INTERVIEW: Tommy Clufetos

Tommy Clufetos’s resume is as impressive as that of any rock drummer working today—or maybe ever. His skills have landed him gigs with legends such as Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie and Ted Nugent. And even though we’re still in a pandemic, that hasn’t stopped Tommy’s productivity. Earlier in 2021, he joined The Dead Daisies, and now he’s launching his own band, Tommy’s Rocktrip, which released its debut album, “Beat Up By Rock ‘n’ Roll,” on May 7 via Frontiers Music. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Tommy to discuss the new record, The Dead Daisies, Ozzy, Black Sabbath and more.

LIVE METAL: By default, as a drummer, you’re sort of in the background in bands and on stage—literally. But now you’re right up front with this new album, this new band you put together, Tommy’s Rocktrip. How does it feel to have that extra attention on you? Is there more pressure or anything like that?

TOMMY CLUFETOS: I don’t look at it as any extra attention, and I never feel in the background. I just made a little rock ‘n’ roll record for myself. It’s under my umbrella, I guess, if you will. But it’s just guys in a room jamming together, and that’s about as rock band as you can get as far as I’m concerned.

Why did you decide to do this now?

Take a guess. I’m gonna give you one guess.

You had a lot of extra time on your hands over the past year?

Exactly. I was finally afforded a block of time. And then, in that time, somebody asked me, actually, to do a record, and I said to myself, you know, I’ve never thought about it, never wanted to, because I’m completely fulfilled doing what I do, which is play drums for rock ‘n’ roll bands. But then I go, you know what, why not? Why not see if I can write a record, see if I can write tunes, see if I can write lyrics, see if I can put a band together, see if I can do the whole shebang. And then I go, you know, it could be fun, because there’s a certain style of music that’s really in my heart that I love, just kind of like more straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll, and I kind of went with it and I said why not. It was a fun little experiment to myself to see if I could challenge myself and do it, and I’m happy I did. I think what I heard in my head came out on tape. So, the goal was accomplished.

What do you think a listener would learn about you as a person and an artist from hearing these songs?

Well, I’m definitely not an artist. But it’s just a rock band. I don’t know if they’re gonna learn anything. I just hope they enjoy it. I think people would be surprised. For some reason, people don’t think drummers can do musical things, because it’s not a melodic instrument, but I have a lot of music in my head. I think I have a lot of musicality in my head, and I know how to put things together, and I think they’ll be surprised that I knew how to put things together.

How did you go about putting the band together?

I found guys, young guys. I didn’t want to do this, this guy from that band and that guy from that band, and it feels like a bunch of different guys from different bands. I wanted to make it more like a group thing, so I found guys who were unknown, but great musicians, except for Eric Dover. Some people may know the singer, Eric Dover, who’s sang in some great bands, and I knew Eric from when we played in Alice Cooper’s band together, and I was always a big fan of his voice. So I called him up because I knew his sound and his talent would fit perfectly with what I wanted to do, which was make a hard rock ‘n’ roll album. It was so easy with him. He’s so easy in the studio. He’s very talented, very quick, and I said sing this, sing these words and here’s the melody, and it was cake with him. So I’m very thankful I had him. And the bass player, Eliot (Lorengo), and the guitar player, Nao (Nakashima), and the other guitar player, Hank (Schneekluth), did great jobs, and they helped me get the music in my head on tape.

When in the process did these guys come in? Did you collaborate with them in the songwriting?

There was minor collaboration for most of the stuff. It came out of my head. I don’t play a melodic instrument, so there was a lot of me yelling at a guitar player what to play and just section by section getting riffs and then putting riffs together. That’s kind of how we did it. We’d start with one riff jamming and then get another riff and get 30, 40 of them, and then combine them and then maybe add parts to that idea, then add parts to this idea and create songs.

I grinded it out the only way I knew how to. It wasn’t me sitting on a porch with a pad in hand. Right now, I’m in my rock ‘n’ roll rehearsal room, which is filled with old Marshals and old amp pegs and old drums and Hammond B3s, so we got in here and we grinded it out kind of like bands used to do. We rehearsed once I had all the ideas together, and then we went and recorded. We didn’t do any demos or any of that stuff. I didn’t want to do that, because sometimes when you do demos and then you do the recording, the demos end up being better. So I wanted to keep it fresh that way. Plus, I get bored really quick, and I want to just do it.

How quickly did you actually record the album?

We did the whole record, from first note recording to mastering, in two weeks. And I’d say all the recording in a week, which is by today’s standards really quick. But if you rehearse and you get it together, it shouldn’t take that long. There’s barely any overdubs. There’s not a lot of second guitar parts. It’s very bare and raw, and I wanted to get the three guys or four guys—whoever was playing at the same time—to make it full together. I wanted less stuff going on, meaning less combining instruments on top of each other. I didn’t want a lot of overlay, because things can get small that way. So if something needed to be boisterous, we need to do it with us in the room.

Yeah, it definitely has that live, raw feel you’re going for.

Yeah, it was recorded 100 percent live. The way we recorded it was exactly the way we rehearsed it. We rehearsed it with the amps in my garage rehearsal room, playing together, blasting, and then we just took that stuff to a barn, where my buddy has a barn studio. We set up, we pointed the amps at me, the drums were live in the room, we didn’t wear headphones. There’s no click tracks, there’s no cutting and pasting. It was literally us jamming in a barn studio, like we did to rehearse it.

You took the lead vocals for three of the songs. The last one, “The Power of Three,” it’s pretty obvious to me why you chose that one to sing yourself, but why the other two?

I wasn’t going to sing at all, and I don’t consider myself a singer. I’m more of a squawker. But when I initially gave Eric the ideas to learn the songs, I had scratch vocals on the tracks—meaning just a basic guide, snarling vocal for him to get the idea of the melodies and stuff—and three of the scratch vocals actually came out OK. Like you mentioned, the last song on the album’s called “The Power of Three.” It’s about my daughter and raising my daughter with my wife, and our family bond is me, my wife and my daughter, and that’s the power of three. So I had to sing that song. And then there’s a song called “Make Me Smile” that I sang that I wrote for my beautifully gorgeous wife, because it’s all about her and how we met and stuff. I’m not good at writing Valentine’s Day cards or getting great flowers or doing little romantic things, so I wrote her a sexy, bluesy rock song to make up for that. So whenever I’m in trouble, I just put that on and she has to shut up.

And then there’s another song called “Beat Up By Rock ‘n’ Roll” that was just a scratch vocal and I just left it. I was recording the scratch vocals not giving a shit, sitting on the couch with a 57 mic, which is like what you would use to mic up a guitar amp, and it had a cool, lazy feel, and I said just leave it. I didn’t make a real big deal about any of this stuff, because it’s not a big deal anyways, now is it?

“Beat Up by Rock ‘n’ Roll” is the title of the album, as well as that song. After a couple decades in this business, is that how you feel sometimes?

It’s kind of like a play on the whole thing. Yeah, sometimes I feel beat up by rock ‘n’ roll, but also, if you listen to the lyrics, rock ‘n’ roll will beat you up, but I love it and give me more, and it’s what I need, and I’m cool with it. I love that part of it. But life will beat you up. My life is just music and rock ‘n’ roll, so it’s kind of like a working man song in a way. As a lot of the songs on the album, it’s just how I look at life. Rock ‘n’ roll is great and music is great, and people consider it very special when you’re a musician. There’s the so-called fame side of it, which I don’t subscribe to any of that. I’m not interested in it, it’s not my thing, it’s not why I got into it. I was too young to be into those things when I started playing. I didn’t do it for chicks—I got the best chick because of it. But it’s my craft and it’s my job, and I look at it a little differently. So there’s a lot of songs about the way I look at things on the album, and that song is one of them.

What have been some of the biggest challenges of getting this band up and running, and what do you see as the challenges moving forward with it?

I just made a cool rock ‘n’ roll record, so there’s no challenges. It is what it is. I don’t know what’s gonna come out of it. I have no preconceived notions. I just roll with it. You do your best, and that’s it. And it’s the same with playing drums or the same with playing life. I focus on the moment, and you can only lay it out there—whatever you’re out there is—and see what happens, if anything at all.

When it’s possible and when you can work it into your schedule with the other commitments you have, do you want to take this band on tour?

I have no plans, but I don’t not have plans. So again, we’ll see what comes up. It’s such a strange time in the world right now, but we’ll see. If somebody wants me to go play and they’ve got electricity, then I’ll probably show up.

Speaking of touring, there were tour dates recently announced for The Dead Daisies, a band you joined earlier this year. How did that come about for you?

I had played with them in, I believe it was 2015, filling in for them for a quick stint. The bat phone rang in my rock ‘n’ roll cave here, and they said they needed a drummer, and I said I’m available, let’s rock. It’s really as simple as that.

And then you recorded a new drum track for their new single.

Yeah, they had a tune that they recorded and they wanted to get some supreme Motor City drums on it, and I said I’m your guy. So I re-recorded the drums. It’s on a tune they had called “Like No Other.”

Are you excited to actually get out on the road and play?

Absolutely, yeah, it’ll be a good time. I think it’s mid-June to mid-July. (EDITOR’S NOTE: See the tour dates here.) We’re playing a lot of rock ‘n’ roll barroom brawl rooms. So I look forward to some drunken fun. Because I’m sure people are gonna be letting loose.

How long has it been since your last show?

It’s been about 20 years, it seems like. It’s been too long, my friend. I’m ready to rock. We’ll see if these old bones can still do it.

You played on what’s probably, outside of the classic ’70s era, my favorite Alice Cooper album, “Dirty Diamonds.” Everything I’ve ever heard about Alice is that he’s just the nicest guy around. I met him very briefly once, and that was my experience with him. What was your experience?

Alice was great. He is what he is. He’s an inventor of that style. He was one of the first guys to bring that shock theater rock ‘n’ roll to the world. I’m from Detroit, and my dad took me see Alice Cooper—I was maybe 13 or something—at Pine Knob in Michigan, and I saw the band with long hair and just rock ‘n’ roll guys, and I go, “Oh, I want to play in that band one day,” and then I played in that band one day. So it was definitely cool. And I was glad I got to make a record. I think that record is pretty cool. I like the garagey tones it has on it.

What was it like the first time you met Ozzy?

Ozzy is awesome. Ozzy, to me, is like the heavy metal Elvis Presley, meaning he has that kind of charisma and he’s a true star. On top of him being a charismatic person and a star—I mean that in the good sense. There’s not a lot of individuals out there who have that kind of aura about them and really are that way, but he really is that. He may be sitting in the corner or something, and you can’t not look at the guy. He’s magnetizing. He’s got that thing. But on top of that, he’s such a great musician and so talented, and his melodies, and he has the one of the greatest voices ever to go with a hard rock guitar. There’s only one voice like that. It’s so unto himself and so identifiable. Meeting him and getting to play in his band—I don’t care about meeting people, I want to play music with them. So to get to play music with him and be on stage with him for 10 years and go to war with him—that’s what I love about Ozzy. He’s a rocker to the bone, and I’m the same way. I feel that way. I want to go up there and kill. We’ve killed many stages together and audiences. I’m proud of that.

I’m sure you’ll say you don’t have any inside information, but just your gut feeling from being around the guys in Black Sabbath, do you really think that was the end for them?

I mean, they said it was the end, didn’t they? But is it the end of the beginning, or is it the beginning of the end? Right? What a great line (laughs). I don’t know. I have no idea. I’m the last guy to know.

I feel like you probably don’t look at it like this, because you’re always kind of moving forward and looking at the next thing, but you’re a part of history at this point—their last tour, their last show. How did that feel?

I don’t look at things in the nostalgia way of that, because like you said, I try not to operate that way. I got 30 more years to go, so there’s no retirement for me in the near future or ending anything. To me, it was the supreme musical height, thus far, of musicians that I’ve played with—and professionalism. To play with those three guys and to be asked to be one-fourth while they were on stage for their last two tours was an honor, not because it was Black Sabbath—because those guys were so great at what they did. That’s why I feel honored to be asked to do it.

Order/save “Beat Up By Rock ‘n’ Roll”

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