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Life in the Land of Ozz- a Q&A with Tommy Clufetos

by on Feb.09, 2011, under interviews, news

 

Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, and Ozzy Osbourne… aside from being iconic figures in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, what do they all have in common?  They’ve all had the honor of calling Tommy Clufetos their drummer.  Ever since he picked up the drumsticks at the age of seven, Tommy Clufetos has lived and breathed rock ‘n’ roll, doing more in ten years than most people dream of accomplishing in a lifetime.  It’s that kind of dedication that has brought him from keeping time for the Motor City Madman to tearing through the Diary of a Madman.  Recently I had a chance to speak with Tommy about what it’s like to play with rock royalty, covering everything from the Prince of Darkness to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.  So sit back, grab a cold one, and kick up your feet as we delve into the mind of one of rock’s great stickmen….

AWAY-TEAM:  I’d like to start by congratulating you on the success of the current tour, and on semi-recently being named the new full time drummer for Ozzy Osbourne.

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Thank you.

AWAY-TEAM:  You guys are currently touring with Slash as your supporting act, I know you’ve had the chance to play with him before, how did that come to be?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  You mean how did it come with me jamming with Slash before?

AWAY-TEAM:  Yeah.

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  I was doing this thing with Alice Cooper, not when I was in Alice Cooper’s band, he just asked me to help him out and do this thing called the MAP Fund, which is affiliated with the Grammy’s and it helps those with substance abuse addictions.  So we played at this concert, and Slash jammed with Alice when I was playing drums, I think he played “School’s Out” or something.  So we played together then, and he just asked me to jam with him a couple times out of that.  He’s a total gentleman, Slash, I love his guitar playing.  Ya know he’s one of the last guitar hero rock stars out there, so…  I can’t say enough about that guy, he’s such a great guy, and great musician.

AWAY-TEAM:  Yeah, he’s legendary!

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Right.

AWAY-TEAM:  Now I spoke with Gus G. a few months ago, and he hadn’t yet met Slash, and I asked him this very question, but he didn’t have the answer yet.  So now it’s time for an update… have you guys played any songs on this tour with both Ozzy and Slash on stage at the same time?  I know they played together on Slash’s album.

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Ozzy sang on Slash’s album, yeah.  But they don’t do that during the concert, because we fly in and out of the shows, so it doesn’t really leave much time for us to… ya know, sometimes we’ll get there when he’s already on stage, and we have to get ready, so.  The schedule is quite compact, so I don’t think it technically leaves room to do that.  But that would be cool.

AWAY-TEAM:  Sure would.

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  But the package of Slash and Ozzy  together is going over really well, and I think it’s a great thing for fans.  Alot of tunes that people are familiar with, and alot of tunes where people go ‘Oh, I forgot about that song’, so it’s a great night of rock ‘n’ roll hits for everybody.

AWAY-TEAM:  I think the great part of it, is we haven’t seen something like this in a long time, and I’ve said this before, it kinda brings you back to the days of the old Monsters of Rock tours and things like that.

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Yeah.  I mean Slash is just an icon, and so is Ozzy, so it makes for a great night for everybody.

AWAY-TEAM:  Right.  So how did you get the gig with Ozzy?  Did you have to audition? Or did they call you and say “Hey, what are you doing? We want you to play with us”?  How did that work out?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  I was kinda in the right place at the right time.  I was brought in to help out during Gus G.’s audition, he came in from Greece, and their drummer at the time couldn’t make it, so I was asked to do it just so Gus could be comfortable and focus on playing guitar… and the music would be solid.  So that’s what I came in to do, and then they asked me to play at a thing called Blizzcon in California, which again Mike Bordin, who’s an amazing drummer, could not make due to commitments with Faith No More.  They asked me to do that, and out of those couple experiences they asked me to join the band.  So I was very lucky, and excited, and so ecstatic to say ‘Yes’.

AWAY-TEAM:  Now you left Rob Zombie’s band to take the gig with Ozzy, I understand Rob was a little bitter when you left him.  Have you spoken to him since, and managed to salvage your friendship?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  I have not spoken to him.  But I have nothing but great things to say about Rob and my time spent there, and ya know I base our relationship on what I saw when I was there and I have nothing but great things to say about that.  I wouldn’t say anything negative, just because of a couple statements in the press.  So, no hard feelings on my end.  I wish him, his wife Sheri, and all the guys nothing but the best.  I still think the world of all of them.  So, that’s how I feel.

AWAY-TEAM:  These days Ozzy seems to be a bit more energized than he has been in the past few years.  I’m sure in part it has to do with some of you younger guysbeing around.  With guys like yourself and Gus being closer in age to Ozzy’s kids, than the man himself; do Ozzy and Sharon treat you with more of a parental instinct? Or are you still just one of the guys?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  The age thing doesn’t really come into play.  We play in his band, and it’s business.  But this is more like a family than anything I’ve ever been involved with.  They’re super cool, and super nice, and ya know we just played an L.A. show and Ozzy’s whole family was out there.  They couldn’t be better to us, they treat us all great despite the age.  Whether you’re old or young, it’s all the same thing.

AWAY-TEAM:  It’s all rock ‘n’ roll.  And speaking of that, Ozzy’s still going at age 62, where do you see yourself at age 62?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  I’ll still be rockin’ n’ rollin’ my friend!

AWAY-TEAM:  Kick ass! 

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  I just hope I die on stage.  That would be… not too soon! (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs) Yeah. Let’s not rush it!

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  I can’t stop.  So I’ll probably be that dude up there that people are saying ‘Why won’t he quit?’

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs)

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  At least I know it right? (laughs)  I’ll probably still be taking my shirt off when I’m a fat guy!

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs)  I gotta ask this question… the whole metal world let out a collective ‘What the fuck?” when we first heard that Ozzy was working with Justin Bieber, in fact I even read somewhere somebody said ‘I hope Ozzy bites his head off’ (laughs)

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  (laughs)

AWAY-TEAM:  How did the guys in the band feel about it, see when we first heard we didn’t know it was a commercial, we just heard they were working together so it obviously created a bit of a storm in the media.  So how did you guys feel about it? I mean did you bust his balls a bit?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  I mean he’s doing a Super Bowl commercial, so who wouldn’t be in a Super Bowl commercial?  It’s like the biggest thing in the world, and I mean he’s Ozzy Osbourne he can do whatever the hell he wants.  So I think it’s great, Ozzy is more than music, he’s a cultural icon!  He’s like Coca-ColaCoca-Cola is just fucking cool, and so is Ozzy.  So, I mean we go up on stage and Ozzy just rocks balls!  Harder than anybody out there, harder than any punk kid.  He’s the real deal, so whether he’s in a commercial with Justin Bieber, or in The Osbourne’s, he still IS rock ‘n’ roll.  He’s the definition of rock ‘n’ roll, and he proves it when he gets on the stage, and we’re there to back him up on it!

AWAY-TEAM:  Speaking of backing him up, current band not included, if you could pick an all-time, all-star lineup for Ozzy, consisting of former band members who would it be?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Oh man, that’s a tough one.  He’s always had such great bands.  The No More Tears era was a great band, of course the Blizzard era was a great band, ya know I just feel honored to be in the Ozzy Osbourne band legacy.  That’s what I feel lucky about.  My name is in those ranks, and that’s just a great feeling, because he’s always had and always found the great musicians.  Ozzy’s so good at getting great musicians in his band, and he can see talent, so I feel blessed and honored to be in that category.   I’m not saying I’m in that category, but just to be mentioned with the same guys is a great feeling.

AWAY-TEAM:  Yeah, I think Gus put it really well.  He said you guys get to “…go out there every night and play the Bible of Heavy Metal”  That’s pretty fucking cool!

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  When we played in Los Angeles the other night, Tony Iommi was out there and Bill Ward came into our dressing room… sweetheart of a guy, total monster, amazing drummer.  So it was great to meet those guys and have ‘em at the show.

AWAY-TEAM:  That’s awesome.  So how did you get started playing drums?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  My father was a musician, and I got drums for my 7th birthday, and from that moment on I’ve known what I was gonna do with my life.  So it was full on instantly, blinders on, to get to doing what I’m doing now.  So it’s been an endless, relentless pursuit of quality and determination to get where I am now.

AWAY-TEAM:  What was the first song you ever learned?  And who did you idolize, or style your play after growing up?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Wow, first song I ever learned (pauses)  I think it was, my dad was a musician, so I think it was growing up a song called “C-Jam Blues” which was a Duke Ellington thing.  Kinda like a little swing number, and it had little breaks for me to do some fills in, and stuff like that.  That’s the earliest thing I can remember doing.  I started so early, it just sort of came easy for me.  I could just play tunes instantly, so um, ya.  Once you look back it’s kinda funny how quickly it goes by.

AWAY-TEAM:  So who did you idolize growing up?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  I idolized my parents.  Ya know, as you get older it’s harder to have idols, but my parents; I give them the greatest credit for me doing what I’m doing now.  They never told me I couldn’t… I mean my mom, I can’t imagine the noise she had to deal with for 20 years in the house, at all times of the day blasting music and playing drums.  And my dad always made sure I had drum stuff, and took me out and saw music, and put me in his band, so.  The support was always there, and they always told me I could do whatever I wanted as long as I put the effort in.  So they gave me the tools to have the confidence, in order to go out and do what I do.  That’s really who I’m gonna give credit to.  To do music, ya know, you gotta have that right mindset.  Being able to play your instrument and be good at it is almost the easy part.  Your mind has to be together, and you have to understand your place and your role.  So it’s very easy, ya know we’re staying at the Four Seasons Hotel and just got off a private jet, it’s easy to start thinking you’re a big shot.  But you gotta remember where you came from, and remember why you’re there.  You gotta stay grounded, and I credit that to my parents for instilling those values in me.  Ya know, when I did wrong, they put you in your place, when you did good, you got credit for it.  So I carry those lessons with me to this day.

AWAY-TEAM:  Now you got your first real big break with Ted Nugent,  how did you end up playing with him?  Had he known you from the Detroit scene?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  I got to first play with Ted, a guy in Detroit, a great sax player named Alto Reed whose played in Bob Seger’s band for the last 30 years, asked me to play on a movie soundtrack that he was putting together.  Ted Nugent also played on it.  So I first played with Ted during that, and didn’t have any idea of what music we were gonna play, he just sat down and wrote a song, and I immediately followed him.  We did one take of it, and we cut it.  Then we did another one in one take, and I think I impressed him because he called me the next day to go on tour with him.  So, ya know, you get certain moments in life where you go “This is my shot.”  If I didn’t buckle down and kick ass, Ted Nugent is not gonna give me another shot.  You can work for ten years busting your hump, and eventually your break will come in a round about way, and you get that one opportunity to go to the next level.  And I knew that was my moment, my one moment.  I’ve had numerous moments like that, that have led me to where I’m at.  But you don’t get those moments without the years and years of hard work and preparation in order to lead you to be prepared to take advantage of that moment.

AWAY-TEAM:  Right, it’s all about what you make of it.  So being with a guy like Ted, it’s almost a requirement to be into guns…

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  You know what, Ted doesn’t give a shit.  Ted only cares about you working your ass off, and being professional, and doing your job.  Of course he’s gonna take you to shoot guns, but he doesn’t care if you’re a vegetarian, if you’re black or white, as long as you kick ass and do what you do to the best of your ability, your his best friend.

AWAY-TEAM:  So what’s the sickest weapon you ever shot with him?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Oh my god.  We went out in Texas, he would fly us out to these hunting ranches for his birthday and shoot like, I don’t even know what they’re called.  But like insane crazy machine guns, like you’d see in movies, like in Red Dawn.  Just stupid, stupid stuff.  I’d be firing these things and be like “What am I doing right now!”  For me it was crazy, being the city guy, ya know?

AWAY-TEAM:  (laughs)  Right.  Having played with so many greats over your career, do you ever get jaded?  In other words, let’s take someone I know you’ve never met, at least I hope you’ve never met!  Elvis walks by, is it ”So what it’s Elvis he’s just another guy like me”? Or do you still get a little starstruck?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  You picked the one guy, I mean I’m an Elvis nut…

AWAY-TEAM:  Likewise!

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  …so if he walked by, I’d really be going crazy.  Second of all, I would have loved to play for Elvis, that’s one guy I would’ve loved to play for.  I am an Elvis fanatic!  To me though, we’re people.  Elvis would be the one dude that I would freak out about though.  But, we’re all people, and at this point you’re either an asshole, or you’re not an asshole! (laughs)  So sometimes you meet famous people and they’re fucking assholes, sometimes you meet famous people and they’re the greatest people in the world.  So, ya know, we’re all just people.  I don’t really let anybody freak me out, cuz who cares.  You can’t be intimidated by people either.  You can be excited, and have a certain charisma that makes you excited to meet them because they’re exciting.  But it’s not just because they’re a star, ya know.  Like Ozzy has a certain charisma, where you’re like “Oh my god, this is Ozzy“  It’s fucking cool!  But it’s not just because it’s Ozzy, it’s because he’s a cool person.  If that difference makes sense.

AWAY-TEAM:  I know exactly what you mean!

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Like there’s certain guys I’ve played in bands with where I go “Oh my god, this guys a douchebag!”  But the guys I play with now, everybody is so cool, everybody is on the same page, and so professional, it’s just a joy to be around.  We’re having a riot out here…Blasko, Adam Wakeman, Gus G, Ozzy…all top notch supreme gentlemen, and highest level musicians.

AWAY-TEAM:  Of all the legends that you’ve played with, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, and Ozzy, what’s the best advice any of them has ever given you?

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Best advice anybody has ever given me… that’s a tough one.  (pauses)  I have no idea.  I learned alot from Ted Nugent, he gave me my first big break, we’re both from Detroit, share alot of the same influences, come from the same place and look at things the same way so I learned alot of things from him.  But most of the stuff, my parents gave me the tools, I knew what I was doing.  I was ready when anything came down the pipeline.  I’m talking emotionally, and mentally I was ready.  The best advice I can give somebody, if they wanna do this, is to keep the music number one.  If something else comes in front of your music, or whatever you wanna do in your life you will not make it.  Everything I do during the day has to do with me wanting to play music for the rest of my life.  And when you get away from that, when you start getting into drugs, and start drinking, when the partying becomes too much eventually, it may take years, you’re gonna fall.  I don’t care who you are, when you stop practicing as much you will lose your chops.  You will lose it, I’ve seen so many drummers that are like “Oh yeah, I don’t really pick up the sticks in between tours.”  WHAT? You don’t pick up the sticks?  I have to pick up the sticks, I have to play, I have to stay hungry for it.  Or year, after year, after year you will become dull, and you will lose it slowly.  You gotta keep the hunger, and you gotta keep the music number one.  So that’s my biggest advice, and everybody who I’ve worked for, that’s what they do and they have 42 year careers because of it.  So they may not say something, they may not say the advice, but if you’re smart enough and perceptive you can pick it up on your own.  Watch and learn.

AWAY-TEAM:  Very true.  Excellent pearls of wisdom.  Tommy, thank you for your time, it’s been a true honor.

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Thank you very much for your time.  I appreciate it, and all the best to you!

AWAY-TEAM:  Same to you.  Best of luck with everything, and I look forward to seeing you behind the kit for many years to come.

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Appreciate it.  all my best.

AWAY-TEAM:  Thanks buddy!  Talk to you soon.

TOMMY CLUFETOS:  Bye.


For more info on Tommy Clufetos visit http://www.tommyclufetos313.com/ and http://www.ozzy.com for info including tour dates.

Special thanks to Tommy Clufetos for so graciously giving me his time, and to George Vallee at Sumerian Records for making it all happen.

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