When Tico Torres relates his experiences in music, he’s talking about his life, and it’s clear that the two are one and the same. “I’ve definitely got drums in my blood. I’ve got rhythm,” comments Tico. “It comes from in here,” he explains, pointing to his heart.
Affectionately dubbed “The Hit Man”—courtesy of his associates in Bon Jovi—Tico describes the group as a “pretty straight-forward rock band—-hard rock, but very melodic.” No doubt about it, Bon Jovi has been steadily growing into a major force in rock, ever since the band’s ’83 debut release Bon Jovi (spawning the hit “Runaway”). The follow-up, 7800° Fahrenheit (the temperature at which rock melts at the center of the earth), has produced two big singles as well: “In And Out Of Love” and “Silent Night.”
“The Hit Man ” himself has certainly become more visible being a member of Bon Jovi for the past three years, but he’s also enjoyed success away from the limelight, attaining a reputation as a highly regarded session musician, and as an accomplished jazz drummer playing the proverbial smoke-filled jazz clubs of the circuit.
Tico’s manner is low-key, his appearance striking, and his voice deep—contributing to a rather commanding presence. All the same, he’s one of the warmest and most gracious individuals I’ve had the privilege to interview. Tico Torres—a deeply devoted drummer and musician.
TS: I heard that you had a pretty unusual start as a drummer, as far as your first gig was concerned.
TT: Well, I used to hang out with a lot of soul bands. One in particular was a group called Cold Sweat. One night when the group was about to tape a television show called Hullabaloo, the drummer had to run out to get some new sticks. When air time came around and the drummer hadn’t made it back, the band members asked me to fill in for him on a couple of numbers. So I went up there and played a couple of James Brown songs with half a drumstick and a pair of pliers. That was my first live gig behind a kit. I had always fooled around with other people’s drums—I always jumped behind a kit whenever I could—but that was the first time I played drums in any kind of formal situation. Right after that, I went out and borrowed an old Slingerland kit, started a three-piece blues-oriented rock band, and just went from there.
TS: So what or who were you sounding like back then?
TT: I was sounding like a terrible drummer. [laughs] In those days, I guess my big influence was Mitch Mitchell, but that was also my initial exposure to jazz. I first got interested in jazz when I got into records by a New Jersey trumpet player by the name of Dave Burns. Then I started listening to John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and through them, I began to love the sounds of jazz drummers like Elvin Jones and Philly Joe Jones. My jazz record collection grew from there. Jazz really grabbed me, because that style of music was based totally on creativity.
I started learning a lot, playing with just about everybody that I could. I was always on the road playing with tons of bands, and I had been doing showcases since I was 16. I wanted to learn as much as I could, so I approached Elvin Jones and asked him what the best way to learn was. He said, “Come down to the club and watch me. I’m playing at the Vanguard six nights this week.” So I went down there and handed him gin and tonics, and Kool cigarettes that night. I just sat next to him and watched him. I was this little guy with long hair who was trying to soak in everything I could from his playing. I was very impressionable, and I remember being blown away by his amazing ability to play as hard or as soft as the situation called for.
TS: You said that you were on the road and doing showcases since Delight jingles to Kodak spots, even tracks for movie scores. It was great doing 20-second spots with tons of percussion, congas, and vibes. But reading is really essential to doing studio work. The hard thing about it for me is that I love touring—I practically live on the road—and sight-reading is like a language: If you don’t use it enough, you start to lose it. So I constantly have to brush up. I’m not a great sight reader. I’m more of an ear player, and I have to work at it to keep it.
At one point, I did check out Berklee, but I found that it wasn’t drum-oriented enough. It was mainly for guitar and keyboards. Anyway, I made demos and singles with lots of local bands, and I’d play with whoever I could, in whatever musical situation I could hook up with. I jammed with Miroslav Vitous when he was still in Weather Report, and I worked the club scene where I was jamming with anybody who’d walk into the place—from Gladys Knight to Alex Blake. I played in top-40 bands, lounge bands, and original bands. You could always find me in a club. I’d play the clubs up in Harlem—the higher numbers like 164th Street—where some amazing musicians would walk in. Sometimes, I’d be the only white guy in the place, but they’d just say “Tico, get in and play.” It was great.
My advice to young drummers corning up is to check out playing with as many people as you can. Go out and do the kind of gigs that will stretch your playing. You don’t like country music? Try it once to see what it feels like, and see if you really don’t like it. Instead of always going to a Ratt/Bon Jovi-type concert, check out places like the Vanguard in New York, a jazz or an R&B club, or maybe a dance club to hear some dance music. Getting that diversification is only going to help you broaden yourself.
I find that a lot of young drummers close themselves off from anything beyond the realm of rock, largely because of the way they were brought up. I was brought up in an environment where I had a broad amount of influences—musically and culturally—all around me. For example, I never even knew there was such a thing as prejudice until kids in my neighborhood told me about it. Their parents taught it to them. We didn’t have any kind of prejudices in my house. To me, there’s no color—no prejudice—in music. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing with. It’s the music and the experience that matter.
TS: During the early part of your career, did you ever rely on work outside of music to supplement your income?
TT: Oh yeah, I had been an upholsterer since I was 12.
TS: Wasn’t that an early age to start doing upholstery?
TT: Well, I got tired of delivering papers.
TS: [laughs] Right, and the obvious career move was to go into upholstering.
TT: [laughs] You see, my neighbors had an upholstery business, and I used to deliver papers to them. One day, they asked me if I wanted to go to work for them, so I started out as an apprentice, and then I eventually became an upholsterer. I had always liked to work with wood, and this gave me the chance to do that. I worked on some really crazy-looking chairs. I did that until I was about 17. Since I had started playing in night clubs when I was 16, I’d always made a decent living from both the music and my day job. Right after high school, I started doing roofing, which I ended up doing for six years. I even became a supervisor.
TS: It must have been difficult having a strenuous day job, as well as playing just about every night.
TT: Well when I turned 17, I decided that I wanted to move out. I wanted to see the world—spread my wings. I never stopped playing gigs. I just treated roofing or any other job as a hobby, and treated music as a business. That kept my head straight, so that working a day job didn’t get me down. Working helped me get the money for a car, which in turn, gave me the transportation to get around to gigs. It also gave me the chance to afford better equipment. I also had the opportunity to play the kind of music that I wanted to play, which sometimes didn’t pay that well. There were times when I was playing jazz clubs for $25 a night, and you can’t live off $25 a night and free drinks. [laughs] But I learned a lot from those bands, and I enjoyed it.
I also did a little bit of teaching—for about a year. I had studied with Joe Morello. In fact, I repaired his studio roof as payment for some lessons. When I studied with Joe for a couple of months, I remember that he was called to go out on the road. So when I was teaching—I had about six students at the time—I found it hard when I had to go out on the road. I didn’t think it was fair to the students, because it was hard on me when I was studying with Joe and he had to leave.
Kids would come in for a class, and the first thing they’d say to me would be something like, “How does Alex Van Halen play this riff?” I figured that the best way to command their respect would be to get their attention, so I’d show them how to do the riff. From then on, I’d have “open ears” from them, and they’d think, “Well, this guy’s cool. He can do it.” Then I’d open them up to different styles. I’d let them know that heavy metal was not the only music in town. Like I said, listening and playing different kinds of music is definitely going to affect the way you play. Even if you do play, say, heavy metal, you’ll begin to throw in an extra flair here or there, which will set you apart from the basic heavy metal drummer. Some kids grow up wanting to be nothing but heavy metal drummers, and that’s okay. But if they broaden their musical horizons, they’ll find that there are a lot of amazing avenues of music that they can find useful, and that there are many more rhythms available to them than just the standard metal stock riffs. There are a lot of stock riffs out there and a lot of stock drum solos.
For instance, when Ginger Baker came on the scene, a lot of drummers—and you can’t blame them—copied Baker’s style. He was very innovative at the time. Cream was a huge band, and because of Baker, the double bass was brought to the forefront quite a bit. Eventually, people began to realize that Louis Bellson had been using multiple bass drums for years, playing the single-note riff with the bass drum, weaving in and out. And even today, audiences still love that.
Now I prefer to play some off-times in between that, and even if I do jump into that, I’ll jump in and then move out of it. I like to weave time signatures and feelings into my solo, instead of build- ing it up so that it’s obvious where I’m going with it. I go for the element of surprise in a solo without losing the spirit of the song or the attention of the audience. That’s where versatility really helps you and would be helpful to kids coming up.
TS: So spontaneity seems to be the key to your soloing.
TT: Definitely, because when you don’t have it worked out ahead of time, you have to totally rely on your creative instincts. It’s sort of dangerous, too, because you run the risk that it just might end up being a lousy solo. However, you also might hear the tape of it later on and say, “I can’t believe I did that,” because it turns out to be great.
TS: You just randomly throw in riffs that you think might work?
TT: There are always little tricks in the back of your head, and when they cross your mind, you jump on them and stick them in there. I like musical solos. I also like to make a solo a song in a segue. You start out with a song, create a solo, and bring that into another song. The whole thing becomes a total musical segue, and the music hasn’t stopped for three songs, the second “song” being your solo.
Some nights, I’ll start out with a Latin beat, which is something kids are not used to hearing at a rock show. It’s a different little twist. You should always come out of your solo in a semi-regular way, so that the band knows where you’re at. Overall, I think that, when it’s your time to solo, you go for it. Just try not to solo in between songs on your own. [laughs] Don’t overplay, but when there is a little part in a song that’s yours, go for it.
TS: You spoke earlier about playing jazz on the club circuit several years ago. How involved were you with jazz music?
TT: I played jazz heavily for two years. It’s hard, hard work. You work a lot, and when you make a commitment to it, you work constantly. When you’re working with jazz artists, you do a lot of records, too. You have to keep pumping with jazz. A rock band will do about one record a year, but a jazz artist will do between two and three records a year, as well as being involved in projects with other people. You really have to stick with it and be serious about the commitment. It doesn’t offer the mega-bucks that rock ‘n’ roll does, but the experience is invaluable.
At one point, I had this little jazz combo, and our keyboard player’s uncle was Joe Pass. One night when we were playing at a club, we saw this head sticking out of the doorway, just watching us. The head belonged to Joe, who later sat down, plugged in, and played with us for almost an hour. I tell you, that was like a year’s worth of music lessons. With that caliber of a musician playing with you, it gives you ideas. It opens up a whole new spectrum to you because, well, there’s the saying: “You’re as good as the band you’re playing with,” and the better the musicians are that you’re playing with, the more you will learn. I had always played with guys who were older than I was, even when I was 15 or 16 years old, and man, I was like a sponge. I still am. Every band I played with gave me a new incentive to go into a totally different direction than the one before it.
TS: Frankie & The Knockouts enjoyed some success when the group was together a few years ago. How did you become involved with that group?
TT: I was asked to audition for the Knockouts through a recommendation, and the day I went down there, there were a ton of drummers. I just sat down and played. I broke the snare and the hi-hat in the process—just tore them up. Afterwards I said, “Well, thanks guys,” and left. Two days later, Frankie called me and said, “Are you ready to go to Florida? We need you down there in a week and a half.” Since I was heavily involved with studio work at the time, I had previous commitments that I had to take care of first. I’ve always believed that, when I make a commitment to anything, I should see it through, and I always finish what I started out to do. That’s really important to me. When I got that offer, those were the days when I usually worked sessions from 8:00 A.M. until 8:00 P.M., running all over town with a trap case. Eventually, I left all that to go on the road with Frankie. The band stayed together for about two and a half years. We definitely had a strong R&B flavor. We even had two keyboard players. I brought in our guitar player—Bobby Messano—who I’d done commercials, sessions, and demos with. We had almost become a “package deal,” where both of us would be called for the same jobs together. I got to return some of the favors that he’d done for me when I asked him to join the Knockouts. Most of the other guys in the band were from Jersey, which is a great breeding ground for musicians. The club scene there is so strong.
After our third record, the band broke up, because we were having problems with our new record label. We had just come off a strong tour opening for Toto, and we had been signed to a new label, but there were just too many differences between the band and the label. It was right around that time when Jon Bon Jovi called me and asked me to join his band.
TS: Bon Jovi hadn’t been signed at that point, right?
TT: No. Jon hadn’t gotten a deal yet.
TS: What persuaded you to take the plunge, then?
TT: Actually, it was Alec, our bass player. He had been in the band that I played my first gig with—Cold Sweat. He had called me up and said, “Come down and check it out,” so I did. Since the Knockouts were over, I decided to give this a shot, because at the very least, it was a chance to play.
The band started to click together pretty quickly. We started doing showcases together around the City. Then, we played with Eddie Money, following him around in our station wagon. We finally got a deal. It came down to two record companies wanting to sign us, but we ended up going with PolyGram.
TS: I remember first hearing about Bon Jovi back in the summer of ’83 when the band won a New York radio contest.
TT: Jon had recorded a demo of “Runaway,” which had been played for me and was what initially intrigued me before I joined the band. Not only did the rest of the songs sound good to me, but Jon also had some great guys playing with him. That original demo, which was put together about nine months before Jon and I met, won the WAPP-FM contest. The radio station put “Runaway” on a compilation album with the other winning bands, and sent it around to radio stations all over the country. That generated a lot of interest, and it made record companies check it out. About two months after we were signed, we played the Garden, opening for ZZ Top. We went in there with our baby equipment. It was a joke, but that’s how we started.
TS: The band spent nine months in ’84 and ten months in ’85 out on the road. Considering your background, has playing a similar format every night for months at a stretch directly affected your playing in any way?
TT: The first thing that I’ve noticed, since we had to do without soundchecks being the supporting band, is that I don’t really get the time I’d like to have to fiddle around with my drumset. Also, you’re only allotted a limited time on stage, and you don’t really get to flex those muscles in another direction drumming-wise, so you do get stale.
I remember there were a few times on this tour when I rented a studio, put a drumset in the middle of it, went in there for six hours, and just played for myself. I just went in to loosen up the muscles and to try out some new things. I also try to jam whenever I can when I’m on the road. After a show, I’ll go out and find a club to play in just for some kind of change. But being on the road can make you stale. That’s why, when I get off the road, I try to play in a different element. For me, that’s the hardest thing to tolerate on the road, you know, beyond being away from my family. Being away speaks for itself. It’s a hard life. But as far as chops go, it’s a battle to keep them because there’s really no time.
For the shows themselves, I keep things fresh by not getting worked up until about half an hour before the lights go down. I’ll warm up, but not extensively. I’ll do slow hits, one at a time in slow motion, to stretch the muscles. When the lights go down, the adrenaline starts to pump, and I’m thinking that there are drummers out there, musicians, fans—people who love music and people who live it.
TS: How do you keep in such good shape? You seem pretty fit for someone who’s on the road so much.
TT: I work on my abdominal muscles. Almost every drummer has a lower-back problem due to posture, and sit-ups are the worst things to do, because not only are they bad for your back, but they only work 30% of your abs.
I do abdominal exercises from a course called Abs For Life, which is for weight lifters and martial artists. It breaks down every muscle in your abdomen, so you work each muscle separately. This method really works to strengthen the muscles that support the lower back. Drummers should work out their stomach muscles, because when they’re playing, they’re using all their limbs with the exception of the stomach muscles. So if they work on their abs correctly, they’re going to help keep some of those lower-back pains away.
Basically, it’s pretty simple stuff: laying on your back placing both hands under your pelvis—sit on your hands—you lift your head forward and do leg raises from six to ten inches. Do about 20 repetitions of these, stop, and then do 20 more. That totally works your abdomen. I do these for six minutes a day, three times a week. You’ll feel a difference within two months, and you’ll have a stomach that’s as hard as a rock. This will help you later on, because after sitting on a drum stool for years, back pains are almost inevitable.
A lot of people don’t stress the fact that with drumming there are physical ailments involved, and some can be serious. Posture was always a problem for me. I was always slouching over the drums, smoking a cigarette, but I’m getting a little better now. I’m more aware that taking care of myself is the key to longevity. I mean, you can’t play drums out of a hospital bed.
TS: Getting back to Bon Jovi, does the band function democratically in the sense that everyone contributes to the shaping of the music?
TT: We all write in this band, and our next album will be even more of a band effort. On the first record, I worked on the bridge on “She Don’t Know Me,” and on 7800° Fahrenheit, I contributed parts to “Only Lonely,” and I wrote the title, added some melodies, and contributed some of the verses to “Secret Dreams.” By the way, that song started out as a jam. Richie Sambora and I were in the studio one day. I started playing, he came in on guitar, and we just laid it down. Another thing I’m heavy into is arranging, as well as being melody oriented. I try to do things that will make a bridge or a chorus stand out.
TS: On “(I Don’t Wanna Fall) Into The Fire” from 7800° Fahrenheit, it sounds like you layered some African-type rhythms down.
TT: The song started out like a war dance, so as I approached it, I played it in that kind of rhythm. We changed the song around, got a pulse happening, and layered the toms over that pulse. If anything, that’s an influence from Phil Collins. That tune gave us the chance to get that rawness—that tribal feeling. We started out in 3/4 in there and went to 4/4.
TS: You and Richie Sambora [guitar] play off each other’s accents really well. In fact, on a track like “Shot Through The Heart” from Bon Jovi, you work together so tightly that it’s hard to distinguish who’s following who.
TT: Actually, we’re following each other. [smiles] We’re trading off. I call that the “warm air.” It’s something that happens when you don’t have to look at the other musician. I feel where he’s going. I pick up on that and play with him. I elaborate on it. Then he’ll catch the other side of it and take it out from there. That’s the beauty of working with someone you can lock in with. That’s also why you need the “big ears” to listen to what’s going on. I also try to tap into the creative sources. I’m big on creativity. Of course, keeping good time is the most important thing, and good timing is what keeps the band together.
TS: Have you ever noticed that there seems to be a special relationship between drummers and singers—I’m referring to a live situation—where both seem to rely on each other’s presence, cues, and hand signals?
TT: I noticed that myself, and maybe it’s because choreography has something to do with it. When singers bring down their hands, you’ve got to watch them and stop with them, just like James Brown would make those fast cuts. As I’m playing, I’m watching Jon like a hawk; when he dives off the top of a truss rod, by the time he hits the ground, I’m going to hit and start a rhythm. You have to do your crescendos with the vocals, too, and when it comes to doing a passage into a chorus, you have to play it so that the chorus is brought out. Basically, you’re interweaving your playing with the vocalist to enhance the singing.
TS: We were talking about working in the studio a minute ago. Are there any little special effects that you implement to get the optimum sounds that you want to create?
TT: As far as electronics go, in the studio I sometimes like to beef up my sounds by MIDI-ing and triggering the LinnDrum or Simmons with an acoustic drum. I combine the two together to get sort of a different twist. This can be helpful when you’re working in a small studio and you’re trying to get the ambient sound of a big room for your drums. By combining the acoustics and the electronics, it helps to make the drums in a smaller room sound better.
I’ve always been into Shelly Manne, who was a great drummer, because he had an amazing way with sounds. Listening to old records, I learned how to do the trick where you wet your finger and rub it over a head like the conga players do to get a sound that’s similar to an electric drum. On records, I also like to use mic’ stands with keys taped to them or a stand-up ashtray for effects.
TS: How did you ever come up with the idea to use an ashtray to produce an effect?
TT: Usually, there’s an ashtray laying around the studio. I hit it once, and it went “crash.” It sounded great, so I used it on a record where the group I was in did a rendition of the Beatles’ “She’s A Woman.” I used a combination of tom-toms, a cowbell, and the ashtray. It was great. Together they sounded like a real effect. On the 7800° album, I used a metal ashtray.
TS: You didn’t sample the sound through a sampling machine? You just hit the ashtray and it went straight through the sound board that way?
TT: I didn’t sample it. I had it next to me, put a mic’ close by, and just hit it. In fact, I used it on “Tokyo Road.” You see, I love doing stuff like that, and by acquiring more electronic equipment, I can program those kinds of sounds and use them whenever I want to.
I still have my trap cases full of junk. People look into them and ask, “What’s that?” I love using just about anything to get sounds.
TS: Like the pliers.
TT: [laughs] I guess that’s where it stems from. I think everything is a potential instrument, too. Just looking around this room, I can see a lot of objects that I could get some great sounds out of.
TS: So you appreciate sounds themselves?
TT: I love sounds. That’s why sampling is great. It allows you to store the sounds that you want to use. But I’ll probably always use my case of junk. Some people use wheels, brake drums, and a lot of percussion for sound effects. I also like to use wind chimes and wind machines, which I make myself.
TS: What about your thoughts on the electronic aspects of drumming?
TT: It’s obvious that electronic instruments are here to stay. When electronic drums first came in, I wasn’t sure if they were going to fit in, but they’ve managed to fit in well, and they’ve added a completely new texture. I find that a lot of drummers are starting to do sessions with electric drumsets. The drummers are finally starting to catch up with the technology. I remember not too long ago when it was the keyboard players who had to spend ten grand every so often on new equipment to keep up with the technology, so that they could play sessions. Now drummers are also expected to stay current with the technology. You can’t fight it anymore. This is the age of the computer, and you have to keep up with it.
TS: Do you have a natural affinity for working with electronics?
TT: You know, I’m beginning to get better at it. I’m catching up to it all. I’m probably one of the less knowledgeable drummers on this subject, because whenever I did use electronics in the studio, I’d have to hire somebody to come in with the equipment. Now I’m acquiring my own set of electronic gizmos to play with.
TS: Speaking of equipment, could you please give a detailed description of the most current kit that you’ve been using on tour?
TT: I use a Pearl kit with two 22″ bass drums; two rack toms: 12″ and 13″; 16″ and 18″ floor toms; and a 14″ brass-shell floating snare. As far as cymbals go, I have two China Types—an 18″ and a 20″, an 18″ medium crash, two 20″ crashes, a 16″ crash, a 7″ splash, and a 22″ heavy ride—all Paiste.
With equipment, I’ve found that hardware and a good shell are just about everything. I endorse Pearl hardware because I believe in the product, and since I beat the hell out of my drums, I need hardware that will withstand the abuse, which the Pearl hardware does. It also holds up to the roadies and the union people who handle it.
I like using 22″ bass drums, because I think you can get any type of sound you want out of that size drum. You don’t have to go any bigger because you’re just dispersing more air, and it’s not going to give you a much deeper tone. Size only makes a difference when you’re playing acoustically, but since mic’s are always used these days, why not get the maximum effect out of a smaller drum and utilize the air ratio in there?
My equipment has gone through a lot of changes since I started out. When I bought my first kit back in the early days, it was a huge, 1969 Ludwig set, and I was in my glory. That was during the heyday of Ginger Baker, and it was cool to use a million drums. I used that set for a lot of different things, but at some point, I started to sort of trim off a lot of drums. I’ve acquired a lot of drumsets over the years. I’ve got about nine right now, and my basement looks like a drum junkyard. I went from using a double-bass kit to a single, and then back again. I had switched to a single bass drum setup when I started playing a lot of jazz, and found that I could do a lot with just one bass drum, plus I had wanted to work with the hi-hat and bass drum interaction.
I switched back to double bass for live gigs this year, because I wanted to have a little extra something for fills. I try to work out some interesting patterns, and I like mixing things around. Let’s say you’ve got a pattern that’s written for the left hand and the right foot. I’d take that pattern and reverse it, so that the left hand would play the right foot’s part and vice versa. Just mix and match limbs. That’s something that Gary Chester teaches. What you’re doing with that is looking at a piece of music in a totally different manner, and you can look at that piece in a variety of ways, depending on which limbs you want to switch. So now you’ve got to keep time, read, and also reverse your pattern around, which can really help to improve your independence.
TS: How do you go about miking your kit?
TT: For live shows it’s pretty basic: I’m using double-headed drums and Sennheiser 421’s. I use them on all the toms, too. I use a Shure 57on the snare, both top and bottom. In the studio, my mic’ setup is pretty similar to the live one, except I may be using single heads—depending on the type of track I’m doing—and in the studio, I go for more intensity from my drums. Sometimes I’ll put another bass drum in front of my usual bass drum, with both open ends facing each other and a mic’ inside of each drum so that the sound reverberates. It gives a special ambience to the sound.
TS: I noticed on the track “Breakout” [from Bon Jovi] that during the bridge, your tom-toms are tuned very deep. They could mistakenly be distinguished as bass drums.
TT: On that track, I tuned the toms really low. We had cut that LP at the Power Station where the rooms are great for getting a big drum sound, so I was able to achieve the effects I wanted.
Instead of adding a lot of synthetic sounds from the mixing boards, I try to get my sounds by tuning the drums themselves to the desired effect. If the drum sound is great to begin with when it goes onto the tape, then your result will be a strong basic track that will also sound great. You can always spice it up later with synthetics, but the natural sound should be good to begin with. I’ve seen a lot of engineers go in and completely change a drum sound by synthetic means, because they couldn’t make the drum sound good in the room itself. That’s twice the work, and you’re also not really getting the full spectrum or the full benefits from that drum.
You also shouldn’t go to an extreme with tuning. Sometimes you can tune the drums so far away from the dominant note in the song or the main chorus line that you end up being out of tune with that chorus line, throwing the whole song off key.
TS: So how do you tune with consideration to that?
TT: Well, it comes down to rehearsing and pre-production. I bring my own tape machine into our pre-productions to listen to what I’m doing and to get the tone down. I’ll listen to the lead vocal on the lead music line. For a song like “She Don’t Know Me,” I played notes that matched the lead vocal notes. It enhances the sound.
TS: In respect to live tuning, do you have the assistance of a drum roadie?
TT: I’ve got an excellent guy by the name of Jeff Tarbell. He used to work with Bobby Rondinelli, and he’s also Chuck Burgi’s roadie. Like I said, since we don’t get soundchecks when we’re touring, I may tweak my heads during the set a little bit—give the lugs a little turn here and there.
Jeff studied me for about two weeks in the beginning, so he knows the way I tune. I just match each lug directly across from the one I’m working on, going all the way around. In the studio, I’ll concentrate on just one lug, because just a little turn to the left or right will make a noticeable difference inside the room. Live, you’re working with a lot of monitor sounds, so you tune to the monitors. If there’s a certain feedback you’re hearing, you try to tune it out. If you can’t get it out of the equalizer underneath the board, you have to do it manually, but Jeffs really good at that, too.
In the studio I tune all my own drums, and when I have the chance, I’ll tune them before a show, but Jeffs a great help because I often have to rely on him since we don’t get soundchecks. Working practically every day, playing just about every night for ten months, you need somebody on your side like Jeff who has the time to get everything right. I can just walk on stage, and I know my kit will be perfect.
Another thing to stress is that tuning is really important when playing sessions. You’re running into the studio, and you usually have between 20 minutes and a half an hour to do your rhythm track and to get it right. Time is money. The engineer and the person who’s paying for the session don’t have time to wait around. So if you go in there ahead of time and tune your drums properly, you can knock off the session quickly, and you’re happy, the engineer’s happy—everybody’s happy. Proper tuning, to some drummers, is as crucial as good timekeeping. There are also a lot of drummers who don’t really stress the importance of tuning.
TS: Considering that your background consists of working in a variety of areas, do you see yourself playing in Bon Jovi well into the future? Does a permanent situation offer you the challenges you require?
TT: I see Bon Jovi getting bigger in the future. I definitely see a lot of possibilities for this band. As far as I’m concerned, there’s a challenge in playing period, and if this band becomes even more successful, it’s not going to hurt me in any way. In Bon Jovi, I’m playing with a strong amount of intensity. I grab those drums and squeeze every last drop out of them—every sound. And playing to a huge audience every night presents a real challenge.
To me, all music is relevant. If I can walk away from a gig or from doing an album feeling satisfied about it, whether the music is obscure or internationally known—as long as I think it’s a good piece of music—then I’m happy.