FIB MUSIC: How popular was Warrant at that time?
Stevie: They were the biggest band. Warrant or Racer X, with Paul Gilbert, were by far the biggest drawing name bands. This was only six months removed from bands like
Guns n Roses, L.A. Guns, Faster Pussycat getting record deals. All those bands got signed in late '85 or early '86. This was the summer of '87, so Poison's
"Talk Dirty to Me" had just hit the charts a couple of months earlier. They went from a local band who got a record deal with Enigma, to having a video for "Cry Tough" on Headbanger's Ball and
then the second single "Talk Dirty to Me" changed everything.
FIB MUSIC: What's your initial reaction to the Hollywood scene?
Stevie: I remember thinking it was amazing. I got here on a Thursday, met some people who lived in the complex I was staying and they told me they would take me to a show on Friday. They took
me to a show and it was to see this band called Angora, with John Corabi as the singer, and I remember seeing that band and the show and thinking it was great. The club was
packed with tons of girls. I remember after a couple of weeks being outside of Gazzarri's and people saying 'that guy's Axl Rose, he's from Guns n Roses'. He was just sitting there
talking to people telling them he had just got done recording.....I think 'Appetite for Destruction' was coming out sometime in the Fall of '87. So they were talking about the
recording, mastering, photo shoots and I just remember standing there and kind of eavesdropping on it. At that time he wasn't Axl Rose, he was that guy from that band. He was just another
guy with a record deal. I think, at that time, L.A. Guns were bigger.
FIB MUSIC: During your time on the Hollywood scene, do you ever begin to notice it beginning to fade?
Stevie: Well, I got there in '87, so from '87, '88, '89, it was still thriving massively. The summer of '90 was when we got our deal. Our record didn't come out until the
spring of '91. It's hard to say, but 20 years ago this is what I was thinking. At this point, everything was just moving forward. But I do remember being in the van, on
the first tour in the fall of 1991 and hearing the first guitar chords of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and I had a Japanese friend who worked in the industry and she told
me that this band Nirvana was set to really become a big deal. She said it looks like they're going to sell one hundred thousand copies in their first week. At this point,
Soundgarden had already been around, Alice in Chains had already been around for a year / year and a half. Alice in Chains had been on tour with Van Halen and were getting
booed every night. People were throwing mud at the band. Soundgarden was just this indie-grunge band from Seattle that had put out a record or two. I liked Nirvana when
I first heard it because a lot of my early musical influences, in the 70's, were punk. I was a skateboarder as a kid. That was my first love and I wanted to become a
professional skateboarder. When we were skating, we listened to punk and new wave. So when I first heard Nirvana, that is what I equated it to, I really liked it....I still like it.
Their style, their sound....I didn't realize it at the time that it was going to completely change the music industry and become a huge roadblock for not just me, but for everybody. When
bands like Motley Crue, Poison, Skid Row and Warrant became, not just irrelevant, but more like scabs in the eyes of the industry. It wasn't just fans, it was producers, record labels and road crew and
friends like sound engineers and people who worked in studios, or people that helped you make flyers, or stickers, or other promotional materials......I don't want to say they
turned their backs, but they just really discredited you. I will say it again, being a glam band, a hair band, wearing a bandana, or blonde hair, or tight jeans, if you were doing that in
1992, it was probably better to say 'hi, I have AIDS, will you fuck me?'. It was really, really negative. Anything to do with Trixter, Bang Tango, the Hollywood Sunset Strip. I mean bands were
shaving their heads, growing facial hair, wearing torn pants and it became a really uncool thing. I sort of equate it to when disco died - as exciting and popular as disco was in the 70's with
John Travolta, the Bee Gees and New York and Studio 54....when disco died, the reaction was 'disco sucks'. They were like 'come to Shea Stadium and put all your disco records in a pile', then they
light them on fire and run them over with a steamroller. Do you remember that? it was on the news. It was a similar
fate for the Hollywood hair bands. It was 'Gazzarri's you suck, get away from us'.
FIB MUSIC: After Warrant gets signed and makes it, I guess you guys were next in line to carry the torch. What was that like?
Stevie: That's right, we were next in line. Tuff headlining the Roxy, Tuff headlining the Troubadour, then Tuff's headlining the Troubadour for two nights, Gazzarri's, Gazzarri's for two nights,
the Whisky, not only for two nights, but two shows in one night. The band was getting so big that we could literally have 500 people lined up by 5:00 o'clock...the opening band was
the Zeros, we did two shows in one night at the Whisky. So they had 500 people in line, the Zeros play their show at 7:30 we play our show at 8:30 and by 10:00 they kick everybody out and by that
time there are already 500 more people lined up ready to get in for the same show with the Zeros at 11:00 and Tuff at 12:00. The next biggest venue was in the Valley, called the
Country Club, which was like 950 capacity, almost theatre-like setting. I remember when we were trying to book Tuff at the Country Club, they were like 'oh you guys aren't big enough' but finally
they gave us a show and the bill was amazing. It was Tuff, Par A Dice was our support, Brunette, who later became Hardline, and then Vain from San Francisco was on the bill. There were like
1100 people there, it was beyond capacity. This was late '88 going into '99. At that point we couldn't get any bigger. The next stage would have been playing Santa Monica Civic Center in front of
3 to 4 thousand people. As far as the scene dying off, it couldn't go any further. Bands were always trying to outdo each other and it finally came to an end. I mean there were
bands like Bang Bang, then there was Bang Tango, then there was Bang Gang, Pretty Boy Floyd and Alley Cat Scratch, Juicy Miss Lucy.....the one word names were used up, then the two word names
were used up, now the three word names are used up......there was Tuff, then Cry Tough, then Tuff Luck, then there were bands fighting over the same name, like Par A Dice and Paradise. Everyone had
used every color of cowboy boot, every headband, every guitar shape and it had to finally implode. It turned out it was a scene from Seattle with no stage show, no cool clothes, one guitar and a
small amp....the opposite.
FIB MUSIC: How quickly did Nirvana have an effect on the Hollywood scene?
Stevie: I would say that within.....once Nirvana hit, Pearl Jam was hitting at the same time....all of a sudden people were liking
Alice in Chains. I remember seeing guys with long blonde-bleached hair, cowboy boots with tight jeans and eyeliner on. Those guys were
opening for Tuff, playing that role not only in Hollywood, but also in Chicago, in Dallas....then a year later we went on tour and saw the
same guys but now they had a goatees, torn jeans, dreadlocks sewed in and suddenly tuning down their guitars. There were guys like that playing in
Chicago that eventually became the band Disturbed. Some of those guys were in hair bands. A lot of guys left L.A. I can't quote exact stories but
I remember hearing about some band that was really huge in Seattle and would find out later that it was some guy who had been playing in L.A. They had
moved up there and six months later they got a record deal and were making music with beards and roadie clothes on, instead of the cowboy boots that they were
wearing a year earlier on the Strip.
FIB MUSIC: Wasn't Alice in Chains a hair band before they were signed?
Stevie: Yeah. When they first came down here....as a matter a fact, I have some reviews of the band at the Coconut Teaser and Layne Staley couldn't have looked more like
CC Deville and Jerry Cantrell couldn't have been more of a Vinnie Chas lookalike. Vinnie Chas was the bass player in Pretty Boy Floyd....RIP Vinnie, he has since
passed away....Vinnie and Jerry were friends in Seattle and were in a band together. There are some photos online of them together in an early glam band, around '84 / '85.
FIB MUSIC: What's a typical day like for you during the height of Tuff's Hollywood club days?
Stevie: I do remember myself and Michael Lean, the drummer, he was the businessman of the band, definitely the leader of the band. He was also the youngest guy in the band. When I joined
Tuff, he was 19, I was 21 and I was the old man. Michael was kind of like my mentor, he was the business guy and I was kind of like his left arm. This was way before the internet, way
before computers. He was typing out newsletters or biographies and I was packing envelopes with t-shirts, cassettes, or panties that we were selling to people through advertisements in Metal
Edge or ROCKbeat Magazine. We would go to the newsstand and pick up the paper and look for articles on 'Hollywood band making a buzz'. We would put flyers up in Guitar Center. We'd run errands, we'd
pay bills, sort things for the band, try to get endorsements for Jorge and Todd.....we ran it like a business from the very beginning. Then Todd and Jorge would wake up about two (laughs), when we
were half way through our day. Then we would find girls to buy us groceries. We ran advertisements with the TUFF MUFF hotline, following suit of what Poison and some of those bands were
doing to meet girls and fans. 'If you want to hang out with us, or get backstage, then come over and bring us groceries'. They would bring us food and then we would bum a ride to rehearsal and then
after that we would go out to the clubs. Tuesday night was Cathouse, I think Wednesday or Thursday was Bordello, Friday and Saturday would be on the Strip, whether it be Gazzarri's, the Roxy, whatever
the happening show was, we'd go there....the Rainbow.....then Sunday night was like Exclosure 54 or Red Light District. Then Monday night was the 'No Bozo Jam' at the Whisky A Go Go with
Love / Hate as the house band. It was an every day, every night kind of affair. We just built on everything during that time. We'd plan a show every two months. We'd make a flyer of
a photo shoot, think of a cool slogan like 'One Pump and a Dump', 'Bigger Than Batman', or 'If We Offend You, Dial 1800 Eat Shit'. We would go out and push that show everywhere we went. As we
got bigger, we started playing Phoenix and Tucson one weekend and then San Diego and Orange County a different weekend. Then the next weekend we would go play San Francisco and Oakland, or Santa
Clara.....then Vegas and Salt Lake City.
FIB MUSIC: Do you remember the day you signed your first record contract?
Stevie: Yes. I was actually working for Load, Lock and Roll Moving & Storage. I was on a moving truck in Hollywood and Michael somehow got in touch with me. I think he called the office and they called
the ladies house and said that I had some important documents to sign that needed to be FedEx'd back. So Michael showed up with a video camera and had an Atlantic Records recording contract that
I had to sign. I took a ten minute break, from lifting furniture, in the back of a truck. I signed the contract, he filmed it and then I went back to work.
FIB MUSIC: Do you still have footage of that?
Stevie: Yes I do. As a matter of fact, I think it's on one of the Tuff home videos. Video of everybody signing it.
FIB MUSIC: Were there any other labels interested. Was there a bidding war?
Stevie: (Laughs) No, there was no bidding war. We got signed to Titanium / Atlantic Records and the deal was for $75,000, which is not a huge deal. Some bands were much less but some bands were
FIB MUSIC: Poison got a smaller deal than that.
Stevie: Yeah, I think they got $15 to $20 thousand.
FIB MUSIC: Was it just a one album deal?
Stevie: When you sign a deal there are like seven options. When these bands say that they got signed to a $5 million / 7 album deal, that's all shit. If they bomb or even if the label
halfway through thinks it sucks, or the singer sucks, 'you're fired, go home, you're done'. The deal was whatever Atlantic Records wanted it to be. If we had success....If you sell five million records, then you
can tell your record label, through your management and lawyer, 'hey fuck off, give us the other $500,000 or we're not going to stick around....we'll make your life miserable', then they will
renegotiate. If you don't sell enough records, it all comes to a screeching halt. We sold almost 100,000 records, which wasn't bad, but considering the whole change of the industry and all
the grunge bands are coming along, getting scooped up, and selling records. Even Skid Row's second record didn't sell anywhere near what the first one did. So Atlantic decided not to pick us
up on the option and we were done.
FIB MUSIC: How was it working with two time Grammy nominated producer Howard Benson(Sepultura, Hoobastank, POD, Papa Roach, Creed)?
Stevie: Howard was great. I learned a lot from him and still, to this day, look at it as such a big learning experience. He had already produced bands like
Pretty Boy Floyd, Sweet FA, Bang Tango, Kingofthehill, Southgang, a couple of TSOL records.
FIB MUSIC: Does anything stand out from those recording sessions?
Stevie: I remember it being a big deal. It was our first real recording session. We had already done some demos at some pretty good studios. You see these videos or pictures of Motley Crue in the
studio, or Metallica in the studio, it just seems larger than life. Just like being on the road and playing in a video. Whether its for 500 people or 5000, when everything is done at 11:00, it's
empty. There's smelly buckets of garbage in the back, there's food on the dressing room floor, there's sweaty clothes and towels that need to be picked up. Gear needs to be loaded, people's knuckles
get bloody, fingernails get broken.....you have to collect money and then there's an argument with the club.......it's the same thing with the studio.....it's not all
peaches and cream. There is tweaking, changing, and so much fine tuning and detail going on that you have to just soak into the moment and learn how it all works. I looked at all those
recording sessions as learning experiences and I kind of use those today in managing Vains of Jenna and trying to walk them through and prepare them for the fact that it's not what you saw on
MTV, or what you saw in videos, or read in biographies and books.
FIB MUSIC: Where did you record "What Comes Around Goes Around"?
Stevie: We did the basic tracks at Track Record in North Hollywood, which is still there. We did some overdubs at a place in the Valley. It was basically a home studio in a person's garage. I forget what
is was called but it was very secluded.
FIB MUSIC: How long did it take to record the album?
Stevie: We started on December 26th 1990, the day after Christmas. The basic tracks took about a week, then guitars, bass took about another week or two, then vocals, overdubs, keyboards and background. Probably in
the six week range. It was all mapped out. When we first got the deal, it was in the summer. Then we picked the producer, which the label was involved with. Howard laid out
the budget. Then we did pre-production for most of the month of November, which was basically go to rehearsals to rock out from noon to six, Monday through Friday. Then Howard would work
with us on songs, tell us what he liked and what he didn't like. Then at some point he would tell us to go home and work on this and be back here at 11:45 and we do it again. It was very
organized. Same thing with recording.
FIB MUSIC: How soon after the release of the record did you find out that the label was going to drop you?
Stevie: About a year. As a matter of fact, I think it was a year to the day.
FIB MUSIC: How did all that go down?
Stevie: Atlantic Records had given us some money to do some demos in 1992, early '92. We did some demos. Then we hear that
Jason Flom from Atlanic was coming out here to L.A., so we tell our manager that we want to go meet with him....we want to play him our stuff. Our manager kept saying 'no, I don't want you
to meet with them, I want to be there'. We thought.....'you're in New Jersey, so we'll just do the meeting on our own'. He kept saying, 'no, don't do it. I want to be there with you guys'. But
like a bunch of smartass punks, we thought we knew everything. We wanted to go play Jason our killer new stuff. We went into the office and he was sitting at the desk with Kevin
Williamson, who, at the time, was junior A&R guy on the West Coast. At this point the 80's industry was dying and they had just signed Stone Temple Pilots. He says, 'Let's hear the tape'. He tells
Kevin to put the tape in and he listens to about the first twenty seconds of "God Bless This Mess" or something and then gives Kevin a sign to stop the tape. Then he says, 'so what's this, you
guys are a little heavier than before, huh?' and we're like 'yeah man, we're heavier like Skid Row and Metallica'. So he says, 'Skid Row's first album sold 3 million copies, the "Monkey Business" single
didn't even go gold....Let's hear the next song' - So he fast forwards to the next song and listens to twenty seconds of the ballad, "Better Off Dead". He says, 'so what' this called?,
what's this about?'.....'so this goes on the radio and kids start killing themselves because they're better off dead, is that the plan?' He was really being an ass. Then he says, 'here's this new
band we just signed called Stone Temple Pilots' and he played it for us. I don't remember what our comments were but I am sure they were arrogant and cocky. We left. As we were getting in the
elevator, some of the guys from Testament were in there. We said hi, went home and two days later our manager called us and said Jason Flom has informed Atlantic Records that they are
officially dropping Tuff from the roster. It was like 48 hrs after our meeting. If I remember correctly, it was May 17th, one year from the date that our record came out.
Looking back, our manager was right. We shouldn't have pushed the issue. Our manager said, 'no, it's better if I'm there as your manager to host the meeting and talk for you'. Almost like
a lawyer in court. He was right.
FIB MUSIC: Shortly after being dropped, you guys sign with IRS, right?
Stevie: Yes. Brian McEvoy from Grand Slamm / IRS wanted to sign us. He essentially bought the demos that Atlantic had paid for. The deal stipulated that
he had six months to release the record, or the tapes would revert back to us. At that point, IRS was falling apart. We kept asking what's happening, he never had any
answers. He was misleading and kind of leading me along because obviously he didn't have the distribution deal anymore. After six months, we got the record back. That's when I
decided to form RLS Records and put out the recordings on our own in early 1994.
FIB MUSIC: What a great deal for you.
Stevie: I know. Atlantic gave us $5000 to record those demos, then we sold those demos to IRS for I think $7500. Then they breached the contract and we got the demos back again. Then I
put it out. I released it on cd and cassette and we were selling the record that Atlantic had paid for and IRS/Grand Slamm had paid for, which we now owned. After I sold about
5000 copies of it, I was contacted by a few labels who were interested in buying the record and licensing it from us. At the time, CMC was big...they were signing Warrant and
Slaughter and stuff like that. After negotiating, we ended up signing a deal with MMS / Mausoleum, which was distributed by BMG.
FIB MUSIC: What happened then?
Stevie: The same thing happened. Their initial offer was for $3000 for the masters. At this point, I'm already pretty experienced when it comes to wholesaling my own product and selling to
different distributors. I had one guy who bought three hundred copies from me for $6.00 a piece. So I told the guy from the label, 'you want to give me $3000 and then you do whatever you
want with the record and release it everywhere. He says yeah. 'Well you must think I'm some kind of asshole because I just sold 300 copies for $1800. Why would I take
$1200 more for the rights to sell it anywhere and everywhere. So then they came back with an offer of $6000. Then I countered with 'give me thirty thousand dollars and 5000 copies of the
record when it's printed and we got a deal'. That way I could get some money but also have product to sell when we're on the road. They went low, I went high and we met
somewhere in the middle, they gave me fifteen grand and 3000 copies, which over time made me another thirty grand. The record that Atlantic paid for and then IRS paid for and then I sold for
18 months on my own.....I then resold again for $15,000 and 3000 copies. Those Atlantic Records demos made me in excess of six figures.
I knew for us to make any money, we had to run it like a business. We had to own the material. Instead of signing record deals for $2000, $5000, or $10,000 and let them own
me for the rest of my life. I would rather sell 5000 copies on my own at 8, 10, 12 bucks a piece - I'm going to make fifty grand and over the course of time, we build up
our catalog, and that's essentially what we did. I never had a gold or platinum record but we were able to bring in some income.
What I also learned was in order for us to make money we have to spend money. So many bands will play a show and they make $500 and everyone says, 'I want my hundred bucks'. But somebody's
got to go 'hold it, we just paid $100 for rehearsal this week and that came out of my pocket. The van we just rented for $50, we have to return with a full tank of gas. We had this
roadie who helped us tonight and even though he just wants to hang out because we get pussy, we did promise him $25. Those thirty shirts we printed for $4.00 a piece, they cost $120. In reality we
only have $175 not $500. Whatever you make you pretty much have to put right back in, otherwise there's just not going to be any growth.
FIB MUSIC: On the video for "Better Off Dead", I noticed the band showed signs of adapting. You were almost unrecognizable and the song even had hints of
Stevie: Even in '90 and '91, by the time Tuff got signed, we were no longer the glammy, frilly, lipsticky, Poison-esque band that we orginally were in 1987. We were definitely a little
harder. The video for "I Hate Kissing You Goodbye" was a ballad, but anyone who listened to the record and heard stuff like "Spit Like This", "Good Guys Wear Black" and
"Lonely Lucy". Some people compare that to Judas Priest or even Aerosmith. So yeah, in '92, '93, '94, by the time we're out playing....we're not saying we're glam gods forever. None of
were wearing lipstick for many years now, no more bleaching the hair. We kind of adopted more of a Ugly Kid Joe vibe. We weren't going full grunge. You couldn't wear spandex and
cowboy boots anymore, so we had to evolve with the times. But our sets still included all the songs and the ballads. We'd play "I Hate Kissing You Goodbye" and "Better Off Dead" back to back and
our fans loved them all the same. But like anything we had to migrate a little bit. The song titles went from
"Forever Yours", "All New Generation", "Sinner Street" to "Religious Fix", "Electric Church", "Rattle My Bones", "God Bless This Mess", "In Dogs We Trust". It got darker, it
got harder. Like Skid Row went from "I Remember You" to "Slave to the Grind". I've have no regrets about anything I did; I have no shame. As glam as we were.....you know, Metal
Sludge does the Exposed feature where we have the gnarliest exposed photos.....whether you call them gay or silly, mine are probably top ten all time. I embrace that, that was then and
I loved it, that's what we had fun with.
FIB MUSIC: That's what always made you cool; your ability to embrace it. Now things are better because at some point, in the last decade, everyone finally decided to forgive
themselves for liking glam.
Stevie: Exactly. That's probably what Metal Sludge was doing when we started thirteen years ago, in 1998/99. There were some guys out there that took themselves way too seriously. Guys that
no longer wanted to be that stage name anymore......yeah, you don't want to be Trikki Foxx your whole life. Maybe you'd rather be called Tom now. But it was guys that would try to
hide their past. We'd ask them interview questions and they would shun it. I was always quick to say 'man up dude....so you look like a fag like the rest of us', or the guys that
did point fingers with 'oh you're a bunch of glam fags'.......we have Metal Sludge Exposed photos of Slayer with spandex on. They looked like what Steel Panther looks like today. You being
from Dallas, you knew....part of what made Pantera such great guys and made Dimebag such an awesome person. I have heard a ton of stories that through the years.....when Ratt came to town, or
Poison came to town, Dimebag and Vinnie were always at the gigs.....they hung out with Bobby Dall and CC Deville...they had no inhibitions to take a photo with someone wearing a
Faster Pussycat shirt. I remember being at a T.J. Martell event when Pantera first hit and they were the heaviest band in the world. I was standing there at the
bowling alley and Darrell comes up to me and says 'hey man, you're the Tuff guy'. He had the razorblade necklace on. He says, 'dude I dig that ring of yours'...I used to wear this
Tuff ring. I got the idea from the rapper Ice-T. I used to take all my photos with this big silver metal ring that said Tuff. That's what made those guys so
lovable, they were so genuine.
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