m guilty of this too, but some artists’ pages are always about promotion. I do a lot of that myself, but at the same time, I want to make it about helping people. I want to make it about inspiring and encouraging people. That’s the most important part to me – and also on my tombstone, if it’s written that they remember that, ‘Well, I didn’t always agree with this guy, but he was the real deal. He wasn’t this way in public and then that way in private.’
I’ve met so many people who are one way in public and another way in private. I want to say to them, ‘Why don’t you just be this way in public? What’s wrong with that? Why do you have to present this fake façade image?’ It’s just so weird to me. For example, you’ve got Tom [Araya] with Slayer. I respect Tom – this is no disrespect to him at all – but he’s in Slayer with pentagrams and this image and [mimics Araya’s singing style], and then he’s a church-going Catholic, you know? And that’s great, but my point is, I want to be the same Michael Sweet on stage and off stage. I feel that’s who I am. You might come into my life and spend a day with me and hear a few f-bombs come out of my mouth, and you’ll go, ‘Whoa, I wasn’t expecting that from Michael Sweet!’ But I’ve talked about that before; I’ve said, ‘Yeah, I drink. I smoke. I swear occasionally.’ I’m flesh and blood; I don’t pretend to be something that I’m not.
Frankly, I think that makes what you’re saying even more valid.
Well, it’s important to me – being real, flaws and all. Because I am real and because I lay it all out there, that also opens the door to turn people off and lose fans. I have a lot of Christian fans who follow what I do and what we do, and when they hear I’ve just smoked a cigar, they’re unfollowing me. I just think, ‘Wow. Okay.’ Those are the people who don’t get it, in my opinion. It’s all about judging, and it’s all about the small, little piece of what life should be and what the message should be instead of the entire piece. I just feel like, wow, it’s so backwards and so old. It’s such an old way of thinking, and we need to progress. I just want to be honest. I would love to go to a church and have a pastor come out and say, ‘Man, I got drunk last night. I could hardly wake up this morning. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it happened, and I just want you all to know that these are the things that happen in my life. I’ve got issues with this or issues with that’ – just that real, from-the-heart mentality.
Well, the ability to embrace obstacles and overcome them is what I feel is perhaps most in line with God.
Yeah! What happens often is that people pretend to be something; when they fall, everyone’s blown out of the water. We all fall. Every single person. I don’t care who you are; you have some issue, some weakness, some temptation – something. We all fall, but we like to point fingers at those who do fall and not at ourselves when there’s so much in our closets hidden deep away.
On another note, you have the new Sunbomb record, and you just released a new version of Reborn. You mentioned there’s new Stryper music on the way. There’s always something in the works with you. Obviously, nobody has a crystal ball with what the world is going through right now, but if you had your wish based on what you’re up to at the moment, what can fans expect to see from you for the rest of 2021?
The Sunbomb album is out, so you’re going to hear most about that over the next few months, for sure. I turned in music that Joel Hoekstra [Whitesnake] and I co-wrote for a new album for Frontiers that has Nathan James [Inglorious] singing. It’s got Tommy Aldridge [Whitesnake/Thin Lizzy/ Ozzy/Black Oak Arkansas] on drums and Marco Mendoza [Dead Daisies/Whitesnake/Thin Lizzy/ Bill Ward Band] on bass. That’s really cool; that’s going to be a great album, man – a throwback to Whitesnake and just really cool. Then, I just finished this new inspirational album that I did. It’s really unlike anything that I’ve ever done. It’s not a Metal album; it’s not even a Hard Rock album. It’s just a really cool throwback. It’s got some ’70s flavors to it, some ’80s flavors to it – more guitar and acoustic bass, lots of organ. It’s just really laidback and cool. Every song is different; every song tells a story. I’m very, very happy and super-excited about that album. I’m going to be talking to labels over the next few weeks and expect to hear about that. Then, I’ve started getting songs from Alessandro [Del Vecchio] at Frontiers for a new project he and I are working on. It’s going to be more in the Journey/Boston/Survivor kind of vein. I’ve started writing lyrics for that. I’ll start singing that in June, and I’ll turn it in in July. After that, in November, [George Lynch and I] start on a new Sweet & Lynch album. It’s going to be a little different, with a different drummer and bass player. [Alessandro] and I are co-producing it. We had to kind of figure out a different way to do it, mainly due to finances. I like to do things a certain way, and it takes a bit of a higher budget to do that when I’m producing albums. But Frontiers wanted to figure out a way to make it happen on a little lower budget, and we were able to do that. It’s gonna be cool; I can’t wait for that. Right after that, in January, the guy come out here and we start on a new Stryper album.
As hard as it is to believe, American Thrash Metal has hit middle age. Where does that leave the scene as a whole? Alive, well and stronger than ever.
Think about the biggest bands to come from the scene in the ’80s. Now, consider the fact that a stunningly large number of them are not only still around but have created some of the most incendiary material of their careers in the last decade alone. (Need proof? Listen to what Overkill, Testament, Sacred Reich and Vicious Rumors – to name but a few – have put out in the last handful of years. Case closed.)
Flotsam and Jetsam is another band that falls in the “still relevant” category. Since its legendary 1986 debut, Doomsday For The Deceiver, the Phoenix-born band has rarely slowed down, pumping out an additional 13 studio albums despite frequent personnel changes, labor woes, financial struggles and everything else that would have killed a lesser band years ago. (In fact, there was even a very strange time in the early 2000s when the band’s line-up included nobody from its current incarnation.) These days, long-serving members Eric “AK” Knutson (vocals – and the only member to appear on every F&J album) and Michael Gilbert (guitar) are joined by guitarist Steve Conley (who’s been on every record since 2016’s eponymous effort), veteran journeyman drummer Ken K. Mary (who made his debut with F&J on 2019’s The End Of Chaos) and new bassist Bill Bodily.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that the vast majority of Thrash fans outside of F&J’s diehard contingent are most familiar with the band through its four-album major label run from 1988 to 1995. Of these albums, 1988’s No Place For Disgrace is the bonafide scene classic (“Hard On You” in particular still holds up like a motherfucker), while 1990’s excellent When The Storm Comes Down charged out of left field – and led to more than a few scratched heads – with esoteric musical arrangements and the cerebral lyrical mindfuckery of then-bassist Troy Gregory. Despite being solid and deeply impressive albums (and certainly ones that deserved to eclipse many of the Metal acts gaining widespread success at the time), 1992’s Cuatro and 1995’s commercial-leaning Drift ultimately failed to expand the band’s audience, leading it to return to the indie world to slug it out with varying degrees of success and recognition to this day.
Unfortunately, people like yours truly haven’t helped matters much. Drift was the last Flotsam and Jetsam I purchased, which really made little sense when considering that the band blew me away when it played New Jersey in support of 1997’s High. In hindsight, I suppose it was a matter of too many bands, too little time for me. Despite pumping out records every couple of years that I’m sure were great, the band somehow lost my attention along the way. I strongly suspect I wasn’t alone.
What a massive mistake that was, as the forthcoming Blood In The Water (AFM Records) will absolutely pummel anyone who’s been sleeping on experiencing the absolute monster this band evolved into since their higher-profile days. The biggest surprise to my ears is that Flotsam and Jetsam can now be best described as a Power Metal act, making a dramatic jump in style from the old days to this new album. (Perhaps this isn’t much of a shock to anyone out there who actually did the right thing and followed the band’s post-Drift trajectory, but I digress.) It only takes 18 seconds into the album’s opening title track to realize that Flotsam and Jetsam is tighter, meaner and more technically proficient than ever before. Although F&J has never been without great players, the skills and intensity on display throughout the song – and the 11 songs that follow, for that matter – are downright deadly. The interplay between Gilbert, Conley and Bodily is as ferocious as it is fascinating, prompting the listener to repeat tracks over and over to catch everything that flew by them the first dozen or so times. Their precision amidst such breakneck tempos is jaw-dropping.
Knutson’s vocal performance is equally stunning. Early F&J albums showcased a youthful set of pipes that cut through the speakers with frequent high-pitch wails. Thirty-five years later, the man’s voice is tougher and grittier without losing any of his trademark sense of melody. Most singers’ strengths begin to wane well before they hit their 50s, but this fucking guy? Not a chance. Listen to this album and hear the bar being raised. It is time for the Metal masses to acknowledge Knutson’s place among the greatest singers of the genre.
And then there’s Mary, who delivers a career-best performance that fuels Blood In The Water with expressive, fill-heavy drumming that is flashy without being gratuitous.
(By the way… although Mary has done quite a lot in his accomplished career behind the kit, this old Jersey boy writer’s mind will always know him best as the drummer on Fifth Angel’s “Midnight Love,” a.k.a the theme song for Howard Stern’s early-’90s show on WWOR-TV/Channel 9 in Secaucus!)
There’s no point in diving too deeply into song highlights, as there are no dips in energy and quality on Blood In The Water. However, a special nod must be given to the flawless “Walls,” a melodic Thrash masterpiece that serves as a template for how to create a Metal tune with equal parts fury and grace. (Hey, AFM Records: If this song is not released as a single, a boat’s gonna be missed.)
Much like the album cover’s depiction of the band’s monster mascot, Flotzilla, Flotsam and Jetsam has risen from the waters of obscurity and neglect to claim its rightful place at the top of the Thrash genre. Longevity can be a gift, and Flotsam and Jetsam’s time to lead this scene has finally come. This is not hyperbole; Blood In The Water is that damn good, and these guys – some of whom are dudes in their 50s who have been a part of American Thrash since Day One – remain one hell of a fantastic band.
Those of us who’ve foolishly looked the other way on this band for the past 25 years-plus are lucky that Knutson, Gilbert and crew kept the flame burning long enough for us to finally catch up to where they are now and take in what is easily the finest Metal album released so far this year.
Ted Nugent. Alice Cooper. Rob Zombie. Ozzy Osbourne. The mighty Black Sabbath. This isn’t just a list of some of the most important and successful Hard Rock/Metal acts in history; it’s also sampling of the artists who’ve utilized the talents of Detroit-born drummer extraordinaire Tommy Clufetos. Now, the man behind the kit has stepped out front and center with today’s release of Beat Up By Rock N’ Roll, the debut album from his new solo project, Tommy’s RockTrip.
If you think Aerosmith peaked on Rocks and your music collection has more Foghat than Five Finger Death Punch, then Beat Up By Rock N’ Roll is the album for you. Clufetos delivers 11 songs (while performing lead vocals on three) of truly classic sounds that would have found a home on ’70s Rock radio. Like many albums released so far this year, Beat Up By Rock N’ Roll is the result of the kind of extended downtime that a regularly working and touring musician can only experience during a pandemic.
“Nothing was going on at all for anybody; we were all just sitting around,” he recalls. “An opportunity came up for me to do a record, which I’ve never had the opportunity, time or desire to do. I’m fairly creatively fulfilled playing for other people; that’s my favorite thing. But there was nothing going on, so I had this block of time. I went, ‘You know what? Why not do it?’ It was a chance for me to do something musically that I’ve never done. I had never written a song in my life, and I had never written lyrics in my life. I had never put a band together on my own. So, I thought it would be a good musical challenge.”
To help make his sonic ideas a reality, Clufetos enlisted a former Alice Cooper band cohort, Eric Dover, to handle vocals. Easily one of the most underrated performers in Rock, Dover has enjoyed an eclectic musical journey that has run the gamut from fronting Slash’s Snakepit to playing guitar and keys in esoteric early ’90s Power Pop oddballs Jellyfish. Currently a member of The Lickerish Quartet, Dover makes it clear from his first note on album opener “Heavy Load” that he was the perfect guy for the job.
“Eric is an awesome vocalist; he can do so many things and so many different styles. That being said, I think he’s the best when he sings straight Rock ‘n’ Roll. As avant-garde as he can go, he’s a kick-ass rocker at heart. He has a very unique voice; it lent itself very much to the music that I came up with. I was so happy and ecstatic when he agreed to do it. It was a pleasure, and it was effortless with him. All I had to do was say, ‘Here’s the melody; here’s the lyrics. Go in there!’”
Lead guitarist Hank Schneekluth, bassist Eliot Lorengo and rhythm guitarist Nao Nakashima join Clufetos on all tracks.
“They were just a bunch of young guys who I kind of scouted out on my own. I didn’t want a bunch of, let’s say, ‘known’ players. Everybody kind of does this guy from this band, that guy from that band. That’s not really my trip; I wanted to kind of make it my own thing, using young guys who I could corral and rehearse. I wanted the music to be played the way I wanted it to be played – with a certain kind of attack and tightness. Sometimes, when you’re dealing with ‘more experienced’ guys, they don’t listen as well. My stuff is an older style, and more guys are more Metal now. I’m very proud of the guys and the way they did it, and I’m sure they’re very proud, too. It’s just a great, little cool Rock ‘n’ Roll record that I set out to make.”
One of the album’s many highlights, the blazing early Van Halen-flavored “Welcome To The Show,” was co-written by Clufetos’ longtime friend – and notorious former Iggy Pop guitarist – Whitey Kirst.
“He’s out of his mind! I’m a very pragmatic, together guy, and we’re total opposites that way. But when we play music, we don’t even have to talk; we just fit together like a glove. I wanted him to play guitar on my album, but he was stuck in Canada doing some stuff.”
Beat Up By Rock N’ Roll’s most touching moment, “Power of Three,” is a tribute to family that features Clufetos on vocals and his father, Tommy Sr., on sax. That adorable voice you’ll hear comes courtesy of the drummer’s four-year-old daughter, June Grace (“Junebug”), who recites the alphabet as the tune comes to a close.
“She loves the song; she’s proud of it. I hope when she’s old, she can have this gift and this little love nursery song that her daddy made for her.”
Although he was already well established in industry circles for his percussive skills long before 2012, that was the year Clufetos truly gained international attention by being selected to replace Bill Ward in Black Sabbath.
“It’s the most I’ve ever had to dig into the drummer,” he recalls of his five-year stint with the group. “Bill has a very unorthodox style. In all really great bands, every musician is very important – whether it’s Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath or Deep Purple. Each player really matters. In Sabbath, there’s four guys, and each guy had a counterpoint to make that one sound. So, I really had to do my homework and go, ‘What makes Bill Ward him? What’s making it work or making it different?’ I really did a lot of homework and studied. I’m pretty good, but I’m not the world’s greatest drummer. I never claimed to be, but I am good about digging into what makes who I’m working for special and trying to be the best drummer they could hope for. That’s my goal; I want their musical vision to come out. I want them to feel confident in what I’m doing. When you’ve got a confident drummer back there, you’re free to go do your show and sing or play guitar and just not worry about what’s going on back there. When it’s shaky back there, it makes you shaky out front, so I want to be solid.”
In terms of playing original-era Sabbath material, being “solid” on the drums means being able to get your head around the ebbs and flows of Ward’s trademark style – an organic, feel-based explosion of soul that could never occur in the presence of a metronome. While successfully acclimating to such a technique would be daunting for some, Clufetos felt right at home.
“With Bill Ward’s thing, even though it may move, symphonies move – but they move in unison. Fish move in unison. Great things move together. Chuck Berry may waver; Jerry Lee Lewis may waver. None of the music on my album was recorded to a click. We didn’t even wear headphones; it was all in one room. I wanted to take that approach of the old-school way. ‘Perfect’ ruins Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Naturally, he sometimes faced the inevitable backlash that comes whenever someone fills the shoes of a beloved band member. In Sabbath’s case, added pressure came once various media reports indicated that Ward’s departure stemmed from (in his words) an “unsignable contract.” So, in walked Clufetos, a guy barely in his 30s at the time who suddenly found himself taking over THE drum throne under a cloud of controversy and skepticism. Fortunately, a combination of focus, unquestionable talent and good old-fashioned Detroit grit enabled him to make one of the most revered drum positions in music truly his own.
“I understand the situation. You’re coming in and substituting or filling in for an icon in a band. Somebody’s gotta do it. I wanted it to be me, and I wasn’t afraid of the challenge. I got asked to do it, and I was proud to do it. I was proud of the job I did, but I understand it from a fan’s perspective. I can handle it, and it’s a part of the gig. I don’t think many people walked out of any concert disappointed, because I was there – and we rocked people. I was part of that; I was part of the four guys up there, and I was very proud of the job I did. It was a total honor; it was my pleasure. To play with those three guys was the musical peak thus far in my career.”
Mere weeks from now, Clufetos will have new opportunities to showcase his live skills when he hits the road with The Dead Daisies. Already a Daisies veteran via a run of fill-in dates he performed with the band back in 2015, he replaced former drummer Deen Castronovo (Journey/Ozzy/Bad English) earlier this year shortly before the release of the group’s excellent new album, Holy Ground. Interestingly, his new role will put him on stage every night with yet another Hard Rock/Metal icon: Daisies singer/bassist and fellow Sabbath alumnus Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple/Trapeze/ Black Country Communion).
“What a great singer and bass player – and a snappy dresser! We’re gonna make some killer music. I guarantee it.”
With an unreal résumé made even more impressive by the fact he’s still in his early 40s, Tommy Clufetos is poised to enjoy a career as lengthy of the ones experienced by the legends he has powered through his drumming – and he’s fully prepared to reach that goal no matter what it takes.
“I don’t have a choice, my friend. I sold my soul a long time ago to get in this business, and I put all my eggs in one basket. I don’t believe in Plan B, so it’s what I do. It’s my craft; I take it very seriously, and I’m just getting warmed up – I guarantee that. I didn’t have rich parents; I didn’t get a silver spoon in my mouth, so this is how I make money and support my family. I have to do it – and that’s a good thing. Music has given me everything in my life. Having that pressure of not having a back-up plan has been the greatest gift.”