Rockbrat Remembers: LA metal bands who never made it: TUFF

just cos I'm wearing lipstick - doesnt mean I can't kick your ass

In this regular blog post I cast the magnifying glass over some 1980’s LA bands who were clearly entrenched in the minor leagues, the 2nd division, (or even the 3rd)  – and as a consequence, were not packing out stadiums, touring the world, or signing to major labels – despite their big star aspirations (Hello Nadir). Most of these bands were Californian bands, although not specifically from Hollywood. It just so happens that Hollywood was the heart of the mid to late 80’s scene, and that is why this is the area of focus. This blog has been inspired by the ‘Hollywood Rocks’ book.  Mr Rockbrat bought me this book a couple of Christmas’ ago – and it’s pretty much the bible for any fan of the Hollywood hair metal scene.  I wasn’t there during the heyday but nowadays I look back at that scene with a kind of voyeuristic curiosity.  It’s like eating a cheeseburger – it tastes good but it’s full of calories. I still dig the music from this period. It was a great and fun period to be into rock ‘n’ roll. In 87- 92 I experienced a somewhat carbon copied version of the LA scene in Sydney, Australia. By the time Cowboy Col and Mr. Rockbrat got to LA in 93 the scene was pretty much dead. It didn’t stop me from getting round in my KNAC T shirt and LA Roxx baseball cap though. So let’s go back to the Sunset Strip. The Rainbow, The Troubadour, The Roxy, Gazzaris – or out to The Country Club in the Valley. When Van Halen and then Quiet Riot broke through, along came Motley, Ratt, Poison, Warrant and a zillion other cardboard cut-outs. Some good – some bad, so let’s check out some of the lesser well known acts.  In this feature, I will give a brief description of the band, a little bit of history, my assessment, and a mini review of one of their albums  – and then a score out of 10. Today I’m casting the microscope over Tuff. Lead singer Stevie Rachelle had that androgynous thing goin’ on BIG TIME.  A man’s body and a woman’s head – Jane’s head on Tarzan’s body. Tuff were one of the glammest of the glam – dressed to kill.  I think the problem for Tuff was that there were always gonna be comparisons to Poison or even Warrant –  as both those bands had blonde front men who looked like women. Clearly there was no room for another. It’s a pity too – cos out of all those bands – I think Tuff had the best songs. Tuff originally hailed from Phoenix, and formed in 1985.  The bands original vocalist was a guy called Terry Fox, who left the band early on in their career to pursue an ice skating career. With replacement vocalist Jim Gillette (now there’s a guy who had big hair) , the band recorded a four-track EP entitled ‘Knock Yourself Out’. However, Gillette soon departed to form Nitro and was replaced by Stevie Rachelle, real name Steve Hanseter. After a few years on the LA circuit, and seeing several of their  peers scooped up by major labels, Tuff finally scored a deal with Atlantic Records in 1990 – though by the time grunge hit in 92, they were dropped by Atlantic like a hot potato. The band released their one and only album for Atlantic called ‘What Comes Around Goes Around’ in May, 91, but by then, four or five years after Poison broke, neither the record buying public or radio were interested in another bunch of hard rockin’ pretty boys from LA. That album was produced by a guy called Howard Benson, who had produced a list of similar bands: Southgang, Bang Tango, Sweet FA & Pretty Boy Floyd. Despite a massive shift in musical climate, Tuff stuck to their roots, and were picked up by IRS/Grand Slamm Records in early 1993. Yet the label folded in less than a year, and the band were without a label. After these record company problems, in early 1994, Rachelle started RLS Records. The initials stood for “Rachelle’s Lyrics & Songs” but the alternative meaning was “Record Labels Suck”. (His label has issued on Cassette, CD, VHS and DVD roughly 40 titles selling upwards of 100,000 pieces globally). Tuff again signed to a record label again in early 1995 when BMG/Mausoleum/MMS records picked up the RLS Fist First release after it sold upwards of 10,000 copies. BMG re-issued it as Religious Fix in June 1995 with three bonus tracks.  In 2001, Tuff released the compilation CD ‘The History of Tuff’ and that is what is on the Rockbrat stereo today my friends. I could have reviewed their debut album, which is also good, but this album, ‘The History Of Tuff’ seemed to fly underneath the radar when it was released 10 years

Hair metal torch bearer - Stevie Rachelle gets the thumbs up from Cowboy Col

ago, so I’m dusting it off now.  This album kicks off in a big way with  “American Hair Band”, a parody of Kid Rock’s “American Bad Ass” (both of which incorporate the instrumentals of Metallica’s “Sad But True”). “American Hair Band” makes references to numerous U.S. bands such as Motley Crüe, Skid Row, Guns N’ Roses, Warrant, Twisted Sister, Poison, White Lion and KI$$ and even the non-American bands Def Leppard, Sleeze Beeze, Hanoi Rocks, Whitesnake and AC/DC, while at the same time, deriding 1990s grunge and alternative rock. This is a great rock tune, cleverly done too.  The band’s homage to their past, ‘American Band’ is very likeable. With lyrics about the old American dream, white picket fence, quarter acre block, an old Chevy, and great rock n roll  – it’s more the band’s mission statement set to a hard rock theme. Points for this one. I’ve always loved the stars and stripes, so I can relate – but then again I’m a John Wayne man so it’s preaching to the converted. ‘I Won’t Give Up’ is also a good tune with a good message. The ballad ‘So Many Seasons’ with its plaintive vocal, piano, and even strings –  is also an appealing tune. Man there are some high-quality songs here. This song should have been a big hit – but in 2001, the record buying public would not give Tuff a second chance – if they even considered ‘em first time around. There’s some dark moments here too. ‘Not Telling The Truth’ is brooding and dark, a well written tune. The anti love song ‘Don’t Complain’ has a big riff and likeable chorus, though the message is downbeat. The subdued ‘Who The Hell Am I’ again pricks the conscience, before ‘Another Man’s Gun’ opens up and rocks like their playing the Town and Country Club in 88. That’s a good thing my friends. There’s so many innuendos in the song, all cleverly done. Real tuneful song too. Catchy and melodic – turn up the radio. Man, this too could have been a hit. The screeching guitars of ‘A Place Where Love Can’t Go’ is also great, big chorus’ and big verses. ‘Good Guys Wear Black’ is another nod to the old days, and why not, they were great days with great rock ‘n’ roll. I’m not saying that Tuff are nostalgic about those days, but a lot of these songs certainly wave the flag for that era. ‘Sinner Street’ turns the sleaze element up a few notches, whilst the pop metal sound of ‘Summertime Blues’ is a reflective look back at those days as a 17 year old.  This is a really good rock record. Don’t expect flat out, light weight fluffy pop metal so ditch whatever preconceptions you held about Tuff and give this a listen. The songs here display a depth and character and have immense appeal. There’s no 1988 excess in sight on this album. No lipstick fixin’, no alley cat scratchin’ – these songs are mature, GREAT rock n roll songs with hard rock guitars and a mountain of melody. Rachelle has a great rock voice, nothing lightweight at all. This album kind of sticks the middle finger at the whole grunge era and beyond who dismissed Tuff as a bit of a one trick pony. One listen to this album dismisses that notion completely. 8 out of 10.

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