The name Tommy Clufetos might not pop to mind when first thinking of great rock drummers, but the Detroit native has quietly made a name for himself as one of the best among the rock elite. In the last decade, Tommy has toured and recorded with TED NUGENT, ALICE COOPER and ROB ZOMBIE. This past year, he could be heard pounding out the beat for rock icon, OZZY OSBOURNE. Bravewords.com recently caught up with the man behind the skins to find out more.
Bravewords.com: You quit Rob Zombie’s band to join Ozzy. How has it been adjusting to Ozzy’s style of drumming?
Tommy Clufetos: “It’s my job to adjust. I just learn the songs to the best of my ability and I don’t really think about it much more than that. It’s what I’ve done my whole life. It’s not like I’ve played with one band my whole life and to do it with someone different is a big deal. Some guys come up playing with the same four guys, so to play with different musicians is kind of awkward, but for me it’s weird not to play with different musicians. It was a natural progression for me, because I’m a straight ahead rock ‘n roller and so is Ozzy. It totally works perfect.”
Bravewords.com: Was it intimidating the first time you were in rehearsals with Ozzy?
TC: “No! If you’re intimidated, you should pack up and leave.”
Bravewords.com: You’ve been on the road with Ozzy for eight or nine months now. How has it been going?
TC: “It’s going totally amazing. I’m in Ozzy Osbourne’s band playing some of the greatest music ever written. The crowds are going insane and the band gets along so great. Everybody is such a great person and great player that is a drummer’s dream come true.”
Bravewords.com: While you are on the road. Are you working on new music? Will there be another new Ozzy album soon?
TC: “Yes, we are working on new tunes and tomorrow we’re going to do a soundcheck early to record some of these ideas. We’re always putting down new stuff. We’re in the process all the time.”
Bravewords.com: How much did you contribute to the recording of Ozzy’s last album, Scream?
TC: “I didn’t do the album Scream whatsoever. The entire album was done before I joined the band. Kevin Churko, the producer, handled all the drums. I’m not sure exactly how he handled it, but he handled all the drum duties on that album and he did an amazing job.”
Bravewords.com: I was under the impression that you had played on the album. Are you looking forward, then, to actually playing on an Ozzy album?
TC: “Of FUCKING course I am. It would be great.”
Bravewords.com: Let’s go over your history. You played with Alice Cooper. Tell me about it.
TC: “I first saw Alice when I was maybe twelve, he came around to Detroit and I remember going, ‘this is so cool dude’. He had long hair, boot… this is rock ‘n roll. The next two years went by and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to play in that band one day.’ So, when I finally got the gig… It was a great time and I’ve been lucky that all the guys I’ve worked for have great iconic songs. They are not just big time musicians; they are legends… Living legends! All these guys have survived the trends in music and are still doing it. That, to me, is the biggest form of success. I hope I’ll be doing this in forty years as well, because that’s what it’s all about – survival.”
Bravewords.com: That’s got to be tough to do as a ‘gun-for-hire’… to keep the gigs coming. When the Ozzy tour winds down, will you have something else lined-up to fill in the down time?
TC: “I’ve learned not to worry about it. Things always work themselves out. We’ll be doing another record. There’s always more music to be made. I just take it as it comes. It’s not really that tough. Digging ditches and working for a living is tough. I have the greatest life, I could have ever hoped for. You can’t force it. You just got to go with it, do your best and it always works itself out.”
Bravewords.com: Have you ever thought of forming your own band rather than always playing in somebody else’s band?
TC: “Not really. I really enjoy just getting up there, playing drums and going home. I don’t have to deal with managers. I don’t have to deal with booking agents. I don’t have to deal with schedules. I don’t have to deal with trusting four other guys. The beautiful thing about what I do is that I get to show up, stay in great hotels, play with the world’s greatest musicians and then go home… and get PAID! I don’t have to worry at all, so to me that’s a bonus. I don’t have any reason to start my own band. People don’t see all the bullshit that goes into that. I’ve worked my ass off to play with the world’s greatest rockers, so I don’t need to go back and start over. It just doesn’t attract me at this point in my life.”
Bravewords.com: Growing up in Michigan, did you have a band for ten years then move on to Ted Nugent or have you always moved from band to band?
TC: “I’ve always been paid to play drums. I’ve never played in a band with all my peers. It was always – you show up, get your money and go home.”
Bravewords.com: How did you go from doing those locals gigs to landing the job with Ted Nugent?
TC: “Everybody wants a professional. Everybody wants to have a good time. Everybody wants their music played the way they want it played and not the way I want it played. I’m there to please the guy who is signing the cheque and to make them feel totally comfortable. I enjoy that. I get fulfillment out of them getting fulfillment from their music being played to its fullest. Does that answer the question?”
Bravewords.com: You remind me a lot of KISS’ Eric Singer. He seems to have the same approach to his gigs.
TC: “Eric Singer is one of my greatest friends. We talk all the time. In fact, he’s coming down to our show tomorrow night. We go to the gym together. We hang out. So yeah, we’re cut from the same cloth as musicians. Both our fathers were musicians. We’re both from the Midwest. We both moved to L.A. at exactly the same age. We both do the hired-gun guy. We’ve both been doing it forever and we’re both very dedicated to what we do.”
Bravewords.com: You’re not interested in putting in your own fills on songs or making them your own?
TC: “Well… I’m interested if it moves the music, but I don’t do it to play something cool. If it enhances the music and feels right – then hell yes! I’m a musician and I want the music to be great, but I won’t do it to be a selfish musician. We have bosses and my boss right now is Ozzy Osbourne, but the boss of everything is the music. I service the music. I play for the music and in doing so usually these guys respect the fact that you played for the music. I’ve always tried to bring the bands that I played for back to a tighter unit. Some of this music can get too ‘80s and stuff like that. Alice Cooper has had bands with noodling guitar players and the version of the band that I play with had more of a grind and groove which was more to the original vibe that those songs were all about. I think that’s what this band is doing with Ozzy. We’re playing modern updated vibes of it, but we really play the songs for how they were recorded. We rein it in and in doing so, in reining that music in, it makes it more powerful.”
Bravewords.com: It really does and this ‘new’ band has reignited my passion for Ozzy. I had really giving up on Ozzy in the last six or seven years. I didn’t like the albums, but I was more disappointed with the live show. However, the show I saw (back in November or December) was with a band firing on all cylinders. It was fantastic. Let me go back to the other guys you’ve played with. Tell me about Ted Nugent.
TC: “I’m from Detroit so, of course, the Motor City Madman owns Detroit. So, playing with him was a baptism into rock ‘n roll like you couldn’t believe. Being from Detroit and Motown, we both have the same influences and we approach the music very similar. It’s about energy, passion, fire and groove. It’s not so much about the L.A. mentality of eyeliner and bullshit. Ted Nugent is the real fucking deal and I respect him, admire him and look up to him in so many ways onstage and off. I learned so much from him and he gave me my first break, so I’ll always be indebted to him. When I got the gig with Ozzy, he immediately got me on the phone to congratulate me.”
Bravewords.com: How did Ted find you?
TC: “I got asked to play a studio session for a movie. Alto Reed (who plays saxophone with BOB SEGER’s band) was putting it together and Ted was going to play a song on it. Alto, asked me to play with Ted. You work work work work and then you get a little break. That was my little break. It was my window to make Ted Nugent want to hire me as his drummer. I took it, did my best and then he called me to be his drummer. I did four years with Ted and then I joined Alice.”
Bravewords.com: It might be up for debate, but musically Ozzy, Alice and Ted are somewhat similar. Rob Zombie, however, is different. How was it playing with Rob?
TC: “It’s more electronic and he approaches his music differently. His albums are more electronically put together. When I was with him, it was getting more organic than it had ever been… more like a rock band. The image became more of ‘we’re just a rock band’, which was cool with me because that’s what I am. To me, it’s all the same shit. You try to make the songs sound as good as you can.”
Bravewords.com: Was it challenging for you?
TC: “It’s always challenging to be consistent, to play and make things exciting every night. I don’t look at music as challenging, but you can challenge yourself to always be the best. You’re playing to loops and to clicks tracks, so those things come into play. I felt like I was cheating sometimes. You don’t have to think about how to start the song. It clicks you in, but you have to know how to play to a click. You have to know how to deal with that stuff and you have to know how to make a groove, but it’s just different. That’s all.”
Bravewords.com: Is there any one of those styles that you prefer?
TC: “I prefer old school straight up rock ‘n roll. I prefer what we’re doing with Ozzy right now because that’s what I am and that’s what I come from. You’re a band. You play your instruments and that’s what comes out of the speakers.”
Bravewords.com: Hopefully, that’ll be the mentality you’ll bring in to the studio for Ozzy’s next record. Four guys on the floor, plug in, play and hit record.
TC: “Ozzy totally wants to get back to the old school band vibe. He really enjoys this band and I think we all have a great chemistry and he wants to capture that. Hopefully, after a year/ year-and-a-half of touring, we’ll make the greatest Ozzy record that ever was.”
Bravewords.com: I think the potential is there.
TC: “That’s what we strive for. We can never be classics like Blizzard and Diary, but we’re going to give you a hell of a run for your money.”
Bravewords.com: Do you have a preference between playing the Ozzy songs or Sabbath songs?
TC: “It’s all one big… trying to make the show great. It’s one big whole.”
Bravewords.com: What’s next?
TC: “We go to Europe then South America and the we’re doing some recording in the studio. I don’t know all the details. I just look at the next day in my itinerary and that’s as far as I go.”
Bravewords.com: Will you be recording any shows for a live DVD or CD?
TC: “I have no idea. We just did this mini-EP from the iTunes Festival and we did some MTV footage filmed from the London Ozzfest, but I have no idea what their plans are. I’m just a drummer - I have no idea. I just go onstage to destroy people. I go onstage to destroy other bands. It is a competition. It is war. It’s not let’s go get along with everybody. It’s let’s go out and fuck some shit up.”
Bravewords.com: Let’s plug… The website is Tommyclufetos313.com
TC: “313 is the area code of the Motor City!”
Bravewords.com: Any bands you’d like to play for?
TC: “I’d love to play for PAUL MCCARTNEY. I’d love to play for PRINCE, ELTON JOHN, ROD STEWART… there are so many. I wish I could have played for ELVIS.”
Bravewords.com: If Eric Singer got sick would you put on the Cat make-up and play for KISS for a night?
TC: “Eric Singer ain’t gonna get sick. He’s not going to miss a paycheque. Even if he gets his legs cut-off, he’ll be up there.”
Bravewords.com: Any favorite songs to play live?
TC: “It’s more than that to me. It’s about going out there every night and giving it all you have and trying to make it the greatest night possible. You want to create magic, as much as possible, every night. It never comes down to playing one song. One song is not better than the other song to me.”
Bravewords.com: On the current Ozzy tour, you guys sound live and raw, but not sloppy and to me that’s perfection. That’s rock ‘n roll.
TC: “Well cool, I’m glad you caught on to that. You’re one of the few.”