BLACK SABBATH Touring Drummer TOMMY CLUFETOS On Replacing BILL WARD: 'Somebody's Gotta Do It; I Wanted It to Be Me'
May 8, 2021
In a new feature by music journalist Joel Gausten, drummer Tommy Clufetos (BLACK SABBATH, OZZY OSBOURNE, ALICE COOPER, ROB ZOMBIE) discusses a variety of topics, including his just-released new album, "Beat Up By Rock 'N' Roll" (with his band, TOMMY'S ROCKTRIP) and his experience filling the shoes of legendary BLACK SABBATH drummer Bill Ward. An excerpt from the feature appears below.
Although he was already well established in industry circles for his percussive skills long before 2012, that was the year truly Clufetos gained international attention by being selected to replace Bill Ward in BLACK SABBATH.
"It's the most I've ever had to dig into the drummer," he recalls of his five-year stint with the group. "Bill has a very unorthodox style. In all really great bands, every musician is very important — whether it's LED ZEPPELIN, THE BEATLES, AC/DC, AEROSMITH, BLACK SABBATH or DEEP PURPLE. Each player really matters. In SABBATH, there's four guys, and each guy had a counterpoint to make that one sound. So, I really had to do my homework and go, 'What makes Bill Ward him? What's making it work or making it different?' I really did a lot of homework and studied. I'm pretty good, but I'm not the world's greatest drummer. I never claimed to be, but I am good about digging into what makes who I'm working for special and trying to be the best drummer they could hope for. That's my goal; I want their musical vision to come out. I want them to feel confident in what I'm doing. When you've got a confident drummer back there, you're free to go do your show and sing or play guitar and just not worry about what's going on back there. When it's shaky back there, it makes you shaky out front, so I want to be solid."
In terms of playing original-era SABBATH material, being "solid" on the drums means being able to get your head around the ebbs and flows of Ward's trademark style — an organic, feel-based explosion of soul that could never occur in the presence of a metronome. While successfully acclimating to such a technique would be daunting for some, Clufetos felt right at home.
"With Bill Ward's thing, even though it may move, symphonies move — but they move in unison," he says. "Fish move in unison. Great things move together. Chuck Berry may waver; Jerry Lee Lewis may waver. None of the music on my album was recorded to a click. We didn't even wear headphones; it was all in one room. I wanted to take that approach of the old-school way. 'Perfect' ruins rock 'n' roll."
Naturally, he sometimes faced the inevitable backlash that comes whenever someone fills the shoes of a beloved band member. In SABBATH's case, added pressure came once various media reports indicated that Ward's departure stemmed from (in his words) an "unsignable contract." So, in walked Clufetos, a guy barely in his 30s at the time who suddenly found himself taking over the drum throne under a cloud of controversy and skepticism. Fortunately, a combination of focus, unquestionable talent and good old-fashioned Detroit grit enabled him to make one of the most revered drum positions in music truly his own.
"I understand the situation," he says. "You're coming in and substituting or filling in for an icon in a band. Somebody's gotta do it. I wanted it to be me, and I wasn't afraid of the challenge. I got asked to do it, and I was proud to do it. I was proud of the job I did, but I understand it from a fan's perspective. I can handle it, and it's a part of the gig. I don't think many people walked out of any concert disappointed, because I was there — and we rocked people. I was part of that; I was part of the four guys up there, and I was very proud of the job I did. It was a total honor; it was my pleasure. To play with those three guys was the musical peak thus far in my career."