Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA — It’s now another new year.
I can’t believe it… but it’s January of 1994.
Hard to believe that a decade earlier, I had never even been to a rock concert yet.
But that all changed in February of 1984 when I saw Kiss on their “Lick It Up” tour.
Then a few weeks later I went to another concert, this time it was to see Ozzy Osbourne promoting his “Bark At The Moon” release.
That night the opening band was some group from Hollywood California called Motley Crue.
I had never heard of them until that day.
I remember on the bus ride down to Madison, that some guys were looking at their “Shout At The Devil” gate-fold album.
There was a lot of “They are ripping off Kiss” kind of comments.
Of course, at the time I had next to no clue what anyone was talking about, who the members were or what their songs were called.
I only put together a lot of this after that night’s concert.
My memory tells me, that the ticket was $11.00 or maybe $12.00, and the local Mad Hatter record store in Oshkosh had a deal, if you paid an extra $3.00, you could ride the bus to the show.
They rented and organized a school-bus and driver, to take people to and from area rock concerts.
Madison is just shy of 90 miles from my home-town or about an hour and a half on the road.
It was a general admission show at the Dane County Colosseum (arena).
When we arrived everyone upon entering bolted towards the main floor and tried to get as close to the stage as they could.
Well, they were leading the way, I was just following.
I do remember before the show, everyone was chanting… Mot, Ley, Crue, Mot, Ley, Crue, Mot, Ley, Crue, so I yelled along with them.
Even though I had no clue what a Motley Crue was.
After a while the lights suddenly went out and the place just roared.
I had never heard or experienced anything like it… ever.
The P.A. system blasted the spoken word narration of “In the Beginning.”
The rumbling of those speakers hitting my chest was strong and the smell of the fog coming off the stage filled my nose.
The very first thing I saw was a red guitar and a possessed looking demon-like guy snarling at us from above.
He looked crazy… like a wild maniac.
Everyone was reaching up with their hands to touch him as I just kind of stared, but… I was filled with curiosity.
Later I would learn that wasn’t a guitar, but a red (Hammer) bass, and that guy was named Nikki Sixx.
Shortly after the music started a bleach blond beach looking dude ran out shirtless and the level of excitement went from 10 to 100 as the entire place screamed even louder.
Everyone was now yelling, Shout, Shout, Shout... so, I followed and yelled Shout, Shout, Shout along with everyone else.
I had no clue who Motley Crue was, who Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Mick Mars or Vince Neil were either.
But regardless of my lack of knowledge, I continued to follow the crowd.
Shout, Shout, Shout…
I had very little knowledge of anything heavy metal, hard rock or what any of this was beyond hearing rock music on local radio.
To be honest, if someone had asked me who David Lee Roth or Angus Young was, I wouldn’t have been able to pick either from a 3 person police lineup.
But that was all going to change and fast, very fast.
Over the next 45 minutes Motley Crue played 8 songs and changed my life forever.
I vividly recall the blond guy talking about “eating pussy tonight” and a bunch of other F-bombs followed.
For whatever reason, I was very impressed with him. Lol
“Who is ready to fuck tonight?” screamed the singer into the microphone.
I was beyond enamored with them in general, but more so him (the blond guy).
Along with all of what surrounded me.
The fans, the girls, young people dressed in leather and studs, and oh yea, more girls.
If I am being honest, it was really the roar of thousands of young people, as these 4 dudes stood on stage, that truly energized me.
They could have pissed in a jar, or buttered a piece of bread, and the entire place would have applauded or approved.
The tan blond guy would reach his hand to the crowd and every girl within 100 feet would be losing their mind.
For those who were lucky enough to touch his hand, it was like they had just touched Jesus.
The only thing I had ever seen similar, was watching Elvis on T.V. put a scarf around a middle-aged woman’s neck at his concerts.
Those women lost their minds too.
The power Motley Crue had over us was amazing, myself included.
I was just 1 person of that crowd of thousands who saw Motley Crue that night and little did I know on the bus-ride down that my world was never going to be the same after their show.
That Thursday night, was March 8th 1984… I had just turned 18 years old 6 days earlier and would barely graduate High School in 3 months time.
Now my life going forward would be saturated with MTV, going to concerts and reading Hit Parader, Circus and Kerrang magazines daily.
I was so obsessed with the music channel, I even drew a huge MTV logo on my bedroom wall in the basement.
In addition to working at various jobs my life became filled with rehearsing, writing, recording, booking shows, playing live and soaking up anything and everything related to Heavy Metal.
In a few year’s time my hair grew longer and I moved to Los Angeles to audition for a band as detailed in Tuff Diaries #1.
That band eventually got signed… and were featured on MTV and appeared in all of those same magazines I once considered my Bibles.
Throw in the tours, the buses, the gigs, countless girls, eating their pussies and yes, I was fucking any female who would let me.
If anyone has a complaint about my behavior, I blame Vince Neil. Ha!
Now it’s a full decade later…
… and the eighties, along with most of those experiences were all just a memory.
WHAT THE F#@K WAS THAT?
It was just another typical January day in Southern California.
While much of the country is covered in snow and people are hibernating in their homes, we’re soaking up sunshine and it’s 75 to 80 degrees daily.
The Holidays were over, and the New Year is underway.
The NFL playoffs are also set, and I am excited as the Green Bay Packers are in the post-season for the first time since 1983.
Their new hotshot quarterback Brett Favre is making a splash and people seem to think he’s going to be something special.
The Packers are the 6th seed (the last seeded playoff team) in the NFC and sneak into the post-season as a 9-7 Wildcard.
They play the first round, a Wildcard game on January 8th 1994 at Detroit (the 3rd seed), and the Packers win 28-24.
This was a huge deal, as the Packers last win, was exactly 11 years earlier on January 8th 1983.
And before that win, the last time the Packers were in the playoffs and won a game was back on December 24th 1972.
In my lifetime the Packers had only won 3 playoff games, 1 in 1968, 1 in 1972 and that one in 1983.
Now in 1994, they won their first round game and were onto the second round, something they hadn’t done since the fall of 1967, when I was just 1 year old.
To say this was a big deal is an understatement, especially since I grew up 53 miles from Lambeau Field and had been watching the Packers my entire life.
Now it’s the following weekend, and on Sunday January 16th, the Packers head to Dallas to play the Cowboys.
We lost, 27-17 and the Cowboys went onto repeat and win the Super Bowl.
That day sucked, and at some point after watching the Packers lose I went to bed.
Sleeping like a log and then it hit….
I awoke to the loudest, craziest and scariest thing that ever happened in my life.
The Northridge Earthquake!
It was 4:31AM (PST) and our house, my many roommates and Southern California in general were all given the alarm clock from hell.
The sound was like Satan was coming out of the floor riding on Nitro’s freight-train.
The feeling was one of no control, and everything was falling, moving, shaking, crashing and breaking.
It was also pitch black as all the power went out.
Inside my bedroom I was like a little Army man in a toy box being violently shaken every which way.
I had been in 1 other solid shaker and that was in the fall of 1987.
That was the Whittier Earthquake, on October 1st at 7:42 a.m..
That quake was a 5.9 in magnitude and was no joke.
When the Whittier Earthquake hit I was sleeping at Donna’s apartment (a stripper I had been banging) in Studio City, which is located on the far South East side of the San Fernando Valley.
But, that 1987 ride was nothing compared to the Northridge quake which was first thought to be around a 7.0 magnitude and eventually down-graded to a 6.7.
At first, upon waking up, I knew it was bad, and I remember shouting: “Hold on!”
I also had a 3 year old Dalmatian/Chow mix, named Orphan and she was in my room too.
Todd (Toy Staci) was in his room with my cousin Keith, Billy from Philly was in his room, the Canadian’s Alex and Aj were in a room, and I believe Jackie from Milwaukee and McGiver (another Canadian) were somewhere in the house as well.
After what seemed like an eternity, the shaking stopped and I started to hear car-alarms from the neighborhood.
I also heard the others in the hallway and they were talking amongst themselves.
My room was in the far South East corner of the house, and it was the master-bedroom, which had an attached bathroom.
I stood up, and could tell there were things everywhere on the floor, like broken picture frames, books, CDs and candles.
Since it was January, and just a bit chilly at night, I was probably sleeping in sweatpants.
By the time I stepped onto the floor, I immediately thought to be careful of broken glass, as I was barefoot.
After a minute or two, I was moving around and feeling for door handles and finally got hold of one.
As I opened that door and slowly walked in the dark, I soon felt a sink.
Damn it, I am in the bathroom.
All power was out, so reaching for a light-switch was useless yet my reaction was to reach for the light switch and turn it on.
And I did, but of course, no power.
I now back up, and start to slowly make my way through a floor full of drawers, lamps and other debris.
I find a second door handle, I slide the door open and slowly move forward, until I walk into a bunch of shirts on hangers.
Damn it, I am in my closet now.
Okay, my room has 3 doorways, and I am 0 for 2.
I now slide to my right, and again slowly move along and finally locate the next door handle.
I go to pull that door open but a baseball bat that I kept behind my door, had fallen and was wedged between the back of my dresser and the wall.
I reach down to lift the bat, and move the rest of what’s on the floor so I can get out of my room.
I now make it down the hallway and my roommates are in the living room and some others are outside.
Half of them are in their underwear and we’re all pretty freaked out.
“What the F#@K was that?” is all I remember hearing from everyone.
Of course we knew it was an earthquake, and some of us had been in California for a few years, so this was not our first.
However, this one was nothing like anything we had ever felt.
Not even close.
The house was a disaster, stuff everywhere, TV’s on the floor, dressers tipped over, dishes shattered and the fridge was in the middle of the kitchen several feet away from where it’s suppose to stand.
Also, our backyard looked like a lake.
Our pool had rocked so hard, back and forth, that it displaced about 1/3 of its many thousands of gallons of water all over our backyard and patio.
Todd had a battery operated radio and turned on 97.1 KLSX.
I recall hearing Riki Rachtman on air.
He had called into the station and he lived in the Valley too, closer to Hollywood and was telling the overnight early morning disc jockey what happened in the Valley.
I remember him saying he could see fires from his apartment balcony.
At that time Rachtman was a regular deejay at night as that station was a talk radio station that also had Howard Stern on in the mornings.
At some point the sun started to come up and we could see a lot more damage on our property and up n’ down our block.
In front of our house, on Strathern Street, the actual street had buckled.
The earth had pushed together and crested up, creating a mini mountain ridge of asphalt that looked like a little mini skateboard quarter pipe.
I recall saying to the guys: “This was gnarly, I wouldn’t doubt if the epicenter was under our house.”
Our address was 19558 Strathern Street in Reseda California 91335.
If you google the Northridge Earthquake, it will show you the epicenter, was technically in Reseda, not Northridge.
And the exact epicenter was at the corner of Ingomar and Reseda Boulevard.
That intersection is 1.5 miles from our home address.
Yes I googled it too.
Later that afternoon a few of the guys had walked down towards the Northridge Mall on Tampa, and saw a partially collapsed parking structure and the South Eastern corner of the mall itself was completely gone.
It was like 3 levels, and Bullock’s department store fallen into itself, almost like a house of cards.
You could see racks of clothes, shelves and merchandise just in a massive pile as the entire side of the building was missing.
Over the next days and weeks I saw countless buildings that were basically red-tagged and deemed unsafe to enter.
Entire multi-level apartment buildings were left with no exterior wall, as they had just fallen to the ground.
What was left was essentially like giant doll-houses.
Imagine the ones your little sister played with growing up, and you could see inside of people’s apartments, living rooms, bedroom and more.
Also, several freeways and overpasses completed collapsed as well.
In the end, over 50 people died and more than 9,000 people were injured.
Had this happened during the day, or rush hour, the casualties would have sky-rocketed.
When all was said and done, everyone in the house collected some money from F.E.M.A. to replace our broken, lost or destroyed possessions.
I have no shame in admitting, that when the after-shocks hit, I was scared for real.
I also recall that at night, going to bed was a very eerie feeling.
After a few night’s of unrest in my head, I actually went and stayed with a girl I had dated over the years named Tamer.
She and her Mother lived south of Hollywood in what is considered the Miracle Mile area.
Her neighborhood was roughly 22 miles from our door in Reseda, but it was a more stable ground than the San Fernando Valley.
The after-shocks that were still hitting the Valley were much more intense than over the hill and every time one hit, we all would jump up and run outside.
It’s nearly 30 years later, but some of those memories are vivid as the day they happened.
I was a 27 year old man, but inside I was legitimately terrified.
WE NEED A NEW BASSIST, AGAIN?
As you recall in the Tuff Diaries #19, our bassist Danny Wilder left the group at the end of 1993.
Danny had joined in the spring of 1992 as the replacement for Todd “Chase” Chaisson.
Danny also had another project he was working on with Emi Canyon called Alice in Thunderland.
Canyon was 1 of the Nasty Habits back-up singers from the Motley Crue “Girls, Girls, Girls” tour and videos.
She was also in another project at some point called She-Rok around 1989 but that did not include Wilder.
Ironically, that She-Rok was also in Heavy Metal Thunder & Mud with us and Young Gunns (aka WildSide) which I talked about in Tuff Diaries #10.
We loved Danny, and had known him even years before joining Tuff but he obviously realized this might be a sinking ship and bailed.
He kind of thought their Alice in Thunderland project was going to do something… well, something bigger than Tuff, so he left after our 1993 tour ended.
As a kid, my Mom would always say: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
This in my eyes was the case with Danny.
After playing locally in bands like Paradise, he was thrilled to join Tuff.
He wanted this gig so bad, but once in the band, he may have realized just that… that the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.
Sure, Tuff was much bigger than Paradise, and we could go on tour across the U.S., get some radio play, and so on.
But, fact is Tuff was nowhere near the level of that green grass that Danny likely saw before joining the group.
Had we been platinum, and playing to 3-5,000 people a night, I would like to think, that he would have never left.
But he did… so, we need a new bassist.
I don’t recall thinking too hard or too long about making a decision, but at some point Jorge and I knew we’d have to address replacing our bassist for the 2nd time in 2 years.
And much-like when Chase quit, it was at the end of a tour in December.
Danny did the same leaving after the year came to an end.
However with Danny, we knew he was going to leave, while with Chase that wasn’t really decided until the final show and subsequent weeks after we got home.
So for what it’s worth, there was no rush, we had just finished another year, another long U.S. club tour and now that we were home, we had the Holidays, New Year and plenty of time to figure out what we would do next.
Ironically at some point in early 1994, a long-time friend named Jamie Fonte had stopped by the house in Reseda.
I hadn’t seen Jamie in a while, I am guessing about 2 years, and one day upon returning home from work he was sitting on the edge of our pool smoking a cigarette talking to Jackie.
Jackie and Jim-Bob (Jamie’s nickname) were BFF’s from Milwaukee going way back.
I first met these 2 at a concert in late 1984 or early 1985.
I wanna say it may have been Ratt, and what started as me trying to rap to this gorgeous girl soon turned into Jackie asking me: “What’s up?”
It was his girlfriend (Cindy) who I was focused on, but I soon realized that this blond haired skinny rocker guy was more focused on me.
I don’t recall exactly what was said, but Jackie probably told me: “That’s my chick bro” or something along those lines.
We quickly squashed what started off as an uncomfortable situation and it turned into me giving them a flyer and telling them to come see my band play.
That band was X-iter, and that gig was sometime between spring and summer of 1985.
Jackie and Jim-Bob did drive up from Milwaukee to see us at the “A.V. Recreational Center” on Main Street in downtown Oshkosh and we all became fast friends.
These 2 knuckleheads and I, along with my group of buddies from N.E. Wisconsin all started hanging around each other more and more.
We’d see each other at concerts, and I would run into them when I went to various club shows in Milwaukee to see local bands like Moxy Roxx, Firing Squad, Realm and Raven Bitch.
Along the way I met all kinds of guys from different bands or from their scene like; Mark ‘Foolio’ Stadler, ‘Bad’ Chad, Tony Braemer among others.
But it was Jackie and Jamie who I cemented a true friendship with.
Fast forward to the fall of 1987…
And yes, I know it’s already 1994, but I am trying to give you all some perspective, on how these 2 fit into the equation.
I was already in Tuff for a few months, and living in Van Nuys with the band when Jim-Bob (Jamie) got in touch with me and said he was in California with another musician buddy (John Corn) from Milwaukee.
They took a Greyhound bus to L.A. and were literally staying in Venice Beach and sleeping on the sand.
Jamie even had a bass with him, and didn’t want to carry it around all day, so he literally buried it in the sand, on the beach so it wouldn’t get stolen.
Next thing I know, they come over to the Valley and hang at our band apartment.
Soon one night turned into two, turned into one week, and then a month.
Eventually Corn went back to Milwaukee, but Jim-Bob stuck around.
At some point, I think Jim-Bob, whose real name is James, decided that calling himself Jamie, might be cooler than Jim-Bob.
I mean, this was 1987, and calling yourself Jim-Bob, probably wasn’t going to work in Hollywood.
But to everyone in Milwaukee, especially Jackie, he will always be Jim-Bob.
And for the record, Jackie, well, that’s not his real name either.
Jackie Suicide, is really Jerry White… well, that was his other stage name when I first tried to pick-up on his beautiful girlfriend.
Gerald Ergeson does not sound like a rocker.
So, Gerald became Jerry, and Jerry at some point became Jackie, and Ergeson became White, which became Suicide and then Suicide became Taylor.
You lost yet?
James also became Jim-Bob and then Jamie.
These 2 guys… you have no idea.
Unless you were from Milwaukee, well… then you know.
These 2 were inseparable for years and grew up together being best friends, drinking buddies, party pals and that included drama and fighting too.
Speaking of fighting…
Yeah… I had my bouts with these 2 in the way of highs and lows as well.
Back to 1994…
So, it’s now early 1994 and Jamie was visiting Jackie at the house in Reseda.
Gee, I can’t even imagine, but I wanna say we had like close to 10 people living there.
It was a 4-bedroom house, 2 bathrooms and a killer backyard pool.
I had my own bedroom and private bathroom, while the other 3 bedrooms mostly had 2 or 3 guys in each.
One room had a triple-level bunk-bed that the guys built themselves and the Sun Room that served as the 4th bedroom, also had a bunk-bed.
Aside from myself, my cousin Keith was living at the Reseda house, Jorge (part of the time), Jimi our drummer, Billy from Philly, Todd (Toy Staci from The Zeros), Jackie Suicide, McGiver (Michael from Canada), Alex (also from Canada) and an occasional Sunset Strip drifter or 3 would be in the living room sprawled out on the floor.
What’s crazy is, the house had just recently been down-sized before the earthquake from close to 15 people living there.
A few months earlier we also had Mikey Allen and Roger Ramjett from Detroit however Roger left after a few weeks in California, but not before his drum-set was stolen by some guy he rehearsed with one time.
Upon Roger going back to Michigan, Mark Krueger (another drummer) arrived and decided to dye his hair Neon Green and soon changed his name to Booger.
During that same time period, 2 other glam castaways showed up.
They were both bleach blonde who came to Hollywood to hang on Sunset Strip, and somehow ended up at our house and didn’t leave… at least not right away.
There was Sandy Braz (from St. Louis) and his side-kick Blaine (not his real name) from Cleveland who looked like the 3rd Nelson brother.
Sandy’s real name was Jordan who loved the movie Grease, so when he picked his stage name, it was Sandy who was played by Olivia Newton-John.
The Glam Room as we called it at the Reseda house, was at full-capacity with 5 people in that room alone.
Toy Staci (Todd from The Zeros), Sandy Bras (Jordan), Mikey Allen (from Detroit), Blaine (Nelson triplet from Ohio) and Booger (Mark from Detroit) in a bedroom that was about 8′ x 12′.
That room was full of dirty glam clothes, make-up and a wall covered with posters and flyers ranging from Poison to Vixen to Glamour Punks.
None of them had anything substantial in the way of musical talent, but the Glam dreams were well in-tact… at least for a short period.
Out with the old, in with some new…
So Jamie is hanging out with his pink hair and was likely wearing Doc Martin boots and cut-off sweat pant with no underwear.
That is Jamie.
If memory serves me, I had not seen Jamie or hung out with him in a while.
Probably about 2 years.
The reason why?
Because I threw a shop-vac at his head in our apartment in North Hollywood back in 1992.
That’s right, a full size vacuum cleaner, complete with KNAC stickers on the side.
I had just come home from a long day at work, on the trucks at the moving company.
The kitchen was piled high with dishes, the place a mess, and Jamie was sitting on the couch, smoking, drinking a AM/PM Big Gulp and watching Jerry Springer.
He had likely just woke up, and probably hadn’t showered that day, or possibly that week either.
I went into the bathroom and all the toilet paper was gone, just empty cardboard rolls on the floor.
I then walked into the kitchen, and it looked like every dish, every pot and every pan had been used.
They were stacked up two-feet high and everything was filthy.
I was livid.
In a nutshell, I went full Axl Rose.
I am yelling at everyone in the apartment, and most of my venom was directed Jamie.
While I can say that I absolutely loved this guy, I had it.
In the middle of my tirade, I picked up the vaccuumn cleaner and hurled it across the living room right at Jamie as he sat on the couch.
He ducked and it bounced off the wall as I stormed down the hallway back to my bedroom.
This apartment had 4 bedrooms, my girlfriend (Annie) and I in 1 room, Fred (Freddy B) was in his room, Todd (Toy Staci) was in the split-level back bedroom with Dennis ‘Rat’ Dudek (Michael Lean’s drum tech) and Jackie Suicide lived there too.
Fun Fact: Ronnie James Dio actually nicknamed Dennis. Ronnie called him Rat when he worked on a Dio tour in the late 1980’s.
Jackie actually had a little area in what would be considered the dining room, off the kitchen and adjacent to the living room.
Jackie, although a rocker, wearing hair-spray, boots, belts, and buckles, he was very tidy, much more-so than most of the guys.
His area was all organized, everything folded, his bed was made, etc..
Jamie, well let me state again, I love the guy but… he was full-on Pig Pen.
We could have lined the couch in used McDonald’s wrappers and empty soda cans, and he probably wouldn’t have noticed.
I am pretty sure I F-bomb’d him and everyone else too but Jamie got the brunt of it.
Not making excuses, but this was about the time we had got dropped from our label, my girlfriend and I were breaking up, and I was back to working on a moving truck daily.
Just 6 monhts earlier, Tuff was on Atlantic Records, #3 on Dial Mtv, on tour in a bus and we were living the dream.
I was pretty angry, and I admit it… at times I was out of line.
But hey, I was a hot-headed 20-something, still finding my way in life and I snapped.
That day I took my anger out on Jamie and I think that night, he left to stay with his friend (Krysten) in Downey.
I didn’t see Jamie for a long while after.
And while there was never any hate, I was definitely mad as hell.
Now it’s early 1994, and he is sitting in my pool after I get home from a long day at work, at the moving company.
This time he wasn’t on the couch, but in the pool.
Lucky for him there was no vacuum around. Ha!
I am now in the backyard shooting the shit with my 2 besties from Milwaukee and catching up.
The screaming, yelling and the thrown vacuum is all in the past.
I don’t recall how it came about, but Jamie Fonte was picked and became our new bassist in early 1994.
Now the time has come to release the previously recorded Atlantic follow-up demos, and Jamie would be listed as bassist on the release.
However, Jamie didn’t play on the “Fist First” recording, Robbie Crane played on most of it.
For those who recall, Jamie was mentioned previously as he too like Crane, had also worked for Tuff as a roadie on a few tours.
Most notable, Jamie was Jorge’s guitar tech on the Lita Ford tour in November and December of 1991.
Jamie was also in the Milwaukee based band Animal where he played bass and a project called Lipstick & Leather where he played drums.
He also played bass in a band that became popular on the Sunset Strip called Syanide Kick not to be confused with Saigon Kick.
Now moving forward again, it’s the spring of 1994 and Jamie is our new bass player, and he fit like a glove.
As noted above, I had known Jamie about a decade now, and he had lived with Tuff, worked for Tuff, and partied on the Sunset Strip scene for years.
For those who know him, well, then you know, Jamie is the life of the party.
Be it at a club, in someone’s living room or in the backyard, prepare to piss yourself.
For those who don’t know, if you like comedy, you might die of laughter when he’s around.
Over the years, Jamie has given all of us more laughs, than any other friend by a mile.
He is one of the funniest guys you could ever meet.
Just don’t hire him as a clothing designer, house cleaner or professional groomer.
In the end, Jamie and Jackie were as much a part of the Tuff history as anyone we ever associated with.
They are 2 of the people who regardless of where we were, when, why or who with… they didn’t need to be on a guest-list… these 2 guys were part of our crew.
And when I say crew, I don’t mean road-crew, I mean click, or gang or posse.
Be it our apartments, houses, back-stage, bus or other, these 2 were part of our fabric for the entire duration.
Our family, or brothers from another.
Fun Fact: Jamie was also going to be 1 of the 3 members in Brick City Boys a rap trio with Michael Lean in or around 1993, but it never went beyond a photo shoot at Venice Beach. This idea would later morph into C.W.A. in late 1996 with Mark ‘Foolio’ Stadler sans Lean.
Welcome to Tuff Jamie Fonte.
It’s now early April 1994 and a few things happened.
First off, my Grandpa had just passed away and I was about to fly home for his funeral.
Gerald T. Mathe was my Mother’s Father, and surely an important person in my life.
Especially since my own Father (Gilbert) had died of cancer in 1974 and my Brother (Gibby) was killed in 1978.
I didn’t have a lot of older male influence, and at some point I looked to my Grandpa for advice without really knowing it.
I recently found a hand-written letter he wrote me in 1982, when I had turned 16.
In that letter, he talked to me about becoming a young man, a gentleman and trying to prepare me for life.
I also recall sitting in his car one day and him telling me that life was full of road choices that would be lined with many obstacles, some harder to get past or go around than others.
And it was up to me, to choose the best path and avoid as many of those (harder) obstacles as I could.
Crazy looking back and recalling what he had tried to help me with, tell me or teach me, and then realizing how the last 40 years have went.
What’s that old saying, Father knows best.
Well, Grandfather’s know best too.
While back in Wisconsin in early April for my his funeral, I recall hearing on the radio that Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain had killed himself.
This was extremely shocking as the band had become one of the biggest bands on the planet.
There was an immediate comparison to Cobain and other legendary artists who all died at 27.
Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and years later Amy Winehouse would join them.
What’s even crazier is that Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was released on September 24th 1991, and he was dead by April 5th 1994.
Cobain and Nirvana had a very short career at the top… 2 years, 6 months and 12 days later it all abruptly ended.
It’s mind-boggling and amazing to see how so much changed over the musical landscape in just a few short years time all courtesy of the Seattle sound and Grunge.
Of course none of those bands (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Sound Garden) set out to destroy Hollywood, the 80’s or Glam Rock and Heavy Metal, but… in many ways they did just that.
Oh well… just another obstacle in the road of life for me.
Something else happened that week as well, our 2nd record deal evaporated.
Our first record was out in May 1991, just 4 months before Nirvana’s, and while our video peaked at #3 on MTV, that band from Seattle entered the countdown that same week.
We all know what happened over the later part of 1991 and into 1992.
That Seattle scene decimated our Hollywood scene, and well… not hating here, but it’s factual and history shows, that when Grunge arrived, Glam was ushered into the gas chamber.
Now a handful of years later, we’re signed to a new deal, and within the same week that Cobain took his own life, our new label also suddenly died leaving us label-less once again.
We signed this deal with Grand Slamm Records in the fall of 1993 and Brian McEvoy was the President of the label.
A little history, previously Grand Slamm had released a record from White Lion, which helped them get their Atlantic Records deal.
Oddly, it was the other way around for us.
We were rebounding from being dropped by Atlantic, and McEvoy signed Tuff to his label.
Grand Slamm also released records from Cry Wolf, Lion, Manowar, Riot, Leatherwolf and Lillian Axe.
In truth, he basically bought the rights to release our (newer) material, which had already been recorded for Atlantic.
These were songs we demo’d for our follow-up on Atlantic’s dime…but after they dropped us…we were free to shop around for a new deal and they allowed us to take our masters with us.
Well, they didn’t tell us we could, we just took them.
I don’t think they cared regardless, as we were old news.
With those masters, at some point we signed a deal with Grand Slamm who had distribution through I.R.S. Records.
Basically, we sold them (him) the rights to license and release these songs for $7,500.00.
Doesn’t sound like much money, but the sessions were done, and already paid for, so this was kind of free money for the band.
And by comparison, when we signed to Atlantic Records, there was no advance for the band per-se.
But we were each allotted, a $600.00 per month, or $150.00 per week per-diem while recording.
That was over roughly 3 months time, with pre-production and mixing.
So, doing the math, that’s $600.00 per month, multiplied by 4 guys, that is $2,400.00.
Now times that by 3 months, and you get $7,200.00.
Grand Slamm gave us $7,500.00.
So, we made more money in our pockets off the Grand Slamm deal than we made with the Atlantic deal. Lol
Of course the Atlantic deal also financed the recording of “What Comes Around Goes Around” which came in just under $100,000.00 in the end.
Not forgetting the budget for 2 videos, advertisements, tour support and much more.
Fact is, Atlantic Records spent several hundred thousand dollars on Tuff but that is in the past now.
So we sign our deal and are planning things like: the album title, photos, release date, single, etc…
Around this same time bands like Quiet Riot (signed to Moonstone Records releasing “Terrified” in 1993), Warrant (signed to CMC releasing “Ultraphobic” in 1994) and others were all in a similar boat.
Many 80’s bands were all looking for a new home to release their next record after being dropped by their previous record label.
Along the way Tuff met with several of these labels, including Moonstone and CMC as well.
But we settled on signing with McEvoy at Grand Slamm.
However, to be honest, McEvoy at times was very distant.
We’d have a chat, talk about things, and make plans and then nothing for weeks at a time.
Of course at this point, weeks turned to months and we were wondering: “WTF!”
I recall having some slightly heated phone calls with McEvoy and looking back, h probably thought I was a nightmare to deal with.
But hey, I wasn’t the stereo-typical lead singer either, I was the band’s Gene Simmons at this point, and had my manager, or even attorney hat on.
I wanted what was best for Tuff.
Grunge had fully settled in as bands like Stone Temple Pilots (Atlantic), Nirvana (Geffen) and Pearl Jam (Epic) were topping all the charts.
Regardless of what was happening with Grunge, we just wanted to release our follow up record.
“What Comes Around Goes Around” was released in the spring of 1991, and for the most part we had been playing half of that record for years previously.
So…these newer songs that were supposed to be on I.R.S./Grand Slamm Records we wanted it out there, as they were recorded in early 1992 and it was late 1993 when we signed with them.
Figuring for an early 1994 release, these tunes would already be roughly 2 years old.
Atlantic Records dumped us into their garbage bin in the spring of 1992, and in reality, the day we got dropped was May 14th 1992.
Note: Our debut release “What Comes Around Goes Around” hit the streets on May 14th 1991.
So…yeah Atlantic Records celebrated our 1 year anniversary by dropping us.
But while still on the Atlantic roster, in early 1992 they gave us that $5,000.00 to cut those demos for our next release.
With that 5k we went to Cornerstone Studios in Chatsworth California and recorded 7 songs. Along with me (vocals), Jorge (guitars) and Michael (drums), we had Robbie Crane rehearsing and recording with us.
Crane in fact was the likely candidate to replace Todd Chaisson on bass, but luckily for Crane, he was offered a little better option and took it.
Playing in the Vince Neil Band with Steve Stevens, Phil Soussan and Vikki Foxx was obviously the much better gig.
Speaking of, Vince Neil did some of his tracks at Cornerstone Studios for the “Carved in Stone” release as well.
So we worked up new songs (while still signed to Atlantic) and went and recorded them.
Those included: “In Dogs We Trust”, “God Bless This Mess”, “Better Off Dead”, “Rattle My Bones”, “Electric Church”, “Simon Says” and a song called “Chemical Man”.
The 7th song “Chemical Man” was never fully finished.
There was also an 8th song called “One Way Hell Ride” that we co-wrote with Gene Simmons but unfortunately we never recorded that.
I have some rehearsal tapes, and a few writing session tapes (with Gene) still lying around.
Anyway, these were Atlantic Records tracks, but we had also recorded a few other tunes during late 1992 and into 1993.
There were a few songs we did with Producer Randy Cantor.
Cantor was based on the East Coast and had most notably worked with Bon Jovi and Lita Ford.
Cantor and his writer friend Michael Caruso also submitted “I Like What I See” to Tuff as a song for us to consider recording.
It was more Cheap Trick than hair metal, but I sang the song and it came out great.
We then worked with the duo of Cantor and Caruso and wrote the song “Tied to the Bells” which came out even better.
Add in a cover tune, our version of “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford, and we had 9 songs in the can.
This for what it’s worth, was suppose to be our follow-up on Atlantic Records but when they canned us, we were homeless.
It was all of that, which lead us to signing with Grand Slamm / I.R.S. Records.
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST!
As I.R.S. Records imploded, so did our distribution for Grand Slamm.
I recall hearing from our manager (Brian Kushner) at some point that Brian McEvoy was offered a job at a label, like Polygram or something similar, so he took that job and Grand Slamm seemed to be over at that point.
It might be safe to say, that he kind of gave up on running his own label, in favor of a much more secure major label salary and job.
In looking back, I don’t blame him.
But let me say, that in our contract with Grand Slamm, there was a clause that they had to release the record within 180 days of us turning over the masters.
We signed this deal in the fall of 1993, and it was now April 1994.
Because of the developments of both I.R.S. and Grand Slamm, it became clear that our record was not coming out on either, so… due to breach of that agreement, the masters reverted to us.
I.R.S. Records had big success with bands like; The Go-Go’s, Concrete Blonde, Gary Numan, Oingo Boing, Wall of Voodoo, R.E.M. and others, but obviously none of this mattered in 1994.
I immediately told myself: “F#@k this… I am not waiting for another label, I am doing this myself.”
I was beyond pissed.
All that time, waiting, wondering, and now we’re back to square one.
Upon learning that our 2nd record deal was no longer of any use to us, I immediately started to research with my cousin Keith, what we needed to do to self-release this music.
We grabbed a copy of Music Connection magazine and started looking for a mastering engineer, a graphic design artist, a replication plant to make cassettes and CDs among other things.
Also, I needed a UPC (Universal Product Code) number, to make barcodes for the cassette, CD and any other future products be it a DVD, Vinyl or swag
One other thing I needed was a record label name.
That’s right, I am officially forming my own record label, and I wanted to do everything a major record label would do, only on a smaller level.
So, if it’s my own record label, then I get to name it as well and I did.
I came up with RLS Records.
And RLS had a dual meaning.
First off, I was so sick of record labels, and at this point felt they all sucked.
So, I decided to call my label, RLS Records, which stood for Records Labels Suck Records.
But I also gave it another meaning, the RLS also stood for Rachelle’s Lyrics and Songs.
After all, these were at this point, mainly my lyrics and songs, so RLS it is.
We found a great mastering engineer named Paul Tavenner from Man Alive Music who is a genius in the studio, a real studio wizard if you will.
Paul also referred a graphic artist named Monique, who was awesome too.
It was sometime in mid April that I had a yellow legal pad, and made a list of everything I would need, to form and start RLS Records.
The sheet of paper had about 2-3 dozen things on it, and as I accomplished them, or they were finished, I would cross them out.
Little by little, things started to fall into place.
Mastering session, for both CD and Cassette (it’s a different process for each) and artwork for both as well.
And again, the artwork has to be laid out one way for CD and another way for the Cassette.
It all sounds simple, and basic, but there are countless little details that have to be considered and organized to make it sound, look and present itself as a professional product.
I have to say, without my cousin Keith, I would have been even more stressed, but Key Money (his nickname) did a lot with and for me.
In a nutshell, if I was Rick Rubin, Keith was George Drakoulias, or I was Batman, and he was Robin.
He permeated into everything I (we) did, meaning Tuff as well.
Keith also helped me get product in stores, acted as a publicist to secure press and interviews for magazines and ultimately was our tour manager.
It’s not far-fetched to say that Keith helped me co-manage the band, the brand and the label.
Keith also had a great work ethic, only he was way even more organized than I ever was and super detailed too.
Fast forward about 60 days, and by mid June we had a pallet of “Fist First” CDs and another full of “Fist First” Cassettes.
Hard work pays off, and if you really put your mind to something, it can be achieved.
When I flew to Wisconsin the 1st week of April, we were still on Grand Slamm Records, and awaiting their next move.
Now its roughly 60 days later, and RLS Records have their debut product ready to ship.
MOVE OVER DAVID GEFFEN.
We then coordinated the next step, full color ½ page advertisements in several rock magazines, like Metal Edge, Faces and Hit Parader to promote the first ever RLS Records release, Tuff “Fist First.”
As some reading might know, our first record contract with Atlantic was courtesy of the sub-label Titanium Records, which was a 4-partner label, 1 of those partners was Andy Secher of Hit Parader magazine.
Mitch Hersokwitz also from Hit Parader was another partner, the third was Paul O’Neil (T.S.O. – Savatage) and a silent partner named Sheldon who was a businessman from the West Coast.
So Hit Parader gave RLS a great deal and we ran that same advertisement in Faces and Metal Edge too.
Funny, at some point when these ads came out, it was Gerri Miller of Metal Edge who was actually upset with me that I advertised in Hit Parader.
This baffled me, as I had also bought ad space in her magazine as well.
This was just another one of the times that Gerri showed some level of immaturity, jealousy, or her petty competitive side.
She also ranted to me previously about Lonn Friend from RIP magazine, along with talking ‘not so nice’ about various other magazines, and their editors.
Fast forward a handful of years, and her words hit home again, and that was the summer of 1998… which was the catalyst for me to start Metal Sludge, but that’s another story.
Next step, we needed a bulk-mail permit from the Reseda California post office to mail out over 10,000 newsletters to our die-hard Tuff Muff fan-club.
But this newsletter also came with an order form and instructions how to order “Fist First.”
At some point my (our) band-house living room was like a post office warehouse.
The floors and hallway were stacked with boxes of printed newsletters, flyers, and order forms from RLS Records.
Of course there was an official office as well, but it was pretty cramped.
Where was the office?
In the laundry room and pantry off the kitchen of course.
There was a little corner area next to the washer and dryer, where we set up a desk, a shelf and there was room for 1 chair.
Keith spent hours in here helping me make RLS Records and Tuff go.
We also had dozens of mail-bins, rubber bands, staple guns, ink stampers and this stuff was everywhere.
I, along with the band, roadies and roommates all helped out to sort thousands of pages, sort, fold, staple, stamp and organize.
This was a pain in the ass at first, as the instructions as to how to use your Bulk Mail permit, to get that saved rate was a bit complex.
The pieces of mail all had to be sorted by zip codes, and counted, logged, and separated into their respective groupings.
There were also forms to fill out, that would note the piece count, per bundle, and so on.
The Post Office was pretty anal too, as even the way you rubber-banded the various stacks of mail, had to be done a certain way.
One rubber-band wrapped the long way and another wrapped two times the width (height) of the stack.
If you didn’t do it this way, they would reject it, and make you do it over.
But, as annoying as it was to read, follow and coordinate all of this with a room full of semi-drunk, stoned, or lazy rockers it was well worth it in the end.
This was 1994, and a stamp to send a single letter, or newsletter to a fan cost .29 cents each.
By comparison, its double that today, at .58 cents.
In searching Google, it says that Bulk Mail saves the sender anywhere from 35-65% depending on the quantity, destination, zip codes, etc..
With that… we mailed over 10,000 pieces to our fans.
Had we paid .29 cents each, for regular First Class mail, our bill to mail those letters would have been about $3,000.00.
I don’t recall the exact cost, but my guess is, we saved about half that, and in the end paid $1,000.00 – $1,500.00 to mail those new flyers and order forms.
So yea, doing all that extra work which took hours, and even days… saved us a nice chunk of change.
Soon enough, our P.O. Box was filling up daily with orders from all over the U.S. and beyond.
In addition to mailing our fans and running some advertisements in rock magazines, we also started reaching out to record stores nationwide.
We received incoming calls from stores, and wholesalers to distribute our new Tuff release “Fist First.”
We were a full 3 years removed from our May 1991 debut on Atlantic Records, which moved roughly 100,000 units, but we still had some interest.
I mean, even if we sell to 5% of our fans who bought the debut, that’s 5,000 copies, and we felt confident we’d affect more than 5% of our fans.
Like I stated earlier, I formed RLS Records to do everything Atlantic Records did, or Warner Brothers, or Geffen, only on a much smaller level.
Some famous rock star once asked a journalist: “Do you know how to sell a Million records?”
The journalist was puzzled and then added: “By going on big tour, playing sold out shows …” blah, blah, blah.
The rock star said: “One at a time!”
Truer words were never spoken.
My cousin Keith and I would wake up early, and head out to do errands, pay bills, and on a daily basis would stop at the Reseda Post Office.
It was a slow trickle but soon it was a beautiful thing.
Opening that P.O. Box door and pulling out a stack of envelopes, all or most had an order inside with a check or money order.
Sometimes fans would even send cash, wrapped inside the order form.
There would also be wholesale order or distributor checks, and some days the money from that little metal box would be into the hundreds or even on occasion over a grand.
Doesn’t sound like much, but… there are 6 days a week that the mail is delivered and in a month, it adds up.
We were no longer on a major label, or MTV, but, I (we) was in control of all of it.
The in-coming and the out-going, the costs, the bills and the profits too.
Keith would be on the phone and after a few hours pop into my room and say: “I got another mini-music chain who wants to carry the record” and he’d tell me they have 6 stores in the Midwest.
Exclusive Company was a Wisconsin based chain that I grew up going to and buying records at in the early 1980’s.
Now they were carrying our first independent record label release from Tuff in all over their (9) locations.
There were others too, right here in Southern California, in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, the Boston area and beyond who all stocked our new record.
Sales were so swift in the first few months; that we re-ordered both the CD and Cassette.
That was another 1,000 piece run for each, and pushed our total to 4,000 pieces.
Now if we can sell these, we’ll only have to print and sell another 996,000 to go platinum.
One at a time, and we’re ready!
Stay tuned for Tuff Diaries #21 which will highlight our Summer “Fist First” Tour Leg #1 and shooting videos for 3 different songs.
That will be followed by Tuff Diaries #22 which covers the Fall/Winter “Fist First” Tour Leg #2 taking us through the end of the year.
The final 3 Tuff Diaries (#23, #24 and #25) will cover the entire year of 1995 and the related “Religious Fix” release and (2) U.S. tour legs and ulimately the end of the group.
Things get crazy, amazing, ugly and worse over the next 24 months.
Tuff has seen it all, done it all, and experienced the highs and many lows for sure.
Thank you for reading these and your interest, love and support for my projects over the years has not went unnoticed.
Thank you for reading,
MESSAGE FROM THE AUTHOR.
People have said to me for years, “You should write a book, I’ll buy it.”
That’s not likely going to happen… not anytime soon at least. But if you are down with my blogs, my band or my various projects – I say thank you.
I have self-released roughly 50 projects on CD. Cassette, VHS, DVD and Vinyl since 1994. All on my own. Without any label support. None.
I have also kept Metal Sludge alive, afloat and online since 1998. For Free. You cannot imagine the workload a website of this magnitude can be.
No Kickstarters, no Go-Fund Me, and no Pay Me now and I’ll make a CD in a year and send it to you later.
I am also self-managed, self-booked (most of the time) and 100% self reliant. A 1-man gang.
If you want to support in anyway, buy a CD or Vinyl record from me, or a T-shirt. Or send me something direct via Pay Pal.
I am not begging. I am not sick and no hospital bill. Nope, just continuing my service to the fans that support my Rock N’ Roll.
My direct Pay Pal email is Sludgeceo@gmail.com – send a dollar, send ten or send fifty. Send whatever you like, or nothing at all.
Many independent websites have Donate buttons, Metal Sludge has NOW added one, Top Right of this page.
No pressure, but hey, it’s an option if you care to do so.
Thank you for all your loyal support of my projects.
There is more to come, more blogs and more music too. I have something in the can now it just hasn’t been packaged just yet.
Thank you again and all of your support is greatly appreciated.
See TUFF DIARIES entries all listed below… the series will be 25 parts!
Entry #1 How I Made My Way To California, 31 Years Ago Today (June 25th 2018)
Entry #2 My First Meeting With Tuff, “Is That All Your Real Hair?” (June 29th 2018)
Entry #3 Tuff audition, Jim Gillette screams, a near fist fight & our debut show (July 5th 2018)
Entry #4 The Metal Years, Famous People, Cocaine, Kiss & Sex with a Miss Gazzarri’s Dancer (July 14th 2018)
Entry #5 Guns N’ Roses, Del James, 1988, Sound City, Strippers, Crabs & You’re Fired! (July 30th 2018)
Entry #6 Summer on Sunset, Vinnie’s Invasion, Tracii’s Glue Gun, Vain & Sex by a Dumpster (August 11th 2018)
Entry #7 MTV’s NYE Big Bash, Riki & Taime’s Cathouse & My Girlfriend was a Poster at Spencer’s (August 20th 2018)
Entry #8 Jon Bon Jovi, Sebastian Bach, Rick Rubin, Howie Hubberman, BulletBoys & Gazzarri’s (Sept. 16th 2018)
Entry #9 Summer Tour ’89, Andy McCoy, Def Leftovers, Max the Model, Z-Rock, Tommi Gunn & Lit (Oct. 10th 2018)
Entry #10 G’bye 1989, Jessica Hahn, Skid Row, Martha Quinn, Young Gunns, Flyer War & Cock-Rings (Nov. 9th 2018)
Entry #11 Hello 1990, Texas, Britny Fox Tour, Strippers, Hells Angels and Atlantic Records signs Tuff (March 24th 2019)
Entry #12 Ready to Record, Howard Benson, FM Station, Jani Lane, Court heaing & my 1st Playmate (June 2nd 2019)
Entry #13 Recording Atlantic debut, Bret Michaels, Kane Roberts & Sex is fine, but no sleepovers (Aug. 27th 2019)
Entry #14 New York City, Mixing our Record, Publishing Deal, Video Shoot , Cherry St. & Tigertailz (March 25th 2020)
Entry #15 Hello MTV, The Nelsons, Jason Newsted, U.S. Tour, London & our Stolen Ryder Truck (May 19th 2020)
Entry #16 Lita Ford, Jason Flom, 75+ Shows, Cocaine, a Lawsuit, Sweet F.A. & the Freeway Fight (July 29th 2020)
Entry #17 Hello 1992, Gene Simmons, More Money, the L.A. Riots, a New Bassist & Jason Flom Part II (March 2021)
Entry #18 WildSide, Dee Snider, Tour Fun, Baywatch, Label Search & Living In Reseda (Aug. 2021)
Entry #19 1993, Michael Resigns, River Phoenix, Thirsty Whale, He’s Got a Gun, Stolen Van & Danny Quits (Jan. 2022)
Entry #20 1994, Northridge Earthquake, Kurt Cobain, RLS Records, releasing “Fist First” (May 2022)
Entry #21 “Fist First” U.S. Summer Tour...