Tuff vocalist Stevie Rachelle talks to LRI about M3, new tour, his band’s history, Metal Sludge and more
Stevie Rachelle has become a spokesperson for the “Dial MTV” era glam metal glory days in many ways since co-founding the parody/news site Metal Sludge but that’s not at all where it started. To be technical, it started not in Southern California at all but closer to our neck of the woods, the Midwest. Stevie was a young metalhead/skater in the Wisconsin area who quickly outgrew Oshkosh and Appleton and headed for the glitter and aqua net headquarters that was the late 80s Sunset Strip hard rock scene. Eventually, after a fair amount of dues paying, he hit major label paydirt with his band TUFF and experienced some of that Dial MTV love with their hit “I Hate Kissing You Goodbye”. Stevie’s been loved, hated, ignored and adored at various points in his career but I have to give him credit for continually flying the hard rock flag when many others have shunned and denied it. He and Tuff are set to go out on tour (including a slot at M3) to show the believers and non-believers why they refuse to go away and called me to talk about it; read on…
Legendary Rock Interviews: Nice to talk to you Stevie. My first Tuff interview was probably one of my first interviews for a daily paper I wrote for in Rockford back in 1991. I spoke with Todd and was a big fan of your debut. It seemed like the publicity department at Atlantic was pretty excited about you guys as well or am I real off base on that?
Stevie Rachelle: Well, yes and no. Before we had even signed with Atlantic, Tuff was getting a lot of publicity and that was due to our drummer Michael Lean. He was basically the point person for the band and was really driving the band and almost acting as manager, publicist and booker all rolled into one. Even though he was the youngest guy, Michael was the guy. He kind of took notes from people who preceded us whom we worked with and befriended, one of whom was Deb Rozner who was the publicist for Poison. Tuff had done a show with Poison, way before I joined the band and they had befriended her then, back in 85 I think. Michael learned a lot about getting the band’s name out there from her and I think a lot of that surge of press that was kind of unprecedented for an unsigned band was due to Michael and his diligence. By the time Atlantic did sign us we had already been in Rock Beat and all that and already had something of a head start.
LRI: Did Gerri Miller and Metal Edge cover you?
Stevie: Yeah, we were in “Rock On the Rise” before we were signed, I wanna say it was Tuff, Warrant and Roxx Gang or something like that. That was that little section of Metal Edge that all the bands were trying to get into and RIP and Rock Beat had similar sections too which we were blurbed in. Michael had also befriended Kenny Kerner who was famous for producing the first couple KISS records but was then with Rock Scene magazine. Kenny had a few other magazine offshoots and thought that I was a pin-up type so I was in these other teen magazines they produced next to guys like Kirk Cameron and early Brad Pitt and all this stuff (laughs).
LRI: The constant Poison and Bret Michaels comparisons…..annoying or helpful??
Stevie: That was both a curse and a blessing for us. You know, going back before I even joined Tuff I had played in plenty of other bands. I saw David Lee Roth in Van Halen and Vince Neil in Motley and that was what made me wanna do music as a German, blond haired, blue-eyed kid in Wisconsin. I looked at Van Halen and Motley Crue and said “I wanna do that”. For what it’s worth, I think Bret Michaels probably thought the same thing except he was living in Pennsylvania instead of Wisconsin. I was playing around in my bands and doing demos and making flyers and going to any concert that came to Madison, Green Bay, Milwaukee and was just completely immersed in that scene. I bought every record from King Kobra to W.A.S.P. and sort of started to make a name for myself around Wisconsin with my band and there was this rumor going around “Steve got a record deal” or “Steve is on Headbangers Ball in this band called Poison”. This was coming from people who were in my high school but hadn’t seen me in a couple years but saw this video for “Cry Tough” and then later “Talk Dirty To Me” and there were a bunch of people from my little scene who thought that was me! It sounds kind of silly to say it now but back then Bret and I did have kind of a similar look. Of course then in 1987 I ended up moving to L.A. and joining Tuff and of course the first thing everyone is saying is “Oh that guy had plastic surgery so that he could look like Bret” (laughs). At that point, I didn’t even have enough to pay for a Big Gulp let alone plastic surgery so that was pretty funny. I will admit that when I saw Poison I thought they were GREAT. I thought they were like Motley Crue and Van Halen mixed together which was great because again, those were two of my all-time favorite bands.
LRI: So you land in L.A. at the freakin apex of all of it, the second wave of signings on the strip?
Stevie: Yeah, I got there and we’re a few years into it and Poison is blowing up and L.A. Guns, Guns N Roses, Warrant, Faster Pussycat and all those bands were really making a name for themselves as I had just moved to L.A. When those bands got popular they were definitely the second wave after the Quiet Riot, Motley, Dokken, RATT era and I think that it’s just natural that whoever gets there first kind of gets to claim a little bit more of it. If you come later, you are sort of viewed as an imitation of someone else or seen as a follower. I think to be fair the same thing probably happened to George Lynch and Warren DiMartini when they were coming up as far as following Eddie Van Halen.
LRI: When were you interviewed by Penelope Spheeris for Decline 2 and what was that like for a young aspiring rock star??
Stevie: It was great. I think it was late 1987. It was within the first 6 months of me joining the band. We had started to play the strip and outside of Warrant we were one of the bands who had started to buzz. Within a couple of months of us playing shows we had become a big draw and were kind of the hot name that people were talking about. Poison had just put out there record and by the time the movie came out they were getting really big.
LRI: Tuff’s original vocalist was Jim Gillette (NITRO). Are you friendly with Jim?
Stevie: Yeah, I am. I probably swapped emails with him a month or so ago, we have remained friendly through the years. Funny thing is when I first went down to see Tuff, Jimmy was there, he sang a few songs and we hung out. Jim didn’t leave Tuff on bad terms by any means. It was really just a matter of the band wanting to continue with the party rock/Van Halen thing and Jimmy wanting to go more into his vocal lessons and another kind of music, a faster, power metal type of direction which he of course did with Nitro. I actually put T.J. (Racer, bassist) in NITRO. When Jimmy was recording his album “Proud To Be Loud” with Michael he said something like “I need to find a bass player like Billy Sheehan, I need to find the fastest, best player available” and I said, “I know the guy….my friend Tony, he’s from Milwaukee and he’s amazing, just a freak, freak bass player”. The first time I saw him was probably 1985 in Wisconsin and he wasn’t even old enough to be in the club he was playing in but he was amazing. I explained that he looked cool and blah, blah, blah and then in a few days they had gotten ahold of Tony and he was on a plane to California to join Nitro. I think Jimmy probably named him TJ Racer to tell you the truth….
LRI: Your site, Metalsludge has become an institution of sorts. I’ve had some of my interviews posted on the page and I of course check in regularly like everyone else for the latest and greatest happenings with these bands. There was a time where you hid your identity and posted under pen names early on, is it more comfortable now?
Stevie: Metal Sludge is pre My Space,Pre Facebook pre all of this and it’s so funny because it all just started way back in 98 as a fun idea between my former partner Shawn Card and I and we wanted it to be private. I remember saying that I wanted it to be like the masked magician, where we do this site and tell all these secrets but we do it hidden. It was just a fun idea and that’s really all it was. It wasn’t a business idea, we had no idea that it would be getting 30,000 people looking at it in a given day and we didn’t know if it would last a year or 15 years you know? I don’t even think I knew what a website was at that time, I was like “Oh okay, it’s a place where somebody can go on their computer….” (laughs). It was all so new. It was fun and goofy and it’s just crazy that it took on the life that it did. It’s still going and so is TUFF.
LRI: Many bands who were your peers either feel it’s too daunting a task to continue or lose the desire but you gear up for another tour and judging by the youtube clips people are diggin it.
Stevie: A winner never quits and a quitter never wins and I’m just hanging in there. When I joined Tuff I was like “Okay, that’s it, I’m in”. I’ve played through three record labels, two guys leaving the band in 95, replacing the guitar player three times, the drummer three times, at one point my dog died while we were on the road. It hasn’t always been easy, certainly not at the height of grunge and I have put it aside for stretches of time to do the Cheeseheads project or other things but I have never given up on the band and I never will. Those are my songs, I helped create them and Tuff will always mean a great deal to me. Just because we are only 2 of the four original members, just because we are not on a label, just because there is no MTV to play our video doesn’t mean I have to give up on our brand or our band. At one point I just looked at that logo laying there and claimed it and said that’s me….I don’t wanna stop playing those songs or let it die and I don’t have to. Do I pull myself into spandex and walk around everyday spraying up what’s left of my hair? No. Do I still love singing “All New Generation”? Yes. Hey, I looked goofy back in the day, we ALL did. Fuck, there’s pictures of Slayer looking goofy back in the day, it is what it is. To me, that was a really good time in my life and I am not about to apologize or run from it.
LRI: The fans that support you on these shows are passionate diehards. You have to respect that. My cousin married a huge fan and they have two kids named after you Stevie and Rachelle, truth! (laughs)
Stevie: I know him. I know the guy who married your cousin, I can remember the first time I met him outside T.A. Verns in Wisconsin and his name is Greg Hartzell, he came to all of our shows. I know our fans like that and it’s funny how this works. I was over in Spain recently and playing some shows there with Shameless and it was like half Tuff, half Shameless but I was walking down the street looking for a bathroom (laughs). I see these big, like biker lookin dudes that totally looked like giant versions of Zakk Wylde, like leather jackets, beards the whole thing and I remember them walking away and me thinking “There must be like a metal show, like “Lamb Of God” or something nearby”. I go my way, find a bathroom, get ready and do the show I have that night and after the show I am standing there signing autographs and sellin Cds and shirts and shit and I look up and all of a sudden, here’s all those dudes! These big, gnarly lookin dudes and the guys are like ( in foreign accent) “Oh, we have been waiting our whole life to meet you, we would like one autograph and one picture please and pulls out an original copy of our disc ” and all I could think about was how trippy it was. I saw them earlier that night and figured these dudes had to be going to some serious metal show or a night of drinking but instead they were out on the town to see Tuff. I could not believe it. That really touched me and that has happened. It’s happened in Spain, Brazil, Italy, Germany, all over the world and it’s a great feeling man. Just to know that I have affected some people in a good way over the years is a pretty cool thing.
LRI: You are doing M3 and a bunch of east coast dates and running it up the flagpole again now and determined to show people a good time.
Stevie: We are. We are gonna have a good time and do our damnedest to make sure everyone else does. We recently had a piece on Metal Sludge where Tracii Guns was talking about how the average person on the street doesn’t care about L.A. Guns or “bands like that”.
LRI: That was my interview with Tracii actually (laughs).
Stevie: Well, you know, my response to that is….”What does the average person on the street really care about Tracii and does it really matter either way??” It’s like duh. If you walk up to the average person on the street no, of course they don’t care about L.A. Guns or Tuff or Tracii Guns or Stevie Rachelle or probably even Kid Rock or Bruno Mars. People are people and lots of the general public just doesn’t give a shit, they like what they like and that’s it. When Tracii tells you something in an interview like “The party was over in 91” what is that supposed to mean? Does that mean that anybody who decides to still embrace what they loved 20 or 30 years ago is an idiot? I mean that’s what it sounds like he was telling you. What Phil and Steve are doing with L.A. Guns is what they want to do. I know at one point they were out of it just like Tracii is but at this point they are doing it, they’re in the driver’s seat and they still have their fans and there are still plenty of people who wanna go out to see Phil sing “Rip and Tear” and “Ballad of Jayne”. Good for Phil, good for Steve and good for the people who enjoy it. If Tracii wants to go to Vegas and play classic rock stuff with other people, good for him but I saw that interview and that quote and I kind of just saw that as a bash to not just L.A. Guns but EVERYBODY. I mean, it’s not just the strip bands. When was the last time that Cheap Trick had a big hit record? It doesn’t matter!!! At the end of the day people go to see Cheap Trick to hear Robin sing Dream Police and Surrender and see Rick with his 5 neck guitar and they wanna hear “Hello There” at the beginning and “Good Nite Now” at the end and at the end of the day it is perfect because that’s exactly what they get. Is the band going platinum with their new record? Absolutely not but there are people who go and enjoy the band playing the hits they are famous for and it’s the same thing for Aerosmith, the same thing for Motley Crue and it’s the same exact thing that happens for the smaller bands like Dangerous Toys or Enuff Z Nuff or Tuff.
LRI: Thanks for talking with us again man. Good luck with the gigs and let us know when you get back to the midwest. You had better play “Ruck-A-Pit Bridge”
Stevie: No problem….We may not be back in the midwest for a few months but the people who come out to our shows in Ohio or Pittsburgh or New Jersey when we play there in April and May are going to be in for a fun night. For 30, 40 minutes or a hour or however long we get to play Mr.Todd Chase, myself Billy Morris ( ex Warrant) and Trent Anderson ( ex Bang Tango) are going to take them back to remember “I Hate Kissing You Goodbye” “Ruck-A-Pit Bridge” and “All New Generation” and allow them to enjoy themselves for the night. It’s been a while since we’ve hit the east coast so we are looking forward to it and M3 is just icing on the cake.
Apr. 24th “The Foundry” Cleveland, OH
Apr. 25th “Tap House” Akron, OH
Apr. 26th “Tink’s Rock House” Marion, OH
Apr. 27th “Dead Horse Cantina” Pittsburgh, PA
Apr. 28th “Aldo’s Lounge” Altoona, PA
Apr. 30th “TBA” East Coast
May 1st “The Saint” Asbury Park, NJ
May 2nd “Rebel Rock Bar” Philly
May 3rd “M3” Hanging @ Friday Nite Show
May 4th “M3 Rock Fest” Baltimore (12:Noon)
May 4th “Ding Batz” Clifton, NJ (12:Midnite)