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Rochester's Tommy Clufetos drums for the stars
Playing a show back home in the Detroit area is always a bit "hectic" for Tommy Clufetos.
"There's family and guests and the whole hoopla of all that, and I'm not good at dealing with that," the drummer, 38, says by phone from New York City.
He has, however, had plenty of practice at it.
It's been almost 20 years since Clufetos, who grew up in Sterling Heights and Rochester and graduated from Rochester Adams High School, took the drum stool in Mitch Ryder's band when he was still a teenager. He went on to work with rock icons such as Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie before joining Ozzy Osbourne in 2010. That led to a spot as the drummer on Black Sabbath's last two world tours, 2014-17, while this year he's out again with Osbourne, on his own farewell tour.
All told, that's not bad for less than two decades of work and not something Clufetos takes for granted.
"I'm a very lucky guy and I'm blessed and I love what I do and I love who I get to work with, and I'm thankful," acknowledges Clufetos, who now resides in Valencia, Calif., with his wife and their 1-year-old daughter. "It feels like it's just ... my life. I've dedicated my life to keep doing it."
That's obvious to those Clufetos works with. "Tommy is probably my biggest hero. He's (expletive) great!" Osbourne says. "He's a lovely, lovely guy, and a great drummer. He's (expletive) dedicated. He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't do drugs. He's a young guy with a lot of energy. I just love having him around."
Clufetos credits his success with being "a creature of habit" and staying on a path that keeps high-profile work coming his way.
"The one thing I have learned is I just try not to deviate from what worked when I was younger," he explains. "I can get more complicated and a lot more factors come into play. It gets bigger and there are managers and business people and money and this and that.
"But at the end of it I try to go on and focus on whats gotten me here, and that's always focusing on my music and practicing my drums and being ready and not trying to over-complicated things. That's kept it pretty simple for me, you know?"
Clufetos learned first learned that lesson growing up in the Detroit suburbs and playing with his father, a local singer, saxophonist and bandleader who was "nothing but supportive" of his son's musical ambitions. He got his progeny started at an early age, 11, and had him playing out five or six nights a week for what proved to be an invaluable education.
"We'd be driving home in the car and talking about the music over and over and over," Clufetos recalls. "Those early lessons were all about keeping it about the music and always focusing on your instrument, playing music first and not letting outside influences overtake what keeps you from moving forward. Just keep those blinders on and stay motivated and hungry."
What Clufetos also learned over the years is to draw inspiration and influence from those he's working with. "People always ask me, 'Who's your favorite drummer?' or 'Who are your influences?' It's not really drummers. It's more like the people I've worked for who I pick up tricks from. It could be Ozzy, it could be a guitar player. I just pick up so many tricks and put them in my pocket for maybe 20 years later."
And, of course, Clufetos has perspectives on each of them:
Mitch Ryder: "Good Detroit rock. I had a great time playing those songs and I still listen to that music today when I need to get in the mood of what I'm about. Those songs still sound great today."
Alice Cooper: "My dad took me to see him at Pine Knob when I was 13 or something like that, and I remember thinking, "I wanna play in that band one day" and I did play in that band. And one time the snake stayed at my parent's house for some weird reason, in the garage in the road case. My mom was all freaked out."
Rob Zombie: "Rob is a very together, smart guy who's always working and he's very professional. He doesn't mess around and he has a great work ethic, and I respect him for that."
Osbourne: "He's a special guy. He has a special talent and a unique charisma unto himself that I've never seen before. He's just entertainment, all the way around. He's a master at what he does, and he knows how to entertain a crowd and give them what they want. He sets the tone, and you want to go to war with him. It's a great feeling being behind him."
Black Sabbath: All four of those original Sabbath guys have a very unique way of playing, four unique individuals creating a sound. You can't copy them. You've just got to get into the heartbeat of the music and do it justice. Hopefully I did it justice. I tried my best."
With Osbourne ostensibly calling it quits though the farewell tour may go on for some time Clufetos will be out of a job at some point in the near future. But, he assures, "It's not my farewell," and he suspects it's not a total goodbye for Osbourne, either. "He's not retiring, but it's going to be his final world tour as far as I know," he says. "There may be gigs here and there in the future. I hope so, for my sake, at least."
Clufetos hasn't decided what he's doing next, either. But he's confident he won't be idle.
"Y'know, I always hear, 'You've got to network,' 'You've got to go out,' 'You gotta get on Instagram, Facebook.' I don't believe in that not for me, anyways," Clufetos says. "I've learned to not try to overthink things. The only way I can get ahead is to play the best gig I can at the moment, and whatever's next comes out of that.
"Everything I have has come through music, and I'm grateful for it."
If You Go: Ozzy Osbourne and Stone Sour perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19 in DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets start at $35. Call 313-471-7000 or visit 313Presents.com.
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